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.]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Breaking the Rules Thousands of Times at the N.S.A.

What does the National Security Agency consider a small or a big number? The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman has a report based on documents the paper got from Edward Snowden about an N.S.A. audit that found two thousand seven hundred and seventy-six “incidents” in 2012 in which it broke its own rules about spying on Americans, either accidentally or on purpose. That is seven times a day, which sounds less like a slip than a ritual. But to call those violations frequent, according to the agency, would be to misunderstand the scale of its operations: “You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” a senior N.S.A. official told the paper. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.” We spy so much that the math gets hard; even thousands of privacy and legal violations can’t really be held against us.

It's still time for an adult conversation about taxes

In a 2009 article in the  Toronto Star, progressive economist Hugh Mackenzie commented on the “strange debate that separates taxes from the services they pay for.”  This is a problem across the political spectrum.  Mackenzie criticized the tendency of the Canadian Left to “[campaign] for better public services as if they can be provided free. Better services won't cost us anything because the higher taxes needed to pay for those services can be paid by people we don't know. People who make a lot more money than we do. Big corporations but not small businesses.”

Mackenzie was referring to the British Columbia NDP's campaign against the carbon tax as well as the campaigns against the HST “tax grab” by the NDP in both B.C. and Ontario.   This continues today with the Ontario NDP’s opposition to road tolls in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to pay for much needed transit improvements, which eerily echoes Rob Ford’s “war on the car” narrative.

Egypt shows the true face of the global war on the poor

Radical Islam is the last refuge of the Muslim poor. The mandated five prayers a day give the only real structure to the lives of impoverished believers. The careful rituals of washing before prayers in the mosque, the strict moral code, along with the understanding that life has an ultimate purpose and meaning, keep hundreds of millions of destitute Muslims from despair. The fundamentalist ideology that rises from oppression is rigid and unforgiving. It radically splits the world into black and white, good and evil, apostates and believers. It is bigoted and cruel to women, Jews, Christians and secularists, along with gays and lesbians. But at the same time it offers to those on the very bottom of society a final refuge and hope.

Harper government gets slap on wrist for ad touting job grant that doesn’t exist

OTTAWA — A federal government television commercial touting a not yet existent Canada Job Grant was misleading and a breach of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, Canada’s advertising watchdog has ruled.

In a letter to James Gilbert, assistant deputy human resources minister, Advertising Standards Canada said it received more than 20 consumer complaints alleging the ad was “misleading.”

Tories' ‘Consumers First' Grassroots Campaign Looks Like More Astroturf

Unhappy with your wireless rates? Now you can put pressure on the prime minister to do something about it, thanks to this campaign from … the prime minister’s party.

The Conservative Party of Canada has launched Consumers First, ostensibly a consumer activist site meant to voice public support for increasing wireless competition in Canada.

Only Walmart Union In Canada Votes To Decertify

WEYBURN, Sask. - Workers at the only unionized Walmart in Canada have voted in favour of decertification.

The votes, cast by employees at the Saskatchewan store nearly three years ago, were counted after a decision earlier this week by the Supreme Court.

CornellFetch Grabs The Campus' Attention With Sorority Photos

Cornell University is not sure if it wants CornellFetch to happen.

A new website called CornellFetch is raising eyebrows at the Ivy League campus in Ithaca, N.Y. The site is little more than a "hot-or-not" forum featuring pictures of women in sororities at Cornell, along with their Greek affiliation. Users can collect points with each vote they cast anonymously. A blurb on the page urges them to collect 1,000 points, although nothing happens once a user reaches 1,000 points.

Fingerprint NYCHA Residents, Says Mayor Michael Bloomberg

NEW YORK — New York City public housing tenants should be fingerprinted as a way of keeping criminals out of their buildings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested Friday, adding that the buildings often had broken locks that allowed trespassers in.

