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.]

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Trump's Snub Met With Disdain, Fist Bumps At CPAC

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump announced Friday that he would cancel his appearance the following day at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a decision that drew angry reactions from a Republican base that is skeptical of the real estate mogul's conservative bona fides.

"I think it sends the message that I think he doesn't need us, that he doesn't need the people who are here," Sabrina Barlow, one CPAC attendee, said Friday. "I think CPAC is more conservative for the most part, and more grassroots, so it sends the message that maybe he doesn't feel welcome or he thinks he can get along without us. It divides the party and definitely isn't good for us."

Pension Benefit Cuts Planned at T.V.A., Breaking a Federal Firewall

Politicians in states around the country have moved in recent years to rein in the pensions of government employees, which in many cases had become more generous and less risky than those of their private sector counterparts.

Now that movement may be breaching yet another firewall: the pensions of federal employees.

On Thursday, the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority Retirement System, the pension program for roughly 11,000 workers and 24,000 retirees at the venerable New Deal-era agency, approved a tentative plan to lower the system’s funding shortfall by reducing benefits.The plan will be implemented later this year if the T.V.A.’s management and board go along with it.

A Texas Sheriff’s Absurd Attack On The Separation Of Church And State

Last December, Brewster County, Texas Sheriff Ronny Dodson distributed cross-shaped stickers to his deputies, to be placed on the back of official sheriff’s department vehicles. This endorsement of religion became a statewide story when Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) backed the sheriff’s decision to associate his office with Christianity.

On Wednesday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with two residents of Brewster County, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the stickers removed. According to one of the plaintiffs, the cross stickers “convey the divisive message that non-Christians like himself are not equally valued members of the community and that Christians are favored by the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office and the county government.”

"Saving" East Timor: How One of the 20th Century's Worst Mass Murders Was Covered Up

Secret documents found in the Australian National Archives provide a glimpse of how one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century was executed and covered up. They also help us understand how and for whom the world is run.

The documents refer to East Timor, now known as Timor-Leste, and were written by diplomats in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The date was November 1976, less than a year after the Indonesian dictator General Suharto seized the then-Portuguese colony on the island of Timor.

Trump Reaffirms His Intention To Order War Crimes

WASHINGTON -- It's not often that people admit to an audience of millions that they intend to break the law, but Donald Trump insisted in Thursday night's Republican presidential debate that he would force American soldiers to commit war crimes.

The Republican presidential front-runner has said before that he would order waterboarding and worse for terrorism suspects, and that he would kill the families of terrorists -- acts that violate U.S. and international law.

Donald Trump’s Policies Are Not Anathema to U.S. Mainstream but an Uncomfortable Reflection of It

The political and media establishments in the U.S. – which have jointly wrought so much destruction, decay, and decadence – recently decided to unite against Donald Trump. Their central claim is that the real estate mogul and long-time NBC reality TV star advocates morally reprehensible positions that are far outside the bounds of decency; relatedly, they argue, he is so personally repellent that his empowerment would degrade both the country and the presidency.

The FBI Has a New Plan to Spy on High School Students Across the Country

Under new guidelines, the FBI is instructing high schools across the country to report students who criticize government policies and “western corruption” as potential future terrorists, warning that “anarchist extremists” are in the same category as ISIS and young people who are poor, immigrants or travel to “suspicious” countries are more likely to commit horrific violence.

How U.S. companies are avoiding $695 billion in taxes

U.S. companies stashed another $200 billion in profits overseas last year, escaping billions in taxes, and escalating a battle with Congress over the country’s complex tax code.

The amount of unrepatriated foreign profits reached $2.4 trillion, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, allowing companies to avoid up to $695 billion in taxes. The total of foreign profits is up from $2.2 billion the previous year, according to the advocacy group which reviewed the Securities and Exchange Commission filings of Fortune 500 companies. Apple, Microsoft and Pfizer increased their stockpile of overseas profits the most.

Will Hillary Clinton Lead Us Into Another War in the Middle East?

In Libya, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed herself to be quick to use the American military without thinking about what comes next. As the decisive voice pushing the Obama administration to war, Clinton had no serious plan for a post-Qaddafi Libya, a point driven home forcefully once again in a New York Times cover story on Sunday.

Inside the Fight to Frack Pennsylvania Township

Gene Meyers asked everyone to join him in prayer a few minutes before the Feb. 11 public hearing in Penn Township.

"Please, God, give us all the strength and knowledge to make the proper decision for this township," said Meyers, a 57-year-old township resident who recently retired after 30 years of construction work, which included laying pipeline for Marcellus Shale gas.

Most of the 50 or so people there, including suit-clad drilling representatives, bowed their heads. A collective "amen" hummed across the room.

Are Christy Clark's Travel Expenses Soaring Sky-High?

News that Premier Christy Clark has spent $500,000 on private jets since assuming office has -- not surprisingly -- raised a few eyebrows.

It's a story that has as much to do with the symbolism as it does with the dollars. A political condition that the government seems increasingly tone deaf to as of late.

The stench of Harper’s zombies is becoming overpowering

Stephen Harper legislative monstrosities keep popping out of the ground like corpses in a zombie movie.

Harper invented the “future appointments” system as a way of governing for years beyond his mandate, tying the new government’s hands on the leadership of agencies like the National Energy Board. He and ministers like Lisa Raitt did it by “filling the pipeline” with Tory candidates for posts long before their existing appointments ran out.

Brad Wall is a perfect avatar for a Conservative party trapped in the past

If Brad Wall is the the Great Right Hope of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Cons are doomed.

They’re likely doomed for two elections anyway, given how deeply they’ve buried their heads in the sand since the election. But if they select Wall as their leader in 2017, they may be pitching their tents in the political wilderness for a long, long time.

'Condemn' Canadians? What Would Dad Say, Justin?

Justin Trudeau is fine with violating Canadians' basic rights enshrined by his father 35 years ago.

This we learned when Trudeau's government chose to "condemn" any Canadian who supports a non-violent strategy of Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions (BDS) until such time as Israel recognizes the rights of the Palestinian people.

Liberals' shameful BDS stand gives carte blanche to Israel

Here's a Middle East multiple choice question for you (warning: one of these will get you condemned by the government of Justin Trudeau).

Would you rather that the Palestinian people 1) once again take up armed struggle in order to end Israeli occupation of their land or 2) pursue a non-violent strategy of Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions (BDS) until such time as Israel recognizes the rights of the Palestinian people?

Meaningful Indigenous engagement limited in major climate decisions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a full slate of climate talks this week, including an announcement committing to two significant funding initiatives promoting climate resilience.

The first was a $75 million allotment to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to support local governments in reducing emissions, while the second was a $50 million investment in improving climate resilient building and infrastructure codes across Canada.

B.C. Hydro's granted injunction infringes on Indigenous treaty rights

On Monday, B.C. Hydro was granted an injunction against Treaty 8 land defenders and Site C opponents in Vancouver's Supreme Court.

The provincial utility company had filed the request against protesters who set up a peaceful camp near the Peace River Valley construction site last December. The camp's placement, however, prevented B.C. Hydro from continuing its area clearing safely.

Husband of San Bernardino Survivor Calls for Stronger Gun Laws, Not Weaker Privacy

As Apple fights a judge’s order to help the government hack an iPhone used by San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook, interested parties are weighing in with legal briefs and letters.

Perhaps the most  powerful submission so far is a letter sent by Salihin Kondoker, whose wife is a survivor of the holiday party rampage that left 14 dead. She was shot three times.

But Kondoker isn’t mad at Apple for refusing to comply with the order.

NSA Is Mysteriously Absent From FBI-Apple Fight

The Federal Bureau of Investigation insisted that it was helpless.

The bureau told a judge in February that Apple has the “exclusive technical means” to try to unlock the contents of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone — and that’s why it should be forced to do so.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Walked All Over Texas' Restrictive Abortion Law

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in history, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a major abortion rights case with three women on the bench.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan all played an outsized role in the hearing for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that's as much about a woman's constitutional right to choose as about who gets to impose rules around that choice.

Why Trump?

Donald Trump is winning Republican presidential primaries at such a great rate that he seems likely to become the next Republican presidential nominee and perhaps the next president. Democrats have little understanding of why he is winning -- and winning handily; and even many Republicans don't see him as a Republican and are trying to stop him, but don't know how. There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People don't think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And why Trump?

This Could Explain One Of The Biggest Mysteries Of Cheap Oil

The price of oil has crashed over the last year and a half. In the middle of 2014, a barrel of crude cost over $100. Now it's worth just over $30.

Normally, such a collapse would lead OPEC to pump less oil. The idea is that less oil on the market helps keep prices up. But despite a historic fall in oil prices, the Saudi Arabian-led international oil cartel hasn't budged: The biggest step it has taken so far is offer to freeze production at its current record levels. Production cuts are not on the table.

