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, December 05, 2013

RCMP court document mentions Benjamin Perrin’s name 24 times

PARLIAMENT HILL—An RCMP court document filed in an investigation of the $90,000 payment former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy contains 24 references to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former PMO legal counsel, Benjamin Perrin, dating from the time Mr. Wright began arranging a plan to end the controversy over Sen. Duffy’s expenses until it was completed.

Mr. Perrin’s participation in the scheme came to the fore this week after Prime Minister Harper’s office revealed last Sunday that Mr. Perrin’s email accounts, previously thought to have been deleted from Privy Council Office data systems after his temporary employment with Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) ended in March 2013, had been found in a separate cache where they were being held in relation to a court case over an unrelated issue Mr. Perrin had apparently been involved with while working for Mr. Harper.

Hope in the Age of Looming Authoritarianism

I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. It’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only possibility.
-Howard Zinn

In the current historical moment, the line between fate and destiny is difficult to draw. Dominant power works relentlessly through its major cultural apparatuses to hide, mischaracterize or lampoon resistance, dissent and critically engaged social movements. This is done, in part, by sanitizing public memory and erasing critical knowledge and oppositional struggles from newspapers, radio, television, film and all those cultural institutions that engage in systemic forms of education and memory work. Historical consciousness has been transformed into uplifting narratives, box-office spectacles and lifestyle stories fit for the whitewashed world of the Disney musketeers. As Theodor W. Adorno puts it, “The murdered are [now] cheated out of the single remaining thing that our powerlessness can offer them: remembrance.” The relentless activity of thoughtlessness - worship of celebrity culture, a cravenly mainstream media, instrumentalism, militarism or free-roaming individualism - undermines crucial social bonds and expands the alleged virtue of believing that thinking is a burden.

North Korea's Prison Camps Expanding, Amnesty International Says

Satellite images of one of North Korea's largest political prison camps suggests its inmate population is expanding, Amnesty International said Thursday in a report detailing rape and torture in the North's notorious gulag.

The report by the London-based rights watchdog included rare testimony from a former camp guard, as well as from former inmates about the brutality prevalent in the prison system.

Biden Criticizes Crackdown On US Journalists In China

BEIJING (AP) — Casting a spotlight on the lack of press freedoms in China, Vice President Joe Biden met with U.S. journalists working in Beijing Thursday after publicly criticizing how they're treated by China's government.

Closing a two-day trip to Beijing, Biden listened to concerns from journalists who may be forced to leave China in what some have perceived as retaliation for stories that have reflected poorly on the government. U.S. news organizations have warned China's actions could have a chilling effect on hard-hitting journalism and the ability for American reporters to operate in the country.

Stephen Poloz's Secret Plan: Sink The Loonie?

Stephen Poloz may be trying to sink the loonie.

But it’s not some underhanded plan to damage Canada’s currency that the Bank of Canada governor may have in mind: Rather, it may be a “stealth” plan to stimulate the economy without lowering interest rates further, CIBC says in a note.

Economists generally agree that the Canadian dollar has been too strong in recent years, well above a fair exchange rate against the U.S. when you look at prices on both sides of the border. That has made Canadian exports less competitive, explaining why, for instance, the country's auto industry is struggling even as the global auto industry booms.

Harper sides with senator’s denial

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper disputed court documents Wednesday that allege the Tory party’s chief fundraiser offered to pay Sen. Mike Duffy’s inappropriate expenses before the tab ballooned.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said that under the Parliament of Canada Act, it’s illegal to offer money to a legislator, “so why does Sen. Irving Gerstein still enjoy the complete confidence” of the prime minister?

“The senator denies that,” Harper shot back in the House of Commons.

Turf war with Russia looms over Ottawa’s claim to Arctic seabed

The stage is set for a territorial dispute with Russia after the Harper government ordered a rewrite of Canada’s international claim for Arctic seabed rights to include the North Pole – a region that Moscow has already marked as its own.

The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked government bureaucrats to craft a more expansive international claim for ocean-floor riches in the Arctic after the proposed submission they showed him failed to include the geographic North Pole.

Low-wage workers across the U.S. are organizing for better pay, labour rights

The holiday season is upon us. Sadly, the big retailers are Scrooges when it comes to paying their staffs. Undergirding the sale prices is an army of workers earning the minimum wage or a fraction above it, living cheque to cheque on their meagre pay and benefits. The dark secret that the retail giants like Wal-Mart don't want you to know is that many of these workers subsist below the poverty line, and rely on programs like food stamps and Medicaid just to get by. This holiday season, though, low-wage workers from Wal-Mart to fast-food restaurants are standing up and fighting back.

