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.]

Friday, August 02, 2013

Political Scene: The Culture of Rape

"The easiest way to talk about” rape culture, Ariel Levy says on this week’s Political Scene podcast, “is in action as opposed to in abstract definition. Rape culture in action simply means taking a situation where a woman—by virtue of the progress that our society has made over the last hundred years—where a woman is in a situation where something has nothing to do with sex and where sex is forced upon her.” In the latest issue of the magazine, Levy writes about the presence and role of rape culture in the Steubenville High School case, but, as she and Ryan Lizza discuss with host Dorothy Wickenden, it’s not restricted to such places—in fact, sexual violence has retained a stubborn hold on the U.S. military that is only now finally being addressed as a political matter.

Obama Nominates Childhood Friend, Campaign Fundraiser For Diplomatic Posts

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is nominating a childhood friend to represent the U.S. at the United Nations office and other international organizations in Geneva. He's also tapping a major fundraiser for his re-election campaign to be ambassador to Morocco.

If confirmed by the Senate, Pamela Hamamoto will have the rank of ambassador.

Hamamoto was Obama's classmate during his Hawaii school days. She introduced him at a fundraiser last year and raised more than $500,000 for his campaign. Hamamoto was previously an executive at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

Dwight Bush Sr. is Obama's pick to be ambassador to Morocco. Bush is president of a financial consulting firm in Washington and also bundled more than $500,000 for Obama's campaign.

Original Article

NRA Asks Supreme Court To Strike Down Gun Limits For Minors

In a Monday court filing, the National Rifle Association asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a 1968 law that prevents licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to people between the ages of 18 and 21.

The NRA, along with two nineteen-year-olds, aims to overturn the federal law that restricts the sale of handguns and ammo to anyone under 21 years of age. While individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 cannot obtain a handgun from a licensed dealer per the law, they can still obtain a gun through other channels. The law also does not prevent individuals between 18 and 21 from obtaining shotguns and rifles.

"Because everyone who sells firearms on anything even approaching a regular basis must be federally licensed, this restriction precludes law abiding adults under the age of 21 from purchasing handguns from the most common (and most logical) sources," the filing reads.

In 2012, the first challenge to this federal gun law was rejected in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The court held that the age restriction was "consistent with a longstanding tradition of targeting select groups’ ability to access and to use arms for the sake of public safety.”

Click here to read the NRA's full filing.

Original Article
Author: --

Obama's Boys Club: Summers Shows How Gender Bias Really Works -- The White House's defense actually underscores the problem

Of all the charges and counter-charges that have been aired so far in the reality show known as “America’s Next Fed Chairman,” none is more explosive than the charge of sexism. Between the two apparent finalists for the job, the woman—current Fed vice chairman Janet Yellen—is viewed by many as more qualified, while the man—former Treasury Secretary and White House economic adviser Larry Summers—has an unfortunate gender scandal on his resume. This has led to a variety of gender-related accusations, from the suggestion that the case for Summers, reportedly the president’s first choice, is based on subtle (or not so subtle) prejudice, to the claim that Summers is simply unqualified to be Fed chairman because of his questionable pronouncements on women while president of Harvard.

White House Reevaluating Obama-Vladimir Putin Summit Following Edward Snowden Asylum

WASHINGTON -- A highly anticipated fall summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin could become a casualty of Moscow's defiant decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, the White House signaled Thursday after weeks of pressuring and pleading for his return to face prosecution.

Russia's decision "is not a positive development," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

In Defense of Leakers: Snowden and Manning

On the day that Edward Snowden finally left Moscow’s airport in a taxi to take up Russia’s offer of temporary asylum and the sentencing portion of Bradley Manning’s trial continued, it is worth restating what should be obvious. Leaking classified information is a crime, and it can be damaging to the national interest; but, in some circumstances, it can also be a patriotic and useful act that helps bring about necessary reforms.

Setting aside Snowden’s personal odyssey—he’s been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23rd—the documents he released detailing the National Security Agency’s spying programs, domestic and global, have already had a transformative effect. For decades, Congress has adopted a hands-off and pusillanimous approach to the N.S.A., appropriating vast sums for its operations—its budget remains classified, but it’s reportedly about ten billion dollars a year—and not examining too closely how this money was spent. As the agency sought to expand its domestic surveillance programs in the aftermath of 9/11, Congress, by passing successive versions of the Patriot Act and other measures, actively enabled it to broaden its remit under the catch-all justification of countering terrorism.

A city looks for answers

One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in Toronto existed for just a few minutes.

As Monday’s march for Sammy Yatim waded along Dundas, it was reflected across the entirety of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s tremendous glass visor. And yet it flowed beyond in both directions, a determined river moving through traffic, too large to be captured in a single image.

