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, May 23, 2013

I’m a citizen, not a vote: Democracy past the ballot box

“I chose not to vote this year because I didn’t want to make a misinformed and uneducated vote. The fear of social shaming was not enough to change my mind, in fact it deterred me further.”

That quote came from a casual conversation I had last week with a 20-something male, and it features themes that have become common threads across multiple conversations I had during this past provincial election cycle.

Obama's Assault on the Press

When Democrats nominated Barack Obama and Joseph Biden in 2008, there was relief that—after eight years of Bush/Cheney abuses—a major party was running, for the first time in our history, a pair of constitutional law instructors for president and vice president. With the Obama/Biden victory, many assumed that surely the new administration would respect the First Amendment, including the essential democratic role of a free press.

Not so. Bush and Cheney set a bad example, but Obama and Biden have compounded the damage. Truth-telling has suffered an all-out assault—sometimes literally, as in the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been detained in appalling conditions and now faces extreme charges that should be dropped.

Harper spins Canadian mining in Peru

There are numerous controversial gold, silver and copper mining projects driven by Canadian companies in Peru. These mines include Barrick Gold's Pierina gold mine near Mareniyoc, Candente Copper Corp's proposed Cañariaco Norte copper mine in the Lambayeque region, the proposed Conga gold and copper mine in northern Peru, and the proposed open-pit Laguna Sur mine.

Ignoring community and Indigenous opposition to these mines, as well as the impact these mines can have on local water resources, Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- in Latin America this week to explore joining the Pacific Alliance free-trade bloc and desperate to shift attention away from the scandals his government is facing in the Senate -- has instead employed spin, saying that the billions that mining companies pay to governments should go to communities in need.

Chicago School Closings Vote: Board Of Education Votes To Shutter 50 Public Schools

The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close fifty Chicago Public schools, one of them delayed a year, in the nation's third-largest district making it the largest single wave of planned public school closures in U.S. history.

After the vote, few schools were spared from the list of 54 schools originally proposed for closure.

Obama To Address Drones, Gitmo In Security Speech

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to address some of the thornier aspects of national security policy, including drone strikes, the prison at Guantanamo Bay and the dire threats Americans continue to face – even from fellow citizens.

Official at Heart of IRS Tea Party Scandal Spiked Audits of Big Dark-Money Donors

You'd have to search long and hard to find a member of Congress not outraged that politics and partisanship crept into the work of the IRS, leading to the wrongful targeting of tea partiers and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. "The American people have a right to expect that the IRS will exercise its authority in a neutral, nonbiased way," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said on Tuesday. "Sadly, there appears to have been more than a hint of political bias" by the IRS staffers vetting nonprofit applications. Hatch's Republican colleagues in the House and Senate could hardly contain their anger. "Do either of you feel any responsibility or remorse for treating the American people this way?" Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the former IRS chiefs Douglas Shulman and Steven Miller on Tuesday.

Mississippi Could Soon Jail Women for Stillbirths, Miscarriages

On March 14, 2009, 31 weeks into her pregnancy, Nina Buckhalter gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. She named the child Hayley Jade. Two months later, a grand jury in Lamar County, Mississippi, indicted Buckhalter for manslaughter, claiming that the then-29-year-old woman "did willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, kill Hayley Jade Buckhalter, a human being, by culpable negligence."

The district attorney argued that methamphetamine detected in Buckhalter's system caused Hayley Jade's death. The state Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on the case on April 2, is expected to rule soon on whether the prosecution can move forward.

CBC Vs. Harper Government: Hubert Lacroix Warns Of Legal Showdown With Tories

OTTAWA - The CBC is warning the federal government that its efforts to control salary negotiations at the Crown agency could be at odds with the Broadcasting Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, leading to litigation.

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. chief executive Hubert Lacroix sent a letter to the Commons finance committee today, pleading for an amendment to the budget implementation bill to ensure the broadcaster's independence.

Conservatives In 'Very Dark Period' Due To Gaffes, Errors And Scandal

Which came first for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government — the bad polls or the bad press?

The question has been asked lately, particularly after polls missed the call of the election in British Columbia last week.

Those polls set the tone for the campaign and the months that came before it, when it was assumed Adrian Dix’s New Democrats were on a path to victory and Christy Clark was a lame duck premier. If the polls were wrong, was it also wrong to cast the election in that way?

