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, November 22, 2013

Fracking Industry Campaign Contributions At Record Levels, Report Shows

Fracking industry contributions to congressional campaigns spiked 231 percent between 2004 and 2012 in districts and states with fracking activity, according to a report released Wednesday.

Compiled by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and based on MapLight's collection of federal campaign contribution data, the report showed a smaller, 131-percent uptick in fracking industry contributions to candidates outside of fracking areas. The fracking industry's level of contributions increased steadily from $4.3 million to just under $12 million between 2004 and 2012, according to the report, just as fracking's importance to the U.S. energy industry grew.

PMO, senators worked to cover for Duffy: RCMP

The prime minister’s senior staff worked with top Tory senators to whitewash a Senate report into Mike Duffy’s contested expenses after unsuccessfully trying to shape an independent audit, new RCMP documents allege.

The 80-page court filing, released Wednesday, provide an unprecedented look into the months of discussions that took place inside the Prime Minister’s Office and the Senate on how to deal with the Duffy problem.

In several cases, the documents illustrate senators and staff clashing or badmouthing each other behind the scenes as Stephen Harper’s office intervenes directly in an effort to manipulate the activities of Senate committees.

Original Article
Author: Will LeRoy 

Tory bagman tried to sway auditors: RCMP

OTTAWA - The Conservatives' self-styled chief bagman contacted a partner at Deloitte allegedly to try to influence an audit into the Senate expense scandal, according to information in new court documents released Wednesday.

The allegations — none of which have been proven in court — raise questions about the independence of the audit into dubious housing claims of former Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and former Liberal senator Mac Harb.

"I'm absolutely baffled that this audit could have gone ahead in any capacity with the kind of interference that appears to have gone on," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said in an interview.

Wireless Carriers Block Simple Solution To Phone Theft To Protect Profits, Prosecutor Says

As cell phone robberies have soared nationwide, phone companies have found a lucrative side business offering insurance to customers who are anxious their devices may be lost or stolen.

The top four wireless carriers will earn more than $7.8 billion this year in insurance premiums from their customers, according to an estimate by Warranty Week, an industry trade publication. Asurion, a phone insurance company that pays the wireless carriers for each policy they sell, made an estimated $98 million in profit in 2010, according to Businessweek.

Teen Thrown In Violent New York Prison For Years Without Ever Having Been Convicted

Bronx resident Kalief Browder was walking home from a party when he was abruptly arrested by New York City police officers on May 14, 2010. A complete stranger said Browder had robbed him a few weeks earlier and, consequently, changed the 16-year-old's life forever.

Browder was imprisoned for three years before the charges were dropped in June 2013, according to a WABC-TV Eyewitness News investigation.

At the time of the teen's arrest, Browder's family was unable to pay the $10,000 bail. He was placed in the infamously violent Rikers Island correctional facility, where he remained until earlier this year.

'Historic' JPMorgan Settlement Won't Help Most Of The Neediest Cases

The biggest legal settlement in history between the United States government and a single entity will directly benefit, at best, a tiny fraction of the millions who say they were harmed by the company's actions.

On Tuesday, federal and state authorities announced that JPMorgan Chase had agreed to a $13 billion deal to resolve charges it misled investors about increasingly rotten mortgage loans in the run-up to the financial crisis. Employees at JPMorgan, along with two banks it acquired -- Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns -- were accused of committing fraud in the packaging, marketing and sale of bonds stuffed with those failing mortgages.

Scott Walker Is the Perfect Republican Candidate for 2016 (on Paper)

If presidential campaigns were won on paper, Scott Walker would have it made.

There are no fears the governor of Wisconsin is some kind of moderate Northeastern squish, as conservatives paint Chris Christie. He has no kooky libertarian strain, as the establishment fears Rand Paul possesses. He doesn’t preen like Ted Cruz, hasn’t betrayed Republican orthodoxy like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio has.

