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, May 15, 2013

Eurozone Recession Now Longest In Currency's History

PARIS — The eurozone is now in its longest ever recession – beating even the calamitous slump that hit the region in the financial crisis of 2008-9.

The European Union statistics office said Wednesday that nine of the 17 EU countries that use the euro are in recession, with France a notable addition to the list. Overall, the eurozone's economy contracted for the sixth straight quarter, slumping by 0.2 percent in the January-March period from the previous three months.

Elizabeth Warren to Obama Administration: Take the Banks to Court, Already!

On Tuesday, fierce consumer advocate and needler of banks Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called out Wall Street regulators for their habit of giving tepid punishments to misbehaving banks, and asked the agencies to justify their policy of settling with the wrongdoers out of court.

Warren sent a letter to the Justice Department, as well as to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve, asking them for evidence on how a settlement that doesn't require a bank to admit guilt would be better policy than taking the bad apple to trial. If regulators at least show that they are willing to play tough, she argued, it will help deter bad behavior and allow regulators to negotiate bigger fines in the event of a later settlement.

Canada Interest Rate Hike Needed Now To Avoid Risk Of Crisis: C.D. Howe Institute

OTTAWA - Incoming Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz is already getting advice on what to do once he takes charge next month — start hiking interest rates.

The C.D. Howe Institute says in report authored by economist Paul Masson, a former special adviser to the central bank, that after five years of super-low interest rates, it is time to take the anemic economy off its meds.

Alison Redford Severance Payments: Premier Won't Say Who Got Part Of $2 Million Payouts, Or How Much

Alison Redford's office has paid out more than $2 million in severance to former employees in the last three years, but the province is keeping mum on who received the payments and how many staff were paid out.

Opposition criticized Redford's refusal to disclose the details, after the story first ran in the Calgary Herald on Monday, and many are wondering why the secrecy.

"The question is is the premier hiring bad employees, or is she a bad boss, to have such high turnover in the office?” Liberal Leader Raj Sherman asked in an interview with CBC Edmonton.

Aboriginal education vexes Canada (and Paul Martin)

Former prime minister Paul Martin could have put up his feet after leaving political life, but relaxation is not part of his DNA.

Mr. Martin didn’t need money, so he embarked on projects that meant a lot to him and to the country, especially aboriginal education, a pressing long-term problem in Canada.

Why Mike Duffy should quit Canada’s Senate

OK. Here’s what I don’t get about the latest twist in the Senate housing-expense scandal. If auditors have confirmed that Mike Duffy doesn’t live in Prince Edward Island, how can the former journalist continue to represent that province as a senator?

Let’s be clear. Duffy is an amiable fellow who was a fine reporter. As a member of the Senate’s standing committee on agriculture and forestry, he may do sterling work.

Zabia Chamberlain: ‘That’s my whole life they took’

Zabia Chamberlain’s nightmare began in October 2007 when she accepted an executive job at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s national headquarters at Place du Portage in Gatineau.

Within days, her new boss, a director general at HRSDC, began a pattern of bullying and harassment that ranged from profane shouting and door-slamming to uninvited physical contact. Within eight months, his behaviour had driven her out of the workplace, terrified and traumatized. She hasn’t been back since.

Today, Chamberlain’s 22-year public service career is in ruins. It’s doubtful it can ever be revived. If anything, her health has worsened. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and severe depression. Her voice often shakes and stutters, she fears public places and she drives miles out of her way to avoid Place du Portage which, since she lives in Gatineau, is a constant presence.

Strongbox and Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz was not yet a legend when, almost two years ago, I asked him to build an open-source, anonymous inbox. His achievements were real and varied, but the events that would come to define him to the public were still in his future: his federal criminal indictment; his leadership organizing against the censorious Stop Online Piracy Act; his suicide in a Brooklyn apartment. I knew him as a programmer and an activist, a member of a fairly small tribe with the skills to turn ideas into code—another word for action—and the sensibility to understand instantly what I was looking for: a slightly safer way for journalists and their anonymous sources to communicate.

