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.]

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One in three Germans say capitalism to blame for poverty, hunger

(Reuters) - Nearly a third of Germans believe that capitalism is the cause of poverty and hunger and a majority think true democracy is not possible under that economic system, according to a survey published on Tuesday by the Emnid polling institute for Berlin's Free University.

The poll of 1,400 people found that 59 percent of Germans in the formerly communist east consider communist and socialist ideals a good idea for society. In western Germany, 37 percent said they considered communist and socialist ideals to be good.

The radical Left party in Germany remains strong in the formerly communist East, a quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell, paving the way for German unification in 1990.

The survey found that more than 60 percent of Germans believe there is no genuine democracy in their country because industry has too much political influence and that the voice of the voters plays only a subordinate role.

(Reporting by Juliana Woitaschek; Editing by Erik Kirschbaum and Robin Pomeroy)

Original Article
Author: --

A 2-Day Revolt at a Texas Private Prison Reveals Everything That’s Wrong with Criminalizing Immigration

The latest uprising at the Willacy County Correctional Center began quietly on Friday morning, when prisoners refused to go to their work assignments or to breakfast. Then, inmates broke out of the massive Kevlar tents that serve as dorms. Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told reporters some had kitchen knives, sharpened mops and brooms. Prison officials sprayed tear gas; a SWAT team, the Texas Rangers, the FBI and the US Border Patrol all showed up. It took two days to quell the demonstration. Now administrators are beginning to transfer the 2,800 prisoners—undocumented immigrants, most serving time for low-level offenses—to other facilities, because the protest made the center “uninhabitable.”

What Happens if You Refuse to Pay Off Your Student Debt?

Every day, people who struggled to finance their educational advancement slip deeper into a financial mudslide on a mountain of student debt. For borrowers who collectively hold this burden of about $1 trillion nationwide, the student loan has become a ball and chain that restrains them from starting their careers, or even paying rent, as their wages are sucked into a financial vortex. But what if you just decided to not write that check this month? A small group of people have chosen to do just that, hoping to start a movement to break out of the debt cycle—or at least to bang against the walls of student-debtor’s prison.

The debt strike, which launched Monday as part of the Debt Collective campaign, is led by the Corinthian Fifteen, former students of Everest College—part of the scandal-ridden for-profit Corinthian college chain. They’re undertaking financial civil disobedience against the private lending industry, demanding cancellation of federal student debts and voicing dissatisfaction with piecemeal debt relief programs. The actual financial impact of their campaign is negligible, but for the former students, this collective action is a way for them to reassert their economic sovereignty:

Anti-terror bill would widen powers for Canadian border guards

Canadian customs officers will have another reason to comb through travellers’ computers because Ottawa’s new anti-terror bill will empower them to confiscate anything falling under the broadly defined category of “terrorist propaganda” at border checkpoints.

A little-noticed amendment in C-51, the Conservative government’s Anti-Terrorism Act, adds the broad category of “writings, signs, visible representations or audio recordings that constitute terrorist propaganda” to the list of things Canada Border Services Agency officials can seize without a warrant from those entering Canada.

IL Governor Rauner Gets $750,000 Tax Break, Proposes Slashing Services to Middle Class and Poor

Illinois' new GOP Governor, Bruce Rauner, will personally receive a $750,000 per year tax cut as a result of his decision not to continue the state's temporary 1.25% income tax surcharge that expired last year.

His taxes were cut by an amount equal to the annual income of 14 families of four making the median income. And remember that after adjusting for inflation, that median income number has not materially increased in about 35 years, since virtually all of the income growth resulting from the massive increase in worker productivity over that period has been siphoned off by speculators like Rauner.

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site'

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

This Is The Most Economically Segregated City In America

Amid record high economic inequality, America’s wealthy aren’t just buying rare caviar and Hammacher Schlemmer hoverboats. They’re also purchasing physical separation from the rest of us, a new paper from University of Toronto researchers argues, resulting in higher and higher levels of residential segregation in American cities — especially densely-populated large and mid-size metro areas where there are relatively few blue-collar jobs.
The rankings that Charlotta Mellander’s and Richard Florida’s research produced stand out from other oft-discussed rankings of economic reality and quality-of-life in U.S. cities. Lists of the most unaffordable places to live in America, based on median rent and income, are generally topped by the largest cities in the country. But the residential segregation rankings look somewhat different. San Francisco, which typifies the housing affordability crisis and often tops lists like this one, ranks right in the middle of the pack here. Four of the 10 most economically segregated metro areas are in Texas. Midsize culturally liberal college towns like Austin, TX and Columbus, OH top the list, outdoing bustling metros like Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, where the cost of living is higher. Those cities are still relatively segregated compared to the country, ranking in the top 10 metro areas out of the 359 that the researchers examined.