His remark appeared offhanded, and the city is not working on a program that would have building doors only open by a resident's fingerprint. But the comment, which comes just days after a key Bloomberg public safety measure was deemed unconstitutional, immediately drew criticism from several candidates battling to be City Hall's next occupant.

Prosecute James Clapper, Voters In Five State Polls Say

Polls say Americans are concerned about National Security Agency surveillance. According to a progressive group's survey, many want to see a top intelligence official punished for giving Congress inaccurate answers about the NSA's efforts.

An internal NSA audit, released Thursday by The Washington Post, found that the agency has violated privacy rules thousands of times every year since 2008. But even before those revelations, a majority of voters in five state-level polls said that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, should be prosecuted for giving Congress a "clearly erroneous" answer about NSA surveillance.

NSA Revelations Stir Congressional Concern

WASHINGTON — New revelations from leaker Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency has overstepped its authority thousands of times since 2008 are stirring renewed calls on Capitol Hill for serious changes to NSA spy programs, undermining White House hopes that President Barack Obama had quieted the controversy with his assurances of oversight.

An internal audit provided by Snowden to The Washington Post shows the agency has repeatedly broken privacy rules or exceeded its legal authority every year since Congress granted it broad new powers in 2008.

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Barred From Enforcement In November Election By Judge

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A state judge issued an order Friday that is expected to block enforcement of Pennsylvania's strict voter-identification law in the Nov. 5 general election.

Local poll workers can ask voters to show IDs if they have them and distribute written material about the law, but they may not tell voters at the polls that photo IDs could be required in future elections, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley said.

"There is no value in inaccurate information, and the court does not deem inaccurate information `educational.' It is not a matter of confusion – it is a matter of accuracy," McGinley wrote.

Egyptians' 'Sadness And Anger' Drive Violence, As Thousands Face Off Against Police, Security Forces

CAIRO -- The streets of downtown Cairo erupted in a frenzy of violence on Friday, as protest marches and high emotions brought tens of thousands of people into the city center, where they battled with police and security forces for much of the day.

At least 50 people are already believed to be killed in the ongoing fighting, the second major day of clashes between supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military, police and their allies.

The Conservative government's militarism is unrelenting and multifaceted

The Conservatives' militarism is unrelenting.

Last month the Harper government launched a Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative at the University of Alberta. The program "allow[s] people to simultaneously obtain a university degree while also gaining leadership experience in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserves." The four-year Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative will be "co-directed by the University of Alberta and the CAF" and the government hopes to export this "test model" to other universities.

Immigration discussion in Canada should be about people, not economics

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is currently consulting the public on Canada's future immigration plan. Very few Canadians know about this, and even fewer may participate. Given the consultation design and the questions posed by CIC, perhaps that should not be a surprise.

Some call it cliché while others call it irrefutable fact: our country has been and will continue to be built by immigrants. From economic prosperity to social harmony, the well-being of Canada and its people are intrinsically linked to both our immigration policy and the way immigrants are treated in this country.

Questions from Egypt about electoral democracy and legitimacy

One hopes that wrong conclusions aren't drawn from the despicable, barbaric slaughter by Egyptian security forces of Muslim Brotherhood protesters this week. The correct conclusion, I'd say, is that those given the right to use deadly force must be held tightly in check in any society. That's true always, everywhere. Personally -- and please brace yourself for this -- I see no basic difference between the Cairo carnage and the death of a distressed teenager on the Dundas streetcar last month. Sure, there are differences, including political versus individual, and one low-level cop versus the Egyptian deep state. But I'd still say they're on a continuum. In both cases, it's happened before and will again. The key lessons haven't yet been widely enough absorbed.

When corporations wrap themselves in the flag

Who knew corporate Canada cared so much about fairness and patriotism? First, SUN News Network tried to convince the CRTC that it was only “fair” to grant it mandatory carriage on cable, alongside other news organizations like CBC and CTV. The network also played the Canada card, notably on its website, where it proudly declared itself a “Canadian content powerhouse … Sun News produces more Canadian content than almost any other network in the Canadian specialty service universe.”

