Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ex-CIA Chief David Petraeus Won't Be Demoted Over Scandal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon says it will not demote retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information while CIA director, an incident stemming from an affair with his biographer.

"The Army completed its review of his case and recommended no additional action," Stephen C. Hedger, assistant defense secretary for legislative affairs, wrote the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday. Given that review, Hedger said Defense Secretary Ash Carter "considers this matter closed."

US Building Boom Fuels Spike in Construction Worker Injury and Death

They fall from ladders, roofs and scaffolding, get electrocuted, and breathe in toxic chemicals and dust. They get hit by falling objects and find themselves on the receiving end of mechanical failures and equipment malfunctions. For 7.45 million construction workers - one-fourth of them foreign born - going to work as a bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, framer, mason, painter, plumber, or drywall or tile installer means facing acute dangers within their daily work.

22 Clinton Emails Deemed ‘Top Secret’ by State Department

Confirming that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private computer server held highly classified material, the U.S. government Friday censored 22 emails.

The seven email chains from the Democratic presidential front-runner will be withheld from the public because information in them has been deemed “top secret,” announced John Kirby, State Department spokesman. However, “These documents were not marked classified at the time that they were sent,” he said, having been upgraded at the request of intelligence agencies.

Alberta Royalty Review: 'We Were Right All Along,' Wildrose Leader Says

EDMONTON — Premier Rachel Notley's critics delivered a collective I told you so Friday in light of a review that concluded the amount of money energy companies pay for the resources they develop shouldn't change.

"We were right all along," Wildrose Leader Brian Jean told reporters in Edmonton after Notley released in Calgary her government's action plan following a review of oil and gas royalties.

Big Brother's tough week

One of Canada's foremost privacy experts is challenging the government's assessment that the impact of a privacy breach involving the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's electronic spy agency, "was low."

"The privacy impact is not low," Anne Covoukian, the executive director of the privacy and big data Institute at Ryerson told The House.

Sorry Rick Mercer, Energy East won't unite our country but it will destroy our planet

I look up to Rick Mercer and have a huge amount of respect for him, and I've been inspired by many of the rants he's filmed in this alley. But as someone who cares deeply about climate change, I'd like to respond to his most recent rant framing the Energy East pipeline as not only necessary for our economy, but a linchpin of national unity.

Why Hillary Clinton’s Take On Abraham Lincoln Is 'Total Fantasy'

During a Democratic forum this week, Hillary Clinton gave an account of American history that glossed over the racist terrorism that dominated the South after the Civil War.

When asked who her favorite president was, Clinton said it was Abraham Lincoln, but soon lost the plot:

    I don't know what our country might have been like had [Abraham Lincoln] not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant. ... But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.

The Pied Piper of Zion

Hamelin, A small town in Germany (not so far from where I was born), was infested with rats. In their despair, the burghers called upon a rat-catcher and promised him a thousand guilders for liberating them from this plague.

The rat-catcher took his pipe and played such a sweet melody that all the rats came out of their holes and joined him. He marched them to the Weser river, where they all drowned.

PS unions want more than 'review' of contentious labour bill

The Liberal government and federal unions are locking horns over a piece of Conservative-era labour legislation even before they reach their first round of collective bargaining.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison said Friday he is sticking to his plan to review rather than repeal Bill C-4, the contentious Tory legislation that completely changed the ground rules for collective bargaining in the public service.

Why the Jian Ghomeshi trial may change nothing for sexual assault survivors

There were promising signs in the days after the allegations about Jian Ghomeshi were published — and more so after charges were laid.

The stories that emerged on #beenrapedneverreported prompted conversations, on and offline, about what changes were needed so women would not feel afraid, failed, betrayed or ignored by the justice system. The police chief at the time, Bill Blair, appealed for victims to come forward so police could investigate “as quickly and compassionately as possible.” The provincial government launched a framework to tackle sexual violence and harassment and announced additional funding for sexual assault centres — though demand still exceeds the services provided.

I Traveled to Palestine-Israel and Discovered There Is No 'Palestinian-Israeli Conflict'

The mind has a way of making traumatic experiences seem like distant dreams to those who survive them. As it goes, the more traumatic the experience, the quicker the paramedics in one's mind rush to dress wounds, resuscitate and stabilize the victim; the victim being you.

Since returning from Palestine 36 hours ago, I find myself confronted with feelings of detachment and minimization of what I encountered. My subconscious has decided the horrors I witnessed in the 'Holy Land' were nothing serious-horrors which include a 26-foot-tall concrete wall enclosing the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, and the sniper towers seemingly on every other corner of this open-air prison.

