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.]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Millionaire Tax: White House Talking Points Go After Republicans

WASHINGTON -- In certain corners of the progressive political universe, there has been ongoing frustration with the Obama White House for attacking the institution of Congress as a whole rather than its Republican parts.

The angst surfaced briefly, and most recently, during the introduction of the administration's jobs bill, when President Barack Obama stood before Congress demanding action without pinpointing the party most likely to hold it up. Since then, however, the president has drawn sharper lines when castigating the legislative branch, noting specifically that many of the job creation ideas he's adopted once had Republican support. In the White House's talking points on its latest legislative proposal -- a new tax on income over $1 million -- there's another sharp elbow thrown the GOP's way.

"Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans believe the burden of deficit reduction should only come from spending cuts to critical programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and refuse to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share to get our fiscal house in order and reduce the deficit," the bullet point reads.

Paul Ryan, Herman Cain Push For Tax Increases On Middle Class

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Sunday that House Republicans would oppose President Barack Obama's payroll tax cuts for both employers and employees, arguing that the policy had already failed to provide a sufficient boost to the economy. "It hasn't worked," Ryan said, suggesting the current temporary tax cut should be allowed to expire, which will amount to a 50 percent tax hike on workers making less than $106,000 per year.

He also said he opposes the president's proposal to require millionaires to pay the same tax rate as the middle class, known as the Buffett plan. "Class warfare might make for good politics, but it makes for rotten economics," Ryan said.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee and the author of a long-term plan that radically alters Medicare and slashes tax rates for the wealthy as well as social spending, Ryan serves as something of an economic spokesman for House Republicans.

Behind The Poverty Statistics: Real Lives, Real Pain

At a food pantry in a Chicago suburb, a 38-year-old mother of two breaks into tears.

She and her husband have been out of work for nearly two years. Their house and car are gone. So is their foothold in the middle class and, at times, their self-esteem.

"It's like there is no way out," says Kris Fallon.

She is trapped like so many others, destitute in the midst of America's abundance. Last week, the Census Bureau released new figures showing that nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty – a record 46.2 million people. The poverty rate, pegged at 15.1 percent, is the highest of any major industrialized nation, and many experts believe it could get worse before it abates.

The numbers are daunting – but they also can seem abstract and numbing without names and faces.

Crime, economy top Parliament's agenda as MPs return

Normally when MPs return to Parliament Hill after the summer break there is a sense of excitement akin to the first day of school.

This first day of the fall sitting will be different. The House of Commons will have a more sombre tone as tributes are paid to Jack Layton. The late NDP leader had hoped to be making his return Monday from cancer treatments, but he grew more ill over the summer and died Aug. 22.

It will be an emotional day for the NDP caucus, which includes Olivia Chow, Layton's widow. Interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel is taking Layton's place until a permanent successor is chosen March 24 at a leadership convention.

Obama’s new tax rate for wealthy is ‘class warfare,’ Republicans say

U.S. Republican leaders Sunday criticized President Barack Obama’s proposal for a new tax on millionaires, calling it “class warfare” and predicting it will face heavy opposition in Congress.

Mr. Obama is expected to propose a “Buffett Tax” on Monday on people making more than $1-million a year as part of his recommendations to a congressional super committee seeking long-term deficit savings.

Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, said the proposal would limit growth and hurt corporate investment in an already stagnating economy.

“It adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty and it punishes job creation and those people who create jobs,” Mr. Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. “Class warfare may make for good politics but it makes for rotten economics.”

Obama's historic opportunity

What is the American president going to say to his citizens? What will he say to the citizens of the world? How will he rationalize his country's opposition to recognizing a Palestinian state? How will he explain his position, which runs counter to the position of the enlightened - and less enlightened - world?

And above all, what will Barack Obama say to himself before he goes to bed? That the Palestinians don't deserve a state? That they have a chance to get it through negotiations with Israel? That they do not have equal rights in the new world that we thought he was going to establish? Will he admit to himself that, because of opportunistic election considerations - yes, Obama is now being exposed as quite an opportunist - he is also harming his country's interests as well as the (real ) interests of Israel, and is acting against his own conscience too?

It is difficult now to understand Obama's America. The man who promised change is turning out to be the father of American conservatives. With regard to Israel, there is no difference between him and the last of the celebrants at the Tea Party. We did not expect a great deal from Hillary Clinton; she can continue to recite hollow speeches about negotiations-shmegotiations - but Obama?

Tacoma, Washington Teachers On Strike For Fourth Day Despite Judge Order

TACOMA, Wash. -- Students in Washington state's third-largest school district are taking a fourth straight day off Friday as opposing sides in a teachers strike meet with a judge, after the instructors defied his order to return to the classroom.