Harper’s a realist, and that’s too bad

All this hubbub surrounding the seemingly never ending Mike Duffy scandal reminds me of a debate I had a few years ago with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

OK, strictly speaking, it wasn’t actually a debate.

What happened was back in January 2011, I wrote a column in the Citizen decrying what I thought was Harper’s betrayal of his conservative principles. More specifically, I noted, “Harper has essentially thrown economic conservatives under the bus. During his term in office, he’s engaged in spending sprees, chalked up enormous deficits, increased the size and scope of government.”

Ford Brothers’ damage control effort blows up in their faces

The mayor’s brother had never seen a microphone he didn’t like — until Wednesday.

The affable, chatty half of Toronto’s Twin Mayor system can always be counted on to kibitz with reporters and engage in the daily fencing between city hall journalists and politicians.

If reporters want to know what the elected Mayor Rob is thinking, the appointed Mayor Doug is always willing to oblige by filling in the details, often to excess.

Mike Duffy: the man who killed the Senate

Back in 2007, Stephen Harper delivered a formal speech to the Australian Parliament in which he praised that country for its elected Senate.

But Harper surprised his Australian hosts when he suggested the Canadian Senate should be abolished if he failed in his attempt to reform it.

“Canadians understand that our Senate, as it stands today, must either change or — like the old upper houses of our provinces — vanish,” he said in his Canberra address.

Serial breaches of trust will doom the Harper machine

The soft treatment accorded Senator Mike Duffy begins to make more sense with recent revelations. Duffy billed Tory campaigns while campaigning for the party in the 2011 elections. He did this, according to reports, while also receiving an allowance for supposedly being in Ottawa on Senate business.

The likelihood is that the party, realizing there may be a double-dipping scam in the works, wanted to cover him on the residence expense controversy to shut down the story. The gift from Nigel Wright of $90,000 allowed Duffy to escape further scrutiny.

Canada PM on pipeline plan: Oil to come anyway

NEW YORK (AP) — A controversial oil pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast "absolutely needs to go ahead," Canada's prime minister said Thursday, and he warned that the oil will be transported through America one way or another.

Stephen Harper addressed the Keystone XL project, a flashpoint in the debate over climate change, during a visit to New York City. The long-delayed project carrying oil from Canada's tar sands would need approval from the State Department, and Harper's remarks — with the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, in the audience — were meant to apply some pressure.

March against Monsanto: Global day of action to 'take back the food supply'

Tens of thousands of activists are uniting in a global day of action to "take back the food supply," in a worldwide March Against Monsanto Saturday.

News of the event has gone viral as environmentalists and others opposed to the rampant spread of genetically modified (GM) crops have planned over 400 events in more than 45 countries. In the United States, actions in 47 states are slated to occur simultaneously.

Under Obama administration, the world is a battlefield

In a remarkable but little-noticed oversight hearing last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee looked at "The Law of Armed Conflict, the Use of Military Force, and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force." The 2001 AUMF is the act passed by Congress on Sept. 14, three days after the al-Qaida attacks on the United States.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, opened his questioning of the military officials before him by stating: "Gentlemen, I've only been here five months, but this is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I've been to since I've been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today."

Biased, lapdog investigations mean cover-up of Senate scandal likely, public inquiry needed

Biased, lapdog investigations mean cover-up of Senate scandal most likely outcome and public inquiry will be needed – Wright, Duffy should be found guilty of violating ethics rules, and possibly other laws

Ethics Commissioner has covered up twice already for Nigel Wright, Senate Ethics Officer is controlled by a Senate committee, Auditor General is failing to do audit, Elections Canada has secret, questionable enforcement record, and even the RCMP’s independence is questionable

Bitumen Doesn't Float

Some diluted bitumen products will sink in fresh and brackish marine waters in less than 26hours following a tanker spill or accident at a marine terminal.

That's the conclusion of new report by Jeff Short, a highly respected U.S. environmental chemist who worked with for National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for decades.

Short directed much of the groundbreaking research on the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on aquatic life. His research found that oil's toxic properties lasted as long as two decades in marine waters.

Buskers Battle New Rules on Granville Island

When Mike Bonnici decided to leave Mormonism six years ago, he turned to his life's other passion: street art. Today, knife juggling, riding a 10-feet tall unicycle and performing for passersby attracted to his art is his full-time job.

