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, August 10, 2011

The Real Problem with the Congressional 'Super-Committee'

Yesterday Harry Reid announced his picks for the Congressional debt-reduction “super-committee”: Senators Max Baucus, John Kerry and Patty Murray.

Most notable was who Reid didn’t pick—the three austerity hawk members of the “Gang of Six”—Kent Conrad, Dick Durbin and Mark Warner. Reid’s selections have a natural logic to them. Murray is a member of the Appropriations Committee, the fourth-ranking Senate Democrat and chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which makes her one of the most powerful Democrats in the caucus. Kerry is a respected senior statesman in the party who’s become increasingly vocal on economic policy of late, “delivering ‘some powerful speeches’…in defense of Democratic Party priorities,” according to the Huffington Post. And Baucus, as we all know, is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and tax revenue.

Against Supercommittee Transparency

This week, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders began appointing the members of the so-called "supercommittee" -- the latest blue-ribbon commission assigned to tackle the deficit problem, this one created by the recent debt-ceiling legislation. Even before the appointments were announced, there was plenty of chest bumping from both sides, Republicans vowing never to consider tax increases and Democrats swearing to protect entitlement programs. So it's hard enough to believe that the supercommittee is going to manage to strike any kind of agreement.

But if there's one thing that could worsen the odds, it's the suddenly popular notion that the committee's deliberations ought to be thrown open to the public. "[F]rom the conversations I've had with the other leaders of both parties, I can tell you there's a strong commitment to having open hearings and a public process," House Speaker John Boehner told his members on Monday.

That's an absolutely terrible idea.

Facebook group not for layabouts and ‘communists:' councillor

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti has launched a Facebook site designed, he says, to give voice to the silent majority of working-class Torontonians who don’t have time to speak out at all-night City Hall meetings alongside layabouts and “communists.”

“The people who show up for the meeting, some may be working people, but they’re only working off the dime of taxpayers,” said Mr. Mammoliti of the 170 speakers who turned out to speak at a 22-and-a-half-hour executive meeting two weeks ago. “They only come to defend their salaries. I want to hear from the average Joe Blow who doesn’t even know what City Hall looks like.”

Internet privacy experts raise concerns over crime bill

A group of experts in internet and privacy law want the government to study provisions they say could drastically affect Canadians' privacy rights.

The provisions, which critics call warrantless online spying, were included in three lawful access technical surveillance bills from the last parliamentary session, but are expected to be rolled into the omnibus crime bill the Conservatives plan to table this fall. The Conservative election platform promised to reintroduce the electronic surveillance provisions as part of the omnibus crime bill.

The provisions would give law enforcement agencies more power to take information from internet service providers and other private companies without a warrant, according to Open Media, a consumer watchdog group.

Invasive species rule threatens St. Lawrence shipping

A New York state regulation intended to protect the St. Lawrence Seaway from invasive species may cripple shipping and hit Canada's economy hard, the shipping industry warns.

The new state regulation, which goes into effect in 2013, requires all ships entering New York waters to carry on-board water treatment systems and show they have extremely low levels of organisms in ballast water that may include invasive species.

"Close to a quarter of the gross national product … would be dramatically affected by that measure," said Jean Aubry-Morin, executive vice-president of corporate sustainability at the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the Canadian non-profit group that co-manages the seaway with the U.S.-based Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.

A 2008 study by by scientists from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Wyoming found invasive species cost the eight U.S. states bordering the Great Lakes $200 million a year. For example, zebra mussels, which arrived in the 1980s, clog intake pipes, sink navigational buoys and compete with local species for food.

Harper and Cameron reaffirm their commitment to Libya

Stephen Harper discussed global flashpoints including Libya in a phone call with his NATO ally British Prime minister David Cameron Wednesday morning.

Mr. Harper spoke from Colombia, the latest stop on his Latin American tour.

The Canadian prime minister and his British counterpart are both key members of the UN-mandated, NATO-led mission in Libya.

