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, August 26, 2011

Layton’s death shows Canada’s hunger for inspiring politicians

All the available information, the numbers and research and chatter, tells us that we care less and less about them. That we don’t trust them. That they are generally considered among the lowest forms of human life.

Then one of them dies, and we go into a state of national mourning.

A cynic would say that we only love our politicians when they’re gone – and even then, only when they’ve left us in heartbreaking and terrifying ways that remind us of human frailties. But in the spirit of optimism, which seems fitting given Jack Layton’s much-quoted final words, it’s possible to see something else in his posthumous status as a hero. Perhaps we’re not really so inclined to look down on our politicians; perhaps we’re eager to look up to them, to like and occasionally even love them, if only they’ll give us the chance.

Harper stands firm on sovereignty as China eyes Arctic resources

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a signal to Beijing that Ottawa will not relinquish its sovereignty over the portions of the Arctic lying within its territory.

Countries around the world are looking northward as the sea passage across the top of Canada becomes increasingly navigable and exploration for new energy and mineral sources suggests the Arctic could contain a wealth of untapped natural resources.

One of those countries is China, which has begun to take a hard look at the potential that lies under what was once a frozen ocean, especially the commercial and shipping possibilities, and has asked for special observer status in the Arctic Council.

Super Committee Corporate Donors Have Clear Lobbying Interests At Stake

WASHINGTON -- A new report by the Sunlight Foundation, a money in politics watchdog group, reveals that members of the newly formed Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction are no strangers to high-dollar corporate lobbying.

As part of a series exploring lobbying influence on members of the super committee, the report details the key lobbying priorities of the top corporate donors to three committee members, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), in an effort to predict how those donors' lobbying interests may affect the deficit reduction process.

"I think it's just something to keep in mind when you look at the committee and the decisions that they're making," said the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison. "They're not going to be coming to this entirely with a platonic detachment and trying to come up with a rational solution. They're going to be thinking in terms of balancing competing interest groups."

Elizabeth Warren's More Than Just a Senate Campaign

Elizabeth Warren's all-but-announced candidacy for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat once held by Edward Kennedy is a state-based campaign. But it has national implications.

It's not just that a Warren candidacy could provide Democrats with a needed pick-up of a currently Republican-held seat -- although that's a big deal for the party, which faces a dismal electoral map in 2012. If the Harvard Law School professor who became the chief advocate for real banking reform and the development of a federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau runs and defeats U.S. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, she will instantly become an essential spokesperson for progressive values in national economic, regulatory and fiscal policy debates.

Put Warren next to stalwarts like Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, California Democrat Barbara Boxer, a reelected Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders,  a reelected Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, as well as progressive newcomers like Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and Hawaiian Democrat Mazie Hirono, both expected candidates open Senate seats, and you've got the makings of what Paul Wellstone always wanted: a Senate Progressive Caucus.

Our Oil-Constrained Future

I've talked a few times (first here, most recently here) about the possibility that world growth is now constrained by oil production. The basic story is simple: As long as there's spare oil-production capacity, increasing demand caused by economic growth produces only a steady, manageable increase in oil prices. But oil production is now close to its maximum and can't be easily or quickly expanded. When the global economy grows enough that demand starts to bump up against this ceiling, oil prices don't rise slowly and steadily; rather, they spike suddenly, causing a recession, which in turn reduces oil demand and drives down prices. When the economy recovers, the cycle starts all over. Because of this dynamic, the production ceiling for oil produces a corresponding ceiling for world economic growth.

Stuart Staniford puts some numbers to this for our most recent recession. What would it have taken for growth to continue at its 2000-08 rate over the past few years?
In the counterfactual world, 2009 gross world product would have been 6.4 percent larger than in the actual world. We can estimate the implications for oil supply because we know that the global income elasticity of oil demand is about 2/3. Thus the counterfactual world would have required an additional 4.5 percent more oil than the real world.
…2009 oil production was around 85 [million barrels per day] (depending on what source you like) so in the counterfactual world we would have needed it to be around 88-89mbd. Now, in 2008, oil production got up to around 86mbd (on an average basis) but doing so triggered (or required) an oil shock in which prices briefly reached $135/barrel on a monthly basis and almost $150 on a daily basis. What would the likely price path have been had the world then needed an additional 2-3mbd the following year?
To give an indication of the scale of 2-3mbd, note that the loss of 1.6mbd of oil this year (Libya) triggered something like a $30 increase in the price of oil (before it became clear that the global economy was slowing again causing prices to fall). That, along with other commodity price increases, was enough to cause a little bump in inflation that significantly reduced the Federal Reserve's latitude for action.

Mitt Romney Dismisses Secret Corporate Contributions: 'No Harm, No Foul'

WASHINGTON -- In a town hall event on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dismissed a question about the controversy over a mystery $1 million contribution made through a dummy corporation by telling the questioner, "No harm, no foul."

The controversy over the contribution erupted after the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future, which is run by top former Romney campaign workers, revealed that one of its donors was an unknown company called W Spann LLC. An investigation by NBC discovered that W Spann was formed one month before it made the $1 million contribution and then dissolved a few months later. Calls for an investigation by campaign finance watchdogs pushed former Bain Capital executive Ed Conard to reveal that he was the source of the contribution. Restore Our Future has since amended its filing to show that Conard made the $1 million contribution and not W Spann.

Keystone XL Pipeline Gets State Department's OK

WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department's environmental analysis of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline has given the project a thumbs up.

State Department officials say there's no indication the pipeline would spur further oilsands production or pose any significant risks to the six U.S. states that it will cut through, as it carries crude from northern Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

"It's not a decision," State Department official Kerri-Ann Jones explained during a conference call. "It's one piece of the information that will be considered."

The assessment moves the Obama administration a step closer to a final decision on the pipeline. It now has 90 days to determine whether the controversial project is in the national interest of the United States.

The racialized impact of tuition fees

Mainstream policy wonks often claim that tuition fees and rising levels of student debt in Canada are relatively inconsequential. They argue that though the costs of higher education for students (and sometimes their families) are increasing, so is post-secondary enrollment, meaning that raising the cost of post-secondary education clearly doesn't block access.

While enrollment is indeed rising, the increases in costs do not appear to affect all groups equally. Back in March 2010, for example, the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario released a report entitled The Racialised Impact of Tuition Fees. Among other things, the report argues that students from racialized groups are more likely than students from non-racialized groups to require student loans to pay for their post-secondary education. What's more, the former incur heavier debt loads than the latter.

“Poverty Is the Problem”: Efforts to Cut Education Funding, Expand Standardized Testing Assailed

As millions of students prepare to go back to school, budget cuts are resulting in teacher layoffs and larger classes across the country. This comes as the drive towards more standardized testing increases despite a string of cheating scandals in New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and other cities. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also recently unveiled a controversial plan to use waivers to rewrite parts of the nation’s signature federal education law, No Child Left Behind. We speak to New York City public school teacher Brian Jones and Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and counselor to Education Secretary Lamar Alexander under President George H. W. Bush, who has since this post dramatically changed her position on education policy. She is the author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

Source: Democracy Now! 

MLK National Monument Inspires Calls to Continue Civil Rights Leader’s Work to End Poverty and War

This week, the public got its first look at a newly unveiled memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is the first memorial on the National Mall not dedicated to a war, president or white man. The threat of Hurricane Irene has forced organizers to postpone the planned dedication of memorial on Sunday, which was to have been attended by 250,000 people, including President Barack Obama. The dedication ceremony was to have taken place on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Despite the storm, a related Rally for Jobs and Justice will proceed tomorrow, ending with a march to the King Memorial. We speak with longtime civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and with Dr. Vincent Harding, a longtime friend and a former speechwriter for Dr. King. He co-wrote his famous "Beyond Vietnam" address. Harding reads from a Carl Wendell Hines poem written shortly after Dr. King’s assassination and notes that "Dead men make such convenient heroes... It is easier to build monuments than to build a better world."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Harper and the void

The death of Jack Layton leaves the opposition leaderless. How the gap is filled may reshape Canadian politics

STATE funerals are a rare honour in Canada, usually restricted to former prime ministers, governors-general and prominent cabinet ministers. Yet on August 27th Jack Layton, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), who died of cancer on August 22nd at the age of 61, will be laid to rest in Toronto with all the pomp and solemn ceremony that official Canada can muster. The decision to offer a state funeral, made by Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, and accepted by the Layton family, is a tribute to Mr Layton’s personal appeal and to his achievement in re-drawing Canada’s political map. It is also an acknowledgment of the void he leaves behind.

Modernisation in sheep's clothing

THE good news, as suggested by  the Pentagon's latest annual report on China's military power, is that Chinese leaders are still eager to avoid confrontation with other powers and focus on beefing up the economy. The bad news, it hints, is that this might not last. With its rapidly improving military capability (described by the Pentagon in great detail), China has the wherewithal to challenge the security status quo in the Pacific as well as potential motives to do so.

The report is diplomatically couched—though from China's perspective, not nearly enough. It hints at considerable unease about long-term trends in China's military buildup. The last few months have seen some headline-grabbing aspects of this: an assertion by the Pentagon in December that China was making faster progress than expected on an aircraft-carrier-killing ballistic missile, the DF-21D; a new stealth fighter, the J-20, making its first test flight just as Robert Gates, then defence secretary, was visiting Beijing in January; and then this month the maiden launch of China's first aircraft carrier, a refitted Kuznetsov-class ship (as yet unnamed) from the former Soviet Union.