Prison Phone Companies Have Found Yet Another Way to Squeeze Families for Cash

On a chilly Sunday evening in December, a smattering of parents and small children trickled into a graffiti-covered concrete building on the grounds of the DC Jail. It was the last day to visit with prisoners before Christmas Eve, and some of the visitors were wearing Santa hats or bearing presents. The only thing missing was inmates. Three years ago, Washington, DC, eliminated in-person visitation for the roughly 1,800 residents of its jails and installed 54 video-conferencing screens in this building across the parking lot from the detention facility. The screens were installed, at no expense to taxpayers, by a Virginia-based company called Global Tel*Link (GTL), which had scored a lucrative contract for the facility's phone service.

C-51: Conservatives demand limit on anti-terror bill expert testimony

The Conservatives are pushing to devote just three meetings to hearing expert testimony on the government's proposed anti-terrorism bill when it goes to the public safety committee for review, CBC News has learned.

Sources say that one of those days would be taken up by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and departmental officials, leaving just two meetings to hear from outside experts.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, want no fewer than four former prime ministers to be invited to share their thoughts on the bill.

Tories’ TFSA promise would mainly benefit the wealthy: report

A plan to double the amount people can put in a tax-free savings account is facing new criticism that – like income splitting – it would benefit mainly the most well-off Canadians.

Rhys Kesselman, a professor at Simon Fraser University who holds the Canada Research Chair in public finance, is releasing a report on Tuesday that says most people – except very high earners, some older workers and retirees – are already unable to contribute the maximum, currently $5,500.

B.C. budget a blow to public education

Parents and teachers were in a state of shock this week after the B.C. Liberals announced yet more cuts and expense increases for B.C.'s beleaguered school districts. Teachers were on the picket line for five weeks last summer with parent support to try to address the funding crisis in B.C. schools. B.C. students currently receive about $1000 less per student than the Canadian average. This in a province with a budget surplus.

Mr. Harper’s taxing troubles

Politicians don’t like talking about taxes much. Cutting taxes — they love doing that, and they love getting credit for it. But when it comes to talking about how we collect the money that runs the state, they cling to slogans — “putting money back into taxpayers’ pockets”, for example.

And there’s no question that, since coming to office in 2006, the Conservative government has cut taxes. But they’ve mostly been the wrong taxes, cut for the wrong reasons. Tax cuts aren’t just about reducing the overall tax burden on citizens — although that is important. But cutting the right taxes at the right times can spur economic growth, employment, savings rates. Cutting the wrong taxes can end up accomplishing nothing at all — beyond robbing the state of the revenue it needs to do its work, and winning a few points in the polls, short-term.

Spy agency's review group, SIRC, has no mandate for 'oversight' role

The small group watching over Canada’s spy agency says it was purposely devised to be a limited, after-the-fact “review” body – not an all-seeing “oversight” committee that would vet spy operations.

During three days of lively debate in the Commons over the controversial anti-terror Bill C-51, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, Justice Minister Peter MacKay and other Conservative MPs have repeatedly characterized the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) as providing oversight of the spy agency, known as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done the same.

Greece Misses Deadline In Bailout Talks

ATHENS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Greece will present its economic reform plans to the euro zone on Tuesday, a government official said, missing a Monday deadline for the list which is a condition for extending the country's financial lifeline.

The official gave no reason for the delay but said euro zone finance ministers would consider Greece's plans, which include a crackdown on tax evasion and corruption, as scheduled on Tuesday afternoon.

Judge: Chris Christie Broke His Own Law By Cutting Pension Contributions

NEW YORK - A New Jersey judge on Monday ruled that Governor Chris Christie broke his own law when he decided to cut $1.6 billion of contributions from its public pension system, dealing a blow to the expected 2016 Republican Presidential contender.

Christie had proposed the cuts last May to try to plug a $2.7 billion revenue shortfall projected through fiscal 2015.

President Obama's Plan to Become the Next Ronald Reagan

The most memorable line in President Barack Obama’s January State of the Union address wasn’t part of his prepared remarks. It was a quick-on-his-feet wisecrack at the expense of congressional Republicans. When he said, as an entreaty to cooperate in a less politicized environment, "I have no more campaigns to run," a Republican contingent laughed and applauded. But rather than let them sneak one past him, Obama returned serve: “I know, ‘cause I won both of ‘em.”

