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, September 02, 2011

All aboard the monorail to waterfront ruin

There’s no reason to doubt Councillor Doug Ford’s claim that “everyone’s jaw just dropped” when he revealed his vision for Toronto’s waterfront at a recent backroom meeting of 15 people. The question is, who were these favoured few treated to an early peek at Ford’s plan for a monorail, a giant Ferris wheel, a posh waterside hotel and, of course, a mega-mall?

If they were influential developers, their jaws surely dropped at the prospect of quickly harvesting a multi-million-dollar windfall. To realize Ford’s vision in just six years, according to his schedule, the city will have to sell hundreds of acres of prime waterfront land at bargain basement prices. That’s because the private sector doesn’t build monorails for free, and time is of the essence. To turn Ford’s dream into reality, much of this tract will inevitably be covered by crowded condo towers. Well-placed investors are sure to become richer, and the cash-strapped Ford administration will gain a timely infusion of capital.

‘Top Secret America’: A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command

The CIA’s armed drones and paramilitary forces have killed dozens of al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of its foot soldiers. But there is another mysterious organization that has killed even more of America’s enemies in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.

CIA operatives have imprisoned and interrogated nearly 100 suspected terrorists in their former secret prisons around the world, but troops from this other secret organization have imprisoned and interrogated 10 times as many, holding them in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this secretive group of men (and a few women) has grown tenfold while sustaining a level of obscurity that not even the CIA managed. “We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen,” a strapping Navy SEAL, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in describing his unit.

Barnardo's: Scrap Teacher's Search Power In Education Bill

PRESS ASSOCIATION - Government plans to tackle bad behaviour in schools fail to deal with the causes of poor conduct, Barnardo's has said.

In a new report, the children's charity argues that the Government's school behaviour policy is "counter-productive" and says more needs to be done to address problems at home.

An Education Bill making its way through Parliament sets out plans to give teachers more powers to deal with poor discipline.

It includes allowing teachers to search pupils and confiscate any item that could disrupt lessons, such as mobile phones. They will also be able to hand out no-notice detentions, and use force where necessary to restrain students.

Halliburton Sues BP Over Deepwater Crisis

NEW ORLEANS -- BP PLC has engaged in a "cover up scheme" to hide its culpability for the deadly rig explosion that spawned last year's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the oil giant's partners in the drilling project claims in a newly filed lawsuit.

Halliburton Energy Services Inc.'s suit, the latest of several that the project's partners have filed against each other, accuses BP of concealing critical information about the deepwater well that blew out on April 20, 2010.

Halliburton, which did cement work on BP's Macondo well, claims in Thursday's suit that BP provided false information about the location of pockets of oil and gas around the well before the blowout. Halliburton says knowing the location of those zones is critical for a cementing job.

U.S. Regulator Sues Bank Of America, Others Over Losses On Subprime Bonds

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. regulator sued a number of major banks Friday over losses on more than $41 billion in subprime mortgage bonds, which may hamper a broader government mortgage settlement with banks.

The lawsuits by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, came as a surprise to the market and weighed on bank shares. The lawsuits could add billions of dollars to the banks' potential costs at perhaps the worst possible time for the industry.

The FHFA accused major banks, including Bank of America Corp, its Merrill Lynch unit, Barclays Plc, Citigroup Inc and Nomura Holdings Inc of selling bonds backed by mortgages that should have never been packaged into securities.

The biggest banks are already negotiating with the attorneys general of all 50 states to address mortgage abuses. They are looking for a comprehensive settlement that will protect them from future litigation and limit their potential mortgage litigation losses.

What Exxon's Deal With Russia Really Means

This week ExxonMobil scored a deal to explore for oil in the Russian Arctic Ocean, and in exchange, the Russian state-owned Rosneft apparently got the right to become a part-owner of deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

But what is a win-win agreement for Exxon and Rosneft is a lose-lose for the rest of us.

First of all, this deal will not lower gas prices. Do the Russians, or ExxonMobil for that matter, care about how much Americans are paying at the gas pump? I don't think so.

The oil that Americans find in Russia -- or that the Russians find in America -- will be sold on an international market -- and the price will be set based on global supply and demand. As a publicly traded company, Exxon is loyal to its shareholders and profits -- not to American consumers.

It doesn't matter if it's American oil or Russian oil -- or some combination of both. It's a perfect example of why increased domestic drilling has not and will never lower gas prices at the pump. In fact, if you look at charts of our gas prices guess what they track? If you said domestic oil production you would be wrong. If you said the international price of oil, you would be correct. The price you pay at the pump is set by commodities traders on international markets not by politicians chanting "drill baby drill."

Obama to Breathers: Sorry, Wait Until 2013

On Friday, in a move that shocked enviros and public health advocates, President Obama asked the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its proposal to tighten a key air-quality standard. The request, said Obama, is part of the administration's efforts to reduce "regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty."

The EPA has been at work on new rules on ozone pollution, better known as smog, since September 2009. The agency rolled out new, tougher draft standards in January 2010, only to have the release of the final rules repeatedly delayed. In a statement, Obama said he has asked the agency to wait until 2013—you know, after the next election—to improve the standard.

