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.]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Canada Budget Surprise To Be Investigated By Watchdog

OTTAWA - The surprising revelation last week that Ottawa is almost $7 billion ahead of schedule for eliminating the deficit is attracting the scrutiny of the budget watchdog.

The No. 2 man in the Parliamentary Budget Office says officials have asked the Finance Department for clarification.

"We'll look at it because it will affect our own numbers, and try and figure out what the source of it is," says Mostafa Askari.

Canadians Detained Abroad: Over 1,500 In Foreign Prisons

MONTREAL - For nearly two months all eyes were turned to John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, the Canadian activists held in an Egyptian prison before being allowed to return to Canada.

Two other detained Canadians, Greenpeace activists Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki, have also been in the headlines as they remain held in a Russian prison and could face a lengthy prison sentence on piracy charges.

NSA 'Stop Watching Us' Protest Draws Thousands In Washington

WASHINGTON -- Thousands rallied against the National Security Agency's domestic and international surveillance programs Saturday, marching from Union Station to the Capitol to call for an end to mass surveillance.

"We are witnessing an American moment, in which ordinary people -- from high schools to high office -- stand up to oppose a dangerous trend in government," said a statement from Edward Snowden, read aloud at the rally by a participant.

The former NSA employee who leaked information about government surveillance programs to the media ended his statement by saying, "It is time for reform. Elections are coming, and we're watching you."

Dick Cheney: Military Action In Iran Likely

Military action in Iran is likely unavoidable, Dick Cheney said on Sunday.

On ABC's 'This Week', host George Stephanopoulous asked Cheney about the effectiveness of diplomatic talks in Iran.

"Is military action against Iran inevitable?" he said.

"I have trouble seeing how we're going to achieve our objective short of that," Cheney said. "And I doubt very much that the diplomacy will be effective if there's not the prospect that, if diplomacy fails, that we will, in fact, resort to military force."

Cheney has long taken a hardline stance against Iran. As Vice President, he repeatedly pushed President Bush to pursue military action. In 2011, he urged President Obama to strike Iran to recover a drone.

Original Article
Author: Alana Horowitz

Party Crashers

In the late nineteen-sixties, Mitch McConnell came to Washington to work as an aide to Senator Marlow Cook, a Kentucky Republican. Cook backed clean-air standards and limits on strip mining. It was a time of political diversity among Republicans: in 1970, Senate Republicans endorsed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. McConnell was briefly a fellow-traveller of those who regarded government as a source of public protection. He once called the Nixon Administration “at worst, completely reactionary.”

In 1984, McConnell was elected to the Senate, on the coattails of Ronald Reagan’s landslide reëlection. By then, a movement of Southern and evangelical conservatives was rising within the Party. McConnell tacked right periodically, saluting the new Republican leaders. During the Administration of George W. Bush, he backed the President by voting, with Ted Kennedy, to enact No Child Left Behind and the expansion of the Medicare drug benefit. By 2009, after Wall Street melted down, McConnell had risen to Minority Leader, and he forged a deal with Democrats to bail out big banks.

Ohio, West Virginia Residents Sue DuPont Over Exposure To C8 Chemical Used In Teflon

CINCINNATI -- CINCINNATI (AP) — Nine Ohio and West Virginia residents who have cancer and other diseases have filed federal lawsuits this month against chemical giant DuPont, alleging the company knowingly contaminated drinking-water supplies with a chemical used by one of its plants.

The lawsuits, filed Oct. 8 and this week, are among about 50 such cases — including one alleging wrongful death — filed against DuPont since April, when a court-appointed science panel found probable links between exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as C8, and kidney cancer, testicular cancer and thyroid disease, among others.

Federal Prosecutors, in a Policy Shift, Cite Warrantless Wiretaps as Evidence

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department for the first time has notified a criminal defendant that evidence being used against him came from a warrantless wiretap, a move that is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether such eavesdropping is constitutional.

 Prosecutors filed such a notice late Friday in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who was charged in Colorado in January 2012 with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization based in Uzbekistan.

