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, July 19, 2011

The Right Desires: Their Base and Ours

The moment in which we find ourselves is marked by promise and peril. Throughout the Middle East, popular uprisings are dramatically accelerating history and undermining a half-century’s worth of geopolitical certainties. Meanwhile, in Canada, the US, and Europe, right-wing politicians and movements have been making significant inroads. In the US, the Tea Party has decisively undermined the Obama administration and opened up spaces for far right and fascist organizers to popularize their positions. In Canada, the Conservative Party has been steadily consolidating its grip on power and has been remaking the state in its image. In cosmopolitan Toronto, rightwing populist Rob Ford soundly defeated his liberal and social democratic opposition in the Mayoral election of October 2010.

It’s a little bit overwhelming. Enamored by naïve visions of a socially progressive Canada (arising primarily from misguided comparative analyses), popular commentators in the US have for the last half decade looked on with incredulity as Conservatives at the helm of the Federal Government launched concerted attacks on women, queer people, and sex workers. Syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage could not conceal his bemused incomprehension that a nation set to let gays walk down the aisle smoking pot could repeatedly put someone like Harper in power.

ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection

Hundreds of ALEC’s model bills and resolutions bear traces of Koch DNA: raw ideas that were once at the fringes but that have been carved into “mainstream” policy through the wealth and will of Charles and David Koch. Of all the Kochs’ investments in right-wing organizations, ALEC provides some of the best returns: it gives the Kochs a way to make their brand of free-market fundamentalism legally binding.

No one knows how much the Kochs have given ALEC in total, but the amount likely exceeds $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group was floundering. ALEC gave the Kochs its Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award, and Koch Industries has been one of the select members of ALEC’s corporate board for almost twenty years. The company’s top lobbyist was once ALEC’s chairman. As a result, the Kochs have shaped legislation touching every state in the country. Like ideological venture capitalists, the Kochs have used ALEC as a way to invest in radical ideas and fertilize them with tons of cash.

The Face of Climate Corruption in Canada

Oil giants chipped in $180,000 to help Canada's energy ministers have “unbiased” discussions about our energy future.

Energy ministers from across Canada have just returned from an all-expenses-paid tour of the tar sands, given to them by the oil companies themselves. Now, they are sitting down to debate the future of energy policy in Canada at a meeting in Kananaskis, Alberta. This is the face of climate corruption in Canada.

Canada is at a crossroads, and it appears that our leadership has been seriously compromised. While much of the world is investing heavily in the clean, safe, and reliable energy of our future, the Canadian government, along with some provincial support, is insisting that Canada watch from the sidelines while we cling desperately to a resource that is responsible for creating the greatest challenge of our time. I am, of course, talking about fossil fuels and global climate change.

Ralph Nader’s Solution to Debt Crisis: End Corporate Welfare and Corporate Tax Loopholes

As negotiations continue on a debt deal, we ask longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader for his solution. Nader says, “Now we have the situation with the deficit and the debt and spending and jobs. And it’s not that difficult to get out of it. The first thing you do is you get rid of corporate welfare. That’s hundreds of billions of dollars a year. The second is you tax corporations so that they don’t get away with no taxation. The Citizens for Tax Justice put out a report recently. They had 12 major corporations, like Honeywell, Verizon, General Electric, and in three years, they made $167 billion in profit, paid zero tax, and got $2.5 billion back from the Treasury.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

The Great White tax haven

Until last year, Peter was a successful American fund manager, with roughly 200 employees in New York City and a personal fortune of $100 million. That’s still the case today, save for one detail—Peter is no longer an American. In 2010, the U.S.-born executive took the extreme step of renouncing his American citizenship. “I wanted to remove myself from a society and country that was heading for a financial catastrophe,” Peter said in an email interview through his Toronto-based lawyer, David Lesperance, who specializes in “tax-efficient citizenship, residence and domicile solutions.” In other words, Lesperance moves rich people to places where they’ll pay less tax. So which global tax haven lured Peter (not his real name) away from Uncle Sam? Was it the Cayman Islands? Switzerland? Monaco?

Try Canada. A year and a half ago, Peter moved to Toronto and is well on his way to obtaining his Canadian citizenship. He bought a luxury home in the city, as well as a vacation property. And now he’s in the midst of determining how much of his fund management company to uproot from New York and move across the border. “Five years ago, I would not have considered expatriation as an option, especially to Canada,” he said. “I always thought of Canada as a younger sibling of the U.S.—the same, but less advanced in terms of culture, quality of life, business opportunities and above all, taxation. I now see it as the same, but maybe better in the long term.”

