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 29, 2013

'The Deserters' -- These vivid stories of men who fled may finally kill the myth of the 'Good War.'

  • The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II
  • Charles Glass
  • Penguin (2013)
When I was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1963, we joined the military with a symbolic step forward. The only one who didn't move was a Jehovah's Witness; I ruefully admired him as the bravest man in the room.

In those days, conscientious objection was only marginally more acceptable than draft dodging, and only outright desertion was worse. Our parents had fought in the Second World War, which had been a "Good War," a just struggle against genocidal evil. That Manichean struggle had carried on into the Cold War; we were enlisted in it whether we liked it or not.

Energy in, energy out: Getting off the fossil fuel treadmill

The European Union (EU) fuel quality directive requires a 6 per cent reduction in the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of fuels used in vehicles by 2020. To help meet this target, the EU has calculated average GHG releases from biofuels, conventional crude, tar sands, and oil shale using a "life-cycle" approach, including emissions from extraction, processing and distribution.

Canada's federal government recently released a new report criticizing the EU's fuel quality directive: the Independent Assessment of the European Commission's Fuel Quality Directive's "Conventional" Default Value. The report does not challenge the EU's conclusion that development of tar sands and shale oil releases high amounts of GHGs.  It merely asserts that "some light and heavy conventional crudes have GHG intensities that are similar or even higher than those of crudes derived from natural bitumen," because of flaring "in oil fields where infrastructure is insufficient to handle the associated gas. " It cites Russia and Nigeria as countries where gas flaring increases GHG releases.

CSEC security tear down activist banner at 'spy palace'

On November 27 security guards at the construction site for the new $1.2 billion headquarters for the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) confronted a group of young people who successfully hung a 24ft banner reading "I SPY A WASTE OF MONEY."

Multiple security guards informed the comedians that they were on private property and that alarms in the facility had been triggered by their presence. The guards proceeded to film the activists, who responded by filming the guards and staring at them with two 3ft eyeballs.

America is the Stingiest Rich Country in the World

Over at the Economist, Steven Mazie directs me to a recent New Yorker piece on income inequality by John Cassidy. Its most revealing chart, Mazie says, is one that compares raw income inequality in various rich countries (as calculated by GINI scores) to income inequality after taxes and government transfers. In other words, it helps us see which countries do the most to fight the relentless rise in income inequality over the past three decades.

But I wanted to see that more directly, so I re-charted the data. All I did was calculate how much taxes and transfers reduced inequality in every country that had high inequality to begin with. Unsurprisingly, whether you use raw number or percentages, the United States is #1:

The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, with a top 1 percent that's seen its income triple or more in the past three decades. And yet, we also do the least to fight the rising tide of income inequality. Government programs in America reduce the level of inequality by only 26 percent. Nobody else is so stingy.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Original Article
Author: Kevin Drum

I Tried To See Where My T-Shirt Was Made, and the Factory Sent Thugs After Me

Aruna, a 19-year-old nurse I met in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is a lot like some of my friends in Washington, DC—bright, single, self-assured, loves her job. She speaks quickly and eloquently, not stopping to drink her tea and hardly ever even pausing to breathe. When I first meet her in Coimbatore, a city known for its textile industry, she is on her lunch break, wearing her freshly starched white uniform and a traditional red bindi dot on her forehead.

How Wall Street Has Turned Housing Into a Dangerous Get-Rich-Quick Scheme—Again

You can hardly turn on the television or open a newspaper without hearing about the nation's impressive, much celebrated housing recovery. Home prices are rising! New construction has started! The crisis is over! Yet beneath the fanfare, a whole new get-rich-quick scheme is brewing.

Over the last year and a half, Wall Street hedge funds and private equity firms have quietly amassed an unprecedented rental empire, snapping up Queen Anne Victorians in Atlanta, brick-faced bungalows in Chicago, Spanish revivals in Phoenix. In total, these deep-pocketed investors have bought more than 200,000 cheap, mostly foreclosed houses in cities hardest hit by the economic meltdown.

Conservatives muzzle key players from testifying on Duffy audit

OTTAWA — Conservatives in the upper chamber prevented one of two key players at the centre of a storm over Sen. Mike Duffy’s audit from testifying about what he knew, and were equally unwilling to let a top Tory senator testify as well.

The Conservatives blocked one attempt to call senior Deloitte partner Michael Runia, the auditor of record for the Conservative party on Elections Canada documents, to answer questions about a call he made to Duffy’s audit team seeking confidential information.

RCMP docs show 'how deep the rot was' in PMO

Alleged interference into an audit of Mike Duffy’s expenses “showed just how deep the rot was” in the Prime Minister’s Office, says Conservative communications consultant David Sachs.

The long-time Tory worked for former cabinet ministers Lawrence Cannon and Peter Kent, and now sits on the board of the Conservative Riding Association in Pontiac, Que.

Sachs told CTV’s Power Play Thursday evening that his disenchantment with the Conservative government and Harper “has been building over a number of years.”

PMO has hired three law firms to handle Duffy-Wright investigation

The prime minister’s office has hired three law firms to provide legal advice to current and former employees in relation to the RCMP investigation of former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy.

The PMO didn’t provide an estimate of the cost of the legal fees, but they are likely to be steep. The lead lawyer on the file, Bay Street litigator Robert Staley, a partner at Bennet Jones, is said to bill in the $900-an-hour range.

