Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Do the deaths of four people on the streets this month signal a new phase in the homelessness crisis?

Last week two men died after staying outdoors in brutally cold conditions. Less reported was a third man, who was found dead inside the shelter referral centre on Peter Street after taking refuge from the freezing temperatures. Then overnight on Tuesday, January 13, firefighters discovered a body in a burnt-out shack that may have been used as a shelter.

The string of fatalities has shocked the city’s conscience, and Mayor John Tory has promised to move quickly to open up more shelter space.

There's a Model for How France Should Treat Its Muslims. It's How France Treats Its Jews

In the aftermath of the gruesome murder of the twelve journalists at Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters last week, an uncomfortable irony has emerged: At the same time that 40 world leaders and more than 1.6 million people descended on the French capital to affirm emphatically and triumphantly the satirical magazine’s freedom of expression, 54 people have been arrested for the crime of “apology for terrorism.” In other words, the martyring of journalists for exercising free speech has been followed with the suppression of precisely that right.

Despicable though their hateful and bigoted comments are, the 54 arrested have ultimately been detained for practicing a similar type of speech to that which the millions who purchased the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo seek to venerate. In France, speech is less protected than in the United States: The French Pleven Act of 1972, for instance, prohibits incitements to hatred, discrimination, and racial insults, and the Gayssot Law of 1990—passed largely in response to Robert Faurisson’s notorious Holocaust denial—does the same for any speech blatantly anti-Semitic, racist, or xenophobic. The aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, then, has exposed what many consider a double standard: as it turns out, French law, unlike Charlie Hebdo, is not an equal-opportunity offender, and it selectively protects the dignity of certain communities and minority groups more than others.

Guantánamo Diary exposes brutality of US rendition and torture

The groundbreaking memoir of a current Guantánamo inmate that lays bare the harrowing details of the US rendition and torture programme from the perspective of one of its victims is to be published next week after a six-year battle for the manuscript to be declassified.

Guantánamo Diary, the first book written by a still imprisoned detainee, is being published in 20 countries and has been serialised by the Guardian amid renewed calls by civil liberty campaigners for its author’s release.

Budget delay screams time to panic

Despite a slowing economy, massive layoffs, declining oil prices and general volatility, Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver would like Canadians to know that it is definitely not time to panic.

Unfortunately, even though that’s what he’s saying, almost everything Oliver is doing suggests panic has already taken root in Ottawa.
On Thursday, Oliver surprised the country by announcing the federal budget would be pushed back sometime into April because of "market instability." In particular, rapidly falling oil prices that threaten federal and provincial government revenues.

Chris Christie: Jerry Jones And Campaign Donor Benefit From Izod Center Decision

Chris Christie's presence in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' private box at a Cowboys playoff game earlier this month raised speculation about the men's shared areas of interest outside football. It turned out that Jones' entertainment and concessions company was seeking a government contract to operate a viewing platform at One World Trade Center -- a building operated by the Port Authority, whose board members are appointed in part by Christie.

Now another piece of business has emerged to explain the Cowboys owner's eagerness to share the New Jersey governor's company. The Christie administration's move this week to shutter the Izod Center, the Meadowlands arena that holds sporting events and concerts, could boost prospects for Jones' business at a competing New Jersey arena, the Prudential Center in Newark. That boost could simultaneously benefit the firm of Christie's top stadium policy adviser. And the closing of the Izod Center appears also to be a financial boon to a big donor to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chaired and which backed Christie's election campaigns.

More Than Half Of American Public Schoolchildren Now Live In Poverty: Study

map1hereFor the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students live in low-income households, according to a new analysis from the Southern Education Foundation.

Overall, 51 percent of U.S. schoolchildren came from low-income households in 2013, according to the foundation, which analyzed data from National Center for Education Statistics on students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Eligibility for free or subsidized lunch for students from low-income households serves as a proxy for gauging poverty, says the foundation, which advocates education equity for students in the South.