The decision to single out this rule is significant. Back in 2008, the Bush administration EPA issued smog rules that called for limits of 75 parts per billion, which was weaker than those that the agency's own scientists said is necessary to protect human health. Improving the standard has been a top priority for environmental and public health experts, so when the EPA said in January 2010 that it was considering lowering the limit to between 60 and 70 parts per billion, those groups were cheering.

The All-Time 10 Worst Military Contracting Boondoggles

After three years, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting completed its business this week. In its final report to Congress (PDF), it estimates that the federal government has lost between $31 and $60 billion to contractor fraud and waste since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started. "The government was not prepared to go into Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003 using large numbers of contractors, and is still unable to provide effective management and oversight of contract spending," said commission co-chairman Michael Thibault.

My Jobs Plan: A Trillion Dollars For Infrastructure

A few weeks ago I rode an American train for just about the first time in my life. It was the 9:07 Metro North from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven, Connecticut, and I'm sort of embarrassed to say that I was slightly shocked by the experience. It's not that I had any problem getting to New Haven: The train left on time and arrived on time. But the two-hour ride itself was terrible: bouncy and loud and swaying and uncomfortable for practically the entire way. If you're not a car-happy Southern Californian like me, maybe this doesn't surprise you. But it did surprise me—at least a little—and there's a reason for this: Although I've never taken a train anywhere in the United States, I've been on plenty of trains in Europe. Not bullet trains, just ordinary intercity trains. And so I always figured this was what all first-world trains were like: fast and quiet and suspended on a railbed that's smooth as glass.

Go ahead and laugh. I deserve it. But although this is a minor annoyance in the great scheme of things, it's symptomatic of our deteriorating public infrastructure in the United States. A gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, exploded last year, killing 38 people, and on Wednesday the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board announced the results of its investigation: The explosion was a story of "flawed pipe, flawed inspection, and flawed emergency response." It was, she said, "not a question of if the pipe would fail, but when." And this wasn't just a story about San Bruno or just about Pacific Gas and Electric: The rest of our national gas pipeline network is under similar strain.

U.S. Wasting Billions While Tripling No-Bid Contracts After Decade of War in Iraq, Afghanistan

As the war in Afghanistan approaches its 10th anniversary, a pair of new reports reveal how the Pentagon has squandered tens of billions of dollars while tripling the amount of no-bid contracts. The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting concludes that between $31 billion and $60 billion spent on projects in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years has been lost to waste and fraud. In Afghanistan, the commission found the United States is indirectly funding the Taliban as money diverted from U.S.-backed projects is paid out to militants to ensure safety. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s use of no-bid contracts has tripled since the United States was attacked on 9/11, in spite of promises to reform the controversial practice. A new investigative report from the Center for Public Integrity says no-bid spending has ballooned from $50 billion in 2003 to $140 billion in 2011. We speak with Charles Tiefer, a member of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan and a professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore Law School, and with Sharon Weinberger of the Center for Public Integrity, author of the investigative series "Windfalls of War." "There are as many contractors in the war zone as there are soldiers. But we haven’t adjusted our thinking for it. We haven’t adjusted our structure for it," Tiefer says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Disappointments All Around

Late last month, Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, laid out what he perceives to be the virtues of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, which would connect a vast unconventional oil patch in Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

"According to the Department of Energy, this one project will 'essentially eliminate' oil imports from the Middle East," Upton said in a CNBC interview. "It will create more than 100,000 jobs and strengthen our relationship with a close ally and trading partner. A project like this should be a no-brainer, and there's simply no good reason it has been stuck in the State Department's red tape for nearly three years."

The project has undoubtedly been stuck. But the rest of Upton's assertions -- the jobs, the reduction in dependence on Middle East oil -- are matters of increasingly heated debate. So, too, are the project's potential environmental impacts.

Setting National Goals for First Nations

The fact that the plight of aboriginal Canadians still has to be singled out for attention in the early 21st century is a clear sign that we have far to go.

This is the final article in a four-part series that outlines the crisis of confidence in national governance and the urgent need for Canada to develop clear long-term national goals for which our federal government is directly accountable. Part 3 discussed a new approach to the formation of a national energy and environment strategy. The final section proposes a bold new approach to addressing Canada’s intolerable mismanagement of aboriginal affairs.

In this series, I have been writing about Canada’s inability to set clear, long-term national goals against which to measure our success in a number of key policy areas. Nowhere has this been more true than with aboriginal Canadians.

The fact that the plight of aboriginal Canadians still has to be singled out for special attention in the early 21st century conclusively demonstrates the urgent need for outside-the-box thinking and new institutional structures to support good governance. We have to move beyond the occasional bursts of outrage over news reports citing that extensive federal expenditures on aboriginal education appear to have produced no discernible improvement, that aboriginal health care is substandard and housing conditions have worsened, that incarceration and suicide rates are shockingly high among aboriginal Canadians, and that nearly 40 per cent of water systems on native reserves pose high levels of risk.

