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, July 22, 2011

Pipeline Through Paradise

The Queen of the North was the pride of the BC Ferries fleet—right up until the night she sank. On March 22, 2006, during a routine run from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, the ferry exited the narrow 45-mile Grenville Channel just past midnight. Then something went wrong. The officer at the helm, distracted by a conversation with another crew member, neglected to turn after leaving the channel, which points like a rifle barrel at the tip of Gil Island. At 12:20 a.m. the ferry's bow met the island's rock at a speed of 17.5 knots, ripping a hole in the hull. One hour and 20 minutes later, the Queen came to rest under 1,400 feet of water.

Of the 101 people aboard, 99 survived, thanks largely to the citizens of nearby Hartley Bay, who put to sea in fishing boats in the middle of the rainy, windy night to rescue them. Two passengers were never found. Today the Queen of the North remains where she sank. Every day, a little more fuel leaks out of her tanks, which still hold tens of thousands of gallons of diesel.

China building electromagnetic pulse weapons for use against U.S. carriers

China's military is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons that Beijing plans to use against U.S. aircraft carriers in any future conflict over Taiwan, according to an intelligence report made public on Thursday.

Portions of a National Ground Intelligence Centerstudy on the lethal effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and high-powered microwave (HPM) weapons revealed that the arms are part of China’s so-called “assassin’s mace” arsenal - weapons that allow a technologically inferior China to defeat U.S. military forces.

EMP weapons mimic the gamma-ray pulse caused by a nuclear blast that knocks out all electronics, including computers and automobiles, over wide areas. The phenomenon was discovered in 1962 after an aboveground nuclear test in the Pacific disabled electronics in Hawaii.

Credit Rating Agencies, Wrong Before, Now Hold World's Fate

If global finance were anything like the rest of life, no one would be paying much mind to the credit rating agencies, who have been revealed to operate with about as much discretion as a corner streetwalker. Yet, in a moment that now feels as laden with danger as any since the financial crisis of three years ago, the credit rating agencies get to decide whether the world blows up.

Technically, they must determine whether the finances of the United States are sufficiently sound to avoid downgrading the creditworthiness of American government savings bonds, an action that could inflict pain broadly. They must assess whether a convoluted deal to bail out the Greek government should or shouldn't be grounds to declare a sovereign default –- a term that global investors generally heed as a dictate to start dumping the currency in question.

GAO audit report shows Federal Reserve issued $16 trillion during recession, Sen. Sanders urges reform

Two days after the Government Accountability Office’s one-time audit examining Federal Reserve activities during the economic downturn was published, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called its lending decisions, “socialism for the rich and rugged.”

As part of last year’s Frank-Dodd financial reform legislation, the GAO was commissioned [PDF] to review the emergency actions taken by the Federal Reserve Board from December 1, 2007, through July 21, 2010.

The report concluded $16 trillion in emergency funds were issued to financial institutions worldwide, and that some $660 million were paid to a handful of banks to administer the emergency loans. Most of the contracts associated with the latter sum were not issued through a bid, primarily due to “exigent circumstances,” the report explains.

New Orleans schools: A nexus of poverty, high expulsion rates, hyper-security and novice teachers

John, an eighth grader at the time, gives another student on school grounds a candy bar. He is spotted by a security guard and told he now faces suspension. Frightened, John runs, getting caught twice and slapped with handcuffs as many times, acquiring bruises along his wrists in the process. A jacket his grandmother purchased is torn during the scuffle with the much larger security personnel.

“Knowing how my dad has been in and out of jail his whole life and always had handcuffs on… I promised myself it would never happen to me,” John says. “I’m a kid, and kids shouldn’t have handcuffs on them. It disgusts me putting kids in handcuffs and jail.”

Split-Personality Disorder

However the debt-ceiling standoff is ultimately resolved, the trench warfare between House Republicans and the Democratic president has shown the country that the GOP is caught between its antigovernment fervor and the need to keep the lights on.

The populist Tea Party movement that helped the Republicans capture the House last year is fueled by a loathing for government and a refusal to support a deal with Democrats offering what once would have been unthinkable budget cuts. Republicans have even turned on their own, treating the party stalwart Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell like an ideological traitor for proposing a last-ditch plan to allow President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling rather than watch the federal government slide into default.

Water Market Will Be Bigger Than Oil, Analysts Predict

Forget oil and natural gas. The truly worthwhile commodity in which to invest in the 21st century is water, say a growing number of economists and market gurus.

That is, if you subscribe to the notion that water should be a commodity.

The chorus of analysts and trend spotters calling for investors to pile into water as an investment class is giving new life to a long-simmering debate: Whether water is a commodity, to be bought and sold like all others, or a human right that can be denied to no one.

What about the whole Communist thing?

So John Baird went to China and everybody wrung their hands. What about human rights, minister? What about the Chinese people under the Communist jackboot?

