Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ex-Bank of America mortgage workers were 'told to lie'

Former Bank of America employees say in court documents that the bank routinely lies to customers about their mortgages, and denies their requests for modifications without even looking at the paperwork.

In sworn affidavits, four former employees, for example, describe policies in place at the bank that they say are designed to subvert the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), 2009 government-sponsored initiative that was designed to keep distressed homeowners above water during the depths of the housing crisis.

Canada’s strict party discipline perverts democracy

In B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s fantasy world, her party’s members in the provincial legislature “frequently” oppose positions she’s taken.

That’s what Clark told voters during the province’s recent election campaign, citing the example of a Liberal MLA who “stood up and said he didn’t support” an amendment to a “forestry bill.”

Same-Sex Couples Face Significant Housing Discrimination, Historic Government Study Says

WASHINGTON -- Same-sex couples face significant levels of discrimination in the rental housing market, according to a landmark government study released on Tuesday.

The new survey by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the first-ever study examining housing discrimination against same-sex couples at the national level.

HUD found that same-sex couples were "significantly less likely than heterosexual couples to get favorable responses to e-mail inquiries about electronically advertised rental housing." In fact, heterosexual couples were favored over gay male couples in 15.9 percent of the tests, and over lesbian couples in 15.6 percent.

NSA: Surveillance Programs Foiled Some 50 Terrorist Plots Worldwide

The director of the National Security Agency insisted on Tuesday that the government's sweeping surveillance programs have foiled some 50 terrorist plots worldwide in a forceful defense echoed by the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander said the two recently disclosed programs – one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism – are critical in the terrorism fight.

What Congress and the Media Are Missing in the Food Stamp Debate

To follow the congressional debate about food stamp (SNAP) funding in the Farm Bill—and media coverage of that debate—you would think that the relevant issues are the deficit, rapists on food stamps, waste and abuse and defining our biblical obligation to the poor.

The only thing missing from that conversation is the state of hunger in America today and how we should respond to it.

The Terror Con

For defense contractors, the government officials who write them mega checks, and the hawks in the media who cheer them on, the name of the game is threat inflation. And no one has been better at it than the folks at Booz Allen Hamilton, the inventors of the new boondoggle called cyberwarfare.

That’s the company, under contract with the National Security Agency, that employed whistleblower Edward Snowden, the information security engineer whose revelation of Booz Allen’s enormously profitable and pervasive spying on Americans now threatens the firm’s profitability and that of its parent hedge fund, the Carlyle Group.

“Nobody’s business”: Sen. Larry Smith won’t publicly disclose his paid speaking events

With all this recent buzz over Justin Trudeau’s speaking events, I thought I’d ask another parliamentary paid speaker about his list of clients.

The well-trod back story: In February, Trudeau’s leadership campaign team agreed to my request to release, inter alia, a list of all the paid speaking gigs he did before declaring for his party’s top job.  The full list they provided is here.

FBI Secrets: Feds Reportedly Used Secret Evidence Obtained Under Secret Surveillance Law To Prosecute Accused Terrorists

WASHINGTON, June 18 (Reuters) - The FBI has used secret evidence obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to prosecute at least 27 accused terrorists since 2007, according to a Reuters review of public records.

While the recent spotlight has been on the use of the FISA law by the U.S. National Security Agency for surveillance programs following disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the FBI also makes extensive use of the law for domestic counterterrorism.

Glenn Greenwald: As Obama Makes "False" Surveillance Claims, Snowden Risks Life to Spark NSA Debate

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who broke the NSA surveillance story earlier this month, joins us one day after both President Obama and whistleblower Edward Snowden gave extensive interviews on the surveillance programs Snowden exposed and Obama is now forced to defend. Speaking to PBS, Obama distinguished his surveillance efforts from those of the Bush administration and reaffirmed his insistence that no Americans’ phone calls or emails are being directly monitored without court orders. Greenwald calls Obama’s statements "outright false" for omitting the warrantless spying on phone calls between Americans and callers outside the United States. "It is true that the NSA can’t deliberately target U.S. citizens for [warrantless] surveillance, but it is also the case they are frequently engaged in surveillance of exactly that kind of invasive technique involving U.S. persons," Greenwald says. After moderating Snowden’s online Q&A with Guardian readers, Greenwald says of the whistleblower: "I think what you see here is a person who was very disturbed by this massive surveillance apparatus built in the U.S. that spies not only on American citizens, but the world, with very little checks, very little oversight. He’s making clear his intention was to inform citizens even at the expense of his own liberty or even life."

Author: --

Charts: Here's How Often Google and Facebook Say Yes to Government Snoops

Edward Snowden's leaks have prompted many questions about government surveillance activity in the United States, including this one: How often do tech firms turn over user data to the feds? In recent years, companies including Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have released data on this front—but it's been incomplete, because the government has prohibited them from revealing the full extent of the requests they've received.

Harper government 'pleased' with secret TPP investment session in Vancouver

Over the weekend, North American trade justice activists searched the city of Vancouver for a so-called "interessional" meeting of investment negotiators from Trans-Pacific Partnership countries. We only learned about the meeting late last week via Peruvian media. A press release on Sunday by the TPPxBorder network stated correctly (at the time) that the Harper government had not told anyone -- public or media -- that any TPP negotiation was happening.