I don’t know how big the procession was. I’m no good at estimating crowds. But it occupied the width of Dundas for several blocks, a surge of people joined simultaneously in anger and cathartic release.

City homeless census shows "troubling trends"

A new city survey shows Toronto’s homelessness strategy isn’t working, according to one expert.

On Wednesday, the Shelter Support and Housing Administration released the interim results of the Street Needs Assessment, a one-day blitz that saw hundreds of volunteers hit the streets, shelters, hospitals and correctional facilities to count and survey the homeless.

The assessment, conducted on April 17, found that the overall homeless population was 5,219, up only one per cent from the last time the assessment was completed, in 2009.

The Untouchables: America's Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them

NEW ORLEANS -- Some questions seem particularly prone to set John Thompson off. Here's one he gets a lot: Have the prosecutors who sent him to death row ever apologized?

"Sorry? For what?" says Thompson. The 49-year-old is lean, almost skinny. He wears jeans, a T-shirt and running shoes and sports a thin mustache and soul patch, both stippled with gray. "You tell me that. Tell me what the hell would they be sorry for. They tried to kill me. To apologize would mean they're admitting the system is broken." His voice has been gradually increasing in volume. He's nearly yelling now. "That everyone around them is broken. It's the same motherfucking system that's protecting them."

NSA Confirms Dragnet Phone Records Collection, But Admits It Was Key in Stopping Just 1 Terror Plot

Testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, National Security Agency Deputy Director John Inglis conceded that the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act has been key in stopping only one terror plot — not the dozens officials had previously said. Ahead of Wednesday’s Senate hearing, the Obama administration released three heavily censored documents related to its surveillance efforts, but the White House has refused to declassify the legal arguments underlying the dragnet or the original rulings by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, on which the released order to collect phone records was based. Meanwhile, the head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, was repeatedly interrupted by critics of government surveillance in a speech Wednesday before the Black Hat conference, a gathering of hackers and cybersecurity professionals in Las Vegas. We’re joined by two guests: Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, and James Bamford, an investigative reporter who has covered the National Security Agency for three decades after helping expose its existence in the 1980s.

Author: --

Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers

A field investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Pakistan’s tribal areas appears to confirm that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year briefly revived the controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers at the scene of a previous drone strike. The tactic has previously been labelled a possible war crime by two UN investigators.

The Bureau’s new study focused mainly on strikes around a single village in North Waziristan – attacks that were aimed at one of al Qaeda’s few remaining senior figures, Yahya al-Libi. He was finally killed by a CIA drone strike on June 4 2012.

Kerry: Egyptian Military Was 'Restoring Democracy,' Didn't Take Over Egypt

ISLAMABAD -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Egyptian military did not take over but instead was "restoring democracy" in Egypt.

The military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi after protests by millions of people. They demanded Morsi step down after a year as Egypt's first democratically elected president. The military then installed a civilian interim government and called for elections next year.

The Obama administration has refused to call the ouster a coup. That designation that would cut off $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

Kerry says millions of people asked the military to intervene because they were afraid the country would descend into violence.

Kerry spoke during an interview with Geo TV in Pakistan, where he is making his first visit as secretary of state.

Original Article

Bankrupting Democracy in Detroit

After decades of deindustrialization compounded by state and federal neglect, Detroit has been placed on a crash course that could see it in bankruptcy before year’s end. Yet instead of running away from this challenge, legislators, a former police chief and a former county prosecutor are all competing in an August 6 primary and a November 5 general election to choose a new mayor. The timing couldn’t be better for voters to weigh in on the city’s tough choices and set priorities—and to choose leaders to implement them. There is just one problem: the winner of the election will not have the authority to govern.

Surprise. Stephen Harper’s U.S. border deal does imperil Canadian sovereignty

The U.S. government wants American police agents working in Canada exempted from Canadian law. If this is a surprise, it shouldn’t be.

The secret American demand was unearthed this week by Canadian Press reporters looking into Ottawa’s much ballyhooed border deal with the U.S.

Announced in 2011, the so-called North American perimeter security pact would give Washington the right to have its agents and police officers operate alongside their Canadian counterparts within Canada.

Presenting XKeyscore: What the N.S.A. Is Still Hiding

“Select a Foreigness Factor,” the text on a National Security Agency training slide for a system called XKeyscore, made public by the Guardian, in a piece by Glenn Greenwald, tells its analysts. An arrow points to a drop-down menu with choices like “Foreign govt indicates that the person is located outside the U.S.” and “The person is a user of storage media seized outside the U.S.” Foreignness matters because the N.S.A. is not supposed to spy on Americans. The one selected for the sample search might be the easiest: “In direct contact w/tgt overseas, no info to show proposed tgt in U.S.” In other words, We found a link between you and someone abroad we’re interested in, and you haven’t shown us that you’re American—so let’s take a look.