Mr. Muhtorov is accused of planning to travel abroad to join the militants and has pleaded not guilty. A criminal complaint against him showed that much of the government’s case was based on intercepted e-mails and phone calls.

Labour criticises government's 'false' data on free schools

The row over the government's flagship free schools project intensified last night as Labour accused ministers of misleading parliament by claiming that they were performing better than other schools in the state sector.

The serious charge was made by shadow education minister Baroness Jones, who demanded that her Tory counterpart, the schools minister Lord Nash, return to parliament "at the earliest opportunity" to correct what she said was "false information".

This street in east London tells a story of the great British divide: those who own property and those who don't

Six years ago, only a few months before Northern Rock collapsed and the world plunged into a financial storm from which it still has not properly recovered, I met Alex Rossiter, a 29-year-old freelance radio producer, in the basement kitchen of his parents' house in Hackney, east London.

His father, Alan, a community arts worker, told me how he had bought the house for £9,300 in 1977 and that now "it's probably worth £500,000, if you can believe that". Actually, I told him, it's probably more like £800,000. At which point, he nearly fell off his chair.

Major oil, gas and provincial pipelines excluded from list requiring environmental reviews

OTTAWA – Some major oil and gas projects and provincially regulated pipelines are among the types of development that won’t require an automatic federal environmental review before getting a green light, according to a new list published this week by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The list, developed in support of new environmental laws adopted along with hundreds of pages of legislation to support the Harper government’s 2012 budget, would require automatic reviews into impacts of projects in a variety of new categories, including diamond mines, international or interprovincial bridges and tunnels, some offshore exploratory wells and oilsands mines expansion projects.

As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media

The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

No widespread labour shortage, widespread information gaps

A TD Economics Special Report released on October 22 debunked the popular economic myth spread by Minister Kenney that there are too many jobs without people. The report looks at changes in employment, unemployment, job vacancy rates, and wages. Job vacancy rates are higher for trades occupations in Western Canada, but overall job vacancy rates are low.

There is no sign of wage pressure, even in occupations with perceived shortages, which the report points out as being quite puzzling. In Saskatchewan, wages for in demand occupations are actually growing at a slower rate than the provincial average.

How to Write About Rape: Rules for Journalists

Feminists spend a lot of time taking journalists and media institutions to task for the way they cover rape—and for good reason. Victim-blaming runs rampant in headlines and news features, sexual assault is often misnamed or mischaracterized, and women’s behavior is treated with more scrutiny than rapists’ crimes. Media makers are smart, interesting people who—like all people—make mistakes. But even well-meaning missteps cause harm. So for those writers, editors, producers and pundits who are looking to cover stories about sexual assault in a fair and accurate way, here are some suggestions:

California Watchdog: "Koch Brothers Network" Behind $15 Million Dark-Money Donations

On Thursday, the California attorney general and the state's top election watchdog named the "Koch brothers network" of donors and dark-money nonprofits as the true source of $15 million in secret donations made last year to influence two bitterly fought ballot propositions in California. State officials unmasked the Kochs' network as part of a settlement deal that ends a nearly year-long investigation into the source of the secret donations that flowed in California last fall.

As part of the deal, two Arizona-based nonprofits, the Koch-linked Center to Protect Patients Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership, admitted violating state election law. The settlement mandates that the two nonprofits pay a $1 million fine to California's general fund, and the committees who received the secret donations at the heart of the case must also cut a check to the state for the amount of those donations, which totaled $15.08 million.

Reckoning Comes to Western Coal Country

It’s Friday night in the “energy capital of the nation,” a sprawled-out strip mall in Campbell County, Wyoming, called Gillette. In a bar on Highway 59, the liquor bottles are backlit in neon green, and a bartender covered in glitter slings Budweiser Selects to small groups of big men. Various iterations of dudes beating the daylights out of each other occupy the television screens. The man feeding the jukebox chooses rock, never country. In Gillette, coal is king, and the cattle boom is long over.

