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, August 06, 2013

Top 10 Things That Don’t Make Sense About NSA Surveillance, Drones and Al-Qaida

In a Reuters Exclusive, John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke reveal that the National Security Agency shares information it gleans from warrantless surveillance of Americans with the Special Operation Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which then uses the metadata to develop cases against US citizens.  The DEA then routinely lies to the judge and defense attorneys during discovery about how its agents initially came by their suspicions of wrongdoing.  But you could imagine a situation where a young woman repeatedly called a boyfriend who was secretly known to the DEA to be a drug dealer, but whose crimes were unknown to her.

Fukushima Radioactive Water May Overflow Into Sea

TOKYO — The operator of Japan's wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant said Tuesday it is struggling to stop contaminated underground water from leaking into the sea.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said some of the water is seeping over or around an underground barrier it created by injecting chemicals into the soil that solidified into a wall.

The latest problem involves underground water which has built up over the last month since the company began creating the chemical walls to stop leaks after it detected radiation spikes in water samples in May.

Climate Change Spreads Disease Worldwide

Climate change is affecting the spread of infectious diseases worldwide — posing serious threats to not only humans, but also animals and plants, a team of international disease ecologists write in the journal Science.

Public health officials should change the way they model disease systems of all kinds to include climate variables, researchers argue. Taking climate into account could help more accurately predict and prevent the spread of deadly disease.

Rick Scott Plans To Resume Voter Purge Effort In Florida

MIAMI, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott is planning a new effort to purge non-U.S. citizens from the state's voter rolls, a move that last year prompted a series of legal challenges and claims from critics his administration was trying to intimidate minority voters.

Voter protection groups identified a number of errors in the state's attempt to identify people who are not American citizens on Florida's voter lists months ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November 2012.

Voting Rights Act in Peril on 48th Anniversary

“Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield,” President Lyndon Johnson said on August 6, 1965, when he signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

The VRA quickly became known as the most important piece of modern civil rights legislation and one of the most consequential laws ever passed by Congress. It led to the abolition of literacy tests and poll taxes; made possible the registration of millions of minority voters; forced states with a history of voting discrimination to clear electoral changes with the federal government to prevent future discrimination; and laid the foundation for generations of minority elected officials.

The Latest Republican Talking Point on Al Qaeda Is Spectacularly Wrong

On Friday, the Obama administration announced the temporary closure of more than 20 embassies and consulates, and the State Department issued a global travel alert warning of potential terrorist attack, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. The closures and warning were prompted by intercepted communications indicating an Al Qaeda threat linked to Yemen.

N.H.'s Capital City Labels Occupy and Free State Project As Terror Threats

After the public release of a document in which he suggested that Occupiers and libertarians pose a domestic terror threat to Concord, New Hampshire, the city's police chief has backed away from the claim.

In an application to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seeking more than $250,000 to purchase an armored police vehicle, the capital city of New Hampshire specified the local branch of the Occupy movement and the Free State Project, an effort to recruit "liberty-loving people" to relocate to the Granite State, as potential sources of terrorist action.

NATO Surveillance Cancellations Costs Canadian Firms Millions

OTTAWA - The Harper government's decision to cancel Canadian participation in two NATO surveillance programs will cost contracts in the country's aerospace industry, newly released documents show.

National Defence was hoping to save as much as $90 million per year by withdrawing from the jointly owned and operated Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS), a fairly new program meant to utilize drones to monitor the battlefield.

Why did Mike Duffy walk the plank?

Senator Mike Duffy has been right about one thing from the very beginning of the Senate expenses scandal: The only way to clear the air is a “full and open inquiry.”

It has perplexed a lot of people, including yours truly, that Senator Duffy insists that when all the facts come to light, his actions will not merit criticism. That is hard to imagine — but until all the facts are known, it’s not impossible. It is also worth mentioning he has not been charged with anything.

Conservatives exploit Afghan deaths, but treat vets like second class citizens

A travelling tribute to the men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan is coming soon to a provincial legislature near you.

Former defence minister Peter Mackay unveiled the temporary display in Ottawa on July 9. It will be open to the public and remain on Parliament Hill through Remembrance Day, before heading off on a two-year journey across the country to visit provincial legislatures and then on to Washington.

The memorial, featuring plaques of the 161 Canadians killed, will be a welcome gesture, no doubt, for some grieving friends and families.