The two leaders discussed that civilians in Libya are still under threat from the Gadhafi regime and reaffirmed their commitment to protect these civilians, the Canadian Prime Minister's Office said.

They also reaffirmed their belief that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi must leave power and leave his country's future to “be decided by the Libyan people.”

Finally, the two leaders discussed the fragile state of the global economy.

Source: Globe&Mail 

Anti-Union Law Fuels Massive Voter Turnout for Historic Wisconsin Recall

Republicans have retained control of the Wisconsin State Senate following a series of historic recall elections organized in response to their support of Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting bill this spring. Democrats needed to win three of the six Republican seats up for grabs in order to gain a majority, but four incumbents prevailed. Independent video producer Sam Mayfield spoke with voters at polling stations in the contested districts of Republican State Senators Alberta Darling and Luther Olsen in southern Wisconsin. She filed this report for Democracy Now!

Source: Democracy Now! 

How did the world get so fixated on GDP?

The economic news grows daily more grim. Across the developed world, once-optimistic forecasts for growth are being revised downwards. Financial markets, sensing trouble ahead, are in a tailspin. Debates over the future centre on a single metric – that of GDP.

Gross domestic product was not always with us. Created in the 1930s, and despite the warnings of its pioneer, it rapidly assumed centre stage in economic policymaking. Growth could now be measured targeted through policy. For the right, it would be a simple gauge of national economic virility. For the left, it offered the more subtle appeal of an end to disputes over the distribution of wealth. By focusing not on the size of the slices, but on the size of the pie, an interminable conflict between capital and labour could seemingly be resolved. The case was put most forcefully in the Labour politician Anthony Crosland's influential book The Future of Socialism. Growth would deliver the public goods – secure employment and a functioning welfare state.

Panama Trade Deal Would Undercut Efforts To Get Rich Americans To Pay Taxes (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON -- During a Monday press conference addressing Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. debt, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his commitment to raising taxes on the wealthy. But as he pushes to get the rich to pay more into federal coffers, Obama is also urging Congress to approve a trade agreement that would cement a key tax avoidance tactic deployed by some of the richest Americans.

"What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps: tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare," Obama said during the address, referring to steps the U.S. should take in addition the cuts agreed to to raise the federal debt ceiling.

Just two days before, during his Saturday radio address, Obama urged Congress approve three trade deals, including one with Panama that would permit Americans to easily stash assets in the Central American country, a notorious tax haven for the wealthy and American corporations.

Governor Rick Perry: Big On Prayer, Not So Big On Charity

WASHINGTON -- Texas Governor Rick Perry sounded a humble note during his speech at his national prayer event last Saturday. In front of some 30,000 people, he pivoted away from the Tea Party rhetoric that had so typified -- and electrified -- his audiences during the past year. Instead, Perry opted for a vague plea for charity.

After introductory remarks, Perry gushed: "Like all of you, I love this country deeply. ... Indeed the only thing that you love more is the living Christ. But our hearts do break for those who suffer, those afflicted by the loss of loved ones, the pain of addiction, the strife that they may find at home, those who have lost jobs, who have lost their homes, people who have lost hope."

Benevolent charity has long been a cornerstone of conservative social policy, whether in the form of a religious group organizing large-scale relief programs or a quiet donor giving a helping hand to an individual man or woman. But how well conservative politicians might practice what they preach varies dramatically.

Over 1,000 Arrested in U.K. as Anger Over Inequality, Racism Boils Over Into "Insurrection"

