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.]

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Harper whispers his way into another war

You go quietly past the bedroom of someone who is sleeping. You go quietly when you walk a trout stream with a fly-rod. You go quietly when you’ve outlived your usefulness.

But there is one thing you do not do quietly. You do not go quietly to war.

When you are a democratically-elected government and you go to war, you do it very loudly. You engage the public, you involve all parties in Parliament, you justify the decision and — this is of critical importance — you define the mission. And then you keep the country informed on what is happening. You have to do all that because war is a life-and-death issue for the soldiers involved. It’s also a defining act for any country.

'World's Poorest President' Stops His Car To Give Hitchhiker A Ride

A hitchhiker was caught off-guard when a world leader offered to give him a lift.

Gerhald Acosta was looking for a ride on his way home from his job at a paper mill plant in southwestern Uruguay, earlier this month. He later explained in a Facebook post that though several cars passed him, an SUV with a government license plate pulled over, according to Upon getting inside, Acosta realized that Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and his wife, Sen. Lucia Topolansky, were in the vehicle.

The Biggest Check On U.S. Investment In Afghanistan Just Got Classified

WASHINGTON -- The new NATO mission in Afghanistan has classified its assessments of how more than $60 billion in U.S. aid is being used to bolster the Afghan army, leaving hidden one of the best assessments of U.S. taxpayer-funded investment in Kabul.

The previous NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, which ended in December, had for the last six years released figures and assessments of Afghan troops' capacity to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Washington’s independent watchdog over U.S. investment in that country. The Special Inspector, which releases quarterly reports, highlighted the new classification issue in a review released Tuesday.

Print this item Supreme Court Moves to Undo Civil Rights Law ... Again

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again taken it upon itself to reconsider a landmark civil rights law. Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and subsequent legal precedents, individuals or institutions can be sued for racial segregation in housing even if they cannot prove that the segregation was intentional. But conservatives have long argued that segregation ought to be legal as long as it is not deliberate. Now, the court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, also seems to want to see it that way.

The case in question was brought by a nonprofit organization in Texas called the Inclusive Communities Project, which found that state-funded vouchers for affordable housing were being issued almost exclusively in black neighborhoods, ensuring that white suburbs were spared the presence of low-income residents. So ICP sued the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs saying it was a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Enter the Supreme Court.

Bill Would Allow Texas Teachers To Kill Students

People who are concerned about the use of excessive force by law enforcement may have to deal with another fatal can of worms. If Texas state Rep. Dan Flynn (R) gets his way, teachers will have the right to use deadly force against students in Texas classrooms, in the near future.
The Lone Star State already permits teachers to have firearms in the classroom, but H.B. 868, also known as the Teacher’s Protection Act, would authorize instructors to use “force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator’s person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator.” Instructors would also have the right to use deadly force “in defense of property of the school that employs the educator.” Moreover, civil immunity would be granted to those who use deadly force, meaning they would not be liable for the injury or death of student.

What the Sharing Economy Takes

Sharing is a good thing, we learned in kindergarten, but that wisdom was soon called into question by the grown-up world of getting and spending. Now, New Age capitalism has spun out a wonderful invention: the “sharing economy,” which holds out the promise of using technology to connect disparate individuals in mutually profitable enterprise, or at least in warm feelings.

The most prominent examples of the sharing economy are a taxi-hailing service called Uber and a real-estate-subletting service called Airbnb. As with most enterprises emerging from Silicon Valley, they come with a very ambitious vocabulary. Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, uses words like “revolution” and “movement” to describe his company, which is now valued at $13 billion—a bit less than the price at which the stock market values Starwood, a company that operates 1,200 properties in 100 countries, under names like W, Westin and Sheraton—making Airbnb the best-capitalized revolutionary movement in history. The term “sharing economy” has been making the rounds for about a decade, but the phenomenon has roots in the 1990s: all of its trademark enthusiasms—the flattening of stodgy old hierarchies, the rise of peer-to-peer networks, the decentering of everything—were concepts imported into middlebrow culture by the likes of Thomas Friedman. Then as now, the structure of the Internet was taken as a model for society: a network of peers rather than a gray-suited hierarchy. But in its last iteration, during the dot-com boom, techno-utopianism was more about the production side of the economy—transforming the world of work into a flexible, hip space for creativity and collaboration.

Marine Le Pen Leads French Presidential Poll

The leader of France's far-right National Front party came out on top in a new poll on potential 2017 presidential candidates. The survey, published in Marianne on Thursday, pitted Marine Le Pen against French President Francois Hollande, former President Nicolas Sarkozy and other potential candidates.

