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, February 01, 2014

Top oil lobbyist was hired to help negotiate transfer of Experimental Lakes Area

OTTAWA – One of Canada’s most prominent oil lobbyists was hired to advise the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the Experimental Lakes Area, a freshwater research facility that the federal government ordered shut in 2012.

Gerry Protti, a former Encana executive and one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, was hired by the department in December 2012 on a three-month “management consulting” contract for $21,000.

Big Oil has BFF in Harper, best stay quiet (if you know what’s good for you)

The battle between Neil Young and Stephen Old is a matter of national importance – yet another swift-boating that comes with a revelation.

In the thug state Stephen Harper is busily constructing, Young has become Stephane Dion with a guitar, or Michael Ignatieff with a tambourine – just another opponent of the prime minister to be torn down. In Harper’s one-opinion world, to engage is to destroy, never to discuss.

Young’s offence was to express his opinion and to make a donation. In normal democracies, that would be no big deal. You might agree with the rock-star, you might not. Ninety-nine percent of the time, most wouldn’t even notice. 

But Canada is no longer a normal democracy.

    Governments in normal democracies don’t introduce legislation seeking the right to ask about your political beliefs when applying for a job;
    Governments in normal democracies don’t put through 40 per cent of the legislative output of parliament in one bill that effectively prevents scrutiny of its contents;
    Governments in normal democracies don’t produce endless commercials about themselves paid for by the public they are trying to indoctrinate rather than inform;
    Governments in normal democracies don’t use the full weight of official wrath against individual citizens who speak out against their policies.

Theresa May plan capable of making foreign-born terror suspects stateless

Nick Clegg has signed up to a plan drawn up by Theresa May to strip foreign-born terror suspects of British citizenship – a move that would render them stateless – if they are judged to present a threat to national security.

In a last-ditch bid to reduce a damaging Tory rebellion in the Commons on Thursday, the home secretary rushed out the plan, which was branded by Liberty as "irresponsible and unjust".

Protest-ending injunction won't stop Lubicon efforts

Members of the Lubicon Lake Nation had been preventing PennWest fracking operations in their Northern Alberta territory for three weeks before a December 16 injunction ordered them not to interfere with the company's operations for a six month period. Their peaceful assembly on an access road has now shifted to a court appeal of the injunction, citing their inherent rights to their land.
PennWest has put forth the position that they have been issued the necessary provincial permits, and are only legally required to work with the new federally recognized Lubicon Lake band chief and council. This council was elected early last year, and is separate from those engaged in the peaceful assembly and the existing Lubicon Lake Nation leadership that is not recognized by the federal government.

A Fracking Company Got This Woman Banned From Her Grocery Store

Vera Scroggins, an outspoken opponent of fracking, is legally barred from the new county hospital. Also off-limits, unless Scroggins wants to risk fines and arrest, are the Chinese restaurant where she takes her grandchildren, the supermarkets and drug stores where she shops, the animal shelter where she adopted her Yorkshire terrier, bowling alley, recycling center, golf club, and lakeshore.

In total, 312.5 square miles are no-go areas for Scroggins under a sweeping court order granted by a local judge that bars her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest drillers in the Pennsylvania natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

More than 270,000 poorest households in England face £80 council tax rise

More than 270,000 of the poorest households in England face council tax hikes of £80 a year as the government's safety net is withdrawn, a survey of local authorities has revealed.

Using freedom of information requests, research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that from April another 48 local authorities are reducing protection for vulnerable residents.

Ministers cut funding for the means-tested benefit by £500m, around 10% of the total, last April and instructed local authorities to decide how the reduced benefit should be distributed.

Report: 250 Million School Age Kids Can't Read

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — At least 250 million of the world's 650 million primary school age children are unable to read, write or do basic mathematics, according to a report Wednesday commissioned by the U.N. education agency.

The report found that 130 million are in primary school but have not achieved the minimum benchmarks for learning, and almost 120 million have spent little or no time in a classroom including 57 million youngsters who are not attending school.

