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.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eventually they all forget whose money they're spending

Soon after I started working for this editorial board nearly a decade ago, I was surprised to learn that I could walk into a room with four or five political candidates in it and make a pretty good guess as to which politician belonged to which party. Of course there were exceptions. But in general, federal Liberals tended to be slick, practised, well trained in the art of not answering questions, and exuding a palpable air of ease and entitlement. They wore cufflinks and big watches. They were either actual incumbents or they seemed to be convinced that they were in God's eyes.

That all changed following the Conservative election victory in 2006. Some of those federal Liberals are still around - and some are very good representatives, who just can't help their supercilious demeanour. But under Stéphane Dion's leadership, some very wet-behind-the-ears Liberal candidates trooped into the Citizen's offices to meet the editorial board. The party was evidently in a rebuilding phase, to put it charitably. Under Michael Ignatieff's tenure, the Liberals seemed to be recruiting some better candidates, but that didn't matter - as it turned out, the Liberal catastrophe had a Part Two.

Michele Bachmann Is Not a Doctor

On the campaign trail in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann's response to the argument that she lacks the experience to run for president has been to turn the argument on its head. The Minnesota congresswoman rattles off her resume: She was a federal tax litigation attorney; she and her husband started "a successful small company"; she fought the establishment in the state Legislature and Congress.

And one more thing: Lest you think she doesn't have the brains to do battle with Obama, she rattles off her degrees. "I'm not only a lawyer, I have a postdoctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary," she told Fox News' Chris Wallace in June. "I work in serious scholarship."

But there was one résumé item that was missing: a Ph.D. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bachmann traveled the state as an education activist, she went by "Dr. Michele Bachmann," even though she had never obtained nor sought the advanced degree that's a prerequisite for the title.

Apparently We've Forgotten Who the Milkens Are

Michael and Lowell Milken's role in the rise of junk bonds helped make them rich. That wasn't enough for UCLA to turn down Lowell's $10 million donation—or even acknowledge his family's checkered past.

If, 20 years from now, a major public university were to name a program after one of the most controversial figures in the financial scandals of the late aughts—say, for example, the Angelo Mozilo School of Finance, or the Joseph Cassano Department of Economics—would anyone notice? Would anyone care? A little-noticed event last week suggests not.

Last Tuesday, the University of California-Los Angeles announced that it had accepted a $10 million donation from Lowell Milken to start the "Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy." The university's press release described Milken as an "international businessman" and the "co-founder of Knowledge Universe, the world's largest early childhood education company." The Daily Bruin, the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, and Los Angeles Daily News all decided to leave their characterizations at that. But there's a lot more to Milken's story.

Folks who are aware of events that happened before the Clinton administration, however, will recall that Lowell Milken is the brother and business partner of convicted fraudster Michael Milken. Michael was the "junk bond king" who, in 1990, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for six felony violations of federal law (he served 22 months). Lowell, like Michael, was indicted on federal racketeering and fraud charges connected to insider-trading violations at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the now-defunct Wall Street investment bank where both brothers worked.

Scaring up Ford Nation

The bigoted rantings of Ford & Co. are those of an administration teetering on the edge

First they came for the bike-riders. Then they came for the trade unionists. Then they went after gays. Now they’re attacking communists.

What/who’s next on the Ford admin’s list of opponents to purge? Mongrels? The poor? Too late. There’s already a plan being cooked up for them. The trajectory of the three-ring circus running City Hall looks a little ominous these days after that red scare scared up by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti last week about some of his left-leaning colleagues on council allegedly being out to control the minds of Torontonians. Jesus, Giorgio.

Juan Gonzalez: Verizon Workers’ Strike "Most Important Labor Battle Going on Today"

Telecom giant Verizon has threatened to suspend benefits to 45,000 striking workers if they do not return to work at the end of the month. The strike was called after negotiations after Verizon sought to cut health and pension benefits and obtain more leeway to fire workers. The strike is "the most important labor battle going on today," says Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez. "We’re not talking here about a General Motors or a company that’s in financial trouble. But Verizon is literally swimming in cash. [...] And yet, even with such a profitable company, you have a situation where it is demanding unprecedented givebacks from its workers. If Verizon, such a profitable company, can insist that its workforce has to do all of these cuts in their living standards, what does it mean about any other company in America? [...] The workers are vowing to keep this up as long as possible, because a company that is so profitable right now should not be insisting that its workers give up even more of the hard-fought gains they’ve had over the years."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Township administrator contradicts Clement's June committee testimony

Treasury Board President Tony Clement told the House Government Operations Committee that mayors in his riding 'suggested 32 or 33' projects to benefit from the $50-million G8 fund, but Don Chevalier, the chief administrative officer for the Township of Lake of Bays, says 'We submitted them to Tony's office. ... They just told us, advised us,' which projects would be funded.

PARLIAMENT HILL—The administrator for a township in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s constituency that received $455,350 for projects under the controversial $50-million G8 legacy fund says the township sent all its funding applications directly to Mr. Clement’s constituency office.

Furthermore, it was Mr. Clement’s office that also advised the township which of the 15 to 20 projects—only three were accepted—would receive funding in the scheme, possibly contradicting the version of events Mr. Clement gave to the Commons Government Operations and Estimates Committee last June.

S.E.C. Files Were Illegally Destroyed, Lawyer Says

WASHINGTON — An enforcement lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission says that the agency illegally destroyed files and documents related to thousands of early-stage investigations over the last 20 years, according to information released Wednesday by Congressional investigators.       

The destroyed files comprise records of at least 9,000 preliminary inquiries into matters involving notorious individuals like Bernard L. Madoff, as well as several major Wall Street firms that later were the subject of scrutiny after the 2008 financial crisis, including Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and Bank of America.

The S.E.C. is the very agency that is charged with making sure that Wall Street firms retain records of their own activities, and has brought numerous enforcement cases against firms for failing to do so.

Whistleblower: SEC Destroyed Thousands of Documents Linked to Wall Street Probes

News of the probe comes as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is being accused of destroying thousands of documents related to potential violations by the nation’s largest banks and hedge funds. On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said an agency whistleblower has sent him a letter detailing the unlawful destruction of records detailing more than 9,000 information investigations. The documents included cases linked to the financial crisis such as Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. The whistleblower, Darcy Flynn, has worked as a lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission for 13 years. In a statement, Grassley said: "It doesn’t make sense that an agency responsible for investigations would want to get rid of potential evidence."

Source: Democracy Now! 

BP Investigating New Sheen In The Gulf Of Mexico

LONDON - Oil giant BP said Thursday it was investigating a new sheen in the Gulf of Mexico but added there was no immediate indication it was the result of a new oil spill.

A catastrophic April 2010 explosion at BP's Macondo well in the Gulf killed 11 men and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, although BP's description of the site of the new sheen and a statement from a U.S. official seemed to indicate that the discovery wasn't near where the Macondo well blew up.

A sheen is a shiny coating that floats on the surface of the water, and could come from leaked or spilled oil. BP did not make clear what the source of the sheen was, but told The Associated Press it was not found near "any existing BP operations."

Authorities suppress protests against BART police in San Francisco

What does the police killing of a homeless man in San Francisco have to do with the Arab Spring uprisings from Tunisia to Syria? The attempt to suppress the protests that followed. In our digitally networked world, the ability to communicate is increasingly viewed as a basic right. Open communication fuels revolutions -- it can take down dictators. When governments fear the power of their people, they repress, intimidate and try to silence them, whether in Tahrir Square or downtown San Francisco.

Charles Blair Hill was shot and killed on the platform of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system's Civic Center platform on July 3, by BART police officer James Crowell. BART police reportedly responded to calls about a man drinking on the underground subway platform. According to police, Hill threw a vodka bottle at the two officers and then threatened them with a knife, at which point Crowell shot him. Hill was pronounced dead at the hospital.

What's Next for Capitalism?

We must reflect critically upon the moral assumptions underpinning modern capitalist societies.

While summer temperatures in Europe are lower than normal, the streets of its cities – particularly in Britain – are raging hot. The riots that have beset London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool are an uncomfortable reminder of the discontent that lies below the surface in a country renowned for its “civility.”

John Hancock’s recent article on this generation’s material advances is provocative, and is a useful companion to the alarmist commentary (especially on the BBC) about the slow-motion collapse of contemporary western societies. What he encourages us to pay attention to are not the everyday zig-zags, but rather the longer-term trajectories of growth and wealth accumulation, which – if his analysis is correct – will spell continued prosperity not only for the developed world, but for large chunks of the developing world, as well.

Physics of lootings

I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities – window-smashing in Athens, or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.

But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion – a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit, too.

Back then, the people on cable news thought looting was highly political. They said this was what happened when a regime had no legitimacy. After watching for so long as Saddam and his sons helped themselves to whatever and whomever they wanted, many regular Iraqis felt they had earned the right to take a few things for themselves.

Backtracking on transit, Ford seeks a handout

Earlier this year, Rob Ford threatened to sic “Ford Nation” on Dalton McGuinty unless he came through with millions for roads, child care and public transit. On Wednesday, he was back at the Liberal Premier again, asking him for help with the proposed Sheppard subway extension.

It is an odd tack for a guy who once scolded city leaders for going to Queen’s Park with a rattling tin cup every time they had money trouble. It is even odder from a mayor who said as recently as March that the taxpayer whom he claims to respect so deeply would not be left on the hook for the Sheppard line.

Cohn: Ford digs himself into a subway hole

A week is a lifetime in politics; eight months, an eternity.

The last time he swaggered into Dalton McGuinty’s office, Rob Ford was at the top of his game — lording it over the premier, wearing his fresh electoral mandate like a wrestler’s prize belt. After a mere 25 minutes, the mayor emerged triumphant last December to declare he’d remake Toronto’s subway system in his own image.

Now, Ford has returned to Queen’s Park showing his tummy to a Liberal premier who appears, eight months later, to have nine lives in the opinion polls. His swagger gone, the mayor is asking for a modest “advance” to dig him out of a financial hole so he can start tunnelling the Sheppard subway extension.

‘New mayor, new deal’: Ford seeks public cash for subway

If Mayor Rob Ford had convinced anyone the Sheppard subway expansion would be paid for with corporate cash, he shattered the illusion on Wednesday.

In a morning meeting at Queen’s Park, Ford asked Premier Dalton McGuinty to give the city $650 million for Sheppard by 2014. His justification: $333 million in federal money depends on that provincial money.

For a mayor who said in April that the $4.2 billion Sheppard project would not require a major government investment — “I’m not quite sure where taxpayers’ money is coming in when we’re using private money,” he said — the request represented a notable turnabout. It also provided ammunition for critics, transit experts among them, who say the project is not feasible.