Ralph Nader: Obama is a "Political Coward" for Not Picking Elizabeth Warren to Head Consumer Bureau

After months of fierce opposition from Wall Street, corporate lobbyists and Republican lawmakers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officially launches this week in Washington, D.C. A product of last year’s overhaul of financial regulation, the bureau was established to protect consumers from deceptive practices. Republicans have sought to weaken its reach with a number of restrictive measures, including granting other regulatory bodies veto power over the bureau’s decisions. This week, Republicans scored another victory with President Obama’s announcement of his choice to head the bureau. Obama has tapped former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray instead of Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who first proposed the bureau and has overseen its establishment for the past year. "[Cordray] is no Elizabeth Warren. He doesn’t have her communication skills,” says Nader. “She is a rare find. And by throwing her overboard, Obama has signaled to hundreds of good, smart people all over the country, who would like to turn our government around and make it stand for the people, that they may be too good for the president, they may be too good for the rogue Republicans.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Tea Party Nation Targets John Boehner, Mitch McConnell On Debt Ceiling

As contentious negotiations continue on the issue of raising the nation's debt limit in Washington, a Tea Party group is accusing House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of "betraying" the coalition of conservative activists with their actions in the ongoing debate.

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said in a statement, “Boehner and McConnell are the predatory credit card issuers of the Entitlement State, they’re about to renew Obama’s cancelled Mastercard, and they want to saddle America’s grandchildren with all of the bills.” He warned of efforts on the right to recruit conservative challengers to take on "House GOP RINOs" in primary races in the next election cycle. According to Phillips, the issue of who will be targeted comes down to one simple question: "Did the member vote for the McConnell-Boehner cave-in or for any cheap giveaway of more national debt?”

Worrying About Israeli Democracy

A few minutes after midnight on July 11, the night the Knesset passed its anti-boycott law, a hundred or so young Israelis gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Since the square is being renovated, they clustered along one of its edges. Some of them improvised protest signs, facing them towards busy Ibn Gvirol Avenue. Others were chatting. After about an hour, it was all over. Watching from the bustling pubs and coffee shops on the other side of the street, it was impossible to tell that Israeli democracy had just suffered its worst blow in years.

A few hours earlier, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition — enjoying a clear support from the Knesset and facing an indifferent public — decided to outlaw perhaps the most common forms of active political opposition to the occupation: the conscious refusal to travel to the West Bank, to work there, to buy from companies operating in the settlements or to participate in cultural activities east of the Green Line.

Taken to the cleaners

MALAYSIA is one of South-East Asia’s stabler nations; but a rally in Kuala Lumpur on July 9th in demand of electoral reform turned surprisingly nasty, leading to the arrest of more than 1,600 people. The police fired tear gas and water cannon into the crowd, and one man died of a heart attack. All those arrested were released fairly quickly, but Amnesty International, a London-based human-rights group, called it “the worst campaign of repression in the country for years”. The government’s reaction showed a lot of nervousness about how much opposition it can tolerate.

In fact the crackdown started a few weeks ago after “Bersih 2.0” announced that it was going to stage the rally. Bersih, also known as The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, is a loose alliance of NGOs and activists (bersih means “clean”). It argues that all candidates should be given access to the mainstream media and that indelible ink should be used to stop people voting more than once. It all sounds uncontroversial, but not to the government. Bersih was declared illegal on July 1st and about 200 activists were rounded up. The march itself was then banned, although the authorities offered Bersih a stadium to meet in—and then withdrew the offer.

There’s a Word for This - uncompetence

There is a difference between incompetence and uncompetence. Incompetence is when people make bad decisions. Uncompetence is when people start to suspect that competence is something the elites do, and think to themselves, “I should perhaps do something else.”

Welcome, everyone, to Toronto.

Here in Toronto, the citizenry are being treated to a three-ring circus of municipal upheaval, in which the self-professed guardians of taxpayer dollars are busy throwing said dollars away for reasons that seem to range from ideology to spite, which really isn’t that far of a walk.