Harper government used cash advance to pay for ads touting environmental credentials

OTTAWA — The federal government had to dip into a senior bureaucrat‘s special reserve fund for a cash advance before it could launch a $9.5 million advertising campaign that responded to criticism about Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2012 budget, says an internal government memorandum.
Natural Resources Canada‘s deputy minister Serge Dupont approved the $4-million cash advance for the advertising in July 2012, according to the memo obtained by Postmedia News through access to information legislation.

8 Better Ways Russia Could Have Spent Its Olympic Billions

For the record, we have nothing against the Olympics. It is a noble, ancient tradition, full of camaraderie, sportsmanship and healthy competition. (At least in theory.)
One of the downsides of this "healthy competition," though, is the increasinglyexorbitant price tag host countries pay to put on the games -- relying on private donors and taxpayers to foot the bill.

Republicans Just Won the Food Stamp War

On Wednesday morning, Republicans won a years-long battle over whether to slash or spare food stamps when the House passed the farm bill, a $500 billion piece of legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture programs for the next five years.

The farm bill has been delayed for more than two years because of a fight over cuts to the food stamp program, which is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Last June, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) forced a vote on a bill that would have cut $20 billion from SNAP. But conservatives said the cuts were not deep enough, Democrats said they were far too deep, and the bill failed, 234-195. That September, House Republicans drafted new legislation slashing $40 billion from the food stamp program. That bill passed the House with Republican votes only. After months of negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate, which wanted much lower cuts of around $4 billion, the House finally passed a farm bill 251-166 Wednesday that contains a "compromise" $9 billion in reductions to the food stamp program.

Senator Floats Idea To Penalize Low-Income Women Who Have Children

At a luncheon for the Chamber of Commerce in Lexington, KY, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) floated the idea of capping government benefits for women who have children out of wedlock, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.
While he said that preventing unplanned pregnancies should be in the hands of communities and families, he added, “Maybe we have to say ‘enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount.”‘ He went on to say, “I don’t know how you do all that because then it’s tough to tell a woman with four kids that she’s got a fifth kid we’re not going to give her any more money. But we have to figure out how to get that message through because that is part of the answer.”

Spying Scandal Taints Obama’s Rosy SOTU Story – and His Legacy

Edward Snowden was not one of the honored guests at the State of the Union speech Tuesday night. But the whistle-blower’s presence was felt, at least to a small degree.

The National Security Agency’s spying, revealed by Snowden, occupied just a small part of President Barack Obama’s speech. Most of it was feel-good stuff. Except for his defense of Obamacare and support of a higher minimum wage, only the most coldhearted Republican could object to what he said. Who could find fault with persuading businesses to hire the long-term unemployed? Or who could not want to “work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home”?

Facebook's Plan For Artificial Intelligence: Transcribe Your Calls, Decipher Your Photos

On Facebook's earnings call Wednesday afternoon, Mark Zuckerberg offered a peek at the social network's long-term plans for artificial intelligence. And just as we explained in November, Facebook hopes AI will help it more thoroughly understand the meaning of everything you share, from gauging your mood by the words in your status update, to picking out a Coke can in your photos.

Facebook has been working to expand its artificial intelligence research lab, and last month appointed a renowned researcher with expertise in deep learning to oversee it. Deep learning is a sub-field within AI that focuses on training computers to make sense of the many messy, undefined and irregular types of data we humans generate, such as when we speak, write, photograph or film. (Teaching a computer to recognize a cat, for example, turns out to be an extremely difficult problem.)


The State of the Union address is one of the few times each year when a large percentage of Americans reliably pay attention to politics. Once upon a time, as legend has it, things were different: most Americans tuned into Walter Cronkite in the evening or picked up the morning newspaper, which covered matters of national and international importance, like politics, foreign affairs, and business developments.

