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, December 24, 2013

Commons asked to review encryption following report NSA has back-door access

OTTAWA — House of Commons security is being asked to review its continued use of a private encryption device amid media reports that the company that makes it took money from the National Security Agency to build in a back-door access point.

The request from the NDP caucus comes on the heels of a Reuters report that IT security company RSA made a secret deal with the NSA to weaken code in its encryption software that would grant the embattled spy agency the ability to access what users believed were secure files.

Military Turns To Prison Labor For $100 Million In Uniforms -- At $2-Per-Hour Wages

As the Pentagon continues to grapple with budget cuts, and workers continue to cry for higher wages, a confluence of those two issues is taking shape with military uniforms and prison labor.

In it's Sunday report on how the "U.S. Flouts Its Own Advice in Procuring Overseas Clothing," the New York Times points to some striking numbers regarding how military uniforms are manufactured.

Israel launches Gaza Strip air strike after fatal border fence shooting

Israel has launched a series of air strikes in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the deadly shooting of an Israeli civilian, killing at least two people, including a young girl, and wounding nine, Hamas officials said.

It was the heaviest outbreak of violence along the volatile border in months and threatened to destabilise a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers that largely has held for more than a year.

Peace River Families Fed Up With Baytex Energy Oil Fumes

EDMONTON - An Alberta family that says it was forced to leave its home due to intolerable smells from a nearby heavy oil producer has turned to the courts to try to get the sickening odours to stop.

"It's necessary to try and bring the venting of these emissions to an end as quickly as possible," said Alain Labrecque, who is asking a Peace River court for an eight-month injunction to shut down 46 wells owned by Calgary-based Baytex Energy (TSX:BTE).

Opposition parties say broken Redford promises leave an opening

EDMONTON - With a trail of broken promises from Alberta’s premier and a backlash over two widely-criticized labour bills, a vacuum has opened in the province’s political landscape that the NDP and Liberals say they’re ready to fill.

Despite sweeping to an election victory with a promise to balance the province’s budget and remain debt free, Premier Alison Redford delivered a deficit in a budget that included billions in borrowing for infrastructure such as roads and schools.

Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission’s accomplished

MOSCOW — The familiar voice on the hotel room phone did not waste words.

“What time does your clock say, exactly?” he asked.

He checked the reply against his watch and described a place to meet.

“I’ll see you there,” he said.

Edward Joseph Snowden emerged at the appointed hour, alone, blending into a light crowd of locals and tourists. He cocked his arm for a handshake, then turned his shoulder to indicate a path. Before long he had guided his visitor to a secure space out of public view.

David Cameron revives 'big society' idea in his Christmas message

David Cameron, who once said that his Anglican faith "sort of comes and goes", has turned to Jesus to try to revive his signature theme of the 'big society', which bombed during the 2010 general election.

In his annual Christmas message, the prime minister says that millions of people building the big society are living up to the teachings of Christ.

Cameron says: "There are those millions who keep on strengthening our society too – being good neighbours, running clubs and voluntary associations, playing their part in countless small ways to help build what I call the big society.

Duck Dynasty: Putting the Racist Back in Redneck

The monarch of the “Duck Dynasty” reality show on A&E, Phil Robertson, has gone off the plantation to give a GQ journalist a full dose of the Robertson “Klan.” In the unfiltered environment of a magazine interview, the senior Robertson expounds on a random range of cultural issues. Almost every conversation turns back to his Christian faith, the Bible and the way things ought to be.

In the category of his Christian faith are his statements about the LGBT community. Asked, “What is sinful?” he starts with “homosexual behavior.” That seems an odd place to begin. Given that the Bible itself starts with murder (remember Cain and Abel?) and then gives Ten Commandments (not one of which mentions homosexual behavior), then climaxes with a condemnation of covetousness (read consumerism and materialism). Robertson’s fixation on homosexuality is peculiar indeed. However, he is a perfect reflection of the down-home evangelical Christianity that shares his obsession. Having a faith that claims Jesus as God, one would think that he would be more concerned with what Jesus said about the matter (absolutely nothing) than the sexually repressed apostle who penned the poisonous verses of the Letter to the Romans that Papa Robertson has committed to memory (or at least scribbled on the palm of his hand).

Racism in Israel

Here’s a shocking fact from a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and reported by The Times of Israel: fully one-third of Israelis say that unlawful, vigilante violence against non-Jewish African immigrants is fine with them.

Equally, 86 percent of Israelis who voted for the right-wing Shas party and 66 percent of Likud voters agree with the statements of far-right Israeli politician Miri Regev that African immigrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, are a “cancer” in the Israeli body politic.

Goldman Sachs Vet to Oversee Housing, Development Under de Blasio

Back in 2009, at the height of outrage over the financial crisis and the bailouts that went to many of the very firms whose drive for profit created the crash, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi famously wrote that Goldman Sachs was “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Now a ten-year veteran of the bank will be Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development—and in overall charge of his plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.

China To Media: Don't Report 'Wrong Points Of View'

BEIJING, Dec 23 (Reuters) - China's ruling Communist Party told the already tightly monitored state media on Monday that they should not be reporting on "wrong points of view" and instead cover positive stories that promote "socialist values".

Traditionally, Chinese state media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda. But reforms over the past decade that have allowed greater media commercialisation and some increase in editorial independence, combined with the rise of social media, have weakened government control, according to academics.

Vancouver Senior Mocked By City Staff In Voice Mail

A Vancouver senior says city staff need a lesson in etiquette this Christmas season, after she received a rude, mocking voice mail response to a query about tree fungus.

Grace Cullen, 77, called the city's 311 hotline to complain about a fungus growing on the trees outside her house, which she believes has spread to her own trees and driveway. A few days later, a staffer with the Park Board called back.

Cullen was out and the city's call went to voicemail. The staffer left a message saying she had stopped by to check the fungus, but the city wouldn't do much until the spring.

Explosion At Egypt's Daqahliya Police Station Injures Dozens

CAIRO (AP) — A strong explosion rocked a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city north of Cairo early Tuesday leaving at least 11 people dead and scores of others injured, according to state news agency and a security official.

The Middle East News Agency said the explosion took place at 1:10 morning, at Daqahliya security headquarters in the Nile Delta province of Mansour, causing collapse of parts of the five-floor building. A security official says 11 people were killed and 80 injured including the security chief of the city. Most of those killed were among policemen inside the security headquarters whose bodies were buried under the debris.

Death toll is expected to rise, the official said.

Stephen Harper and the North Pole

Santa Claus is magic. How else could he live at the North Pole, above 4000 metres of frigid water?

The North Pole, indeed, is located near the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Covered by drifting sea-ice, pummeled by high winds, it receives no sunlight for several months a year and is regularly exposed to temperatures of minus 50 degrees.

Stephen Harper may not be magic, but he knows that for many Canadians, the North Pole remains an idyllic location -- complete with Santa's workshop, elves, reindeer, and a candy cane marker.

A tale of gold, guns, greed and rat poison in the Brazilian jungle

Perhaps I should have been more careful. Last year I decided that every Christmas I would tell a winter's tale or two. Through a long history of doing stupid things, I've accumulated a stock of gripping yarns. But I failed to explain myself. Some people interpreted the tale I told last Christmas as making a political point about Travellers I had no intention of suggesting; a point that is in fact the opposite of what I believe. So please read what follows as a story and no more: true to the best of my knowledge and memory but without a polemical purpose.

Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will 'break economies'

A former British Petroleum (BP) geologist has warned that the age of cheap oil is long gone, bringing with it the danger of "continuous recession" and increased risk of conflict and hunger.

At a lecture on 'Geohazards' earlier this month as part of the postgraduate Natural Hazards for Insurers course at University College London (UCL), Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 before retiring in 2008, said that official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil had most likely peaked around 2008.

Edward Snowden: ‘I already won’

The whistleblower Edward Snowden has declared “mission accomplished”, seven months after revelations were first published from his mass leak of National Security Agency documents.

The documents, which were passed to the Guardian, as well the Washington Post and other publications, revealed how technological developments were used by the US surveillance agency to spy on its own citizens and others abroad, and also to spy on allies, such as the US on Germany and Australia on Indonesia.

