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 18, 2016

“I Feel Like a Despised Insect”: Coming of Age Under Surveillance in New York

IN THE SPRING of last year, two New York women were arrested on charges of supporting ISIS, following a joint investigation by the New York Police Department along with federal agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Queens residents Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui “plotted to wreak terror by creating explosive devices.” Central to the disruption of this “terror plot,” authorities boasted, was the work of an undercover police detective, although no concrete plan was ever hatched. Indeed, as The Intercept reported, the unsealed criminal complaint reveals the undercover officer’s role in pushing the two women to turn their controversial political sentiments into something more dangerous. In this sense, the arrests were similar to a number of post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions, half of which have involved the use of informants or undercover agents, according to a 2014 report co-authored by Human Rights Watch, which raised concerns over “questionable” and “discriminatory” tactics.

A Bernie Sanders Presidency Could Revolutionize Bipartisanship

Conventional wisdom dictates that should Bernie Sanders overcome all electoral hindrances and assume the presidency, much of his agenda would not get through the U.S. Congress. Since Sanders comes from the left wing of the political spectrum, it would be nearly impossible for him to persuade moderate Republicans to vote for his proposals.

Letting Uber Break The Law Legalizes The Underground Economy

The real threat of Uber goes well beyond taxis and how we hail a cab.

It goes to basic respect for the laws of the land, the willingness or ability of governments to enforce those laws, and to the responsibility we all bear to pay our taxes to support the kind of society we want for ourselves and our families.

Hedge Fund Billionaires Fund Super PAC Ad Against Bernie Sanders and Minimum Wage Hike

A Super PAC called Future 45 started airing an ad this week saying Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders would hurt small businesses and kill jobs by raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes. Watch it below:

Black Struggle Is Not a Sound Bite: Why I Refused to Meet With President Obama

On February 18, civil rights activists and leaders from around the country were invited to the White House for what the Obama administration has called a "first-of-its-kind" intergenerational meeting to discuss "a range of issues, including the administration's efforts on criminal justice reform" and "building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve." The event's guest list includes high-profile civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton, student organizer DeShaunya Ware and others.

Warren Report Criticizes Obama Administration's Failure to Prosecute Corporate Crimes

Controversy erupted after the recent Democratic presidential debate when Hillary Clinton accused Bernie Sanders of criticizing President Obama. However, Sanders is hardly the only prominent Democrat to have recently questioned some of the president's actions. In January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) released a 12-page booklet titled "Rigged Justice," which highlights 20 cases of lax corporate law enforcement in 2015, saying:

    The Obama Administration has made repeated promises to strengthen enforcement and hold corporate criminals accountable, and the DOJ [US Department of Justice] announced in September that it would place greater emphasis on charging individuals responsible for corporate crimes. Nonetheless, both before and after this DOJ announcement, accountability for corporate crimes is shockingly weak.

Harper government misled Canadians about Volkswagen investigation

The federal government misled Canadians about its investigation into Volkswagen during the fall election campaign, erroneously suggesting that it had acted swiftly on the emerging pollution cheating scandal, despite the absence of a paper trail to confirm its claims.

Internal emails from a federal vehicle testing facility showed no signs that enforcement officials had asked the top scientists at the lab to proceed with a full investigation, prior to September 2015 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board went public with details about their own probes. There was only a flurry of emails from the research facility about an investigation after the U.S. announcement on Sept. 18.

Exxon’s Never-Ending Big Dig

Here’s the story so far. We have the chief legal representatives of the eighth and 16th largest economies on Earth (California and New York) probing the biggest fossil fuel company on Earth (ExxonMobil), while both Democratic presidential candidates are demanding that the federal Department of Justice join the investigation of what may prove to be one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history.  And that’s just the beginning.  As bad as Exxon has been in the past, what it’s doing now—entirely legally—is helping push the planet over the edge and into the biggest crisis in the entire span of the human story.

Hillary Clinton, With Little Notice, Vows to Embrace an Extremist Agenda on Israel

Former President Bill Clinton on Monday met in secret (no press allowed) with roughly 100 leaders of South Florida’s Jewish community and, as The Times of Israel reports, “he vowed that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would make it one of her top priorities to strengthen the US-Israel alliance.” He also “stressed the close bond that he and his wife have with the State of Israel.”

