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.]

Friday, May 30, 2014

Snowden's Odd Email to the NSA Deepens the Mystery

So you're in the middle of the biggest secrets-blowing caper in the history of the known universe. You're one of a small number of people who have access to the most classified information about the most classified spying programs of the most powerful superpower—and you're swiping tens of thousands of pages of these secrets and preparing to hand them over to journalists. You've already made contact with your recipients—and it was harder than you thought to do so. You've switched jobs, moving from one contractor to another, in order to snatch more of the documents you want revealed to the unknowing public. You're scraping NSA servers. You're watching your back. Oh damn, you are certainly watching your back. You know the people you work for can monitor who gets in and out of the system, and though you are one of the few with the keys to the crypt, you have to be worried—scratch that, paranoid, and rightfully so—that someone's going to wise up. You make a slip—they might be watching right now—and the alarms go off. And it's no more Hawaiian paradise. It's federal prison. But you're committed. You have your plan. You're about to send a security kit to an American reporter who lives in Brazil and works for a British outlet so you can communicate via a safe and encrypted mechanism. You're keeping all of this secret from your live-in girlfriend. You're thinking about your getaway. Iceland, maybe Iceland. You know that you are engaged in risky business. You could end up changing the world. You could end up dead. Yes, dead. On the run, some times things happens. It's possible. Oh, what was that sound? Did something weird just happen with your laptop? Did a strange car drive past the house not once but twice? Man, this is intense.

Fed’s cut funding for very successful first nations program

MFNERC has learned about the end of federal government funding for Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate (WVC) after five years of operationand a 3.8 million dollar investment. This decision comes during a period of continued growth and success for WVC. Since its inception, the Collegiate has granted over 660 credits to its nearly 1,000 enrolled students. One more year of funding was expected through the federal government’s Education Partnership Program, with hopes for continued funding beyond this time period.

Harper government attempts to quietly defund national literacy

Without an announcement or any consultation, it appears that the federal government has decided to quietly collapse Canada's national literacy and essential skills network. This is happening at the same time as community literacy programs across Canada experience a seismic shift and uncertainty of sustained operations, while millions of dollars in federal funding is being effectively diverted from federal-provincial Labour Market Agreements and redirected to the unproven Canada Job Grant program.
Canada's literacy and essential skills sector is largely comprised of people who work to help others, especially our most vulnerable citizens. Many adult literacy practitioners are now uncertain about their future, and the futures of those they help. There have been increasing reports of staff layoffs in community literacy agencies across the country over the past few months, and we know that this is also happening in many of the federally funded national and provincial literacy organizations, including CLLN.

From Elections to Mass Movements: How Wealthy Elites Are Hijacking Democracy All Over the World

Mass street protests are usually seen as a hallmark of democratic aspirations. And elections are meant to be a culmination of such aspirations, affording people the opportunity to choose their own leaders and system of government. But in country after country these days, the hallmarks of democracy are being dangerously subverted and co-opted by powerful elites. The question is, are we recognizing what is happening under our noses? Three examples unfolding right now are indicators of this trend: Thailand, Ukraine and Egypt.

House GOP Backs Tax Breaks That Add $300 Billion To Deficit

WASHINGTON -- The House Ways and Means Committee pushed ahead a set of tax breaks Thursday that would add another $304 billion to the deficit over 10 years, on top of $310 billion in loopholes it voted for last month.

If all the measures were to become law, they would wipe out the deficit savings Congress passed less than two years ago in the deal that headed off the so-called fiscal cliff. In that deal, Bush-era tax cuts were allowed to expire only on income above $400,000, returning about $600 billion to the treasury over 10 years.

Vancouver Council Supports 'Sanctuary' for Undocumented Migrants

At the base of the back-alley staircase into a Vancouver health clinic, two men lay the groundwork for an enclosed community garden plot and introduce themselves with an eager "¡Hola!" Upstairs, Latin American women and men cook fresh tortillas for lunch while they ready the clinic's new digs, working among unpacked moving boxes and furniture stacked like Jenga blocks.

Around the corner, nurse and migrant advocate Byron Cruz introduces The Tyee to a Mexican woman who made headlines after a midwife delivered her baby at home because, as an undocumented immigrant in the city without insurance, she couldn't afford the $10,000 hospital bill and feared deportation if caught.

First Nations education: No legislation, no money and no plan

Both First Nations education and the Assembly of First Nations face uncertain futures after an extraordinary Chiefs' meeting and the predictable Conservative government reaction that followed.
Gathered in Ottawa on Tuesday for a special assembly, Chiefs and their proxies rejected the Conservatives' Bill C-33 but called for the government to start flowing the $1.9 billion in new education funding the Prime Minister had promised.

Minimum wage and poverty are not 'white wine' elitist issues: How right-wing New Democrats have reframed the debate

In an absurd series of insulting and ugly attacks upon, among other people, the co-founder of this very website, a variety of what must be termed as ONDP apologists, have attempted to frame the concerns of the so-called"Group of 34" as a form of elitism by academics who are supposedly not really in the NDP anyway.
The "Group of 34," which as noted, counts among its members rabble's Judy Rebick, also includes community activists and former NDP candidates such as Winnie Ng and Cathy Crowe, and feminist activist Michele Landsberg, penned a private letter, later leaked, that expressed concern over the path being charted by the party they have in many cases devoted much of their lives to.

Prime Minister’s Office one of least trusted of federal institutions: poll

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Prime Minister’s Office is one of the least trusted branches of the federal government, a new poll has found.

The Forum Research survey of the trust Canadians have in federal institutions found only one place that rivals the level of distrust Canadians have toward Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s PMO—the Senate.

And, in the battle over public opinion during the recent dispute between Prime Minister Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, it appears the Supreme Court came out on top—with a public trust level four times higher than that of the PMO.

Ontario Election 2014: Tim Hudak Defends Party's Jobs Math

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. - Tim Hudak was forced to defend his "Million Jobs Plan" for Ontario on Wednesday as a growing number of economists questioned the math behind the promise, which lies at the centre of the Progressive Conservative leader's election platform.

Despite being hammered repeatedly on the issue, Hudak was adamant that the PC figures were right.

PM's Pick Of Daniel Therrien As Privacy Watchdog Alarms NDP

NDP Leader Thomas Muclair is firmly rejecting the Conservatives' choice for the next privacy commissioner, sending a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to lay out his concerns about the appointment.

The government has proposed Daniel Therrien, who is currently the assistant deputy attorney general for public safety, defence and immigration.

In the letter to Harper, obtained by CBC News, Mulcair tells the prime minister that he has serious concerns with the choice.

CBC Chair's 2010 Letter To Harper Slams Tory Attacks On Broadcaster

OTTAWA - The Conservative party's public attacks on the CBC have been "wilfully destructive" and undermine its independence, says a newly uncovered letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper from the broadcaster's Tory-appointed former chair.

The sharply worded 2010 letter, released last month under the Access to Information Act, alleges that unwarranted attacks that year "disparaged the Crown Corporation in order to solicit political donations for the Conservative Party."

Silicon Valley Firms Are Even Whiter and More Male Than You Thought

After stalling for years, Google finally released data on the diversity of its workforce Wednesday, admitting that the company is "miles from where want to be." Lazlo Bock, Google's senior vice president of people operations, noted that "being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution," adding that the company is supporting code education among historically underrepresented groups.

Has the Supreme Court Finally Found Its Way or Will the Mania Continue?

Has the Supreme Court suddenly found the middle of the road on civil liberties as it heads down the home stretch of the current term? That’s the big question in the aftermath of two high-profile decisions released this week. The first, Hall v. Florida, reverses the death sentence imposed on a 68-year-old mentally disabled man. The second, Wood v. Moss, dismisses a lawsuit that had been brought by anti-Bush demonstrators against Secret Service agents on technical grounds, while recognizing the fundamental right to protest.

It's Actually Pretty Much Impossible To Quit Amazon

You may want to quit shopping at Amazon these days, considering how the whole blow-up with Hachette is going.

Amazon has come under fire for its handling of e-book negotiations with Hachette, the fourth-largest U.S. book publisher. Amazon reportedly wants to pay less to Hachette, but the publisher won't budge. While negotiations stall, Amazon has made it extremely difficult for its customers to buy some Hachette books, outraging some authors and readers. Amazon also has been criticized for poor pay and working conditions for warehouse workers and delivery drivers.

Chinese Court Conducts Mass Sentencing In Front Of Stadium Audience

BEIJING (AP) — In a stadium filled with 7,000 people, a Chinese court announced guilty verdicts for 55 people on charges of terrorism, separatism and murder as the government tries to display its determination to combat unrest in the troubled northwest region.

The public event was a show of force in Xinjiang after 43 people were killed last week in an attack at a vegetable market in the regional capital, Urumqi.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt's Former Military Chief, Wins Election By Landslide

CAIRO (AP) — Nearly a year after he ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was elected president by a landslide of 92 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results released by his campaign Thursday. But questions over the authorities' drive to boost turnout threatened to stain his victory.

New details emerged of a frantic government effort to get officials, town mayors and prominent families in southern provinces where voting was low to push up turnout during the three-day election amid a boycott by el-Sissi's Islamist foes.

Google employs just 30% women and 2% black people, report shows

The lack of diversity among Google's workforce has been highlighted by the company’s first diversity report, which reveals that only 30% of its staff are female.

The search company’s US workforce also comprises 61% white people, with Asian staff making up 30%, Hispanic people 3% and black staff just 2% of employees.

The data highlights the lack of representation of women and ethnic groups in technology companies, despite a much more diverse customer base for mainstream technology products and services.

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion Designed to Carry Much More Oil

Kinder Morgan needs a social license to build its heavy oil pipeline. You would think the company would do everything possible to build the public's trust. Instead, the Texas-based company's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is almost 50 per cent bigger than what we've been led to believe.

The company tells us their project would lead to an additional 540,000 barrels a day of oil sands diluted bitumen and 29 more Aframax oil tankers a month through the Salish Sea and Burrard Inlet. This is the "applied for" capacity in the company's 15,000-page expansion application filed with the National Energy Board, and the capacity undergoing environmental assessment and public interest review.

UK's richest can save £18,680 a year as poorest 40% spend more than they earn

The richest 20% of the population in Britain will have, on average, the spare sum of £18,680 to put into their savings this year, while the poorest 20% will spend £1,910 more than they earn, latest figures suggest.

In research published this Thursday, the Post Office said saving was still being driven by the wealthiest people while lower earners were suffering a debt crisis. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which undertook the analysis, this trend has been happening for the past 12 years.

Was the Constitution Designed to Benefit the Economic Elite?

One of the great debates surrounding the American political history is whether the U.S. Constitution really was designed to protect all of the people against the power of government and its excesses or whether it was written to serve the interests of the people and groups who wielded the economic power in the United States after the Revolution. In other words was the American Constitution a democratic constitution or was it a means by which a dominant economic and social class maintained its power over a subordinate class of citizens?
The U.S. Constitution was written by men who represented money, public securities, manufacturing, and trade and shipping. In other words, Big Money and Big Business and like the "captains" of industry of today, they wanted to pay as few taxes as possible. While maintaining their status as the Elite of politics and society.

The Head of the IMF Says Inequality Threatens Democracy. Here Are 7 Charts Proving She's Right.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama promised to devote 2014 to tackling inequality. When French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century was released in March, it pushed the problem of growing income disparity further into the global spotlight. In April, Pope Francis tweeted, "Inequality is the root of social evil." Now Christine LaGarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund—best known for lending money to developing countries on the condition that the those states make policy changes—is taking on inequality too, warning in a speech Tuesday that rising inequality is threatening global financial stability, democracy, and human rights.

How a Far-Right, Anti-Immigrant Party Became France’s ‘New Normal’

The results are in and they are bleak, even, according to many, cataclysmic: for the first time in recorded history, the far-right National Front came first in a national election in France, garnering 25 percent of the votes in Sunday’s European Parliamentary race. France has now the distinguished privilege of being the only European nation, save Denmark, where a violently anti–European Union, anti-immigration, nationalist party leads, and by far. Marine Le Pen had her new posters ready for election night: “National Front, First Party of France,” they read. This new slogan, albeit inaccurate (one election, specifically the notoriously unrepresentative, abstention-prone European one, does not accurately measure a party’s overall strength), was hard to shake off.

Locked and Loaded with Male Power Fantasies

The gun industry has a problem. Despite the United States having a reputation for being a "gun-loving" country, interest in gun ownership is actually declining, fairly dramatically in fact. Nearly half of American households had a gun in the 1970s, but since then it's sloped downward. Now only 34 per cent of American households own a gun. Demographic changes are a huge factor, with younger Americans showing very little interest in gun ownership. Only 23 per cent of people under 30 live in households with a gun, down from 47 per cent in the 1970s.