Princeton Study Uses the ‘O’ Word to Describe American Politics

This won’t come as a total shock, but there’s some new hard data to back up what we already suspect anecdotally: Our democracy is really an oligarchy.

Looking at actual policy and polling, researchers at Princeton concluded that the wealthiest Americans tend to get what they want, or at least they did between 1981 and 2002 (the time frame on which the study focuses).

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” write Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Another quote from the peer-reviewed study: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Further reading (and depression) can be found at TPM and the Telegraph.

For the record, the technical definition of an oligarchy is a country or institution controlled by a small group of people.

Original Article
Author: Peter Z. Scheer

Greg Rickford Cheers Opening Of Canada-U.S. Pipelines, Says New Markets Needed

CALGARY - Canada's Natural Resources Minister is in Texas to celebrate the opening of two new pipelines that will increase the flow of Alberta crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

But even as the taps open on the Flanagan South and newly expanded Seaway pipelines, Greg Rickford stressed the importance of finding new customers for Canadian crude outside of North America.

The Republican Governors Thank You for Your Donation

“They control the people through the people’s own money.” — Louis D. Brandeis, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It (1914)

Like tens of millions of baby boomers, I have a retirement fund, and like over 4 million of us, I am building my nest egg with the venerable Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America–College Retirement Equities Fund. Heeding the TIAA-CREF newsletter’s recommendation to “diversify” my holdings, I have dutifully directed my savings into mutual funds, which invest that money with large and medium-size corporations spread across the economy.

How "Hate Crimes Against Police" Expose the Fatal Flaw Within Hate Crime Statutes

Hate crime legislation lent legitimacy to a 40-year carceral program that has wrought immense damage on communities of color. In an ironic twist, the police - who've been the main enforcers of this program - now want to invoke these laws for their protection.

In early January, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, asked Congress to expand federal hate crime laws to include violence against police officers, citing the recent killing of two New York City Police Department officers in their patrol vehicle as well as several other recent, ambush-style murders against officers in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

This isn't a new request so much as a reinvigorated one: The Fraternal Order says they have advocated for such legislation for over a decade. But during protests against police violence in New York City in December, at least one protester of the more than 200 arrested claims he was charged with a "hate crime," indicating that some officers may be pushing for the charge in their own clandestine way.

Meet the real Stephen Harper

In politics, as in baseball, the rule is simple: Three strikes and you’re out.

When Stephen Harper finally shambles towards the showers, head down, bat in hand, I’ll be thinking of Mighty Casey. For much of his career, Harper has umpired his own at-bats. But that role will soon — if briefly — fall to the people of Canada. Election Day is coming to Mudville.

Strike one against this government of oligarchs and corporate shills comes down to this: They have greedily championed oil and gas while doing nothing to protect air and water. Consider the piece of legislation with the Orwellian name — the Navigable Waters Protection Act. NDP house leader Nathan Cullen said it as well as anyone could:

When It Comes to the GOP’s Race Problem, Scalise Is Just a Sideshow

Greg Billings stood in the cold outside the National Republican Club on Tuesday, holding a photo of current House majority whip Steve Scalise and, just behind his left shoulder, Ku Klux Klan wizard David Duke. “Is this your GOP?” Billings’s sign read. Somewhere inside the club Scalise was due to meet with Republican donors.

“Those type of people having access to power is disturbing to me. I don’t like people with those connections making policy decisions,” said Billings.

The Victims of Communism Memorial and selective empathy

Canada loves its American reality show spinoffs. We had the Bachelor Canada, Top Chef Canada, and now Cold War Propaganda Canada. A multi-million dollar National Monument to Victims of Communism is scheduled for completion in Ottawa this fall. It will pay tribute to 100 million victims of communist regimes, apparently rounded to the nearest 100 million.
The problem is, these people weren’t killed by communism. They didn't lick the pages of a Karl Marx book and get poisoned to death. Most were killed by authoritarian states, not to advance communism, to advance the power of that state.

Employment insurance and Harper's flexibility fanaticism

As oil prices drop, rumours in the Maritimes are on the rise: the region's migrant workers, who send money home from their jobs "out west," might be coming home for good.
In 2012, the Conservative government made deep cuts to the employment insurance (EI) program. The cuts were meant to encourage workers in high unemployment regions to relocate to low unemployment regions, like Alberta. Now, having heeded the call for mobility, workers will return home to stubbornly high unemployment rates and a hollowed-out EI program.
Welcome to Harper's flexibility fanaticism.

Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists

Humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment, new research has found.

Two major new studies by an international team of researchers have pinpointed the key factors that ensure a livable planet for humans, with stark results.

Who Needs Lobbyists? See What Big Business Spends To Win American Minds

Forget lobbying. When Washington, D.C.’s biggest trade associations want to wield influence, they often put far more of their money into advertising and public relations, according to a new Center for Public Integrity investigation.

Take, for example, the American Petroleum Institute. The oil and gas industry trade group spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman.

Do You, Married Person, Take These Unearned Privileges, for Better or for Better?

Women's studies scholar Peggy McIntosh was hardly the first to write about "privilege," the notion that "some people benefit from unearned, and largely unacknowledged, advantages, even when those advantages are not discriminatory," but her personal account and list of examples resonated with readers in a way that previous conceptualizations had not. When The New Yorker asked her how she got interested in the topic, she talked about a faculty seminar she led in the 1980s about how new research on women could be integrated into academic disciplines. She wanted to know how disciplines could "be changed by the recognition that women are half the world's population, and have half the world's lived experience."

Now, decades later, the notion of privilege is no longer new. Discussions of male privilege and white privilege have raised consciousness about all sorts of other unearned privileges, such as those conditional on age, social class and sexual orientation. Similarly, awareness of isms has jumped the bounds of sexism and racism to include heterosexism, ageism, classism, ableism and others. Yet, in the United States in the 21st century, the ism and the privilege that disadvantage nearly half of the country's adult population have gone largely unrecognized. Singlism - the stereotyping, stigmatizing and discrimination against people who are not married - and marital privilege - the unearned advantages that benefit those who are married - continue to frequently slip under the cultural radar.

House Passes Bill To Make Everything Harder And Worse

The 2014 election is ancient history, the lame duck session is a distant memory, and the 114th Congress is ready for work. The 113th Congress was one of the most unproductiveand unliked in history. Initial signs that the next two years will be any better are unpromising.
The House and Senate are both devoting significant chunks of time to passing well-worn Keystone XL legislation that the President has threatened to veto. Last week the Housevoted to approve the Keystone pipeline for the 10th time. This week they’ve moved on to similarly well-tread and unproductive terrain by revisiting and passing another measure that Obama recently threatened to veto: one with much greater potential for harm to the government, let alone the environment.

Anti-Terror Bill Means Familiar Tug-Of-War For Harper

OTTAWA - As the prime minister and his cabinet craft the latest anti-terror legislation, they'll be thrust into a familiar balancing act between civil liberties and public safety.

Stephen Harper will also have to contend with the friction between the strong libertarian contingent in his caucus and those who support an enhanced role for government.

There has been speculation that the bill, which Harper says will be introduced soon, will restrict speech that encourages or glorifies terrorism. Britain and France already have such controversial measures on the books.

Limiting the expat vote: Another (un)Fair Elections Act tactic?

Following in the disturbing trend set by the Fair Elections Act of limiting Canadians' voting rights, Ottawa is now fighting hard to make sure Canadians living abroad long-term cannot participate in the next election.
Last week, the Conservative government appealed a ruling which would have removed a historical limitation on the length of time that citizens can reside abroad and still retain voting rights. If the appeal succeeds, it means that Canadians living abroad for longer than five years would not be eligible to vote in federal elections. 
The Ontario Superior Court's decision is yet to be announced.

Canada's Media Language Is a Little Too Newspeak-y

Canada is not Orwell's imaginary society where peoples' every thoughts and ideas are controlled by The Party, but it seems to me that our own powerful elite has pushed our media closer to censorship and a propaganda-feeding machine than I ever imagined possible.

Generally speaking, key elements of our elite include the wealthy, corporate executives, private media, and the Harper government. As Orwell wrote in his novel, the powerful understand that if they have strong influence over media they can limit serious criticism of the tremendous changes experienced by ordinary people.

Adult Education Fee Hike to Hit Some Students Hard

Born with spina bifida, Flynn, who grew up in Alberta, spent more than half his high school years in a hospital. He graduated, but with a conditional high school diploma that noted all the hours he missed from the classroom.

In 2009, Flynn moved to Vancouver to upgrade his education. He enrolled in Main Street Education Centre and hoped to go to nursing school someday.

However, his dream of attending nursing school may be further off than he hoped because the province plans to start charging tuition for some adult education classes.

“Corporate bullying” on trial: court asked to toss Kinder Morgan lawsuit

Pipeline opponent and Burnaby resident Alan Dutton was in court Tuesday seeking to have a controversial Kinder Morgan lawsuit against him thrown out by the B.C. Supreme Court.

"My reputation has been tarnished.  The allegations are that I’ve committed a conspiracy to break the law, and I didn’t do that,” said Dutton, outside the court building.

The retiree was hit in late October with a civil suit that appeared to put himself, and four other defendants, at risk of millions of dollars in claimed damages by Texas-based Kinder Morgan.

France Arrests 54 For Defending Terror; Announces Crackdown

PARIS (AP) -- France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism and announced Wednesday it was sending an aircraft carrier to the Mideast to work more closely with the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants.

Authorities said 54 people had been arrested for hate speech and defending terrorism in the last week. The crackdown came as Charlie Hebdo's defiant new issue sold out before dawn around Paris, with scuffles at kiosks over dwindling copies of the satirical weekly that fronted the Prophet Muhammad anew on its cover.

Advocate Keith Neville ordered to stop work with veterans' appeals

A veterans' advocate in Whitney Pier said he's been told by the federal government he can no longer help former military members navigate the bureaucracy of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.

Keith Neville has successfully advocated for 48 veterans having their cases heard by the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, which provides veterans and other applicants with an independent avenue of appeal for disability decisions made by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Steve Scalise Refused To Vote For 1996 Bill Apologizing For Slavery

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) voted against a bill that would have apologized for slavery to African-Americans when he was in the Louisiana Legislature, according to a 1996 New Orleans Times-Picayune article first reported on by The Hill.

The representative, who has been a target of civil rights groups after it was revealed last month that he spoke at a 2002 white supremacist conference, was one of two House and Governmental Affairs Committee members who voted down the bill.

Charlie Hebdo fallout: Specter of fascist past haunts European nationalism

When up to a dozen world leaders and roughly 1.5 million people gathered in Paris on Sunday to mourn the murder of 10 editors and cartoonists of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and seven other people by three French-born Islamic radicals, they wanted to demonstrate that Europe will always embrace liberal and tolerant values.

But the more telling event may turn out to be a counter-rally that took place at a 17th-century town hall in Beaucaire, France, that was led by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front. In Beaucaire, the crowd ended Le Pen’s rally by singing the French national anthem and chanting, “This is our home.”

Canada's campaign to block NAFTA's oil sands tailings pond probe slammed by critics

Reactions to the federal government's attempts to stop NAFTA's environmental oversight commission from investigating environmental damage caused by tailings ponds in Alberta's oil sands came fast and fierce from critics.

“There’s compelling evidence that [industry contamination] is happening," said Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence, "and that the federal government is denying it, and not allowing that information to be known to Canadians and the people who live in that area."

New anti-terror laws could be 'slippery slope': U.S. expert

An American expert on radicalization warns that looming Canadian anti-terror legislation has the potential to imprison people who don’t pose a threat to society, while existing laws may conflate radicalized thoughts with terrorist actions.

