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, February 19, 2015

For Harper’s ministers, pictures are worth millions: spending records

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has spent more than $2.3 million to photograph Conservative cabinet ministers since it came to power, iPolitics has learned.

Taxpayers are picking up the tab for a quarter of a million dollars on average each year to hire photographers to take pictures of ministers making announcements. Since 2006, the government has commissioned outside photographers to record more than 2,483 events.

That amount jumped 68 per cent to nearly $500,000 in the year leading up to the 2011 federal election, fuelled by a 38 per cent increase in the number of photo ops.

Despite Claims of Progress, Labor and Environmental Violations Continue to Plague Apple

Though Apple claims that 2014 was "a year of progress," reports from labor rights groups and researchers reveal troubling labor and environmental violations continue unabated.

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones, (1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

Crunched By His Big Tax Cuts, Scott Walker Will Skip $108 Million In Debt Payments

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will skip making $108 million in debt payments in the face of a budget shortfall due to a slew of tax cuts he enacted.
The governor has to close a $283 million shortfall by the end of June. To do so, he will delay making the $100 million payment that is due in May on short-term debt, which doesn’t require legislative approval. The terms of the debt allow the state to defer a payment in any given year without defaulting. The move will increase its debt-service bills by $545,000 in the next budget year starting July 1 and by $18.7 million in the following one.

Will Rahm Emanuel Buy Another Term as Mayor of Chicago?

In Chicago, the democracy equation is “50-plus-1.”

If Rahm Emanuel wins the majority of the vote in a five-way mayoral contest on February 24, the Democrat who always seems to be at odds with his party’s base will secure a second term as mayor of the nation’s third-most-populous city. That, in turn, would position the corporate-friendly Emanuel—“Mayor 1%”—an even more influential figure in the “Not Elizabeth Warren Wing of the Democratic Party.”

To avoid an April 7 general election race with the second-place finisher in the multi-candidate field, Emanuel needs his “50-plus-one”: a total vote that is at least one above the 50 percent line. The same goes for city council races, where labor unions and progressive groups are challenging Emanuel’s allies.

Bill C-51: 4 Former PMs Call For Better Intelligence Accountability

OTTAWA - Four former prime ministers and several retired Supreme Court members are among almost two dozen prominent Canadians calling for stronger security oversight.

The statement published Thursday in the Globe and Mail and La Presse newspapers comes as the Conservative government proposes a new, expanded mandate for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

"Protecting human rights and protecting public safety are complementary objectives, but experience has shown that serious human rights abuses can occur in the name of maintaining national security," the statement says.

Guest in a stolen house: On immigration, colonialism and Canada

I am a guest in a stolen house. I can sympathize with the victims, because a long time ago, my house was the scene of a crime as well.
Indigenous people in North America (and for that matter, Oceania) have suffered an unprecedented amount of discrimination, violence, silencing and long-reaching emotional and psychological damage. This violence has continually been denied by the white majority and protest has been stifled by governments and civilians alike.
My first encounter with Indigenous people in Canada was in grade 7. Up until that point, I had thought that Canada was just made of white people since time in memorial.

House quietly changes ethics rules

The House of Representatives this week quietly approved changes to ethics rules that government watchdogs fear could help lawmakers obstruct investigations.

The provisions from Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) adopted on Tuesday take aim at the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), specifying that neither body can “take any action that would deny any person any right or protection provided under the Constitution of the United States.”

For the OCE specifically, the amendment to the rules states that any person under investigation “shall be informed of the right to be represented by counsel and invoking that right should not be held negatively against them.”

Illinois Governor Unveils Bleak Budget Plan With Billions Of Dollars In Cuts

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois' new Republican governor called Wednesday for deep spending cuts to Medicaid, pensions and other programs to fix the state's budget mess without raising taxes - a pitch met with quick opposition from Democrats who control the Legislature.