The quip became a metonym for the full address, which was among the most combative of Obama’s presidency. But as an expression of defiance, it had precious little to do with the combative idea around which he constructed the speech itself.

'At My Age, All I Expect Is a Place to Live'

On the rooftop of her seven-storey Union Street apartment complex, 84-year-old Sam Kiu Chan inspects her raised garden beds full of leafy greens.

The sun has just set and the view from atop Chan's residence of two decades, Solheim Place, is of the warm city lights of old Chinatown beneath a dark blue sky.

With 86 units of purely social housing, and rents set at 30 per cent of tenants' income before taxes, Solheim Place is one of the largest rent-geared-to-income projects in the neighbourhood. For Chan and the 60 other seniors who share the building with low-income families and people with disabilities, access to guaranteed affordable housing is essential to scraping by every month.

How Hunger Became a First World Problem

First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity or the Right to Food?
Edited by Graham Riches and Tiina Silvasti
Palgrave MacMillan (2014)

There's something horribly wrong when Canada produces plenty of food for everyone, yet there are many people who are dependent on food banks to eat, says Graham Riches, the co-editor of a new book looking at how wealthy countries around the world address hunger.

A retired director of the school of social work at the University of British Columbia, Riches co-edited First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity or the Right to Food? with Tiina Silvasti, a social and public policy professor from Finland.

Deporting Beneficiaries Of Obama's Immigration Action Would Cost $50.3 Billion: Report

WASHINGTON -- Deporting the estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants who could benefit from deportation-relief policies that Republicans are trying to block would have a hefty price, according to a report released Monday from the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

The report estimates a cost of about $50.3 billion -- about $10,070 per person -- to deport those eligible for President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, which are under fire from Republicans.

Idaho Lawmaker Wonders If Women Could Have A Gyno Exam By Swallowing A Tiny Camera

An Idaho lawmaker revealed his confusion about female anatomy during a legislative debate over a proposed abortion bill on Monday.
According to the Associated Press, Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri (R) asked a doctor testifying before the House State Affairs Committee whether a woman could have a remote gynecological exam by swallowing a tiny camera. Dr. Julie Madsen told him no, that’s not possible, because items that are swallowed do not end up in the vagina.

Murkowski Threatens To Fire Park Rangers In Continued Fight With Obama Administration

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) threatened to cut thousands of park ranger and natural resource management jobs across the country — including in her home state of Alaska — escalating an ongoing fight with the Obama Administration over its plans to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Murkowski, who has called the Administration’s recent plans to protect 12 million acres of wilderness in the Arctic Refuge a “war on Alaska,” is threatening to use her power as chair of both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and an Appropriations subcommittee to reduce the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) 2016 budget. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that Murkowski suggested “squeezing” the Department’s funding, endangering the jobs of federal workers employed by the agency, including at the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The United States Has a Long and Dishonorable Record of Artistic Censorship

After Islamists in Paris, enraged over satirical drawings depicting the Prophet Muhammad, murdered 17 people – including eight journalists from the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, millions of Europeans and Americans proclaimed their dedication to free expression. Massive demonstrations, lofty political rhetoric and uplifting editorials about free speech expressed our deepest ideals. But, as Bill Blum disconcertingly noted in his Truthdig essay, the freedom of speech has never come easily in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Blum pointedly cited several egregious examples from American history in which First Amendment protections have gone largely ignored: the busting of unions, the silencing of prisoners, the prosecution of whistleblowers and the practice of spying on millions of innocent citizens by the National Security Agency.

Opponents Of Quebec's Arnaud Open-Pit Mine Face Threats, Hack Attacks

Tensions are running high in la Belle Province as people wait for the government’s decision on opening a controversial new mine in northeastern Quebec.

Opponents of the Arnaud mining project, a proposed open-pit mine inside Sept-Îles’ town limits, say they have been the targets of a campaign of intimidation.

For more than a year now, supporters and opponents have been publicly going head to head in the media and in the streets.

Obama To Veto Keystone XL Bill, White House Confirms

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is about to make good on his oft-stated threat to veto legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline, a spokesman announced Monday.

"I would anticipate that, as we've been saying for years, the president would veto that legislation," Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told a press briefing.

"And he will."

Jeb Bush Championed Fracking While Standing To Profit From It, Report Alleges

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) pushed states to approve the controversial drilling practice known as fracking while he personally stood to profit from the practice, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday.