Michele Bachmann Criticizes Black Farmer Settlement

OMAHA, Neb. — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann pointed to one program in particular Monday when talking about wasteful government spending: a multibillion dollar settlement paid to black farmers, who claim the federal government discriminated against them for decades in awarding loans and other aid.

The issue came up after Bachmann and Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa toured flooded areas along the Missouri River. During a news conference, they fielded a question about whether farmers affected by the flooding also should be worried by proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture cuts.

The two responded by criticizing a 1999 settlement in what is known as the Pigford case, after the original plaintiff, North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford. Late last year, President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing a new, nearly $1.2 billion settlement for people who were denied payments in the earlier one because they missed deadlines for filing.

The Road Not Taken

Over the past months, Republicans enjoyed enormous advantages. Opinion polls showed that voters are eager to reduce the federal debt, and they want to do it mostly but not entirely through spending cuts.

There was a Democratic president eager to move to the center. He floated certain ideas that would be normally unheard of from a Democrat. According to widespread reports, White House officials talked about raising the Medicare eligibility age, cutting Social Security by changing the inflation index, freezing domestic discretionary spending and offering to pre-empt the end of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a broad tax-reform process.

The Democratic offers were slippery, and President Obama didn’t put them in writing. But John Boehner, the House speaker, thought they were serious. The liberal activists thought they were alarmingly serious. I can tell you from my reporting that White House officials took them seriously.
The combined effect would have been to reduce the size of government by $3 trillion over a decade. That’s a number roughly three times larger than the cost of the Obama health care law. It also would have brutally fractured the Democratic Party.

Will the Debt Ceiling Split Senate Republicans?

Since the 2010 election cycle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has had to watch his right flank. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has been cultivating a conservative wing among Senate Republicans, and a major storyline in Washington Republican politics has become DeMint's growing influence in the party, both as a parliamentarian and as a campaigner for conservative primary candidates.

The debt limit has again put DeMint at the center of Senate proceedings. He's promised to do everything he can to stop the plan offered by McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow President Obama to raise the debt limit without congressional consent.

SEC Investigates Monsanto's Roundup Biz

While I have been fixating on the USDA's decision to ramp down oversight of the GMO seed industry, another federal agency has been quietly asking hard questions about the business practices of the industry's dominant player, Monsanto.

The SEC is investigating Monsanto's tactics for defending the market for its herbicide, Roundup. The news emerged just before the July 4 holiday weekend, during Monsanto's press conference about its quarterly financial earnings. Company execs boasted of a 77 percent increase in profit before dropping a mini-bombshell, The Wall Street Journal reported:
Monsanto said it was cooperating with a previously undisclosed U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe into its customer incentive programs for herbicides in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, and had received a subpoena to provide related documents.

Michele Bachmann's Child Army

In November 2008, Michele Bachmann was in trouble. The incumbent Minnesota congresswoman was facing a Democratic wave and the backlash from comments she made questioning Barack Obama's patriotism, and polls showed her neck-and-neck with her challenger, former state transportation commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg. But at the last minute, some unlikely reinforcements arrived to give Bachmann a boost: kids.

Over the last week of the campaign, nearly six-dozen home-schooled students, some flown in from out of state, joined the Bachmann campaign, knocking on doors, sending out mailers, and making thousands of phone calls. The kids, all between the ages of 12 and 19, were members of GenJ Student Action Team, part of a national organization called Generation Joshua, which trains home-schooled students to become political activists. When the votes were counted, Bachmann held on to her seat in a squeaker—and she credited her child army with pushing her over to the top.

BP Oil Spill: Government Official's Associates Reportedly Got Big Contracts After Spill

Last month, Craig Taffaro Jr., the president of Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish, lambasted a ProPublica story while testifying before a congressional committee.

The story, published in April, described how some local powerbrokers and others, aided in part by Taffaro, cashed in after the BP oil spill, winning lucrative jobs related to the cleanup effort and earning the nickname "spillionaires." The story also showed how some who profited from the spill then donated to Taffaro's campaign. On June 2, Taffaro told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the story was "a hatchet job" with "no factual data."

New documents obtained by ProPublica, however, show that BP's auditors repeatedly questioned bills submitted by St. Bernard contractors, including three with ties to Taffaro, based on suspicions that they had overcharged or charged for permanent parish improvements unrelated to the spill.

