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 21, 2013

Can a President Use Drones Against Journalists?

In thinking about drones strikes and targeted killings, it can be instructive to picture them hitting people you know, either deliberately or as collateral damage. Doing so may not even be much of a stretch, nor should it be. (It’s already the case for people living in parts of Pakistan and Yemen.) Last week, I moderated a live chat on the ethics of drone warfare with Michael Walzer, the author of “Just and Unjust Wars”; Jeff McMahan, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers, who has also written about just-war theory; and The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who is a master of the subject. The discussion took some interesting turns, touching on the idea of a secret committee that the President would be asked to check with before killing an American and the question of whether China would ever assert the right to call in a drone strike on a dissident living in San Francisco. After Walzer and McMahan suggested some criteria for strikes—criminality, risk of American lives—I asked them this:

    Doesn’t a journalist working abroad who is about to release classified information about a war crime—thus committing a crime—that will provoke retribution or a break with allies—endangering Americans—fit this definition of a target?

The Making of a Natural Gas Glut

A former investment banker says the explosion in shale gas development, such as frenzied activity in northern B.C., was a financial mania largely driven by Wall Street bankers intent on capitalizing upon a record $46-billion worth of mergers and acquisitions that shook up the troubled industry in 2011.

In an attempt to meet unrealistic financial production targets (and please Wall Street), the industry drove natural gas prices to uneconomic lows in recent years, throwing the entire industry and its backers into panic mode, says Deborah Rogers in a startling new report for the Energy Policy Forum.

More Than Ever, We Need the UN

The United Nations gets a bad rap. But headlines about deadlock in the Security Council—which limits the UN’s ability to act effectively on issues of peace and security—and the UN’s missteps too often overwhelm the daily work the UN and its agencies do to tackle hunger, disease, poverty and human rights abuse. Many of the UN’s programs are quiet successes; all of them are urgently important.

No one knows this better than UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, the UN’s second highest-ranking official. During the past three decades, Eliasson served throughout the agency and across the globe: as Sweden’s Ambassador to the United States; as mediator on the Iran-Iraq war; as first-ever Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; as special envoy for Darfur; and, prior to his promotion to deputy secretary-general, as president of the General Assembly.

Truly defend freedom

It is practically an axiom of political thought that your rights and freedoms are jeopardized when the government formally attempts to protect those rights and freedoms. Admittedly, this is a cynical attitude, and, we hope, unwarranted when it comes to the Conservatives’ newly established Office of Religious Freedom.

Indeed, there are good reasons to regard this new agency as a necessity. “Religion” is resurgent in the world regardless of the preferences of the secular elites who dominate the upper echelons of the West’s cultural and political institutions. The modern West — the product of Enlightenment thinking and scientific rationalism — seems to be entering a new era of religious awareness, for good and ill.

A religious Canada, strong and free

This week, in the aptly named Maple, part of the sprawling suburbs in the northern Greater Toronto Area, the prime minister came to announce the establishment of the new Office of Religious Freedom (ORF), along with its first ambassador, Dr. Andrew Bennett.

Another story was evident in Maple too, a contrast between an old Canada passing away, and a new Canada emerging.

As to the ORF itself, promised in the 2011 federal election campaign, it was a day of pride. I was proud to be Canadian, to hear the prime minister speak clearly in the name of those who are daily harassed, assaulted, imprisoned and killed for their faith in God.

Brian Mulroney and the harsh reality of Canada-U.S. free trade

One morning 10 years ago, my brother lost his long-time job when the owners of the Scarborough electronic parts factory where he worked announced it was closing the plant and moving its operations to Chicago.

Soon after, his company shut down two other factories in Oakville, tossing 400 employees out of work. The jobs were shifted to the U.S. and Mexico.

Government’s public service job cut system ‘cruel’ and ‘inhumane’: critics

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is facing calls to change the way it is carrying out its public service job cuts, with critics calling the existing system “cruel” and “inhumane.”

In particular, critics would like to see a change to the way the government is thinning its ranks — notifying a large number of public servants that their jobs are in jeopardy then making them compete against colleagues for the jobs that remain.

Alberta's Strange Sinking Sensation

Alison Redford, the premier of Canada's wealthiest province, has encountered a $6 billion "bitumen bubble" on the busy Highway to Hell.

To most Canadians this curious disclosure seems confounding if not paradoxical. How can "the economic engine" of Canada run five government deficits in a row yet promise prosperity for the nation? Is no one in charge?

Yet Redford isn't the only befuddled leader of an oil-fueled government. Thanks to the volatile nature of the world's most lucrative commodity, various petro states find themselves short of cash. And that's because most petro states don't know how to budget let alone govern.