If analysts at Microsoft Research are correct, a startling number of American Web users are no longer paying attention to the news as it is traditionally defined. In a recent study of “filter bubbles,” Sharad Goel, Seth Flaxman, and Justin Rao asked how many Web users actually read the news online. Out of a sample of 1.2 million American users, just over fifty thousand, or four per cent, were “active news customers” of “front section” news. The other ninety-six per cent found other things to read.


The principal piece of news from Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech—apart from the appearance by Willie Robertson, of “Duck Dynasty,” wearing the longest beard to appear in the House chamber since the late nineteenth century—was President Obama’s pledge to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour (for new or renegotiated contracts). The move is important politically—an indication that the Democrats are determined to make economic opportunity the issue in this year’s elections—as well as from a policy perspective. If 2014 is going to be a “year of action,” as Obama said in his address, this is the only way it’s going to happen—by Presidential fiat. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” the President declared.

Egypt Charges 20 Al Jazeera Journalists with Aiding Terrorism

Egypt military government says it will bring terrorism charges against 20 Al Jazeera journalists — including four foreigners. The announcement, largely seen as part of the military-backed interim government's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the country, accuses the journalists of endangering national security, and joining or assisting a terrorist group. Last month, the Egyptian government designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist" organization.

The defendants are accused of "manipulat[ing] pictures" and creating "unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war that threatens to bring down the state," and of helping "the terrorist group in achieving its goals and influencing the public opinion," according to the AP's translation of the statement from Egyptian officials.

Meet Michael Grimm, the Ex-FBI Congressman Who Will Break Reporters in Half

Threatening to break a reporter in half and throw him over a balcony is only the most recent colorful incident in the long, weird career of ex-military, ex-FBI New York Rep. Michael Grimm.

The incident that caught the public's attention occurred when Michael Scotto, a reporter from New York City's NY1, was interviewing Grimm after the State of the Union on Tuesday night. This morning, Scotto offered more details of the incident. Scotto planned to ask Grimm a question about recent allegations, but Grimm instead walked away. Angry, he returned, telling Scotto, "You ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this fucking balcony." He said this in front of a rolling camera, an video of the incident quickly ended up online.

Former Liberal senators present united front; remain committed to party

OTTAWA — Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has created confusion on Parliament Hill, and within his own party,after telling 32 senators they are no longer allowed to serve as Liberals in the red chamber.

“There are no more Liberal senators,” Trudeau told reporters Wednesday, minutes after breaking the news to the senators that they would have to sit as independents and have no formal ties to the party.

Woman-hating by any other name...

There's this fun thing we've been talking about for months and years and decades now, and despite continued conversations and critiques of this behaviour, it rages on... We call it trashing or tearing down or sometimes we call it a witch hunt. And it seems particularly popular in feminist circles. It's not only a successful way to silence women, but the behaviour is sure to go unchallenged by the masses. (Misogyny never goes out of style!)
If you've been the focus of said trashing, you're likely familiar with the ways in which others readily and willfully misrepresent your words, thoughts, arguments, and life in order to silence you and beat you (virtually, verbally, metaphorically) into submission. An odd preoccupation for the "feminist" movement, to be sure.

The Banker Who Dares Argue Inequality Is Worse than Taxes

When it comes to addressing inequality, British Columbia has both advantages and disadvantages, says Greg D'Avignon, president and CEO of the Business Council of B.C.

The BCBC represents some 250 companies that employ about a quarter of working British Columbians. It recently released its B.C. Agenda For Shared Prosperity report, which argues for growing the economy before using any increased revenue to address inequality.

Why Clark Refuses to Hear What Supreme Court Tells Her (Twice)

When B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin handed down her Jan. 27 decision that found the B.C. government's legislated restrictions on bargaining class sizes unconstitutional, she did not merely uphold the position of the provincial teachers' union.

She implicitly condemned the BC Liberal governments of Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark as contemptuous of the law itself, working consistently and cynically for over a decade to exploit the justice system rather than work within it.

