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 19, 2013

Michael Bloomberg Decries 'Labor-Electoral' Complex In Last Major Speech As NYC Mayor

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leaving the nation's biggest mayoral job with a glowing view of cities' future but a stern warning that they face a serious threat: their workforces' pension and health care costs and the politics around them.

"It's clear that the golden age of the suburb is over, and it's being replaced by a new urban renaissance" in which cities are magnets for people and pioneers in policy, Bloomberg told The Economic Club of New York during what's planned as the last major speech of his 12-year tenure.

Iran Sanctions Bill From Sens. Bob Menendez And Mark Kirk Could Endanger U.S. Negotiations

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are threatening to push the United States toward war with Iran, circulating and planning to introduce a sanctions bill despite warnings that it could derail nuclear negotiations at a delicate moment.

International observers and both parties to the negotiations have repeatedly pleaded with Congress to allow the talks to unfold -- warnings that Kirk and Menendez, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, appear intent on ignoring. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is also part of the effort, though much of the final decision rests with Menendez.

Not So Fast: New Budget Deal Leaves a Lot to Deal With

Hooray! Our dysfunctional, divided Congress managed to accomplish something. On Wednesday, the Senate approved a budget deal hammered out by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) by a 64-36 vote. Nine Republicans joined all of the Senate's Democrats in voting for the resolution. Since the House already passed the accord it will soon become official, pending President Barack Obama's signature.

The new budget, which sets government spending levels for the next two years, has been hailed as a breakthrough—a deviation from the gridlock and last-minute spending deals that have plagued Congress since the 2010 election. The consensus fetishists of Washington love the deal, and are suggesting it means we can say goodbye to any threat of government shutdowns until at least late 2015. Congress can just wipe its hands clean of past debacles and head home for an easy holiday break.

Conservatives bring decade of diplomatic darkness as more government buildings go up for sale

If the gloriously indiscreet diaries of Charles Ritchie revealed the golden age of Canada’s foreign service, we are currently witnessing a decade of diplomatic darkness.

While the great diplomat and diarist enjoyed Champagne and oysters in post-war London and Paris — where the socialite Lady Diana Cooper and novelist Nancy Mitford once organized “Ritchie Week,” a non-stop whirl of parties, dinners and balls — his present-day equivalents must content themselves with Asti Spumanti and frozen hors d’oeuvres.

Minimum wage: What's good for the goose is good for the gander

Ontario's minimum wage has been frozen since 2010. It's the second longest period minimum-wage workers have gone without a raise since 1969.

Oftentimes discussions about how much and how often to raise the minimum wage get positioned in relation to potential harm to business: how much can businesses bear to pay for an hour of labour before they are negatively impacted?

It is becoming increasingly clear that by keeping wages low managers are, in fact, undermining their own bottom line. An increase in the minimum wage can actually be good for business. Low-wage workers who have enough money to meet their household needs -- you know, like paying the rent AND buying food -- tend to spend every extra dollar they earn. Pumping that money back into the economy, through consumer spending, fuels growth and increases sales at local businesses.

HMRC 'lost nerve' over big tax avoiders, say MPs

British officials have "lost their nerve" in tackling tax avoidance by global corporations and have presided over a £35bn tax gap as they pursue easy prey such as small businesses and individuals, a committee of MPs says.

In a report that highlighted how the Treasury is owed missing tax payments of £35bn, the public accounts committee added that HM Revenue and Customs has left the state with another multibillion pound shortfall by failing to gather £2.6bn of an expected windfall from Swiss banks.

The findings follow a series of damning reports into HMRC by the committee which have addressed its failings over taking on tax-avoiding corporations such as Google, Starbucks, Vodafone and Amazon.