Changes to Canadian Experience Class immigration program introduce new eligibility provisions

On November 8, 2013 Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced changes to the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) immigration program. The new CEC eligibility provisions apply to any application received at the Sydney, Nova Scotia Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office on or after November 9, 2013.

A cap has been imposed limiting the number of applicants to be accepted. Between November 9, 2013 to October 31, 2014, CIC will accept a maximum of 12,000 new applications under the Canadian Experience Class immigration category.

A Duffy audit timeline: Who did what when?

The RCMP investigation of Senator Mike Duffy generated a lot of documents. Murray Dobbin sifted through them and put together this timeline to show how we got to this point in the story.

Feb. 7 - Duffy says in a phone call with Wright that he is upset he is going to be audited. (p. 14 of RCMP documents)

Feb. 8 - Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy contract Deloitte to review residency and related expenses of Senators Duffy, Brazeau, and Harb. Conservative Senators Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen and Liberal Senator Furey named to sub-committee to review Duffy expenses.

The dangerous anonymity that helps drive online suicides

A University of Guelph student's decision to stream his suicide attempt on the internet this past weekend raises the obvious question about what would drive him to want to end his life.

But equally perplexing is the fact that 200 people signed up to an online chat room to watch him do it — and in some cases goaded him on.

How could anyone take pleasure in witnessing another human take his own life?

Who's Watching Our Money?

Giant banks are the most powerful institutions in the world -- in many ways as powerful economically and politically as the biggest governments. Unfortunately, the banks frequently use their power in ways that damage the economy and hurt folks living around the world.

Two prominent research projects carried out in recent years paint a picture of a ruthless banking and financial sector powerful enough to dictate the nature of key parts of the world's economy and challenge the strongest politicians.

How much duplicity can we take?

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, the guy who has done so much reporting on the data leaked by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, spoke the other day of how important it was for the media to investigate the claims of those in power.

“People in power,” he said, “will routinely lie to their population.”

Might Greenwald have used Canada as a prime example?

Never in all my years of political coverage have I seen a government get caught up in so many deceptions, falsehoods and bare-assed lies as this one.

There is no Jewish vote for Stephen Harper to court

So Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to Israel next month. That’s nice. Apparently, according to the media, who are indulging their love for stereotyping, that’s what it takes to make the Jews of Canada vote for him.

Harper will be visiting Jordan on the same trip, but I don’t hear the media saying he is courting Canadian-Jordanians. I guess we Canadian Jews are a homogeneous lot. We all think alike, all 385,000 of us, and we are such a simple-minded people, that just one issue matters to all of us when we vote — and that is where politicians stand on Israel.

Why Tories Are So Afraid of What Deloitte's Runia Might Testify

With all the reporting on the Senate scandal you might think there's not much more to be discovered. But reading the actual documents the RCMP turned up in its Mike Duffy investigation is definitely worth the effort.

The documents pull back the curtain on Harperland, a landscape so profoundly unethical Harper's staff does not hesitate even for a second in plotting to interfere with a supposedly independent official Senate audit.

You have to ask yourself that if this is how Harper's inner circle behaved on the Duffy file, what kinds of things do they get up to when they are strategizing against Harper's enemies?

The documents also suggest that despite the extensive media coverage on the Duffy scandal, we are still at risk of being played by the conservative political spin machine. Ezra Levant and Conrad Black are attacking the RCMP, with Black questioning how a mere RCMP corporal could have the effrontery to make allegations against a member of the elite like Nigel Wright. The scandal -- according to the Globe's Margaret Wente -- has no more legs and we should move on to writing about things that are easier to understand.

Nigel Wright’s view of Ottawa

RCMP Corporal Greg Horton’s magnum opus is a fascinating and instructive affidavit. Among other things, the document entitled Information to Obtain Production Orders in the matter of Senator Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright illustrates the power of spin.

The policeman’s lot, as Gilbert and Sullivan pointed out, is not a happy one. Politicians or pundits conducting a manhunt may get away with simply asserting whatever they think about their designated villain, but a policeman has to prove it. Alas, proving things isn’t easy even when they’re true, and can be the very dickens when they’re not.

Anti-abortion group looking to run candidates as Conservatives in Ottawa ridings

OTTAWA — A national anti-abortion group is helping sell memberships in the Conservative Party of Canada in the hopes of nominating pro-life candidates for the 2015 federal election.

Toronto-based Campaign Life Coalition has recently been calling past donors on its mailing list in the Ottawa area to encourage them to buy the $15 memberships and vote in Conservative nomination contests.

Campaign Life chairman Jeff Gunnerson says the group has found two supporters who are willing to run on a pro-life slate in yet-to-be-determined Ottawa ridings, even if it means trying to knock out a sitting MP.

