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.]

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

EPA Comments Challenge State Department Conclusions On Keystone's Climate Impacts

WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency issued comments on the State Department’s environmental analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline, stating that development of the Canadian oil sands “represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions" compared to other types of oil.

The State Department issued its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in January 2014. Agencies were given time to comment on the analysis, which was extended while the administration awaited a decision in a legal case challenging the proposed pipeline route through Nebraska.

Putin Spending Big On Military Modernization Despite Russia's Economic Woes

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of new Russian aircraft, tanks and missiles are rolling off assembly lines. Russian jets roar through European skies under NATO's wary eye. Tens of thousands of troops take part in war games showing off the military's readiness for all-out war.

The muscle flexing suggests that Russia's economic woes so far are having no impact on the Kremlin's ambitious military modernization program.

Most Russian economic sectors face a 10 percent cut this year as Russia heads into recession. The military budget, meanwhile, rose by 33 percent to about 3.3 trillion rubles (some $50 billion). The buildup reflects President Vladimir Putin's apparent readiness to raise the ante in a showdown with the West over Ukraine — but it is unclear whether Russia can afford the modernization drive amid slumping oil prices and Western sanctions.

Leader And Lawmakers Of Greece's Far-Right Golden Dawn To Stand Trial

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A judicial panel in Greece has ruled that the leader and lawmakers from the extreme right Golden Dawn party will stand trial on criminal charges of participating in a criminal group — an offence that carries a 20-year prison sentence.

The panel voted Wednesday that all 18 Golden Dawn lawmakers who held seats in Greece's previous parliament will stand trial, along with 54 other defendants.

Golden Dawn, originally founded as a neo-Nazi party, came third in parliamentary elections last month.

Original Article
Author: AP

Leading Egypt Uprising Activist Ahmed Douma Among 230 Sentenced To Life

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court sentenced 230 people, including one of the leading activists behind the country's 2011 uprising, to life in prison after finding them guilty on Wednesday of taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces later that year.

All were tried in absentia except Ahmed Douma, a secular activist who is already serving a three-year-sentence for breaking a draconian law regulating protests. Thirty other people, all minors, were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Wednesday's ruling can be appealed.

Chris Christie Is Now Waging 23 Court Battles to Keep State Documents Secret

On his first day as governor of New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie promised "a new era of accountability and transparency." But five years later, local reporters and watchdog groups accuse Christie's administration of making unprecedented efforts to keep public records a secret.

Stonewalled by the Christie administration, media outlets have been forced to sue to obtain even routinely disclosed information, such as payroll data. Rather than release documents connected to the George Washington Bridge scandal, pay-to-play allegations, possible ethics violations, and the out-of-state jaunts Christie has made while weighing a run for president, Christie's office and several state agencies have waged costly court battles. As the 2016 presidential primary race draws closer, and Christie considers jumping in, his administration is fighting 23 different open records requests in court.

Walmart Cut My Hours, I Protested, and They Fired Me

Today, the union-backed Our Walmart campaign will hold demonstrations across the country calling on Walmart managers to reverse disciplinary actions against 35 workers in nine states who participated in Black Friday protests against the retailer. Our Walmart will also add claims of illegal retaliation against the workers to a 2013 unfair labor practices case against Walmart that is now being prosecuted by the National Labor Relations Board. One of the workers being added to the case is 26-year-old Kiana Howard of Sacramento, California. This is her story, edited for length and clarity, as told to Mother Jones:

My mom worked for the state legislative office for about 17 years and then she got laid off. My dad was in our life at the beginning, then he wasn't around. Still, we have a big family and I had a pretty good life growing up, although I grew up in East Sacramento, in the ghetto. I didn't graduate from high school because I couldn't pass the math part of the exit exam. I did go back in 2013 and get my diploma. I was screaming and crying. I was so happy.