Google’s Robot Army

A couple of weeks ago, shortly after the Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos unveiled, on “60 Minutes,” that his company plans to deliver packages to customers with a swarm of autonomous, flying drones, Google made an announcement that seemed far less explosive: Andy Rubin, the former head of Android, would lead an “effort to create a new generation of robots.” Over the weekend, Google revealed how sweeping its ambitions truly are: the company purchased Boston Dynamics, a robotics firm best known for products like Big Dog, a four-legged device that carries cargo across rough terrain, and the Cheetah, which can run faster than Usain Bolt. If Amazon and Google’s collective plans succeed over the next few years, they could usher in a new era of human-robot interaction, one in which we regularly find ourselves face to face with robots in both public and private spaces.

Former BP Engineer Kurt Mix Convicted On Obstruction Charge For Destroying Gulf Spill Evidence

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former BP drilling engineer was convicted Wednesday of deleting text messages from his cellphone to obstruct a federal investigation of the company's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

He was found guilty on one charge and acquitted of a second charge.

A federal jury deliberated for more than nine hours over three days before reaching the verdict on Kurt Mix's case. The count of obstruction of justice carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water?  What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

NSA Whistleblower Kirk Wiebe Details Gov’t Retaliation After Helping Expose "Gross Mismanagement"

Veteran National Security Agency official Kirk Wiebe helped develop the data processing system ThinThread, which he believed could have potentially prevented the 9/11 attacks. But the NSA sidelined ThinThread instead of the problem-plagued experimental program Trailblazer, which cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Wiebe was among the NSA officials to face retaliation for blowing the whistle on Trailblazer. During his career he received honors, including the NSA’s second highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Director of CIA’s Meritorious Unit Award, and a Letter of Commendation from the secretary of the Air Force. Wiebe joins us to tell his story and to respond to the White House-appointed panel to recommend NSA reforms. We also speak with Ben Wizner, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who is helping to coordinate Edward Snowden’s legal defense.

Author: --

The GOP’s Fight Has Just Begun

The Republican civil war, like all civil wars, is even messier than it looks. It’s a battle between two different conservative establishments complicated by philosophical struggles across many other fronts. Its resolution will determine whether we are a governable country.

Because the GOP fight is so important, it’s a mistake to dismiss the passage of a real, honest-to-goodness budget through both houses of Congress as a minor event. The deal negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan may be small, but it represents a major recalibration of forces inside the Republican Party.

Cultures of Violence in the Age of Casino Capitalism

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. - Nelson Mandela

Guy Debord once argued that the spectacle suggests society’s desire for sleep. He was enormously prescient, and his words and work are more important today than when they were first written. The spectacle has been energized and reworked under the forces of neoliberalism and now promotes a mix of infantilism, brutality, disposability and lawlessness. As the visibility of extreme violence is endlessly reproduced in various cultural apparatuses and screen cultures, it functions increasingly, alongside a range of other economic and political forces, to legitimate a culture of cruelty and disposability in everyday life. Pleasure is now colonized in the service of violence, reinforcing Rustom Bharacuha’s claim that “there is an echo of the pornographic in maximizing the pleasure of violence.”

Tom Mulcair: Northern Gateway Pipeline Will Never Be Built

OTTAWA - Tom Mulcair predicts the Northern Gateway pipeline will never be built, even if it passes environmental muster.

Indeed, the NDP leader says the controversial project should have been vetoed outright, without wasting public money on an environmental assessment.

The National Energy Board is poised to release Thursday the results of its environmental review of Enbridge's proposed $5.5-billion pipeline to carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to the northwest Pacific Coast for export to Asia.

Retired generals take aim at Ottawa's handling of defence cuts

Tension is growing between Canada's top generals and the government over how to carry out deep cuts to the military.

CBC News has learned that those cuts are coming for the operations and maintenance budget, which includes training.

Sources have told CBC News the government's plan for the future of the Canadian Forces, known as the Canada First Defence Strategy, was debated at a federal cabinet meeting Tuesday in Ottawa.

Harper government's spy coordinators have some 'splaining to do

By now you’ve likely heard all about how the RCMP and CSIS have been gathering information on environmental groups opposed to oil sands developments and projects like Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

It’s enough to send a shiver down your spine. But hey, coming from a government that once branded environmentalists as “radicals,” we can’t say it’s a huge surprise.

