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, March 03, 2015

The Koch Brothers Just Launched a Lobbying Campaign to Eliminate an Obscure Government Agency. Here's Why.

Koch Industries has officially entered the contentious fight over the fate of the Export-Import Bank, the independent government agency that guarantees loans and provides financing to companies doing business overseas and foreign businesses buying American products—and that has recently become a target for conservatives and libertarians who decry big-government crony capitalism.

On Tuesday, the industrial conglomerate run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to oppose the reauthorization of this obscure, 80-year-old institution, which otherwise will expire at the end of June. Signed by Philip Ellender, the president of Koch's government affairs arm, the letter signals the start of a Koch lobbying effort aimed at shuttering the New Deal-era agency. The Ex-Im Bank has been living on borrowed time since September, when Congress temporarily extended its charter. But now Koch Industries wants Congress to eradicate the agency for good.

Boehner Makes Republicans 'Tools and Dupes' of Netanyahu's Election Campaign

One of the defining precepts of the American Republic from its earliest days to today has been that the president of the United States represents the country in its dealings with the world. It is a view which the Supreme Court unambiguously endorsed in 1936 in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp:
"In this vast external realm, with its important, complicated, delicate and manifold problems, the President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it. As Marshall said in his great argument of March 7, 1800, in the House of Representatives, 'The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.'"

The Big Omission In Netanyahu’s Address To Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the emerging nuclear deal between the United States, Iran, and the major world powers during a drama-filled address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday morning, but failed to offer any alternatives for ensuring that Tehran does not obtain nuclear weapons.
Instead, the Prime Minister of the Jewish state — who spoke for 40 minutes and was interrupted by applause roughly 40 times — hinted that his country could take military action “alone” against Iran in protest of any negotiated agreement.

Committee won’t hear from former prime ministers on anti-terror bill

The Public Safety Committee of the House will be hearing from strong supporters and vocal critics of the government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation, but not from four former prime ministers who have criticized the lack of oversight in Bill C-51.

The bill would beef up the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, criminalize the promotion of terrorism and provide the RCMP with new powers of preventative arrest.

The Liberals have lost their way

In deciding not to oppose the adoption of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorist Act 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada has committed a serious error of judgment.
The Harper Conservatives have laid before the House of Commons legislation that would authorize the detention of Canadian citizens without evidence of committing a crime, but simply because they were thought possible of committing terrorist acts.

Higher Education and the Promise of Insurgent Public Memory

"What happens to the memory of history when it ceases to be testimony?" - James Young (1)

At a time when both political parties, anti-public intellectual pundits and mainstream news sources view the purpose of higher education almost exclusively as a workstation for training a global workforce, generating capital for the financial elite, and as a significant threat to the power of the military, corporate and financial elite, it becomes more difficult to reclaim a history in which the culture of business is not the culture of higher education. This is certainly not meant to suggest that higher education once existed in an ideal past in which it only functioned as a public good and provided a public service in the interest of developing a democratic polity.

Another Attempt To Tell The EPA What Science It Can Use From House Republicans

Two very special bills are scheduled for consideration in the House of Representatives on Tuesday: one is called the Secret Science Reform Act, and the other is called theScience Advisory Board Reform Act. Taken together, these bills would significantly change how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science to craft regulations intended to protect the environment and public health.
If it became law, the “Secret Science” bill would prohibit the EPA from using science that includes private data, or data that can’t be easily reproduced. Bill sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) says this would stop “hidden and flawed” science from being the basis of EPA regulations, though many scientific organizations have disagreed with the characterization of their data.

Victoria Police Knee Teen Girl In Ribs During Takedown

A 16-year-old girl was kneed in the ribs and had her face pushed into the ground during an arrest, prompting the Victoria Police Department to review the conduct of two officers.​

The aggressive takedown on Feb. 27 was caught on video by a bystander and posted on Facebook.

The teenager said she had been trying to protect an abandoned dog when she was apprehended. Now she will likely be charged with resisting arrest, and consequently cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Open letter: To Chris Alexander from concerned Canadian citizens

To the Honourable Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander: 
We, like many Canadians, were taken aback by yourrecent comments about a woman's right to choose what to wear for two reasons: one, you are stigmatizing the minority of women who wear niqab, and even hijab; and two, because you are politicizing a fundamental constitutional right.
"We believe that when someone becomes a Canadian citizen, they should embrace everything that makes us proud to be Canadian. That should be done without interference, freely and openly. It's why we filed a notice to appeal this week's court decision allowing people to wear the hijab while taking the Oath," you said in a Conservative Party email, mentioning the scarf worn over a woman's hair.

Nigel Wright, Senators, MPs To Testify At Mike Duffy Trial: Reports

OTTAWA - There's word Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, senators and Conservative members of Parliament have received subpoenas to testify at the trial of suspended Sen. Mike Duffy.

The CBC quotes sources familiar with the Crown's witness list as saying David van Hemmen, Wright’s former executive assistant, and Benjamin Perrin, who acted as the prime minister’s lawyer, have also been called to testify.

Netanyahu's anti-Iran 'mission' to U.S. worries Israelis

When Benjamin Netanyahu stands at the podium in front of a joint session of the United States Congress on Tuesday, he’ll enter the history books.

Not, as his critics charge, for causing a further rift in Israeli-American relations, but by becoming only the second world leader to address U.S. lawmakers for a third time while in office.

The only other statesman to do so is Winston Churchill.

Toronto Real Estate Board demands brokers halt online sales stats

It’s about to get tougher to sleuth out how much homes are selling for in Toronto.

This week, three real estate brokers are cutting off customers’ online access to recent final home sales prices — coveted information that can help buyers and sellers gauge a property’s worth.

The trio are the latest to give in to a threat made by the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) to stop doling out home sales information or risk losing a lifeline to all privileged industry data.

Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.

Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

China's 'Inconvenient Truth:' Anti-Pollution Documentary Goes Viral

BEIJING -- Public revulsion over China’s putrid air has been mounting for years, and now the country might have its gotten its own version of "An Inconvenient Truth."

In a new documentary titled “Under the Dome,” one of the country’s most famous journalists reveals the dire state of air pollution in China and issues a searing indictment of the hapless bureaucracies that she says have crippled environmental enforcement.

Mounties Stonewalled Request for Improperly Collected Data

Last fall, Daniel Therrien, the government's newly appointed privacy commissioner of Canada, released the annual report on the Privacy Act, the legislation that governs how the government collects, uses and discloses personal information. The lead story from the report was the result of an audit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police practices regarding warrantless requests for telecom subscriber information.

The audit had been expected to shed new light into RCMP information requests. Auditors were forced to terminate the investigation, however, when they realized that Canada's national police force simply did not compile the requested information. When asked why the information was not collected, RCMP officials responded that its information management system was never designed to capture access requests.

Harper's Terror Rhetoric Is Alienating Allies

Nine years ago, a group of radicalized youth in Ontario hatched a plan to blow up the CN Tower, attack the CBC headquarters and storm the Parliament buildings. The so-called Toronto 18 didn't get very far. A high-profile member of the Islamic community named Mubin Shaikh was concerned about violent extremism and approached CSIS to offer his help infiltrating groups like this.

With his assistance, up to 200 officers monitored the group at their makeshift training camp north of Toronto. When the police finally arrested them, the group had one illegal handgun between them and more than a tonne of fake fertilizer the RCMP had sold them as bomb-making material.

Citizens’ assemblies provide an institutional foothold for republican political practices

A republican revival in political theory has been underway for three decades, but arguably has produced no institutional change for its efforts. Even today when governments everywhere talk about engaging with the public, such exercises often amount to nothing but pseudo-listening events that have no chance of affecting policy. In this light, the invention of “citizens’ assemblies” (CAs) stands out as a development in deliberative democracy worth discussing. Different versions of citizens’ assemblies have been used at the provincial level in Canada (British Columbia in 2004 and Ontario in 2006-07), the Netherlands (2006), Australia (2009), Iceland (2010), and, and in some American states. Because these are liberal democratic countries, we should expect CAs to be thoroughly liberal themselves. Instead, CAs look decidedly republican in character in terms of their consequences for political representation, liberty and citizenship. If republicans show that CA practices embody many of their theoretical positions, then the CA model can stand as a ready-made institution ready to challenge liberal orthodoxies.

