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.]

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Coming to a Post Office Near You: Loans You Can Trust?

The poor pay more.

According to a report put out this week by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service, about 68 million Americans -- more than a quarter of all households -- have no checking or savings account and are underserved by the banking system. Collectively, these households spent about $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for non-bank financial services like payday loans and check cashing, which works out to an average of $2,412 per household. That means the average underserved household spends roughly 10 percent of its annual income on interest and fees -- about the same amount they spend on food.

Think about that: about 10 percent of a family's income just to manage getting checks cashed, bills paid, and, sometimes, a short-term loan to tide them over. That's more than a full month's income just to try to navigate the basics.

Columbia River Chemical Spill Came From Smelter, Teck Resources Confirms

TRAIL, B.C. - Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) is confirming that its smelter in Trail has spilled up to 25,000 litres of a chemical solution into the Columbia River.

Spokesman Richard Deane says the solution likely contained sodium hydroxide which the plant uses to de-mineralize feed water for the smelter's boilers.

Law Doesn’t End Revolving Door on Capitol Hill

A top aide to a Republican congressman from Arizona helped promote a legislative plan to overhaul the nation’s home mortgage finance system. Weeks after leaving his government job, he reappeared on Capitol Hill, now as a lobbyist for a company poised to capitalize on the plan.

A former counsel to Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee left Capitol Hill a year ago. He, too, returned to the Hill just months later, lobbying committee aides on behalf of Wall Street giants like JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg L.P.

The Subhuman Conditions That Slaves And Child Laborers Face In India Are Worse Than You Imagined

During the largest firsthand investigation into slavery and child labor, a group of Harvard researchers documented more than 3,000 cases of forced labor in India’s handmade carpet sector.

And they say that figure is just "the tip of the iceberg."
Eight researchers from Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights found that the practices of forced and child labor are thriving and many workers in the world’s largest exporter of handmade carpets are subjected to abhorrent conditions.


As a transplant to the D.C. area from Beijing, I felt nostalgic as I read about the indictment of my new neighbors, the former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. On January 21st, a federal grand jury charged the couple with accepting more than a hundred and forty thousand dollars in loans, vacations, and gifts from a friend and political patron named Jonnie R. Williams, Sr. He was seeking their help in touting his dietary supplement—a “wonder product” derived from tobacco.

Some gifts were public: Williams’s company donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to McDonnell’s campaign and political-action committee. Other items were less open: cosmetic dental work for Maureen, jewelry, a fifteen-thousand-dollar shopping spree at Bergdorf Goodman, plane rides, a check for their daughter’s wedding, a sixty-five-hundred-dollar Rolex inscribed to the “71st governor of Virginia.”

Slavery in the Modern World

The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation
By David Brion Davis.
Buy this book

With this book, David Brion Davis brings to a conclusion one of the towering achievements of historical scholarship of the past half-century, his three-volume study of the “problem of slavery.” It must also set a record for the length of time—forty-eight years—between the appearance of the first and last works in a three-part series, a point I raise not to chide Davis for being dilatory but to commend him for perseverance. As in the previous volumes, Davis exhibits his command of a remarkable range of primary and secondary sources and of different nations’ historical experiences. And like its predecessors, the new volume reflects how scholarship on slavery has evolved, partly under the impact of the first two works in this trilogy.

Israel Freezes All Government Funds For West Bank Settlements

Following allegations of misuse, Israel's finance minister stopped all government funds from being transferred to settlements in the West Bank. Yair Lapid, the Israeli Finance Minister, announced the freeze as well as a probe into the misallocation of government funds.

It's being alleged that money earmarked for security and maintenance fees for settlements during a ten-month building freeze between 2009 and 2010 went to a "settler's council to be used for political purposes, including activities that run counter to government policy."

According to a report by Israeli television on Friday, as much as $42 million was secretly paid in recent years to local city councils who administer services in the West Bank. Lapid gave finance officials a week to determine whether the money went elsewhere.