The real kicker is that the fair and open environmental review process Ecojustice and our clients have placed our faith in may have been a pipe dream all along.

Conservatives dismantling social programs built over generations

OTTAWA—Nathaniel Parent has known hunger on and off for most of his life.

Now cleaning offices for $11 an hour while he awaits a chance to acquire better job skills, the 21-year-old former foster care ward from Midland, Ont., finds himself choosing between student loan payments and food.

“For the most part, I don’t eat very often,” Parent says. Sometimes when his debt has to be paid, he says, “I do choose to pay it and it’ll be like, OK, I’ll just wait to eat or maybe have something at a friend’s house.”

Low-income social housing residents anxious as Ottawa ends subsidies

Christine Crawford is a poet and seamstress who suffers from chronic, debilitating asthma. For more than a decade, her sunny apartment in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill Co-op has been her treasured oasis.

Yet Crawford faces an uncertain future that’s weighing on her this Christmas. In less than two years, Crawford could face the terrifying prospect of homelessness if the federal government fails to heed calls to work with provinces and territories to maintain social housing funding.

Op Ed - Say NO to UPOV ’91!

Behind the noise of the Rob Ford and Senate scandal cover ups, the Canadian government is angling to legislate the removal of a right of farmers that should be non-negotiable.

Ottawa is moving quickly to implement the UPOV ’91 plant breeders' rights convention with First Reading in Parliament of the Agricultural Growth Act, an agricultural omnibus bill. The proponents for this move say that doing this will keep private plant breeding money in Canada and stop us from somehow immediately turning into Luddites.

Harkin Calls Out Congressional Scrooges and Their ‘Benign Neglect’

There’s a certain buzz in Washington that correcting income inequality is back on the agenda—big speeches are made, think tanks launched, strenuously worded columns published. But in practice, this means exactly nothing (yet) for economically challenged Americans.

In fact, this year has seen Washington actively make the fortunes of many middle- and low-income Americans worse: federal pensions will get slashed, food stamps have been cut (and will be cut again) and vital long-term unemployment insurance will expire. And forget about anything proactive like raising the minimum wage.

Volcker Rule Made Meaningless by Abundant Exemptions

The subject of heated debate in financial circles, the Volcker Rule, which was originally passed as part of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, was finally approved by regulators. It will begin taking effect in April 2014 with full compliance required by July 2015. They say the devil is in the details. Regarding the Volcker Rule, the devil is in the details of its abundant exemptions. These include a laundry list of practices and businesses that mega-banks have performed under one roof, since the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall, as well as the myriad perks they won along the way to that power-consolidating event.

White House NSA Panel Undermines Key Defense Of Phone Surveillance Program

A White House-appointed review panel recommended in a report released Wednesday that the government cease storing call data on hundreds of millions of Americans, split the National Security Agency off from United States Cyber Command and reform the secret court that oversees foreign intelligence.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is sponsoring omnibus legislation to reform the NSA's activities, praised the panel's report in a statement.

In probe of Va. Gov. McDonnell, prosecutors agreed to delay decision on charges

Federal prosecutors told Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell last week that he and his wife would be charged in connection with a gift scandal, but senior Justice Department officials delayed the decision after the McDonnells’ attorneys made a face-to-face appeal in Washington, according to people familiar with the case.

Dana J. Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told the McDonnells’ legal teams that he planned to ask a grand jury to return an indictment no later than this past Monday, people familiar with the conversations said.

Dolphins In Louisiana's Barataria Bay Much Sicker After BP Oil Spill: Study

A year after BP's disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of researchers found that dolphins in the vicinity of the spill showed major signs of sickness, a new study says.

According to a new peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a team of government, academic and non-governmental researchers identified previously unseen health issues in bottlenose dolphins examined in August 2011 in Louisiana's Barataria Bay.