Harper out to bust public sector unions

Job action by Canadian Foreign Service Officers initially was presented as a novelty item. Diplomats threatening strike with information pickets at the Washington Embassy? Were they wearing striped trousers?

The work stoppages initiated Monday by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) are drawing more serious attention. Officers issuing visas around the globe (Abu Dhabi, Ankara, Beijing, Cairo, Delhi/Chandigarh, Hong Kong, London, Manila, Mexico City, Moscow, Paris, Riyadh, Sao Paulo, and Shanghai) are off the job, leaving foreign students, family visitors, tourists, and conference goers unable to come to Canada.

‘Lost Canadian’ looks to overhaul citizenship laws in court

VANCOUVER—Canadian citizenship laws may need to be overhauled if a so-called “lost Canadian” wins her legal battle.

Jackie Scott, 68, was refused citizenship even though she came to Canada with her British mother and Canadian father at the age of 2. A judicial review of that refusal was scheduled for July, but Scott put it on hold so she and her lawyers could broaden the court action.

Documents filed Friday in Federal Court in Vancouver show Scott is petitioning for “declarations” from the court that could have serious ramifications for Canadian citizenship, including whether Parliament has total control over who is considered Canadian.

Columnist Linda McQuaig enters NDP race in Toronto

OTTAWA—Linda McQuaig, well-known author and Star columnist, is announcing on Tuesday that she is vying to be the New Democratic Party candidate in the Toronto Centre byelection.

It’s a decision prompted by what McQuaig said is a “particularly interesting moment” in Canadian politics right now and what she sees as the right time to “not just be on the sidelines commenting, but to jump in and try to actually bring about change.”

Chomsky: Grip of US, Canada on Latin America Is Loosening

On July 9, the Organization of American States held a special session to discuss the shocking behavior of the European states that had refused to allow the government plane carrying Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, to enter their airspace.

Morales was flying home from a Moscow summit on July 3. In an interview there he had said he was open to offering political asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former U.S. spy-agency contractor wanted by Washington on espionage charges, who was in the Moscow airport.

Why wait until 18 to vote? Let’s start at 16

Trustees exist for school boards, and school boards exist for children and for young adults. Their policies and actions specifically affect students under the age of 18 but, unfortunately, it is only parents who have the luxury of deciding who will make these decisions. This should change: Municipalities should give students aged 16 and older the right to vote for school board trustee.

I have always believed that education should be a partnership between educators, parents, and students. In an attempt to develop and play an active role in this “partnership,” I became involved in student leadership by discussing current issues in education at local meetings at age 14, and I was elected as a student trustee on the Toronto District School Board , a role that I held for two terms, at age 16.

Is Chrystia Freeland progressive?

Chrystia Freeland, The Globe and Mail's candidate in Toronto Centre, recently wrote a book about inequality (which I have not yet read) and is supposed to "bring fresh thinking to the Liberal Party's economic team."

She has already attracted a few jabs from right-wingers Terence Corcoran and William Watson. But is she progressive?

Corporate elite grumbles over possible CETA failure

John Manley, the former Liberal deputy prime minister and current mouthpiece of Canada's corporate elite, wants Prime Minister Harper to send a "high-level" political mission to Europe to save the stalled Canada-European Union free trade negotiations. Manley made these comments in an interview with The Canadian Press last week, a few days after publishing an op-ed in the Globe and Mail that argued "quitting [the CETA] is not an option."

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the talks on Canada's behalf, and he is the only person with the authority to make the hard choices that inevitably arise in negotiations this complex," he wrote on July 25. "On the EU side, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso must summon the political courage to carry his 28 member states over the finish line. No new issues or backsliding can be tolerated. The only acceptable direction is forward."

The Stench of the Potomac

You’d think that the market for Washington-bashing would be saturated by now. Not counting the nightly Comedy Central duo, four anti-Washington television shows were showered with Emmy nominations last month. Apocalyptic anti-Washington books with titles like It’s Even Worse Than It Looks and Throw Them All Out have become our daily bread in the Obama years—although none of them matches Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer’s Truman-era Washington Confidential, an enormous best seller in 1951 and forever to be cherished for describing the town (my hometown, I must disclose) as “the nation’s Forest Lawn, where is sunk its priceless heritage, killed by countless generations of getters and gimme-ers.”

Larry Summers' Enron Connection Is Yet Another Reason Not To Make Him Fed Chairman

Here's something else to add to the long list of reasons Larry Summers would make a terrible Federal Reserve chairman: He reportedly told California to suck it up when it complained that Enron was manipulating its power market.