Jewish group attacks York University over ‘anti-Semitic’ move to divest from weapons manufacturers

In the latest caustic outbreak in an ongoing cultural war, a prominent Jewish organization Wednesday urged Jewish Canadian high school students to think twice about applying to York University.

In a blistering statement, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) accused the university’s faculty association of endorsing “a campaign of censorship against Israel and the Jewish People.”

Students And Veterans Turned Away From The Polls Under Wisconsin’s New Voter ID Law

Wisconsin’s local primary election put the state’s new voter ID law to the test Tuesday, causing problems that left officials seriously concerned about how voters will be impacted this November.

The election decided several mayoral contests and helped conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley clear a key hurdle to maintaining her seat on the state’s powerful Supreme Court.

Hate Groups Just Got A Lot More Recruits

A new study reports that the number of hate groups in the United States grew in 2015 for the first time in three years, with extremist organizations exploiting ongoing tensions around race, religion, and ideology to recruit a small horde of new followers.

An investigation released Wednesday from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) chronicles the rise of American extremist groups in 2015, reporting that the number of hate groups increased 14 percent compared to 2014.

Why Did a 16-Year-Old Black Girl Just Die in a Kentucky Cell?

Last month, 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen became part of a disturbing trend — one of a growing number of girls across the country who've been detained after getting charged with a misdemeanor. Then mysteriously, one day after she was booked into Kentucky a detention center, McMillen was found dead in her cell.

On the morning of January 11, an employee at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center found McMillen, who was not breathing. "She is cold and stiff, there is no respiration, no vital signs," the employee told a 911 dispatcher. About an hour later, McMillen was pronounced dead. Little is known about why McMillen wound up dead while in juvenile detention, a locked facility where young people charged with crimes are held while they wait for future court dates or other action in their cases.

Who are these contemptible hypocrites trying to block Cameron's EU deal?

David Cameron's much-vaunted "renegotiation" of Britain's EU membership terms seems to have run into a last minute snag or two. Or rather, four.

Even as he goes head to head with our EU partners at a last-ditch summit in Brussels, a leaked discussion document shows four states are likely to stand against his feeble tweaks to the Union's ground rules. However thin, weak and watery Cameron's gruel may be, even this seems too much for our EU friends to swallow.

Short Money Rethink Unveiled By Government After Backlash Over Cuts To Westminster Opposition Parties

A Government rethink over cuts to taxpayer funding for opposition parties includes possible protections for smaller parties and an offer to restrict the plans to this Parliament.

As all eyes in Whitehall were fixed on David Cameron’s Brussels summit, ministers are set to quietly publish online a ‘consultation’ on proposals to slash ‘Short Money’ grants by 19% this year and freeze it thereafter until 2020.

Vancouver transit's Compass card system poses privacy concerns

Translink's Compass card system in Vancouver has been a long time coming.

The plan to implement controlled gate access and smart fare cards was announced in 2009 by then-Premier Gordon Campbell. While the initial release date of the new system was set for 2013, significant delays due to ongoing technical difficulties pushed back the project and the general public wasn't given full access to Compass until November 2015.

Budget Housing Promises Fail to Address 'Massive Unaffordability': Experts

The BC Liberal government delivered its budget Tuesday with fanfare for finally tackling B.C.'s spiralling housing affordability crisis. The fiscal plan heralded new measures to eliminate the title transfer tax on homes sold for $750,000 or less, raise it on more expensive homes over $2 million, and to collect buyers' citizenship data.

The moves came in the wake of revelations of an obscure loophole that has allowed real estate brokers to transfer properties repeatedly -- tax-free and off the books -- before a house has even sold, ratcheting up prices.

Ahead of Trudeau's Budget, a Glimpse of Seniors' Poorer Future

As the new Liberal government prepares to table its first budget, the twin challenges of ensuring adequate retirement security and reducing seniors' poverty are coming into sharper focus.

A report published Tuesday by the Broadbent Institute provides new data on seniors' income and retirement savings. It paints a stark picture of worsening poverty and inadequate savings trends, and offers a clear baseline of evidence for government action.