Instead, Walker took an ax to one of the Republican Party’s favorite bugaboos—government workers, and more important, the labor unions that protected them. Then, when he became a national news story, he stared down liberal celebrities such as Jesse Jackson and most of the nation’s Democratic establishment to strip public sector unions of their right to bargain collectively, pared down their pension and benefit packages, and handily beat back a recall election when they came looking for revenge.

Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.

US and UK struck secret deal to allow NSA to 'unmask' Britons' personal data

The phone, internet and email records of UK citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analysed and stored by America's National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In the first explicit confirmation that UK citizens have been caught up in US mass surveillance programs, an NSA memo describes how in 2007 an agreement was reached that allowed the agency to "unmask" and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits.

Looking Away from Genocide

On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating military crackdown on restive Bengalis in what was then East Pakistan. While the slaughter in what would soon become an independent Bangladesh was underway, the C.I.A. and State Department conservatively estimated that roughly two hundred thousand people had died (the official Bangladeshi death toll is three million). Some ten million Bengali refugees fled to India, where untold numbers died in miserable conditions in refugee camps. Pakistan was a Cold War ally of the United States, and Richard Nixon and his national-security advisor, Henry Kissinger, resolutely supported its military dictatorship; they refused to impose pressure on Pakistan’s generals to forestall further atrocities.

Senators to Obama: Congress Must Vote Before Another Decade of War in Afghanistan

Tuesday afternoon, news broke that the United States and the Afghan government were on the verge of a new security deal that could potentially create an indefinite US military presence in the country. NBC News obtained a draft of the agreement, which extends until “2024 and beyond” and allows for the United States to operate military bases in Afghanistan and maintain combat operations against who it deems Al Qaeda operatives.

The draft agreement didn’t specify troop levels, but Afghan officials told NBC News they hoped 10,000 to 15,000 American troops would remain in the country for at least the next decade, though American officials said it would be closer to 7,000 or 8,000. In either case, if signed, the United States would be agreeing to at least a decade-long military commitment in Afghanistan—meaning a twenty-three-year war, at the very least.

Venezuela's president granted wide powers

Venezuela's National Assembly has granted President Nicolas Maduro wide-ranging special powers to rule by decree for one year so that he can fix the economy.

Tuesday’s vote over the Enabling Law is the latest move by the elected Venezuelan leader, a protégé of the late President Hugo Chavez, to strengthen his hand as he faces an important political test in municipal elections next month.

The decree will essentially allow Maduro to create laws without parliamentary approval.

Rob Ford, Stephen Harper, Addiction and Denial

"Denial is also self-reinforcing -- once you make the first denial, you tend to commit to it; you will deny, deny the denial, deny that and so on."
-- Robert Trivers, U.S. evolutionary biologist

Just like Ford Nation, Canada has been caught in the throes of an addiction. What enables our addiction is what fuels Rob Ford's: willful self-deception.

We are on the brink of becoming an indulged and stupefied citizenry willingly bullied by our leaders.

Signs Harper Is Gearing Up to Declare War on Unions

"Just wrapped up a meeting with several staff members, at midnight. Good thing they're not unionized!"

Although quickly deleted, the sentiment of Federal Conservative Employment Minister Jason Kenney's tweet on Nov. 19 hit a deep nerve for some trade unionists across the country -- particularly those already worried about what the federal Conservatives have in mind for labour legislation in Canada.

A set of non-binding resolutions was adopted earlier this month at the federal Conservative party convention in Calgary. The resolutions include a call on government to reduce wage and benefit levels for civil servants. The resolutions also call for stripping unions of the right to use member dues to support social policy campaigns and other expenditures not part of a set of narrowly-defined workplace issues.

Rob Ford’s own personal Jesus

Thank God, Rob Ford has his problem — obesity — under control. Or on the way to being under control, at least.