Alberta Oil Sands Development: A Sustainable Plan

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- KANANASKIS, Alta. - Energy ministers began meeting in Kananaskis, Alta., on Monday to start laying the groundwork for a national energy strategy, but there are widely diverging views about what such a policy should look like.

Federal Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver and some of his provincial and territorial counterparts visited oilsands sites in northern Alberta on Sunday and Monday before heading to the picturesque Rocky Mountain retreat.

Oliver said the tour reinforced his view that the oilsands can be developed in a sustainable way, and doing so is a "tremendous, tremendous" benefit to Canada.

Alberta oil jobs flowing away as bitumen processed out-of-country

Government projections show the percentage of the province’s bitumen upgraded by Albertans will plunge as low as 50 per cent in coming years, shattering Premier Ed Stelmach’s five-year-old promise to keep upgrading jobs at home.

Estimates from Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board show the percentage of oilsands bitumen upgraded here will plummet to 52 per cent by 2016, dramatically lower than the 72 per cent target Stelmach pledged the province would achieve by that same year.

“Shipping raw bitumen is like scraping off the topsoil, selling it and then passing the farm on to the next generation,” Stelmach said in 2006 when he was running for leadership of the Conservative party. “What value does it have?”

A nation infected by scandal

Scandals used to be so simple. Power corrupts, we were taught, and scandals were the business of those few who held power. Teapot Dome, which before Watergate was what you thought of when you saw the words “American political scandal,” involved the payment of kickbacks to a single cabinet secretary. The Pacific Scandal was essentially a matter between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Hugh Allan.

In this democratic age, however, the locus of corruption has shifted. Now, scandals belong to everybody. The corruption more typical of our times—perhaps Watergate marked the transition—infects an organization generally, an “everybody does it” mentality in which large numbers of people who never thought of themselves as criminals become ensnared. Think of the huge numbers of people who participated in or at least knew about the various exchanges that went into the sponsorship scandal. The phrase popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, social epidemic, seems apt. The culture of corruption spreads from person to person, encouraging each to adopt a standard of behaviour that, as individuals, they might otherwise find repulsive.

Rupert Murdoch’s day of reckoning

The most telling story in Michael Wolff’s biography of Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News, didn’t appear in the original 2008, 400-plus-page hardcover. It’s the tale of the media mogul’s reaction to the book, appended as a forward to the paperback version two years later. Eight weeks before the first edition hit the streets, the News Corporation proprietor somehow obtained a copy—“purloined,” writes Wolff, from a rival British newspaper that was bidding on the serialization rights. And as he read the product of the more than 50 hours of candid and profane interviews he had given, Murdoch got upset. Over the course of a single day, he left the author a dozen increasingly agitated voice mails, quibbling with ancient details, and complaining about tone and interpretation. Then he went ominously silent.

Lack of boots on the ground makes for slow progress in Libya: top soldier

OTTAWA — The NATO mission in Libya has dragged on longer than most had expected and Canada’s top soldier suggests things might be different if the rules of engagement allowed for boots on the ground.

It’s an idea that all involved countries have been adamantly against, but Gen. Walt Natynczyk suggested it can be limiting.

“It’s always about precision and from 20,000 feet, you only get so much precision,” he said in an interview with Postmedia News.

The NATO force, which includes about 650 Canadians, has been able to gather good intelligence with the resources it has, he added, but having people on the ground is “always better.”

Report stresses efficiencies that could save city millions

It may not be a headline grabber, but there is more than pocket change to be saved with “back room” reorganizations such as centralizing finance and administrative functions at the city of Toronto, according to the latest report by KPMG consultants obtained exclusively by the National Post.

Outsourcing some of the work done by the city’s 3-1-1 call-centre service, which provides information and support to residents on non-emergency services, was among the suggestions.

Consolidating dispatch centres and merging 3-1-1’s operations with those of 2-1-1, which provides information on non-profit and public sector services, were also cited as potential sources of savings.

Prison costs soar 86% in past five years

OTTAWA — The cost of the federal prison system has risen 86% since the Harper government took over in 2006, government reports show.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2005-06, Canada’s federal corrections system cost nearly $1.6-billion per year, but the projected cost for 2011-12 has increased to $2.98-billion per year.

“That is a humungous increase of over 80%,” said Justin Piche, an assistant professor of sociology at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., who analyzes the costs of Canada’s prisons.