Bill C-51 bars CSIS from committing 'bodily harm,' sexual violation

The government's proposed anti-terror legislation expands the powers of Canadian Security Intelligence Service to allow it to "disrupt" suspected terrorist threats — but it also expressly prohibits CSIS from killing or seriously injuring a subject.

What's not clear exactly is where the line between those activities is drawn and what that means for the agency when it comes to interrogation techniques, experts on civil liberties and security point out.

The Workers’ Think Tank

By many measures, the American economy has recovered from the 2008 implosion. The stock market is soaring, housing values in many markets have rebounded and GDP is growing at a healthy rate of more than 4 percent. Compared to Spain and Greece, where debt, mass unemployment and hardship remain widespread following the Eurozone crisis, America looks to be on easy street.

Yet scratch below the surface and you’ll see that the United States still has a considerable economic problem. While the official unemployment rate has fallen to 5.6 percent, the lowest since 2008, the percentage of the adult population participating in the labor market remains far lower than it was at the start of the recession. At least in part, headline unemployment numbers look respectable because millions of Americans have grown so discouraged about their prospects of finding work that they no longer try, and thus are no longer counted among the unemployed. Depending on the measures, only 59 to 63 percent of the working-age population is employed, far below recent historical norms.

Dare Call It Treason

Few traditions are more American than freedom of speech and the right to dissent. But an equally powerful American tradition has been the effort by government and private "patriots" to suppress free expression in times of crisis. During the fighting in Iraq, former military leaders who criticized planning for the war were denounced for endangering troops in the field and warned to remain silent. A number of scholars, including myself, were branded "Traitor Professors" on a television talk show. If criticism of a war while it is in progress makes one a traitor, that category will have to include Abraham Lincoln, who denounced the Mexican War while serving in Congress in 1847; Mark Twain, who vehemently attacked government policy in the Spanish-American and Philippine wars at the turn of the last century; and Martin Luther King Jr., who eloquently called for an end to the war in Vietnam.

Who Are the Billionaires Attacking Obama’s Iran Diplomacy?

Since taking the helm of The Israel Project two and a half years ago, former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block has turned the pro-Israel advocacy group into one of the shrillest opponents of diplomacy with Iran. But, according to documents obtained by The Nation, two of the groups’ billionaire underwriters may have their own anti-Obama impetuses, beyond simply a right-wing objection to striking a nuclear accord with Israel’s arch-foe.

Block’s pushes to denigrate and even kill talks with Iran come a dime a dozen. Just two weeks ago, ahead of Obama’s State of the Union address, Block emailed a list of reporters with a list of “FACTS AND TALKING POINTS” (his caps) claiming Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez’s proposed sanctions bill against Iran was “NOT new sanctions legislation.” My colleague Ali Gharib addressed Block’s misleading “FACTS,” pointing out that the first words of the legislation explained its purpose as “To expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran.” Block’s misrepresentation of the legislation is particularly ironic because he accused the administration of peddling “false,” “misleading” and “ridiculous” information about the sanctions bill. Obama would go on to promise a veto if the bill reached his desk.

Raw Log Exports: A Made-in-BC Problem that's Only Getting Worse

For as long as I've been aware of raw log exports I've been unwaveringly against them. The controversial practice of shipping logs overseas without processing them or adding any value has been in place for years. When logs are exported in raw form, they provide the lowest possible value for B.C. communities and starve the mills and the livelihoods that rely on timber.

Over the last few weeks, I've looked into the most recent data and I've been heartbroken to see just how bad things have become.

Earlier this year, I penned an op-ed with one of my Wilderness Committee colleagues and with the president of the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada -- a major union representing forest sector workers in British Columbia and beyond. We argued that the B.C. government should abandon short-sighted plans to develop a liquefied natural gas industry and focus instead on rebuilding the province's ailing forest industry.

California Has Been Letting Oil Companies Dump In Protected Water Sources, And Conservationists Are Livid

Conservationists are calling on California to shut down injection wells after a scathing San Francisco Chronicle report found the state has been letting oil companies drill and dump in protected, drinkable water sources amid a historic drought.