“No more Stephen Harper vowing not to sell out human rights for ‘the almighty dollar,’ ” Rod Mickleburgh wrote in the Globe and Mail. “No more Jason Kenney lavishing praise on the Dalai Lama and private meetings between His Holiness and Mr. Harper.”

No indeed. Baird, Harper’s new foreign minister, tipped his hand in a Toronto speech before his three-day trip to China. “China is incredibly important to our future prosperity,” he said. “My government gets it and as Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs, I get it.”

Ah. And what about the whole Communist thing? “Even the best of friends can have legitimate differences of opinion,” the minister said.

Canada accused of closing the door to refugees

MONTREAL - Born at a United Nations-run hospital in Kenya in 2008, Nasteha has waited most of her short life to be reunited with her mother in Canada.

But even as thousands of Somali refugees line up behind her at the Nairobi visa office, fleeing that country's worst famine in 60 years, critics fear she and others will wait even longer as the federal government opens the door to more and more economic immigrants - and closes it on refugees and family members.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is in Montreal on Friday to speak to "stakeholders" about how to achieve the right balance between economic and family-class immigrants, and the protected persons who are accepted into Canada every year.

Why oil sands monitoring is still a long way off

The findings have trickled out for months – report after report, panel after panel – all in an effort to turn around public perception after 40 years of lax environmental monitoring of the oil sands.

And finally, on Thursday, came a federal plan to monitor the air, water, flora and fauna surrounding the development of one of Canada’s critical economic resources.

The comprehensive plan, which says the existing framework is simply “inadequate,” was put together with recommendations from an independent committee and will measure impacts downwind and downstream of the oil sands. At an estimated cost of $50-million a year, it is endorsed by dozens of credible, independent scientists.

Pushing Crisis: GOP Cries Wolf on Debt Ceiling In Order To Impose Radical Pro-Rich Agenda

President Obama and Republican House speaker John Boehner are allegedly close to a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling before an Aug. 2 deadline. But the deal is coming under fire from both Congressional Democrats and Republicans — part of it calls for lowering personal and corporate income tax rates, while eliminating or reducing an array of popular tax breaks, such as the deduction for home mortgage interest. Some Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage on Thursday because the Obama-Boehner agreement appears to violate their pledge not to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as Obama’s promise not to make deep cuts in programs for the poor without extracting some tax concessions from the rich. We’re joined by economist Michael Hudson, President of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends, a Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and author of "Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire."

Source: Democracy Now! 

James Murdoch Accused of Misleading Parliament

Two former News Corp. employees say that James Murdoch, the company's deputy chief operating officer, misled Parliament in a committee hearing on Tuesday. Labour MP Tom Watson asked Murdoch about a settlement paid to phone-hacking victim Gordon Taylor, the former head of the Professional Footballers' Association. James denied knowledge of an incriminating e-mail that proved Taylor's phone had been hacked. Former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former News International legal chief Tom Crone said in a statement that Murdoch did know about the email:

Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday's CMS Select Committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.
In fact, we did inform him of the "for Neville" email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor's lawyers.

Grover Norquist's Pledge Is a Colossal Failure

In 1986, Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, created the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which he describes as "a simple, written commitment by a candidate or elected official that he or she will oppose, and vote against, tax increases." It has recently come under repeated fire: it became a tool for ethanol subsidy apologists, for example, and most recently, it emerged as a needless obstacle in negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

Responding to his critics, Norquist has taken to the op-ed page of the New York Times this morning to defend his legacy:
Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever: it has made it easier for members of Congress to credibly commit to voters that they will refuse to increase taxes and instead focus on reducing the cost of government.       

Unions, MoveOn Warn Obama Not to 'Cave' in Secret Negotiations With House GOP

The Obama White House is reportedly in the process of negotiating a secret debt deal with House Republican leaders that could include deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The deal would not, according to significantly or immediately address the need for new revenues that can be derived from fair taxation of the wealthiest Americans.

That's a bad deal.

Bad for American seniors and Americans who anticipate that one day will be seniors.

Bad for the American economy.

And bad for Barack Obama politically.

Scrutiny on Murdoch's School Reform Agenda Grows

If you watched Rupert Murdoch’s weak-sauce testimony in front of the British Parliament Tuesday, you might have felt just a teensy bit sorry for former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, who sat directly behind Murdoch the entire afternoon, pouting.

Sure, Klein is probably earning more money than God in his new role as executive vice president at News Corp. But the Justice Department attorney turned data-and-accountability school reformer signed up with Murdoch to get out of the harsh political limelight and help News Corp. make a mint selling educational technology products to school districts. Instead, Klein now finds himself heading up the company’s internal response to the explosive phone-hacking scandal, which has tainted nearly every august institution in British society, from Fleet Street to the Cameron government to Scotland Yard.

The FBI is currently investigating News Corp. to learn if its illegal and unethical activities victimized any American citizens, or penetrated the company’s US holdings, which include Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.

Gang of Pain: Who Suffers Under the Bipartisan Deficit Reduction Scheme

President Obama endorsed the Senate's Gang of Six deficit reduction plan Tuesday, saying that the proposal “is broadly consistent with the approach that I’ve urged” and “makes sure that nobody is disproportionately hurt from us making progress on the debt and deficits.”