Introducing Strongbox

This morning, The New Yorker launched Strongbox, an online place where people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity. It was put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen. Kevin explains some of the background in his own post, including Swartz’s role and his survivors’ feelings about the project. (They approve, something that was important for us here to know.) The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented.

Walmart's Bangladesh Factory Safety Plan Draws Skepticism From Worker Advocates

Walmart announced Tuesday that it plans to develop its own safety program to address dangerous working conditions in factories in Bangladesh, where the collapse of a garment factory complex last month took the lives of more than 1,100 people.

In a press release, Walmart said it would conduct "in-depth safety inspections" at every facility in Bangladesh engaged in making its wares. The company pledged to make the reviews public within six months, while elevating "the entire market" to "a new standard" in worker safety.

Dick Cheney, Benghazi, and White House Lies

Dick Cheney has never been short on chutzpah. Jumping aboard the GOP scandal-mongering machine, the former vice president appeared on Fox News (where else?) and declared to Sean Hannity (who else?) that President Barack Obama and his aides "lied" about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, last September that left four Americans dead. "I think it's one of the worst incidents frankly that I can recall in my career," Cheney huffed—as if 9/11 had never happened. The former veep went the full Monty and echoed (discredited) right-wing charges that the Obama administration refused to deploy military forces to help Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans when they were assaulted in Benghazi.

Rogers False Advertising Case Heads Towards Close

A legal battle between Canada’s Competition Bureau and Rogers Communications over allegations of false advertising is coming to a close.

Lawyers for the Competition Bureau filed closing arguments in a Toronto courtroom Monday, alleging that Rogers violated false-advertising rules in 2010 ads for its wireless sub-brand Chatr, the Globe and Mail reported.

Policy by polling, budget by blackmail

Is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne HOT — or not? Depending on whether she does or doesn’t include High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in her spring budget, Ontarians could be heading to the polls this summer for the second time in less than two years.

Nixing the toll lanes is the latest demand issued by Ontario Finance Minister … whoops, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who — despite having had her wish list not only met but exceeded in this budget — continues to press for more concessions in exchange for keeping Wynne’s minority Liberal government in power.

Doug Finley and the case against an elected senate

Most Canadians were only introduced to Doug Finley together with news of his death. A fiery Scot who worked behind the scenes for the Conservative party, first as their national campaign director and later as a senator, Finley was known as a pit bull. He was a heavy smoker, enjoyed a dram, and demonstrated a capability to get things done. Stephen Harper counted him amongst his closest advisors during the 2008 and 2011 campaigns, and when Finley lost his battle with cancer on Saturday, the prime minister lamented the loss of a “fine public servant” and “a dear and valued friend.”

A Tyranny of Small Differences Buries Our Democracy

Now that the NDP has expunged the dreaded word "socialism" from its constitution, there's no Left left in Canada's Left. What's stopping the Liberals and the New Democrats from burying the hatchet besides history, habit -- and hubris?

The two parties keep conjuring up a tyranny of small differences to justify their ongoing electoral battle although voting patterns prove their split means the conservative 30 per cent of the electorate could govern the 70 per cent of liberal/left Canadians well into the future -- a mockery of democracy.

Dozens of federal scientists warned of job cuts

OTTAWA — Defence Department workers and Agriculture Department scientists received notice last week that their jobs in Nova Scotia may be eliminated, according to federal unions.

Of those 62 federal employees, 38 are Defence Department workers, according to the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Of those 38, 34 are in Halifax and four in Sydney.

Not all employees who receive the workforce adjustment letters will lose their job.

Harper defends changes to EI program after premiers’ criticism

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. — Changes to the federal employment insurance program are fair to Atlantic Canada’s seasonal workers, contrary to assertions by the region’s premiers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

Harper, who was in Summerside, P.E.I., for a funding announcement, said it’s false to claim that the new rules the Conservative government have introduced are harming people who can only find work for part of the year.