Delivering his first budget address since winning office last fall, Gov. Bruce Rauner said his plan would end "the irresponsible and reckless practices of the past." He said lawmakers must be willing to make politically unpopular decisions to close a more than $6 billion budget hole next year.

"This is our last, best chance to get our house in order," Rauner said.

Isaac Latterell, South Dakota Lawmaker, Says Planned Parenthood Is Worse Than ISIS

A South Dakota lawmaker attacked Planned Parenthood on his official website, calling the family planning center worse than ISIS.

Isaac Latterell, a Republican member of the state's House of Representatives, wrote on his website about "revolting methods of execution" such as the beheadings carried out by the militant group.

Clintons’ foundation has raised nearly $2 billion — and some key questions

Since its creation in 2001, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has raised close to $2 billion from a vast global network that includes corporate titans, political donors, foreign governments and other wealthy interests, according to a Washington Post review of public records and newly released contribution data.

The total, representing cash and pledges reported in tax filings, includes $262 million that was raised in 2013 — the year Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped down as secretary of state and began to devote her energies to the foundation and to a likely second run for president.

The Oily Heart of Austerity and Tea Party Economics

We've been hearing it for over thirty years: "Cut income tax rates for the wealthy and supply-side prosperity follows." Call it the Laffer Curve, Reaganomics, Austerity, the Pro-Growth Agenda; it was the same argument. There were national and international battles aplenty, but until quite recently state governments had escaped the ideological barricades. With the surge of Tea Party governors, that's changed. In Louisiana, Kansas, North Dakota, Texas and other states, right-wing governors drank the Kool-Aid. And, to mix metaphors, the chickens have come home to roost.

The GOP’s Freudian Moment

After he won reelection last November, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made two sets of comments reflecting the dueling impulses of the Republican Mind. Freud fans might refer to the superego, aka the conscience, and the id.

The Kentucky Republican got the most attention for gracious words to reporters the day after the election. “When the American people choose divided government, I don’t think it means they don’t want us to do anything,” he said, promising no government shutdowns and debt-ceiling disasters on his watch. “I think it means they want us to look for areas of agreement.”

How the Government Outsourced Intelligence to Silicon Valley

For years, the outsourcing of defense and intelligence work was, with good reason, controversial in political circles. But in the last years of Bill Clinton’s administration, the president authorized the CIA’s creation of the first US government–sponsored venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, designed to invest in cutting-edge Silicon Valley companies. The firm, named after Ian Fleming’s fictional character “Q,” who masterminds James Bond’s spy gadgets, was founded on September 29, 1999, when the intelligence agencies came to realize they couldn’t produce the technology required to make sense of the vast amount of data they had acquired.

Why Do Americans Feel Entitled to Tell Poor People What to Eat?

Last weekend, consumers all across America were buying their slice of the 2.2 billion pounds of chocolate that would be sold for Valentine’s Day. For those who make enough income to afford their basic necessities, that necessitates setting aside some of the money they would have normally spent on rent, clothes or regular groceries to buy candies. For the poor, that could mean using some of their meager food-stamp allocation to give a gift to their loved ones.

The latter method, however, riled up some local news stations. “SNAP accepted for Valentine’s Day candy raises questions,” blared a headline for one station in Tennessee. Reporter Felicia Bolton asked two shoppers what they thought about EBT cards being used to buy candy. They didn’t approve: “If it’s supposed to be nutritional, candy’s not really nutritional,” said one. Curt Autry, at the Richmond, Virginia, NBC affiliate, conducted his own investigation into just how much candy comes in baskets that the poor can buy with food stamps.

These Lawmakers Think the Minimum Wage Should Be Even Lower

While Americans are divided on many issues, the idea of making the poor slightly less poor is a rare point of bipartisan consensus. From ultra-liberal San Francisco to deep-red Arkansas, lawmakers and voters have boosted state and local minimum wages in twenty states—through legislation, automatic adjustments or ballot measures—enabling local governments to jump ahead of the stagnant federal minimum wage. Yet this eminently popular measure still draws ideological detractors, who are now busy trying to whittle down the meagerest wages in their states in the name of “fairness.”