"If the first ballot would take place today," the magazine wrote, " she would gather between 29 and 31 percent of the votes, depending on the adversaries."

According to the poll, former President Nicolas Sarkozy would come in second if the elections took place today. French President Francois Hollande, who has battled low approval rates throughout his first term, would not make it to the second round.

Anti-terror bill briefing for MPs scheduled during question period

A briefing tomorrow for MPs regarding the government's proposed anti-terror legislation is set for a rather inconvenient time: the middle of question period.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney's office sent an invitation to MPs on Wednesday to tell them the briefing on the latest anti-terrorism measures will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday, just down the hall from the House of Commons.

Question period on Fridays runs earlier than on other days, starting at 11 a.m. ET rather than 2 p.m.

Millions spent on consultants for access to information

The federal government has spent approximately $57 million on outside consultants over the past nine years to help decide which government records Canadians are allowed to obtain.

About 60 per cent of that spending, to handle what are called “access to information” requests, have occurred during the last four years of Conservative rule. The spending is above and beyond that allocated to full-time staff who handle such requests in each department.

The spending figures are contained in an order paper question from NDP MP Charlie Angus, although the data are not complete: Some agencies and Crown corporations, such as the CBC and the Public Service Commission, didn’t provide numbers in the response, instead directing recipients to the annual reports each files on access to information spending.

U.S. Plan to Track Drivers Bigger Than Previously Thought

New documents released by the ACLU reveal that federal agencies proposed that license plate readers be used to monitor the travel patterns of Americans who attended certain public meetings.

The documents showed for the first time the potential scale of a massive database containing information from millions of drivers, logged from automatic license plate readers around the country.

Target's $8,000 Cheque For Student Conference Bounces

Adam Normand was pleased when Target put up an $8,000 sponsorship for the student business competition he was organizing.

Target had given the Canadian Association of Business Students some money before to sponsor its central case competition, a venue for students to put their business skills to the test and make valuable connections with more established people in their fields.

Inside the Orwellian Launch of Tories' Anti-Terrorism Act

Reporters in Ottawa became surly quickly Friday when it was discovered the government lock-up they attended for a briefing on proposed anti-terror legislation was light on information and heavy on restrictions.

The federal government was tabling Bill C-51, Canada's new ''Anti-Terrorism Act'' meant to bolster authorities' powers to prevent and dismantle terrorist activity.

Journalists were corralled in a so-called lock-up to hear details of the new proposed law. Media lock-ups are frequently used to provide journalists with extra time to pore over information on a complicated subject, such as a budget. The reporters can't publish their pieces until a set time, usually when the government announcement becomes official.

The idea is that when the government unveils the news, the public will have instant access to the finer points of whatever is being released.

CSIS powers to be expanded under Harper's 'Anti-Terrorism Act'

The government has tabled its massive new prevention of terrorism legislation.
It includes a new offence: knowingly "advocating" commission of terrorism offences "in general."
The key words here are "in general."
Currently, it is a crime to advocate or promote a specific terrorist act. Now it will be a crime to more broadly promote something at once more general and more ephemeral, in ways the law does not define.

New Anti-Terror Bill Could Put Chill On Freedom Of Speech

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last weekend that new anti-terror legislation to be introduced on Friday will, among other things, “criminalize the promotion of terrorism.”

Such a move, however, could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Canada and would not necessarily contribute to effectively fighting domestic extremism, according to legal experts.

The new bill aimed at combating domestic threats was promised by the federal government in the weeks following the October attacks in Quebec and Ottawa that left two members of the Canadian Forces dead.

CSIS To Be Given 'Power To Disrupt,' Not Arrest, In New Anti-Terror Bill

Canada's spy agency is expected to be given new powers to stop would-be Canadian jihadists before they leave the country as part of sweeping new anti-terrorism measures being unveiled Friday.

Sources familiar with the proposed legislation tell CBC News the goal is to give the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service the kinds of legal tools that are available to intelligence services in other Western countries.

Harper's Claim About NDP, Liberals Vowing To Scrap Child Care Benefit 'Full Of Baloney'

OTTAWA - "Friends, our opponents have been clear. They would take away the Universal Child Care Benefit. They've said so on many occasions." — Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a speech Sunday prior to the resumption of the House of Commons.


With the House of Commons returning this week from a five-week break, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the stage for the 2015 federal election year with a speech to hundreds of supporters Sunday at a suburban Ottawa high school.

Despite Kobani's Liberation From ISIS, Many Syrians See Little To Celebrate

GAZIANTEP, Turkey -- Syrians say there's little to celebrate even if Kurdish fighters, aided by a barrage of U.S.-led airstrikes, have successfully driven the Islamic State from the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria earlier this week.