Rep. Jack Kingston Proposes That Poor Students Sweep Floors In Exchange For Lunch

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) wants kids to learn early in life that there's no such thing as a free lunch. To make sure they absorb that lesson, he's proposing that low-income children do some manual labor in exchange for their subsidized meals.

On Saturday, Kingston, who is vying to be his party's nominee in Georgia's Senate race next year, spoke at a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party about the federal school lunch program.

Temp Work Isn't Only Insecure -- It's More Dangerous Too

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. 2013 -- This was it, he told his brother Jojo. He would finally be able to pay his mother back for the fender bender, buy some new shoes and, if things went well, maybe even start a life with his fiancee who was living in Atlanta.

After getting his high school diploma, completing federal job training and sending out dozens of applications, Day Davis, 21, got a job. It was through a temp agency and didn't pay very much, but he would be working at the Bacardi bottling plant, making the best-selling rum in the world.

Obama Wrongs the Bill of Rights

President Barack Obama proclaimed Dec. 15 Bill of Rights Day, praising those first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution as “the foundation of American liberty, securing our most fundamental rights—from the freedom to speak, assemble and practice our faith as we please to the protections that ensure justice under the law.” The next day, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon called Obama’s surveillance policies “almost Orwellian” in a court order finding the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata very likely unconstitutional. If that was not enough, the president’s own task force on the issues, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, delivered its report, which the White House released, with 46 recommendations for changes.

Feds spend $200,000 issuing 'Harper Government' press releases since 2011

PARLIAMENT HILL—Public servants have issued more than 2,700 news releases since 2011 attributing virtually every federal initiative and spending announcement to the “Harper Government”—from a $1-billion budget measure in Ottawa to $128,000 for a beach upgrade in Conservative MP Gerald Keddy’s riding.

Records tabled in the House of Commons reveal the government spent at least $206,756 to circulate the news releases on commercial news wires, and the Liberal Party, which asked for the information, argues the figures demonstrate the extent to which Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) has politicized day-to-day operations of the public service.

Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra says there’s ‘no time to waste’ in cutting door-to-door delivery

OTTAWA ―­Canada Post president and CEO Deepak Chopra told the House of Commons transport committee Wednesday that his Crown corporation needs to start implementing its controversial plan immediately or risk losing millions of dollars a day.

“We have no time to waste, and we must act now and act with a sense of urgency,” he told the committee in his first public appearance since Canada Post announced last week it would eliminate door-to-door delivery, hike the cost of stamps and reduce the size of its work force over the next five years.

Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story

Two years ago, on a gorgeous November day, 12,000 activists surrounded the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Signs we carried featured quotes from Barack Obama in 2008: "Time to end the tyranny of oil"; "In my administration, the rise of the oceans will begin to slow."

Our hope was that we could inspire him to keep those promises. Even then, there were plenty of cynics who said Obama and his insiders were too closely tied to the fossil-fuel industry to take climate change seriously. But in the two years since, it's looked more and more like they were right – that in our hope for action we were willing ourselves to overlook the black-and-white proof of how he really feels.

Ottawa's shift leaves Ontario with $640-million less in federal transfers

After years of stepping in to prevent provinces from receiving lower transfers from Ottawa, the Conservative government has quietly shelved the practice – leaving Ontario with a $640-million cut.

Finance Canada has invoked a policy over the past four years called “total transfer protection” as a temporary move to help provinces and territories “in transitioning through current economic challenges.”

Canada Post's Deepak Chopra says seniors want exercise from picking up mail

The head of Canada Post says seniors have told the corporation they want more exercise and fresh air in answer to an MP's question about how the elderly will be especially hard hit by the cancellation of home mail delivery.

Deepak Chopra was answering questions put to him by MPs at a special emergency meeting of the transport committee Wednesday. Parliament has risen so most MPs are back in their ridings for a Christmas break and won't return until the end of January.

Canada Post Parcel Shipments Hit Record High

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - At the Canada Post facility on the outskirts of Toronto, employees are hurriedly processing thousands of parcels to keep pace with shipments that arrive every few minutes.