The other firms are Miller Thompson, and Caroll and Wallace.

Cyberbullying Bill Accountability Needs Improvement: Privacy Czar

OTTAWA - The federal privacy commissioner says she has questions about the government's cyberbullying bill — including the lack of accountability and reporting mechanisms to shed light on new investigative powers.

Jennifer Stoddart issued a statement following an outpouring of concern from civil libertarians that the bill tabled last week goes too far in expanding police powers to probe online behaviour.

Group of Tory Backbenchers Pushing To Limit Prime Minister's Power

OTTAWA – A group of Conservative backbenchers is planning to do something they have only discussed in secret until now – they want to limit the Prime Minister’s power.

They are frustrated by the heavy hand of the Prime Minister’s Office, which controls how they vote, what speeches they read and which questions they ask. Sources say Ontario MP Michael Chong is expected to propose a bill next week that would remove a party leader’s ability to veto the candidature of a sitting MP in an election and give the caucus the ability to call for a leadership review.

The Turkey Lobby Helped Block Child Labor Regulations

When Congress moved to regulate most child labor in 1938, an exception was carved for the agriculture industry. Children as young as 12 are allowed to engage in dangerous farmwork, which has lead to dozens of deaths and serious injuries for America’s rural youth. Though the Obama administration’s Labor Department moved better regulate child farm labor, industry pressure forced officials to back down. Mariya Strauss published a deeply reported investigation into the matter for The Nation earlier this month.

Tough Thanksgiving for Food Stamp Families

Forget conservative fantasies of food stamp beneficiaries living high on the public dole and feasting on king crab legs—life on food stamps is anything but luxurious.

The average daily food stamp benefit is $4.44, which as you might imagine is almost unworkable. It’s very difficult for beneficiaries not to go over that amount each day, and data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 90 percent of benefits are redeemed by the twenty-first day of each month. So the last week of the month is particularly rough for people who rely on food stamps:

China's dispatch of jets ratchets up tension over air defence zone

Tensions have risen further over China's declaration of an air defence zone in disputed regions of the East China Sea after it sent fighter jets and an early warning aircraft to patrol the area.

The state news agency Xinhua announced the patrols after Japan, South Korea and the US all sent military aircraft through the zone in a clear challenge to the Chinese measure. Beijing had previously responded only by saying it had monitored the flights.

Shen Jinke, a spokesman for the Chinese air force, described Thursday’s dispatch of aircraft as "a defensive measure and in line with international common practices” in the Xinhua report.

China Military Sends Fighter Jets Into Disputed Air Space Over East China Sea

WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - China's military sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft on patrol into disputed air space over the East China Sea on Thursday, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported, quoting a spokesman for the People's Liberation Army Air Force.

The move raises the stakes in a standoff with the United States, Japan and South Korea over the zone. Japan and South Korea sent their own military aircraft through the air space on Thursday.

Saying Lord's Prayer At School To Continue For Now In S.E. Alberta

The practice of reciting the Lord's Prayer will continue for now at some schools in southeastern Alberta.

The issue came to a head earlier this month after a complaint from a mother whose son attends Dr. Hamman School in Taber, about 50 kilometres east of Lethbridge.

Postmedia’s Godfrey saw total pay rise 50 per cent last year

Postmedia Network Inc. chief executive officer Paul Godfrey saw his total compensation increase by 50 per cent in the last year, as he steered the company through a series of deep cuts intended to reduce the newspaper company’s reliance on print advertising.

Mr. Godfrey, whose contract was recently renewed for another three years, took home $1.7-million in total compensation in fiscal 2013 compared to $1.1-million the year earlier according to documents filed with securities regulators.

Income Inequality: Canada Does Surprisingly Little To Reduce Wage Gap

Canada is among the developed countries that do the least to reduce income inequality, according to an analysis from Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum.

Drum looked at the degree of income inequality before taxes and government transfers, and compared those numbers to the degree of income inequality after taxes and transfers, for various developed countries.

Tories block key witness on Duffy audit

OTTAWA - Conservative senators blocked a bid Thursday to have a key figure from the audit firm Deloitte testify about alleged interference into the review of Sen. Mike Duffy's expenses.

The move came as the Senate's internal economy committee heard from three other Deloitte partners about the audit they had done into Duffy's living claims between February and May.

Deloitte's Gary Timm confirmed what had been revealed in a police report last week — that Michael Runia, one of the firm's managing partners, called him to inquire about the Duffy audit. Runia was not a member of the audit team.

Canada's wrong-headed position on Iran

As a Europe correspondent in the 1980s I spent considerable time covering NATO manoeuvres and talking to officers about their plans to defend, at all cost, an area called the Fulda Gap.

That's a stretch of flat German lowlands through which Soviet tanks were expected to pour into Western Europe if the balloon ever went up. The East-West divide then was also awash in tactical nuclear arms and neither side trusted each other, with good reason.

Top spy won't answer questions about G20 surveillance

News that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government allowed the largest American spy agency to conduct widespread surveillance in Canada during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits isn't drawing a response from the defence minister or the head of Canada's surveillance agency.

John Forster, chief of the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC), and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson both pointed to international security and said they couldn't answer questions about top secret documents retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden.