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, January 03, 2017

Why Christians Are Disproportionately Powerful in Congress

The 115th Congress is back in session, and at least one thing looks the same as usual: 91 percent of its members identify as Christians. This proportion has basically remained constant for more than five decades, as long as this kind of data has been available, according to a new study from Pew Research Center. What has changed is the U.S. population: Only 71 percent of American adults identify as Christians.

The Era of Republican Overreach Begins

“Let us not be timid,” Paul Ryan exhorted members of the House on Tuesday, moments after 239 Republicans had, in near-unanimous fashion, re-elected him as speaker. He was girding his party for what he called “the opportunity of a lifetime”—the chance to remake Washington under President-elect Donald Trump and unified Republican control of government.

Ryan needn’t have worried about his members’ gumption: They had committed their first act of political overreach before the 115th Congress was even sworn in.

When America Last Had Two Presidents at One Time

Over the holiday weekend, the Nixon biographer John Aloysius Farrell (who has sometimes written about the 37th president in this space) delivered what might be called a historical bombshell. Using notes from H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, he reported that despite years of insistence it was not true, Nixon had in fact used back channels to kill peace negotiations to end the Vietnam War on the eve of the 1968 presidential election, in order to give himself a leg up in that race. Farrell writes:

    But Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia….

    Nixon told Haldeman to have Rose Mary Woods, the candidate’s personal secretary, contact another nationalist Chinese figure — the businessman Louis Kung — and have him press Thieu as well. “Tell him hold firm,” Nixon said.

Inside the House GOP ethics debacle

Just hours after Republicans voted to gut the House's independent ethics office, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s phone started lighting up with calls and texts.

The California Republican had tried to warn his colleagues about the political risks of defanging the Office of Congressional Ethics during a closed-door, secret ballot roll call Monday night. And after that vote, a number of lawmakers who agreed with McCarthy raised serious concerns about approving the controversial pitch in a public vote the next day.

The End of Democracy in Turkey

Following the New Year’s Eve attack in Istanbul, democracy in Turkey is likely to enter a death spiral. The issue isn’t the attack itself, terrible as it was. On New Year’s Eve, a lone gunman made his way into the Reina dance club, which was jammed with revellers, and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing thirty-nine people and wounding dozens. The shooter has not yet been identified, but, in an Internet posting, the Islamic State claimed that one of its soldiers had done the job. In its typical deranged language, the group said that it had happily struck the revellers, “turning their joy into sorrows.” The attack, the group said, was in retaliation for air strikes and other military operations carried out by the “Turkish apostate government” against ISIS in Syria.

Terror sparks call to centralize German police powers

BERLIN — In the wake of last month’s terror attack in Berlin, Germany’s interior ministry wants to centralize and expand police and domestic intelligence services in what would be the most sweeping overhaul of the country’s security apparatus since World War II.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said expanding the powers of the federal police was essential for Germany to confront a growing terrorist threat. He also called for Germany’s regional intelligence authorities to be merged into a single service under Berlin’s authority.

11 things exposed by the ethics office Republicans just tried to dismantle

On Monday night, on a federal holiday, behind closed doors, House Republicans voted to eviscerate the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) — the independent body tasked with rooting out corruption and conflicts of interest on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, after a public outcry, they abandoned the plan, though some Congress members suggested they may try again at a later date to gut the ethics panel.

Warming crushes global records again in 2016

2016 has crushed the record for hottest year, set way back in 2015, which itself smashed the previous record for hottest year that was set in 2014.

Such a three-year run has never been seen in the 136 years of temperature records. It’s but the latest in an avalanche of evidence this year that global warming will either be as bad as climate scientists have been warning for decades — or much worse.

House Republicans Dive into the Swamp

Stung by instant and overwhelming outrage at the audacity of their plan to gut the oversight authority of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, House Republicans have reversed course.

For now.

But don’t think that Tuesday’s decision to maintain existing OCE rules means that House Republicans have suddenly embraced ethics and transparency.

UK’s EU Ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers Quits Ahead Of Brexit Negotiations

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, has resigned just weeks before the Brexit negotiations are set to begin.