Google, Facebook And Microsoft Will Officially Support Apple In Battle Against FBI

(March 3 (Reuters) - Tech industry leaders including Alphabet Inc's Google, Facebook Inc, Microsoft Corp , AT&T and more than two dozen other Internet and technology companies were filing legal briefs on Thursday asking a judge to support Apple Inc in its encryption battle with the U.S. government, court documents and sources familiar with the companies' plans said.

The rare display of unity and support from Apple's sometime-rivals showed the breadth of Silicon Valley's opposition to the government's anti-encryption effort.

Why the ACLU Is Defending Apple

The stakes of the fight between Apple and the FBI could not be higher for digital security and privacy. If the government has its way, then it will have won the authority to turn American tech companies against their customers and, in the process, undercut decades of advances in our security and privacy.

Toronto's emergency-shelter shortfall is morally negligent

While homeless shelters remain persistently near capacity, dark and dirty secrets about Toronto's emergency-shelter shortfall are being revealed once again.

Thirteen years after activists with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee demonstrated that the shelter system was failing to offer even the basic necessities recommended by the United Nations for refugee camps, a new report by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty - Out In The Cold: The Crisis In Toronto's Shelter System - doesn't beat around the bush.

Here’s How The One Percent Fares Under President Clinton Or President Trump

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s tax plan would raise trillions in revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy, according to the Tax Policy Center’s new analysis.

The Democratic presidential candidates are still fighting over how much to raise taxes and who should pay them, with Bernie Sanders calling for a small raise on middle class Americans to fund programs and Hillary Clinton swearing no increases below $250,000 incomes. But compared to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, Clinton’s plan is basically the polar opposite.

Nancy Pelosi Isn’t Buying GOP Outrage Over Donald Trump’s KKK Comments

WASHINGTON -- When Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump didn't immediately disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, it didn't surprise House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that much.

Pelosi and other Democrats have argued this week that Republican lawmakers are responsible for the rise of Trump and the campaign he is running.

Poisoned City: Flint and the Specter of Domestic Terrorism

In the current age of free-market frenzy, privatization, commodification and deregulation, Americans are no longer bound by or interested in historical memory, connecting narratives or modes of thinking that allow them to translate private troubles into broader systemic considerations. As Irving Howe once noted, "the rhetoric of apocalypse haunts the air" accompanied by a relentless spectacle that flattens time, disconnects events, obsesses with the moment and leaves no traces of the past, resistance or previous totalitarian dangers. The United States has become a privatized "culture of the immediate," in the words of Zygmunt Bauman and Carlo Bordoni: It is a society in which the past is erased and the future appears ominous. And as scholar Wendy Brown has noted in Undoing the Demos, under the rule of neoliberalism, the dissolution of historical and public memory "cauterizes democracy's more radical expressions."

Georgia Bill Allows Open Discrimination Against Gay People

WASHINGTON -- Georgia is considering passing a law that would let any taxpayer-funded organization deny services to same-sex couples, or unmarried couples in general, by citing religious freedom.

The bill, HB 757, was originally intended to protect ministers from having to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs. (Members of the clergy already have that right under the First Amendment, but sometimes lawmakers just like to pass bills to make a statement.) That version of the bill passed the House last month.

DOJ Sends Request For Exxon Probe To The FBI

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to evaluate whether ExxonMobil violated federal laws by publicly denying climate change for years.

Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier, both Democrats from California, asked the DOJ to investigate Exxon last fall, after reporting from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times indicated that Exxon's experts knew about the dangers of burning fossil fuels, and still publicly worked to undermine climate science. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in October, the congressmen asked the department to look into whether Exxon violated federal laws such as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act by "organizing a sustained deception campaign disputing climate science and failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public."

Koch Brothers Will Not Use Their $400 Million Political Arsenal To Block Trump

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Koch brothers, the most powerful conservative mega donors in the United States, will not use their $400 million political arsenal to try to block Republican front-runner Donald Trump's path to the presidential nomination, a spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday.

The decision by the billionaire industrialists is another setback to Republican establishment efforts to derail the New York real estate mogul's bid for the White House, and follows speculation the Kochs would soon launch a "Trump Intervention."

GOP Foreign Policy Experts Warn A Trump Presidency Would Endanger America

WASHINGTON -- Sixty Republican national security heavyweights vow in an open letter released late Wednesday to work “energetically” to prevent GOP front-runner Donald Trump from winning the party's nomination.

The experts, who represent vastly divergent GOP ideologies, describe Trump's vision of American influence as “wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle.” They warned that a Trump presidency would “make America less safe” and “diminish our standing in the world.”