The man at the end of the bar, I’ll call him Mike, has worked in one of the mines south of Gillette for twenty-one years. He told me he makes $90,000 a year operating machinery in the pit. Mike doesn’t really want to talk to me because I “look like a liberal,” but he buys me a beer and lights up when I ask him about the “war on coal,” a staple of right-wing media. “Everyone in this bar gets up, goes to work, and we pay our taxes,” he says. “Why doesn’t Obama come down here and see what he’s declaring a war on? He wants to take away our way of life.”

Ted Cruz In Iowa Claims Shutdown Was Worth It

DES MOINES, Iowa -- DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says this month's partial government shutdown and his key role in it were a success: They got people talking.

"One of the things we accomplished in the fight over Obamacare is we elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans across this country," Cruz told about 600 Iowa Republicans on Friday at the Iowa GOP's annual fundraising dinner in Des Moines.

Measuring America’s Decline, in Three Charts

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In recent years, a number of international surveys have raised alarms that the United States is falling behind other countries in terms of educational achievement. Now there is another one, and its findings represent a serious threat to the country’s future prosperity. In basic literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills, the new study shows, younger Americans are at or near the bottom of the standings among advanced countries.

The survey was carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based forum and research group, which counts thirty-three high- and middle-income countries among its members. Some of its findings have been well covered elsewhere, particularly by the Times’ editorial board and its economics columnist Eduardo Porter.

While Defenders Cry Foul, JPMorgan Chase’s $13 Billion Banking Settlement a "Screaming Bargain"

In the largest banking settlement in U.S. history, the banking giant JPMorgan Chase is set to pay a record $13 billion fine to settle investigations into its mortgage-backed securities. Five years ago, the bank’s risky behavior helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure. JPMorgan’s preliminary settlement with the U.S. government may end up costing much less after taxes — closer to $9 billion because the majority of the deal is expected to be tax deductible. The deal is expected to be followed by a larger agreement with the Justice Department still in the works. Many in the media have portrayed the deal as unfair to the bank. The Wall Street Journal describes it as the government "confiscating" half of JPMorgan’s annual earnings to "appease … left-wing populist allies" of the Obama administration. Meanwhile, the New York Post portrayed it as a kind of bank robbery, running a headline that read: "UNCLE SCAM: U.S. robs bank of $13 billion." We are joined by Yves Smith, financial analyst and founder of the popular finance blog "Naked Capitalism." Smith is the author of the book, "ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism."

Author: --

Chinese state TV shows journalist confessing to taking bribes

Chinese state television has broadcast a purported confession to accepting bribes by a journalist who had been arrested on charges he fabricated stories to defame a state-owned construction equipment maker. The detention of Chen Yongzhou last week sparked a public outcry, including an unusually bold campaign by his newspaper to have him freed.

Chen's lengthy explanation of how he invented negative stories about Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology is the latest in a series of televised confessions by suspects in high-profile or politicised cases. Rights activists have said that public confessions in China are often forced and violate the accused's right to due process.

Leaked memos reveal GCHQ efforts to keep mass surveillance secret

The UK intelligence agency GCHQ has repeatedly warned it fears a "damaging public debate" on the scale of its activities because it could lead to legal challenges against its mass-surveillance programmes, classified internal documents reveal.

Memos contained in the cache disclosed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden detail the agency's long fight against making intercept evidence admissible as evidence in criminal trials – a policy supported by all three major political parties, but ultimately defeated by the UK's intelligence community.

The True Obamacare Test

On a road trip through Ohio a few weeks ago, I stopped at a gas-station market, where a bulletin board outside the restrooms was covered with flyers. Somebody was selling black-and-white piglets; a pumpkin patch was offering hayrides. And there were several handmade leaflets fund-raising for people who couldn’t afford their medical costs. Two of them I particularly remember: one seeking help for a four-year-old who required dental surgery and whose family couldn’t afford the anesthesia, and another for a smiling older couple; the husband had ocular melanoma and could no longer see.

On Inequality, Our Politics Matter

The core message of Inequality and the Fading of Redistributive Politics is that democratic politics and income inequality in Canada are deeply linked. The surge in inequality, which occurred primarily in the 1990s but whose effects persist, was only partly the result of globalization and technological change.

Politics also mattered.

Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the response to growing inequality in market incomes has varied, reflecting differences in the domestic politics of member countries. Many have found ways to mitigate the growth in inequality in disposable income. In Canada, however, the policy response has reinforced, rather than offset, growing inequality in the market.

Jim Crow II

In 1962, Bernard Lafayette Jr., a slim, erudite, 21-year-old civil rights activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was looking for a new assignment. He’d just finished exams at Nashville’s Fisk University, where he was one of a pioneering group of students who had desegregated Nashville’s lunch counters during the sit-ins and integrated interstate bus travel with the Freedom Rides. During the latter mission, Lafayette was beaten in Birmingham and arrested in Jackson, and he narrowly escaped death when his bus was attacked by white supremacists in Montgomery.

The Scholars Who Shill for Wall Street

Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.”

The Diversity Gap In American Politics Will Shock You

About 50 percent of Americans are female; 13 percent are black, 17 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 5 percent are Asian.

Yet when you take a look at the leaders of the nation -- the politicians who, representing the electorate, influence public policy and make the decisions that impact every American's life -- you'll find that they are predominantly white and overwhelmingly male.

Gap Clothing Chain Founders Were Behind California 'Dark Money' Campaign

WASHINGTON -- Well-known corporate chiefs funded illegal "dark money" contributions to groups in the Koch brothers' political network that were involved in Thursday's record campaign finance settlement in California, according to settlement documents.

Members of the Fisher family, founders of the Gap clothing chain, plowed more than $8 million into a dark money campaign in California's 2012 elections, partially redacted documents show. The money went toward defeating Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase, Proposition 30, and supporting the anti-union Proposition 32, according to the documents, which list donors to Americans for Job Security, a group that handled contributions in the campaign.

Al Gore: Keystone XL Is 'Ridiculous'

WASHINGTON -- The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is "ridiculous" and "an atrocity," said former Vice President Al Gore on Thursday.

Speaking at an event honoring the 10th anniversary of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, Gore praised President Barack Obama's efforts on climate change, stating that he thinks the president is sincere and that it will be a legacy issue for him. But on Keystone XL, which is waiting to hear its fate from the Obama administration, Gore was unequivocal.

Meet The 37 House Republicans Who Could Lose Their Jobs For Shutting Down The Government

The 16-day federal government shutdown that furloughed 800,000 workers and cost the U.S. economy $24 billion dollars has largely been pinned on House Republicans, making many of them vulnerable in the 2014 midterm elections.

Numerous polls have shown that a majority of Americans assign a larger share of blame for the shutdown to congressional Republicans, who tried to tie government funding provisions to defunding the Affordable Care Act. Even prominent Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have criticized their colleagues in the House for damaging the GOP's image.

Arctic Temperatures Reach Highest Levels In 44,000 Years, Study Finds

Plenty of studies have shown that the Arctic is warming and that the ice caps are melting, but how does it compare to the past, and how serious is it?

New research shows that average summer temperatures in the Canadian Arctic over the last century are the highest in the last 44,000 years, and perhaps the highest in 120,000 years.

"The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is," Gifford Miller, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a joint statement from the school and the publisher of the journal Geophysical Researcher Letters, in which the study by Miller and his colleagues was published online this week. "This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

Even Senate purge can’t save Harper’s Conservatives from taint of scandal

Every new revelation or allegation in the sordid saga of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s fraught dealings with senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau seems to heap more discredit on Harper, his office, the Conservative party and its leaders in the tainted Red Chamber. If the Tories were hoping that a speedy Senate purge would make this go away, they must be sadly disappointed.

While few Canadians can recall every tangled aspect of this long-running political fiasco, the broad outline is clear enough. And for the Conservative grassroots, it is a discouraging picture of wrongdoing in high places.

California Settles 'Dark Money' Case: Source

WASHINGTON -- California's Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday will announce a settlement in its probe into an $11 million contribution made by a "dark money" nonprofit group in the 2012 elections, according to a source with knowledge of the case. The commission will disclose the deal at a press conference scheduled for noon.