The federal government will soon table a bill to allow for certain kinds of preventative arrests to thwart potential terror acts.

“I think that’s a very, very slippery slope, to be honest,” said John Horgan, director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Horgan has authored more than 70 publications on terrorism and political violence, including for the British government and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Harper exploiting Paris shootings to deepen surveillance state and justify war

Canada's Conservative government is set to introduce expanded powers for surveillance agencies, likely for the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Speaking last week in Vancouver, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that the government is "looking at additional powers to make sure that our security agencies have the range of tools available," apparently to address incidents like the shootings in Paris. However, judging by past policy patterns reaching the highest government levels, such new "powers" will likely be aimed at stifling and criminalizing voices of dissent, here are some reasons why.

4 Big Unanswered Questions About the Charlie Hebdo Attacks in Paris

In the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in Paris, information has slowly emerged about the attackers, their alleged affiliations with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State, and their path to radicalization. But many unanswered questions remain. Here are some key unknowns:
Is a "third suspect" in the Charlie Hebdo shootings still at large?
Following the massacre at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, police were initially searching for three suspects. Two of them were Cherif and Said Kouachi, who were ultimately killed in a dramatic shootout with French police. The third suspect was Cherif Kouachi's brother-in-law, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, initially identified as the getaway driver who spirited the brothers away after the attack. It turned out, however, that Hamyd was never there. He turned himself into the authorities after seeing his name plastered all over the news and was eventually released from police custody last Friday, two days after the Charlie Hebdo shootings took place. Hamyd says he still has no idea why police targeted him, though some media outlets have reported that the cops got his name from an ID card discovered in the attackers' abandoned getaway car. Left unresolved is the question of whether there was in fact a third suspect who drove the getaway vehicle, as some eyewitnesses to the attack reported. (Eyewitness reports can often be unreliable.) Currently, French authorities are pursuing at least six possible accomplices to the attacks, including Hayat Boumeddiene; she is the common-law wife of Amidy Coulibaly, who killed a French policewoman and massacred four people in a kosher grocery story before he was gunned down by police.

Elizabeth Warren, Progressives Sink Obama Treasury Nominee Antonio Weiss

WASHINGTON -- Wall Street banker Antonio Weiss has asked President Barack Obama not to renominate him to a top Treasury Department post because of the fight being waged against him by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats.

First reported by Politico, Weiss wrote to Obama over the weekend saying that he didn't think the Treasury Department "would be well served" by the lengthy confirmation process his nomination would likely entail, given the level of Democratic opposition he has faced. Weiss, who had initially been nominated as undersecretary for domestic finance, has instead accepted a job as a counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a post that doesn't require congressional approval.

A Message From the Dispossessed

The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam. It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.

We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it.

The tragedy of rage over reason

In any catastrophe, rage triumphs over reason in the early going.

That’s why society loses so much to war generation after generation. Rage gets us into conflict, reason eventually gets us out.

And so it is in the wake of the Paris massacre of editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo and the killing of two French police officers.

Let’s start with the big winners, the political opportunists on the far right. The leader of the Front National party, Marine Le Pen, is stoking the view that immigration is an “invasion” — a coinage of her father, the party’s founder, Jean-Marie LePen. Her ‘ban refugees’ message is aped by the leader of the United Kingdom Independent Party of Nigel Farage, and the Dutch Party of Freedom led by Geert Wilders.

New Veterans Affairs minister cuts off veterans’ advocates from advisory role: Blais

Newly-appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole has informed an advocacy group for wounded and psychologically injured veterans that it is no longer a stakeholder adviser to the Veterans Affairs department.

Mike Blais, who helped launch Canadian Veterans Advocacy in 2011 to advocate for veterans and serving Canadian Forces members who did combat tours in Afghanistan and their families, told The Hill Times that Mr. O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) gave the bad news to the group in a voicemail he left on Mr. Blais’ phone service Jan. 7.