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, September 01, 2011

As Economy Lags, New Study Reveals 25 Top Firms Pay More to CEOs than in Taxes

A new study reveals that 25 of the nation’s largest corporations paid more money to their CEOs last year than they did to the federal government in income taxes. Often using overseas tax havens, many of the corporations managed to make billions in profits but paid little to nothing in federal taxes. In many cases the companies received large tax rebates. The list includes some of the country’s best-known companies, such as Ford, Coca-Cola, Verizon, General Electric and eBay. The same study found that the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average worker in the United States jumped to 325-to-1 last year. We speak to the study’s co-author, Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of its Program on Inequality and the Common Good. "What these companies do is they use a variety of tax loopholes, corporate loopholes, to game down their taxes. So, these are what I would call the sort of champion in the tax gymnastics department," says Collins.

Source: Democracy Now! 

The Dirtiest Fuel on the Planet

The leaders of the top environmental groups in the country, the Republican Governor of Nebraska, and millions of people around the country -- including hundreds of people who have bravely participated in civil disobedience at the White House -- all agree on one thing: President Obama should block a planned pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

The tar sands are the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet. As I wrote in Our Choice two years ago, gasoline made from the tar sands gives a Toyota Prius the same impact on climate as a Hummer using gasoline made from oil. This pipeline would be an enormous mistake. The answer to our climate, energy and economic challenges does not lie in burning more dirty fossil fuels -- instead, we must continue to press for much more rapid development of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies and cuts in the pollution that causes global warming.

Source: Huffington 

Michele Bachmann Makes Margaret Thatcher Comparison Ahead Of 2012

MINNEAPOLIS -- Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann is harkening back to a past woman world leader with firm resolve – former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – as she tries to convince American veterans that she would make a strong commander in chief.

Bachmann shed led light Thursday on her foreign policy views in a speech to the American Legion's national convention, in her home state of Minnesota. President Barack Obama addressed the convention earlier in the week.

Bachmann says the world needs to know America has a "strong leader" like Thatcher and her contemporary President Ronald Reagan. She says it would show that the United States won't "conduct our foreign policy apologetically, such as leading from behind."

Bachmann emphasized her role on the House Intelligence Committee as evidence she knows pressing threats.

Bachmann isn't the first Republican woman to idolize Thatcher. Last year, Sarah Palin wrote in a Facebook post that the Iron Lady is 'one of my political heroines.'

Palin gushed:
"Baroness Thatcher’s life and career serve as a blueprint for overcoming the odds and challenging the “status quo.” She started life as a grocer’s daughter from Grantham and rose to become Prime Minister – all by her own merit and hard work. I cherish her example and will always count her as one of my role models."
Source: Huffington 

Canada GDP Numbers Show Fragile Economy Has Little Room For Error

If there was any doubt about the fragile nature of Canada's economic recovery, it was most likely put to rest by the GDP numbers released Wednesday morning. But those requiring further proof should consider how little it took for the economy to slide into the red.

Commenting on the news that GDP shrank by 0.1 per cent in the second quarter (for an annualized rate of 0.4 per cent), officials maintained that the slowdown was mainly due to several isolated incidents -- a testament to just how lukewarm the recovery truly is.

"The weakness in the second quarter was largely due to external factors," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters in Toronto. "The tsunami and earthquakes in Japan in the second quarter had a very strong effect on the auto sector, particularly auto imports."

Economists at Statistics Canada, too, pointed the finger at unexpected events, in part blaming the wildfires in Northern Alberta for the contraction in the energy sector, which had a significant effect on overall GDP.

The agency cited the 6.7 per cent decline in energy exports as the primary cause of the economic slowdown.

Stephen Harper: Canadian Forces Punched Above Their Weight In Libya

TRAPANI, Italy - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the work of Canadian forces in Libya has given the country new hope.

He says Canada punched above its weight in the international military effort to oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

And he says NATO's success proves soldiers, not diplomacy, were the only way to end his bloody regime.

"For the Gadhafis of this world pay no attention to the force of argument," he told around 100 soldiers gathered at the NATO military base in southern Italy.

"The only thing they get is the argument of force itself. And that you have delivered in a cause that is good and right."

But Harper told the troops the fighting isn't over yet.

Canada is committed to participating in the UN-sanctioned mission until the end of September, and officials aren't ruling out an extension.

Climate Change: Responsibility and action

Are we acting with due diligence to future generations? Is ideological orthodoxy keeping us in denial about how we govern ourselves?