According to Bonnici, leaving the religion he was raised into allowed him to break away from the "severe constraints" of Mormonism and fully embrace the "powerful force of freedom" embedded in a busking lifestyle.

Busking is divine, he says. He sees art as something that has allowed him to connect with people in a meaningful way. Busking is also "a way I have been able to deal with some of the weird ideas about trying to reconcile my past with my future," he says.

How Rob Ford's Meltdown Could Save Toronto

Rob Ford may be the best thing to happen to Toronto in a long time. Alleged crack-smoking and ass-grabbing aside, the political meltdown of the embattled mayor of Canada's largest city may inadvertently help undo one of the most disastrous public policy decisions in Canadian history: the amalgamation of Toronto by former premier Mike Harris.

In 1998, the Harris government forced a shotgun wedding on Toronto and five surrounding suburbs, in spite of local referendum results opposing the move more than three to one.

Harper no Obama when it comes to dealing with scandals

Of all the criticisms levelled at Stephen Harper by his critics, the most puzzling, at least to anyone who has covered Washington, is that he behaves more like a president than a prime minister.

As much as Harper might actually relish that comparison, his behaviour is far from presidential, at least when it comes to answering tough questions about public controversies and governance.

It is true that both Harper and Barack Obama like talking about "accountability."

The Leaks Scandals: Questions for Obama

The issue of just how far the Obama Administration is willing to go to pursue leakers gets murkier and murkier.

Two weeks ago, we learned that a federal prosecutor trying to find the source of a story about the C.I.A. and a plot in Yemen to bomb an American airliner (it involved a double agent) secretly subpoenaed records from more than twenty phone lines used by more than a dozen editors and reporters at the Associated Press. Then came the revelation, in Sunday’s Washington Post, that, in an earlier case concerning a 2009 Fox News story about North Korea’s nuclear intentions, the same prosecutor seized e-mails from the reporter responsible for the story, Fox’s chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, and described him in a court filing seeking access to the e-mails as “an aider, and abettor, and/or co-conspirator” in an alleged violation of the Espionage Act. Thanks to some digging by my colleague Ryan Lizza, we now know that in the Rosen case the Justice Department also seized the records of phone numbers associated with Fox News and others.

Tom Cotton 'Corruption Of Blood' Bill Would Convict Family Members Of Iran Sanctions Violators

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would "automatically" punish family members of people who violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, levying sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

The provision was introduced as an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which lays out strong penalties for people who violate human rights, engage in censorship, or commit other abuses associated with the Iranian government.

The 1 Chart That Reveals Just How Grossly Unfair The U.S. Tax System Has Become

Apple CEO Tim Cook waved a magic wand in front of America on Tuesday, vanishing our outrage over how shamelessly companies avoid paying taxes, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill. As a public service to you, here is a chart that should enrage you about corporate tax rates all over again! (Story continues below chart of RAGE.)

Too-Big-To-Jail Dogs Obama's Justice Department As Government Documents Raise Questions

The U.S. Department of Justice appears to have neither conducted nor received any analyses that would show whether criminal charges against large financial institutions would harm the economy, potentially undermining a key DOJ argument for why the world’s biggest banks have escaped indictment.

Senate Committee Passes 'Rank Discrimination' Immigration Bill

Although the Senate Judiciary Committee has been making amendments to the massive comprehensive immigration reform bill for two weeks, it wasn’t at all clear whether Senator Patrick Leahy would offer his amendment to include LGBT couples in this bill. He waited until late last night to attempt to do so, as the final amendment. In the end, Leahy withdrew his bid, after Republicans threatened to derail the entire bill, and Democrats agreed to sell out queer couples for a supposed greater purpose.

The Feminist Case Against a Woman President: A Response to Jessica Valenti

Feminism is dead. Long live politics as usual.

At least, that’s the suggestion of Jessica Valenti’s latest column, “Why I’m Voting for Her,” in which she announces, by turns sheepish and defiant, that the author intends to vote for a woman for president in 2016. In that case, it seems obvious that she’ll be supporting Hillary Clinton, whose speculative 2016 candidacy is already casting the (rather familiar) pall of inevitability.

Liberals Allege Interference In 'Tainted' Duffy Report

A copy of the original report by an internal Senate committee on Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims, obtained by CBC News, makes it clear the committee believes Duffy's primary residence is in Ottawa, and not in P.E.I.