National Parks Winter Activities Possible Thanks To Volunteers

OTTAWA - When Stephen Harper drove a snowmobile last week near Quebec City to highlight millions in equipment grants given to private clubs, a different scene was unfolding in national parks across Canada.

Winter-loving volunteers were clearing ski trails in national parks on their own time, stepping into the vacuum left by federal government budget cuts across the system.

It's Misleading to Count Temporary Foreign Workers in Jobs-Created Ledger: Expert

The federal government routinely boasts that it has created more than a million jobs over the last seven years. But the job creation numbers the government cites also include temporary foreign workers -- non-Canadians or residents brought to the country to work at jobs that employers here say they can't fill.

By including those temporary workers in the country's job creation numbers, the government runs the risk of providing misleading information about the true state of the labour market, said a labour expert.

Kendra Strauss, an assistant professor of labour studies at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, said lumping foreign workers in with figures for all new jobs could provide a false picture of the labour market.

Police Called, then Stalled on Health Firing Probe

When the British Columbia government fired seven people from the health ministry in 2012 it said the RCMP was conducting an investigation related to data management, contracts and potential conflicts of interest.

But more than two years later, the police force was still waiting for information from the province that would allow it to decide whether there was anything to investigate, according to documents released yesterday by the New Democratic Party official opposition after obtaining them through a freedom of information request.

Peter Stoffer, NDP MP, Calls For End To Omnibus Bills That 'Nobody Reads'

OTTAWA — MPs are failing to do their jobs and standing by as taxpayer dollars are spent without proper review, an NDP MP said Wednesday.

Nova Scotia NDP MP Peter Stoffer said the Conservative government’s overuse of omnibus bills means “billions of dollars fly out these doors with very little or no financial scrutiny or oversight.”

He wants to ban the practice of omnibus bills — “legislation that is about 400 pages or so thick and changes 50 statutes” at the same time.

Islamic State and the politics of panic

Before we start amending our security laws, sending CSIS agents scurrying to disrupt terrorist plots, and extend our existing military mission against Islamic State, let’s get real.

Although both the Canadian victims of terrorism — one near Parliament Hill and the other in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu — were soldiers, the tragic truth is that serving soldiers are much more likely to die by their own hand or in a training accident.

As for the rest of us, we should be more worried — much more worried — about slipping in the bathtub or falling off a ladder clearing the eavestroughs than about fending off Islamic State.

The PBO vs. DND

During question period on Tuesday afternoon, Liberal MP Joyce Murray asked Jason Kenney, the brand-new minister of National Defence, to account for the fact that the department he is now in charge of had refused to comply with requests from the Parliament Budget Officer for information related to the mission in Iraq.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives refused for four months to provide Canadians with any information at all about the cost of the Iraq mission, so I asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer for help. According to the PBO, they then illegally ‘refused all PBO requests for specific data on this mission,’ ” she said. “Yesterday, the minister added insult to this secrecy and deception by slapping down a single cost number—no detail, no analysis, just an end run of the PBO’s report released today. Does the minister not believe Canadians have the right to be respected and to have real cost information on this important mission?”

Peter MacKay skirts debate on definition of terrorism: 'Look it up'

Peter MacKay had a simple, gruff reply when asked by reporters what the definition of terrorism will mean in the government's latest anti-terrorism bill, C-51.

"Look it up," the justice minister said as he walked past waiting journalists on Parliament Hill Wednesday.

On the weekend, MacKay was quick to dismiss a terrorist link to the foiled alleged plot to attack a public place in Halifax on Valentine's Day because it lacked a cultural component.

Does East Asian Stability Still Depend On America?