However, an examination of the plan’s specifics reveals that corporations and wealthy Americans won’t feel much pain at all—in many cases, just the opposite. The plan slashes taxes and could bring the top personal income rate down as low as 23 percent—meaning CEOs like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein could see their after-tax income increase by as much as $3 million, according to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35 percent to between 23 and 29 percent under the proposal. (Supposedly enough loopholes would be closed to keep total revenue from corporate taxes the same. Even in that scenario, corporations won’t pay an extra penny). Military spending also remains virtually untouched.

Unions Go After Gang Of Six Deficit-Cutting Plan: 'It Would Kill Jobs'

WASHINGTON -- Unions are coming down hard on the so-called "Gang of Six" deficit-cutting plan, blasting the bipartisan proposal with a harsh ad set to come out Friday in Capitol-focused publications.

The plan would cut about $3.7 trillion over 10 years, in part by slowing the growth of Social Security and limiting deductions for things like home mortgages, health insurance and retirement plans. It would also lower income-tax rates.

The ads -- paid for by the AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association, the SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers -- slam the plan as an assault on the middle class.

Jason Kenney, Immigrants And The New Conservative Base

Jason Kenney lands in Montreal today to discuss Canada’s immigration levels and how best to integrate new arrivals — a top-of-mind issue for one of the Conservative Party’s newest and most important constituencies.

The stop, part of a series of consultations, comes as Kenney redefines his relationship with this new segment of the Conservative base after three years of targeted outreach in his role as minister of citizenship and immigration.

In the 2008 election, new Canadians made up the majority of the population in only three of the Conservatives’ 143 ridings. The Liberals, despite winning almost half as many seats as the Tories nationally, took the lion’s share of seats with immigrant majorities.

Toronto police strip searches increasing

Toronto police strip searched roughly 60 per cent of the people they arrested in 2010, compared to 32 per cent 10 years ago, according to police statistics.

Previously released figures show the number of strip searches performed by police have been steadily increasing since 2001, leading police critic and former mayor John Sewell to charge the practice is now so widespread it is “routine.”

“If it was routine, it would be 100 per cent,” said Police Chief Bill Blair following Sewell’s deputation to the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday, where the latest figures were released.

List of war crimes suspects leaves more questions than answers

The mood was ominous, the message dire.

War criminals are among us, and Canadians must rally for the safety of the homeland.

On Thursday Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney opened a two-pronged campaign against illegal migrants suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity, by releasing the names of 30 wanted men believed to evading justice throughout Canada.

The list, with mugshot-style images of the suspects, was posted on the Canadian Border Services Agency website.

“We all have a part to play in making our communities safe, and today we are asking for Canadians’ assistance,” Toews said at a news conference in Mississauga.

Ford plotting to oust TTC chief over subway extension

Gary Webster, the TTC’s top executive, is caught in the crosshairs of Mayor Rob Ford’s administration, prompting fears that Toronto transit could be headed on a disastrous course if he’s fired.

A 30-year TTC veteran, the 60-year-old chief general manager has drawn the ire of the Fords over his refusal to support the Sheppard subway extension the mayor wants to build, say Toronto Star sources.

Webster could not be reached for comment, but TTC spokesman Brad Ross issued a statement Thursday saying, “The TTC will not speculate on Mr. Webster’s future. The chief general manager is working hard with staff on the 2012 budget, as well as ongoing customer service improvement initiatives. This is a large, complex organization. His continued leadership has never been more important.”

Critics see KPMG report as ‘smoke and mirrors’

With the air of a prosecutor eager to pounce, Councillor Mary Fragedakis turned to the three KPMG representatives sitting before the economic development committee.

She had some issues with their core service review suggestions.

Had KPMG considered long-term costs associated with cutting support to business improvement areas? What about the economic benefits of arts funding, social services and entrepreneurship support?

“We weren’t asked to quantify the impacts of reducing or eliminating the service,” company representatives replied.

“I don’t think that report was in the scope of what we were asked to look at.”

“We weren’t asked to look at the implications of continuing the service.”

Fragedakis, noting a “consistent theme” to the answers, had made her point.

‘I will assure you that services will not be cut, guaranteed’

Many Torontonians believed Mayor Rob Ford when, two weeks before the Oct. 25 election, he promised “services will not be cut, guaranteed.”

Ford made the vow Oct. 8 while proposing a 2011 budget that would quickly fix the city’s finances with $525.6 million in undefined — but easily found — “gravy.” Residents would not feel a thing.

Eight months later, Torontonians face a 2012 budget deficit of more than $443 million and Ford has put on the table a thick catalogue of deep cuts.

Suggestions in eight city-commissioned KPMG reports, the last of which was released Thursday, include library closures, fire and police department layoffs, reduced snow clearing and street sweeping, and the elimination of 2,000 daycare subsidies.