The unedited report, written by members of the Senate committee on internal economy, says Duffy's "continued presence in his Ottawa residence over the years," as well as his travel patterns, do not support his declaration that his primary residence is his winterized cottage in P.E.I.

Online Spying Bill Would Have Given Police Power To Find Out All About You: Privacy Commissioner

OTTAWA - The Harper government's recent bid to give police more information about Internet users would have unlocked numerous revealing personal details — from web-surfing habits to names of friends, says a new study by the federal privacy watchdog.

The online surveillance bill was effectively a digital key to determining someone's leanings, the people they know and where they travel, says the office of Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

Alberta Oil Spills: A Look Over 37 Years By Global News

Alberta has had an average of two crude oil spills a day, every day, for the past 37 years, according to a report by Leslie Young at Global News.

The news agency dug up figures, deciphered trends and built an informative, and sometimes shocking, interactive online piece that puts Alberta's pipeline reality in sharp and thought-provoking focus.

PM abdicates responsibility in Duffy fiasco

The conventional wisdom in Ottawa these days is that the Mike Duffy story is emblematic of an arrogant, tired government that after more than eight years in power has lost touch with ordinary Canadians.

The Prime Minister’s sideshow at yesterday's caucus was one for the books. Watching Mr. Harper play for the gallery and try to feign outrage was comic. This is rich from a man, who has nobody but himself to blame for this mess. Stephen Harper cannot escape the fact that he is the grand architect of his government, and its rapidly multiplying shortcomings. It’s worth reciting the list.

Mike Duffy's primary home not P.E.I., unedited Senate report says

A copy of the original report by an internal Senate committee on Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims, obtained by CBC News, makes it clear the committee believes Duffy's primary residence is in Ottawa, and not in P.E.I.

The unedited report, written by members of the Senate committee on internal economy, says Duffy's "continued presence in his Ottawa residence over the years," as well as his travel patterns, do not support his declaration that his primary residence is his winterized cottage in P.E.I.

Wallin refuses to answer questions about repaying expenses

Speaking as an independent Saskatchewan senator for the first time, Pamela Wallin is not answering any questions about whether or not she has repaid expense money.

On Friday, Wallin stepped away from the Conservative caucus, saying she made that move because an accounting firm's review of her expenses was taking longer than expected.

Tory-dominated committee deleted tough parts of Duffy report: document

OTTAWA - The Tory-dominated, closed-door Senate committee studying Mike Duffy's improper housing expenses deleted a specific reference to his failure to co-operate with auditors before releasing its report to the public.

Duffy, meanwhile, said Wednesday he's pleased that same committee will be reviewing his expenses once again.

A draft of the internal economy committee's report from earlier this month, obtained by The Canadian Press, shows the sections of the report that were later dropped.

Two Conservative senators ordered Mike Duffy's audit sanitized

The order to sanitize an audit of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses came from two key Conservatives on the Senate’s internal economy committee: chair David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, CTV News has learned.

The original version of the audit report said Duffy broke the rules when he declared a Prince Edward Island cottage as his primary residence and noted that the senator refused to co-operate with independent auditors.

Last Friday, CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported that those damning notes were removed from the public version of the report that was tabled in the Senate.

Senators Wallin, Duffy both paid campaign expenses by Conservative candidates in 2011 election: Elections Canada’s records

PARLIAMENT HILL—Senator Mike Duffy and Senator Pamela Wallin were both paid campaign expenses by Conservative election candidates in the 2011 federal election, Elections Canada records show.

But Liberal MPs say both Sen. Wallin and Sen. Duffy appeared or campaigned in support of Conservative candidates other than the 12 candidates who reported election expenses by either one in the last federal election campaign.

U.S. admits to drone killings of Americans as Obama readies speech on counterterrorism

WASHINGTON—The U.S. government admits it killed four of its own citizens — one on purpose, three by accident — in its first formal accounting of drone strikes ordered under President Barack Obama.

Though the attack on Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical propagandist killed in Yemen in 2011, was deliberate, the other three U.S. casualties were “not specifically targeted,” Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress in a letter obtained and published by The New York Times .

Mayor Rob Ford dismissed as Don Bosco football coach

Toronto’s Catholic school board has banned Mayor Rob Ford from coaching football at any Catholic school in the city, ending a decade-long affiliation with Don Bosco that has brought Ford personal joy along with political praise and criticism.