BC Best Province for Low Taxes? Uh, Not for Poor Families

A low-income family in British Columbia pays more than twice as much tax as a similar family in Alberta or Quebec, according to a comparison included in B.C.'s budget documents this week.

The fact stands in stark contrast to a claim Finance Minister Michael de Jong made while presenting the budget on Tuesday.

Singling out a Belgian-born Radio Canada reporter, de Jong said in French, "For me, it's important to understand, the same person if he lives in Montreal, Trois Rivieres or Quebec, he's going to pay $8,000 -- $8,000 Sophie! -- more than the same person in British Columbia. It's incredible."

Glenn Beck Thinks God Killed Antonin Scalia To Help Ted Cruz Get Elected President

Glenn Beck has a theory on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and it's unlike just about anything else floating around out there.

In video posted online by Right Wing Watch, the talk show host explained that God may have killed the conservative justice to make a point -- specifically to jolt Americans into realizing how important their freedom is so that they vote for Ted Cruz to pick Scalia's replacement.

Apple Leads the Charge on Security, But Who Will Follow?

After boldly and publicly rejecting a federal court order to hack an iPhone on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook could reasonably have wondered: Who’s with me?

The Twitterverse was full of fans. Civil liberties activists were cheering him on. But in Silicon Valley, the initial response was less effusive.

Google, the other tech behemoth that has promised to make encryption, security, and privacy a priority—but has stalled in implementing unbreakable encryption on its services by default—was notably silent for most of the day. But then Google CEO Sundar Pichai expressed his support in a series of tweets: “Important post by @tim_cook,” he wrote.

All Liberals Must Support Doctor Assisted Dying Law, Government Deems It Charter Issue

OTTAWA — NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair will allow his MPs to vote their conscience on the coming doctor-assisted suicide bill, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not.

During the election campaign, Trudeau promised that his MPs would have a free vote on everything except matters related to the Liberal platform, traditional confidence measures such as the budget, and anything to do with "our shared values and the protections guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Why Apple's CEO And The FBI Are Fighting Over Your Phone

Yesterday a judge in Los Angeles ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the two terrorists who killed 14 people and seriously injured over twenty others in San Bernardino, Calif., in December. But Apple CEO Tim Cook is saying no, sparking a legal battle that may determine what rights the government has to the information inside your phone.

Donald Trump and the Central Park Five: the racially charged rise of a demagogue

Yusef Salaam was 15 years old when Donald Trump demanded his execution for a crime he did not commit.

Nearly three decades before the rambunctious billionaire began his run for president – before he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, for the expulsion of all undocumented migrants, before he branded Mexicans as “rapists” and was accused of mocking the disabled – Trump called for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York following a horrific rape case in which five teenagers were wrongly convicted.

Venezuela president raises fuel price by 6,000% and devalues bolivar to tackle crisis

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, has announced the first rise in petrol prices in 20 years and a sharp devaluation of the currency which he said aimed to shore up the flailing economy, hard hit by falling oil prices which make up 95% of foreign income.

Prices at the pump in Venezuela will jump as much as 6,086% for 95 octane gasoline, from 0.097 bolivars to 6 bolivars, or 1,300% for 91 octane as of Friday.

RAF Typhoons Scrambled To Intercept Russian Jets Heading Towards UK Airspace

RAF Typhoon fighter jets have been scrambled to intercept two Russian aircraft heading towards UK airspace.

The RAF says the operation is still ongoing.

An RAF spokesman said: “The RAF can confirm that typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby Lincolnshire have been launched on a QRA mission. The mission is ongoing so we will not be offering any additional comment at this time.”

Paul LePage Warns Of Dirty Asylum Seekers Bringing The 'Ziki Fly'

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) believes asylum-seekers are the "biggest problem" in the state because of the diseases they may be bringing in.

"What happens is you get hepatitis C, tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV, the 'ziki fly,' all these other foreign type of diseases that find a way to our land," LePage said during a town hall meeting Tuesday night, according to Maine Public Broadcasting News.

Payroll Screw-Up At Justice Canada Worth Up To $50M In Lawyers' Favour

A payroll screw-up at Justice Canada credited several thousand government lawyers with as much as $50 million worth of time off that they didn't deserve, a CBC investigation shows.

The botched accounting — carefully kept out of public financial statements — has tied the department in knots, threatening negotiations for a new labour contract, prompting union grievances and forcing a massive payroll cleanup that has taken more than two years.

China Sends Missiles To Contested South China Sea Island

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and U.S. officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region.

Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo told Reuters the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 year but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Bank of America CEO Now Making Millions Of Dollars More For No Reason

Last year was not a big year for raises in America. Collectively, Americans ended the year seeing their compensation rise just 2 percent.

But bank executives are different from you and me. Case in point: Bank of America chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan. On Friday in filing, the bank said it handed Moynihan a 23 percent raise, bringing his 2015 pay to $16 million at a time when antipathy to Wall Street has become a central theme of the U.S. presidential election .

US Farmers Allege Deception by Agrochemical Giant: The Case Against Syngenta

From Indiana to Louisiana, a movement among thousands of corn farmers in the United States is trying to hold a Swiss GMO agribusiness giant to account for willful deceit and is making steady progress in court. According to these lawsuits - which may soon become class action - Syngenta, one of the world's largest agrochemical companies, deliberately misled small farmers into thinking that the genetically modified Viptera corn it was pushing on them would be approved for export to China. When China's unpredictable import authorities held off on granting approval and then turned back a shipment that contained Syngenta's genetically modified crop, the glut of excess corn that farmers had on their hands caused prices to crash and resulted in nearly $6 billion in damages.

The year of ‘enormous rage': Number of hate groups rose by 14 percent in 2015

America is getting angrier, according to one watchdog.

For the first time in five years, the number of hate groups in the United States rose in 2015, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal and advocacy organization known among other things for monitoring extremist activity.

In Exchange For Cutting Benefits, This Bankrupt Coal Company Agreed To Pay Executives Millions

A bankrupt coal company last month unveiled a plan to pay top executives up to $11.9 million in bonuses over six months as an apparent reward for slashing benefits for workers and dodging environmental clean-up obligations during bankruptcy proceedings. The company, Alpha Natural Resources, is one of the four largest coal companies in the U.S. and filed for bankruptcy last year.

Thomas Piketty on the rise of Bernie Sanders: the US enters a new political era

How can we interpret the incredible success of the “socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders in the US primaries? The Vermont senator is now ahead of Hillary Clinton among Democratic-leaning voters below the age of 50, and it’s only thanks to the older generation that Clinton has managed to stay ahead in the polls.

Because he is facing the Clinton machine, as well as the conservatism of mainstream media, Sanders might not win the race. But it has now been demonstrated that another Sanders – possibly younger and less white – could one day soon win the US presidential elections and change the face of the country. In many respects, we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections.

In Six States, a Felony Drug Conviction Still Comes With a Lifetime Food-Stamp Ban

In early February, a council appointed by Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal recommended the state lift its lifetime ban on food stamps for people with felony drug convictions. If a vote from Georgia’s General Assembly lifts the prohibition, the state would follow Alabama’s recent repeal and Texas’ modification of the ban, which is a waning holdover from President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform law that restricted benefits for drug felons but not for people with other felony convictions.

The God that fails: C-51, review committees and the dangers of window dressing

Among the Harper era's most destructive legacies is a toxic stew of repressive "anti-terror" laws that, in building on similarly repressive measures brought in under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, extended major new powers to Canadian state security agencies Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the RCMP, among numerous others. Last year, Justin Trudeau infamously voted in support of C-51 (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015), claiming his support of the law was necessary to ensure his electability.

How to Square Xi's 'Rule of Law' Campaign With China's Crackdown on Lawyers

SINGAPORE -- At its fourth plenary session of the 18th congress in October 2014, the Chinese Communist Party leadership passed an ambitious reform plan on the legal system. The party devoted this entire plenary session to discuss "rule of law" -- something unprecedented in the history of the party's plenary sessions. This act was widely interpreted as the Xi Jinping leadership's determination to build a system of "rule of law" in the country.

Victims left exposed in wage-theft war

After months of missing out on royalties he says he was owed, bounced cheques, and toiling at his job of roasting coffee in what he describes as a sweltering, broken-down cottage overrun with mice, Fiorildo Tenace finally decided to approach the Ministry of Labour.