Budget's job training promotion masks provincial reluctance

The Conservative government began roundtable discussions for one of its budget centrepieces Tuesday, with television ads already running in prime time to extol the Canada Job Grant's advantages for unemployed workers.

But amid all the promotion, it's no sure thing the program will be implemented across Canada the way the federal government would like.

Mike Duffy made secret deal with Harper's chief of staff during audit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff secretly intervened to help Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy pay back tens of thousands of dollars in improperly claimed expenses while an external audit was still underway, CTV News has learned.

Two months before the audit was released, Harper’s top advisor Nigel Wright had a PMO lawyer work on a letter of understanding with Duffy’s legal counsel.

Who leaked the Alberta government's response to AUPE's complaint, and why?

Who leaked the Alberta government's response to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees' unfair labour practices complaint to an Edmonton Journal political reporter, and why?

This is an important question because at the time the leak took place, the government document questioning AUPE President Guy Smith's personal honesty in harsh and colourful terms was being kept confidential by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

This was done as a fairly routine part of the board's effort to effect a settlement of AUPE’s complaint that the Alberta government had broken an agreement it made to end the illegal strike by about 2,500 jail guards on May 1.

Venezuela's new labour law: The best Mother's Day gift

Here is some news that the conservative critics of Venezuela's leftist government will not publicize. The Chavistas announced that a new labour law, part of which will grant recognition to non-salaried work traditionally done by women, will come into effect this week. Full-time mothers will now be able to collect a pension.

While there are a number of criticisms to be made of the Venezuelan government, the genius of the Bolivarian process is that it combines numerous forms of struggle against inequality. The most obvious lies in its commitment to economic redistribution, and measured by the Gini co-efficient, Venezuela has the lowest rate of inequality in Latin America. An equally significant form of struggle against inequality, however, lies in its pursuit of gender equity.

Bean leaves, bedbugs and biomimicry

Scientists often come up with new discoveries, technologies or theories. But sometimes they rediscover what our ancestors already knew. A couple of recent findings show we have a lot to learn from our forebears – and nature – about bugs.

Modern methods of controlling pests have consisted mainly of poisoning them with chemicals. But that’s led to problems. Pesticides kill far more than the bugs they target, and pollute air, water and soil. As we learned with the widespread use of DDT to control agricultural pests and mosquitoes, chemicals can bioaccumulate, meaning molecules may concentrate hundreds of thousands of times up the food web – eventually reaching people.

Stephen Harper’s chief of staff drawn into Senate expenses scandal, CTV report says

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright has been drawn into the Senate expenses scandal following a CTV report alleging he worked out a deal with Conservative Senator Mike Duffy.

The report Tuesday night said Wright intervened to have Duffy reimburse $90,172 in secondary living expenses associated with his home in Kanata, Ont., while auditors from Deloitte were still examining his claims.

Obama Student Loan Policy Reaping $51 Billion Profit

The Obama administration is forecast to turn a record $51 billion profit this year from student loan borrowers, a sum greater than the earnings of the nation's most profitable companies and roughly equal to the combined net income of the four largest U.S. banks by assets.

Figures made public Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office show that the nonpartisan agency increased its 2013 fiscal year profit forecast for the Department of Education by 43 percent to $50.6 billion from its February estimate of $35.5 billion.

Defence planners leery about F-35 operating costs before government reset

OTTAWA - Newly released documents reveal concerns about how affordable the F-35 stealth fighter would be over the long term, should the Harper government buy the aircraft it once called the only choice for the air force.

Defence planners expressed concerns about maintenance costs a year after the Conservatives signalled they wanted the jet, the documents show.

Aboriginal groups call for Arctic energy moratorium

Aboriginal groups from every Arctic country have signed a statement that calls for an end to offshore drilling and a pause in northern energy projects unless local aboriginals consent.