Canada-U.S. Border: American Police Want Legal Exemptions, RCMP Says

OTTAWA - The United States wants its police officers to be exempt from Canadian law if they agree to take part in a highly touted cross-border policing initiative, says an internal RCMP memo.

The debate over whose laws would apply to U.S. officers working in Canada raises important questions of sovereignty and police accountability, says the briefing note prepared for RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

"Canadians would likely have serious concerns with cross-designated officers from the U.S. not being accountable for their actions in Canada."

Harper's barely hidden agenda to undermine public health care in Canada

For some time now, opponents to equitable, universal health care have been smearing proponents of Canada's "signature" social program, Medicare, by using a corporate "communications" strategy known as "FUD," which stands for Fear Uncertainty Doubt.

In the U.S, the dynamic played out fairly recently, in response to Michael Moore's film, SICKO. According to Wendell Potter, an American insurance industry whistleblower, the insurance industry, horrified by the poignancy of the documentary, targeted Michael Moore with a "FUD" attack.

Troubling questions about the shooting of Sammy Yatim

Is it possible, in the midst of something so ugly and so public as the shooting of Sammy Yatim on the Dundas streetcar last weekend, to keep our wits about us? To set aside our gut reactions and think rationally about how to deal with this? How we can serve justice? How we can prevent something like it from happening again?

After all, wasn’t it the failure of two people—first Yatim, then a police officer—to keep their heads about them that led us to where we are now?

Not in our name: A Canadian energy giant in Colombia

A Toronto-based company is trampling on the rights of workers, Indigenous people and the environment in Colombia, but Canadian officials are more concerned with strengthening business ties in the country.

As president of Canada's largest energy union, I recently participated in a 17-person Canadian delegation to investigate alleged abuses committed by TSX listed Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE), Colombia's largest independent oil producer.

President Obama Is Right on Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Job Numbers

The president recently brought some sense to the claims being made by proponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In the face of outlandish claims by supporters of the pipeline that Keystone XL amounted to a major national jobs generator, the president brought clarity to the issue by observing:

    And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people. — President Obama, July 24, 2013

Obama's Better Bargain and Our Perverse Politics

President Obama introduced yet another plan to create jobs and pump the sagging economy yesterday, pitched as a “grand bargain” between Republicans and Democrats (or more accurately, Democrats and the business community). It’s perhaps not a terrible plan considering the current political atmosphere. But taking one step back, Obama’s offer is a deeply revealing snapshot of a dynamic that’s become deeply skewed and perhaps hopelessly corrupted.

Israel's New Chief Rabbi, David Lau, Accused Of Racism

The newly elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi -- one of the two men who serve as spiritual authorities for the people of Israel -- is already under fire for making an apparently racist remark, several Israeli news outlets are reporting.

David Lau was addressing a group of ultra-orthodox yeshiva students when he made reference to young people who are observed watching basketball on television in public rather than spending time studying the Torah. His argument was meant to illustrate the point that such a display could undermine the case for youths not being drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces. But according to Israeli news outlet Hareetz, Lau went on to use a racial slur to describe some professional basketball players.

JPMorgan's $7 Billion In Penalty Payouts Dwarfed By Monstrous Profits

JPMorgan Chase's $410 million deal to settle charges it manipulated electricity markets in California and Michigan brings the amount the bank has paid in fines and settlements in the past couple of years to nearly $7 billion.

As Edward Snowden Wins 1-Year Asylum in Russia, NSA Program Tracking Real-Time Internet Use Exposed

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has been given one year temporary political asylum in Russia. Snowden has reportedly already left the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for over a month. On Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper revealed details about another secret NSA program based on leaked documents provided by Snowden. The program, XKeyscore, allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals giving NSA analysts real-time access to "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet." To discuss these latest developments, we’re joined by Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian.

Author: --

Obama’s Corporate-Tax-Cut Proposal Is Clever, But Is It Wise?

My first reaction on reading about President Obama’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate to twenty-eight per cent, which he unveiled in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Tuesday, was that it sounded vaguely familiar. And, indeed, it was. Looking back through the clippings, I came across a news story by Jackie Calmes, a White House reporter at the Times:

    President Obama will ask Congress to scrub the corporate tax code of dozens of loopholes and subsidies to reduce the top rate to 28 percent, down from 35 percent, while giving preferences to manufacturers that would set their maximum effective rate at 25 percent, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.