Now he just knocks down female city councillors like Pam McConnell on his way to a rumble in the council chamber at Toronto City Hall. If he’d been a pulling guard on the Argo line, the boys in double blue would still be in the thick of things. Fat lips all around.

Thank God, Rob Ford has come to Jesus — twice in the same week. First, Brother Doug — the other half of this possessed WWF tag-team — compared what was happening to his brother to the Crucifixion. The evangelical set must be thrilled. Rob as Christ.

Meanness is a way of life in Ottawa

Cindy Blackstock knew something was up when officials threatened to cancel a 2009 meeting on aboriginal child welfare if she was in the room. So she dutifully sat outside the Parliament Hill office, watched by a security guard, while deliberations continued within.

Blackstock is executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, a university professor, author and recipient of awards for distinguished service over 20 years in her field. The Ontario chiefs had invited her to the meeting specifically because she is an expert in child advocacy.

Be Thankful for the People Struggling to Limit NSA Spying

On Monday the Supreme Court, ruling on an emergency petition, declined to do the right thing and hear a case challenging the massive government surveillance of Americans, revealed by the leaks from Edward Snowden. For the time being, the court acceded to the Obama administration’s argument that it has the legal right to continue its unprecedented bulk collection of American phone records without any restraint. That throws the ball back to Congress, where a historic battle, crossing party lines, is already underway.

On one starkly polarizing side is the dark figure of Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat and reigning chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. One of the first to denounce Snowden for treason for letting the public know the ugly truths about government spying she had long concealed, Feinstein already has pushed a bill though her committee that provides the NSA’s spying with additional legal cover.

3 Countries That Are Bailing on Climate Action

When Japan dramatically slashed its plans last week for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, from 25 percent to just 3.8 percent compared to 2005 figures, the international reaction was swift and damning.

Britain called it "deeply disappointing." China's climate negotiator, Su Wei, said, "I have no way of describing my dismay." The Alliance of Small Island Nations, which represents islands most at risk of sea level rise, branded the move "a huge step backwards."

Stephen Harper’s climate-change record can’t be ignored anymore

Had Canadians embraced an ambitious climate change plan along the lines of Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift five years ago, would the Keystone XL pipeline blueprint still be gathering dust in President Barack Obama’s in-tray? Would Alberta’s energy industry be scrambling to get a single domestic pipeline off the drawing board?

By the time the 2008 federal vote took place, the global financial crisis was in full swing.

If the ruling Conservatives had presented a credible climate change plan of their own rather than be content to demonize that of their rivals back then they might have had to tone it down in the face of deteriorating economic circumstances.

In front of pipelines, I will support the Mohawks

With hundreds of others, I participated on November 16 in an unprecedented mobilization in Kanehsatà:ke (Oka), Mohawk Territory. Twenty-three years after the terrible Oka crisis, Mohawks this time invited non-indigenous people to join the fight against the expansion of tar sands pipelines.

This unique invitation also came from several indigenous communities across Canada resulting in more than 130 demonstrations against the expansion of the tar sands. In all, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people were mobilized to mark their presence and affirm their intention to fight this battle till the end. While we symbolically blocked Highway 344 with a "Round Dance," I realized that thousands of people in Canada were then simultaneously taking a deep breath of hope before getting back into a struggle till finish.

'Passion capitalism' cropping up on university campuses

Last year, Ryerson University, where I teach, won a Passion Capitalist Award. When I first saw this posted on the university website, I thought the Ryerson public relations machine might be dabbling in satire. Sadly, this was real.

Passion Capitalist awards are handed out to employers and institutions that demonstrate a commitment to "taking a strong emotion and turning it into a valuable asset," as explained by Paul Alofs in the book Passion Capital, the inspiration for the award.