The settlement involves an $11 million contribution from the previously unknown Arizona-based nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership to the Small Business Action Committee, which opposed Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase initiative in last year's elections. Common Cause California spotted the contribution and reported it to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which began an investigation.

Bahrain Tear Gas Tender By Interior Ministry Fuels Fears That Kingdom Is Stockpiling Dangerous Chemical

Human rights groups around the world are growing increasingly alarmed by what seems to be a push by the Bahraini government to stockpile massive volumes of tear gas.

A document leaked by UK-based watchdog Bahrain Watch appears to be a public tender placed by the country's Ministry of the Interior on June 16 for more than 1.6 million shells containing the chemical. As Slate's Joshua Keating points out, that's more cans of tear gas than there are people in Bahrain, a country with an estimated population of 1.3 million and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Health Care Law Fails to Lower Prices for Rural Areas

As technical failures bedevil the rollout of President Obama’s health care law, evidence is emerging that one of the program’s loftiest goals — to encourage competition among insurers in an effort to keep costs low — is falling short for many rural Americans.

 While competition is intense in many populous regions, rural areas and small towns have far fewer carriers offering plans in the law’s online exchanges. Those places, many of them poor, are being asked to choose from some of the highest-priced plans in the 34 states where the federal government is running the health insurance marketplaces, a review by The New York Times has found.

George Soros Backs Hillary Clinton For President In 2016

WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Billionaire financier George Soros, a major Democratic donor, is backing an effort to persuade former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016, a spokesman said on Thursday.

Soros, 83, has pledged $25,000 to political action committee Ready For Hillary, the largest and best-funded independent group backing a potential Clinton candidacy. The wife of former President Bill Clinton would be widely viewed as the favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run.

Lac-Mégantic: Where Does the Buck Stop?

Canadians trust that their government will take reasonable measures to protect them, their workplaces, communities and their environment. Like the young people partying at the Musi-café in Lac-Mégantic, we are all in a way, oblivious to the risks that governments impose on us. When a catastrophic accident like Lac-Mégantic happens, people’s confidence in the system is shaken.

Was it the result of an improbable sequence of events? An "accident" that occurred in spite of a sound regulatory system and corporations committed to public safety?

PMO picks fight, Hill media push back, Conservatives send out letter to supporters attacking ‘media elite’

Last week’s run-in between the Parliament Hill media and the Prime Minister’s Office was a “one-off,” but journalists say the PMO deliberately picked a fight and they will push back if the PMO further restricts access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative caucus.

There’s a growing frustration about the lack of media access to the PM which resulted in some Parliamentary Press Gallery members refusing to send cameras into a photo-opportunity of Mr. Harper’s speech to the Conservative caucus on Oct. 16 because no reporters were allowed.

Senate expense scandal: The Mike Duffy-Stephen Harper credibility war

It's the kind of drama politics offers but rarely delivers.  But on Tuesday, Senator Mike Duffy provided both the drama and a plot twist in the Senate expenses scandal worthy of the best whodunits.

In the space of just a few minutes, Duffy portrayed Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the catalyst in what he called a conspiracy to force him to repay $90,000 in living expenses.

Drawing on his years of experience as a broadcaster, the senator once again became a storyteller, weaving a tale of intrigue, intimidation and betrayal.

Conservative campaign database fiasco costs party millions

The Conservative Party of Canada has scrapped a multi-million dollar database paid for by money raised through supporter contributions.

At least $7 million and perhaps as much as $9 million was used to pay for a database the Conservative Party was developing to track its supporters and donors.

The party is now reverting to its old system, the Constituent Information Management System or CIMS. That program is being rolled back out to MPs and riding associations over the next few months, starting with the four ridings facing November byelections, according to a memo sent by the party's acting executive director.

This week's wildfire: Duffy comes within an inch of calling the PM a liar

Senator Mike Duffy put on quite a show in the Senate on Tuesday, late in the afternoon.

The long-time broadcaster and consummate communicator started, disarmingly, by saying:

"I rise here today against the orders of my doctors, who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress."

He then enunciated the theme of his defence:

"Like you," Duffy told his colleagues, "I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong out of a fear of losing my job and out of a misguided sense of loyalty."