Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bradley Manning deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, not more hard time

Bradley Manning is expected to be sentenced Wednesday. He faces a sentence of up to 90 years in prison, after being found guilty on a number of counts under the Espionage Act.

The headquarters of the Nobel Committee is in downtown Oslo on a street named after Henrik Ibsen, whose play 'An Enemy of the People' has remained as current as dawn light falling on the Nobel building and then, hours later, on a Fort Meade courtroom where Bradley Manning's trial enters a new stage -- defence testimony in the sentencing phase.

Ibsen's play tells of mendacity and greed in high places: dangerous threats to public health. You might call the protagonist a whistleblower. He's a physician who can't pretend that he hasn't seen evidence; he rejects all the pleas and threats to stay quiet, to keep secret what the public has a right to know. He could be content to take an easy way, to let others suffer and die. But he refuses to just follow orders. He will save lives. There will be some dire consequences for him.

First Nations don't want Harper's Family Homes on Reserves Bill

This letter is in direct response to the letter submitted by Jason McDonald, Director of Communications for Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) Bernard Valcourt to the Montreal Gazette on August 7, 2013. INAC has gone to great lengths to spread misinformation about the intentions, interpretations and potential impacts of Bill S-2 Family Homes of Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. It is interesting to note the Minister had his communications person write this letter, rather than a Justice Canada lawyer.

Despite the near unanimous rejection of previous versions of this bill and Harper's infamous promise to First Nations at the Crown First Nations Gathering not to unilaterally amend the Indian Act, the Harper government has spared no expense in its propaganda campaign to gain support for this unconstitutional bill.

The Neo-Cons Are Conning Us

"Canadians understand and are very proud of the fact that Canada's economy has performed so much better than other developed countries during these challenging times," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons last May. He was responding to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who had asked how he justified spending $100 million on "feel good" Economic Action Plan ads in a time of government cutbacks and restraint.

In fact, Canada's growth was surpassed by the U.S. in 2012. Other smaller developed nations, including Australia and the Scandinavian countries, have also done better.

Harper government faces legal challenge over rules restricting pipeline comments

Environmentalists have launched a court challenge attempting to strike down Harper government legislation that restricts public comment on energy proposals, including Enbridge’s proposed Line 9B Reversal, which runs in part through the Toronto region.

ForestEthics Advocacy and activist Donna Sinclair — represented by civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby — filed the suit Tuesday in Federal Court. The application asks the court to throw out new rules created by the National Energy Board, on the grounds that they violate Charter rights and silence dissent.

Mideast Peace Talks: Expectations Remain Low As U.S. Sponsored-Negotiations Set To Begin

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis and Palestinians were to hold their first formal peace talks on home turf in the Middle East in nearly five years Wednesday, hours after Israel released 26 long-held Palestinian prisoners who were given a boisterous homecoming by cheering crowds.

Both sides have low expectations as they head into the U.S.-sponsored negotiations in Jerusalem, the third attempt since 2000 to agree on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Egyptian Security Forces Clear Pro-Morsi Sit-Ins, Dozens Dead

CAIRO -- Egypt's police and military stormed a pair of Muslim Brotherhood protest sites here early Wednesday morning, leaving scores of protesters dead and many more wounded as violence threatened to spill across the city.

While clashes at one Muslim Brotherhood protest site extended into their tenth hour, Egypt's military-backed government declared a one-month state of emergency. Across the city there were reports of small gun battles, and churches and government buildings being burned or seized. Vigilante and neighborhood watch groups, once a fixture of post-revolutionary Cairo, were formed late in the day.

How Austerity Chokes Canada's Down-and-out

The aggressive austerity cuts carried out by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty over the past seven years have come home to roost. Millions of Canadians are succumbing to its worst consequences.

Program cuts and tax reductions for corporations and the wealthy have had a significant and disproportionate impact on the poor, working poor, underemployed and those with health challenges, translating into less income, decreased services and reduced health care for many of Canada's most vulnerable people. It appears more than 3.5 million Canadians are struggling.

Lobbyist Secretly Wrote House Dems' Letter Urging Weaker Investor Protections

A letter that a group of progressive Democrats sent to federal regulators opposing new protections for millions of Americans' retirement accounts was drafted by a financial-industry lobbyist, according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.

The Department of Labor, which oversees the federal law setting minimum standards for many retirement plans, would like to require retirement investment advisers to act in the best interest of their customers, as opposed to their own best interest.