Canada Job Grant focuses on needs of business, not Canadians struggling to find work

Federal Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney met with his provincial counterparts this month to discuss the federal government's proposed overhaul of job training, the Canada Job Grant (CJG) program. The provinces have opposed the CJG partly because it means a reduction in funding, as well as an intrusion into a traditionally provincial jurisdiction by the federal government. However, all Canadians should be concerned about how the CJG will privilege the interests of large corporations over the needs of communities, of unemployed workers, and those who have been hardest hit by the economic downturn.

How First Nations Guardians Defend BC's Fragile Coast

It's a sunny afternoon in late July. Six First Nations students march across the white sand of North Beach on tiny Calvert Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, British Columbia, to greet two different groups of travellers.

Part of a class described as an "Introduction to Parks and Protected Areas," the students are learning the proper way to approach people in conservation areas: friendly and polite, but clearly informing the visitors about what they can and cannot do in the area.

Canadian housing 21% overvalued, ratings agency says

Sky high prices in the Canadian real estate market won't be climbing for much longer, says a report by global rating agency Fitch Ratings.

The agency forecast Tuesday that home prices across the country are in for a "soft landing" and will either flatten out or slightly decrease over the next five years. It estimates that current prices are overvalued by up to 26 per cent in some regions (21 per cent nationally) and nominal prices could fall by up to 10 per cent over the next five years.

Leaked Pacific Trade Treaty Shows Countries Had Plenty to Hide

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, a massive proposed trade deal that includes Canada, the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Peru, and Chile, has long been the target of criticism owing to the veil of secrecy associated with the draft text. While negotiations have been ongoing for several years, participating countries have steadfastly refused to release the working text that addresses everything from agriculture to copyright, claiming that trade talks must be conducted behind closed doors.

CEOs With Massive Retirement Fortunes Push Social Security Cuts

With budget negotiations on the horizon, a buzz is building around Social Security, from Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats calling for an expansion of benefits to The Washington Post arguing that seniors must be sacrificed for the good of the “poor young.”

Two of the biggest players in the debate are largely behind the scenes: Business Roundtable and Fix the Debt, corporate lobbies that use deficit fear-mongering to sell benefit cuts. These groups are made up of CEOs of America’s largest corporations—people with retirement accounts that are more than 1,000 times as large as those of the average Social Security beneficiary.

Endless Afghanistan? US-Afghan agreement would keep troops in place and funds flowing, perhaps indefinitely

KABUL – While many Americans have been led to believe the war in Afghanistan will soon be over, a draft of a key U.S.-Afghan security deal obtained by NBC News shows the United States is prepared to maintain military outposts in Afghanistan for many years to come, and pay to support hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces.

The wide-ranging document, still unsigned by the United States and Afghanistan, has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan and spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al-Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be ending, but renewed under new, scaled-down U.S.-Afghan terms.

What Will It Cost to Cover China?

The Chinese Communist Party generated hopeful headlines this month by acknowledging that it faces a time of reckoning: to prevent economic peril and rising unrest, the Party promised to overhaul the economy, to allow more parents to have two children instead of only one, and to end the arbitrary “reëducation through labor” system, among other changes. This is an attempt at political inoculation—the Party is betting that giving its people a heavier dose of autonomy will raise their immunity against the full infection of democracy. In case there was any confusion about the goal, the Party reiterated its determination to fortify its control of the country and to ward off the influx of values and information that it finds threatening.

The political brilliance of Rob Ford

Has there ever been a politician as brilliant as Rob Ford? True, when a politician is described regularly by gleeful news reporters as "crack-smoking and alleged sexual harasser Toronto mayor Rob Ford", Canadian sculptors will probably not be troubled by commissions to erect likenesses of the man for future generations to admire.

Nor do I mean "brilliant" in the literal sense. Is Rob Ford a smart man? It would take a braver woman than me to adjudicate on this issue with confidence. One can argue that a politician who announces that the bad news is he smoked crack cocaine "probably in one of my drunken stupors", but the good news is that he will seek re-election next year must be, if not full-on stupid, then quite possibly high on crack.