Unrest continues to spread across England after protests erupted Saturday in London when police shot to death Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man. Mobs firebombed police stations and sets shops on fire in London, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham. After waiting for several days, Prime Minister David Cameron has cut short his vacation and recalled Parliament from summer recess. Scotland Yard has ordered its officers to deploy every available force to stop the unrest, including water cannons and possibly the use of plastic bullets. London has been flooded with 16,000 officers, the largest police presence in the city’s history. We go to London to speak with journalist Darcus Howe, a longtime critic of police brutality in black and West Indian communities across the U.K., and author and blogger Richard Seymour of the popular British site "Lenin’s Tomb." "There is a mass insurrection — and I am not talking about rioting — I am talking about an insurrection that comes from the depths of society, from the consciousness collectively of the young blacks and whites, but overwhelmingly black, as a result of the consistent stopping and searching young blacks without cause," says Howe of the uprising. Seymour notes that anti-terror legislation has led to an unprecedented number of stops, predominantly of youth of color, but protests against the stops have been largely ignored by the British media. "A political establishment, a media, and a state system that gives people … the impression that they will not be listened to, unless they force themselves on to your attention, is going to lead to riots," says Seymour.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Michele Bachmann Repeatedly Sought Stimulus, EPA, Other Government Funds

WASHINGTON -- Few candidates in the Republican presidential primary field have decried the federal government with as much gusto as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). The three-term congresswoman has belittled the stimulus package, deemed the Obama administration both corrupt and "gangster," and lamented the "orgy" of spending she sees happening in Washington.

The contempt has served her well, helping her craft the type of fiscally conservative, anti-government message that has catapulted her into frontrunner status for the Iowa Caucus and, more immediately, Saturday's crucial Ames Straw Poll.

But it's simply not supported by the Minnesota Republican's actual record.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Huffington Post with three separate federal agencies reveals that on at least 16 separate occasions, Bachmann petitioned the federal government for direct financial help or aid. A large chunk of those requests were for funds set aside through President Obama's stimulus program, which Bachmann once labeled "fantasy economics." Bachmann made two more of those requests to the Environmental Protection Agency, an institution that she has suggested she would eliminate if she were in the White House.

Anarchy in the UK


Perhaps the whole point of a riot is to defy explanation: it’s an eruption of the irrational, a shattering of glass and boundaries, a testosterone-fueled roar that briefly flips anger and emptiness into something like ecstasy. What’s in the minds of the young men (and women, too) in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool who’ve sent great sheets of flame rising into the August night, devouring local businesses that it took years to build; who’ve turned plate glass to spiderwebs with one crack of a brick; who’ve gone home with their backpacks stuffed with cell phones, Nike trainers, X-boxes and Wiis? Well, wouldn’t we like to know, we middle-class types with access to a blog and an analysis, a “network” and a future?

Today Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson returned reluctantly from their  vacations to confront the arson and looting that have spread through Britain's cities over the last three nights, like a pair of Eton prefects summoned to contain the fifth form. Parliament has been recalled for the second time this summer (the first was over phone hacking by Murdoch’s News International); 450 people have already been arrested; Cameron has promised 6,000 more police on London’s streets this evening. But will it be enough?

Another Bailout Joins the Goofball Economy

The whole thing is nuts. The economy is a shambles, saved from a free fall only by the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented promise of free money for banks for at least two years. That’s how long a seven-member majority of the Fed’s Open Market Committee expects it to take for significant relief to take hold for the 25 million Americans who can’t find full-time employment.

The ten member committee’s three dissenters in Tuesday’s decision, all unelected Fed regional board presidents, are free-market ideologues who don’t believe the government has a role to play in reversing the nation’s economic disaster. One is a former Wall Street investment banker and vice chairman of Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm. The other two are University of Chicago school of economics disciples long committed to free-market purism and blind faith in the mathematical models that had much to do with radical deregulation and the subsequent collapse of the financial markets.

That view led Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, before he assumed his Fed position, to sign a petition that the libertarian Cato Institute placed in various newspapers opposing President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

Ugly BBC Interview Touches on Deeper Issues in London Riots

A BBC interview today with West Indian writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe on the London riots is currently getting passed around the Web, primarily because the contentious and awkward exchange speaks to larger questions about how the media and politicians are portraying the riots and whether the unrest is racially charged.

The interview begins inauspiciously, with the anchor, Fiona Armstrong, asking Howe, who's talking to her from Croydon, a leading question: "Are you shocked by what you've seen there last night?" To her surprise, Howe says he isn't: "Our political leaders had no idea, our police had no idea. But if you looked at young blacks and young whites with a discerning eye and a careful hearing, they have been telling us, and we would not listen that what is happening in this country to them is wrong." He later scoffs at Armstrong's suggestions that he might condone the looting or have a history of participating in violent riots, telling the anchor to "have some respect for an old West Indian Negro."

Source: the Atlantic Wire 

Birmingham riots: intense anger after deaths of three young men

Community leaders in Birmingham are working all-out to calm intense anger in the city's British Asian community over the deaths of three young men who were rammed by a carload of suspected looters.

West Midlands police arrested a man near the scene and recovered a vehicle, which forensics experts are examining. They later launched a murder inquiry.

Groups of residents in Winson Green, the inner-city area where the men were killed as they tried to protect local businesses in the early hours of Wednesday, openly warned of inter-communal violence if the murder inquiry fails to produce rapid results.

Their anger was passed on by the local Labour MP for Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood, and the Bishop of Aston, Rt Rev Anthony Watson, who joined a meeting at Dudley Road mosque, which locals claimed was on looters' hitlist of targets where money might be found. The victims, brothers Shazad and Munir Hussein, 32 and 30, and Haroon Chohan, 19, were among some 80 young men who turned out after a gang tried to ransack the nearby Jet petrol station on Monday night.

The Secret History of Guns

The eighth-grade students gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must 
take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.
Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

It was May 2, 1967, and the Black Panthers’ invasion of the California statehouse launched the modern gun-rights movement.

Lack of corporate spending marks a different kind of cash crisis

When Campbell Soup Co. unveiled its most recent quarterly results, it showed a five-fold surge in its cash position. But even with $449-million (U.S.) in the bank, one of corporate America’s signature companies is restructuring, cutting jobs and focusing on growth outside its U.S. home market.

Welcome to a new kind of economic recovery – one with a cash crisis of a different kind than the liquidity crunch that caused the recession three years ago. This is a crisis of spending, or lack of it. Some of the largest and most profitable U.S. corporations are collectively sitting on almost $2-trillion (U.S.) in cash and contributing little in the way of job creation.

Campbell Soup’s cash balance at the end of its fiscal third quarter is a pittance compared with the $91-billion held by General Electric Co., the $28.8-billion that decorates the balance sheet of Oracle Corp. or the $13.8-billion in the coffers of Coca-Cola Co.

But the fact that Campbell’s cash, and the money held by scores of other big corporations, is for the most part sitting idle – and not being invested in growth or new jobs in the U.S. – underscores the fortress mentality that is gripping chief financial officers scarred by the 2008 liquidity crisis.

Wisconsin Recall Election Results: Democrats Win Two Seats, Fall Short Of Taking Over Senate

WASHINGTON -- Democrats won two Wisconsin state Senate seats in Tuesday's dramatic recall elections, but they fell short of the three needed to take the majority away from Republicans.

Six incumbent GOP state senators were forced to defend their seats on Tuesday in historic recall elections. The efforts to change the makeup of the state Senate came after Republicans passed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) controversial measure stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Even though Democrats weren't able to take back one of the chambers of the legislature, they touted the fact that voters ousted two incumbent Republicans as a major victory.

Tracking Down the Paper Pushers

Reuters recently released an investigative report on the formation of shell corporations in the U.S. midwest, which suggests that the number of American shell corporations used for financial crime is much higher than previously believed. Many shell companies are created by organizations devoted to incorporation, and are then left to sit for up to decades in order to amass credibility. The Mark spoke with Jason Sharman, who is preparing a report for the World Bank on corporate-formation law around the world.

THE MARK: What are shell corporations, and what illegal purposes can they be used for?

JASON SHARMAN: A shell corporation is just the legal form of a company that does not engage in any substantive business. So it doesn't have any employees, and doesn't make any goods or produce any services. It's owned by a legal person, but only on forms.

Shell corporations are very useful for breaking the link between any transaction and the real, living, breathing person behind it, so pretty much any profit-driven crime can make use of shell companies. Profit-driven crimes are mostly international or organized crimes – things like money laundering, fraud, tax evasion, all sorts of corruption offenses, or even financial terrorism. Shell companies can be helpful in separating criminals from the actual proceeds of the crime, making it harder for investigators to make the link between them.

