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, September 17, 2014

India and China Have Outgrown the West

NEW DELHI -- From the heady days of "Chindia," when China and India were twinned together in the global imagination, comparisons between the two countries have taken on a more modest hue. Once united by their shared status of being giant Asian countries with booming demographies and unlimited economic potential, the two are perceived to be very different today.

India's incomplete domestic transformation, recently slowing economy and its flourishing and contentious democracy mark it as starkly different from China, which has shot ahead economically -- with a GDP of more than four times India's size -- while remaining resolutely authoritarian, under one-party Communist rule.

Why Does Hillary Clinton Want to Run For President?

Judging by her weekend appearance in Iowa, it looks as if Hillary Clinton is indeed running for president. Now she has to answer one simple question: Why?

“It is true, I am thinking about it,” she said Sunday at the final Harkin Steak Fry, an annual cholesterol-boosting fundraiser that retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin has hosted for the past 37 years. Given the context, this was pretty close to an announcement of the Clinton 2016 campaign.

Republicans Unanimously Block Equal Pay Bill

After allowing the Paycheck Fairness Act to move forward last week, Senate Republicans turned around on Monday evening and unanimously voted to block the bill, which would ban salary secrecy and tighten rules to try to narrow the gender wage gap.
The vote came weeks after the Republican National Committee claimed that “All Republicans support equal pay.” Senate Republicans have unanimously shot the bill downmultiple times over the past four years.

B.C. Teachers' Strike: Charities Feel 'Unintended Consequences'

RICHMOND, B.C. - Negotiators for striking British Columbia teachers and the province huddled separately in a Richmond hotel for a fifth day Monday in an effort to reach an agreement that would herald the start of the school year for half a million students.

Bargaining teams for neither the B.C. Teachers' Federation nor the B.C. Public School Employers' Association stopped to speak to a crush of media stationed outside, awaiting information on what appeared to be a mediation process aimed at ending the dispute that has kept students out of classrooms for four weeks.

'We have enough feminism' response from UBC Student Union unacceptable

In the summer of 2013, my friend Sarah Manshreck and I set about creating a feminist club at UBC. Inspired by the success of the "UBC Needs Feminism" event and Facebook group, we prepared a proposal to present to the Alma Matter Society (AMS). Once chartered, the plan was to bring in inspirational speakers, host a critical book club, and, most importantly to us, have regular meetings where students could get together to discuss all things feminism. As soon as we began the AMS presentation, however, it was clear how things would end -- we spoke to an all-male panel who paid little-to-no attention to our pitch. While we spoke, they rudely played with their phones or stared off into space with glazed over eyes. When we concluded, they fired a series of smug questions at us before insisting that we were too similar to the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC). The panel claimed that we were welcome to apply again with a modified mandate but from that point on they never replied to a single one of Sarah's e-mails and the project eventually faded from my mind.

Stephen Harper passes on last good chance for early exit

On a day when the House of Commons reopened after a three-month break, the prime minister picked a venue a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill to preach to the converted.

Part state-of-the-government address and part electoral call-to-arms, the lecture Stephen Harper delivered to a Conservative crowd essentially made up of his own party’s staffers and MPs was an extended version of his summer stump speech, with one significant variation.

Bush/Cheney Created Conditions That Led Directly to ISIL

It takes a lot of gall for people like Dick Cheney to utter even one critical word about President Obama's strategy to eliminate the threat of ISIL in the Middle East.

In fact, it was the unnecessary Bush/Cheney Iraq War that created the conditions that led directly to the rise of the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

Tories May Cut Taxes Sooner Than Expected

OTTAWA — The Conservative government may announce personal tax cuts as early as this fall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested in a speech Monday.

Speaking to Conservative MPs, senators, their staff, industry lobbyists and some party members, Harper said he was looking forward to “the economic and fiscal update this fall, when we will be taking the first steps in the next part of a Conservative plan for Canadians.”

We need citizens, not just taxpayers and bookkeepers

A citizen is a rare thing these days in Canada. Citizens have been expunged from the political lexicon and replaced with taxpayers and, as elections approach, voters.

Decrying the loss of a word may seem a bit pedantic. But words are powerful. They frame debates and influence our thinking.

Use the word taxpayer instead of citizen and the debate can only be about money.

NDP Pushes to Reinstate and Raise Federal Minimum Wage

The federal New Democrats announced they will table a bill Tuesday that if passed would reinstate and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The rate would only apply to federally regulated industries, such as railways, broadcast media and banks. About 820,000 people across Canada work in industries regulated by Ottawa.

The motion will be debated in the house and calls for the reinstatement of a federal minimum wage and to have it increase each year to reach $15 an hour over five years.

White House Denies Truce Between Syrian Rebels And ISIS

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Monday disputed reports that a group of moderate Syrian rebels -- part of the larger coalition that President Barack Obama wants to help fight the Islamic State -- struck a non-aggression pact with the Islamic State.

Those reports, which emerged late Friday night, sent shocks through some corners of the foreign policy community, where skepticism has been high over the president's plan to aid rebel factions. According to the stories, one of the main rebel groups, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, had agreed with the Islamic State that the two groups would not attack each other and would instead focus their efforts on unseating their mutual enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After Saying Women On Medicaid Should Be Sterilized, Russell Pearce Resigns From Arizona GOP

Former Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce resigned as Arizona Republican Party's first vice chair late Sunday after receiving criticism over recent comments he made about women on Medicaid.

Pearce made the controversial comments on his weekly radio show.

Scotland, Lose the EU and the Pound

Investigative reporter and economist Greg Palast sees “two overwhelming and undeniable advantages for Scotland to declare its sovereign independence: to end both Scotland’s damaging enchainment to the British pound and the debilitating tyranny of European Union membership.”

Of the currency issue, Palast writes at his site:
First, the pound. In all the hoo-hah over whether Scotland can keep the coin with the Queen’s schnozzola on it, no one seems to have asked, Why in the world would Scotland want this foreign coinage?
The Bank of England’s singular task at this moment is to figure out how to counteract the disastrous macroeconomic consequences of George Osborne’s austerity fixations and the bleating demands of City bankers. The only time when the Bank of England gives any consideration to Scotland’s economy is when a BOE governor checks the little gauge which tells them how much of Scotland’s oil they have left to spend.
Why should the interest rates, exchange rates and monetary supply of a resource nation like Scotland be subject to the needs and whimsies of the rusting realm to your south? According to the well-accepted theory of Optimum Currency Areas, Scotland would be best off adopting the Canadian dollar, also a damp, salmon-choked oil exporter or, better yet, the Vietnamese dong.
Scotland’s own coin, backed by taxes on its oil extractions, would be “stronger than sterling and more flexible alone.” In control of its own currency, Scotland could cut interest rates “when local manufacturing falters while the Bank of England is raising rates to fight a speculative bubble in The City.”

Read Palast on the second issue, the apparent “pathological need to remain subjugated by the European Union,” here.

Original Article
Author: Greg Palast

How the Tea Party Is Causing Big Business to Back Democrats

The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest big business trade group in the country, lobbies against things like Obamacare, regulation of Wall Street, and action on climate change. So it's no surprise that the Chamber tends to support Republican candidates; this year, it has already thrown its weight behind 256 GOP contenders. It's also backing a handful of Democrats.

These Dems vote with the Chamber more than most Democrats. "The Democrats the Chamber has backed are reliable votes on business issues. We can tell from their track records," explains Jennifer Lawless, a professor of political science at American University. But that's not the only reason the Chamber is backing them: The Dems backed by the big-business lobby are running against exactly the sort of Republicans the Chamber doesn't like—tea party and libertarian GOPers. Tea party Republicans—who have spooked big business repeatedly in recent years by shutting down the government, threatening to throw the country into default, and slamming Wall Street excess—are less predictable "in terms of what they will ultimately do for business if they win and get to Congress," Lawless says, and the Chamber hates that. (The Chamber did not respond to a request for comment.)

Breaking Down the Harm to Canada Done by Treaty with China

[Editor's note: Gus Van Harten, a global authority on investment trade deals and international arbitration panels, wrote a letter nearly two years ago to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging a full public review of FIPA, the highly controversial investment and promotion treaty with China, the world's second largest economy. The Tyee published that letter with an editor's note saying the treaty "has profound implications for Canadian labour law, environmental regulations and democratic standards. If enacted… the trade promotion deal will give unprecedented powers to China's state owned enterprises (SOEs) that are now investing billions in Canada's natural resources. The Osgoode law professor not only teaches investment law but is also the author of Investment Treaty Arbitration and Public Law (Oxford University Press, 2007). Unlike most experts in the field of investment trade deals, Van Harten makes no income from the lucrative legal work of international trade arbitration. Investment trade lawyers typically make between $1,000 to $2,000 an hour."

Following the Harper government's surprise announcement on Friday that it had ratified the treaty, The Tyee republishes Van Harten's letter explaining why the deal is bad for Canada on numerous counts.]