The development comes at a politically convenient time for Lapid. Two very recent polls show a massive drop for Lapid's centrist party Yesh Atid. In both polls, among the biggest beneficiaries of Yesh Atid's decline in popularity were right-leaning, pro-settler parties.

Original Article

Jamie Dimon's Raise Proves U.S. Regulatory Strategy is a Joke

If you make a big show of punishing someone, and when you're done they still don't think they have a behavior problem, you probably picked the wrong punishment. Every parent on earth knows this implicitly – but does the Obama White House finally get it, too, now, after Jamie Dimon's raise?

When the board of JP Morgan Chase gave its blowdried, tirelessly self-regarding CEO a whopping 74 percent raise – after a year in which the Justice Department blasted the bank with $20 billion in sanctions – it was one of those rare instances where Main Street and Wall Street were mostly in agreement.

TD Bank CEO Ed Clark: Soaring Debt Loads Making Canada's Economy 'Fragile'

TD Bank CEO Ed Clark has always been more forthcoming with his opinions than some of his colleagues, but his recent comments on Canada’s economy are pretty strong, even by his standards.

In a recent series of speeches and interviews, the head of Canada's third-largest mortgage lender has been warning audiences that the large debt loads Canadians have taken to purchase increasingly expensive houses are making the economy “fragile” and “accident prone.”

Millions Are Now Realizing They're Too Poor For Obamacare

Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling and staunch Republican resistance, Marc Alphonse, an unemployed 40-year-old Marine veteran who is essentially homeless, cannot get health insurance under Obamacare.

Three years ago, Alphonse learned he has a kidney disorder that will deteriorate into kidney failure, and possibly prove fatal, if left untreated. As it stands now, he suffers from bouts of nausea caused by his dysfunctional kidneys, and he's dogged by an old knee injury that limits his job prospects. He gets by on $400 a month in unemployment benefits, and his family can no longer afford housing in their home city of Miami. Alphonse's 28-year-old wife, Danielle, and three young children are staying with relatives while Alphonse couch surfs.

Food Stamp Cuts So Devastating Even Walmart Is Too Expensive

Walmart struggled at the end of last year. But according to the retailer's new estimations, it wasn’t because people didn’t want to buy. It was because they couldn’t.

The retail giant warned Friday that the effect of last year's national food stamp cuts on its bottom line will likely be deeper than the company previously estimated. As a result its comparable same-store sales -- a retail metric that measures how stores are doing year over year -- will likely be slightly down for the fourth quarter.

Screw U: How For-Profit Colleges Rip You Off

The folks who walked through Tressie McMillan Cottom's door at an ITT Technical Institute campus in North Carolina were desperate. They had graduated from struggling high schools in low-income neighborhoods. They'd worked crappy jobs. Many were single mothers determined to make better lives for their children. "We blocked off a corner, and that's where we would put the car seats and the strollers," she recalls. "They would bring their babies with them and we'd encourage them to do so, because this is about building motivation and urgency."

Chris Christie's Bridge Scandal, Explained

Internal emails released Wednesday strongly suggest that a top aide to New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie orchestrated massive traffic problems in Fort Lee, New Jersey, last fall as an act of political retribution against the city's Democratic mayor. For months, Christie and his administration have denied allegations that road closures in Fort Lee were politically motivated. The emails, released as part of an investigation by Democratic state legislators, could spiral into a major political scandal for Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. Here's what you need to know.

CSEC Snowden Docs: No Sign Spy Agency Targets Canadians, Minister Insists

Nothing in a document obtained by CBC News suggests Canada's communications spy agency used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadians, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said today.

The top secret document was retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden. It shows Canada's electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.

Our "Meeting" With Minister Fantino Made Me Sick

As you may or may not know, this past week I was part of a delegation of veterans that pled and begged that the designated Veterans Affairs offices earmarked for closure remain open.

Tuesday on Parliament Hill, in between meetings and press conferences, we were trying to argue that the Conservative government should reconsider its decision.

Instead our pleas fell on deaf ears. It was a dark day for Canadian veterans. Minister Fantino didn't show up for the scheduled time, and when he did appear right before our press conference, his behaviour was condemnable.