Angela Merkel warns US over surveillance in first speech of third term

Angela Merkel has used the first, agenda-setting speech of her third term in office to criticise America's uncompromising defence of its surveillance activities.

In a speech otherwise typically short of strong emotion or rhetorical flourishes, the German chancellor found relatively strong words on NSA surveillance, two days before the US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due to visit Berlin.

Guests at fundraiser honouring Aglukkaq get funding from her department

Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq, the minister of economic development for the North, attended a fundraiser in her honour Tuesday evening where guests included the very people who receive funding from her department.

After Aglukkaq learned that CTV News had staked out the fundraiser at an upscale Ottawa hotel, she entered through a shopping mall entrance rather than the hotel’s front doors.

Veterans say Fantino treated them with disrespect in meeting over VA office closures

A delegation of veterans is calling on Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino to resign, saying he treated them with disrespect over a scheduled meeting to discuss the closure of eight of his department’s regional offices.

The meeting had been scheduled for late Tuesday afternoon.
“I would like to call for Mr. Fantino’s resignation -- his resignation or (have him) fired. What he’s done today is unbelievable, unacceptable, and shameful,” said Ron Clarke, a 73-year-old retired sergeant who served nearly 36 years in the Canadian military.

State of the Union: Right on Wages, Wrong on Trade

President Obama wants 2014 to be a “year of action” in which the country finally begins to address a wealth gap that has made the term “income inequality” the catchphrase of the moment. And he framed the crisis well in his fifth State of the Union address:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by—let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

Obama's State of the Union: Letting the Republicans Off the Hook

In his State of the Union address last year, President Barack Obama, just weeks after winning reelection, delivered a speech with real punch. He presented a fiercely progressive agenda, and it seemed there actually might be a chance that a few items on his to-do list—immigration reform or gun safety measures—would make it through Congress, despite the continuing influence of die-hard tea partiers in the House Republican caucus. Obama forcefully declared then that he would boldly pursue important initiatives. He was making good use of postelection momentum by putting forward an ambitious game plan. It was a call to action that embodied the currents of the moment. The speech was big. A year later, Obama has downsized.

Obama’s State of the Union 2014 Speech: Full Text

President Obama played on themes of harmony and unity for the nation, while issuing warning notes to his congressional combatants and (gesturing at) reprimanding Wall Street’s high-rollers, in his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night.

As expected, the president played up his strengths and took credit for what he trotted out as evidence of America’s recovery—“the lowest unemployment rate in over five years” and “a rebounding housing market”—and claimed that after the last half-decade, coinciding with his time in office, “the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than ay other nation on Earth.”

Vladimir Putin tells Brussels to stay out of Ukraine's political crisis

President Vladmir Putin warned Europe to keep its hands off Ukraine on Tuesday, as Brussels sent its top foreign policy envoy to Kiev to try to mediate in the 10-week stand-off between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on the streets.

Russia's intervention in Brussels followed Yanukovych's biggest concession to the opposition, the sacking of his hardline prime minister and government and a promise to repeal draconian laws criminalising protest and freedom of speech.

Huge swath of GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal, says top lawyer

GCHQ's mass surveillance spying programmes are probably illegal and have been signed off by ministers in breach of human rights and surveillance laws, according to a hard-hitting legal opinion that has been provided to MPs.

The advice warns that Britain's principal surveillance law is too vague and is almost certainly being interpreted to allow the agency to conduct surveillance that flouts privacy safeguards set out in the European convention on human rights (ECHR).

Obama's Big-Time Small Ball

WASHINGTON –- The polls say that President Barack Obama is at a low point, but you couldn’t tell it from the tour de force of his State of the Union speech.

He was standing at the podium, but seemed to have a spring in his step. His smile was winning; his enthusiasm for America’s future infectious.

Masking the modesty of his proposals in the energy and confidence of his presence, the president launched the pivotal year of his second term with a shrewdly relentless focus on the use of his own power to change policy and convene, shame and inspire other sectors of society.