How Liberal Staffers Tried to Skirt FOI Laws

Deputy Minister John Dyble (whom Premier Christy Clark appointed to a $310,000-a-year job two days after her March 14, 2011 swearing-in) conducted the report. It was delivered to Clark and tabled in the Legislature on March 14, the last day of the spring session and the second anniversary of Clark's Premiership.

As a result of the Dyble's review, John Yap stepped down from his position as multiculturalism minister and Clark's deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad resigned.

When Deputy Minister John Dyble was assigned the task of investigating the Liberals' multicultural outreach strategy, he gained access to thousands of emails that painted a picture of how government resources were used to promote Christy Clark and the BC Liberals to specific ethnic groups ahead of the last election.

In Bangladesh's garment trade, empowerment comes at $20 a week

The slum-dwellers of Dhaka will often paint their babies' faces with heavy black crayon, exaggerating their eyes and eyebrows and colouring a large dot on their foreheads.

It gives these Bangladeshi infants a strange, unearthly look of wisdom and power beyond their years. The purpose, I was told, is to offer protection from bad spirits, from envy, from the hardships of life.

Ontario's affordable housing crisis deepens

A “staggering and worsening” shortage of affordable housing threatens the health and well-being of low- and moderate-income Ontarians and undermines the province’s economic competitiveness, says a 20-year retrospective on the issue.

“The lack of a sufficient supply of affordable housing shuts the door on opportunity for too many Ontarians,” says “This undermines our collective prosperity.”

PM’s office sends financial details of Trudeau speech to newspaper

The Prime Minister’s office has sent information to The Barrie Advance regarding a money-losing speech Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made in Barrie in 2007.

On Monday, PMO communications officer Erica Meekes sent The Advance details of an engagement that netted Trudeau a $10,000 fee, but left Georgian College with a $4,118 shortfall. The information was sent via email with the caveat it be referred to as coming from a “source,” not the PMO, when used.

Everything is Rigged, Vol. 9,713: This Time, It's Currencies

I'll get into this in more detail later (I'm on deadline for a magazine feature), but this story just landed. Given the LIBOR story, the Interest Rate Swap manipulation story, the Euro gas price manipulation story, the U.S. energy price manipulation story, and (by now) countless others of the "Everything is Rigged" variety, this screams out for immediate notice. Via Bloomberg:

    Traders at some of the world's biggest banks manipulated benchmark foreign-exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments, according to five dealers with knowledge of the practice . . .

Why America Still Needs Affirmative Action

Later this week, or next week, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling greatly restricting, or even ending, affirmative action in admissions to public colleges. If this happens, it will be a great pity.

Set aside, for a moment, the explosive issue of black or brown versus white, which underpins much of the discussion about affirmative action. There are compelling reasons to make it easier for young people of all races from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend college. The University of Texas program at the center of this case did just that. Far from being ruled illegal, it should be embraced and promoted as a practical, merit-based model for other states to copy. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.

Big Brother and Silicon Valley

The word “HACK” is painted across the main square of Facebook’s campus in letters so large that they can be seen from space. The term has lost its negative connotation in Silicon Valley; freewheeling coding sessions and virtual breaking and entering have become the same thing. The culture of hacking is rebellious, idealistic, and militantly anti-bureaucratic—fitting for an age that glorifies entrepreneurship—and it marks a stark shift from the recent history of scientists in American life. During the heyday of the space program, rocket scientists and computer engineers worked closely with NASA officials. The bureaucrat and the geek were not polar opposites but complementary types who often seemed indistinguishable—straight arrows with an occasional streak of repressed weirdness. But, with the counterculture and the advent of the personal computer as a tool for individual liberation, John Glenn gave way to Steve Jobs, “Apollo 13” to “The Social Network.”

Autism, Air Pollution Link Confirmed By First National Study

Living in an area with high levels of air pollution may increase a woman's chances of having a child with autism, according to the first national study to date that investigates the possible link.

"Women who were exposed to the highest levels of diesel or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism than women who lived in the cleanest parts of the sample," study author Andrea Roberts, a research associate with the Harvard School of Public Health, told The Huffington Post.

Obama Defends NSA Surveillance Program, Says It's 'Transparent'

President Barack Obama further defended the National Security Agency's collection of phone and other electronic records to PBS' Charlie Rose, calling the program "transparent."

In a pretaped interview set to air Monday evening, Obama gave a forceful defense of the program, saying that the NSA had not unlawfully targeted Americans.

Canada's Pipeline Capacity Pinch A Threat To Energy Sector: Think-Tank

CALGARY - The Conference Board of Canada says uncertainty over new pipeline projects poses a threat to Canadian companies that provide services to oil and gas producers.

The Ottawa-based think-tank predicts the sector's real economic output this year will drop slightly by $60 million, or half a per cent, to $11.55 billion.