The Tacoma School District teachers walked out Tuesday over issues including pay, class size and how job transfers are handled.

A state judge issued an order Wednesday that they go back to class, but the teachers refused.

On Thursday, about 93 percent of the nearly 1,600 teachers gathered at the Tacoma Dome arena and voted overwhelmingly to keep picketing.

Many students have joined the picket lines and hundreds rallied in front of the Tacoma Dome before and during Thursday's vote.

States Struggle For Money, Political Will To Fix America's Failing Roads

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The Hoover Dam, one of the world's great engineering feats, is marred by roads with traffic so jammed along the Nevada-Arizona border that it tells a different story about the political will to maintain 21st century infrastructure.

The road leading to the dam cannot accommodate the torrent of tourists and spills them into the overwhelmed little town of Boulder City. Nevada lawmakers are trying to find a private company to build a $400 million bypass because the state can't afford it.

The phrase "you can't get there from here" is increasingly apt nearly everywhere one turns. America's roads, highways, bridges and transit systems are falling apart. Even those not in disrepair are often so crowded that a horse and buggy might seem faster. Cities and suburbs are outgrowing their infrastructure far faster than local governments can find the money to fix them.

While the problem is plain to all, the money and the political will to fix it isn't there.

Pipeline to prosperity or channel to catastrophe?

There are countless little brooks and rivulets garlanding the islands and inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest in remote northern British Columbia, many without even a name. But the salmon know them well, and return each September, paddling relentlessly against the current, leaping over rocks and little waterfalls, shedding their skin and dying from the outside in to give life to another generation.

Because salmon are the keystone to this ecosystem’s food chain, many never make it back to their birthplaces to spawn. At this time of year, the banks of the streams are littered with salmon carcasses and splayed guts like the remains of some grisly bacchanal. Many are tidily decapitated and otherwise fully intact, because the local wolf packs feed only on the heads.

Later in the month, the black bears come, accompanied by a few of their elusive cousins, the kermodes, born with a recessive gene that leaves their coats a ghostly pale yellow. The locals call them spirit bears. Salmon give life to this lush band of forest stretching from Prince Rupert to the north shore of Vancouver Island, the largest pristine ecosystem of its kind left in North America. But the spirit bears are the icons: August’s National Geographic cover featured one, with the headline “The Wildest Place in North America.”

Keystone XL pipeline -- key to prosperity?

The opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, who equate their White House sit-ins with the civil rights battles of the 1960s, are drawing a false moral equivalence. Far from fighting an injustice, they are blocking something that will create a continuing and jointly shared economic benefit.

The pipeline will help to match areas of surplus oil-sands supply in Alberta to areas of surplus refining capacity on the U.S. Gulf Coast, all to meet the continent’s ongoing appetite for oil products, primarily gasoline and other petrochemicals.

For both Canadians and Americans, the alternatives to the pipeline are actually worse. Shipping oil-sands products to the U.S. by water would still require a pipeline, which faces opposition from some aboriginal Canadian leaders, and then an expensive and hazardous trip through narrow British Columbia channels to American ports. Or would Canadians rather stop oil-sands exports to the U.S. in favour of Asian markets? For Americans, the pipeline helps reduce their dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Poor will pay the price for Ford’s folly

Mayor Rob Ford will face the music of his own composition Monday when his hand-picked executive committee must tell council what city services the Ford administration wants to cut.

Unable to find buckets of waste to grease its wheels, Ford’s “gravy train” is instead fuelling itself by ripping through neighbourhoods, threatening to lay off police, firefighters, transit workers; to sell city-owned zoos and nursing homes; uproot grants to essential cultural and community agencies.

Instinctively, Ford, the driver, would overrun and devastate the municipal landscape. The only “core” municipal service he respects is police, ambulance, and, maybe, fire. The rest are “nice to have.”

But there are other considerations: Citizens are angry over the exercise and the clear fact that the mayor misled them last summer when he claimed city hall waste was so pronounced and overflowing, he would find $2 billion in waste without cutting services.

More critical — as Ford needs council approval to cut services — city councillors have started to push back against the proposed cuts as general unrest bubbles up in their wards.

Fords on the way to becoming another waterfront wreck

Down on the waterfront, not far from the suddenly desirable Port Lands, the transformation of Toronto is unfolding nearly unnoticed.

Though few have been paying attention, especially in the mayor’s office, one of the first lake-edge projects is quietly taking shape. Earlier this week, architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica, an innovative Florida firm, presented plans for an elegant mixed-use complex that will form part of Bayside, a new neighbourhood south of Queens Quay, east of Sherbourne.