‘Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom’ Is An Unsentimental But Flawed Portrait Of Nelson Mandela

When former South African president Nelson Mandela died earlier this year, it was crude but inevitable that one of the subjects of speculation would involve the fate of the latest movie to examine his life. Some of Mandela’s family were attending a screening of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, starring Idris Elba as Mandela himself, and Naomie Harris as his second wife, Winnie Madikizela, when they received news of his death. Their performances are excellent. And the film, directed by Justin Chadwick, and adapted by William Nicholson from Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, respects Mandela’s own wishes and throws off the sappy, hagiographic conventions of such biopics, and is a much better movie for it. But ultimately, Mandela’s life and his times are too big to fit comfortably in a single movie–Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is a reminder that sequels shouldn’t only be for fictional superheroes.

David Cameron acting shortsightedly over immigration, says Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa, the first democratically elected president of post-communist Poland, has criticised David Cameron for acting "irrationally and shortsightedly" over immigration from eastern Europe.

In the most high-profile attack on the prime minister by an east European politician, the Nobel prize winner who led the Solidarity trade union movement said Cameron had failed to appreciate the benefits to Britain from the end of the cold war.

Texas School Retaliated Against Student For ‘Public Lewdness’ After She Reported Rape

In 2010, a student in one Texas school district reported that she’d been raped. But instead of hearing out her claim, the school quickly dismissed her and, when police did not press charges, retaliated against her. Now, for the first time in three years, Rachel Bradshaw-Bean is telling the public about how she was treated “like a prisoner” for reporting a crime.

In an interview with NBC News, Bradshaw-Bean described how she was raped by a fellow student after following him into the band room of Henderson High School. Immediately after the incident, the then-17-year-old turned to the assistant band director, only to hear that she “work it out with the boy.” Despite a medical report and Bradshaw-Bean’s own account, police did not pursue criminal charges. “We broke it down with her version of events and his,” district attorney Michael Jimerson said. “Her claims could not be substantiated. At the end of the day, I just know that objectively, there was almost no chance of a conviction. As a prosecutor, I have to be vigilant about the cases I pursue.” He said she had used language implying “consensual sex instead of forcible rape.”

75 Alberta environment regulators now paid by oil industry

EDMONTON - More than 75 environment officers who watched over oil industry activities left the provincial environment department this fall, to take higher paying jobs with the new industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator. Another 75-plus are expected to leave in the spring.

In mid-November, the department also began handing over to the regulator thousands of files on oil industry activity pertaining to the Public Lands Act, according to documents obtained by the Journal.

Transport Canada Inspector Falsified Safety Reports But Details Under Wraps

OTTAWA - A Transport Canada inspector was fired for falsifying inspection reports but the department refuses to say anything more about the misdeeds in order to protect the former employee's privacy.

Divulging even the mode of transport involved — rail, road, air or marine — would compromise the wrongdoer's rights, the department says.

The fossil fuel wars in British Columbia and Canada

The fossil fuel industry offensive in British Columbia and across Canada is proceeding relentlessly. This is a report from some of the key fronts of the fossil fuel wars.

Tar Sands
On December 16, Kinder Morgan company made its official application to the National Energy Board for approval to build a $5.4-billion tar sands pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver harbour. The new line will use the path of its existing Trans Mountain Pipeline for part of the route, but it will diverge from that significantly in places, including in the final leg of the line into metropolitan Vancouver.

NSA review group member wants to expand data collection program

A review group hand-picked by United States President Barack Obama said last week that the National Security Agency needs to reform dozens of the ways it does business. One member of that panel, however, says the NSA doesn’t do enough.

Michael Morell, the former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a member of the five-person NSA review group compiled by Pres. Obama, said in a recent interview that the secretive US spy agency should have its powers expanded to collect not just telephone metadata, but email information as well.

US schools attempted to ban 49 books in 2013

Censorship in American schools and libraries is on the rise as more institutions attempt to ban books tackling racial and sexual issues, as well as those written by minorities, according to the anti-censorship group Kids’ Right to Read Project.

In a report by the Guardian, the KRRP stated it has dealt with 49 separate cases of book bannings across 29 states this year, up more than 50 percent compared to the previous year. November alone found the group, part of the National Coalition Against Censorship, investigating three times the typical number of book bannings in the United States.

NYPD commissioner Kelly joins powerful foreign policy think-tank

Outgoing New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will join the dominant foreign policy think-tank Council on Foreign Relations following his exit from the NYPD later this month.