Freedom of information activists ask: Why are Toronto councillors allowed to work in secret?

Outdated provincial laws shield city councillors from public scrutiny, allowing them to work behind a wall of secrecy.

You are not entitled to their daily schedule, work emails, or communications with lobbyists. You are not entitled to know who they meet with. You are not entitled to see documents sent to them by businesses, developers or investors.

Unlike the mayor and thousands of city employees, councillors are not subject to freedom of information legislation because they are not deemed municipal employees — their records are considered personal.

NRA President Speaks Out On Gun Control Measures

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- National Rifle Association President David Keene said Wednesday he doesn't expect a filibuster from gun rights supporters as the Senate prepares to vote on potential gun control issues.

Keene spoke at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum in a one-hour event moderated by CNN chief national correspondent John King, who asked him if the NRA would support efforts to filibuster and block the votes.

Canadian Oilsands Dependence Could Hurt Economy: Report

OTTAWA - A new report warns of the perils to the Canadian economy of relying too much on the oilsands.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study says Canada is heading towards a "staples trap," whereby the more quickly bitumen is exported, the less diversified and productive the economy becomes.

Harper: EI House Calls Necessary To Stop Fraud

SASKATOON - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says hundreds of millions of dollars are lost through false or inappropriate employment insurance claims and the federal government wants to curb that.

Federal workers are now visiting employment insurance recipients at home, the prime minister confirmed Thursday in response to a report from The Canadian Press.

He said Human Resources Development Canada must ensure that money for EI is there for people who qualify.

EI Recipients Get House Calls From The Feds

OTTAWA - The federal government has begun visiting Employment Insurance recipients at home as part of an "examination" being conducted while the program undergoes an overhaul.

About 1,200 recipients are receiving invitations, in person, to appear at their customary EI interviews as part of the project, which wraps up next month.

Pamela Wallin, Conservative senator, owns bachelor apartment in New York City

OTTAWA—Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin has an apartment in New York City, but she says she does not stay there often and that it has nothing to do with the audit into her travel expenses.

New York property records show that a unit in the Plaza Tower, a co-operative highrise on East 60th St. between Lexington and Park Aves., was transferred to Wallin for $379,000 (U.S.) in June 2005.

Energy Board Act changes in Budget 2012 fit petroleum association prescription

The federal government made changes to oil and natural gas export regulations matching what the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers lobbied for.

In its 2012 federal budget, the Conservative government altered the National Energy Board Act to eliminate the mandatory requirement to grant public consultations prior to a license for oil and natural gas exportation.

Tax structure, funding cuts take toll on tourism

The world's expanding middle class is flying high, taking advantage of a kaleidoscope of captivating destinations - all of which pose a challenge for Canada's tourism sector.

Canada used to be No. 7 in terms of top travel destinations, according to the Ottawa-based Tourism Industry Association of Canada. Now, it is No. 18.

That matters. Tourism accounts for two per cent of Canada's GDP and 3.5 per cent or 600,000 direct jobs. Those jobs often are badly needed ones, in remote and rural areas.

Federal officials make house calls to EI recipients

OTTAWA - The federal government has begun visiting Employment Insurance recipients at home as part of an "examination" being conducted while the program undergoes an overhaul.

About 1,200 recipients are receiving invitations, in person, to appear at their customary EI interviews as part of the project, which wraps up next month.

Resolutionary Socialism: Why a leftist agenda within the NDP is futile

There can be little doubt anymore, other than to the willfully blind, that neither the federal NDP nor any of its provincial wings are socialist parties.

The shift towards centrism and the embrace of neo-liberal hegemonic economic ideas, such as Tom Mulcair's recent backing of corporate free trade deals, has become obviously irreversible. Even worse, Mulcair has now backed away from his previously critical comments about the oil sands, and has won praise from the business press for his "political maturity," which is little more than a code phrase for having abandoned important principles around the environment and climate change.

Canadian oil industry gets almost $3B in subsidies

MONTREAL -- Canadian governments spent almost $3 billion subsidizing the oil industry in 2008, according to a recent report.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development is also predicting the subsidies will more than double as a share of government expenditures in 2020, along with oil production.

Could muzzling federal scientists be illegal?

The Information Commissioner of Canada is being asked to investigate whether "federal government policy forcing scientists to jump through hoops before speaking with the media" breaches the Access to Information Act.

The request was made as part of a complaint filed Wednesday by Democracy Watch, a non-profit organization that advocates for government accountability, and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic.