House Investigates Flint Water Crisis, But The Governor Isn't On The Invite List

WASHINGTON -- The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, on Feb. 3. But the list of witnesses does not include Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), an omission that some are calling inexcusable.

The oversight committee has called a hearing for next Wednesday at 9 a.m. focusing on violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint. The Flint water crisis came as a result of officials in the Snyder administration telling city officials not to use corrosion treatment after the city began pulling drinking water from the Flint River. The water then corroded the city's pipes, causing lead contamination. State officials dismissed complaints from Flint residents about the water quality for over a year.

Republican Activists Think Donald Trump Is Their Best Shot To Win

The most politically active members of the Republican Party have warmed to Donald Trump’s bid for the party’s presidential nomination since last summer, according to a new Huffington Post/YouGov poll, which finds 68 percent now think he could win the general election.

While most surveys attempt to reflect the entire electorate, this one is the latest in a trio of polls focusing solely on Republican activists: well-informed party stalwarts who've run for or held office, served as party officials, worked on campaigns or volunteered their time before elections.

Tens of Millions Wasted on "Ghost" Schools, and That’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan, according to a new report filed by the US government's top watchdog for Afghan reconstruction spending.

"In this reporting period, Afghanistan proved even more dangerous than it was a year ago," writes John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), in a quarterly report released Friday morning. Sopko says recent "vicious and repeated attacks" in Kabul have shaken the confidence in the national government, and that American and British forces have had to step in several times to back up Afghan security and police forces, even though the local forces were given that primary responsibility a year ago.

The Anti-Slavery Roots of Today’s “-Phobia” Obsession

Where do phobias come from? And how do they become political? In a recent New York Times article, Amanda Hess addresses these questions in an investigation of phobia’s rise as a sociopolitical register. Titled “How ‘-Phobic’ Became a Weapon in the Identity Wars,” the essay shows that the “modern ‘-phobia’ boom” can be traced back to New York psychologist and gay rights activist George Weinberg, who coined the term “homophobia” in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. “‘Homophobia’ was a hit,” Hess explains. It became the go-to “descriptor for the intolerant” and a rallying point for gay liberation worldwide. Since then, phobia has fully infiltrated activist lingo. “Islamophobia,” “xenophobia,” “transphobia”—each fulfills a hallowed role for a corresponding social movement, organizing an array of discriminatory acts into an all-purpose buzzword.

Government Finds 'Top Secret' Information In Hillary Clinton's Emails

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration confirmed for the first time Friday that Hillary Clinton's home server contained closely guarded government secrets, censoring 22 emails that contained material requiring one of the highest levels of classification. The revelation comes three days before Clinton competes in the Iowa presidential caucuses.

State Department officials also said the agency's Diplomatic Security and Intelligence and Research bureaus are investigating if any of the information was classified at the time of transmission, going to the heart of Clinton's defense of her email practices.

Hungry Children in Rich America 01/29/2016 04:00 pm ET | Updated 16 hours ago

Sarah is three years old. She and her six-year-old brother, Bryce, are inseparable except when it’s time for him to visit the summer food program that provides meals at a school near his Ohio home for children who otherwise would go hungry. Sarah’s too young to make the trip. One morning after Bryce had his fill of food for the day he made a detour before heading home. He walked to the trash cans and began rummaging through food others threw away. Winnie Brewer, the Food Services Supervisor in Marion City Schools, noticed the little boy and tapped him on the shoulder to ask why he was sifting through the garbage. “My little sister,” he explained. “She’s hungry.” Bringing her leftover food was the only way he knew to help.

State Rep. Praises KKK, Wants New Holiday To Honor Confederacy

The Ku Klux Klan has gotten a bad rap, according to one Georgia lawmaker. He says the terror group “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order” that “made a lot of people straighten up.”

That leader is now hellbent on stopping the “cultural cleansing” of the South’s heritage. So far this year, State Rep. Tommy Benton (R) has co-sponsored two bills to preserve the Confederate’s legacy.

Alberta government introduces industry-friendly oil and gas royalty system

CALGARY — Pent-up anxiety over changes to Alberta's oil and gas royalties dissipated Friday after the provincial government revealed it's keeping the status quo for oilsands players and simplifying the system for conventional oil and gas wells.

A four-member panel led by Dave Mowat, head of Crown-owned bank ATB Financial, has spent the last five months studying Alberta's royalty system — amid a worsening outlook for oil prices.