The decision does not appear to be related to the crack cocaine scandal Ford is now facing — which centres on a video in which Ford appears to smoke crack cocaine and refer to Don Bosco players as “just f---ing minorities.” Director of education Bruce Rodrigues had been reviewing Ford’s role at Don Bosco since March, and spokesperson John Yan said Ford’s dismissal was finalized before the scandal erupted last week.

Rob Ford crack scandal: Doug Ford says he believes his brother

Mayor Rob Ford alternately ignored and mocked a television reporter. He said nothing else.

Councillor Doug Ford delivered a speech in which he did not directly deny the allegations facing his brother, lambasted the assembled media, talked at length about unrelated issues, and took no questions.

Experts in damage control were aghast on Wednesday at the handling of a six-day-old crack cocaine crisis that shows no sign of waning. Robin Sears , a top crisis communications advisor, said Rob Ford should address the scandal at once.

Mike Duffy claimed expenses during week when Senate wasn’t sitting

OTTAWA—Sen. Mike Duffy claimed Senate expenses and per diems for a week in Ottawa when neither the Senate nor any of its committees sat, but during which Duffy got paid $5,000 for a speech to the publicly funded Ontario police services boards, the Star has learned.

The Ontario Association of Police Services Boards released to the Star its $5,000-contract with Mike Duffy Media Services Inc. that was booked through an agent.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has ruined the city’s reputation for good

 “I live near Montreal.”

Thanks to Mayor Rob Ford, I’m considering lying when people ask me where I live, the way people from Cleveland say they’re from Moore, Okla., because even with the tornado damage, Moore would manage to notice its Sowell serial killers and Castro dungeoneers.

The Star’s rolling thunder story of a crack video isn’t a day that will live in infamy, it’s more of a bunch of weeks. What if there’s worse to come?

Gregory Sorbara’s formula for an independent, non-partisan Senate

The Canadian Senate has become an embarrassment to a country that touts itself as a champion of effective democracy.

Yesterday’s attempt by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to suggest that he is serious about cleaning up the senatorial mess was not helpful. The Senate remains a serious joke that keeps on giving as enablers Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin keep it all rolling downhill, along with the inappropriate largesse of the right hand of the Harper.

Quebec Tory quits riding in frustration, says Conservatives are ignoring base

A Conservative riding association president in Quebec has quit in frustration, saying her party has no interest in electing more members in the province.

In a resignation letter distributed throughout the party Wednesday, Georgette St-Onge argued Conservative Quebec lieutenant Christian Paradis, the federal industry minister, made no effort to help a credible candidate in her riding of Joliette solicit votes in the last election.

The Commons: The Conservatives run out of answers

The afternoon was not without new clarification. Or at least an attempt at such.

Picking up where yesterday had left off, Thomas Mulcair endeavoured to sort out the precise value of John Baird’s assurance that the matter of Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy had been referred to two independent authorities.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday afternoon, 11 times the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the Duffy affair was going to be investigated by independent authorities, independent bodies, independent officers. When my colleague, the House Leader of the Official Opposition asked him what those were, he could not give an answer,” Mr. Mulcair recounted. “Twice during the afternoon the Prime Minister’s Office said that they were referring to the Senate’s Ethics Officer. Later it corrected that to say that it is the Senate committee, the same one that whitewashed Mike Duffy the first time, that is carrying out the investigation.”

Stephen Harper’s government withholds details of $16-million PR campaign for oil industry

OTTAWA — The Harper government is declining to explain how and where it is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising to promote oil, gas and pipeline companies as well as other Canadian natural resources.

Facing nearly four hours of questions from opposition MPs this week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver also declined to provide specifics on a training program, worth up to $500,000, for his department’s scientists and other officials, “designed to help them communicate with the public and to do so in a way that is accessible to the public.”

We already have enough facts to know Harper is the true author of Senate scandal

There is lots of talk about what Prime Minister Harper may or may not have known about the $90,000 his chief of staff gave Mike Duffy.

Although it is an open secret that the Prime Minister runs a pretty tightly controlled operation, it is always plausible that his chief of staff might have decided to get involved in the affairs of one Senator without telling the boss.

But it doesn't ring true, especially when one considers Duffy's comment about keeping quiet on the "orders of the Prime Minister's Office."