According to the Times, Bush, a likely 2016 presidential contender, urged a group of New York conservatives in 2013 to support fracking, even while he was involved with a private equity group that was raising $40 million for a company acquiring fracking wells.

How 262 Cable Technicians Defeated a Union-Busting Giant

Clarence Adams has spent a lot of time on his phone after work over the past three-and-a-half-years. The Cablevision technician, who has worked fifteen years at the cable and Internet provider, has been part of the organizing committee trying to form a union and get a contract for his Brooklyn division since 2011. At times, it seemed that the struggle would never end.

Cablevision has fired, then rehired, workers when the union put pressure on the company or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stepped in. It has threatened the workers and attempted to decertify the union. It orchestrated false union votes and bestowed raises on all but the unionized workers. And it did all this—what City Council member Brad Lander described as a “brutal litany of unfair labor practices”— while dragging its feet at the bargaining table.

Obama Administration Using Century-Old Racist Case Law to Block Citizenship

Well, this is awkward. This month, five people from American Samoa—the only place in the world where babies born on US soil are denied US citizenship—argued in federal court that the government's refusal to grant them birthright citizenship violates the Constitution. On the other side of the case is the Obama administration, which cited century-old Supreme Court decisions that spoke of "savage," "uncivilized," and "alien races"—and many legal scholars now see as outright racist—to justify continuing to deny citizenship to these US nationals.

Kenney rejects call to increase oversight of national-security agencies

The federal government is rejecting calls for more independent oversight of Canada’s national security agencies even as it speeds passage of legislation that would give sweeping new powers to spies and police in the name of fighting terrorism.

Parliament will vote Monday night on the Anti-Terrorism Act after the Conservatives limited second-reading debate for the legislation to three days. The bill will be sent to a Parliamentary committee for scrutiny. The Tories want the controversial legislation to become law before the summer begins.

Foiled plot proves state already has enough powers

Peter MacKay might have been channelling Casey Stengel when he told reporters to “look it up” when they queried his definition of terrorism.

Stengel, the baseball manager-philosopher, would tell skeptical writers that “You could look it up,” when they questioned his facts. The phrase became the title of a Stengel biography.

Peter MacKay is no Casey Stengel. Stengel was a strategic thinker, which you must be to win seven World Series. MacKay isn’t known for that.

Federal government to extend sick-leave changes to PS executives

Federal executives are bracing for news that their sick-leave benefits will be replaced by the same short-term disability plan Treasury Board President Tony Clement hopes to see unions accept at the bargaining table.

So far, the Conservative government’s plan to crack down on absenteeism, while revamping sick leave and disability management in the public service, has focused on unionized employees. But studies obtained by the Citizen show the government also plans to move 6,560 federal executives into the new short-term insurance scheme.

Bill’s terrorist propaganda provisions overly broad: law professors

OTTAWA - A federal proposal to scrub terrorist propaganda from the Internet risks sweeping in too much speech that has no ties to violent threats, says a new analysis.

The definition of propaganda in the government anti-terrorism bill is dangerously broad, law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach say in their paper.

The bill, introduced late last month, proposes giving the RCMP power to seek a judge's order to remove terrorist propaganda from websites.

Forcese, of the University of Ottawa, and Roach, who teaches at the University of Toronto, say while they support the idea in principle, it should be rooted in actual or threatened violence.

There’s one born every minute — Mr. Harper counts on that

How fitting that Ralph Nader has put out a consumer warning about Stephen Harper.

According to the former U.S. presidential candidate and long-time consumer advocate, this prime minister is a combination of Chevrolet’s doomed Corvair and Dick Cheney: A lemon and a warmonger, all rolled up into a consumer dud begging for a recall.

With police state powers about to be handed to Canada’s spy agency based on a factitious threat, Nader pointed out that the PM’s talents run to hyperbole, not to truth-telling or accuracy. (Time allocation has once more killed sensible debate on major legislation — this time it’s Bill C-51.)

A Canadian in Paris: Hassan Diab's indefinite jail journey

The long-running extradition saga of Ottawa sociology professor Dr. Hassan Diab -- sought by French authorities for a 1980 crime he did not commit -- took a dramatic turn when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his final appeal to stay in Canada last November. Although Canada had 45 days to forcibly remove him to France, Dr. Diab was hustled out of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and whisked away less than 48 hours later, denied a previously scheduled opportunity to bid goodbye to his pregnant wife, Rania, and baby daughter, Jena.
Diab's lawyer, Donald Bayne, a 43-year veteran of Canadian courts, appeared stunned at a Parliament Hill press conference the day of the Court decision, concluding: "We now have in my view a classic recipe for the wrongful conviction of a Canadian."