Dear Mulcair: Fighting income inequality is not just an email petition away

A few days ago the NDP sent out an email to those who subscribe to their party email list that was ostensibly from its leader Tom Mulcair and that had as its title "Tackling income inequality."

It read, in part:

    "Our NDP team is back in Ottawa this week and ready to get to work for you.
    Front and centre is the issue of income inequality -- one of the most glaring injustices in our society. It's not enough to say that everyone has the same chance in a game that's rigged against the most vulnerable.
    That does nothing to help a child who lives in an overcrowded, unheated apartment and goes to school cold and hungry in the morning. Or the pensioner whose income is slipping away.
    In 2015, Canadian banks earned a record $35 billion in profits and handed out $12.5 billion in bonuses. Meanwhile, those same banks eliminated 4,600 good-paying Canadian jobs last year alone."

Wages vs. workers: How Canada's minimum rates compare

Workers in Canada have fought for higher minimum wages for more than a century and a new wave of this campaign is percolating in workplaces across the country.

Low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet and organizations advocating for a realistic living wage -- like the Fight for 15 movements -- have won successive wage increases despite fierce opposition from business owners and politicians. Opponents usually point to unmanageable labour costs and warn that increases in unemployment will be a result.

Snowden files reveal US and UK spied on feeds from Israeli drones and jets

A joint UK-US intelligence programme has been spying on electronic feeds – including video – from Israel’s military drones and jet fighters going back to 1998.

In a potentially embarrassing disclosure for Israel, which prides itself on its technical capabilities, a new release from material held by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has revealed that UK and US intelligence officials have been regularly accessing Israeli cockpit cameras even in the midst of operations in Gaza and Lebanon.

Ontario watchdog urged to investigate WSIB

Citing “systematic disregard” for professional medical assessments of injured workers, advocates have asked Ontario’s government watchdog to launch an investigation into the province’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

The 200-page submission made Friday to the provincial ombudsman by health professionals, workers, lawyers and labour groups blasts WSIB for ignoring the medical advice provided by doctors treating injured workers, in favour of so-called “paper doctors” who have not met patients directly.

Sale of concert tickets a ‘fixed game,’ inquiry finds

ALBANY, N.Y. — Had a hard time getting a ticket to a concert or sporting event? New York’s attorney general says that’s probably because more than half of tickets to many events are held for industry insiders or otherwise unavailable to the general public.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a report released Thursday that his investigation of the industry was prompted by consumer complaints, which his office receives regularly.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mining magnate Munk admits to donating more than legal limit to Conservatives

OTTAWA - Mining magnate and philanthropist Peter Munk has admitted he donated more than the legal limit to the Conservative party three different times.

Munk, the founder of mining giant Barrick Gold Corp., signed a compliance agreement with Elections Canada earlier this month, acknowledging that in 2008, 2010 and 2012 his donations exceeded the maximum allowable contributions in those years.

The capitalist model for journalism is failing

The news this week that Rogers will send 200 of its TV, radio and publication workers packing is just the latest in a series of corporate media contractions that are bringing the entire system to the brink of collapse and forcing hundreds of media workers out of jobs across the country.

Just five companies -- Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor, and TELUS -- control nearly 90 per cent of Canada's media landscape.

Tories' Senate gambit shows Harper still runs the party and the party still holds Parliament in contempt

The Conservative Opposition's threat to use its majority in the unelected Senate to thwart the Trudeau government's plan to repeal two anti-labour laws passed when Stephen Harper was still prime minister is a very telling indication of that party's true commitment to the principles of democracy.

It is also a powerful signal of who remains in control of that party -- viz., Harper himself, not the supposedly kinder, gentler Rona Ambrose or any of her likely successors.

Bills C-377 and C-525, as they are still commonly known, were a couple of vindictive anti-union gestures dressed up as "transparency" and "choice."

'Scared' and Spied On Under Harper, Why Child Advocate Didn't Give Up

Fresh from victory at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Cindy Blackstock said she persisted with her landmark child welfare case for nine years because, "It's our job as adults to stand up for kids."

That, despite spending nine years feeling "tired and sometimes scared because of what the government was doing to me personally," she told The Tyee.

At least 50 police officers currently suspended with pay in Ontario

At least 50 officers with four of the province's largest police forces are currently suspended from duty for alleged misconduct, but getting a paycheque all the same, CBC News has learned.

The number of Toronto cops suspended with pay jumped to 14 on Thursday, when four Toronto police officers were charged in connection with allegedly planting heroin in a suspect's car and lying about it in court.