Donald Trump Loves the Great Wall of China. Too Bad It Was a Complete Disaster.

Someone should tell Donald Trump that the Great Wall of China was a staggeringly expensive and deadly failure.

I've climbed the Great Wall a few times. It is, I can confirm, totally big and beautiful—to borrow words from our future wall-builder-in-chief. Begun around 220 BC as a military defense system in Northern China, the wall is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and has become the country's preeminent national symbol.

Farmworkers Forced To Go Back To Work After Being Exposed To Pesticide

Aurelio Landa, a farmworker working in California, was pruning a peach orchard last week when a neighboring orchard was sprayed with pesticides. One crewmember signaled to the sprayer to stop, but the request was ignored. Landa and some of his coworkers felt nauseous, dizzy, and teary-eyed. Three hours later, they were taken to an office where a doctor checked Landa’s eyes, mouth, and pulse.

“I told him that my head hurt, my eyes burned and I felt nauseous,” Landa said, according to a United Farm Workers union petition. “Soon after [the doctor] told me that everything was fine since the pesticide that was sprayed was organic and that it wasn’t dangerous.”

Israel’s Right Wing Is Trying To Squash Progressive Speech

Progressives in Israel are facing attacks on their free speech from the country’s right wing, in what activists say is a concerted effort by right wing NGOs and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The Israeli government has long maintained that it believes in a two-state solution. But under the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, such an outcome looks less feasible than at any other time in recent history. The situation for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories has long been dire, but now activists and human rights workers say the country’s right wing has Israeli progressives in their crosshairs.

Mississippi Refuses To Use Money That Would Give Poor Families Child Care

Christi Foster grew up in Georgia. While the state doesn’t spend a lot on its safety net for the poor, she says that enrolling in benefits wasn’t too complicated. “You go and apply for something and you find out that day or within a week’s time,” she said.

But since the single mother of three children moved to Mississippi, things have been a whole lot different. “Everything down here is so hard,” she said. “Daycare assistance, with Mississippi, it’s hard to get in… it’s always a waiting list.”

The 401(k) Boom Has Been Disastrous For People Of Color

It used to be that most American workers could expect guaranteed checks in retirement thanks to a pension, or what economists call a defined-benefit plan. But in the 1980s, the country went through a major shift, with employers ditching pensions in favor of 401(k) accounts. Those accounts, known as defined-contribution plans, don’t guarantee payouts, leaving it up to the employees to enroll, contribute, and make smart investment decisions to ensure they’ll get enough money in old age.

A Kentucky Lawmaker’s Hilariously Stupid Attack On Marriage Equality

The U.S. Supreme Court ended the debate on whether same-sex couples can marry, but one Kentucky lawmaker has a new plan to circumvent this decision. State Rep. Joseph M. Fischer (R) is happy to let same-sex couples marry, but only different-sex couples will be able to enter “matrimony.”

Fischer has introduced HB 572, the “Matrimonial Freedom Act” — an epic 454-page bill that creates the new status of “matrimony.” Declaring that the Supreme Court has established an “absolute Tyranny over these States,” the bill asserts, “we have full power to define marriage and to establish a new institution of matrimony in this Commonwealth,” adding, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

GOP’s First Hearing On ‘Baby Parts’ Quickly Goes Off The Rails

On Wednesday morning, Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in a case that could severely restrict a woman’s access to a safe abortion — an issue that brought hundreds of pro-choice protesters to Washington, D.C. But that wasn’t the only discussion about abortion rights taking place on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Behind the closed doors of the Capitol, members of the House held the first congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood’s involvement with the sale of fetal tissue. This hearing, dubbed the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” by the conservative representatives behind it, was a wide-ranging discussion of the morality of abortion that Democratic lawmakers protested was more like a witch hunt than an objective discussion.

Foreign-Owned Fish Farms Are Devastating B.C.'s Wild Salmon

The salmon farming industry has long been banned in Alaska, where it's believed to be a threat to the state's healthy wild salmon populations.

But that's not the case in Canada, where Norwegian-owned aquaculture multinationals have done a terrific job of winning over the federal government.

A Top Republican Makes Absurdly Contradictory Argument About Supreme Court

WASHINGTON -- Republicans who have decided to block any Supreme Court nomination so voters can have a say accused Democrats Wednesday of politicizing the high court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared almost immediately after news of Justice Antonin Scalia's death that he would not allow a replacement to be seated in President Barack Obama's final year, saying, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice."