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, April 30, 2014

Half Of New York City Is Living In Near Poverty

Despite a rise in employment, nearly half of New York City's population is living near poverty levels -- a problem that is particularly striking in the city's Asian population, which has surpassed Hispanics as the city's poorest group, according to a new report conducted by the Center for Economic Opportunity.

Senate Republicans Block Minimum Wage Bill

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats could not advance their bill to raise the minimum wage on Wednesday, failing by a vote of 54-42 to clear the filibuster threshold.

The vote was an early hurdle for legislation that Democrats have put at the top of their economic agenda for the year. Even if the measure eventually garners the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate, it still faces long odds in the GOP-controlled House, where Republicans have shown no interest in bringing it to the floor.

BP Well Sprays Crude Oil Mist Over 27 Acres Of Alaskan Tundra

A large pipe attached to a BP-owned well pad on Alaska’s North Slope has sprayed an oily mist of natural gas, crude oil, and water over an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields, state officials confirmed Wednesday.
The discovery at BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil field operation comes one week after federal scientists released a report warning that the United States is woefully unprepared to handle oil spills in the Arctic.

Are Israeli Apartheid Laws Affecting US Media?

Given the recent statement made by Secretary Kerry about apartheid and Israel and the subsequent walk back, there was a great deal of discussion around the issue in the mainstream media in the last 48 hours.

You'd think the media might want to speak to some Palestinians, you know, those people suffering from the very system in question here, whatever you want to call it. It would be odd, for example, for network news shows to talk about racism without talking to people of color or talking about misogyny without talking to any women. Well, let me revise this, this would be odd in most places but Fox News, where we've come to expect such things.

Paul Ryan Won’t Let Poor People Testify At Hearing About Poverty

On Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) will hold a hearing on poverty called “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines.” While it will feature three experts, none of them are actually low-income Americans who struggle to get by.
But that’s not for lack of trying from some poor people themselves. Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy project that shares the stories of low-income Americans, has tried and failed twice to have some of their members who live in poverty speak at Ryan’s poverty hearings. “When Ryan had his first hearing last July,” Director Mariana Chilton told ThinkProgress, “we wrote to his office to see if we could testify, but they weren’t interested.” While Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) tried to get one of their low-income members to speak, it was too late. They were asked to submit written testimony instead.

Amid oil-by-rail profit bonanza, safety and climate concerns loom large

On April 23, Canada’s minister of transport, Lisa Raitt, announced changes to railway transportation regulations in Canada that she says will make safe the rapidly growing transport of crude oil and Alberta tar sands bitumen in North America.

Raitt’s changes come in response to citizen pressure following a string of spectacular oil train crashes in the past nine months, most particularly the crash in Lac Mégantic, Quebec on July 6, 2013 that killed 47 people.

Striking Down Wisconsin Voter ID Law, Judge Finds ‘No Rational Person Could Be Worried’ About Voter Fraud

A federal judge invalidated Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement Tuesday, in at least the third court ruling to strike down the law.
The ruling is an overwhelming win for plaintiffs, who argued that the voter ID law suppresses ballot access in the state. And while the decision could be overturned on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the law has also already been blocked by two state court decisions, one of which is still in effect. In March, Gov. Scott Walker (R) threatened to go so far as calling a special session to pass a modified law so that some ID provision is in place during the November election.

Why The Fair Elections Act Is A Very Good Thing For Rich Politicians

OTTAWA — As MPs prepare for a second day of clause-by-clause debate over amendments to the Fair Elections Act, The Huffington Post Canada looks at how the Conservative government’s election bill increases the influence of money in the political process – and how it fails to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding how political parties spend their money.

Government Requests For Personal Data From Telecoms Top 1.2 Million Per Year

OTTAWA - The federal government asks Canadian telecom companies for private customer information about 1.2 million times each year, documents released Tuesday by the federal privacy commissioner's office show.

It is unclear how many of those requests are made without a warrant. But figures provided to the office in late 2011 show wireless telecom companies complied with the government's requests for customer data at least 784,756 times.

Nigel Wright Clarification Needed From RCMP, NDP Says

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has been asked to explain why the Mounties declined to lay charges against Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, over Wright's payment to suspended Senator Mike Duffy.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus has questioned Paulson about whether investigators discussed that decision with the director of public prosecutions or with anyone from Attorney General Peter MacKay's office.

F-35 Maintenance Costs Could Double Over Lifetime Of Program: Expert

OTTAWA - A new report by two think-tanks says the operating costs of Canada's proposed new stealth fighter could be considerably higher than what Harper government is acknowledging — and perhaps even expecting.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Rideau Institute estimate the current numbers for the F-35 could be off by between $12 billion and $81 billion, depending on a variety of factors and risks over 40 years.

Disposable workers: Bigger profits from lower wages

In her much-discussed Walrusprofile of Jason Kenney, award-winning journalist Marci McDonald questions how well immigration policy designed as part of Harper Conservative political strategy is playing out.
Most observers of Canadian politics know about efforts led by Kenney to woo "hard-working Canadians" -- recent immigrants -- to expand the base of the governing party. McDonald lays out problems in the Kenney/Harper approach that could come back to haunt the Conservatives at election time.

Louisiana About To Make It Illegal For Homeless People To Beg For Money

If you are poor, live in Louisiana, and have the audacity ask someone else for help, be prepared to spend up to six months in jail.
A new bill to outlaw panhandling is quickly moving its way through the Louisiana legislature.HB 1158 would criminalize solicitation, making it a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $200 and up to six months in jail. The bill is targeted not just at panhandlers, but hitchhikers and those engaged in prostitution as well.

Iowa Senate Candidates: Federal Judges Must Follow Biblical Law

Three out of four Iowa Republican candidates for U.S. Senate said Friday they would block any federal judge appointee who did not have a “biblical view of justice” or follow “natural law” as handed down from God.
The discussion came up at a forum hosted by The Family Leader, an organization thatlavished money on a 2010 campaign to oust the Iowa justices who ruled that marriage equality was required by Iowa’s constitution.

Shocking Number Of Innocent People Sentenced To Death, Study Finds

More than 4 percent of inmates sentenced to death in the United States are probably innocent, according to a study published Monday that sent shock waves across the anti-death penalty community.

What the researchers call a "conservative estimate" about the number of wrongfully convicted death row inmates is more than double the percentage of capital defendants who were exonerated during more than three decades that were studied. That means innocent people are languishing behind bars, according to the study.

Pipeline push-back: What's behind the rising opposition to Canada's big oil pipelines

High-stakes oil pipeline projects have taken a public lashing lately, whether in a plebiscite in British Columbia, more protests in Washington, D.C., or from a former U.S. president and several Nobel laureates coming out strongly against billion-dollar plans to move the diluted  bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to international markets.

The anti-pipeline pressure has been mounting for a while, but observers say that the ramped-up opposition to the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL proposals is no coincidence.

How The Supreme Court Could Give Police Easier Access To Everything In Your Phone

By age 23, 30 percent of Americans have been arrested, according to one recent estimate. For Hispanic males, that figure climbs to 44 percent. And for black men, almost 50 percent. By these statistics, none of us can be sure that we are safe from the consequences of an arrest, and one of the most central consequences is an invasion of privacy.
When the cuffs come out, how much privacy are we willing to sacrifice? We already sacrifice a lot. As a rule, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires police to obtain a warrant before searching a person or his home or possessions. But since at least the 1920s, that requirement has been eliminated in what is known as a “search incident to arrest.” What the rule means is, once a person is arrested, a cop can search anything on that person.

Ottawa keeps ‘public report’ on fighter jets under wraps

Ottawa is refusing to release what it calls a “public report” on the strengths and weaknesses of the four fighter jets in line to replace Canada’s fleet of CF-18s, stating it wants to make its own decision before disclosing the information.

While the document was recently completed, and it is specifically intended for public consumption, the government plans to keep it secret until the cabinet has made its choice on the acquisition of new fighter jets. Without the document, it will be harder for the public and interested parties to hold an informed debate on the choices that are currently facing the government.

Feds ‘aware’ of climate change risks, but IPCC authors say politics delaying action

Canadian researchers involved in drafting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent reports say that the federal government knows about the dangers of climate change, but the political process is discouraging serious action both here at home and abroad.

The IPCC Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, released at the end of March, warns that the world is unprepared for many of the impacts of climate change, including flooding from increased precipitation and rising sea levels; wildfires and water shortages due to extreme droughts; increasingly powerful storm surges; and increased outbreaks of vector-borne diseases as a result of ecological disruptions.

Robocalls report clearest sign yet of our democracy’s decay

Kinsley’s Law: “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal — the scandal’s what is legal”.

I guess Elections Canada must have a selfie-video of Michael Sona looking into his cell-phone and cackling,”I just sent a hundred people to the wrong poll and I intended to do it…hahahaha.”

Fair Elections Act back on fast track after 45 amendments submitted

The divisive Fair Elections Act has resumed its fast-track passage through Parliament, after the federal government submitted 45 changes in a bid to quell opposition to the bill.

The amendments were submitted to the committee and obtained by The Globe as MPs returned Monday from a two-week break, and are among roughly 275 presented by MPs of all parties. They all must be considered and voted on by Thursday evening – a short window that all but guarantees only cursory consideration of many changes.

Canada's game commodified. CBC suffers

Ice is in our blood. 
Through the years, hockey has helped define this nation. Like the countless lakes and rivers that carve the land just begging to be skated upon once frozen, the collective love for hockey connects Canadians.
As the country has evolved, hockey has endured, seeping into the very core of the culture. The game is treasured. The countless Stanley Cups. The '72 Summit Series. The gold medals in Vancouver and Sochi. What happens on the ice is a point of national pride, along with names like Gretzky and Messier and Henderson and Crosby.

BC Ombudsperson slams province on environmental protection

Using careful but explicit language worthy of an international diplomat, BC’s Ombudsperson, Kim Carter, has dissected and laid bare the false promises of environmental protection laid out in BC's Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR). She has politely but firmly scolded the government, and recommended 25 ways that redress must be made.

But Ms. Carter is a dutiful officer of the Legislature, appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor, and paid out of government coffers. As a result, she is unwilling or unable to directly challenge Christy Clark’s addiction to the “professional reliance model”, which lies at the core of the government’s misdemeanours (more on that later).

Harper's dangerous petro-politicking with rail safety

There was more smoke and mirrors on Canada's rail tracks last week when the Harper Conservative government finally announced their long-awaited changes to rail safety 292 days after the preventable Lac-Mégantic disaster.
Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt announced that the federal government plans to phase out or retrofit older DOT-111 tank cars over the next three years. Further, a certain 5,000 tank cars that are the least crash resistant will be removed within 30 days by ministerial order. Mandatory emergency response plans will be required for all crude oil shipments, some reduction in speed of trains carrying dangerous goods, and changes to insurance liability. Let's also remember both Liberal and Conservative governments have known for over 20 years that these tankers were unsafe, and both made a conscious choice not to act until tragedy struck (and still could again).  While some of the new measures are a slight shift in the right direction, despite the optics these are simply minimal changes that won't create the significant actions needed to overhaul current practices.

How the internet hurts political reporting and breeds spin

The CBC's Neil Macdonald last week posted a piece bemoaning the lack of clarity in today's communications, whether it be political or academic. It got me thinking about my own views on political reporting and communication.

In my old life as director of communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I would often quip that I would love to have had my job in the days before smartphones and the internet. With 700 to 800 emails and dozens of calls a day, the life of a modern political communicator is full-on, to say the least.

This Is How Racist Your Air Is

Earlier this month, environmental scientists at the University of Minnesota came out with a startling nationwide study showing that different demographic groups are exposed to drastically different amounts of air pollution each year. The study overlaid US Census data with exposure levels of a pollutant called nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, which is created by combustion in vehicles and power plants. The results: Each year, people of color are exposed to 46 percent more NO2 than white people.

Egypt Mass Trial: Judge Sentences 683 To Death In Single Mass Trial

MINYA, Egypt (AP) — The Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader and more than 680 other people were sentenced to death Monday stemming from last year's post-coup violence in the latest mass trial that was denounced in the West and by human rights groups as contrary to the rule of law.

In a separate ruling Monday, a court banned the April 6 youth group — one of several that engineered the 2011 uprising against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak that set off nearly three years of unrest. It ordered the confiscation of the group's offices.

The Crime of Peaceful Protest

NEW YORK—Cecily McMillan, wearing a red dress and high heels, her dark, shoulder-length hair stylishly curled, sat behind a table with her two lawyers Friday morning facing Judge Ronald A. Zweibel in Room 1116 at the Manhattan Criminal Court. The judge seems to have alternated between boredom and rage throughout the trial, now three weeks old. He has repeatedly thrown caustic barbs at her lawyers and arbitrarily shut down many of the avenues of defense. Friday was no exception.

Canada Revenue Agency Fails To Create New Strategy To Fight Tax Cheats

OTTAWA - After a three-year effort, the Canada Revenue Agency has failed to produce a new national strategy to combat the underground economy — despite repeated requests to do so from cash-starved provinces.

The provinces, especially Ontario and British Columbia, have been pressing the agency since late 2010 to update its strategy for extracting taxes from the underground economy, estimated to be worth more than $35 billion annually.

Canadian Wage Growth ‘Missing In Action': TFW Program To Blame?

A recent report in the New York Times asserted that Canada may have the highest median income of any major developed country, but many economists point out the country's wage gains in recent years have been less than impressive.

In a client note this week, BMO chief economist Doug Porter wrote that wage gains in Canada are “MIA,” or missing in action.

Will Alberta's Oilsands Become 'Stranded Assets'?

On first impression, Matt Patsky seems about as average as portfolio managers come: solidly middle-aged, glasses, crisp-collared shirt and the carefully measured speech of someone who deals with a lot of money. Yet when I met earlier this month with Patsky, who is the Boston-based CEO of Trillium Asset Management, I was struck by the framed Mahatma Gandhi quote hanging on his corner office wall. "The Earth has enough for everyone's need," it read, "but not for everyone's greed."

Booming Alberta Faces Growing Rural Homeless Problem

Most homeless people in Alberta live in Calgary or Edmonton, but a growing number can now be found in rural areas as well.

New research funded by the provincial government suggests about 3,000 people outside of the two cities are homeless — and that doesn't vibe with how most people view rural areas.

Exclusive: Kerry Warns Israel Could Become ‘An Apartheid State’

The secretary of state said that if Israel doesn’t make peace soon, it could become ‘an apartheid state,’ like the old South Africa. Jewish leaders are fuming over the comparison.

Pierre Poilievre Is One Of The Most Polarizing Figures In Federal Politics

OTTAWA - "Politics should not be a lifelong career," a 20-year-old Pierre Poilievre once wrote, "and elected officials should not be allowed to fix themselves in the halls of power of a nation."

But fix himself in the halls of Parliament he did, and politics is the only real career Poilievre has known.

Why Elizabeth Warren Left The GOP

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told George Stephanopoulos Sunday that she left the Republican Party in the mid-90s because it was tilting the playing field in favor of Wall Street.
Warren has quickly become a populist hero to liberals.

Canadians’ rightful access to public information being blocked, experts say

Want to read federal drug reviews for high-profile medications, including antidepressants, sleep aids and diabetes drugs? Too bad.
Want to know how much Canada Post shelled out in overtime during last year’s mail delivery backlog? Sorry, that’s commercially sensitive information .
Same goes for the details of how Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the company implicated in the Lac-Mégantic train disaster, assured Transport Canada it could operate a one-man crew safely.

In Poorest States, Political Stigma Is Depressing Participation in Health Law

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Inside the sleek hillside headquarters of Valley Health Systems, built with a grant from the health care law, two employees played an advertisement they had helped produce to promote the law’s insurance coverage for young, working-class West Virginians.

The ads ran just over 100 times during the recent six-month enrollment period. But three conservative groups ran 12 times as many, to oppose the law and the local Democratic congressman who voted for it.

US insists on going after reporters who publish leaked info 'not violation of press freedom'

Announcing its third annual Free the Press campaign to highlight censorship and oppression of journalists “around the world,” the US State Department made clear it doesn’t consider press freedom issues in the United States the same way it does abroad.

The aim of the third annual Free the Press campaign is to focus attention on “journalists or media outlets that are censored, attacked, threatened, or otherwise harassed because of their reporting.”

Aborting equal access rights

It’s not surprising that access to abortion is restrictive when you live in a place led by a man whose father is a Christian minister. 
However, when that place is New Brunswick and the man in question is your premier, David Alward – well, now, there’s a surprise.

The US Should Accept Palestinian Unity

While Palestinians celebrated the reconciliation agreement signed between Fateh and Hamas, the reactions in Washington and Israel were reminiscent of the biblical "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

American political commentators were dumbfounded by the news of the pact, terming it "a dark day," "a setback for peace" or "a serious complication." Members of Congress, meanwhile, were uniform in their threats to withhold aid if the Palestinian Authority goes forward with the unity arrangement.

Fast-Food CEOs Make 1,200 Times As Much As One of Their Workers—and They Want to Keep It That Way

David Novak is the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the parent company that runs Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. Last year, while Yum! Brands and other restaurant companies lobbied against raising the minimum wage, Novak made at least $22 million—more than 1,000 times what the average fast-food worker makes in a year. In return for paying him so much, Yum! got a tax break.

Corporate Canada Pays Low Taxes But Contributes In 'Lots Of Other Ways'

Corporate Canada is often derided for not paying its fair share in taxes, but one of its top advocates argues that the corporate income tax rate doesn't give a full picture of how Canadian businesses contribute.

"Corporate Canada pays governments in lots of other ways. They pay different levels of governments, they pay property taxes and they pay a variety of fees and charges that in many cases actually exceeds what they pay in corporate income tax," said John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, in a feature interview with Michael Enright on The Sunday Edition.

The high cost of housing the prime minister

OTTAWA — The official residence of the prime minister, 24 Sussex Drive, is famously falling apart.

It urgently needs millions of dollars of repairs, but the current occupant, Stephen Harper, has resisted, perhaps fearing the political optics of spending large sums of taxpayers’ dollars to fix up the house he and his family call home.

Protests held against Harper government’s controversial elections bill

TORONTO - Protests are scheduled for cities across Canada today against the Harper government's contentious elections bill.

A few dozen people clutched signs and unrolled a banner during a demonstration in downtown Toronto.

Organizer Anna Goldfinch says that despite the Tories' pledge on Friday to strip the bill of some of its most contentious aspects, such as a residency ID requirement, the proposed legislation still goes too far and should be scrapped outright.

How Amazon Built Its Empire On One Tax Loophole has reshaped American commerce in just two decades. But how much of the online shopping empire’s success owes to innovation and entrepreneurial genius, and how much of it stems from cheating the system?
Without the loopholes it uses to avoid state sales taxes, new research shows, Amazon loses a substantial portion of its customers’ spending to alternative retailers. In five states that closed the sales tax loopholes that make Amazon’s prices more competitive than what in-state retailers can charge, the site’s sales fell by 9.5 percent.

Here's How 'Big Data' Can Really Hurt The Poor

WASHINGTON (AP) — A White House review of how the government and private sector use large sets of data has found that such information could be used to discriminate against Americans on issues such as housing and employment even as it makes their lives easier in many ways.

Who Killed Anna Mae?

On Feb. 24, 1976, a rancher in South Dakota was installing a fence on land situated along the edge of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when he spotted a body at the bottom of a 30-foot embankment. The badly decomposed corpse, in jeans and a maroon ski jacket, lay with knees pushed up toward chest. A coroner later determined that the woman had been dead for more than two months. The back of her head was matted with blood, and there was a single bullet wound at the base of her skull. She had been shot at close range.

It would take investigators a week to identify the body as that of 30-year-old Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a principal in the American Indian Movement. AIM was the country’s most visible, and radical, advocacy group for Native American civil rights. The traveling band of militants had forcibly taken over the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington to demand, among other things, the return of valuable federal land to indigenous tribes. “We’re the landlord of this country,” one slogan went. “And the rent is due.”

Afghanistan Special Investigator Drops Hammer On State Department Waste

ISTANBUL -- The special investigator tasked with assessing America's deployment of resources in Afghanistan over the past decade launched a trio of damning new reports this week, slamming the State Department for its shortcomings and waste in a slew of projects.

One of the reports, which were released on Thursday by the office of the Special Investigator for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), points out that the State Department has distributed nearly 70 percent of its development funds to a single, controversial American contractor, DynCorp.

Amazon UK boss: How can following the law be unfair?

Christopher North is one of the most powerful figures in British retail, but for a period he was better known as a brand of shower gel marketed under the tagline of "rich, thick and full of it".

When the brand was trademarked by the angry cosmetics firm Lush, North, the UK boss of Amazon, was said to be "hopping mad". On Friday, however, the New Yorker who has run Amazon's British operations since 2011, laughed off the stunt: "My wife said to me, if they're planning to sell beauty products, they probably shouldn't put your picture on the package," he said.

Ukraine crisis: G7 countries agree to intensify sanctions against Russia

The leaders of G7 major economies have agreed to intensify sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, with a US official warning some punitive measures could be imposed as early as Monday.

In a statement, the British prime minister, David Cameron, the US president, Barack Obama, the French prime minister, François Hollande, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and counterparts from Italy, Japan, and Canada expressed "deep concern at the continued efforts by separatists backed by Russia to destabilise eastern Ukraine".

Supreme Court: Federal Government Can't Unilaterally Reform Senate

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper threw in the towel on Senate reform Friday after the Supreme Court slammed the door on his hopes of a quick fix for the scandal-plagued upper house.

The prime minister sounded resigned to the status quo as he gave up on more than three decades of championing an elected Senate, washing his hands of what has repeatedly been a central plank in Conservative election platforms.

Harper said he had no option left after the high court concluded that no major change can be made to the much-maligned Senate without a constitutional amendment supported by most or all the provinces.

North Korea Faces Severe Shortfall In Foreign Food Aid

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A funding crunch for aid to North Korea has become so severe 500,000 rural schoolchildren are as of this month no longer receiving assistance and aid to millions more could soon dry up, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The report underscores the flight of international donors to countries with less political baggage and more willingness to let aid workers do their jobs.

Flash Floods In Northern Afghanistan Kill At Least 75, Damage Thousands Of Homes

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Flash floods after heavy rains in northern Afghanistan killed at least 75 people and damaged thousands of homes, leaving authorities scrambling to help survivors in the remote region, officials said.

The rains began late Thursday and continued into Friday in four provinces. The worst affected appeared to be Jawzjan, where at least 36 people were killed, according to police spokesman Abdul Manan Raoufi. Other officials put the death toll there at 43.