The 21st century will be Asia’s century: what happens in the East will affect the stability of the globe, says Robert D. Kaplan. He spoke with Ben Hill about the lessons to be learned from Asia’s ascent.

The European: Mr. Kaplan, in your latest book, “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific”, you stressed that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are the biggest threat to global security in the 21st century. Could you briefly explain why?
Robert Kaplan: The South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea, are both critical for global politics, because if China can eventually strategically dominate the South and East China Seas, the way the United States came to dominate the greater Caribbean at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, which allowed the United States to dominate the Western Hemisphere and affect the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere. If China were to dominate the South and East China Seas, it would suddenly not just be a regional power, but a great power, because domination of those seas would enable its navy and air force to venture further into the Pacific, and more importantly into the Indian Ocean, which is the global energy interstate, encompassing the entire arc of Islam.

Greece gets lifeline as ECB agrees €3.3bn extra emergency funds

The embattled Greek government has been thrown a lifeline by the European Central Bank after the ECB agreed to €3.3bn more emergency funds for the country’s banks.

The move came as the US warned Greece that it had to be constructive and find a deal, and Athens confirmed that it will seek an extension to its rescue loans on Thursday.

Guantánamo torturer led brutal Chicago regime of shackling and confession

A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.

In a dark foreshadowing of the United States’ post-9/11 descent into torture, a Guardian investigation can reveal that Richard Zuley, a detective on Chicago’s north side from 1977 to 2007, repeatedly engaged in methods of interrogation resulting in at least one wrongful conviction and subsequent cases more recently thrown into doubt following allegations of abuse.

Google Calls FBI's Plan to Expand Hacking Power a 'Monumental' Constitutional Threat

February 18, 2015 Google is warning that the government's quiet plan to expand the FBI's authority to remotely access computer files amounts to a "monumental" constitutional concern.

The search giant submitted public comments earlier this week opposing a Justice Department proposal that would grant judges more leeway in how they can approve search warrants for electronic data.

The push to change an arcane federal rule "raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal, and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide," wrote Richard Salgado, Google's director for law enforcement and information security.

Halifax murder plot shows absurdity of anti-terror laws

The thwarting of an alleged Valentine’s Day massacre in Halifax underlines the fundamental absurdity of Canada’s anti-terror laws.
According to police, three alleged plotters planned to shoot and kill dozens Saturday at a Halifax shopping mall.
Had such a plan succeeded, the effect would have almost certainly been mass terror in the Nova Scotia capital.

Jeb Bush’s Attack On Obama Over Iran Goes Horribly Wrong

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) called on Congress to pass legislation that would trigger sanctions against Iran just as the United States and its European partners are consumed in negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
During a wide-ranging speech on foreign policy matters at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday, Bush criticized the Obama administration for staking out a negotiating position that, he claimed, would endanger Israel and the world by merely managing the Iranian nuclear program rather than eliminating it altogether.

Joe Oliver Broke Government's Own Rules With Speeches Contract: Liberals

OTTAWA — The Conservative government broke its own rules by awarding a $9,200 untendered contract to the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Guy Giorno, Liberals charged Wednesday.

Giorno, Harper’s chief of staff from 2008 to 2010 and the Tories’ current election campaign chair, was paid $5,650 for a speech that was never delivered. He was paid another $2,825 for a speech that was given on March 19, the department of natural resources said late Wednesday.

Anti-Terror Bill Presents a 'Bogus Choice': Mulcair

The federal New Democrats will oppose the Conservative government's new legislation aimed at stunting terrorist attacks, stating the bill has "several serious problems" including a lack of oversight for the new powers it would grant the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, allows for authorities to "disrupt" suspected terrorist activities and make preventative arrests of suspected terrorists. The bill also criminalizes the spreading of terrorist propaganda.