"Put simply, California regulators are not up to the task of managing safe wastewater disposal and cede residents' safety and health to oil and gas production," Dan Jacobson, state director for lobbying group Environment California, said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post. "Preserving and protecting California's water and farms is not something to take lightly."

‘Secret’ Trade Pact Stirs Up Suspicion

The new Republican majority in Congress is oiling its trickle-down economics machine in the hope of passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an action that would have far-reaching impact.

The TPP is a massive and secretive trade agreement that would bring together the United States, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and Brunei. The U.S. has strongly supported its passage since talks began in 2010. If the pact is adopted, all countries involved will have to adhere to its rules, meaning some of their existing laws could be nullified and replaced by the dictates of the agreement. Copyright and environmental laws would be among the most affected statutes, according to the TPP’s most vocal critics. All the potential effects of the deal are not publicly known this point.

Canada's William Schabas Quits UN Gaza War Crimes Inquiry

A Canadian law professor has resigned as the head of a UN commission tasked with investigating possible war crimes in Gaza last summer.

The appointment of William Schabas last year to head the commission had drawn strong criticism from Israel and the Harper government.

A spokesman for the UN Human Rights Council says Schabas submitted his resignation on Monday night.

The move followed an official Jan. 30 complaint from Israel accusing Schabas of "clear and documented bias against Israel, citing a "contractual relationship with the Palestinian side" prior to becoming head of the commission.

Virtually all mainstream media outlets think Harper’s new “anti-terrorism” bill is insane

On 30 January 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his new “anti-terrorism” bill (C-51), which he claims will keep Canadians safe. The omnibus bill seeks to make sweeping changes to Canadian law, including: extending unprecedented powers to the secretive Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) “to disrupt” activities, lowering the threshold for detaining terror suspects, increasing sharing of private information about Canadians, and criminalizing the speech of anyone who “advocates or promotes” terrorism. On this last point, advocacy and promotion of terrorism are not defined in the legislation so it’s anyone’s guess which speech might be criminalized. What we do know, however, is that the Conservatives have previously labelled Canadians actively advocating for the environment and opposing oil and gas pipeline construction as “eco-terrorists”. So it seems this law could cast a disturbingly wide net; for example, it’s conceivable that an activist advocating direct action to protect the environment could be thrown in jail for five years under C-51. 

The College Completion Gap Between Rich And Poor Students Has Doubled, Study Says

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The gap in bachelor-degree attainment between the nation's richest and poorest students by age 24 has doubled during the last four decades, according to a report released Tuesday.

The percent of students from the lowest-income families - those making $34,160 a year or less - earning a bachelor's degree has inched up just 3 points since 1970, rising from 6 to 9 percent by 2013.

Meanwhile, college completion for students from the wealthiest families has risen dramatically, climbing from 44 to 77 percent.

Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied

So-called “deferred prosecutions” were developed in the 1930s as a way of helping juvenile offenders. A juvenile who had been charged with a crime would agree with the prosecutor to have his prosecution deferred while he entered a program designed to rehabilitate such offenders. If he successfully completed the program and committed no other crime over the course of a year, the charge would then be dropped.

The analogy of a Fortune 500 company to a juvenile delinquent is, perhaps, less than obvious. Nonetheless, beginning in the early 1990s and with increasing frequency thereafter, federal prosecutors began entering into “deferred prosecution” agreements with major corporations and large financial institutions. In the typical arrangement, the government agreed to defer prosecuting the company for various federal felonies if the company, in addition to paying a financial penalty, agreed to introduce various “prophylactic” measures designed to prevent future such crimes and to “rehabilitate” the company’s “culture.” The crimes for which prosecution was thus deferred included felony violations of the securities laws, banking laws, antitrust laws, anti-money-laundering laws, food and drug laws, foreign corrupt practices laws, and numerous provisions of the general federal criminal code.