How does the gun industry keep selling guns and making money when the customer base for guns appears to be rapidly shrinking?

Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food

The rapid emergence of nanotechnology suggests that size does, indeed, matter. It turns out that if you break common substances like silver and nickel into really, really tiny particles—measured in nanometers, which are billionths of a meter—they behave in radically different ways. For example, regular silver, the stuff of fancy tableware, doesn't have any obvious place in sock production. But nano-size silver particles apparently do. According to boosters, when embedded in the fabric of socks, microscopic silver particles are "strongly antibacterial to a wide range of pathogens, absorb sweat, and by killing bacteria help eliminate unpleasant foot odor." (By most definitions, a particle qualifies as "nano" when it's 100 nanometers wide or less. By contrast, a human hair clocks in at about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.)

Bank of England governor: capitalism doomed if ethics vanish

Capitalism is at risk of destroying itself unless bankers realise they have an obligation to create a fairer society, the Bank of England governor has warned.

Mark Carney said bankers had operated a "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose" system. He questioned whether traders met ethical standards and said that those who failed to meet high professional standards should face ostracism.

Joe The Plumber: 'Your Dead Kids Don't Trump My Constitutional Rights' To Have Guns

Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, insisted the deaths of innocent people "don't trump" his constitutional rights in an open letter to the families of victims in Friday's shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Wurzelbacher's letter was published on Barbwire Monday, days after one shooting victim's father blamed "craven, irresponsible politicians" and the National Rifle Association for his son's death.

One Of America's Dirtiest Coal Plants Had Some Dire Predictions. It Was Wrong.

HOMER CITY, Pa. (AP) — Three years ago, the operators of one of the nation's dirtiest coal-fired power plants warned of "immediate and devastating" consequences from the Obama administration's push to clean up pollution from coal.

Faced with cutting sulfur dioxide pollution blowing into downwind states by 80 percent in less than a year, lawyers for EME Homer City Generation L.P. sued the Environmental Protection Agency to block the rule, saying it would cause it grave harm and bring a painful spike in electricity bills.

None of those dire predictions came to pass.

Gun Violence Killed At Least 80 People The Week Prior To Elliot Rodger's Rampage

WASHINGTON --The Memorial Day weekend saw a community eviscerated by gun violence that left several dead and many more injured.

But it wasn't UC Santa Barbara that witnessed this particular round of bloodshed. It was New Orleans. By weekend's end, the city had seen 19 people shot, four fatally. On Friday, a fight broke out at a high school graduation party that resulted in one person being killed and seven wounded. On Sunday, three men were shot with an assault rifle. That night, a murder took place at a Cajun seafood joint. On Monday morning, a triple shooting happened right outside a hospital, where people sitting in a car were hit with bullets in their backs, arms and legs. All survived. That same day, a 17-year-old died after being shot multiple times. Even earlier, a man riding his bike was shot under an overpass. The day ended with a homicide in the Lower Ninth Ward.

First Nations chiefs have voted and rejected Bill C-33

First Nations chiefs have voted to reject Bill C-33, which proposes to create the First Nations control of First Nations education act, and demand the government withdraw it immediately.

Their resolution calls on Canada, “based on the honour of the Crown to negotiate an agreement on new fiscal transfer payments to First Nations.”

The chiefs demand that Canada immediately provide the $1.9 billion that was offered in conjunction with Bill C-33, with the core funding growing at an annual rate of 4.5 per cent.

Harper Government Wanted Meeting With Psy In 2012, Documents Reveal

OTTAWA — The Harper government appears to be a big fan of Gangnam style and the artist known as Psy.

Canadian diplomats in South Korea were tasked by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office to set up a meeting with the popular Korean artist and parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai in 2012. The photo-op with Psy was intended to promote Obhrai's three-day visit to the country among the Korean diaspora in Canada.

Harper Tax Cuts Saved Canadians $30 Billion -- Through Deficit Spending

OTTAWA - Canada's budget watchdog says Canadians are paying Ottawa about $30 billion less this year — or a little less than $1,000 per person — due to tax changes introduced in the past decade.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer calculates in a new report that personal income taxes have been cut by about $17.1 billion through a variety of changes introduced since 2005.

Tony Clement claims cabinet secrecy over EU trade deal compensation

Treasury Board President Tony Clement has invoked cabinet secrecy rules to avoid answering questions on hundreds of millions in federal funding earmarked to help Newfoundland and Labrador adjust to the Canada-European Union free trade deal.

In what may be a first in government opacity, according to the written response tabled in the House Monday, even that description of the fund may constitute confidential information.

Median CEO Pay Passes The $10 Million Mark For First Time

The median CEO pay package hit $10.5 million last year, according to the Associated Press, cracking eight figures for the first time since the wire service began calculating the statistic.
The median compensation number rose by 8.8 percent from 2012 and has now climbed by more than 50 percent over the past four years. By contrast, average weekly wages for working Americans rose just 1.3 percent last year, the AP notes. That disparity is all too typical of the modern U.S. economy. CEO compensation has increased 127 times faster than worker pay over the past three decades.

What Do Canadians Value? The Government No Longer Knows

As a result of a lack of federal government funding, Canada wasn't included in the most recent World Values Survey -- one of the few means we have of knowing what our values are, how we differ from people in other countries and whether those values have changed over time.

The survey, which uses face-to-face interviews rather than phone calls, has happened six times over the past 33 years, with the most recent conducted in 59 different countries. Respondents answer a questionnaire that measures nearly 250 indicators covering everything from someone's feelings about race to their political leanings.

The Putin pivot: A new era in global politics

A $400-billion agreement between China and Russia last week changed the global geopolitical landscape.
In a far-reaching memorandum of understanding between the two powers, China bought itself some energy security for the next 30 years, and Russia unlocked its Siberian natural gas reserves.
While on the surface it was about a new $77-billion "Power of Siberia" pipeline to be built by the two countries and a long-term gas contract, the deal signals a new closeness between two major powers that have been distanced from each other for decades.

Ukraine Clashes: Dozens Dead In Fighting Between Security Forces, Pro-Russian Rebels

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Dozens of dead insurgents lay piled in a van outside a morgue Tuesday, and a rebel said more were on the way. Bomb disposal experts disarmed a mortar round lodged in a corpse. A wrecked and blood-soaked truck at the Donetsk airport showed the grisly aftermath of battle.

The fight for eastern Ukraine seems to have taken a ferocious turn, as both sides step up their attacks after the rebellious regions mostly boycotted a presidential election that delivered a decisive winner.

Populists’ Rise in Europe Vote Shakes Leaders

BRUSSELS — An angry eruption of populist insurgency in the elections for the European Parliament rippled across the Continent on Monday, unnerving the political establishment and calling into question the very institutions and assumptions at the heart of Europe’s post-World War II order.

Four days of balloting across 28 countries elected scores of rebellious outsiders, including a clutch of xenophobes, racists and even neo-Nazis. In Britain, Denmark, France and Greece, insurgent forces from the far right and, in Greece’s case, also from the radical left stunned the established political parties.

IMF chief says banks haven't changed since financial crisis

The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that a persistent violation of ethics among bankers and rising inequality pose a major threat to growth and financial stability.

Christine Lagarde told an audience in London that six years on from the deep financial crisis that engulfed the global economy, banks were resisting reform and still too focused on excessive risk taking to secure their bonuses at the expense of public trust.

Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy

In the third chapter of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon gave two reasons why the slavery into which the Romans had tumbled under Augustus and his successors left them more wretched than any previous human slavery. In the first place, Gibbon said, the Romans had carried with them into slavery the culture of a free people: their language and their conception of themselves as human beings presupposed freedom. And thus, says Gibbon, for a long time the Romans preserved the sentiments – or at least the ideas – of a freeborn people. In the second place, the empire of the Romans filled all the world, and when that empire fell into the hands of a single person, the world was a safe and dreary prison for his enemies. As Gibbon wrote, to resist was fatal, and it was impossible to fly.

Defense, Security and Occupation as a Business: new report on arms trade between Spain, Israel

Defense, Security and Occupation as a Business: Military, Armaments and Security Trade Relations between Spain and Israel
The Catalan Civil Society Coalition "No More Complicity with Israel" is composed of the most active civil society campaigns in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against Israeli apartheid. Our campaign is part of the international efforts to control private military and security companies