Paying for “Citizen Koch”

It appears that “Citizen Koch,” an embattled documentary about the influence of money on politics, which suffered a near-death experience after the public-television system withdrew its support, may survive after all.

As I reported recently in The New Yorker, public-television officials abruptly withdrew financial support for the film amid growing worries that the project would displease David Koch, a billionaire industrialist and longtime public-television funder, whose political activism the film cast in harsh light. Now, however, as the Times reported Tuesday, the documentary’s creators, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, have managed to raise enough money independently to finish the film—more, in fact, than the original hundred and fifty thousand dollars that they had expected from public television.

Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO: NSA Surveillance Is 'Great'

The chief executive of one of the country's biggest software companies thinks that NSA surveillance is "absolutely essential."

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison told Charlie Rose on Tuesday that he's unbothered by reports that the NSA is collecting phone records and monitoring internet user activity.

"Who's ever heard of this information being misused by the government? In what way?" Ellison asked.

Google: Gmail Users Can't Legitimately Expect Privacy

Google doesn't believe that people can reasonably expect their emails to stay private.

At least, that's what the Internet giant articulated in a brief that was filed last month in federal court and recently surfaced by Consumer Watchdog. The document was written in response to a class-action lawsuit accusing Google of violating wiretap law when it scans emails to serve up targeted ads.

Sequestration Ushers In A Dark Age For Science In America

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- On the first floor of Jordan Hall at the University of Virginia School of Medicine is a 12-by-8 room that, at first glance, looks like a rundown storage space. The floor is a mix of white, teal and purple tiles, in a pattern reminiscent of the 1970s. Trash cans are without tops and half filled. There are rust stains on the tiles, and a loose air vent dangles a bit from the ceiling.

It is only when you see four incubators attached to six tanks of carbon dioxide that you get the feeling something more intriguing is taking place here.

Ethics group questions rules that let Tory MP take new job

An ethics watchdog and at least one politician are raising questions about how it was possible for a Manitoba MP to resign and take a new job in the private sector hours later.

On Tuesday, Merv Tweed, a Tory MP for the Brandon-Souris area, announced he was resigning from his position -- stating his last day would be Aug. 31.

Hours later, OmniTRAX Canada, a rail company that owns the Port of Churchill, a major arctic port in Canada’s north, named Tweed as their new president.

4 surprising things in Pamela Wallin's expense audit

Some of the findings by the independent auditing firm Deloitte about Senator Pamela Wallin's expense claims are eye-catching and difficult to explain. The 95-page Deloitte report released Tuesday suggests Wallin should repay approximately $120,000 in claims it judges were made for expenses not related to Senate business, an amount that includes the $38,000 she has already voluntarily repaid.

Former Internet Provider Gagged by National Security Letter Recounts How He Was Silenced for 6 Years

We continue our discussion of government surveillance and Internet privacy with someone who was under an FBI gag order for six years. In early 2004, Nicholas Merrill, who was running an Internet service provider in New York called Calyx, was issued a national security letter that ordered him to hand over detailed private records about some of his customers. Under the law, recipients of the letters are barred from telling anyone about their encounter with the FBI. While Merrill was not the first American to be gagged after receiving a national security letter, he was the first to challenge the FBI’s secret tactics. Merrill went to the American Civil Liberties Union, which then filed the first lawsuit challenging the national security letter statute. In the lawsuit, Merrill was simply identified as John Doe. It was only in August 2010, after reaching a settlement with the FBI, that Merrill was able to reveal his identity. "[The case] resulted in the national security letter provision of the PATRIOT Act being ruled unconstitutional twice," Merrill says. "The problem was, though, we were never able to get to the Supreme Court to get a final, binding ruling that would affect the whole country. ... The concern about cybersecurity and the concerns about privacy are really two sides of the same coin. There are a lot of really uncontroversial examples in which organizations and people need confidentiality: Medicine is one, journalism is another, human rights organizations is an obvious third. We’re trying to make the case that if the right of Americans to encrypt their data and to have private information is taken away, that it’s going to have grave, far-reaching effects on many kinds of industries, on our democracy as a whole, and our standing in the world."

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Simona Tibu, Camrose Dentist, Claims She Was Physically, Sexually Assaulted By Sheriff

A Camrose dentist says she was battered and beat up during a physical and sexual assault, after an Alberta sheriff pulled her over on the highway earlier this month.

Simona Tibu, 41, told the Edmonton Journal she was driving to her office in Edmonton from her Camrose home on Aug. 3 when an officer on a motorcycle pulled her over on Highway 21 for speeding.