Climate change promises unthinkable pain and destruction for future generations because of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels today.

You don't think so? Not what you've heard on TV or in your local paper?

Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and human caused. This is the consensus of every national academy of science of every major country and almost every government (and their Defense Depts). Even some previously ideological deniers have converted because of the breadth and depth of the emerging science picture.

Fifteen per cent of the world's population produce 75 per cent of greenhouse gas pollution. One billion people (us) have obese carbon footprints. Six billion people produce negligible per capita emissions. Climate change is a building catastrophe we are responsible for.

Denial, procrastination and intransigence wasted two decades when a carbon tax could have been effective at reducing emissions. Instead emissions from our group soared. Currently, we produce levels of heat trapping emissions that will lead to an estimated 4 degrees-C rise in global mean temperature. Think of your kids or grandkids -- the kids in the family our B.C. premier says she cares about: your toddler will probably not live to 50 in the world we are creating.

The not-so-funny truth about Toronto’s Ferris wheel idea

Before you laugh at Doug Ford’s Ferris wheel idea, consider the large tourist attractions that spin on the water’s edge in Chicago, London and Singapore.

Think his football stadium dream is far-fetched? Well, a $357-million (U.S.) ballpark was built on the San Francisco Bay area without the investment of any public gravy, er, money.

The city councilor’s musings about his ideal vision for the port lands have been much derided, but actually borrow heavily from plans outlined by other urban capitals, from New York to Dubai.

Cities around the world have opted to develop their waterfront real estate with a commercial bent, and to hand over the lead to private developers for the construction of malls, museums and music venues.

But that doesn’t mean change has come quickly, inexpensively, or without controversy, and Mr. Ford may want to consider the fine print.

Religious rights take priority over 'other rights': Toronto Catholic Board

Trustees at a Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting decided to put denominational rights above human rights and tried to make a direct attack on gay-straight alliances.

The Aug 31 meeting was the final debate on the TCDSB's equity and inclusive education policy, which has already passed. More than 100 people packed the gallery for the fiery meeting; in the majority were a vocal contingent of people objecting to homosexuality being taught in any way in Catholic schools, including within the context of bullying prevention and peer support.

“Denominational rights are the first priority,” trustee John Del Grande repeated several times.

Before the meeting started, Queer Ontario’s Casey Oraa told Xtra that the board had refused to allow GSA activist Leanne Iskander and members of Catholic Students for GSAs to speak, even though the group filled out a form ahead of the meeting.

Libya's spectacular revolution has been disgraced by racism

"This is a bad time to be a black man in Libya," reported Alex Thomson on Channel 4 News on Sunday. Elsewhere, Kim Sengupta reported for the Independent on the 30 bodies lying decomposing in Tripoli. The majority of them, allegedly mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi, were black. They had been killed at a makeshift hospital, some on stretchers, some in an ambulance. "Libyan people don't like people with dark skins," a militiaman explained in reference to the arrests of black men.

The basis of this is rumours, disseminated early in the rebellion, of African mercenaries being unleashed on the opposition. Amnesty International's Donatella Rivera was among researchers who examined this allegation and found no evidence for it. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch similarly had not "identified one mercenary" among the scores of men being arrested and falsely labelled by journalists as such.

Lurking behind this is racism. Libya is an African nation – however, the term "Africans" is used in Libya to reference the country's black minority. The Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy says that the rebels taking control of Libya have tapped into "existing xenophobia". The New York Times refers to "racist overtones", but sometimes the racism is explicit. A rebel slogan painted in Misrata during the fighting salutes "the brigade for purging slaves, black skin". A consequence of this racism has been mass arrests of black men, and gruesome killings – just some of the various atrocities that human rights organisations blame rebels for. The racialisation of this conflict does not end with hatred of "Africans". Graffiti by rebels frequently depicted Gaddafi as a demonic Jew.

Councillor Wong-Tam slams Fords over Olympics "decision by fiat"

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam undeniably comes at many issues from the left. But the rookie has impressed many with her eagerness to work with colleagues of all stripes to get things done. When others were dismissing Mayor Rob Ford, she tried to keep the door open.

That openness closed somewhat when she tried to act as Ford's gateway to the gay community, offering him ways to mark the Pride festivities and remain in his comfort zone. When Ford made no effort, Wong-Tam's frustration was palpable.

Now, she is taking direct aim at Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, over their closed-door method of governing, asking the city manager for an "administrative inquiry" into their apparent joint decision on behalf of the city not to even entertain the idea of making a bid for the 2020 Olympics. It's part of a pattern, Wong-Tam writes in her open letter, that has her worried about the health of local democracy.