Terrorizing Dissent: Harper's approach to defining terrorism is shamelessly bald

"When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern." -- Stephen Harper, 2005 (as Leader of the Opposition)
If dissent is the lifeblood of democracy, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems determined to render Canada anaemic.
The backdrop for Harper's latest assault was his recent visit to the Middle East. The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) criticized the inclusion of a supporter of anti-Muslim demagogues Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer in Harper's Israel-bound entourage.

Rare Snowden Interview Blacked Out by US, German Media

This interview with Edward Snowden was blocked from US & German television networks. No major news outlets are covering this story. The video is immediately taken down every time it’s posted on Youtube.

The German interviewer brought up Snowden’s request for police protection. As a result of threats from the Pentagon and other US agencies it’s obvious Snowden fears for his life, though he says he sleeps fine at night.

Debate: Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?

Ukrainian anti-government protesters have rejected an amnesty bill aimed at ending the country’s political unrest, refusing to vacate occupied government buildings and dismantle their street blockades in exchange for the release of jailed activists. The demonstrations in the Ukraine are collectively referred to as "Euromaidan." They began in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed his decision to sign a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union to forge stronger ties with Russia instead. While the Ukrainian opposition has been hailed in the West as a democratic, grassroots movement, we host a debate on whether the rush to back opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin obscures a more complex reality beneath the surface. We are joined by two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher who has just returned from observing the protests in Kiev.

Author: --

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: 3 Years After Revolution, Egypt Faces Deadly Polarization & Growing Militancy

More than 60 people were killed in Egypt this weekend in clashes surrounding the third anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of people turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution. But fighting broke out between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and state forces, as well as backers of the military government that ousted the Brotherhood from power last year. Some 1,000 people were detained. In a sign of growing activity by militants, an Egyptian army helicopter was shot down in the Sinai desert, killing all five soldiers on board. We go to Cairo to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He notes there has been an estimated 21,000 people arrested since Morsi’s ouster.

Author: --

From Al Jazeera on Trial to Bloggers Behind Bars, Army-Run Egypt Sees Growing "Silencing of Dissent"

The Egyptian military government has announced 20 Al Jazeera journalists will face trial for conspiring with a terrorist group and broadcasting false images. The military has accused Al Jazeera of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been protesting against the government since the army toppled President Mohamed Morsi in July. "This comes amidst a widening assault on journalists in the streets," says Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous from Cairo. "On the anniversary of the revolution on the 25th of January, we saw over a dozen journalists attacked in Tahrir Square. Journalists are frequently accused when they are assaulted of belonging to Al Jazeera. And this is a direct result of a demonization campaign of Al Jazeera that has gone on for months now in the state and private media channels.

Author: --

Great Barrier Reef Sediment Dump Approved For One Of World's Most Fragile Ecosystems

SYDNEY (AP) — The government agency that oversees Australia's Great Barrier Reef on Friday approved a plan to dump vast swathes of sediment on the reef as part of a major coal port expansion — a decision that environmentalists say will endanger one of the world's most fragile ecosystems.

The federal government in December approved the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port in northern Queensland, which requires a massive dredging operation to make way for ships entering and exiting the port. About 3 million cubic meters (106 million cubic feet) of dredged mud will be dumped within the marine park under the plan.

CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadian travellers: Edward Snowden documents

A top secret document retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden and obtained by CBC News shows that Canada's electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.

After reviewing the document, one of Canada's foremost authorities on cyber-security says the clandestine operation by the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was almost certainly illegal.

Julian Fantino, Veterans Affairs Minister, Says He's 'Not Leaving'

OTTAWA - The Harper government delivered a full-throttle defence of its planned closure of eight veterans affairs offices and the siege-laden military mental health system, blaming anti-Tory government unions and a reluctance of soldiers to step forward to seek treatment.

Julian Fantino, the embattled veterans affairs minister who came under pressure to resign this week following a testy meeting with former soldiers, said he had no plans to step down and that the closures would proceed.

Mexican woman lived like a "ghost" in Vancouver, was despondent after CBSA arrest

METRO VANCOUVER -- Lucia Vega Jimenez lived like a "ghost" in Vancouver.

She had no family, no close friends and worked illegally as a hotel cleaner, sending all her earnings to support her ailing mother in Mexico.

In the week before her suicide last month in a Canadian Border Services holding cell, the 42-year-old Vancouver woman was despondent.

Her savings had been stolen while she was in custody, likely by the one man she trusted, her boyfriend who refused to bail her out after she was picked up by border services authorities shortly before Christmas. Vega Jimenez hanged herself in the shower at the holding cell in Vancouver International Airport Dec. 20 and was taken to hospital, where she died eight days later.

Does raising the minimum wage = job losses?

Recently Ontario has decided to raise its minimum wagefrom $10.25 to $11, a full 16 per cent below the poverty line. While the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who try to subsist on minimum wage are no doubt lining up to thank the benevolent Premier Wynne for inching them that much closer to actually being able to arise from abject poverty through full-time employment, the praise has not been unanimous.  
The Ontario PCs, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the usual suspects for the 1% have been wringing their hands and wailing about how terrible the notion of increasing the minimum wage by $0.75 is. The CFIB claims that increasing the minimum wage hurts minimum wage workers "by reducing the businesses' capacity to hire and retain them." In fact, the CFIB predicts that a 10 per cent increase in the minimum wage would trigger up to 321,000 job losses.
So is this, in fact, true? Does increasing the minimum wage = job losses?

Whose freedom of expression is the Harper government protecting?

Last week, in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's address to the Israeli Knesset, he equated criticisms of the Israeli state and its policies with anti-Semitism. He stated that "most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state," continuing on to say that "it is nothing short of sickening."
Mr. Harper's strong condemnation of individuals who criticize Israel's policies and practices raises serious concerns about his government's commitment to protecting political speech in Canada. His comments should be seen in light of his government's claw‑back of hate speech legislation in the name of freedom of expression. In acting as a champion of freedom of expression, while targeting critics of the Israeli government and its policies, Mr. Harper has attempted to redefine political speech as speech that would meet the definition of hate speech under the Criminal Code. These contradictory actions should raise serious doubts about whose expression the Harper government is actually committed to protecting. 

Library cuts in more than a dozen government departments trigger fears of lost knowledge

OTTAWA — When Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration library closed its doors in the fall of 2012, head librarian Charlene Elgee wasn’t just worried about the loss of her job. She also feared that important documents she had immersed herself in for more than a decade would become unattainable to researchers.

“There’s a loss of accessibility,” Elgee said. “This material belongs to Canadians and I’m so afraid that some of this stuff will be lost forever if we don’t look after it.”

Myth Busting

Challenging The Myths: The Truth About Canadian Refugee Law
The Federal government’s refugee laws and policies are shrouded by myths and misinformation. The circulation of these myths is one of the biggest barriers to understanding the issues affecting asylum seekers and refugees in Canada. This page highlights some common myths about refugees to correct the record and provide accurate information:

1. Canada Is Not Being “Overwhelmed” By Refugee Claims

In 2012, Canada received slightly fewer than 25,000 refugee claims. Although the number of annual claims can go up or down, 25,000 claims has been the approximate annual average for more than 20 years. Similarly, the number of accepted refugees who became permanent residents in 2011 was approximately 13% of the total number of immigrants. This is a stable number that has not changed significantly in 20 years.


One law for the rich, another for everyone else

The Conservative government’s criminal justice agenda found little support in Canadian courts last year. Minimum sentences were struck down, judges were in open revolt over mandatory victim fines and the country’s top court declared Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional.

This year may not prove to be any better for the law-and-order party. This month, the Supreme Court of Canada is weighing in on yet another plank in the government’s ‘tough on crime’ policy platform: Bill C-25.

C-25, the Truth in Sentencing Act, imposes strict limits on the amount of credit that an offender can receive for time spent in jail before a verdict (also known as ‘pre-sentence’ custody).