Ending Stop-and-Frisk, Keeping the Racism

On Monday, US district court judge Shira Scheindlin dealt a serious, but non-lethal blow to the New York City police policy known as “stop-and-frisk.” After weeks of testimony and evidence presented in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk violated individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. She did not, however, call for an end to the policy altogether, instead opting to appoint an independent federal monitor to oversee the program and the implementation of reforms that would bring it in line with the Constitution.

Owner of Snowden’s Email Service on Why He Closed Lavabit Rather Than Comply With Gov’t

Lavabit, an encrypted email service believed to have been used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, has abruptly shut down. The move came amidst a legal fight that appeared to involve U.S. government attempts to win access to customer information. In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we are joined by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison and his lawyer, Jesse Binnall. "Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it. I would like to, believe me," Levison says. "I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore." In a message to his customers last week, Levison said: "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit." Levison said he was barred from discussing the events over the past six weeks that led to his decision. Soon after, another secure email provider called Silent Circle also announced it was shutting down.

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Here Are All Of The Nations That Incarcerate More Of Their Population Than The U.S.

A lot has been reported about our nation's prison system and its bloated population, but this is what it looks like when you take all of the countries that jail more people than we do and put them into one GIF.


Judge Scheindlin Stops and Frisks N.Y.C. Mayoral Candidates

Judge Shira Scheindlin’s historic ruling that the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics are unconstitutional has many implications—for policing, for civil rights, and for the daily lives of New Yorkers, particularly the minority youths in high-crime areas who have been the focus of the police’s attention. But one of the most immediate effects will be on the city’s mayoral race, in which the all-important Democratic primary is just four weeks away. All at once, the explosive issues of crime and race have been lobbed into a contest that hitherto had been dominated by Anthony Wiener’s unwholesome proclivities.

Dmitri Kisilev, Russian Official, Degrades Gays On National Television

In the latest chapter of Russia's continuing saga of homophobic legislation and anti-LGBT violence, Dmitri Kisilev, Deputy General Director of the Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, recently slammed the gay community on the country's most popular news program.

Speaking on Rossiya 1, a state-owned news network, Kisilev stated that:

    I think that just imposing fines on gays for homosexual propaganda among teenagers is not enough. They should be banned from donating blood, sperm. And their hearts, in case of the automobile accident, should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life.

BP Sues U.S. Government For New Contracts After Gulf Oil Spill

HOUSTON -- BP on Monday sued the U.S. government over a decision to bar the oil giant from getting new federal contracts to supply fuel and other services after the company pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP is seeking an injunction that would lift an order by the Environmental Protection Agency that suspends the company from such contracts.

Edward Snowden To NY Times: Media 'Abdicated' Role Post-9/11

The New York Times secured an interview with Edward Snowden for the first time since he outed himself as the leaker of NSA documents in June.

The brief Q-and-A appeared Tuesday alongside a lengthy profile of Laura Poitras, the filmmaker who, along with Glenn Greenwald, has been the journalist most at the center of the Snowden saga. Both pieces were written by reporter Peter Maass.

James Clapper, Director Of National Intelligence Who Misled Congress, To Establish Surveillance Review Group

President Barack Obama on Monday announced that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will establish a review group designed to assess the nation's intelligence gathering and surveillance capabilities.

Obama announced the creation of an "independent group" of "outside experts" to review privacy issues raised by the nation's surveillance programs during a Friday press conference. "We’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies," he said, adding that the group would "consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used."

North Carolina's Sweeping Voter Suppression Law Is Challenged in Court

Today, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the nation’s worst voter suppression law. The sweeping law requires strict government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, cuts the number of early voting days by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, makes it easier for vigilante poll watchers to challenge the validity of eligible voters and expands the influence of unregulated corporate money in state elections.

Two lawsuits were filed today challenging the voting restrictions as racially discriminatory in federal court under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. A third challenge, to the voter ID provision, will be filed in state court tomorrow morning.

Next Fed Head Should Meet the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren Standard

No presidential appointment, no Senate confirmation, matters more than the one that will soon come for the post of chairman of the Federal Reserve.

If ever there was a time to ask for more—and better—this is it.

Yet, for the most part, official Washington is on autopilot, preparing for the replacement of outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke with another predictable insider—perhaps even the ultimate predictable insider: former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Restore Honor and Pardon Edward Snowden

How do you justify criminally charging a government contractor for revealing an alarming truth that the public has every right to know? That is the contradiction raised by President Obama now that he has, in effect, acknowledged that Edward Snowden was an indispensable whistleblower who significantly raised public awareness about a government threat to our freedom.