How Israel takes its revenge on boys who throw stones

The boy, small and frail, is struggling to stay awake. His head lolls to the side, at one point slumping on to his chest. "Lift up your head! Lift it up!" shouts one of his interrogators, slapping him. But the boy by now is past caring, for he has been awake for at least 12 hours since he was separated at gunpoint from his parents at two that morning. "I wish you'd let me go," the boy whimpers, "just so I can get some sleep."

During the nearly six-hour video, 14-year-old Palestinian Islam Tamimi, exhausted and scared, is steadily broken to the point where he starts to incriminate men from his village and weave fantastic tales that he believes his tormentors want to hear.

This rarely seen footage seen by The Independent offers a glimpse into an Israeli interrogation, almost a rite of passage that hundreds of Palestinian children accused of throwing stones undergo every year.

EPA's Regulating Authority Targeted By Republicans In Appropriations Bills

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are looking to appropriations bills they plan to debate when they return from recess in September as an opportunity to curb the Environmental Protection Agency's regulating authority.

The 2012 appropriations bills for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency contain a number of anti-environmental "riders," provisions attached to bills that have little or nothing to do with the primary measure under consideration.

The office of Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who introduced a number of the riders, defended the provisions an attempt to prevent over-regulation. Of one rider that would block the EPA from designating which streams and wetlands are protected, Simpson's spokeswoman Nikki Watts told HuffPost, "They are already being regulated through the United States Department of Agriculture and the Congressman feels there is no need to be regulated by two different departments."

Treasury Department Fines JPMorgan Chase $88.3 Million

JPMorgan has settled with the U.S. Treasury Department on an $88.3 million payout for breaking U.S. embargo laws and trade sanctions in three incidents between 2005 and 2011, The New York Times' Dealbook reports. The bank made a series of transactions with Cuba, Iran and Sudan over that time. The list of infractions are as follows, and total to an estimated $181.4 million in violations:
  • In late 2005 early 2006, JPMorgan violated embargo laws by processing $178.5 million in wire transfers for cuban nationals. A different, unnamed financial institution tipped the bank off to their own misdeeds, but they failed to alert the proper authorities, and didn't make enough of an effort to ensure it wouldn't happen again. 
  • In 2009 the bank processed a $2.9 million loan with, "a bank that had ties to Iran’s government-owned shipping line," a violation of trade sanctions agains the country. JPMorgan was made aware of the mistake, but again failed to inform regulators in due time. They didn't inform regulators of their mistake until three days before the loan was paid in full. 
  • In 2011, the Treasury asked for documents regarding a wire transfer that referred to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. JPMorgan said they didn't know what they were talking about. The Treasury presented JPMorgan with a list of documents they believed were in the bank's possession, and, after denying it the first time, the bank coughed up the documents shortly after. 
An OFAC spokeswoman commented on the charges:
“The civil settlement resolves a number of OFAC allegations dating back to 2005, none of which involved any intent to violate OFAC regulations. These rare incidents were unrelated and isolated from each other. We are pleased to have resolved these matters and to move forward with enhancements to our global OFAC compliance program.”
Officials from the Treasury Department said that, "managers and supervisors acted with knowledge of the conduct constituting the apparent violations and recklessly failed to exercise a minimal degree of caution or care." The fine was also reduced because JPMorgan had "cooperated substantially" with the investigation.

Source: the Atlantic Wire  

Paul Ryan Dodges Angry Cheeseheads

Bright and early Wednesday morning, a lively band of Wisconsinites arrived at Rep. Paul Ryan's Kenosha constituent-services office for a fifth straight day of protests and sit-ins. The protestors were demanding face time with the Republican, who has scheduled no public town hall meetings in his district during Congress' August recess. This time, however, a police officer was waiting for the protesters at Ryan's front door with a message from the congressman: Get lost.

Over the past week, hundreds of people, a mix of constituents and other angry Wisconsinites, have marched outside Ryan's Kenosha and Racine offices, angry over what they see as Ryan's inaccessibility and refusal to face his constituents in a free, public, in-person town hall. For four days, they also held sit-ins inside Ryan's Kenosha office—until police kicked them out. The only in-person event on Ryan's recess calendar is an appearance at a Rotary hall outside his district with a $15 entrance fee; by contrast, Ryan held more than a dozen town halls in 2009. "This is a jobs crisis in his congressional district, an emergency," says Scott Page, 37, an unemployed Kenosha resident. "Yet he's not even listening to his own constituents."

8 In 10 Oppose Internet Surveillance Without A Warrant

More than eight in 10 Canadians oppose giving government the power to access Internet usage data without a warrant, a fact that may put a crimp in the Conservative government's plans to give police a much freer hand in monitoring the Internet.

A survey released Thursday by the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada reported that 82 per cent of those polled "opposed giving police and intelligence agencies the power to access e-mail records and other Internet usage data without a warrant from the courts."

The Harper government has said it plans to introduce an omnibus crime bill this fall which is expected to include provisions to greatly expand police power to collect data about web surfers without court oversight.