Months after the election, those chickens keep coming home to roost

It must be all the Kool Aid. You’d think that, by now, it should have dawned on the Conservative Party of Canada that it has more than a public relations problem in the post-Harper era. What it has is a full-fledged brand meltdown.

Their former leader was the most popular choice for worst prime minister in a recent poll conducted by Angus Reid. Even the pasta-consultant beat him, to say nothing of the throat-grabber and the middle-finger-flipper.

Canadian Economy Expands In November, But Half Of Industries Have Shrunk In Past Year

Canada's economy expanded by 0.3 per cent in November, Statistics Canada reported Friday, roughly in line with economists' expectations.

That gain followed a flat reading in October and a 0.5 per cent contraction in September. Canada's economy has showed significant growth in only four of the last 12 monthly readings from StatsCan.

Texas’ Devious Plan To Silently Kill Roe v. Wade

Wednesday, the Texas attorney general’s office sent the Supreme Court a blueprint for overruling Roe v. Wade without actually having to write the words “Roe v. Wade is overruled.” It is a heavy-handed, oafish appeal to the darkest fears of abortion opponents. It is also an absolutely brilliant bid for the one vote that matters in a major abortion case, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s.

No, The ‘Utah Compromise’ Is Not A Good Plan For LGBT Protections

Last year, Utah was the only state that advanced statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, leaving behind 28 states that still offer no such protections. Utah’s legislation, however, included some rather unprecedented “religious liberty” carveouts, which many conservatives have since suggested should serve as a model for other states, particularly those wrestling against the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.

State Gave Its Workers In Flint Clean Water As It Assured Residents Taps Were Safe

A state building in Flint, Michigan, had clean water quietly trucked in for government employees even as city residents expressed concerns about unsafe water, emails among state officials show.

Emails obtained by the advocacy group Progress Michigan reveal state officials acknowledging concerns about the water quality while brushing off residents' uneasiness. A memo sent Jan. 7, 2015, states that due to the concerns, "[Department of Technology, Management and Budget] is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near a water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink."

Donald Trump Says He Can't Be Bought. His Record Suggests He Can

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump markets himself as the rare politician who can't be bought. He says he's the only candidate who's immune to the kind of backdoor access and palm-greasing that infects official Washington.

But the story of his charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, illustrates a different side of Trump. Donors give money to the foundation; the billionaire scratches their backs and uses their money to burnish his ego and, more recently, his political reputation.

Tyranny of the Israeli Majority?

Israel was founded as a homeland for the Jewish people. But it was also founded to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants," according to its Declaration of Independence.

Despite Israel's roots as a liberal democracy, within the next week, the Israeli Knesset will vote on a bill designed to stigmatize and harass progressive organizations. Under the pretense of greater "transparency," the bill creates a series of new requirements that target only Israeli groups that criticize Israeli government policy.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

CSE Broke Privacy Laws With Metadata Sharing, Watchdog Says

OTTAWA — Canada's electronic spy agency broke privacy laws by sharing information about Canadians with foreign partners, says a federal watchdog.

The Communications Security Establishment passed along the information — known as metadata — to counterparts in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, said Jean-Pierre Plouffe, who keeps an eye on the highly secretive agency.

Mark Zuckerberg Made A LOT Of Money During His Paternity Leave

Mark Zuckerberg did pretty well for himself while he was out on his paternity leave.

The Facebook founder and chief executive just got back from leave, which he spent cozied up with his brand-new baby girl, Max. He shared many deliciously cute photos during that time.

Apparently, Facebook did just fine while its leader was away. On Wednesday, the social network announced that its revenue had grown by an astonishing 52 percent over the three-month period ending Dec. 31 -- profits for that quarter were more than $1 BILLION. Zuckerberg was out on leave for about one-third of that time.

Paul LePage Urges Maine Residents To Shoot Drug Dealers

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants state residents to start shooting drug dealers on sight in order to help alleviate Maine's heroin crisis.

"Everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry," LePage said Wednesday.
"Load up and get rid of the drug dealers."

Since October, Maine has allowed legal firearm owners to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

How America's Gun Manufacturers Are Quietly Getting Richer Off Taxpayers

In January 2013, a month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the state of New York passed gun control legislation that included a ban on the retail sale of assault weapons. Soon after, Remington Outdoor Company, the maker of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the massacre, announced it would lay off workers at its 200-year-old factory in Ilion and move production to Huntsville, Alabama. Then CEO George Kollitides explained in a letter to New York officials that the move was brought on by "state policies affecting use of our products."