Though detailed design remains some time off, the development will be divided into a series of sections that cascade down to the water. Starting at 12 storeys, it drops to six by the water. The building sits on top of a two-floor podium filled with stores that engage the sidewalks directly.

The site, which is long and thin, will include residential, retail, commercial and cultural. On the east, it faces onto Bonnycastle St., now a moribund roadway that connects Queens Quay and Lake Shore Blvd. E. It is slated to become a pedestrian-scaled street for shoppers, and the heart of the new neighbourhood. Farther east, there will be office towers designed by Cesar Pelli, an architect whose credits include some of the world’s most iconic skyscrapers, including the Petronas Towers.

Mayor’s tax claim disputed

In recent days, Mayor Rob Ford has been warning that his opponents on city council would raise residential property taxes next year by 35 per cent.

Ford didn’t respond to the Star’s request for elaboration, but finance officials say every 1 per cent hike adds $22.6 million to city coffers, so a 35 per cent hit would generate $791 million.

The mayor told reporters such an outcome would “put people out of their homes.”

A key Ford ally, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, this week warned citizens there would be a 34 per cent tax increase — yielding $768.4 million — if the left wing were in charge.

“That’s the number,” Mammoliti told the Star.

But is it?

Right-leaning councillors reconsider votes after Ford’s support plummets

Publicly, councillors within mayor Rob Ford’s voting bloc say they are unshaken by a massive poll that shows plummeting support for the mayor and his agenda.

But privately, a number of right-leaning and centrist councillors say they will not be voting for many of the proposed service cuts — such as daycares, libraries, zoos, farms and arts funding — telling the mayor: I can’t politically afford it.

“People don’t feel good about how things have been happening and they’re taking a look at those numbers,” said one.

Others dismissed the Forum Research poll’s credibility because it was paid for by CUPE Local 79.

“I’m getting (automated) robocalls in my ward, someone phoning up and saying: ‘Do you know Doug Holyday wants to close libraries?’ Push one to reach his office, and they get right through,” said deputy mayor Holyday. “I think the unions are targeting library card holders to do this and I think the poll is more of that.”

Rick Perry's Former Staffers Made Millions As Lobbyists

WASHINGTON -- Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has been good for the Austin lobbying business. Forty Perry aides have either left the governor's administration to become registered state lobbyists or gone from the lobby into Perry's inner circle, some of them making multiple trips through the revolving door, according to state lobbying disclosure filings and a review of staff records obtained by The Huffington Post through public records requests.

Among Perry's closest campaign aides, at least five have been registered lobbyists, including his communications director, his spokesperson and his political director. Two other ex-staffers who are current lobbyists head Super PACs organized to elect Perry.

These lobbyists have done good work for their clients, winning lucrative state contracts for everything from private toll roads to a nuclear waste dump to the now infamous HPV vaccine mandate. A review of financial disclosures filed with the Texas Ethics Commission shows that during the past 10 years, former Perry staffers have raked in tens of millions of dollars in lobbying contracts.

EPA Delays Greenhouse Gas Regulations, Raising Concerns Over Climate Change And Public Health

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's announcement yesterday that it will miss a Sept. 30 deadline for issuing new rules on greenhouse gas emissions has sparked an increasingly familiar pair of contrasting reactions: livid criticism and loud cheers.

The agency's latest postponement comes on the heels of last month's decision by the Obama administration to put off new ozone standards. And Sept. 30 won't be the first deadline the EPA has missed for greenhouse gases; a July deadline was also not met.

Experts warn that any further delays in air pollution regulations for power plants could deleteriously affect public health, given the known direct health effects of pollutants such as ozone and black carbon, as well as the indirect dangers of greenhouse gases such as climate change-driven rises in heat stress, infectious disease and extreme weather events.

"For a healthy economy, you have to have healthy people," Elizabeth Martin Perera, a public health expert with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists Climate and Energy Program, told The Huffington Post.

Gratitude and Forbearance: On Christopher Lasch

Born in Omaha in 1932, the year Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, Christopher Lasch graduated from Harvard in 1954, during the Eisenhower era’s mood of anxious complacency, and from there went directly to Columbia to do graduate work in history. Lasch’s career as a historian began as it would end forty years later with his death, with a search for the moral resources for the next New Deal. Lasch rejected the liberal history of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.—whose legitimation of the cold war he disliked, and whose view of the permanence of the New Deal’s achievements he found naïve. He learned much of modern social science as well as European political and social thought, and took psychoanalysis and theology seriously. He became one of the nation’s most prominent intellectuals, but he increasingly doubted the capacity of his colleagues to guide their fellow citizens. His first book, The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution, a critique of liberalism’s early capitulation to imperialism, sold a few hundred copies when it appeared in 1962. His next book was published three years later. Called The New Radicalism in America, 1889–1963: The Intellectual as a Social Type, it depicted intellectuals’ sometimes unintended subservience to power, and it made him famous. Lasch regarded his success in part as a burden, and throughout his life he would insist on the importance of his ties to family, friends, colleagues and students.