According to Kurt Eichenwald's 2005 book about the Enron scandal, "Conspiracy of Fools," then-California Gov. Gray Davis (D) reached out in late 2000 to Summers, who was then the Treasury secretary under President Clinton, for help with the state's little problem of power outages and skyrocketing electricity prices. Davis suspected, rightly, that Enron was toying with the state's electricity supply for fun and profit.

The Pay Is Too Damn Low

A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided for releasing a budget to help its employees plan financially, since that only underscored how brutally hard it is to live on a McDonald’s wage. And last week fast-food workers across the country staged walkouts, calling for an increase in their pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Low-wage earners have long been the hardest workers to organize and the easiest to ignore. Now they’re front-page news.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

DEA Special Operations Division Covers Up Surveillance Used To Investigate Americans: Report

WASHINGTON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

Sammy Yatim: What happened, in the words of witnesses

Witnesses who were on the streetcar before Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by police describe a normal night shattered by a piercing scream. An otherwise quiet streetcar ride was thrown into chaos when he stood up, a knife in one hand and his penis in the other, and began advancing on the crowd.

Aaron Li-Hill, a 27-year-old artist, was on his way back to Roncesvalles with his girlfriend. Jessica Doyle, a 28-year-old veterinarian, was headed home as well. Melody Garcia, 18, was going to visit her friend, and had met Yatim previously.

Taken -- Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?

On a bright Thursday afternoon in 2007, Jennifer Boatright, a waitress at a Houston bar-and-grill, drove with her two young sons and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, on U.S. 59 toward Linden, Henderson’s home town, near the Texas-Louisiana border. They made the trip every April, at the first signs of spring, to walk the local wildflower trails and spend time with Henderson’s father. This year, they’d decided to buy a used car in Linden, which had plenty for sale, and so they bundled their cash savings in their car’s center console. Just after dusk, they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Tenaha: A little town with BIG Potential!”

They pulled into a mini-mart for snacks. When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.

Greenwald: Is U.S. Exaggerating Threat to Embassies to Silence Critics of NSA Domestic Surveillance?

The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic posts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to fears of a possible militant threat. On Sunday, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the decision to close the embassies was based on information collected by the National Security Agency. "If we did not have these programs, we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys," Chambliss said, in a direct reference to increasing debate over widespread spying of all Americans revealed by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. "Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks," Greenwald says. Pointing to the recent revelations by leaker Edward Snowden that he has reported on, Greenwald explains, "Here we are in the midst of one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly, an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates around the world. ... The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism." Greenwald also discusses the NSA’s XKeyscore Internet tracking program, Reuters’ report on the Drug Enforcement Agency spying on Americans, and the conviction of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning.


Average Student Loan Debt Could Cost A Household $208,000 Over A Lifetime: Study

The real cost of student loan debt is far greater than you may think, according to a new analysis.

A household with $53,000 in outstanding student debt -- which is the average college loan balance for a family headed by two people with 4-year degrees -- will be about $208,000 poorer over a lifetime than a similar household with no debt, a study released Thursday by public policy research organization Demos found.

Aid-for-Leverage Failed in Pakistan—It Won't Work in Egypt

As the Egyptian army continued its violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood this week, White House officials said that the United States can't cut off its $1.3 billion a year in aid to Egypt. To do so would cause Washington to lose "influence" with the country's generals. Vital American security interests are at stake, they argued, and keeping the torrent of American aid flowing gives Washington leverage.

If that argument sounds familiar, it is. For the last decade, the United States has used the same logic in Pakistan. Washington has given $11 billion in military aid to the Pakistani army in the name of maintaining American "influence" in Islamabad. From new equipment to reimbursements for Pakistani military operations, the money flowed year after year, despite complaints from American officials that the Pakistanis were misusing funds and inflating bills.

Gay Couple Forced To Back Of The Bus For Holding Hands

A gay couple is considering legal action against a bus company after they were allegedly forced to sit in the back of a shuttle bus in New Mexico simply for holding hands.

Ron McCoy and his partner, Chris Bowers, flew into Albuquerque on June 28 for the city's PrideFest and a Southwest road trip, according to local news station KRQE. After leaving the airport, they hopped on a Standard Parking shuttle bus and sat in the front of the vehicle holding hands.

