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.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Business groups antsy about CETA urge Harper to get on with it

Canada's biggest business lobby groups, including the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, have sent a joint letter to International Trade Minister Ed Fast supporting the now four-year-old Canada-EU free trade negotiations, which the groups say should be the government's top priority until the deal is done.

"As associations representing businesses of all sizes with significant interests in the EU market, you can count on our full support as you seek to finalize a balanced agreement that benefits Canadian businesses, workers and communities in all regions and sectors of Canada's economy," concludes the letter. (Until recently, business support for CETA has come mainly from Rx&D and the affiliated Canada-Europe Round Table for Business, both of which represent as many European as Canadian firms.)

Alternative Federal Budget would take investor rights, patent protection out of CETA and TPP

The 2013 Alternative Federal Budget, released this week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, argues the Harper government's trade policy is not working for most Canadians. It describes the Canada-EU trade deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership and Canada-China investment treaty as "fundamentally illegitimate and anti-democratic" in how they "alter key domestic policies through the back door of international trade treaties." And it recommends that Canada "shift its focus from negotiating new bilateral and regional free trade agreements to the promotion of Canadian trade, especially high value-added exports of goods and services, including cultural services."

Excerpts from life in Gaza

Driving to Gaza one morning, the shared taxi enters a traffic jam outside the UN school. The street is jammed with children, cars trying to butt ahead, a motorcycle sitting in the middle of the mess, clogging everything.

"The police are there when you don't need them, not there when you need them," grumbles the driver.

Roadside vegetable vendors: spinach, cauliflower, romaine lettuce, oranges imported from Egypt because the vast majority of Gaza's trees have long since been bulldozed by the Zionists.

A young man jogs along the sand, past beached fishing boats. Those boats that have ventured the few kilometres out, risking Zionist navy attacks, are not visible through the heavy fog descending. Hassaka fishers 1/2 km out, valiantly fighting choppy water and cold for whatever meagre catch can haul in.

Paul Ryan's Budget Would Destroy 2 Million Jobs In Single Year: EPI

The budget plan that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled on Tuesday would eliminate 2 million jobs in 2014, according to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

If implemented, Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" plan would shrink the U.S. economy by 1.7 percent and increase the unemployment rate by 0.6 to 0.8 percentage points, EPI found.

On-Call Shifts Keep Low-Wage Workers From Getting Ahead

Antonio Ware describes fashion as something he simply can't do without.

"It's like water," he said recently. "It's like eating. It's something I just can't turn off."

Ted Cruz: Defund Obamacare Or Risk Government Shutdown

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz says that he is expecting a vote Wednesday on his amendment to defund Obamacare until economic growth is restored, adding that he is willing to risk a government shutdown if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama stand in the way.

In a joint press conference Wednesday morning with Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cruz urged members of Congress to include his Restore Growth First amendment in the continuing resolution to fund the government, telling his Republican colleagues in both chambers to join him in an "important stand for principle." Cruz then challenged Democrats to support the measure in order to avert a possible government shutdown.

When it comes to the budget process, Ottawa keeps getting it wrong

An article in an upcoming issue of the magazine Inside Policy is getting attention in political circles for its critique of the government’s budget process and for the fact it was written by two former Finance Department officials. But MPs on both sides of the aisle have been airing similar complaints for a long time. The article doesn’t offer much new insight into Ottawa’s desultory and secretive budget planning; what it does do is make it clear that, in spite of the honest desire of many to reform the system, Parliament continues to move in wrong direction.

FinSpy Software Used To Surveil Activists Around The World, Report Says

FinSpy surveillance software, marketed worldwide to law enforcement agencies as a way to monitor criminals, is widely used by repressive governments to spy on human rights groups and dissidents, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report by researchers at the Citizen Lab of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto found the software is "regularly sold to countries where dissenting political activity and speech is criminalized."

Nora Espinoza, New Mexico Legislator: Keep Mexican-American Studies Books Out Of Schools

A New Mexico state representative wants to keep Hispanic history books out of public schools, following in the footsteps of some of her conservative colleagues in Arizona.

New Mexico state Rep. Antonio Maestas (D-Albuquerque) proposed a memorial on Monday praising diversity in the state’s curricula and slammed Tucson’s decision to ban seven ethnic studies books from classroom use.

That didn’t go over well with Republican state Rep. Nora Espinoza (Roswell).

Conservative government’s approach to rebranding Canada’s foreign policy is failing

At no time since the Conservatives were first elected in 2006 has the political leadership been so disappointed with its international portfolios.