Student Debt Catches Even the Elderly

An estimated 2 million Americans age 60 and older are in debt from unpaid student loans, whether from money borrowed long ago or from more recent borrowing to fund degrees for family members. And some are having their Social Security payments garnished as a result.
This discrete population of debtors has almost tripled from about 700,000 in 2005.
The New York Times reports Friday:
The debt among older people is up substantially, to $43 billion from $8 billion in 2005, according to the report, which is based on data from Equifax, the credit reporting agency. As of July 31, money was being deducted from Social Security payments to almost 140,000 individuals to pay down their outstanding student loans, according to Treasury Department data. That is up from just under 38,000 people in 2004. Over the decade, the amounts withheld more than tripled, to nearly $101 million for the first seven months of this year from over $32 million in 2004.
While older debtors account for a small fraction of student loan borrowers, who have accumulated nearly $1 trillion in such debt, the effect of owing a constantly ballooning amount of debt but having a fixed income can be onerous, said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
“Those in default on their loans can see their Social Security checks garnished, leaving them with retirement income that leaves them well below the poverty line,” he said at a committee hearing this week to examine the issue.
“Some may think of student loan debt as a young person’s problem,” he said, “but, as it turns out, that is increasingly not the case.”
Read more here.

Original Article

U.S. Ground Troops Back in Iraq? General Hints Broader Military Effort May Be Needed to Fight ISIS

A week after President Obama vowed not to send ground troops into Iraq to fight the Islamic State, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted ground troops may be needed. “If there are threats to the U.S., I would of course go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces,” Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. President Obama is expected to visit U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida today to discuss his strategy to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Congress is voting this week on a request from Obama for authorization to arm and train Syrian rebels. We speak to Rep. Jim McDermott, Democrat from Washington state.

Author: --

Survival of the Sexiest -- How evolutionary psychology went viral

In the spring of 1978, a professor at Florida State University gave the students in his seminar on experimental social psychology an unusual assignment. For the next few weeks, they were to approach undergraduates of the opposite sex and compliment them: “I’ve been noticing you around campus lately and find you very attractive.” Then they would ask one of the following questions:

(a) “Would you go out with me tonight?”

(b) “Would you come over to my apartment tonight?”

(c) “Would you go to bed with me tonight?

Roughly equal numbers of men and women on the FSU campus accepted invitations for dates from strangers: in response to question (a), 50 percent of men and 56 percent of women said yes. However, the responses to (b) revealed a dramatic split, which followed gender lines in exactly the manner the professor had predicted: while 69 percent of men were willing to meet a female stranger at her apartment, only 6 percent of women would meet a male at his. And while 75 percent of the male students approached said they were game for casual sex, not one female did.

Stephen Harper Touts Hard-Line Foreign Policy In Major Speech

OTTAWA - The leaders of the three main federal parties spent Day 1 of the unofficial year-long election campaign vying to portray themselves as champions of middle-class Canadians.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper touted his government's plans to cut taxes for Canadian families.

Reprisals for Israeli Soldiers Refusing to Spy

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military on Sunday threatened disciplinary action against a group of veterans and active reservists of a secretive military intelligence unit who declared that they would no longer participate in surveillance activities against the Palestinians.

Dozens of other veterans and reservists from the unit came to its defense and expressed outrage at their colleagues’ public act of refusal.

How Big Data Enables Economic Harm to Low-Income Consumers

Emerging big data platforms are playing a central role in increasing economic inequality and harming low-income sectors of the population, argues researcher Nathan Newman in public comments (link to FTC workshop page) submitted for a Federal Trade Commission workshop being held today on Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?    The following is a summary of those comments.

Data has been called the "new oil" of the information age, an asset used by corporations to reshape markets and increase their market power and profits.  On the Internet, we see the rise of new "big data" platforms such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and others that accumulate ever-increasing information on consumer behavior, interests and needs.  While this data unquestionably increases the efficiency of the economy in numerous ways, what is in question is whether consumers are ultimately benefitting significantly from those productivity gains or whether that surplus is being largely captured by these "big data platforms." Worse, the increasing loss of control of private data by individuals seems to be leaving them vulnerable to economic exploitation by a range of corporate actors.

Senate Republicans Vote to Silence Working Americans

Senate Republicans voted unanimously last week for elections that are competitions of cash, with candidates who amass the most money empowered to shout down opponents.

The GOP rejected elections that are contests of ideas won by candidates offering the best concepts.

Forty-two Republican Senators on Thursday opposed advancing a proposed constitutional amendment called Democracy for All. It would have ended the one percent’s control over elections and politicians. It would have reversed the democracy-destroying Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by permitting Congress and state legislatures to once again limit campaign spending. Republicans said no because they favor the system that indentures politicians to wealthy benefactors.

Iran Rejects A Global Strategy Against Islamic State Militants

PARIS (AP) — As more than two dozen nations pledged Monday to help Iraq fight the Islamic State militants, the United States said it was open to talking to Iran about a role in resolving the crisis, despite Washington's earlier opposition to Tehran even attending the conference.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out any military coordination with Iran, which in the end was not invited to Paris.

Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts detained by L.A. police

Police say they followed proper protocol when they demanded identification from an actress and her boyfriend while investigating a 911 call alleging lewd conduct.

Daniele Watts, a black U.S. actress who appeared in the hit movie Django Unchained, has accused Los Angeles police of handcuffing and briefly detaining her for "showing affection" in public.

