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.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Correcting the Abysmal 'New York Times' Coverage of Occupy Wall Street

Over the weekend, my inbox exploded with angry messages from people who had just read this New York Times article (though it reads more like an op-ed) about the Occupy Wall Street protest. Ginia Bellafante gives a devastating account of the event’s attendees, depicting them as scatterbrained, sometimes borderline-psychotic transients.

Bellafante, who is not a reporter but a critic for the Times, offered a representation of the protesters that is as muddled as the amalgam of activists’ motives she presents in the span of the article. She first claims a Joni Mitchell lookalike named Zuni Tikka is a “default ambassador” of the movement. In one of the following paragraphs, she then describes the protest as “leaderless.” Either the people at Zuccotti Park have official leadership or they don’t (they don’t, by the way). So either Tikka is an official spokesperson who warrants first-paragraph favorability, or Bellafante’s own biases persuaded her to put the kooky girl dancing around in her underwear in the spotlight.

The more serious aspect of the protest—the “scores of arrests” that occurred over the weekend including the arrests of more than eighty people, several of whom the police first penned and then maced—is offered as an aside in Bellafante’s article (she doesn’t mention the macing at all). By the way, none of the young women in the following video are in their underwear.

Congress Is Failing

Remember the time when being a political junkie meant you had an insatiable curiosity about the twists and turns in the policies, personalities, ideas, debates, and outcomes in Washington?

Now it means you just sift junk.

Today's daggers-drawn standoff over disaster funding and keeping the government open is but the latest tragic-comedy manifestation of a legislative and political system mired in madness.

By all accounts, the Disaster Relief Fund within the Federal Emergency Management Agency will run out of money as early as Monday. It may stay afloat until Wednesday. That means by the middle of next week, the world's most powerful economy, sickened and weakened by declining consumer confidence and persistent unemployment, will consciously decide not to help its citizens and businesses recover from natural disasters--thereby prolonging economic and emotional misery in dozens of states. What's more, this same government appears headed for another shutdown or, at minimum, a period of insecurity about a shutdown that will only intensify economic jitters.

How Dark Money Is Redrawing the Political Map

Their names suggest selfless dedication to democracy. Fair Districts Mass. Protect Your Vote. The Center for a Better New Jersey. And their stated goals are unarguable: In the partisan fight to redraw congressional districts, states should stick to the principle of one person, one vote.

But a ProPublica investigation has found that these groups and others are being quietly bankrolled by corporations, unions, and other special interests. Their main interest in the once-a-decade political fight over redistricting is not to help voters in the communities they claim to represent but mainly to improve the prospects of their political allies or to harm their enemies.

The number of these purportedly independent redistricting groups is rising, but their ties remain murky. Contributions to such groups are not limited by campaign finance laws, and most states allow them to take unlimited amounts of money without disclosing the source.

Today's story is the first chapter in an in-depth examination of how powerful players are turning to increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques to game the redistricting process, with voters ultimately losing.

Super PACs And Secret Money: The Unregulated Shadow Campaign

WASHINGTON -- In the span of a week in September, two independent political committees announced unheard-of fundraising plans for the coming campaign season. The Karl Rove-linked American Crossroads, along with its sister nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, announced a plan to raise and spend $240 million in 2012. Make Us Great Again, a group solely dedicated to electing Texas Gov. Rick Perry the 45th President of the United States, revealed a plan to spend $55 million in the Republican primary alone. Both of these multimillion dollar plans would break all reported records for spending by an independent political committee, and offer a sign of how campaign finance rules have been upended.

The federal system of campaign finance is in the midst of a sea change following the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), which undid a host of regulations covering the use of corporate and union money by independent groups in elections. Those independent groups are forming a shadow campaign apparatus fueled by unlimited and often undisclosed contributions, without the same accountability required of political parties or candidates' own political action committees.

American Crossroads and Make Us Great Again represent one of the two new kinds of groups playing in the shadow campaign: super PACs, independent political committees filed with the FEC that can accept unlimited funds from corporations, unions and individuals.

In their debut election cycle in 2010, super PACs, like American Crossroads, spent a combined $65.3 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This was part of a huge surge in spending by non-party groups, whose spending hit $304 million in 2010, a record for any election cycle -- presidential or midterm.