Having only recently shaken off public criticism of its treatment of the nation’s veterans, a government that initially strove to promote a new, more militaristic posture for Canada on the world stage now finds itself mired in controversy over the Department of National Defence’s procurement policies.

Budget math 101: The PM misses the point

Last week, replying to an Opposition question about our article, ‘Restoring integrity to the budget process’, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons that according to “the non-partisan C.D. Howe Institute, this government has more transparent public accounts than at any time in history, it is more transparent than any other senior government in the country”.

That’s a selective reading of the report. Yes, there is considerable information in the public accounts — but is this government more transparent than any other? Not according to C.D. Howe.

Are we beating our heads against a paywall?

Political journalism appears to be heading for a crisis. Everyone agrees the Internet is journalism’s future, but no one knows how to make any real money there. If the problem can’t be solved, the results could be fatal for lots of news organizations, big and small.

Many are turning to paywalls for a solution, including Postmedia, Sun Media, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Managers think it will highlight the value of their content and allow them to compete for readers.

Minuscule Canadian Taxpayers Federation in running for 'Turfy Award'

When it comes time to hand out the annual Turfy Award -- named for AstroTurf, the green synthetic blades that look like grass and feel like grass but do not absorb carbon dioxide like grass -- I expect the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to be a contender.

Indeed, consider 'em nominated.

After all, seeing as I cooked up the Turfies just now, the CTF's chances are likely pretty good to win the award for the Canadian organization that best exemplifies the concept of Astroturfing -- a slang expression for political activities that, in the words of our wonderful collectively owned Wikipedia, "are designed to mask the sponsors of the message to give the appearance of coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant."

The legacy of President Hugo Chavez

"We spoke for over an hour. He said he was happy to finally meet someone Bush hated more than him."

- Michael Moore

There are few moments in life when one's sense of irony completely melts. Such was my feeling when I heard that Hugo Chávez had succumbed to cancer; I have followed his career closely and the one quality that characterized him was his resilience. In 1992 he attempted a military coup but was captured and put into prison. He was eventually released on a political amnesty and in 1998 he ran for President and surprisingly won with 56 per cent of the vote. In 2002 he survived an opposition coup -- well detailed in the documentary The Revolution will not be Televised. He then persisted through a protracted oil strike later that year and a recall referendum two years later. In the 2006 election he won with 60 per cent of the vote and in 2013 he again triumphed with numbers identical to his first victory in 1998.

Canada-EU trade deal urged by business groups

The heads of Canada's leading business lobby groups are urging the federal government to get on with negotiating a free trade deal with Europe.

The groups issued a letter to assure Trade Minister Ed Fast that they will stand behind the deal, once it is negotiated, and help sell it to workers and communities across Canada.

Air Canada gets pension lifeline with strings attached

The federal government will give Air Canada some relief from its pension woes, allowing the airline more time to fill its $4.2 billion funding shortfall but putting a cap on executive compensation and stock dividends until it does.

Late Tuesday, Ottawa granted Canada's largest airline the lifeline it had sought in its pension problem, but made demands in return. Air Canada now has seven years to come up with at least $1.4 billion to fund the plan, and must put in at least $150 million in any given year until 2020. That's on top of regularly scheduled annual payments.

Pacific pipeline crucial for Canada, Baird says in Asia

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's quick trip to Asia finished Wednesday in Hong Kong with a speech that laid out how Canada is making this region a foreign policy priority, and that getting a pipeline to the Pacific coast is key to tapping into the lucrative Asian market.

During a speech to the Asia Society. Baird said Canada realizes the enormous economic opportunities Asia has to offer and is taking steps to play a more active role here.

The vicious circle that is North Korea

In the fall of 2006, I was riding a train through North Korea with a group of Chinese businessmen.

"Coming here is like time travel," said one of them. "It's like going back to the China of the 1970s."

A few weeks later, after I had completed my TV documentary on the country's crippled economy and left the country, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

Senior left without promised home care after painful surgery: a too-common story

When Evelyn Tenenbaum was discharged from hospital after back surgery, she assumed she would get home care.

After all, her neurosurgeon had assured her she would, and that’s what her discharge papers from Sunnybrook Health Science Centre called for.

But for six days following the Feb. 12 surgery, no one came to help Tenenbaum, who had just had two vertebrae removed and another shaved to relieve pressure on her spine.

Michael Bloomberg: Poor People Need Soda Ban Because They Can't 'Take Care Of Themselves'

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Tuesday that he’s still going to fight for his soda ban that was struck down, a measure he thinks will greatly benefit poor people.