His aim was to stand up for his rights. Instead, he lost his job.

“It was horrible,” he said. “This is Toronto. A lot of people are living paycheque to paycheque.”

Bombardier cutting 7,000 jobs

MONTREAL—Bombardier says it will cut its workforce by 7,000 positions over two years, including 2,000 contractors.

Most of the job losses will be in Canada and Europe, and will be partly offset by hiring in certain areas.

The Montreal-based aerospace and rail equipment company (TSX:BBD.B) says the cuts will begin in the coming weeks and be completed by 2017.

Unlikely Critic Neel Kashkari Says Banks Still Pose ‘Nuclear’ Risk to U.S. Economy

A former Goldman Sachs executive—one credited as an architect of the 2008 banking bailout—said Tuesday that the country’s largest financial institutions are “still too big to fail and continue to pose a significant, ongoing risk to our economy.”

In his first speech delivered as the newly appointed president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, Neel Kashkari “came out swinging,” Business Insider reported.

He likened the risk posed by big banks to that of a nuclear reactor, noting: “The cost to society of letting a reactor melt down is astronomical.”

Needlessly complicated TPP rules have negative impacts on Canadian businesses

Geographical indications (GI) are signs used on goods -- frequently food, wine, or spirits -- that have a specific geographical origin and are said to possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin. Given the quality associated with the product, proponents of GI protection argue that it is needed to avoid consumer confusion as well as to protect legitimate producers.

You Can't Earn a Living on the Minimum Wage

When presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality, and when other candidates speak about the minimum wage and food stamps, what are they really talking about?

Whether they know it or not, it’s something like this.

From banks to Uber: No competition please, we're Canadian

A letter arrived last week from TD Bank. "In order to continue to meet your banking needs …," it began.

Try to guess what came next. Hint: I'm a customer at a Canadian bank.

Sure enough, "We sometimes need to adjust our pricing."

When Do the Needy Get to Enjoy 'Bright Spot' BC?

''Let them eat cake!'' -- Attributed to French Queen Marie Antoinette, 1755-93, in response to the poor not having bread

British Columbia has the best economy in Canada -- something that BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark is constantly boasting about, calling it the country's only ''bright spot.''

And that's great news, but when do people in need start seeing any of the benefits?

Canadians' Personal Finances Strained: Nearly Half Are $200 A Month From Insolvency

CALGARY — A new poll suggests nearly half of Canadians surveyed last month are within $200 per month of being unable to pay for their bills and make their debt payments.

The Ipsos Reid survey also found about one-quarter of the 1,582 people who responded to the poll were already unable to cover their bills and debt payments.

Bill Clinton Says 'We Are All Mixed-Race'

Former President Bill Clinton has been called the first black president before, but he had a strange response when the phrase came up recently.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced Clinton Friday at a Memphis campaign rally for Hillary Clinton by saying that while he clearly was not the first black president, he was a "heck of a stand-in."

Ceasefire Doesn’t Mean Parties 'Stop Using Weapons,' According To Syria's Assad

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday any ceasefire did not mean each side had to stop using weapons, and nobody was capable of securing the conditions for one within a week.

"Regarding a ceasefire, a halt to operations, if it happened, it doesn't mean that each party will stop using weapons," Assad said in Damascus in televised comments.

What Republicans Said About Supreme Court Nominations During George W. Bush’s Last Year

Moments after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was reported, Republicans in the Senate coalesced around a single message: the next president, not Barack Obama, should nominate Scalia’s successor.

When Republicans argue that Barack Obama should not nominate a Supreme Court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia, they are embracing a modified version of the “Thurmond Rule,” a concept invented by one of the Senate’s most notorious racists.

Senator Who Once Railed Against Delaying SCOTUS Confirmations Says He’ll Delay SCOTUS Confirmation

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) joined a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers calling for the Senate to delay nominating a Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia, who died this weekend during a hunting trip in Texas, until after the presidential election.

Grassley, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, holds an outsized role in the confirmation process, as the Judiciary Committee initiates the vetting process for nominees and oversees all confirmation hearings.