Sure, the U.S. has applauded the news, and Kurds across the border in Turkey danced in the streets. But the regime of President Bashar Assad continues to drop barrel bombs on its citizens –- without any meaningful U.S. response -- and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is tightening its grip elsewhere in Syria.

The Main Problem With Obama’s Climate Policy? It Makes No Sense

Not for the first time, the Obama administration is offering doublespeak when it comes to energy and the environment. On Sunday the White House announced its intention to designate more than 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness, which would put the area permanently off limits to oil and gas drilling. “Obama’s Arctic Power Grab,” is how Politico described the move, framing it as a sign of “Obama’s shift to the left on environmental issues.” Oil executives and Alaskan politicians responded with apocryphal statements. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, went so far as to claim that Obama had “effectively declared war on Alaska.”

Government pays $180K to run vacant office

The Harper government spent more than $180,000 last year to run the office of a corporate social responsibility counsellor for the Canadian mining industry — even though there was no counsellor.

The government says it cost $181,600 to operate the office from October 2013 to October 2014.

However, the position of counsellor was vacant all that time and remains so to this day.

Liberal MP John McKay, who posed a House of Commons order paper question about the cost of running the office, says the government’s answer is not surprising, since it was never serious about the counsellor’s role in the first place.

The government created the position of Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor in 2009.

The counsellor was supposed to investigate Canadian mining companies alleged to have abused human rights or inflicted environmental damage while operating abroad.

Original Article
Author: Will LeRoy 

Refugee health care fight cost feds $1.4 million in legal fees

The federal government is refusing to reveal the full price tag for its ongoing legal battle over the interim refugee health program.

But so far, the tally exceeds $1.4 million.

Last December, Toronto New Democrat MP Andrew Cash filed a written request seeking the total amount spent on legal fees and related costs to date.

Conservatives agree to allow shipments of prohibited weapons to Israel, Kuwait

OTTAWA — The federal government has quietly amended the export law to permit Canadian shipments to Israel and Kuwait of prohibited weapons such as banned handguns or automatic weapons.

According to two new regulations published Wednesday in the Canada Gazette, the Conservative cabinet approved the changes two weeks ago. They take effect immediately.

The regulation pointed to examples of weapons controlled by the Export and Import Permits Act that would be legally exportable, though they remain prohibited under Canada’s criminal code, which include “fully automatic firearms, electric stun guns and large-capacity magazines.”

Grizzly bear population at risk as B.C. Liberal government aligns with trophy hunters

Dressed in a black cowboy hat, B.C. Premier Christy Clark beams at the camera as she accepts the President's Award from the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. The year is 2012, and the outfitters are gathered for their annual convention in Kelowna. Clark has just announced new regulatory changes to benefit the hunting guides to cheers and applause.

"So awesome to have Premier Clark in attendance and noting her support for HUNTING and the role of hunters as conservationists and as the original eco-tourism promoters in B.C.!" a commenter gushed on the Guide Outfitters' Association (GOABC) Facebook page.

Can Bolivia Chart a Sustainable Path Away From Capitalism?

As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an "exit strategy" from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia. That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country's leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales - South America's first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times - was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014. Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he'll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

PayPal Canada Freezes Gardener's Account Over Cuba Connection

Two avid gardeners from Alberta have run afoul of Washington’s Cold War sanctions against Cuba.
Brian and Jan Ficht, who live near Edson, had their PayPal Canada account frozen after they used it to pay for a three-week educational tour of Cuba's urban agriculture practices.
Ficht said he had no idea he was conducting a transaction with an American company and would be subject to American laws.

Why Bell Let's Talk Day Is a Cynical Publicity Stunt

This morning, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted about mental health: "Today is #BellLetsTalk day - let's end the stigma around #mentalhealth. RT, share & spread the word: @Bell_LetsTalk.

For the past few years, Bell's Let's Talk campaign has encouraged people to talk about their struggles with mental health. On one hand, Harper's support for such a campaign is encouraging. Surely, Canada's Prime Minister wants us to talk about mental health and end stigma, that's good news.

Feds spend $700,000 on vets court case

OTTAWA - The federal government has so far spent nearly $700,000 fighting a disgruntled group of wounded Afghan veterans in court— a revelation that on Wednesday rekindled a political controversy the Conservatives had hoped was behind them.

During question period, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to cast the ongoing court battle as the legacy of a flawed policy that was foisted on Parliament nine years ago by Paul Martin's Liberal government.

Democrats Say Billionaire Koch Brothers Launch 2016 'Electoral Arms Race'

WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Democrats acknowledged on Tuesday that it will be difficult, and likely impossible, to match the nearly $900 million that the conservative billionaire Koch brothers said their political network will spend during the 2016 campaign cycle.