A judge on Monday blocked Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban, which would have prohibited eateries from selling non-diet soda and other sugary drinks in quantities greater than 16 ounces. But New York’s determined mayor said he plans to appeal the decision. He sees the measure as an effective tool in curbing obesity, primarily among poor people who “don’t have the ability to take care of themselves,” as well as wealthy people do, he said, according to the New York Post.

Mortgage Discrimination Study Finds Women Received Fewer Approvals In Wake Of Crash

In an era when buyers of all backgrounds have found buying or refinancing a home difficult, women have had a particularly tough time, a new study by a Chicago nonprofit found.

Chicago women who applied for a new home mortgage in 2010 were 24 percent less likely to obtain a loan than men, the study by the Woodstock Institute found. Lenders were 39 percent less likely to refinance a woman's existing mortgage, the study says.

Native Americans Are Not Munchkins: An Open Letter to Michelle Williams

Dear Ms. Williams,

I cringed when I saw that you “dressed up as a Native American.” While some have called your decision “risqué,” I’d call it deeply offensive. Still, I was going to ignore your foolish costume until I saw a recent interview in which you shared your inspiration for Oz the Great and Powerful. In it, you compared Natives to Munchkins, and I knew then that this letter was necessary. What you’ve said and done is not only disrespectful—it’s dangerous. I hope you’ll read through this letter and think twice before once again choosing to participate in actions that preserve deeply racist convictions in popular culture.

Rape Is Not Inevitable: On Zerlina Maxwell, Men and Hope

Of all the feminist ideas that draw ire, one would think that “don’t rape” is a fairly noncontroversial statement. It seems not.

Last week, Zerlina Maxwell, political commentator and writer, went on Fox News’ Hannity to talk about the myth that gun ownership can prevent rape. Maxwell made the apt point that the onus should not be on women to have to arm themselves but on men not to rape them:

    I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there…You’re talking about this as if it’s some faceless, nameless criminal, when a lot of times it’s someone you know and trust…If you train men not to grow up to become rapists, you prevent rape.

What Paul Ryan’s Budget Means for Women

The latest iteration of Paul Ryan’s budget is out today, and while you might expect it to look very different than the one proposed before he was part of a losing presidential ticket, he seems to have dug in his heels on some of his most extreme proposals, like block granting vital programs, voucherizing Medicare and drastically slashing spending. As with the first rounds of Ryan budgeting, this one would be bad for nearly everyone (except perhaps the wealthy), but it would especially take an enormous toll on the country’s women.

The many faces of water privatization in Mexico

Most frequently people think of water privatization as the private management of water systems. This comes in a variety of formats from full privatization to service contracts for municipal and city systems. However water privatization comes in many more different forms: bottled water, water pollution, water grabbing and private companies lobbying for water policies that favor their agenda. All these forms of water privatization are problematic and bring injustice and environmental degradation.

In Mexico, we have all sorts of water privatization. In fact, the Mexican water authority (CONAGUA) has always been happy to be part of the mainstream international elite that formulates and carries forward international water policies. Mexico was chosen to host the World Water Forum as recognition of its outstanding behavior in promoting water privatization and mercantilization in the country.

B.C. government extends outsourced health information management despite issues raised by AG

British Columbia's government announced it had extended its agreement with Maximus BC, a U.S. subsidiary corporation, to manage B.C.'s health information for another five years. The $264-million contract will run from 2015 until 2020. The original contract began in 2005. That 10-year deal cost $324 million. On a comparable basis, the new five-year agreement has an increase in price of roughly 40 per cent.

The agreement was apparently signed two months before a provincial election and 11 days after a report from B.C.'s Auditor General that found the benefits promised from the contract in 2004 had not been realized.

Mahmoud Titi, Palestinian Protester, Shot Dead By Israeli Troops

JERUSALEM -- Israeli troops shot to death a Palestinian man on Tuesday after he and others hurled rocks and firebombs at them in the West Bank, the military said.

The death was the latest in a new uptick in Palestinian casualties in the area, where protests in support of prisoners held in Israeli jails have led to violent clashes between the protesters and Israeli forces. The protests have largely subsided.

Yatta hospital director Ziyad Abu Zahra identified the man killed as 25-year-old Mahmoud Titi and said he was shot in the head. An Associated Press photographer said the man was among dozens throwing rocks at Israeli troops near the city of Hebron.

A military spokeswoman said troops pursued the men suspected of lobbing the firebombs. She said the protesters hurled rocks at them and "sensing an imminent danger to their lives, the soldiers fired toward the assaulters, identifying a hit." She said the incident was being reviewed.