The Foreign Office confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that Sir Ivan would be leaving the key Brussels post after it was first reported by The Financial Times.

Moscow Seeks Naval Drills As Russian Warships Visit Manila

Russia wants to hold maritime drills with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy, sending two warships to Manila for the first official navy-to-navy contact, as President Rodrigo Duterte pivots to United States’ traditional rivals.

Admiral Tributs, an anti-submarine vessel, and a sea tanker Boris Butoma, arrived late on Tuesday for a four-day goodwill visit, with its crew expected to demonstrate anti-terrorism capability and hold talks, said Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet.

Elizabeth Warren blasts GOP for gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics: “Who thinks we have too many rules requiring government to act ethically?”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom progressives hope will take the lead in opposing Donald Trump, took congressional Republicans to task using her Twitter account on Monday night for voting to undermine ethics reforms.

Noam Chomsky: Randomly Surfing the Web Is No Way to Educate Yourself

Fake news has been around long before Facebook, but it was the tech company's goal to appear like a newspaper that eventually misled its users far more than ever before.

"Technology is basically neutral," author Noam Chomsky explained. "It's kinda like a hammer...the hammer doesn't care whether you use it to build a house or a torturer uses it to crush somebody's skull... same with modern technology [like] the internet. The internet is extremely valuable if you know what you're looking for."

As 2017 Begins, the Right Is Emboldened but Not Ascendant

The right took power in Britain, the United States and elsewhere throughout the West in 2016 because those who represent the left in electoral arenas failed to provide a compelling vision of a better world, writes Gary Younge at The Guardian.

“This was a year in which vulgarity, divisiveness and exclusion won—a triumph for dystopian visions of race, nation and ethnicity,” Younge says. “Those thought dangerous and marginal are now not only mainstream, they have power. Immigrants and minorities are fearful, bigots are emboldened, discourse is coarsened. Progressive alternatives, while available, have yet to find a coherent electoral voice.”

House Republicans secretly vote to gut Office of Congressional Ethics

In a secret vote held behind closed doors Monday night, House Republicans voted to cripple the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body created in 2008 to rein in corruption and other misconduct by members of Congress.

The move was spearheaded “by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years,” according to Politico. Among those speaking in favor of the changes were Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who was accused by a staffer of sexual harassment, and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), who allegedly received “an impermissible gift when he and his wife traveled to Taiwan in October 2011.”
Under the new rules, the Office of Congressional Ethics would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and, critically, lose its independence. It would be placed under the auspices of the House Ethics Committee, which famously has turned a blind eye to wrongdoing by members of Congress. It became clear that an independent body was necessary after scandals largely ignored by the the Ethics Committee sent several members of Congress, including Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Bob Ney, to jail.

House Republicans Vote to Rein In Serious Investigation of Republicans

When Republicans control Congress and a Democrat is president, it's all investigation all the time. It doesn't matter if any of the stuff they're investigating is genuinely scandalous or not. They just keep at it, month after endless month.

With a Republican about to take over the White House, we all expected this to come to a halt. But as usual, Republicans aren't satisfied with just letting their investigatory fever quietly fade away. They have to take it a step further:

House Republicans pull plan to gut independent ethics committee after Trump tweets

Washington (CNN)President-elect Donald Trump dramatically strong-armed House Republicans into line Tuesday in his first Washington power play, after they voted to gut an ethics watchdog in a manner that undercut his vow to drain the establishment "swamp."

Trump made clear his anger at the move on his Twitter account, and GOP lawmakers hurriedly changed plans to target the independent panel, backing down in a controversy that threatened to overshadow the dawn of a new conservative era in Washington.

A human rights activist, a secret prison and a tale from Xi Jinping's new China

Some nights Peter Dahlin says he tucks a “big-ass knife” under his bed in case intruders come for him as he dozes; others he cannot sleep at all.

“They’ve kidnapped people several times here before,” says the 36-year-old Swedish human rights activist, chain-smoking Marlboro cigarettes as he remembers the 23 days he spent in secret detention in China.