Conservative Group ALEC in 1985: S&M Accidents Cause 10 Percent of San Francisco's Homicides

Gay people recruit small children in public schools and S&M accidents are a leading cause of death in San Francisco, according to a 1985 newsletter from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the national, corporate-funded conservative group best known for pushing Stand Your Ground laws and union-busting bills.

The report was dug up and highlighted by the liberal watchdog group People for the American Way, which is organizing a protest of this week's ALEC conference in Washington, DC. Titled "Homosexuals: Just Another Minority Group?" the report reads today like the script for a bizarre nature channel program on gay people. In it, ALEC outlines six primary types of gay people: "the blatant"; "the secret lifer"; "the desperate"; "the adjusted"; "the bisexual"; and "the situational." (The "blatant" homosexual "is the obvious 'limp-wristed' individual who typifies stereotype of the 'average' homosexual.")

The Obama Administration's Meaty Gift to Big Chicken

Remember the proposal that Obama's US Department of Agriculture has been pushing since spring 2012, the one that would speed up kill lines in poultry slaughterhouses while simultaneously slashing the number of federal inspectors who oversee them? As I've reported before, the plan involves a unleashing a barrage of anti-microbial sprays onto chicken carcasses as they zip down the line.

The Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy has shown that these sprays, whose use is already on the upswing, harm workers and may even mask, not decrease, salmonella contamination. As for the traces of them that remain on supermarket chicken, "government agencies have not conducted independent research into the possible side effects on consumers of using the chemicals," Kindy reported.

40 Years of College Football's Sexual-Assault Problem

Update: ESPN is reporting that Jameis Winston will not be charged in connection to an alleged sexual assault last December.

In November, TMZ reported that a former Florida State University student had accused the school's quarterback, Jameis Winston, of rape nearly a year ago. The accuser's lawyer says that after she came forward the Tallahassee police tried to dissuade her from pressing charges, warning her that the city is "a big football town" that might not treat her warmly if she leveled these allegations. Indeed, since her charges became public, some Seminoles fans have floated conspiracy theories that a rival school or Heisman Trophy contender may have put the accuser up to it. Prosecutors, for their part, will hold a press conference on Thursday afternoon to announce whether they'll go forward with the case.

'Most Transparent Administration' Won't Say How Many Guantanamo Detainees Are Hunger Striking

WASHINGTON -- Military authorities in Guantanamo are now refusing to say how many detainees are participating in a long-term hunger strike that began early this year.

As first reported by The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg, authorities at the naval base are now declining to respond to inquiries about the number of hunger strikers, which stood at 15 as of Monday, down from over 100 this summer. Military personnel stopped proactively sending out the daily hunger strike count back in September, saying the massive strike was largely over, but were still responding to individual inquiries until this week.

You'll Never Guess Which Companies Are Already Planning For A Price On Carbon

WASHINGTON –- Many U.S. companies are already including a price on carbon emissions in their business planning. That includes oil companies such as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, and major coal-burning utilities.

Efforts to put a federal price on carbon stalled out in Congress in 2010. Major polluters deserve most of the credit for tanking that legislation, and for keeping it from coming up again.

Drug Defendants Are Being 'Forced' To Plead Guilty, Report Claims

Only 3 percent of U.S. drug defendants in federal cases chose to go to trial instead of pleading guilty in 2012, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

The small number begins to make sense if you consider the consequences faced by drug defendants convicted in court, argues the report's author, Jamie Fellner.

“Prosecutors can say, ‘Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you’re going to look at life,’” said Fellner, an attorney who specializes in criminal justice issues at Human Rights Watch. “That’s a pretty amazing power that unfortunately they are more than willing to wield."

Who Belongs to the Lower Middle Class, and Why Does It Matter?

It’s been a good week, rhetorically, for those who care about reducing inequality. Last Tuesday, in his first papal exhortation, Pope Francis bewailed the unequal distribution of global wealth, using language that sounded, at times, quite Marxist: “But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence.” On Wednesday, President Obama cited the Pope’s argument in a speech that laid out his economic priorities for the rest of his second term, adding, “But this increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country. And it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.”

Egypt charges three top activists over Cairo protest

Egypt's public prosecutor referred leading political activist Ahmed Maher for trial on Thursday on charges that include protesting without permission, a judicial official said.

It was the first case of an activist being charged under the provisions of a new law criticised for stifling the right to protest.

Wael Shibl, the prosecutor, said Maher faced other charges including assaulting police and "resisting the authorities".

Two other activists being investigated in the same case were also referred for trial for allegedly assaulting the police and resisting the authorities. Shibl had said earlier that all three had been charged with protesting without permission.

Maher is founder of the April 6 movement, which helped ignite the historic 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. The other two activists are Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel.