College Debt Is Crippling Black Graduates' Ability To Gain Wealth

Millions of Americans are plagued by student loans, an albatross hindering them from taking adult financial steps like buying a house or moving out of Mom and Dad’s basement. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday that outstanding student loan balances recently grew to $1.16 trillion in the U.S. But one group is disproportionately affected by student debt.
More than 40 percent of African-American families had student loan debt in 2013, compared with 28 percent of white families, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank studying issues of education, health policy and low-income families. African-American families also typically take on more student debt -- $10,295 on average, compared with an average of $8,020 for white families.

Colorado Secretary Of State Admits Voting Restrictions Stop Eligible Voters, Pushes Them Anyway

The state with some of the most accessible elections laws in the nation could soon make it more difficult to cast a ballot.
Colorado lawmakers began debating a bill Wednesday that would require voters to present a photo ID if they register to vote on Election Day — a policy that would disproportionately impact people who are younger, lower income, non-white, and newly naturalized.
While attending a recent conference in DC, Secretary of State Wayne Williams told ThinkProgress that he supports these measures despite the fact that investigations by his predecessor found voter fraud to benearly non-existent in the state.

The Same People Who Lied To You About Iraq Are Now In Charge Of Jeb Bush’s Foreign Policy

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will deliver a speech on Wednesday that seeks to distance his foreign policy views from the previous two Bush presidents, saying, according to early excerpts, that while he admires his presidential family members, “I am my own man.”
“[M]y views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences,” Bush will say as he lays out a vision that calls for increased military spending in order to project strength and encourage peace worldwide.
“Having a military that is equal to any threat is not only essential for the commander in chief … it also makes it less likely that we will need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way,” he will say. “Because I believe, fundamentally, that weakness invites war … and strength encourages peace.”

Benjamin Netanyahu Is Playing With Fire

No one can predict with any certainty what the fallout from Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will be until after it takes place next month. And it’s possible it won’t take place at all. The prime minister could yield to the pressure to stay home, or events in Israel could prevent him from leaving the country.

But at this point it seems likely he will be taking the lectern in the room where presidents deliver their State of the Union address. And he will be delivering a stern warning to the House and Senate about the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran, a deal that is one of President Obama’s highest priorities. That warning will be coupled with the implied threat that supporting an agreement with Iran could be dangerous to a legislator’s political health. (In addition to being prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu is the de facto leader of the Israel lobby.)

How Greece Put an Anti-Austerity, Anti-Capitalist Party in Power

Athens, Greece

“Hope is coming!”

That’s the slogan that Syriza, the left-wing Greek coalition party, used throughout the campaign to distinguish itself from its fear-mongering opponents on the right. But on the night of January 25, as Syriza won almost 36 percent of the vote and ascended to power, the slogan could have spoken for all of Europe. In a tent in Athen’s Klafthmonos Square, a marble plaza dotted with Coca-Cola kiosks, banners from all the rising left parties in Europe—Podemos of Spain, Die Linke of Germany, the Left Bloc of Portugal, as well as various social movements, including the rainbow LGBT flag—waved proudly. Greek leftists and their European allies broke into a riotous rendition of “Bandiera Rossa,” the Italian socialist anthem. Die Linke members carried signs reading “Change in Europe Begins in Greece.” The international left seemed raised from the dead. Athens was celebrating a miracle.

Thomas Mulcair: NDP Will Oppose 'Dangerous' Tory Anti-Terror Bill

OTTAWA - Tom Mulcair cast his New Democratic Party as more courageous and principled than the Liberals as he came out four-square Wednesday against the Harper government's proposed anti-terrorism bill.

The NDP leader's announcement underscored the degree to which the controversial bill has become a political football in an election year.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has played on popular support for cracking down on extremists following the murder of two Canadian soldiers last fall, portraying opponents of the bill as soft on terrorism.

'Free trade' deals a threat to public health care

Various so-called 'free trade' agreements are taking aim at the advancement of health care for all.
Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
This is an almost-finalized agreement between Canada and the European Union that will face ratification votes in the latter half of this year or early in 2016.