An Interrogation Center at Yale? Proposed Pentagon Special Ops Training Facility Sparks Protests

Students and alumni at Yale University are organizing against a proposed campus center to train special operations forces in interview techniques. The center would be funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Pentagon and could open as early as April. Dubbed an "interrogation center" by critics, the facility would be housed at the Yale School of Medicine and led by Charles Morgan, a professor of psychiatry who previously conducted research on how to tell whether Arab and Muslim men are lying. We speak to two students at Yale who co-authored an editorial titled "DoD Plans are Shortsighted, Unethical," and with Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health and a 1990 graduate of the Yale School of Medicine. "Yale has now crossed a line," Siegel says. "Using the practice of medicine and medical research to help design advanced interrogation techniques, or even just regular civilian intelligence-gathering techniques, interviewing techniques, is not an appropriate use of medicine. The practice of medicine was designed to improve people’s health. And the school of medicine should not be taking part in either training or research that is primarily designed to enhance military objectives."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: -

COLORISM: The War at Home

The "color complex" has remains a source of great controversy and pain in the African American community and across much of the African Diaspora. As one of the leading voices and scholars on Black racial identity, Drexel University assistant teaching professor of Africana Studies Yaba Blay continues her arduous, groundbreaking work on the topic. Her One Drop Project has been featured on CNN’s Black in America series and expanded the discussion around how Blackness is defined in today’s society.

Horsemeat scandal: 'government warned two years ago'

The beleaguered minister at the centre of the horsemeat scandal, Owen Paterson, has asked the Food Standards Agency to investigate claims that the government was warned potentially harmful horsemeat could enter the food chain two years ago.

The environment secretary ordered the investigation after it was reported the government was warned in 2011 that horsemeat with possible drug residue was getting into food and that the situation could blow up into a scandal.

It's Been 951 Days Since the Senate Passed a Major New Law

Here's an impressive fact about life in today's Washington: The last time a major new piece of policy legislation passed the U.S. Senate was July 15, 2010.

That's when the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill came through the Senate. And it was 951 days ago.

If you're wondering whether President Obama's ambitious second-term agenda has a chance to make it through Congress, this little fact might be worth keeping in mind. Pessimistic analyses of the prospects for the Obama agenda have mostly focused on the recalcitrant, GOP-led House of Representatives. But Obama's problem may actually be with the house of Congress his party controls. House Speaker John Boehner has signaled that he'll consider proposals that make it through the Democrat-controlled Senate. Based on recent history, that could be a tall order.

Beltway Brain Fever: People Who Agree With Obama But Have to Pretend Otherwise

It is obviously possible to agree with the Republican negotiating position over the budget sequester, which is that it would be better to replace the sequester with cuts to social spending, yet better to keep the sequester than increase tax revenue in any form. It is also obviously possible to disagree with President Obama’s position, which is that the sequester ought to be replaced with a “balanced” mix of cuts to retirement programs and increased revenue through tax reform. It is also obviously possible to take a stance directly between the two positions.

Tories keeping Canadians in dark about 2012 budget cuts, Liberals say

OTTAWA—The Liberals say the Harper Conservatives are still hiding the impact on Canadians of last year’s spending cuts even as they prepare to deliver the 2013 budget next month.

“Canadians are rightly asking how they can trust this government’s imminent budget when they still don’t know where the cuts from budget 2012 are coming from,” Liberal treasury board critic John McCallum remarked as he released a list of federal departments he said are engaged in an exercise in secrecy.

Toronto council rebuffs debate on shelter crisis; keeps left wing off powerful committees

It wasn’t a great meeting for Toronto city council’s left wing.

First, left-leaning councillors failed to get council to discuss a winter “crisis” in homeless shelters. Then, after a debate marked by bickering and name calling, the Rob Ford administration easily defeated a bid to put some left-leaning councillors on the executive and budget committees.

Toronto casino debate heats up online as MGM unveils new website

The great casino debate is heating up online, where No Casino Toronto’s grassroots lobbying efforts face competition from a slick new MGM Resorts website that says its facility would showcase “the soul of Toronto.”

Las Vegas-based MGM and Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview promise thousands of jobs, $2 billion to $4 billion in investment and a stampede of tourists, on the website expected to be officially announced Wednesday along with an official Facebook page.

Changes to EI: It's all in the details

What not to say in an interview if you're on EI, and other nightmares

The latest detail to emerge about the recent changes to EI is from the Digest of Benefit Entitlement Principles. The Digest is a guide to enforcing Employment Insurance, with definitions of key terms, and elaborates on expectations of EI claimants and penalties for errors. In Chapter 9, Refusal of Employment, Service Canada outlines several actions that are equivalent to refusing employment.

‘Muzzling’ of federal scientists called a threat to democracy

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has been asked to investigate the way the Harper government has been “muzzling” federal scientists.

The request, accompanied by a report on the government’s “systematic efforts” to obstruct access to researchers, was made jointly on Wednesday by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, a national non-profit group.