She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy.

Palestinians have increasingly complained in recent weeks of the use of live fire by Israeli troops. The military says it typically uses non-lethal means such as tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests or riots and that it only uses live fire in situations it considers life-threatening.

Original Article
Author: AP

Paul Krugman: Paul Ryan's Budget Plan 'Has Gotten Even Crueler'

Perhaps Paul Ryan is just trolling Paul Krugman at this point.

Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist wrote in a Tuesday blog post that the congressman’s newest budget proposal is much like the last one, except worse -- slashing government spending in the name of budget tightening, while actually hurting the nation’s most vulnerable in the process.

Obama's Senate Democrats Meeting: Progressives Fire Warning On Entitlement Reform

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama took a break during his offensive to charm Republican lawmakers open to a budget deal on Tuesday to assure his fellow Democrats he won't give away the store.

The president met with Senate Democrats during their weekly caucus lunch in what was, by nearly all accounts, a cordial affair -- several described it as borderline boring. Democratic senators said later they stood united with Obama behind a broad set of deficit-reduction principles.

Over 100 Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike, Citing Threat of Return to "Darkest Days Under Bush"

More than 100 detainees held in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay are reportedly entering their fifth week of a hunger strike sparked by deteriorating conditions. News of the hunger strike first emerged last week, but it appears the action involves far more prisoners than previously thought. In a letter to his attorney, one detainee wrote: "We are in danger. One of the soldiers fired on one of the brothers a month ago. Before that, they send the emergency forces with M-16 weapons into one of the brothers’ cell blocks. ... Now they want to return us to the darkest days under [George W.] Bush. They said this to us. Please do something." We’re joined by Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights and counsel for one of the hunger strikers.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

As Gitmo Prisoners Revolt, Obama Admin Challenged on Indefinite Detention at OAS Hearing

As more than 100 Guantánamo Bay prisoners enter the fifth week of their hunger strike, the Obama administration has defended their detention at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A number of prisoners have been held without charge for more than 11 years, and more than half have been cleared for release. Attorneys for the prisoners told the hearing that the lack of hope for release among those who do not face charges has created a climate of despair. The senior adviser for Guantánamo policy countered that the Obama administration is working within restrictions imposed by Congress to transfer prisoners out of the prison as part of an effort to close the facility — one of President Obama’s original campaign promises. We speak to Kristine Huskey, director of the Anti-Torture Program for Physicians for Human Rights and one of the first attorneys to represent Guantánamo detainees. The author of "Justice at Guantánamo: One Woman’s Odyssey and Her Crusade for Human Rights," Huskey testified at Tuesday’s hearing. We’re also joined by Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

Overturning Citizens United: Is a Constitutional Amendment the Best Path to Limit Dark Money?

On Tuesday, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark Citizens United ruling that cleared the way for corporations and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. The bill is part of a growing movement to overturn the ruling. Today we host a debate on whether the push for a constitutional amendment is the best path to overturning Citizens United. We speak to Mark Schmitt, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: --

MacKay Says Defence Department Not To Blame In Plane Delay

After more than a decade of waiting for a new search-and-rescue plane, the military today is barely a step closer to flying one — and, that, says Defence Minister Peter MacKay, is not his fault.

"I will express to you ... no small degree of frustration that we have not been able to move this project forward," MacKay said at a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa.

"What I can tell you is that we are pushing very hard to have this procurement proceed. We need the support of the other departments to do this."

Federal contracting watchdog digs deeper, finds more cooked deals

OTTAWA - A federal watchdog is blowing the whistle again on a series of cooked contracts at a school that teaches public servants about ethics and values.

Frank Brunetta, the procurement ombudsman, said Tuesday he found more evidence that the Canada School of Public Service rigged its contracts to make sure they went to favoured suppliers.

His report examined the way contracts worth $1.7 million were awarded to six consultants from 2008 to 2011.

Feds quietly institute another change to military’s name

OTTAWA – Having already re-inserted “royal” into the names of the Canadian air force and navy, the Harper government is making another change to Canada’s military identity.

It is now quietly working to remind Canadians that their soldiers carry guns by doing away with the Chretien-era “Canadian Forces” to describe the military, and instead returning to former moniker “Canadian Armed Forces.”

Federal government’s choice for interim PBO fuels fears office will be gutted

OTTAWA — Less than two weeks before Parliament’s chief librarian Sonia L’Heureux assumes the role of interim budget officer, the government is being accused of using her appointment to weaken the position without adding to the controversy that has dogged the office since its inception.