J Street Opposes Palestine's UN Bid; US Increasingly Isolated

In a setback for progressive peace forces, J Street—the liberal Jewish alternative to AIPAC—has decided to oppose United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state this month. J Street is also urging President Obama to veto the statehood bid if it comes to the UN Security Council.

The normally rational and liberal New York Times takes the same position, making an inflated claim that the UN vote would somehow be “ruinous.” With Israeli-Palestinian talks chronically stalemated, however, it is difficult to understand what would be ruined by bringing the Palestinians further into the global diplomatic process. The Times and J Street describe the tensions as alarming, but offer no evidence that continued negotiations will be productive. If the UN vote proceeds, the Israelis and many in the US Congress are warning that hundreds of millions in funding for the Palestinian Authority will be terminated. The default position of the liberals at the Times and J Street is their belief that the funding cutoff would be counterproductive.

The progressive Jewish American community is crucial to providing support for evenhanded or pro-Palestinian initiatives by the White House or Congress. Therefore the J Street position, reinforced by the New York Times, effectively shuts down any American maneuverability as the UN decision nears. As a result, the United States is likely to be sidelined and isolated at the UN session. US opposition to any UN recognition will further unite the Arab world in its suspicion of Washington as a possible ally. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and Turki al-Faisal, the former director of Saudi intelligence services, are the latest powerful leaders to weigh in. The Saudis are threatening to refuse recognition of the US-backed Maliki regime in Iraq and “might part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well.”

Can Palestine's Bid for UN Statehood Revive the National Movement?

As we go to press, the Palestinian Authority has announced it will request full membership as a state at the UN Security Council. If Washington vetoes the move or the PA backs down, the Palestinians will probably seek a status upgrade at the General Assembly, from observer to nonmember observer state.

The PA’s appeal to the world body arises from the collapse of a two-decade Oslo “peace process” that has brought the Palestinians neither peace nor a state. But there is confusion at the heart of the move: is it an elaborate ruse to strengthen the PA’s hand in negotiations, or is it a new diplomatic strategy grounded in international law and political mobilization but born of the opportunities opened by the Arab revolutions?

It’s certainly a risk. Any bid before the Security Council will incur not only a US veto but Congressional sanctions and Israeli retaliation, including a possible ban on transfer of PA revenues to pay its 180,000 employees. Even an upgrade, which carries a lesser status, could incur Israeli reprisals. And both could trigger violence in the occupied territories and beyond. UN membership is said to be the preference of PA president Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah movement, most Palestinians and the Arab League. The upgrade already has the support of most nations at the General Assembly, including several European states. The EU’s official position as a bloc, however, is to support a return to negotiations.

Tea Partiers: Light Rail an Invitation to Al Qaeda

The citizens of Cobb County, Georgia, are currently mulling a proposal that would increase property taxes for 10 years in order to fund a new light-rail line between Atlanta to its suburbs. It's a fairly straightforward proposal, the kind of thing that pops up all the time in communities across the country. But if there's been one lesson of the past few years, it's that mundane policy debates have a tendency to become a lot less mundane once tea partiers get involved.

In this case, the Georgia Tea Party is arguing that the county should abandon its light-rail proposal because if the light-rail line were to be completed, it would become a magnet for terrorist attacks. Here's the group's chair, J.D. Van Brink:
If anyone doesn't believe me—England and Spain. Now, if we have a more decentralized mass-transit system using buses, if the terrorists blow up a single bus, we can work around that. When they blow up a rail, that just brings the system to a grinding halt. So how much security are we going to have on this rail system, and how much will it cost?
In other words, Van Brink is arguing that because terrorists fantasize about blowing up American infrastructure, we should avoid spending any money on infrastructure. Given tea partiers' opposition to most forms of government spending and their worries that light-rail and sustainable development plans are part of a United Nations conspiracy to force people to live in miniature, lightbulb-less "Hobbit homes," the terrorism concerns here almost seem like a dodge. But maybe Van Brink is on to something. Here's what Al Qaeda's new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said in a video released in July:
The al-Qaeda network is fully prepared to continue the jihad against the American infidels by launching deadly attacks, but your outdated and rusting transportation infrastructure needs to be completely overhauled for those strikes even to be noticed. We want to turn your bridges into rubble, but if we claimed credit for making them collapse, nobody would ever believe us.
Or maybe not. That quote was from the Onion.

Source: Mother Jones