Enbridge: Northern Gateway Pipeline Will Benefit All Canadians

TERRACE, B.C. - Canada will be vulnerable to economic disaster should the Northern Gateway pipeline be rejected, the proponent told a federal review panel Monday as the final phase of public hearings got underway.

Richard Neufeld, the lawyer for Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB), said there are billions of dollars at stake in the pipeline that would link the Alberta oil sands with a tanker port on the coast of British Columbia, and the lucrative oil markets of Asia beyond.

Nursing home demanding Trudeau reimburse speaking fee spent almost $1-million more on administration than charitable programs last year

PARLIAMENT HILL—The New Brunswick nursing home charity demanding Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau return a $20,000 fee it paid him for a fundraiser last year spent $3.2-million on management and administration in 2012 compared to $2.3-million on its charitable programs, its report to Revenue Canada shows.

The Church of St. John and St. Stephen Home Inc., which organized the fundraiser under what is apparently the charity’s informal name for a fundraising arm, the Grace Foundation, received $4-million in funding from the New Brunswick government, and listed a further $1.7-million in revenue from the sale of goods and services, which were not specified in the report.

The (Not So) Purloined Letter: Who tipped off PMO to the Grace Foundation complaint?

As controversy continued to swirl around Justin Trudeau's pre-leadership gig on the paid speakers' circuit, one question had yet to be satisfactorily answered: Specifically, how the Conservatives -- and, specifically, the Prime Minister's Office -- got their hot little hyperpartisan hands on that now infamous letter reportedly sent to Trudeau on behalf of the Grace Foundation, the New Brunswick charity at the centre of the latest round of outrage, asking him to consider refunding the $20,000 he pocketed for speaking at a fundraiser last spring that, according to the group, wound up losing money.

Charity that demanded refund from Justin Trudeau has ties to federal Tories

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he will still give back some or all of the $20,000 he was paid by a New Brunswick-based charity last year even though at least one of its board members has ties to the federal Conservatives.

The promise was made as several other organizations that contracted Trudeau to speak for them indicated they were happy with the results, and would not be taking the Liberal leader up on his offer to “do right” by them.

It’s open season on transparency in Ottawa

OTTAWA—It’s been open season for exposing the widening cracks and exclusions in Canada’s transparency practices.

From deleted ministerial staff emails, to emasculating a proposed private member’s federal sunshine salary bill, authorities want to continue excluding a wide swath of government records from public access.

It’s the most intensive barrage in a long time of so much distrust and debate about the shape of Canada’s gross secrecy practices.

Government control of Crown corporations directly affects citizens, institutions

VICTORIA, B.C.— June 11 was Black Tuesday and most Canadians didn’t even know. The media and opposition focus on scandals. Senate expenses and dishonour obliterate even the mention of the government’s omnibus budget implementation bill. Meanwhile, disastrous legislation proceeds without scrutiny.

But this lack of notice is the silver lining in the government’s present cloud, enabling them to take control more easily of our important independent institutions.

World can’t wait until 2020 on climate change, says new, highly-disturbing International Energy Agency report

TORONTO, ONT.—Politicians love to make bold commitments. But more times than not, they fail to follow up, perhaps hoping the public will forget once the headlines become a memory. In December, 2009, global leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, acknowledged that  “deep cuts in emissions were required”  if grave effects from climate change were to be avoided.

That meant, the leaders said in their Copenhagen Accord, that the increase in global average temperature should be kept below two degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial era, the maximum increase tolerable without devastating climate change. In fact, some climate experts argue even this is too high.

Canada’s brave new world of digital diplomacy

Is it diplomacy, propaganda or subversion? There’s a question of naming going on these days in Canadian diplomacy, amid our government’s high-profile feud with Iran. It starts from a seemingly minor venture that opens up into something quite major: the way in which digital mass communications is effecting a tectonic shift in how governments relate to citizens – not just their own, but also those of other nations.

Last week, prior to Iran’s presidential elections (which produced a surprising first-round victory for the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani), the Canadian government launched the second of its experiments in digital outreach to the Iranian people. In partnership with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs funded a digital election-monitoring platform to keep watch over the Iranian vote. Offering live Farsi broadcasts and crowd-sourced accounts of voting activities, the digital experiment was designed to enable Iranians – both inside their country and expatriates – to report on and learn about the election.

Former Bush, Romney Adviser Greg Mankiw Writes Paper 'Defending The One Percent'

At long last the downtrodden, disrespected 1 percent have a hero to make their case: Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw.

The former economic adviser to President George W. Bush and wannabe president Mitt Romney has a new paper, called "Defending The One Percent," arguing that income inequality is not as terrible a thing as liberals make it out to be. And even if it is, fixing inequality is really hard to do in a way that is not totally unfair to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

IRS Investigation: Darrell Issa Releases More Partial Transcripts Despite Calls For Full Accounts

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has continued to release only select portions of committee interviews with key Internal Revenue Service staffers despite calls to make the full transcripts public.

In recent days, the California Republican has allowed reporters from local and national news outlets to review portions of his panel's investigative work into the IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. The move looks like a rebuke to the ranking Democrat on his committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), and even some Republican lawmakers, who have publicly worried that selective leaking imperils the integrity of the investigation.