Doug Ford’s blurry “backroom vision”

I stopped paying attention to Toronto’s waterfront revitalization a few years ago, but not for the reason you might imagine. I did so because real progress was being made. Finally.

I’m paying attention again because a careless city councillor would destroy all the gains, in search of a chintzy, unsustainable, dubious plan conceived behind closed doors:

Monorail where a LRT was planned, worlds tallest Ferris wheel, mega mall serviced by a Yorkdale-sized parking lot, no doubt. All on Canada’s most valuable real estate.

“Backroom vision,” boasts Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, and a man so at odds with democratic processes that he makes people nervous.

Hidden behind Doug Ford’s smile is a penchant for speaking fractured truth.

Waterfront Toronto has done nothing to revitalize the waterfront, he says. And they have no money to fix up the tainted soil and tame the floods that an overflowing Don River might cause, thus safe-guarding the properties for redevelopment. Thus, Toronto needs a private sector infusion of waterfront wow.

N.Y. billing dispute reveals details of secret CIA rendition flights

On Aug. 12, 2003, a Gulfstream IV aircraft carrying six passengers took off from Dulles International Airport and flew to Bangkok with fueling stops in Cold Bay, Alaska, and Osaka, Japan.

Before it returned four days later, the plane also touched down in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ireland. As these unusual flights happened, U.S. officials took custody of an Indonesian terrorist, Riduan Isamuddin, who had been captured in Thailand and would spend the next three years being shuttled among secret prisons operated by the CIA.

The Gulfstream IV’s itinerary, as well as the $339,228.05 price tag for the journey, are among the details of shadowy CIA flights that have emerged in a small Upstate New York courthouse in a billing dispute between contractors. The court documents offer a rare glimpse of the costs and operations of the controversial rendition program.

For all the secrecy that once surrounded the CIA program, a significant part of its operation was entrusted to very small aviation companies whose previous experience involved flying sports teams across the country.

China's Missile Shield Plans

China is developing a multi-dimensional programme aimed at improving its ability to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during a crisis, the Pentagon says in its latest report on the country’s military. Is this another step toward a ‘Star Wars’ missile defence shield?

Certainly according to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo, it is. ‘China is developing a missile defence system in the highest layer of the atmosphere and outer space using high-end technologies like laser beams and kinetic energy intercept,’ the paper notes as it dissects the report, which has just been presented to the US Congress.

Entitled ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011’, the report assesses China’s military progress over the past 12 months, including potential space-based applications. It notes that China conducted a national record 15 space launches last year, and also ‘expanded its space-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological, and communications satellite constellations.’

A Pipeline to Nowhere?

Enbridge has failed to prove sufficient market demand for the building of its proposed pipeline.

In business, it’s generally considered unwise to launch a new product without clear market research showing a strong customer base and high demand. Moving ahead without confidence that there’s a market for your product is a recipe for failure.

Yet that’s where Canadian pipeline company Enbridge seems to be headed with its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would transport bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta to the Pacific Coast near Kitimat, British Columbia. Without binding agreements that lock in producers to supply the oil and refiners to get it to market, Enbridge doesn’t have the proof of market demand required to build a major new pipeline.

Longer ER waits result in more deaths, study finds

The longer you wait in an Ontario hospital emergency department, the greater your chances of dying or becoming sick enough to return within a week and require admission, new research shows.

The study, overseen by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, focused on the 90 per cent of visitors to high-volume ER departments who do not end up getting admitted. Researchers looked for adverse outcomes among almost 14 million patients that occurred within a week of visiting Ontario ERs between 2003 and 2007.

“When we look at the odds increasing . . . every hour things get worse,” said lead author Dr. Astrid Guttmann, a pediatrician at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Researchers compared outcomes of patients at similar levels of illness who waited more than six hours with those who had to wait less than an hour. For the sickest of patients, the risk of death was 79 per cent higher among those who waited more than six hours. And the risk of becoming so ill that you needed to return to hospital and be admitted were 95 per cent higher.

How US firms profited from torture flights

The scale of the CIA's rendition programme has been laid bare in court documents that illustrate in minute detail how the US contracted out the secret transportation of suspects to a network of private American companies.

The manner in which American firms flew terrorism suspects to locations around the world, where they were often tortured, has emerged after one of the companies sued another in a dispute over fees. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the mass of invoices, receipts, contracts and email correspondence – submitted as evidence to a court in upstate New York – provides a unique glimpse into a world in which the "war on terror" became just another charter opportunity for American businesses.