RCMP Fatally Shoot Pigeon Lake Man; ASIRT Investigates Third Incident In One Week

Two men in Alberta have died in separate incidents involving RCMP officers.

A man from Pigeon Lake has died after a shooting involving an RCMP officer, causing the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) to investigate its third incident in three days.

Peter King: Al Qaeda 'In Many Ways Stronger' Than Before 9/11

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) sounded the alarm on Sunday over what he described the serious and credible threat of new Al Qaeda terror attacks in the coming weeks.

The New York congressman, who was speaking on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" about heightened terror alerts across the globe over the weekend, warned that "we have to be ready for everything."

Saxby Chambliss: Security Threats 'Reminiscent Of What We Saw Pre-9/11'

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that current security threats remind him of the time before the 9/11 attacks.

Unspecified security concerns led to a global travel warning for Americans and the weekend closure of many embassies in the Muslim world on Sunday.

"The one thing we can talk about is there's been an awful lot of chatter out there," Chambliss said on "Meet The Press." "Chatter means conversation among terrorists about the planning that's going on. It's very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11. We didn't take heed on 9/11 in the way that we should, but here I think it's very important that we do take the right kind of planning."

Eric Cantor Looks To Entitlement Cuts For Sequester Compromise

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Sunday that Republicans might be willing to compromise on sequester cuts in exchange for talks on reducing entitlement programs.

"What we need to have happen is leadership on the part of this president and the White House to come to the table finally and say we're going to fix the underlying problem that's driving our deficit," Cantor told Fox News' Chris Wallace. "We know that is the entitlement programs and the unfunded liability that they are leaving on this generation and the next."

Global Travel Alert: U.S. Cites Al Qaeda Threat

WASHINGTON — Top U.S. officials met Saturday to review the threat of a terrorist attack that led to the weekend closure of 21 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Muslim world and a global travel warning to Americans. President Barack Obama was briefed following the session, the White House said.

Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, led the meeting and then joined Lisa Monaco, Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, in briefing the president, the White House said in a statement.

Tawakkul Karman Denied Entry Into Egypt

CAIRO -- Officials say that Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman has been denied entry into Egypt after she landed at Cairo airport.

Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace prize, has stated her opposition to the military coup that ousted fellow Islamist Mohammed Morsi on July 3 after days of mass protests in which millions of Egyptians demanded that he step down.

Edward Snowden Is A 'Whistle-Blower,' Rep. Justin Amash Says

Rep. Justin Amash, (R-Mich.), a prominent NSA critic, said Sunday that Edward Snowden is a "whistle-blower" who brought to light intelligence-gathering programs that much of Congress would not have otherwise heard of.

“Without his doing what he did, members of Congress would not have really known about [those programs]," Amash told Fox's Chris Wallace. "Members of Congress were not really aware on the whole about what these programs were being used for and the extent to which they were being used. Members of the intelligence committee were told, but rank-and-file members really didn’t have the information.”

Part-Time Work Made Up More Than 65 Percent Of New Jobs Created In July

WASHINGTON — The 162,000 jobs the economy added in July were a disappointment. The quality of the jobs was even worse.

A disproportionate number of the added jobs were part-time or low-paying – or both.

Part-time work accounted for more than 65 percent of the positions employers added in July. Low-paying retailers, restaurants and bars supplied more than half July's job gain.

Canada’s broken soldiers, Canada’s broken system

The Canadian military created its Joint Personnel Support Unit almost five years ago to give hope and help to the flood of physically and mentally injured soldiers coming home from Afghanistan and those still damaged from previous missions. Eight regional JPSUs would oversee 24 troop support centres and dozens of smaller satellite facilities scattered across the country. The ill and injured would be assigned to Support Platoons.

The 24 new units, or Integrated Personnel Support Centres, would be holistic and offer well-staffed programs that would support and enable troops posted into the unit to get proper medical mental health treatment and the chance to resume their careers or, more likely, be “transitioned out” into the civilian world with sellable skills and jobs to go to.

Provinces insist consent required

Provincial governments are taking a dim view of the federal government's latest argument that it can reform the Senate without provincial consent.

After the Harper government filed a legal brief to the Supreme Court of Canada this week, a spokeswoman for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ontario's position "is that provincial consent is required" to reform the upper chamber, a sentiment echoed by the government of British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. A spokesman for Clark said "British Columbians should have a say" in what happens to the upper chamber.