Kelly, the longest-serving commissioner in New York Police Department history, will become a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the organization said Monday in a statement. He will focus on "counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and other national security issues” while working at the organization’s headquarters in Manhattan.

Utah County Adopts Jim Crow Tactic, Preventing Same-Sex Couples From Marrying

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd called for a campaign of “massive resistance” to Brown in an effort to thwart public school integration. One Virginia county even shut down its public school system entirely from 1959 until 1964 in order to prevent black children from attending school alongside white ones. Fifty years after Prince Edward County, Virginia reopened its schools, however, a Utah county clerk has apparently decided to follow its lead.

Canada's October Deficit Rings In At $2.5 Billion, Same As Year Ago

OTTAWA - The federal government ran a deficit of $2.5 billion in October, unchanged from the same month last year.

The monthly fiscal monitor said Monday that the federal government's revenue slipped by $100 million as an increase in personal income tax and other sources was offset by lower revenue from corporate taxes and the GST.

Canadian Economy: 2014 May Be Year Things Finally Get Better. Again.

OTTAWA - Wait until next year.

It's a familiar refrain for sports teams, but the premise is getting old for Canadians awaiting the return of an economy that can be counted on for jobs, solid incomes and financial security.

As far back as 2010, the Bank of Canada held out the prospect of better times in the year ahead. But unexpected events — whether it was a tsunami in Japan, a debt crisis in Europe, or political shenanigans in Washington — always took the shine off the optimism.

Sympathy for Justine Sacco

Justine Sacco deserved to lose her job for her idiotic tweet about AIDS in Africa. She worked in public relations at IAC, a big Internet company, and was responsible for an epic Internet public relations disaster. But the gleeful way she was publicly destroyed as she was stuck in the air, unaware and unable to respond or delete her social media accounts, is still chilling. We’ve built ourselves a panopticon in which any one of us can be singled out for minor transgressions and transformed into a meme for jeering global flagellation. Almost any of us could be vulnerable to a crowd-sourced inquisition.

Ten Travesties Of Justice In 2013

Every year, stories emerge that serve as a reminder that the American system of justice means injustice for too many, with some receiving little or no punishment for egregious offenses, while others receive harsh or faulty punishment for much less. Here are some of the worst injustices of 2013:

1. An Alabama blogger is still sitting in a jail cell for exercising his First Amendment rights

Blogger Roger Shuler drew the ire of the powers that be when he continued to write about the alleged extramarital affair of a prominent lawyer rumored to be running for Congress. The lawyer and son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley, Robert Riley, Jr., won a temporary restraining order that prohibited Shuler from writing anything about Riley’s alleged extramarital affair and other related stories. The order itself was almost certainly a violation of First Amendment law. But Alabama officials took the dispute a step further when they pursued him for a traffic stop and arrested him for contempt. In spite of advocacy from the ACLU and others, Shuler has now been in a jail cell for two months for his journalism.

Refugees Storm Tel Aviv, Demand Fair Treatment

Thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea, North Sudan and elsewhere in Africa marched through the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday to demand asylum from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and resist their placement in camps in the Negev Desert.

The previous Sunday, a group of 150 refugees of conflict left an open-air prison in the Negev called Holot and marched toward Jerusalem, where upon arrival they were arrested by Israeli police.
The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky reports:
Since Israel completed the construction of its wall with Egypt this year, asylum seekers stopped entering the country from the Sinai Desert. Currently Israel is home to roughly 50,000 African refugees, mostly from Eritrea and North Sudan. In 2012, the parliament approved the controversial infiltrators law that allows for the detention of all asylum-seekers for three years. However, after an extensive Supreme Court challenge, a new law came into effect on December 10 forcing the refugees into so-called residency centers such as the new Holot facility.
Journalist Max Blumenthal, author of “Goliath,” a critique of the current Israeli government published this year, wrote about the subhuman treatment of refugees in the Negev for TomDispatch.

Original Article
Author: Alexander Reed Kelly

‘PBS NewsHour’: ‘Money on the Mind’

As Truthdig reported before, a UC Berkeley study published earlier in 2013 showed links between wealth and selfish, anti-social behavior. The damning results are worth repeating. Compared with their poorer counterparts, wealthier participants consistently took more candy from children, cheated at games for petty cash prizes, lied during negotiations, stole at work and endorsed unethical behavior.