‘Bad law’: Ontario judge in gun appeal criticizes Tories’ mandatory minimum sentences

A mandatory minimum sentence enacted by the federal Conservatives that sees first offenders sent to prison for three years on a gun possession crime is a “bad law,” one of Ontario’s most senior judges suggested Wednesday.

Appeal Court Justice David Doherty is one of five judges hearing a joint set of six appeals, each of which involves mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.

Tories drop opposition MPs from prime minister's volunteer awards guest list

OTTAWA - Opposition MPs were dropped from the guest list for an awards ceremony honouring volunteers from across the country, an event that some had worried would become political.

The Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards were given out Dec. 14 in the historic Railway Room on Parliament Hill. Stephen Harper himself delivered remarks, and had his photo taken with each of the 16 recipients of the new award.

Trudeau's McGill Visit: Grit Hopeful Opposes Free Tuition

MONTREAL - Liberal leadership favourite Justin Trudeau waded Tuesday into two areas of provincial policy, at one point even taking shots at the Parti Quebecois government, while visiting Quebec.

Trudeau offered his opinions on Quebec language legislation and on tuition fees, while also reiterating his promise to increase federal involvement in education.

He delivered speeches and answered student questions at three schools on Tuesday, two of them English institutions and one French.

Navigable Waters Protection Act Changes Driven By Pipeline Industry: Documents

OTTAWA - When the Harper government included a radical overhaul of the Navigable Waters Protection Act in the last omnibus bill, outsiders scratched their heads and wondered out loud where that idea had come from.

Documents obtained through the Access to Information Act show it came, in part, from the pipeline industry.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association met with senior government officials in the fall of 2011, urging them not just to streamline environmental assessments, but also to bring in "new regulations under (the) Navigable Waters Protection Act," a CEPA slide presentation shows.

House Prices: Canada Sees 5th Straight Month Of Declines In January, 2013

With housing sales numbers stronger than expected at the start of this year, many of the more optimistic housing market observers were hoping that the worst is over for Canada’s housing slump.

But is it really? New data from research firm Teranet shows house prices in Canada fell in January for the fifth straight month, with prices dipping 0.3 per cent from December.

Bloomberg, Homeless Advocates Spar After Mayor Denies Anyone Is 'Sleeping On The Streets'

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that "no one is sleeping on the streets" in New York City, NY1 reports.

The comment-- in response to a New York Daily News article that said city shelters were turning away families during frigid winter temperatures-- was quickly condemned by homeless advocates who have long decried Bloomberg's handling of the city's homeless.
It also came as a shock to everyday New Yorkers who, looking out their window or on their way to work, can see homeless people sleeping on the streets.

"It's a remark that just seems so out of touch with the everyday reality that New Yorkers see," said Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless.

In fact, the remark directly contradicts the city's own data estimating more than 3,200 people sleeping on the streets in 2012.

It also comes just days after an appeals court sided with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, striking down the mayor's policy of requiring homeless individuals to prove their homelessness in order to acquire temporary housing.

Critics said the mayor skirted proper procedure in making the policy change that left the homeless with nothing but a "death sentence."

Those that have come to Bloomberg's defense believe such requirements are a necessary move in order to relieve overcrowding in shelters. In 2011, the homeless population rose to over 41,000 individuals, marking the first time the city exceeded the 40,000 mark.

Bloomberg previously got into hot water for another comment regarding the city's homeless. In August, the mayor said New York City shelters offered a "much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before."

Original Article
Author: -

John Kerry Speech Brings Full-Throated Defense Of Foreign Aid

WASHINGTON -- John Kerry used his first public address as secretary of state to focus on the domestic side of foreign policy, delivering a full-throated defense of foreign aid spending as a boon to American interests.

"In today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy," Kerry said in a speech Wednesday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "How we conduct our foreign policy matters more than ever before to our everyday lives."

Obama Golfed With Oil Men As Climate Protesters Descended On White House

WASHINGTON -- On the same weekend that 40,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline -- to its critics, a monument to carbon-based folly -- President Obama was golfing in Florida with a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas and pipeline players.

Obama has not shied away from supporting domestic drilling, especially for relatively clean natural gas, but in his most recent State of the Union speech he stressed the urgency of addressing climate change by weaning the country and the world from dependence on carbon-based fuels.

Emad Burnat Detained: Michael Moore Says Oscar-Nominated '5 Broken Cameras' Director Held At LAX

Emad Burnat, the Palestinian who co-directed the Academy Award-nominated documentary "5 Broken Cameras," was reportedly detained at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday night as he attempted to enter America to attend the Oscars, this according to filmmaker Michael Moore.