As a result of the case, the identities of some of the corporations involved in the rendition programme have been disclosed for the first time, along with the names of some of the executives who knew the purpose of the flights.

Darth Vader Vents

WHY is it not a surprise to learn that Dick Cheney’s ancestor, Samuel Fletcher Cheney, was a Civil War soldier who marched with Sherman to the sea?       

Scorched earth runs in the family.

Having lost the power to heedlessly bomb the world, Cheney has turned his attention to heedlessly bombing old colleagues.

Vice’s new memoir, “In My Time,” veers unpleasantly between spin, insisting he was always right, and score-settling, insisting that anyone who opposed him was wrong.

His knife-in-her-teeth daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, helped write the book. The second most famous Liz & Dick combo do such an excellent job of cherry-picking the facts, it makes the cherry-picking on the Iraq war intelligence seem picayune.

Cheney may no longer have a pulse, but his blood quickens at the thought of other countries he could have attacked. He salivates in his book about how Syria and Iran could have been punished.

Michele Bachmann: Rick Perry 'Sucks The Oxygen Out Of The Room'

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann pivoted her focus to jobs and the economy Wednesday during her first campaign appearance in Iowa since winning the leadoff caucus state's Republican straw poll earlier this month.

With Texas Gov. Rick Perry now in the race and promoting his state's job growth, Bachmann put jobs ahead of government spending cuts on a day in Des Moines that included private meetings with area business owners. Bachmann urged the federal government to allow companies with cash holdings overseas to reinvest the money at home without paying taxes on those profits. She claims the change could quickly inject billions in investment into the U.S. economy.

"They want to bring it back into the United States and create jobs here in Iowa, all across the country," Bachmann said while appearing at a tea party rally in Des Moines. "Wouldn't the smartest thing to do be to say to all of these companies, `Zero repatriation tax?' "

It's a popular notion with economic conservatives, but a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found similar policies to have little impact on employment when used in the past. Most of the money has been reinvested in stock buybacks and shareholder dividends, according to the study.

Dick Cheney's Deceit of Shakespearean Proportions

Behold this unctuous knave, a disgrace to his nation as few before him, yet boasting unvarnished virtue. The deceit of Dick Cheney is indeed of Shakespearean proportions, as evidenced in his new memoir. For the former vice president, lying comes so easily that one must assume he takes the pursuit of truth to be nothing more than a reckless indulgence.

Here is a man who, more than anyone else in the Bush administration, trafficked in the campaign of deceit that caused tens of thousands to die, wasted trillions of dollars in resources and indelibly sullied the legacy of this nation through the practice of torture, which Cheney defends to this day. Still this villain claims that, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the horrid methods he endorsed were a necessary response to the threat of Osama bin Laden. How convenient to ignore that it was Barack Obama, a resolutely anti-torture president, who made good on the promise of Cheney and the previous administration to take down the Al Qaeda leader.

Not to mention that bin Laden was killed in his hiding place in Pakistan, a nation that the Bush administration had befriended after 9/11 by lifting the sanctions previously imposed in retaliation for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, a program connected with the proliferation of nuclear weapons know-how and the sale of nuclear material to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

Executive Pay and the Great Tax Dodge

Before the deficit reduction “super-committee” embarks on a $1–2 trillion course of human slashonomics, it should take a hard look at the Institute for Policy Studies’ (IPS) eighteenth annual executive compensation report, which details how corporations are rewarding CEOs for aggressive tax avoidance—to the tune of at least $100 billion in lost tax revenues every year.

Executive Excess 2011: The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging reveals that last year twenty-five of the 100 most highly paid CEOs took home salaries greater than the amount their companies paid in 2010 federal income taxes. And it wasn’t because the corporations weren’t making dough—they averaged global profits of $1.9 billion, and only seven reported losses in US pre-tax income.

But these twenty-five companies shielded their profits in 556 tax haven subsidiaries in places like the Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, and Singapore, which proved to be a lucrative tax dodging strategy for the CEOs themselves: the twenty-five CEOs averaged $16.7 million in compensation, compared to $10.8 million for their peers in the S&P 500.

“What we’re seeing here is tax dodging, pure and simple,” says Sarah Anderson, who directs the global economy project at IPS and has coauthored the Executive Excess report for eighteen years running. “And tax dodging that’s benefiting the CEOs of these companies personally.”

South Africa's Wine Woes

I've seen it: People who are extremely fussy about the food they put in their mouths—shopping at farmers markets for veggies and meat and looking for Fair Trade labels on tropical goods—nevertheless choose wine based on whatever has the quirkiest label at the price point they're comfortable with.

But just as much as tomatoes or pork chops, wine is an agricultural product. Grapes are grown on real land and tended by real people—and marketed by corporate flacks who know how to paint a lovely picture.

GOP Smear Machine Targets Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has yet to officially declare whether she'll challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012—but already Massachusetts Republicans are flinging mud in her direction and previewing their attack plan if she does jump into the race.

Since Warren formed an exploratory committee on August 18, Brown's staff and the Massachusetts Republican Party have branded Warren a carpetbagger, an elitist, and a candidate too liberal to represent the Bay State. Using press releases, public statements, and even an anonymous Twitter account, GOPers have depicted Warren, a Harvard professor and middle-class champion who launched the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as a political nonentity and "another Martha Coakley." The latter refers to the state's Democratic attorney general who, despite greater name recognition and the advantage of running for a seat controlled by Democrats for more than 50 years, was upset by Brown in a 2010 special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. "If the first few days of professor Warren's campaign are any indicator, Massachusetts Democrats will soon be yearning for the golden days of Martha Coakley," sniped Jennifer Nassour, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts GOP in August.

Rising tuition fees: A debt sentence for Ontario families

Recently the Financial Post suggested a steady diet of Kraft Dinner and encouraging 13 year olds to become more entrepreneurial were strategic elements in helping students bear the rising cost of higher education. (I'm exaggerating -- but only just.)

Because I guess the problem that needs to be addressed isn't that tuition fees in Ontario have increased by 244 per cent over the past 20 years (adjusted for inflation) -- although the article did concede that fees were high. Or that the cost of higher education is being increasingly downloaded onto families who are already struggling under record levels of debt and years of stagnant incomes. Or that the funding relief that is in place often requires low-income families to take on additional debt to qualify for grants, or comes in the form of RESPs that overwhelmingly privilege those who have extra money left over every month to put aside for their child's education (read: the wealthiest).

No. The real problem: today's students have a sense of entitlement and aren't content to live on a diet of peanut butter and KD. Oh, and kids in grade 7 haven't gotten with the program and started to put money aside each month to help them pay down the debt they'll have when they graduate from university.

The number of days of income it takes to pay for your child’s degree soars, study finds

While a poor family has to spend 1,268 days of income to pay for a child’s university degree, a rich family only has to kick in 137 days of income, a new policy institute analysis reveals.

Skyrocketing tuition and stagnating incomes for all but the very rich have dramatically increased university costs in the past decade, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said in a study, “Under Pressure: The Impact of Rising Tuition Fees on Ontario Families,” released Wednesday.

In 1990, a poor family would have had to divert its total income for 981 days to pay for tuition, textbooks, tax breaks, and living expenses for a four-year degree. A rich family would have had to divert only 135 days of total income.

The income-to-tuition gap sapped middle-income families, as well, the study said.

The institute divided household income into five tiers: about $150,000, about $80,000, about $55,000, about $33,000, and about $15,000 as average after-tax income.

The money needed to pay for a university degree jumped by 32 days for the second tier, 47 days for the third, and 99 days for the fourth.

WikiLeaks: Iraqi children in U.S. raid shot in head

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks suggests that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.

The unclassified cable, which was posted on WikiLeaks’ website last week, contained questions from a United Nations investigator about the incident, which had angered local Iraqi officials, who demanded some kind of action from their government. U.S. officials denied at the time that anything inappropriate had occurred.

But Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a communication to American officials dated 12 days after the March 15, 2006, incident that autopsies performed in the Iraqi city of Tikrit showed that all the dead had been handcuffed and shot in the head. Among the dead were four women and five children. The children were all 5 years old or younger.

Police defend handcuffing autistic boy, 9

A 9-year-old with special needs left police no choice but to restrain him, authorities said.

The boy, who police were told has autism, was attending the Fairbank Memorial Day Care Centre last month when he became upset after being teased by other children.

“This boy was out of control, according to the two 911 calls that we got,” said Const. Victor Kwong of Toronto police. “The information that we received was that he was picking up tables and chairs and throwing them around. The precaution that the school had taken was they took out the other students and they locked him into a room by himself.”

It’s the first time the daycare has had to summon police on a child, said Peter Frampton, executive director of the Learning Enrichment Foundation which accommodates 750 kids across 17 centres. He could not comment on this specific case.