The statement was released Monday in Kiruna, Sweden, two days before leaders from the eight circumpolar nations meet and hand over chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Canada.

Stephen Harper government should change tack and embrace UN rapporteurs

Last year, the Canadian government made headlines when it demonized Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, for criticizing the state of food insecurity across the country.

De Schutter’s mission was standard fare at the UN; every member state submits to investigations like his on a regular basis. And for a long time, Ottawa was remarkably tolerant of such initiatives, and of their conclusions, even when it knew that, far too often, its harshest critics came from countries that treated their own citizens significantly worse.

Greenland, Antarctica ice melt to be less severe than feared: scientists

OSLO — A melt of ice on Greenland and Antarctica is likely to be less severe than expected this century, limiting sea level rise to a maximum of 69 centimetres, an international study said on Tuesday.

Even so, such a rise could dramatically change coastal environments in the lifetimes of people born today with ever more severe storm surges and erosion, according to the ice2sea project by 24, mostly European, scientific institutions.

IMF Questions Regulators On Big Banks

Top officials at the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday challenged financial regulators imposing far-reaching reforms on the biggest banks, arguing that the global benefits of reform efforts must outweigh their costs.

Officials including José Viñals, financial counsellor and director of the IMF’s monetary and capital markets department, said in a paper that initiatives such as the Volcker rule in the U.S. and similar proposals in Europe could impose significant costs on the global economy, such as reduced liquidity in financial markets. They could also increase the risk that financial activity will migrate to institutions, sectors or jurisdictions subject to less supervision, the paper said.

Prop C, LA Measure To Overturn Citizens United, Will Be Voted On By Angelenos Next Week

When Angelenos go to the polls next week to choose the next mayor of Los Angeles, they will be the largest electorate to vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

Proposition C is a ballot measure urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which says that restriction of political spending by corporations or labor unions violates free speech.

Chris Hedges: Monitoring of AP Phones a "Terrifying" Step in State Assault on Press Freedom

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges joins us to discuss what could mark the most significant government intrusion on freedom of the press in decades. The Justice Department has acknowledged seizing the work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The phones targeted included the general AP office numbers in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Connecticut, and the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery. The action likely came as part of a probe into the leaks behind an AP story on the U.S. intelligence operation that stopped a Yemen-based al-Qaeda bombing plot on a U.S.-bound airplane. Hedges, a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and former New York Times reporter, calls the monitoring "one more assault in a long series of assault against freedom of information and freedom of the press." Highlighting the Obama administration’s targeting of government whistleblowers, Hedges adds: "Talk to any investigative journalist who must investigate the government, and they will tell you that there is a deep freeze. People are terrified of speaking, because they’re terrified of going to jail."

Author: --

Wealth Gap Widens In Rich Countries As Austerity Threatens To Worsen Inequality: OECD

* Welfare spending vital to bridging growing wealth gap - OECD

* Rich-poor divided widened quickly after financial crisis

PARIS, May 15 (Reuters) - A growing divide between rich and poor risks will yawn still wider if cash-strapped governments keep cutting back the welfare state, an industrialised nations' think-tank warned on Wednesday.

Suicide Is Leading Cause Of Gun Deaths, But Largely Absent In Debate On Gun Violence

WASHINGTON -- When faith leaders sat down with Vice President Joe Biden last week to talk about the next steps in advancing gun control legislation, they discussed the usual issues like background checks and gun trafficking. But one aspect of gun violence came up that united the group in a deeper way, according to one of the attendees, and it's an issue that's getting hardly any attention on Capitol Hill: suicide.

"That's when the meeting became emotional for a lot of folks," said Pastor Michael McBride, director of PICO National Network's Lifelines to Healing Campaign and one of the 15 or so participants in the private sit-down with Biden.

Audit: Errors In Hundreds Of Colorado Prison Sentences

DENVER -- Hundreds of Colorado criminals were apparently given erroneous prison sentences, and judges and corrections officials across the state are scrambling to keep them from getting out early – or, in some cases, to return them to the prisons they just left, authorities said Tuesday.