Student threatened with 'disciplinary action' if GSA advocacy continues

Leanne Iskander has been blocked from starting an “LGBT support group” at her school and told that if she continues to advocate for gay-straight alliances she will face “disciplinary action.”

Iskander, the founder of Catholic Students for GSAs (CS4GSA), and her parents were summoned for a meeting with St Joseph Catholic Secondary School principal Jeff Quenneville on Sept 1 to discuss her latest proposal for a GSA, Iskander says. The principal told her unequivocally that “an LGBT support group or GSA will never be permitted in any Catholic school because the bishops forbid them.”

“I was told a gay-straight alliance will never happen,” she says. “We are allowed to have a group called ‘Open Arms,’ a general equity group, nothing specific to LGBT. And he said it will not be student-run, either.”

Kelly McParland: Toronto police association sees promotions as a right

Toronto police are upset that the civilian police board has refused to accept promotions recommended for nine officers who removed their name tags during the G20 demonstrations in Toronto last summer. The police association has filed a grievance, arguing that the nine officers had already been disciplined by losing a day’s pay, and were being punished twice for the same offence.

It’s a ridiculous argument, which shows that, in the police association’s view, promotions are an absolute right that don’t have to be earned, and that refusing a promotion is a “punishment” rather than recognition that an officer hasn’t performed his or her duties in such a way as to earn the upgrade.

Police board refuses to promote G20 officers

The Toronto police board has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to promote nine officers who were disciplined for removing their name tags during G20 demonstrations.

Chief Bill Blair recommended those promotions and the civilian oversight board’s refusal to agree suggests cracks in what has historically been a close relationship.

On Tuesday, the police association filed a grievance. If the arbitrator sides with the police board, it will make clear a currently gray area regarding the board’s powers to refuse promotions.

In the past, the board has passively pushed through reclassification recommendations from the chief, including for officers who have unbecoming conduct on their records.

Canada will stick with Libya mission until it’s done, Harper says

Canada is boosting its support for Libya’s interim government, asking the United Nations for permission to release Gadhafi-regime assets to the new administration and vowing to stick with the international military mission until it is completed.

With Moammar Gadhafi’s loyalist forces now concentrated in a handful of strongholds and the erratic dictator exhorting them to a long battle by declaring, “let Libya burn,” the question now is just how long, and how aggressively, Canada’s fighter-bombers, backed by support planes and a warship, will fight the remnants of his regime.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper ruled out sending ground troops, but vowed the Canadian mission will continue as long as the international intervention goes on – while he faces calls to speed up plans to aid the country’s reconstruction.

Top general supports $1B savings plan

Gen. Walt Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, said Thursday that the Canadian Forces has already started to implement some of the recommendations in a department of national defence report that outlined how to save $1 billion a year.

The recommendations were contained in a major report by Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie on how to make the Canadian Forces more efficient without compromising operational capability. The report, leaked to the media last month, was written at the request of Defence Minister Peter MacKay and was called Report on Transformation 2011.

"Andy Leslie has produced an extraordinary report that gives a 360 degree look at the Canadian Forces," Natynczyk said after an event in Ottawa. "And the mission we gave him was to look at innovative ways that we could improve our efficiency without giving up our operational effectiveness and Andy Leslie's report has done exactly that. Some of the stuff that Andy has put in the report, we’re already starting."

New Toronto Port Lands strategy involved private talks with mall operator

Toronto Councillor Doug Ford held private talks with real estate and business leaders and one of the world’s largest mall operators to produce a proposal that will fundamentally change the publicly approved strategy for the eastern Port Lands and put a large retail centre where the mouth of the Don River was supposed to flow.

Councillor Ford, the brother of Mayor Rob Ford and his closest adviser, has spent the week promoting a fast-track revitalization for the roughly 180 hectares of city-owned land at the mouth of the Don River that would include a Ferris wheel, ice rinks at a former power plant, a waterfront hotel and what he describes as a “mega-mall.” The Etobicoke councillor says he has met with a long line of local and international investors about the Toronto waterfront, including Australian-based Westfield Group, which operates 124 shopping centres worldwide, but says his notions are not based on any one company’s plans.

City buyout puts morale ‘in the toilet'

The public health promoter swallowed hard and applied for the city buyout package that, in exchange for ending her 30-year career a month or two early, will put “tens of thousands of dollars” in her pocket.

“I had to do it quickly and seal the envelope and leave the office because it really felt bad (applying),” said the city worker, who asked for anonymity because she's not authorized to speak about the buyout.

She had planned to retire in January.

“I feel like there's a gun to my head. I feel undervalued and if anyone wants to know about morale among city workers right now, it's in the toilet.”

Australian firm eyeing waterfront mall

An Australian company that’s one of the world’s largest shopping centre owners is a driving force behind Councillor Doug Ford’s mall-based dream for Toronto’s eastern waterfront, the Star has learned.

Ford confirmed Thursday he has spoken to representatives of the Westfield Group, which has interests in 124 malls in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Brazil.

“They’re more than interested,” Ford said in a brief interview. “They have a lot of money sitting there waiting to invest in Toronto.”