Original Article
Author: Reuters in Cairo

As Workers Strike Against Low Wages, Fast-Food CEOs Fatten Pockets with Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay

As fast-food workers stage a one-day strike, a new report exposes how the industry’s CEOs have not just saved money by paying workers low wages, but have used the government to subsidize their own million-dollar salaries with taxpayer dollars. That is because a loophole in the tax code lets companies deduct the costs of performance-based executive pay. We are joined by Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of the new report, "Fast Food CEOs Rake In Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay."

Author: --

European court is not superior to UK supreme court, says Lord Judge

The law should be changed to make it clear that British courts are not obliged to implement judgments of the European court of human rights (ECHR), according to the former lord chief justice.

Declaring that Strasbourg "is not superior to our supreme court" in London, Lord Judge, who retired in October, said parliamentary sovereignty should not be exported to "a foreign court".

He is the third senior judicial figure in recent weeks to warn about the dangers of an emerging "democratic deficit" if the ECHR continues to evolve into in effect a law-making body and forces the UK government to give prisoners the vote against parliament's expressed will.

State pension age to be raised to 70 for today's young workers

Young people currently entering the workforce will have to wait until they are 70 before they can retire under plans to save £500bn over the next 50 years, George Osborne will signal on Thursday.

The chancellor will also use his autumn statement to demand £1bn in additional spending cuts in the hope that voters will focus on Britain's "responsible recovery" – the healthy economic growth prospects for next year, slowly restoring public finances and measures to cut youth unemployment.

Snowden documents show NSA gathering 5bn cell phone records daily

The National Security Agency is reportedly collecting almost 5 billion cell phone records a day under a program that monitors and analyses highly personal data about the precise whereabouts of individuals, wherever they travel in the world.

Details of the giant database of location-tracking information, and the sophisticated ways in which the NSA uses the data to establish relationships between people, have been revealed by the Washington Post, which cited documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden and intelligence officials.

The Real Reason for Pensions

Augustus Caesar, in 13 B.C., worried that retired soldiers might rise up against the empire. So he came up with a clever solution: after twenty years in a legion and five years in the military reserves, a soldier would earn, in a lump sum, a pension that worked out to about thirteen times a legionnaire’s annual salary. Pay the veterans off, the reasoning went, and they’ll be less inclined to overthrow you.

I learned about this from Robert Clark, a professor at North Carolina State University who studies retirement plans and included the Augustus anecdote in a book on pensions. This was his point: “If you look at pensions and ask, ‘Why are you offering them?’ there’s always ulterior motives from the employer.”

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter: 'It Is Part Of The Middle Eastern Culture' To Lie

During a Monday interview on CSPAN, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said "it is part of the Middle Eastern culture" to lie.

"In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying," Hunter said.

When asked if he meant that "all Middle Eastern countries are this way," Hunter reiterated his point.

"Yeah, that's part of Middle Eastern culture. They like to barter there," Hunter said.

NSA Tracking Billions Of Cellphone Records Daily: Report

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Security Agency tracks the locations of nearly 5 billion cellphones every day overseas, including those belonging to Americans abroad, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The NSA inadvertently gathers the location records of "tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad" annually, along with the billions of other records it collects by tapping into worldwide mobile network cables, the newspaper said in a report on its website.

Conservatives, NDP In War Of Words Over Energy Policies

OTTAWA - Tom Mulcair says an NDP government would turn on its ear a Conservative policy that permits government to override environmental assessments of major energy projects.

He would allow government to kill projects before they even got as far as an environmental assessment.

"There are some things that some people would send to the NEB (National Energy Board) that we would say no to," Mulcair told reporters at downtown Ottawa hotel Wednesday.

Senate Speaker drops neutral referee role, directly challenges Mulcair

OTTAWA - The Speaker of the Senate is directly challenging NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, an unheard-of step for the normally neutral referee of the upper house.

Noel Kinsella has issued an unprecedented statement blasting Mulcair for accusing him of claiming improper living expenses.

The Conservative Speaker's missive came several hours after Mulcair told the House of Commons that Kinsella and Liberal Sen. Pierrette Ringuette "pulled the exact same trick as Mike Duffy" — one of four disgraced senators under RCMP investigation for allegedly defrauding the Senate.

Will the last ethical Conservative please stand up?

With all the reporting on the Senate scandal you might think there's not much more to be discovered. But reading the actual documents the RCMP turned up in its Mike Duffy investigation is definitely worth the effort. The documents pull back the curtain on Harperland, a landscape so profoundly unethical Harper's staff does not hesitate even for a second in plotting to interfere with a supposedly independent official Senate audit. You have to ask yourself that if this is how Harper's inner circle behaved on the Duffy file, what kinds of things do they get up to when they are strategizing against Harper's enemies.