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 12, 2013

The General Who Opened Gitmo Says It Should Be Shut Down

MIAMI, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. general who opened the Guantanamo detention camp said Thursday it was a mistake and should be shut down because "it validates every negative perception of the United States."

"In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong," Marine Major General Michael Lehnert wrote in a column published in the Detroit Free Press.

Jobs That Pay Less Than $15 An Hour Are Replacing Higher Wage Work

A growing share of the country’s jobs pay less than $15 an hour, replacing higher wage jobs, according to a new report from the Alliance for a Just Society.

The number of jobs in occupations that pay a median wage below $15 an hour grew by 3.6 million between 2009 and 2012, increasing by about 3 percent. During the same time period, the number of jobs that pay above that level fell by 4 million. There were more than 51 million jobs paying less than $15 an hour last year. Someone making $15 an hour working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year will make $31,200, while experts say a two-income family with two kids needs $72,000 a year to be economically secure.

Affluenza Defense: Rich Texas Teen Gets Probation For Killing 4 Pedestrians While Driving Drunk

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A North Texas teen from an affluent family was sentenced to probation this week after he killed four pedestrians when he lost control of his speeding pickup truck while driving drunk, a punishment that outraged the victims' families and left prosecutors disappointed.

The 16-year-old boy was sentenced Tuesday in a Fort Worth juvenile court to 10 years of probation after he confessed to intoxication manslaughter in the June 15 crash on a dark rural road.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum 20 years in state custody for the Keller teen, but his attorneys appealed to state District Judge Jean Boyd that the teenager needed rehabilitation not prison, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ( ) reported.

This Company Can Find Stolen Smartphones (If Only AT&T, Verizon And Sprint Will Let It)

When Lawrence Flynn’s smartphone was stolen in Atlanta in July, he assumed it was gone for good. Weeks went by. Police had no leads.

“I had given up hope,” he said.

But an investigator at Absolute Software had not given up. Four months after the theft, Flynn, 57, got a call from the company, which attempts, for an annual fee of $30, to recover a customer’s stolen phone no matter where it ends up.

Budget Deal May Be Good News for Pentagon Boondoggles

Today, the House will likely pass a budget deal that will partially end sequestration—the across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs that went into effect in March.

The deal is good news for many government agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, which was forced to cut back on nutrition assistance for low-income mothers and infants, and the National Institutes of Health, which faced cuts to its medical research. It's also good news for defense hawks and top brass, who'd been complaining about the dire effects of automatic budget cuts.

NDP urge investigation of privacy breaches at Canada Revenue Agency

OTTAWA – The Opposition New Democrats want an investigation of new privacy concerns at the Canada Revenue Agency after the agency was unable to tell the NDP just how many privacy breaches it had sustained in the last 10 years.

The agency was asked by the NDP for information on how many data, information and privacy breaches had been recorded in each year between 2002 and 2012. Some other departments were able to provide data on privacy breaches, with the results showing more than 3,000 recorded breaches with almost 87 per cent of those breaches not reported to the privacy commissioner.

6 things MPs didn't do before taking a 6-week holiday

In the interests of full transparency and journalistic disclosure, I'm going to level with you, readers.

Try though I might (and I did, I swear) to put together a definitive list on what your MPs accomplished this fall, I just couldn't come up with much in the way of concrete (or even ephemeral) parliamentary achievements.

Ignoring Sexual Assaults Can Be Deadly

On May 7, 1998, my daughter, Shannon, a 23-year-old student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was raped and killed by a man who broke into her apartment at 2 a.m. Her killer previously had raped at least four other women before Shannon, all students living alone within a six-block radius of Shannon's apartment, and all in early morning attacks.

However, the police failed to realize they had a serial rapist on their hands because detectives had classified two of the cases as "non-criminal offenses" and failed to investigate. According to the police statements, they did not believe the victims or found the victim's memory of events unclear.

Theresa May faces grilling from MPs as MI5 and No 10 spurn hearings

A package of measures to democratise and tighten the scrutiny of the British security services is being prepared by Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president, in what will be the first formal British party political response to the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The package will be put to the party's spring conference, and will include measures to bring the security services under the oversight of a formal parliamentary select committee, as well as measures to introduce judicial oversight of intercept warrants.

MPs' pay: rejection of Ipsa proposals would be a disaster, watchdog warns

Sir Ian Kennedy, the chair of the independent watchdog on MPs' pay, has warned it would be a disaster if political pressure led to parliament rejecting his package of proposals including an 11% pay rise.

Writing in the Times, he said: "I know there is a tension between the reasoning and the politics, but we were asked to fix the problem for a generation, not for a news cycle. That is what we have done.

The Inadequate, Necessary Budget Deal

It’s a sign of how far to the right House Republicans have dragged governance in our country that the very conservative budget deal reached by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray will need many liberal and Democratic votes to pass.

The agreement leaves the jobless out in the cold, because it doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, and provides little room for new initiatives to combat rising inequality and declining upward mobility—the very problems that President Obama and most Democrats believe are the most important facing the country.

Education Department Finds Numerous Problems At Sallie Mae, Levies No Fines

The U.S. Department of Education has declined to levy any fines on student loan giant Sallie Mae despite secret determinations over the past 10 years that allege the company has harmed borrowers, incorrectly billed the department and had other servicing failures.

The allegations, detailed in a Dec. 9 letter from the Education Department to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for the first time provide a glimpse into the extent of problems plaguing the $1 trillion federal student loan portfolio, and the apparently lackluster department response to faulty behavior by companies that interact with borrowers on its behalf and collect payments on government-backed student debt. The letter was obtained by The Huffington Post.

Those Damned Derivatives

The next major threat to Canadian and international financial systems is very likely to come from reckless investors gambling with derivatives, the dangerous betting vehicles that contributed to the 2008 collapse of financial services firm Lehman Brothers and the start of the Great Recession.

Used properly, simple derivatives (literally: a financial asset that "derives" its value from that of an underlying asset) can reduce the risk of some financial transactions. To use a simple example, they can help bakers guarantee what price they'll have to pay for wheat two years from now. (See sidebar on how derivatives work.)

Viktor Yanukovych Offers Talks, But Ukraine Protesters Say No

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Opposition leaders in Ukraine rejected President Viktor Yanukovych's offer of talks Wednesday, saying they will not sit down with him until he fires his government and releases all arrested demonstrators.

That stance reflected their growing confidence after the abrupt withdrawal of riot police from parts of Ukraine's capital early Wednesday raised protesters' hopes that weeks of demonstrations have eroded police support for Yanukovych and his government.

Yanukovych issued an invitation late in the day to political, religious and civil figures to join a national dialogue. But it gave no details about a proposed date for the talks — and could have been merely an attempt to buy time and mollify Western officials.

The Anti-Apartheid Underground: Ronnie Kasrils on Meeting Nelson Mandela in an ANC Safehouse in 1962

As thousands of mourners line up to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, we go to Johannesburg to speak with longtime anti-apartheid activist Ronnie Kasrils. A founder of the armed wing of the African National Congress, Kasrils worked closely with Mandela after first meeting him in 1962. Kasrils was a leading anti-apartheid underground activist, and on the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress from 1987 to 2007. He was also and a member of the central committee of the South African Communist party from December 1986 to 2007. Kasrils served as minister for intelligence in post-apartheid South Africa from 2004 to 2008. His late wife, Eleanor, was a Scottish South African anti-apartheid activist, whose story he recalled in his 2011 book, "The Unlikely Secret Agent." His autobiography is "Armed and Dangerous: My Undercover Struggle Against Apartheid."

Author: --

Canada holds secretive military talks with China

Three days after Beijing declared an air defence zone over the East China Sea, irritating some of Canada’s closest military allies, high-level Chinese and Canadian military officials held secretive Ottawa talks described as part of “warmer and closer” relations.

The talks and their context highlight an important element of Canada’s strategic approach to China, say observers. While political issues of the day continue to create waves, the two militaries are taking tentative but concrete steps toward each other.

Union urges Canadians to help stop Canada Post’s ‘downward spiral’

OTTAWA — The union representing postal workers issued a call to Canadians to fight to save door-to-door mail delivery, thousands of jobs and prevent what it predicts will be Canada Post’s “downward spiral.”

Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said he’s confident that Canadians will join the union’s campaign to stop Canada Post from phasing out home delivery and encourage the crown corporation to invest in new services to offset the steady decline of mail volumes.

Canada Post CEO moonlights with think-tank that urged mail changes

OTTAWA — Canada Post president and CEO Deepak Chopra is a board member of the organization that highlighted the financial plight facing the Crown corporation and suggested eliminating door-to-door delivery as a way for it to save money.

In announcing Wednesday a five-point restructuring plan that includes ending door-to-door residential mail delivery in urban areas, Canada Post repeatedly pointed to  a Conference Board of Canada report released last spring that documented challenges facing the postal service. That same report included options such as eliminating door-to-door service for urban residential households and increasing postal prices as ways to cut costs and improve the bottom line — options the Crown corporation has now adopted.

Conservatives missing in action in Canada Post cuts

MONTREAL—On the day that Canada Post unilaterally declared its intention to impose a major service cut and a substantial price increase on a massive number of Canadians, the country’s Conservative consumer champions went missing in action.

No duo of federal ministers was on hand in the lobby of the House of Commons to promise — in both official languages — to read the riot act to the offending service provider.

No Conservative MP was around to do the rounds of the afternoon political shows to explain where the Canada Post cuts fit in the pro-consumer manifesto that was presented under the guise of a throne speech only last October.

Canadians should demand reversal of Canada Post decision, CUPW

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) expressed disappointment today over announced plans that will see Canada Post end door-to-door mail delivery, raise stamp prices significantly and, in the process, eliminate somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs.

Positions at Canada Post will be eliminated over the next five years. Because of job security measures in CUPW collective agreement, jobs will be phased out through attrition, though it is not clear yet whether that will include buy-outs.

John Podesta Is Recusing Himself From Keystone XL, While The Company That Worked With TransCanada Did Not

WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday, the White House appointed John Podesta, the former chief of staff for then-President Bill Clinton, as a special adviser to President Barack Obama. The New York Times reported that Podesta would "focus in particular on climate change issues," which the paper described as a "personal priority" of his.

Podesta, the founder and chair of the Center for American Progress, also has been an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. "I think he should not approve it,” he told the New Yorker earlier this year. “I’m of the view that you just can’t meet the standard now that Obama set out: Does it or does it not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution? What are the net effects? And I think a fair review of that would say the net effects are big and they’re negative."

Michigan 'Rape Insurance' Bill Passes Into Law

Michigan lawmakers passed a controversial measure on Wednesday that will ban all insurance plans in the state from covering abortion unless the woman's life is in danger. The law, which takes effect in March, will force women and employers to purchase a separate abortion rider if they would like the procedure covered, even in cases of rape and incest.

Supporters of the "Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act" argue that it allows people who are opposed to abortion to avoid paying into a plan that covers it. Opponents have nicknamed it the "rape insurance" initiative, because it would force some women to anticipate the possibility of being raped by purchasing the extra abortion insurance ahead of time.

Strength of the Volcker Rule Hinges on Implementation

On Tuesday, five federal agencies approved a key financial reform intended to keep banks from making risky bets for their own profit. Known as the Volcker rule, the regulation took three years to finalize and withstood a concentrated lobbying front from Wall Street and business groups.

As recently as last month financial reformers expressed concern that the final rule would leave critical loopholes open and fail to stop banks from engaging in speculative trading, with taxpayers vulnerable to big losses. But after seventy-one pages of official guidelines were unveiled yesterday, reform advocates appear to have won their campaign for a stronger law. But because of critical gray areas in the rule, how much stability it restores to the financial system depends on implementation and enforcement.

Alberta Oilsands Environmental Coalition Reapplies To Oppose Project

EDMONTON - An environmental group has reapplied to speak to an oilsands review panel after a court tossed out the Alberta government's attempt to block the organization.

The Alberta Oilsands Environmental Coalition is asking the province for a chance to appear at a regulatory hearing into a project proposed by Southern Pacific Resource Corp. to expand an oilsands facility northwest of Fort McMurray.

Grading Canada's economic recovery: The big picture

Over the past week, we've been evaluating Canada's economic recovery. Today is the last post in this blog series.

There is no dispute that Canada has had a 'recovery' -- both Canada's economy and unemployment have improved since the end of the low point of the recession -- but the question is the quality of that recovery.

We first looked at GDP growth. We found that when adjusted for population growth, Canada's recovery in real GDP per capita has been pretty mediocre, ranking fourth in the G-7 and 16th of 34 countries in the OECD. Canada's OECD rank translates to a C according to our grading methodology.

Why the wealthy are not like us: Capital gains, wealth and income distribution

This week's release from Statistics Canada on the income share of the wealthy generated some interesting coverage and commentary. It reported that the top 1 per cent's share of total income in Canada remained steady in 2011 in Canada, at 10.6 percent -- but still significantly higher than in the 1980s.

Most observers did not mention, however, that this oft-cited income share statistic does not include capital gains in the calculation of incomes and income shares. A capital gain, of course, is a realized benefit resulting from the disposition of an asset (buy low, sell high … unless you are a short seller, in which case you should buy high and sell low!).

Ottawa handed shipyards too much control of $105-billion project, researchers say

The Canadian government has lost control over costs in its $105-billion shipbuilding program because it’s handed too much power to shipyards placed in charge of the project, a new report argues.

Authors Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia professor of political science, and researcher Stewart Webb are calling on Ottawa to put a tighter leash on the program or risk seeing costs spiral even higher. Irving Shipbuilding on the east coast and Seaspan on the west coast have been selected to build the bulk of the vessels.

Premier ‘deeply concerned’ with pay at OPG

TORONTO - The Opposition demanded even more heads roll at Ontario Power Generation Wednesday following a damning auditor general's report that found salaries, bonuses and pensions at the government-owned utility are overly generous.

"We are today calling for the firing of the OPG chair, the CEO and the Minister of Energy," said Progressive Conservative energy critic Lisa MacLeod. "The auditor's report showed a culture of entitlement that has misused ratepayer's money for handsome bonuses, very generous pension plans and almost 8,000 people making over $100,000 when people are having a tough time paying their energy bills."

Mazza made $9.3M over six years: minister

TORONTO - Ousted Ornge CEO Chris Mazza collected $9.3 million over six years at the province's publicly funded air ambulance service, the governing Liberals confirmed Wednesday.

The recently reported figure "is accurate," Health Minister Deb Matthews said after testifying at a legislative committee that is looking into the Ornge spending scandal.

That includes salary, bonuses, expenses and other fees, she said. A summary sheet outlining what Mazza collected will be provided to the committee to "make it all clear."

The committee had previously heard that Mazza made $1.4 million in a single year, on top of hefty loans totalling $1.2 million, but the grand total had not been confirmed until Wednesday.

Ottawa reacts to stunning Canada Post news

OTTAWA - The demise of door-to-door mail delivery in Canada's urban centres loomed large over a dormant Parliament Hill on Wednesday as critics denounced the timing of a bombshell decision that Conservatives defended as a necessary evil.

Day 1 of the House of Commons holiday break was only hours old when Canada Post abruptly announced it planned to phase out door-to-door urban delivery, slash jobs and dramatically increase the price of stamps.

As many as 8,000 jobs are on the line due to the cuts, which are expected to impact a third of all Canadian households. Rural residences will be spared.

Rage in Kiev

On the morning of November 30th, the perpetually troubled former Soviet republic of Ukraine awoke to a nasty bit of news. At about 4 A.M., riot police in Kiev, the capital, had marched into an anti-government protest encampment that had occupied the city’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, for nine days.

The scale of the police intervention was so extreme that some in the government claimed it had been planned by the opposition as a way to blacken the regime, an argument that, while certainly false, does have a certain logic in the fun-house world of post-Soviet politics. The inevitable smartphone video of police beatings went viral, and within hours a rage had seized Kiev. In our apartment, not far from the Maidan, I was jolted out of sleep by my wife, who was sobbing over her iPad. Then our phones started ringing, as friends and in-laws called to commiserate and inveigh.

Budget Deal Would Open New Areas Of The Gulf Of Mexico For Drilling

WASHINGTON -– The bipartisan budget deal unveiled Tuesday night includes a provision that would open up new parts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling.

The proposal includes passage of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, which would allow development of oil and gas reserves that cross the international maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico. There has been a moratorium in place on drilling in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf since 2000, but it is set to expire at the end of 2013. The agreement included in the budget deal sets standards for both countries to undertake development in this area, and has already won approval from both the Obama administration and Mexico.

The War Over Austerity Is Over. Republicans Won

The main thing you need to know about today's budget agreement is that it's very modest. It repeals a little bit of the sequester cuts, and pays for it with a few small cuts in entitlements and some even smaller increases in user fees. Overall, the numbers are tiny enough that it's hard to see how anyone can get either too excited or too outraged over it.

Needless to say, this hasn't stopped the usual suspects (Heritage, Club for Growth, various tea party groups) from acting as though it represents the end of Western civilization. But they've overplayed their hands this time, and GOP leaders in the House have apparently had enough of these clowns. Both John Boehner and Eric Cantor essentially told them to piss off, and I suspect that this agreement is going to get a lot of Republican votes. I'll predict at least 150 Republican votes in the House, maybe more. The tea party rump is truly going to be a rump this time.

No, the Budget Deal Isn't a "Compromise"

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were noticeably pleased with themselves when they announced their new budget deal at a press conference Tuesday evening. The 15-minute session was filled with compliments and bipartisan kumbayas for reaching such a sensible accord. "From the the outset," Ryan said, "we knew that if we forced each other to compromise a core principle we would get nowhere. That is why we decided to focus on where the common ground is." Murray backed that up, stressing that the two found success because they ditched ideological rigidity in favor of accommodation. "We have broken through the partisanship and the gridlock," Murray said, "and reached a bipartisan budget compromise that will prevent a government shutdown in January."

Taxation Without Penetration

Some years ago, I recall reading a series of trend pieces about how teens these days are engaging in rampant oral and anal sex in an effort to preserve their status as “technical” virgins. This turns out to not be the case. Nobody is really that dumb—kids just experiment with a wide range of sexual activities all at once. They don’t base major decisions on a set of meaningless distinctions.

One can only wish that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his allies in the GOP caucus had that much sense. But it doesn’t seem so, judging by the deal they brokered late last night with Senate budget chair Patty Murray and her team.

We've Reached The Point Where Climate Change Deniers Need To Be Reminded That It Snows Every Year

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) took to the House floor Tuesday to remind his colleagues that a snowfall in December does not disprove climate change, arguing rather "the fact that it is snowing simply means that it's snowing."

"You hear that because it is snowing, there must not be climate change. Well, Mr. Speaker, winter happens every year," Huffman said.

Huffman went on to call claims posited by climate change deniers "unscientific" and "reductive." He also pointed out that winter temperatures have steadily increased an average of .55 degrees every decade, "reducing snowpacks and creating water shortages across the country."