Forbes 500 List Reveals A Disturbing Truth About Our Economy

The Forbes 500 is still, as The New York Times described it in 1987, "a gossipy ranking of the country's richest people." Increasingly, those people are from the financial industry.

Finance -- banking, investing, hedge funds and private equity -- accounted for 14 percent of the world's 500 richest people in 2015, as listed by Forbes on Monday.

Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken Join Growing List Of Democrats Skipping Netanyahu Speech

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced Monday that they will not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress.

One day after President Barack Obama said he would veto any new sanctions against Iran, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu to make his case to Congress against a nuclear deal. Boehner extended the invitation without first consulting the White House, a move seen by some as disrespectful to Obama. The administration has pushed back on the speech, calling Boehner's invite a breach of protocol.

Sex Crime Prevention Program Cut By Ottawa

The federal government is cutting funds for a program designed to prevent the most dangerous, high-risk sex offenders from repeating their crimes, just as its own five-year study has found the program dramatically improves public safety and saves money.
The 18 Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) programs across the country now have about 700 trained volunteers who help safely reintegrate offenders from prison back into the community.
Most sites are now preparing to close after funding from the Correctional Service of Canada ends March 31.

Conservative MP James Lunney Tweets Against Evolution

James Lunney, a federal Conservative MP, is using his Twitter account to come to the defence of an Ontario Progressive Conservative who told reporters last week that he doesn't believe in evolution.
The British Columbia chiropractor, first elected as a member of Parliament in 2000, has jumped into a fray that started last week in the Ontario Legislature.
Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls, who represents the province's Chatham-Kent-Essex riding, was heckling the provincial education minister on Wednesday when the matter of human origins came up.

Bucking the trend: Manitoba defends workers' pensions

Each day Canadian newspapers carry a version of the same story: working Canadians are not prepared for retirement. Statisticians and economists who look at the problem conclude that about half of middle-class baby boomers will experience a steep drop in living standards when they retire.
They also show that with each successive generation of retirees subsequent to the boomers, this problem is projected to get worse. We used to be told that after a career of hard work all workers deserved to retire with dignity and security. Now with decent and secure retirements harder and harder to come by, this important part of middle-class life seems ever more out of reach.

Harper Stirs Prejudice Against Muslims

It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The Prime Minister of Canada is deliberately stirring up prejudice against one group of Canadians for one reason only -- political advantage. The sad reality is that many Canadians and Quebecois seem to be vulnerable to embracing an anti-Muslim sentiment.

We are all appalled by the brutality of ISIS, with their voyeuristic killing of innocent victims. The tragic murder of two soldiers in Canada has added a sense of vulnerability inside our own country. Stephen Harper's response is to declare that Canada is under attack by "global Jihadists" and introduce sweeping legislation giving new powers to CSIS.

Zoocasa To Stop Publishing In-Depth Housing Data, Amid Industry Attempts To Control Info

Zoocasa, one of Canada’s only real estate brokers that has opened up property data to the public in an online database, says it will stop publishing deeper housing data at the request of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).

It is the latest move by Canada’s real estate industry to rein in access to consumer information in a years-long saga to maintain the primacy of realtors in home deals and prevent them from going the way of travel agents in the digital era.

Warren Buffett On Elizabeth Warren: 'She Would Do Better If She Were Less Angry'

Warren Buffett thinks Elizabeth Warren should dial down the anger.

“She would do better if she was less angry and demonized less,” said the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO on Monday when CNBC anchor Joe Kernen asked for his thoughts on the Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

Netanyahu's Takeover Bid

The speech that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, will deliver to Congress on March 3rd aims to scuttle an agreement on nuclear inspections and technology between Iran and the United States. Netanyahu would like to sow a suspicion between these countries so fraught and durable that it will also prevent any possible future agreement. For that purpose he will restate his drastic and persistent belief on the subject. To permit Iran to go beyond the most primitive use of its nuclear facilities would pose an "existential threat" to Israel.