How Americans Are Increasingly Turning Their Backs on the Poor

With the winter winds of January came a flurry of reports that several states were moving to cut thousands of people from their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamp”) rolls.

In New Jersey, for example, Governor Chris Christie pulled the plug on benefits to 11,000 unemployed state residents.

American Democracy Down for the Count

Some years ago, I faced up to the futility of reporting true things about America’s disastrous wars and so I left Afghanistan for another remote mountainous country far away. It was the polar opposite of Afghanistan: a peaceful, prosperous land where nearly everybody seemed to enjoy a good life, on the job and in the family.

It’s true that they didn’t work much, not by American standards anyway. In the U.S., full-time salaried workers supposedly laboring 40 hours a week actually average 49, with almost 20% clocking more than 60. These people, on the other hand, worked only about 37 hours a week, when they weren’t away on long paid vacations. At the end of the work day, about four in the afternoon (perhaps three in the summer), they had time to enjoy a hike in the forest or a swim with the kids or a beer with friends—which helps explain why, unlike so many Americans, they are pleased with their jobs.

Half Of Canadian Soldiers Experienced Abuse As Kids: Study

OTTAWA — A new study says approximately half of military personnel in Canada begin their service with a history of abuse in their childhood, including corporal punishment, or witnessed domestic violence as children.

Don't Tell Me Letting Uber Ignore Rules Is about Competition

I was in Houston, Texas, last Thursday when the BC Liberals performed an about-face in favour of Uber, a controversial transportation provider seeking access to the B.C. market.

At the end of my night, I asked the bartender for the name of a cab company. He told me to use Uber because a taxi would take between 60 and 90 minutes, and might not come at all.

On Nature's Death Row: It Used to Be BC's 'Eden'

Picture this scene: It's a bright spring morning. A light breeze scented with sea salt sets wildflowers nodding. Overhead, a pair of cappuccino-coloured butterflies the size of quarters flicker and pirouette around gnarled trees freshly dressed in green. In the deeper shade, a keen eye might pick out, like a fat comma in bright blue, the slow advance of a slug across a rotting leaf. Suddenly a small bird bursts up into the spring air, the sun catching its lemon-yellow face and black raccoon-mask, a sharp musical trill following its rise.

Donald Trump Could Do Something Unprecedented In Modern Elections

Donald Trump may be about to do something that has never been done in the modern presidential nominating era: Win a state primary without a single endorsement from a member of Congress.

In a testament to the oddity that is 2016, just days before primary voting begins, Trump -- the GOP frontrunner that the GOP refuses to believe is the frontrunner -- has yet to win the official support of any elected official on Capitol Hill.

Bernie Sanders’s Radical Environmental Proposal

There isn’t much daylight these days between the Democratic candidates on the environment. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley all agree that humans are responsible for climate change and that it’s one of the world’s most pressing problems. To that end, they support clean energy tax breaks, reject drilling offshore and in the Arctic, and oppose the (now-rejected) Keystone XL pipeline.

But there’s one environmental issue where Sanders truly stands apart: He wants to ban hydraulic fracturing outright. Clinton and O’Malley have proposed lesser measures, and show no sign of going further. That’s an indication of just how radical Sanders’s stance really is, but it also raises an important question: Is a fracking ban remotely plausible?

Ted Cruz Assures Voters He Will Address ‘Crisis’ Of Gay Marriage

KEOSAUQUA, IOWA — Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz ended a seven-stop tour of Iowa on Tuesday with extended comments against marriage equality and transgender-inclusive policies, which he said represented a “time of crisis” in America.

His remarks came in response to a question from Keosauqua resident Randy DeLong, who expressed concern with the “moral decay in this country.”

Note To Media: The Heavily Armed, Law-Breaking Oregon Militants Aren’t ‘Protesters’

With news that the leader of the Oregon militia occupying a federal wildlife refuge was arrested last night, and another member killed in a confrontation with police, it’s worth taking a look back at how the media has described the crisis in the last few weeks.

The armed militia first seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon on January 2, and proclaimed early on that they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary. Since then, their occupation of the land, and their refusal to seriously negotiate with the FBI, has cost the U.S. government over $133,000 per day.

Documents Reveal How Harper Government Cherry-Picked Syrian Refugee Files

OTTAWA — Newly released government documents paint the clearest picture to date of how the Conservative government's controversial approach to Syrian refugee resettlement played out last year.

Before last winter, the previous government had only committed to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees from the millions fleeing the civil war there and spilling into surrounding countries.