Lead researcher Paul Piff said the findings across 30 studies on thousands of people across the U.S. didn’t apply just to people who were wealthy in real life. Those who were made to feel wealthy in laboratory games began to behave in accord with the findings too.

“We found consistently with people who were the rich players that they actually started to become in their behavior as if they were like rich people in real life,” Piff told “PBS NewsHour.” “They were more likely to eat from a bowl of pretzels that was positioned off to the side. They ate with their mouths full, so they were a little ruder in their behavior to the other person.” The effect worked in the other direction too. “If I take someone who’s rich and make them feel psychologically a little less well off, they become way more generous, way more charitable, way more likely to offer help to another person.”

And in those scenarios, the “rich” subjects routinely showed a lack of insight into the conditions that enabled their success. “You, like a real rich person, start to attribute success to your own individual skills and talents,” Piff continued. “And you become less attuned to all of the other things that contributed to you being in the position you’re in.”

Furthermore, the results did not break down along political battle lines. “Our findings apply to both liberals and conservatives. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to show these patterns of results.”

Original Article
Author: Alexander Reed Kelly

How Sotomayor undermined Obama’s NSA

If Edward Snowden gave federal courts the means to declare the National Security Agency’s data-gathering unconstitutional, Sonia Sotomayor showed them how.

It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.

Here Are The 15 Democratic Senators Bucking The White House And Threatening War With Iran

WASHINGTON -- As the United States finally puts a decade of war behind it, a group of senators, including 15 Democrats, is defying the White House and threatening to push the country into a fresh war with Iran.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is leading the charge to pass legislation in January that would impose tougher sanctions on Iran, despite dire warnings from the White House, Iranian leaders, 10 Democratic committee chairs and a host of liberal groups that such an effort could sink a delicate nuclear agreement already in place. Under that Nov. 24 deal, Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions for a period of six months.

A Climate Truth-Tellers Honor Roll of 2013

It’s the closing weeks of 2013 and The Boston Globe, the recently acquired real estate of proud Red Sox owner John W. Henry, still publishes climate denial on its Opinion page. This puts Mr. Henry in fine company, so to speak, as shown in an important new study of the climate-denial funding machine from Drexel University’s Robert J. Brulle and Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Of course, Henry’s funding of his op-ed page can’t be compared with the billion-dollar ocean of right-wing anti-science money. But still.

If it’s hard to accept—at this late date, given what we know about the imminent threat of catastrophic warming—that one of America’s great newspapers still runs columns denying the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, consider for a moment some of the other forms that denial still takes, many of them far more subtle and yet, perhaps, no less dangerous.

Hotel almost $900 a night: Alberta premier on taxpayer group’s ‘naughty’ list

EDMONTON - The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has put Alberta Premier Alison Redford at the top of its provincial government “naughty” list for staying in a Washington hotel that charged $876 a night.

The federation says Redford’s posted expense claims also show she charged taxpayers for $22 coffees and a $31 hamburger while in the U.S. capital.

The CTF later said on its website that Redford's office had clarified that the $22 claimed for coffees was for pots of coffee.

Other Redford expenses in 2013 included an almost $8,000 airfare to New Brunswick and a $6,000 flight to Chicago.

The taxpayers group also singled out Thomas Lukaszuk (loo-KAH’-zuhk), who was deputy premier and advanced education minister until a recent cabinet shuffle.

It points out he spent more than $9,000 on a trip to Europe and claimed 17 flights between Edmonton and Calgary.

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis heads the “nice” list for _ quote _ “having the most boring expense claim two years’ running.”

Alberta has an expense disclosure policy which directs senior government officials to post their expenses online.

Original Article
Author: CP

While Canada makes fanciful claims, Russia acts to secure its position in the Arctic

MOSCOW — The Harper government made a far-fetched bid for international attention earlier this month by claiming the North Pole belongs to Canada.

Lost a bit in the noise was that Ottawa botched a long-established deadline for submitting evidence to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf when it said that it needed more time to scientifically link the Canadian land mass (Ellesmere Island) to the Lomonosov Ridge.