Prison officials have alerted courts to 281 inmates whose sentences seem to be incorrect in some way, according to Allison Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Judges have already adjusted the sentences in 56 of those cases and are reviewing others. They have declined to change sentences in about 70 percent of the cases they have considered so far, court and corrections officials said, but it's unclear why.

Rare win for voter turnout, big fail for political spin

The spin doctors are working hard today to disect the byelection results in Labrador yesterday.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue (pronounced Pen-A-shoo-way) went down to defeat at the hands of Liberal Yvonne Jones. Penashue stepped down in April, hours before Elections Canada released documents which showed his campaign in 2011 had accepted 28 illegal donations totalling $46,560, including from corporations and $18,710 of free flights from Provincial Airlines.

Star gets action: Taxpayers will get details about millions in government consulting contracts

Federal departments should provide proper descriptions of the work done for the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on management consulting, Treasury Board president Tony Clement said.

The pledge for improved transparency comes after a Star investigation revealed 90 per cent of the $2.4 billion paid out for management consulting in the past decade comes with no description of the services provided, despite government guidelines encouraging the information be disclosed.

Labrador byelection result makes relations with Ottawa more difficult: premier

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Premier Kathy Dunderdale says she respects the choice of Labrador voters, but losing the province's only Conservative MP in Monday's byelection won't help relations with Ottawa.

Federal Conservatives had urged voters in Labrador to overlook spending violations in 2011 by incumbent Peter Penashue, who said he was guaranteed a cabinet post. He finished a distant second to Liberal challenger Yvonne Jones, the clear winner with just over 48 per cent of the vote.

'The Patriarchy Works in Strange Ways': On Being an Opinionated Woman

On Wednesday night, I hosted a panel in New York entitled “Sharp: A Discussion of Women and Criticism.” I organized it because over the last few years, I’ve noticed that there is a distinct quality to the experience of being a somewhat opinionated woman, at least in public, and in print. And I wanted to talk to some of the smartest women I know about it. And given the abysmal byline counts one finds at VIDA, and the controversy over Wikipedia naming novelists who are women “women novelists,” and Deborah Copaken Kogan’s piece on her post-feminist life in letters right here at The Nation, there certainly seemed to be an appetite for the discussion in the sphere of books criticism, and even in the arts more generally.

What the A.P. and Benghazi Scandals Have in Common

What does the A.P. scandal, in which the Justice Department grabbed A.P. journalists’ phone records with the indiscriminate eagerness of someone stuffing packets of Saltines in his pockets, have in common with the questions raised about Benghazi? In the next days and months, a number of answers will be offered, and measured in different balances: abuse of power, debased Republican scandalizing, the muddles of a second term. (The I.R.S. is also in the mix.) One story concerns twenty different phone lines, among them home numbers whose records would include personal calls that the government has no business knowing about; the other is about four diplomats, whose obituaries we shouldn’t have had to read for many years. But both have to do with transparency and, even more so, with how the Administration’s alternating evasions and manipulations of the legal requirements surrounding war and security have distorted its actions.

BP, Shell and Statoil investigated over suspected oil price manipulation

The EC said it had “concerns” that several companies may have manipulated the oil price benchmark in violation of EU antitrust rules, potentially having a “huge impact” on oil and petrol prices.

Shares in the oil giants fell in early trading on Wednesday after European regulators began an investigation into whether the companies may have manipulated the price of oil for more than a decade. Shell was down 1.7pc, while BP fell 0.2pc.

Calm Down, People: Obama's Second Term Was Already in Tatters

Are the AP snooping, Benghazi, and IRS scandals about to destroy Obama's second term? Not really—because hyperpartisanship in Washington had already stalled the president's agenda and put the 113th Congress on track to become another one of the young 21st century's already-legendary do-nothing bodies.