“Canadians are going to be spending a lot more on their prisons, and this is just the beginning.”

John Baird embraces China as a 'friend'

Foreign Minister John Baird described China as a “friend” and “ally” Monday, then, in a further signal of efforts to improve ties, said the Harper government shares Beijing’s desire to repatriate a fugitive seeking refuge in Canada.

Mr. Baird, making Beijing his first official bilateral trip as foreign minister, stressed the importance of China to Canada’s economic prosperity and argued that it’s better to press human-rights concerns directly with senior Chinese officials in private meetings than simply “griping” from home.

And he signalled that the case of Lai Changxing, accused of netting billions in China through smuggling and bribery, is one in which Ottawa and Beijing share common cause: Both countries, he said, feel strongly about dealing with “fraudsters.”

No revenue? No problem. Right, Mayor Ford?

When he was a cranky city councillor, Rob Ford always denied that the city needed to take in more money. City hall, he said over and over, “has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Yet now that he is in charge, Toronto is considering more and higher user fees for city services. The aim, quite obviously, is to collect more money.

Along with its department-by-department service review, the city is taking an exhaustive look at what it charges on everything from marriage licences and ice time to children’s swimming lessons and yoga classes for seniors. If the city is offering something for less than it costs to deliver, city manager Joe Pennachetti said on Monday, it will consider “full cost recovery.” In other words, the user pays the whole freight, with no hidden subsidy from the city. On top of that, says Pennachetti’s report, the city will seek “additional opportunities for collecting user fees.” Translation: It will consider charging for things that it doesn’t now.

Tory ‘tough-on-crime’ bill has youth advocates worried

The idea behind Canada’s current strategy to fight youth crime was deceptively simple: Put teens in jail if you have to, but only if you have to.

It was supposed to strike a balance between two competing anxieties: that young people were committing heinous crimes and not being punished appropriately; and that locking up impressionable teens created criminals who would spend the rest of their lives bouncing in and out of the penal system.

“There was considerable concern around whether the balance was quite right in terms of protection of the public and rehabilitation,” says Anne McLellan, the Liberal justice minister who brought in the Youth Criminal Justice Act in the late 1990s.

Public works committee plans $15M in cuts

Toronto's public works committee gave the go-ahead to a controversial series of cuts suggested by an independent accounting firm last week that included a reduction in street cleaning and snow removal, and an end to fluoride in the city's drinking water.

A 44-page report prepared for the city by KPMG identified about $15 million in savings out of the roughly $1-billion budget of the Public Works and Infrastructure division.

Other proposals included reducing the city's waste-diversion rate, trimming its cycling infrastructure and further privatization of garbage collection.

The committee endorsed all of the suggestions but exactly which services will be cut will be determined later.

In September, Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee will have the final say over which items are sent to city council.

Lay budget cuts on table, Ford foes urge

Mayor Rob Ford’s council opponents are daring him to lay his budget cuts on the table after the first committee to consider a KPMG report neither explicity endorsed nor rejected any of the consultant’s suggested cuts.

“Until we get the mayor’s budget, this is a lot of talk,” Councillor Gord Perks told fellow public works committee members on Monday during a meeting that lasted almost eight hours and heard more than two dozen public deputations.

At the end, Ford allies voted to push forward KPMG’s controversial suggested cuts in the public works budget, but to ask city staff to find possible efficiencies to stave off reduced street-sweeping and snow-plowing, including an end to clearing of snow ridges left by plows at the end of suburban driveways. The committee also signaled it doesn’t want to end fluoridation of drinking water.

SIU closes Adam Nobody investigation

An investigation into the alleged police beating of G20 protester Adam Nobody has been closed with no further arrests.

The Special Investigations Unit found no reasonable grounds to charge any other Toronto police officer in the incident.

In December, the SIU charged Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani with assault with a weapon in the case. The investigation then continued to identify other officers involved.

‘Why should you die for a transfer?’

When police stopped a teenager stepping off the T-train yesterday to show his transfer as proof he’d paid his fare – $2 at most – he ran from them. They shot him as many as 10 times in the back and neck, according to witnesses. For many long minutes, as a crowd watched in horror, the boy, who had fallen to the sidewalk a block away, lay in a quickly growing pool of blood writhing in pain and trying to lift himself up as the cops trained their guns on him and threatened bystanders.

Full Article
Source: San Francisco BayView