With few ideas to end its financial crisis, and austerity on the way, Athabasca U edges toward the precipice

Founded by Alberta's Social Credit government in 1970 as a leader in distance education for a predominantly rural province, Athabasca University now faces an existential crisis at the worst possible moment politically speaking -- just as the government of Premier Jim Prentice prepares to embark on another round of destructive budget cuts.
AU President Peter MacKinnon, a lawyer and former University of Saskatchewan president appointed last year on Canada Day, told faculty and staff members of the public university in a grim January 22 memorandum that he planned to strike a small task force "that will consider our options and make recommendations to our governing bodies, and possibly the provincial government."

Canada's negligence and indifference is killing Indigenous people

Racism doesn't just hurt our feelings - racism kills. The two senseless deaths of First Nations children in a house fire in Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan from an unpaid bill of less than $4,000 has sparked outrage across Canada. In no other place in Canada would an ambulance, fire fighter or police officer ask a provincial resident if they had paid their taxes before answering an emergency call for help. Canada has a deep-seated racism problem which is killing our people. But to truly understand Indigenous outrage and sadness, one must understand both the context and true depth of this problem in Canada.

Exploiting Fear Is 'Wrong and Racist'

What the hell is the matter with us, anyway?

The prime minister of Canada goes out of his way to criticize the Federal Court of Canada because it permitted a woman to take the oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab, a veil. She made it clear that she would be glad to remove the niqab privately to confirm her identity. But Harper, whose government intends to appeal the court ruling, says covering one's face during a citizenship ceremony is "not how we do things here."

Harper has made this and his proposed anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, into political issues, deliciously timed for a fall election.

Dear Government Spin Doctor: A Journalist's Final Warning

Dear government spin doctor,

I am working on a story about how your job is helping to kill Canada's democracy.

I know that your role, as a so-called communications professional, is to put the best spin on what the government is or isn't doing.

That means you often don't respond to the questions I ask; you help elected officials do the same thing; and you won't let me talk to those who have the answers.

The Entitled Get More Brazen by the Day

Every so often a cluster of news stories combine to become more than the simple sum of their parts. In the last few weeks, stories have emerged that reinforce the argument made by some academics and commentators suggesting that the West, including Canada, is beginning to devolve into a kind of new feudalism.

First up the revelations, leaked by an insider, that Swiss banking giant HSBC actively facilitates gross tax evasion on the part of the world's wealthy and also launders billions in drug money.

Republicans Claim Net Neutrality Will Mean Billions in New Taxes. That's Incredibly Misleading.

"Stop the federal internet takeover!" That's the warning that Sen. Mike Lee blasted out to readers of conservative email lists last month. "This is essentially a massive tax increase on the middle class, being passed in the dead of night without the American public really being made aware of what is going on," wrote the Utah Republican. "New taxes and fees" could total "$15 billion annually," Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, claimed in an op-ed. It's "Obamacare for the internet," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) hollered.

High-profile Conservatives consider run in Nepean, but Harder accuses Poilievre of meddling

With John Baird’s stunning exit from politics earlier this month, a number of high-profile Conservatives are considering running for the party’s nomination, but some are complaining publicly that the new federal regional minister responsible for Ottawa, Pierre Poilievre, is discouraging them because he has a preferred candidate.

Mr. Baird, who was the minister of Foreign Affairs and the regional minister for Ottawa, announced on Feb. 2 that after spending 20 years in provincial and federal politics, he was stepping down from Cabinet and resigning his seat to pursue other opportunities. Mr. Baird has represented Ottawa West-Nepean since 2006, but chose to run in the new riding of Nepean in the next election, a more Conservative riding, where he was the nominated candidate for the 2015 election.

Lid on cabinet secrets quietly tightened under new federal policy

OTTAWA - The Conservative government has quietly tightened the lid on federal cabinet secrets in an effort to prevent compromising leaks.

A revised policy on the security of so-called cabinet confidences requires all possible breaches — "however slight" — to be immediately reported to the Prime Minister's Office or officials in the Privy Council Office, the government's bureaucratic nerve centre.

"This includes unauthorized disclosure, loss, theft, transmission and discussion over non-secure channels, unaccounted documents or other actual or suspected compromises."