Netanyahu has given America several final chances to dispose of this existential threat. Each time, he announced that Iran would attack Israel within months if the US did not bomb Iran first; more than once, he said that Israel would attack Iran unassisted if Americans were blind to the emergency. But the Iranian attack on Israel has never come. The Israeli solo attack on Iran has never been tried. Meanwhile, it has become clear that no regimen of inspection, no matter how penetrating and rigorous, could satisfy Netanyahu of an adequate Iranian compliance. What he asks is really the surrender of Iran's advanced technology: a surrender that would seal its consent to be a second-rate regional power, subordinate to the will of Israel.

Canada's Millionaire Immigrants Earn Less Than Refugees

Canada's new millionaire migration scheme, the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital (IIVC) programme, appears to be dead on arrival. Authorities were last week forced to extend the application window after failing to fill a very modest quota of 500 applications worldwide.

But was the patient worth saving in the first place?

Wealth migration has drawn tens of thousands of rich Chinese to Canada recently and it has plenty of supporters here in Vancouver - real estate agents, some segments of the immigration industry, and those in the business of selling luxury goods and services spring to mind.

The Lethal Legacy of the Vietnam War

On a mild, sunny morning last November, Chuck Searcy and I drove out along a spur of the old Ho Chi Minh Trail to the former Marine base at Khe Sanh, which sits in a bowl of green mountains and coffee plantations in Vietnam’s Quang Tri province, hard on the border with Laos. The seventy-seven-day siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968, coinciding with the Tet Offensive, was the longest battle of what Vietnamese call the American War and a pivotal event in the conflict. By the off-kilter logic of Saigon and Washington, unleashing enough technology and firepower to produce a ten-to-one kill ratio was a metric of success, but the televised carnage of 1968, in which 16,592 Americans died, was too much for audiences back home. After Tet and Khe Sanh, the war was no longer America’s to win, only to avoid losing.

Obama’s Military-Force Resolution Sets the Stage for a New Era of Imperialism

Of the many enduring lessons of the Vietnam War, none, perhaps, is more relevant today than avoiding what Yale historian Paul Kennedy termed “imperial overstretch”—or an excessive reliance on military force to protect a far-flung and often unruly web of alliances and commitments. For many who observed or fought in that war, America’s defeat was due less to the flawed strategies of US generals than to the overextension of American power in a place of questionable strategic significance and with minimal support at home. For a time, it appeared that US policy-makers were determined to avert more Vietnam-like fiascos; but now, as in the George W. Bush era, Washington seems headed toward another foolhardy increase in military activism abroad.

Will the Murder of Boris Nemtsov Raise the Risk of Escalation in Ukraine?

The horrific murder of Russian opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in the center of Moscow on Friday has, quite understandably, had a galvanizing effect on his friends and admirers in both the United States and Russia.

Writing shortly after the tragedy took place, former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul wrote, “Nemtsov was a real patriot, who believed in the possibility of Russia’s greatness. I cry now both for his family and the country he so loved.” Similar tributes flooded in from across the blogosphere.

Man Who Just Finished 10-Year Stint In Mental Health Institution Shot Dead By Police

A homeless man named Africa who recently finished a 10-year stint in a mental health institution was shot and killed by an LAPD officer on Skid Row, late Sunday night. According to witnesses, Africa was initially approached by police after a robbery was reported in the area.
In a cellphone video captured by a witness, Africa scuffles with four officers before they push him to the ground. The scuffle continues, at which point one of the officers swings at Africa several times. Moments later, two officers and a sergeant deploy five gunshots killing Africa on the spot.

The "Mega-Drought Future," the Disappearance of Coral Reefs and the Unwillingness to Listen

Scientists are now mapping a world that is changing rapidly in often-terrifying ways. Climate disruption and world leaders' unwillingness to act have put us at risk of experiencing mega-droughts, the disappearance of coral reefs and other ecological impacts of an anthropogenically warming planet.
The UN World Meteorological Organization recently announced that 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000. Ponder that for a moment before reading further.