While these arguments didn’t convince the CRTC to grant SNN mandatory carriage, the network still claimed a victory of sorts because the CRTC did embark on a comprehensive review of, among other things, where news channels are found on the dial. Apparently there’s no remedy for over-regulation like more regulation, at least not in the eyes of government.

Prime minister Stephen Harper seeks to get ahead of Senate scandal he created

OTTAWA—’Twas three days before Christmas, 2008.

It was a day Stephen Harper must now rue, a day that, against all odds, will reverberate during the election campaign of 2015.

It was a day the prime minister announced a decision that, like so many ill-advised moves in life, was borne of crisis and vulnerability.

RCMP Kill Man In Cold Lake First Nation, ASIRT Launches Investigation

A man is dead after Mounties tried to make an arrest at the victim's Cold Lake First Nation home on Thursday, said the RCMP.

Mounties went to the home with the intent of arresting the 52-year-old man when a fight broke out, leading to RCMP members opening fire.

Ahmed Kanan's Kuala Lumpur Airport Stay Spans 54 Days

Seen this guy?

If you've been doing much travel in the Far East this summer, there's good chance you came across Ahmed Kanan -- the man who made his home at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for nearly two months.

Then again, the 22-year-old tourism student seems to have been something of an invisible man all around. Airport security seems to have missed him. And his passport is essentially a passage to nowhere.

Rehtaeh Parsons Cyber-Safety Act Aims To Crack Down On Bullying, But At What Price?

The death of Rehtaeh Parsons, which came after allegedly suffering years of intense and systematic bullying, has ignited a flurry of debate -- and the inevitable rush from politicians to legislate.

Nova Scotia's Bill 61, called the Cyber-safety Act, allows victims of bullying to sue. It also extends a school's authority beyond its property lines, and parents and offenders face jail time and fines.

Is Fracking a Necessary Evil?

In North Dakota, the center of the one of the nation’s biggest fracking booms, you can see the gas flares burning for miles on a cloudy day. “It looks like huge candlesticks,” an activist told me two years ago, when I was reporting on the first round of protests against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, DC. The activist was in tears because a friend had been killed in a crash with a fracking-industry truck. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing (a process used to extract natural gas or oil that can’t be accessed via conventional drilling) brings up innumerable safety and health issues. It can leave arsenic and other pollutants in the groundwater, guzzle water resources, lead to an increase in truck traffic and accidents, and even trigger earthquakes.

A Perfect Storm of Cuts Batter North Carolina's Unemployed

Maxton, North Carolina—On a sweltering morning in early August, Lester Dixon packed a U-Haul truck tightly with his family’s possessions, which would soon set off for a nearby storage facility. No longer able to afford rent on their four-bedroom home, the family would disperse later that day to stay with friends and relatives until a cheaper dwelling became available. Resting his elbows on the lid of an industrial-size plastic garbage bin, Dixon pointed to one thing he’d be holding onto: a regional phonebook he used daily to call warehouses, factories and retail stores across the state that might hire him as a forklift driver.

Senator Ron Wyden on NSA Surveillance and Government Transparency

Terms like "bulk data collection" and "PRISM" may have only recently entered the national conversation, but Sen. Ron Wyden has been talking about them for years – or at least, trying to. The Oregon Democrat, who has come out as one of Congress' most vocal opponents of NSA surveillance, has been worried for nearly a decade that the government is violating Americans' privacy rights, and, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he's also been aware of the details. But given the stringent rules governing what elected officials with high level security clearances can and can't say, he's been unable to speak about these programs, let alone critique them. "For all practical purposes, there's almost a double standard with the rules," Wyden, a tall, jeans-clad 64-year-old, tells me in his Senate office overlooking Capitol Hill. "Leaders in the intelligence community can go out to public forums and say, 'We don't hold data on US citizens,' but I can't pop up the next day and say, 'Holy Toledo! That's just not right!'"