Victoria Ordu and Ihouma Amadi, Who Have Taken Sanctuary In Regina Church, Supported By Hundreds

REGINA - Hundreds of people came out Monday to support two Nigerian students who have taken sanctuary in a Regina church to avoid deportation.

Victoria Ordu and Ihouma Amadi, who have completed three years of study at the University of Regina, were found to be working illegally for two weeks at Walmart.

Stephen Harper Defended Pamela Wallin's Travel Expenses In February

With Conservatives now distancing themselves from embattled Senator Pamela Wallin, it may be difficult for some to remember a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was eager to defend the former Tory's controversial travel claims.

Even if that time was, you know, February.

On Monday, Conservative Sen. Majority LeBreton, the retiring leader of the government in the Senate, publicly called on Wallin to repay any expenses that didn’t pass muster.

Can democracy save students in sanctuary Victoria and Favour?

Yesterday marked the National Day of Action for Victoria Ordu and Ihuoma Amadi, the two University of Regina students that have spent the past 14 months in sanctuary to avoid deportation. Both students made the honest mistake of working at a local Wal-Mart for two weeks, thereby violating the terms of their student visas. As we speak, people from all over Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, are sending heart-felt pleas to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to demonstrate a modicum of compassion and use his power to return these two women to their studies at the University of Regina for September.

Linda McQuaig's candidacy for Toronto Centre: The prospect of doing things differently under an NDP government

When someone does something really well, you do not expect them to decide to so something else. That explains my surprise hearing that with a byelection upcoming, Linda McQuaig was declaring for the NDP nomination in Toronto Centre.

McQuaig has produced a steady stream of intelligent, witty, economic reporting and analysis over the last 30 years, an era marked by dumb economic policy and dubious economics. Why not continue her fine work?

In a phone interview with she said it was the prospect of doing things differently under an NDP government in a post-Harper period that led to her entry into politics.

Want, waste and wealth: The immorality and inefficiency of capitalist food distribution in Canada

It has been both a disturbing and telling couple of weeks in terms of news developments related to food distribution in Canada.

First, at the end of July, a report by researchers at the University of Toronto showed that nearly four million Canadians face what they, as is now commonplace, somewhat euphemistically describe as "food insecurity"; an academic way of saying that these citizens either are not able to buy enough food for themselves or their families or that they are constantly struggling to do so. In the case of Nunavut, where the situation is at its worst, over 50% of households experienced food insecurity, while in both PEI and New Brunswick it was a quarter or more of households.

REAL Women of Canada, and the naked far-right truth

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
    16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
    17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
    18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
    19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
    20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
    -- Matthew 7:15 - 20

Gwen Landolt, of R.E.A.L. Women of Canada (RWoC), has drawn fire for a press release she sent out last week, in which she condemned Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's support for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in highly oppressive nations like Uganda and Russia.  Landolt takes issue with government agencies advocating for their safety both publicly and behind the scenes.

Sen. Wallin's 'other' trips dropped 55 per cent after audit started last December

PARLIAMENT HILL—Senator Pamela Wallin’s travel expenses for airline trips to destinations other than her home province of Saskatchewan began plunging after a powerful Senate management committee ordered an internal audit into residency claims and related travel expenses of all Senators last December, the latest Senate expense reports show.

The reports show Sen. Wallin’s expense claims for travel other than to Saskatchewan, which she represents in the Senate, dropped to $24,323 for the calendar quarter from Dec. 1, 2012, to Feb. 28, 2013, from an average of $35,670 per quarter going back to November 2010.

SNC-Lavalin subsidiary wins government contract despite World Bank ban

OTTAWA—A lucrative contract for Canadian troop support has been awarded to a joint venture company partly owned by a division of SNC-Lavalin Group that is banned from bidding on aid contracts by the World Bank.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has issued a defence contract worth up to $400 million to SNC-Lavalin PAE Inc., just months after SNC-Lavalin’s parent company in Montreal agreed to a 10-year ban on World Bank contracts for more than 100 of its affiliates.

Toronto’s homeless gay youth frequently face abuse in shelters: study

Homeless youth who are members of a sexual minority often experience verbal and physical abuse in Toronto’s shelters — a problem staff aren’t properly trained to deal with, according to a University of Toronto researcher.

A city study recently revealed that almost one in five homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. U of T doctoral candidate Alex Abramovich is calling on the city to open a shelter specifically for that group, and to provide staff at other shelters with mandatory training for dealing with homophobia and transphobia among shelter users.