Whither the Obama of Hope?

The clear continuity in Obama and Bush's counter-terrorism policies belie Obama's mantra of change.

“What happened to hope?”

That’s the question many of U.S. President Barack Obama’s supporters are asking three years after a campaign that criticized “wars of choice” and the Patriot Act, promised to “finish the fight” in Afghanistan, and vowed to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and use “tough direct diplomacy” to prevent Iran from deploying nuclear weapons.

When it comes to foreign and defence policy, the answer is simple: The message of hope and change collided with reality. In short, Obama’s supporters are learning that conducting U.S. foreign policy is far more difficult than simply critiquing it. As a consequence, on the central foreign-policy and national-security issue of the day – the global struggle against jihadists and their patrons and partners – there is far more common ground between Obama and former president George W. Bush than Obama’s supporters expected, and less change than his opponents feared.

Scorn in Toronto, acclaim in Hamilton

It’s poised to become a battle worthy of a novel.

Literary icon Margaret Atwood has accepted an invitation from Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina to tour the city’s newly renovated central library. The invitation is a tongue-in-cheek jab at the Rob Ford administration’s refusal to take closing libraries off Toronto’s list of potential cost-cutters.

Atwood, a vocal critic of Councillor Doug Ford’s contention that libraries, festival funding and arts grants are fair game for the budget axe, suggested last week that “contempt for creative people” could drive activity to cities like Hamilton.

“No one in Canada could possibly have missed your recent encounter in Toronto,” Bratina writes in his letter to Atwood, a copy of which was obtained by the Star. “It inspired us here in Hamilton to express to you our support for Canadian literature and culture, and our concern that someone of your stature as a Canadian cultural icon would be confronted with even the vaguest notion of obscurity or anonymity.”

Ford accused of stacking public appointments

Three of the four citizens shortlisted for positions on the influential Toronto Police Services Board are Conservatives, a fact two of them stated on their applications.

Tory connections — including party fundraising, work on federal or provincial campaigns, or even candidacy — are cited by shortlisted applicants to many other city boards, including two up for spots on the Toronto Licensing Commission, said a source who saw the applications.

The civic appointments committee is sweeping clean some boards, including the one overseeing libraries, with all members denied a chance at reappointment. Mayor Rob Ford’s office has taken an unprecedented interest in the process, even — according to witnesses — handing council allies a list of the citizen applicants, marked up with notes, during the short-listing.

John Ivison: Now is exactly the time to clean up the country’s balance sheets

The gods preserve us from leaders who are, in Winston Churchill’s words, “adamant for drift and solid for fluidity.” All it has taken are a few days of market turbulence and Canada’s opposition parties are in a panic, urging the government to abandon its economic course to balance the federal budget.

Peggy Nash, the NDP finance critic, has called for another round of stimulus spending. Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, also gave the impression he would like to see the Conservatives splurge again. “We can’t just have a government that cuts. We have to have a government that builds,” he said.

While there are good reasons for Mr. Rae to be allergic to public spending cuts, given his experience in Ontario in the mid-’90s, his Treasury Board critic, John McCallum, a former Royal Bank economist, has no such excuses for his comment that “it makes no sense” to cut spending now.

Scott Stinson: If the London rioters were protesters they wouldn’t look so happy

It is the joy on display that is so unsettling.

People who are protesting are by nature angry, or at least solemn. They have upraised fists, and homemade signs.

But young Britons haven’t even bothered to come up with a slogan or a decent chant. They are blissfully happy as they destroy other people’s property. They are without guilt.

It can be seen in the images of giddy youths hauling flat-screen televisions out of plundered shops. It can be read in the reports where, as one witness described, a young woman looted so many sweaters from a high-end London store she tottered under their weight. And it can be heard, starkly, in the conversation between a BBC radio reporter and two women in Croydon who were, at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, drinking from a bottle of stolen rosé and talking about their night of adventure.