The eye-popping figure emerged on Monday as donors met at a Koch-organized winter retreat near Palm Springs, California. It underscored Charles and David Koch's commitment to push for smaller-government policies via a web of advocacy organizations.

If you don’t understand how people fall into poverty, you’re probably a sociopath

Last week, I took part in a comedy night to raise money for the charity Refuge, which supports women and children who have experienced domestic violence. It was a great night: partly because it raised several thousands of pounds for the cause; partly because it was sponsored by Benefit cosmetics, and the idea of a benefit being sponsored by Benefit pleased me greatly; and partly because standup comedian Bridget Christie finished her act with a plea for all laydeez to stop waxing, spraying, deodorising, strimming and surgically trimming their – well, let’s call it “that part of ourselves historically judged to be the seat of all our femininity and womanly powers” – and instead celebrate our individuality by thinking of those parts as “unique, special – like snowflakes. Made of gammon”, which was both a new thought and a new image, neither of which has left my mind since.

What if First Nations (and their poverty) were counted?

Kudos to the Globe and Mailfor their front page story on Jan. 23 highlighting the fact that the official unemployment rate does not count First Nations reserves. You heard that right: First Nations reserves, some of the poorest places in the country, are not included in the official unemployment rate.
As unbelievable as that sounds, the reality is even worse. Reserves are regularlyexcluded from all of our regularly updated measures of poverty, wage growth, average incomes etc. The exception to this rule is during a census, i.e. every four years (and as a result of legislation making the long-form census voluntary, concerns have been raised about the future reliability of these data). Otherwise, reserves -- some of the poorest places in Canada -- are statistic-free zones: out of sight…out of mind.

Ottawa failing to include First Nations in key employment data

The government of Canada doesn’t gather unemployment statistics on First Nations reserves because it says it’s too costly and it’s hard to find people to interview.

That means roughly half of this country’s First Nations people don’t show up in unemployment numbers. As a result, Canada knows very little about unemployment in areas where it has made job training and economic development a priority. It also means that the regional unemployment figures that play a role in whether employers can import temporary foreign workers are blind to the reality of First Nations joblessness.

Bill for Stephen Harper’s annual Arctic trips tops $3.4M

OTTAWA—The Canadian public paid more than $2.6 million — excluding security costs — to send Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his annual northern trips between 2006 and 2013.

Federal departments and agencies reported $2,650,442 in costs for the August Arctic trip, which Harper has made every year since taking power in 2006.

The total cost of the trips to taxpayers is likely much higher, however. The RCMP, which adds hundreds of thousands of costs to the trip, refused to disclose the cost of security because their internal systems couldn’t track the price tag.

The spreading alchemy of central bank money-printing

Two years ago, I sat in the hushed fortress of the Bank of England, listening to one of its secretive boffins, a languid fellow named Paul Fisher, explain the creation and meaning of money.

He reached into his wallet and fished out a 10-pound note.

This note is worth 10 pounds, he said, because you and I and all the people walking around on the streets out there believe it's worth 10 pounds.

CSE tracks millions of downloads daily: Snowden documents

Canada's electronic spy agency sifts through millions of videos and documents downloaded online every day by people around the world, as part of a sweeping bid to find extremist plots and suspects, CBC News has learned.

Details of the Communications Security Establishment project dubbed "Levitation" are revealed in a document obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden and recently released to CBC News.

Under Levitation, analysts with the electronic eavesdropping service can access information on about 10 to 15 million uploads and downloads of files from free websites each day, the document says.

Cameron’s five-year legacy: has he finished what Thatcher started?

On 12 May 2010, in the sunlit rose garden of No 10, David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced the creation of Britain’s new coalition government. In a flawlessly stage-managed performance, Cameron proclaimed the birth of a “new politics”. His coalition government would, he said, be underpinned by the principles of “freedom, fairness and responsibility”.

This cosy launch, it turned out, was a bluff. Under Cameron’s leadership the country has become harder and meaner, more divided by class and region. Readers of thinktank reports and those acute enough to hear the behind-the-hand remarks, knew what to expect. But Cameron is dextrous, emotionally intelligent, like Tony Blair. In the runup to the 2010 election, he sprinkled speeches and photo-opportunities with new flavourings – green trees, social enterprise, the “big society”, free schools, hug-a-hoodie, vote-blue-go-green, the-NHS-is-safe-with-me. Such posturing irritated Conservative backbenchers, some of whom disliked his metrosexual manner and support for gay marriage. But Cameron’s style was no handicap: that easy, upper-class air dispelled any suggestion he was driven by zealotry.