Agents provocateurs nothing new, probably not unethical, says former Tory strategist

Using plants to trick political opponents into saying embarrassing things and then leaking the results to the media is “politics as usual,” says a former Conservative Party campaign manager.

Speaking by phone from Calgary, Tom Flanagan, who wrote Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, a kind of electoral handbook for political junkies, said, “It’s very effective. It’s tremendously effective. It has decided elections. I’ve lived through it. And that’s why parties do it, and all parties do it in one form or another.”

Harper's planned military splurge comes at the expense of health care

With Ottawa's deficit about to turn into a surplus, we'll soon be able to loosen our belts a bit and fulfill our pent-up dream of splurging on new tanks and fighter planes.
Some Canadians have other priorities, of course -- investing in public health care usually tops the list in polls -- but Stephen Harper's government has already ruled that out.
Here's what Harper is actually planning to do: boost military funding and deeply cut spending on health care. None of this is secret -- although you wouldn't necessarily pick it up from the media.

Harper's Sneaky, Undemocratic, Terrible Deal with China

In the world of official government announcements, a two-paragraph media release sent out in the late afternoon on the Friday before Parliament resumes sitting is the best way for a government to admit, "We know this is really, really unpopular, but we're doing it anyway."

That's the way the Harper government, by way of a release quoting International Trade Minister Ed Fast, announced that it had decided to ignore widespread public opposition; parliamentary opposition from the NDP, Greens and even lukewarm Liberal criticism; an ongoing First Nations legal challenge; even division at its own cabinet table and from grassroots membership; and proceed with the ratification of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).

Clark-loyal Ad Agency Designed Gov't Campaign Against Teachers' Union

The advertising agency behind the BC Liberal government's $335,000 online campaign against the striking B.C. Teachers' Federation is the same company that designed the party's logo, and its founder boasts a long association with Premier Christy Clark. is a U.S.-hosted website that carries the government's side in the dispute with public school teachers, including news releases and statements from Education Minister Peter Fassbender. It also includes a link to the online form for parents seeking the government's $40-a-day compensation plan. The Ministry of Education confirmed the advertising and design contractor is Kimbo Design Inc. of Vancouver. The contract was not publicly tendered.

Ottawa architect says government 'stealing' site for communism memorial

A prominent Ottawa architect is accusing the federal government of “stealing” the site that’s been chosen for the new Memorial to Victims of Communism.

In an open letter to Stephen Harper, Barry Padolsky urges the prime minister to find a “more appropriate” location for the memorial, to be built on a 5,000-square-metre property on Wellington Street, next to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Is Stephen Harper’s global military policy delusional or just plain mad?

Sometimes, it’s as if Stephen Harper’s Conservatives suffer from delusions of grandeur.

How else to explain the decision by Canada’s apparently cash-strapped federal government to set up a network of military bases around the world?

That’s usually something only countries with imperial pretensions, such as the U.S., France and Britain, do. And even the U.S. is pulling back these days.

Arab Countries Offer To Join Airstrikes Against ISIS

PARIS, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Several Arab countries have offered to join the United States in air strikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. officials said on Sunday, indicating a possible widening of the air campaign against militants who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria.

The officials declined to identify which countries made the offers. But they said they were under consideration as the United States begins to identify country roles in its emerging coalition against jihadists who have declared a caliphate or Islamic state ruled under Sharia law in the heart of the Middle East.

Sacrificing the Vulnerable, From Gaza to America

Chris Hedges gave this speech Saturday at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo, Wis., before a crowd of about 2,000. His address followed one there by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who seems to be preparing to run in the Democratic presidential primaries. The Fighting Bob Fest, the annual event at which they appeared, brings together progressive speakers from around the country and honors Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette (1855-1925), a U.S. senator from Wisconsin who opposed the United States’ entry into World War I. Parts of this talk were drawn from Hedges’ past columns.

Mulcair: Minimum Wage For Federal Employees Will Be $15 An Hour If NDP Government Elected

VANCOUVER - The New Democrats are promising to bring back the minimum wage for employees who work in federally regulated sectors.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair announced on Saturday that if the NDP forms the next government it would set a minimum wage of $15 an hour for those who work in companies or agencies regulated by the federal government, such as many workers at airports or in telecommunications.

Remember #BringBackOurGirls? This Is What Has Happened In The 5 Months Since

On the night of April 14, 2014, hundreds of schoolgirls at the Chibok boarding school in northeastern Nigeria awoke to the sound of gunfire. They saw men in camouflage approaching and thought soldiers were coming to save them from a militant attack, according to survivors' accounts.

Instead, more than 270 of the schoolgirls found themselves in the clutches of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Their abduction sparked global outrage and a huge campaign calling for their rescue, partly propelled by the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.