The government announced L’Heureux’s appointment on the same day it started advertising for a replacement for the first budget watchdog, Kevin Page, whose five-year mandate expires March 25.

Stephen Harper asked Tony Clement to ‘significantly reduce’ number of government websites, says document

OTTAWA —Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet is planning to renew its government’s online image by significantly reducing the number of federal websites and creating tools and instructions to monitor social media and engage with the public, says a leaked internal document.

An advocacy group promoting transparency in government, which obtained the document, suggested it indicated a plan to control and manipulate information.

Saying 'no' to Iraq War was 'important' decision for Canada: Chretien

As the 10th anniversary of the bloody Iraq War approaches, former prime minister Jean Chretien says he has no regrets about rejecting Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led mission.

“It was a very important decision, no doubt about it. It was, in fact, the first time ever that there was a war that the Brits and the Americans were involved and Canada was not there,” Chretien told CTV’s Power Play.

Abolishing Senate would create ‘dictatorship,’ retiring Alberta senator says

OTTAWA—Bert Brown has a sharp answer when it comes to Senate abolition.

“No,” he says. “Can’t be done.”

The outgoing elected senator from Alberta and the government’s point man in the upper chamber on Senate reform is adamant that reform is needed instead of abolition because without the Senate, Canadians could become subject to the dictatorial whims of a prime minister.

U.S. Congressional watchdog says delays in F-35s could put costs of fighter jets out of reach

PARLIAMENT HILL—A U.S. Congressional watchdog monitoring the F-35 stealth fighter jet program is warning that persistent testing and development delays could take the sophisticated war plane’s price tag out of the reach of the U.S. military and partner countries, including Canada, that are backing the trouble-plagued project.

Despite a statement that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is now “moving in the right direction” under the giant U.S. defence supplier Lockheed Martin Inc., a report to Congress on Monday, March 11, from the Government Accountability Office warns that the largest defence acquisition in U.S. history “still has tremendous challenges ahead” and remains only a fraction of the way through the development and testing that must be done before the F-35 is fully operational and combat ready.

Fallout from 'Untouchables' Documentary: Another Wall Street Whistleblower Gets Reamed

A great many people around the county were rightfully shocked and horrified by the recent excellent and hard-hitting PBS documentary, The Untouchables, which looked at the problem of high-ranking Wall Street crooks going unpunished in the wake of the financial crisis. The PBS piece certainly rattled some cages, particularly in Washington, in a way that few media efforts succeed in doing. (Scroll to the end of this post to watch the full documentary.)

Now, two very interesting and upsetting footnotes to that groundbreaking documentary have emerged in the last weeks.

Police Spying on American Muslims Is a Pointless National Shame

Civil liberties groups led by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition released a new report today detailing the detrimental effects of the NYPD's spying on Muslim communities in recent years. The report, called Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims, alleges that more than a decade of surveillance of Muslims throughout the Northeast "has chilled constitutionally protected rights – curtailing religious practice, censoring speech and stunting political organizing." They describe their communities as being under "a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion" that affects "every aspect of individual and community life."

Hugo Chavez depicted as tyrant for challenging western oil domination

Had Hugo Chavez followed the pattern of many Third World leaders and concentrated on siphoning off his nation’s wealth for personal gain, he would have attracted little attention or animosity in the West.

Instead, he did virtually the opposite — redirecting vast sums of national wealth to the swollen ranks of Venezuela’s poor, along with free health care and education. No wonder he alienated local elites, who are used to being first in line at the national trough.

Chavez’s relentless championing of the downtrodden set a standard increasingly followed in Latin America. It explains his immense popularity with the masses and the widespread grief over his death last week.

Feds studying private prisons as way to save money

OTTAWA -- The Harper government has been quietly studying private prisons in other countries as a possible model to save money in federal penitentiaries, CTV News has learned.

The government hired the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche to examine prisons in seven countries aimed at building an “understanding of various models, approaches and experiences,” according the 1,400-page report obtained by CTV News under the Access to Information Act.

Paul Ryan in Wonderland: Chapter Six

Having wandered back into writing about U.S. politics for the past eighteen months or so, I sometime wonder how the full-time Washington correspondents, the lifers, do it: cover the same old junk year after year. The key to career longevity and job satisfaction, I suppose, is to buy into the notion, assiduously promoted by the politicians and their flaks, that what they are doing is serious. Budgets, national security, energy policy, health policy—these things matter. So get yourself a tape recorder, a Twitter account, and a piece of plastic from the Senate Press Gallery, and hop in a cab up to Capitol Hill. Write down what the elected representatives are saying, and try hard to keep a straight face.