It's the Christmas season, easily the busiest time of year at the post office, but activity at the Gateway parcels hub in Mississauga, Ont. is especially lively this year.

Canada's One Per Cent Sees Share Of Taxes Shrinking

Canada’s wealthiest people are paying a shrinking amount of the country’s total tax burden, according to an analysis of new StatsCan data.

The share of federal and provincial taxes paid by the richest one per cent of earners fell to 20.8 per cent in 2011, from 23.3 per cent in 2007, says an analysis from the Globe and Mail’s Economy Lab.

Congress Passed A Budget, But It Could Still Blow Up In Their Faces

WASHINGTON -- Congress' current victory lap is premature. As lawmakers head back to their districts, fresh off passing a budget bill to fund the government for the next two years -- the Senate vote this afternoon merely a formality -- the prospects of political paralysis and even another government shutdown haven't completely faded.

The next deadline, in fact, is right around the corner. By Jan. 15, appropriators from the House and Senate will have to figure out how to turn that new budget framework into mutually agreed-upon funding levels for 12 spending bills, one for each of the Appropriations subcommittees.

More Than 1 In 10 Americans Who Work Full Time Are Still Poor

A good job may be hard to find in this tepid recovery, but low-wage work still abounds. Whether it's washing dishes, serving Big Macs or folding sweaters for a store display, low-paying jobs have been added to the American economy at a fairly brisk clip since the recession ended in 2009. Middle- and high-paying jobs, not so much.

By one estimate, one in four private-sector jobs in the U.S. now pays less than $10 per hour, well below a living wage in many areas of the country. Compared to better-paying positions, these jobs are also more likely to come without regular schedules or benefits, like health care coverage, paid vacation time or sick leave -- the basic trappings of middle-class work. In other words, employment doesn't guarantee a life above the poverty line; according to census data, more than one in 10 Americans who work full-time are still poor.

Low-wage workers have been striking over pay, and Congress is considering legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. With the U.S. Senate set to debate its bill soon, HuffPost reached out to readers who work hard and still have a difficult time making ends meet. Many struggle to secure full-time employment and scramble to find extra work in their spare time. Others make just above the minimum wage and still can barely scrape by.

They eat what they can afford, rather than what they want. Some avoid going to the doctor, even when they're gravely ill. Others turn off the hot water in their homes and wear clothes given to them by friends.

What they all seem to have in common is a desire to work and a hope to someday earn something more. "I think there's great honor in working," Bernadette Feazell, a pawn shop employee in Austin, Texas, said. "I work hard. And frankly, it's not because I think I'm worth $9 an hour."

Original Article
Author: Dave Jamieson

Asking the N.S.A. the Right Question

On March 5, 1976, a Baltimore man named Michael Lee Smith robbed a woman named Patricia McDonough. Smith drove off in a late-model Monte Carlo, which McDonough described to the police. After the robbery, he began making threatening phone calls to his victim. The cops tracked down Smith’s home address by tracing his license-plate number, and they soon set out to prove that he was the same person harassing McDonough over the phone.

Without obtaining a court order or warrant, Baltimore police instructed the local phone company to install a mechanical device known as a pen register at its offices to record the numbers dialed from Smith’s rotary phone. The pen register was a primitive technology. It used paper tape to record the information, and it didn’t actually tell the police whether the attempted phone calls were ever completed. But the register detected that on March 17th, the phone at Smith’s home dialed the seven digits of McDonough’s home phone number.

Fracking could be allowed under homes in Britain without owners' knowledge

Fracking could take place under thousands of homes without their owners' knowledge after ministers said companies would no longer have to notify people directly about potential gas drilling in their areas.

Nick Boles, the planning minister, said the law would be changed to allow gas companies to put in fracking applications without sending out letters to tell people about possible drilling beneath their properties. Instead, companies will be required to publish a notice in a local newspaper and put up site displays in local parishes, as well as conducting a wider consultation.