Tories demand CBC explain its lengthy access-to-information battle

The Conservatives are hauling the CBC onto the carpet this fall to explain why it is fighting the access-to-information law in the courts, part of increased scrutiny of the public broadcaster's spending and practices by the new majority government.

The move comes at the same time as the Conservative Party surveys its members on whether CBC funding is good value for the taxpayer.

One Tory MP has a website petition to defund the broadcaster, and the party's spokesman recently referred to “extravagant spending” by the CBC in an Ottawa newspaper.

The Opposition New Democrats say this is just the beginning of a full-scale attack the Conservatives are planning against the CBC.

A motion to call the corporation to testify before MPs was the first item of business this fall for the Tories on the access-to-information, privacy and ethics committee. It is expected to discuss Tuesday which witnesses to call.

Chopper use flies in face of budget cuts

LAST WEEK, when our top soldier caught flak for flying a government plane to the Caribbean for a family vacation, he clung to Peter MacKay as a personal flotation device.

The defence minister himself had OK’d the unorthodox use of a Challenger jet. (Gen. Walt Natynczyk’s holiday was delayed because of a patriation ceremony at CFB Trenton.)

Whatever one thinks of the propriety of that particular trip, Mr. MacKay’s endorsement in such matters has turned into more of a millstone than a lifeline. The minister is now in far more hot water than the military chief, after it was revealed he used a search-and-rescue helicopter to hitch a ride back from a remote fishing lodge in Newfoundland in July 2010. From Gander, he took a Challenger flight to Ontario for an announcement and then doubled back to Halifax so he could make it to his Central Nova riding in time for a lobster carnival.

Mr. MacKay says he used the Challenger jet for official business. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt. But his explanation for the commandeering of a Cormorant helicopter — that he took a long-delayed opportunity to observe a search-and-rescue demonstration — doesn’t hold water. How much can one realistically learn during a hastily arranged half-hour ride?

Crime bill: expensive, ineffective and entirely political

The Conservative government’s omnibus crime bill is such a sprawling mess of wrong-headed provisions that some future administration will need years to untangle it. By then, our courts and prisons will be overflowing with a generation of hardened jailbirds, and we won’t be one bit safer.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act is a misnamed hodgepodge of provisions, few of which make sense if the real goal is to reduce crime. It will make the justice system more expensive and less effective. As Conservative party campaign rhetoric, it worked because it defined the Tories against their opponents. As law, it’s a disaster.

The government hasn’t produced a shred of evidence that the measures to impose new mandatory minimum sentences, to lengthen other sentences and reduce sentencing discretion for judges will deter crime. In democracies, laws should address demonstrated needs of society and should not be enacted unless they do. On that standard alone, the bill fails.

Crime is going down in Canada, not up. It has been moderating for 30 years, a phenomenon documented in dozens of studies. Moreover, our aging population is a powerful demographic that will only reinforce that trend over time. But the government’s "tough on crime rhetoric suggests the opposite: It portrays us cowering from gangs of hood-lums dominating our streets.

Tories focus on economy, opposition parties want action

The House is back and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government says the economy is its No. 1 priority, but critics say the Tories need to move beyond the rhetoric and take decisive action.

"I don't think this government is looking at Canadians' interests," Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau (Westmount-Ville Marie, Que.) told The Hill Times last week. "The IMF just very clearly said their projection for Canada's growth this year has been downgraded from 2.8 to 2.1 and next year from 2.6 to 1.9 and unemployment will go up. Do they talk about that part of it? No, they just spin that we're doing better than the others. Well, it's time for Canada to stop going for the simple out and say simply hey we're doing better than the others, so let's be happy."

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Sask.), Parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, dismissed Mr. Garneau's comments, saying "that's not true," and that "it's just political spin" from the third party's House leader.

"They have to do whatever they can to criticize our actions, but clearly the economy is still our No. 1 priority," Mr. Lukiwski said, noting that there are still parts of the 2011 budget that still need to be implemented. "We'll be doing that quickly."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.) said last Thursday before meeting with his G20 colleagues in Washington, D.C., that a second recession similar to 2008's could happen if prudent measures are not taken in light of stock market drops, the potential for Greece to default on its debt and the Canadian dollar falling below parity with the U.S. dollar.

PM could be ensconced in power until 2020, say experts

Insiders say the PM's political strengths and divided opposition could make this Stephen Harper's decade to shape Canada.

After uniting the right, winning three consecutive Conservative governments, and now facing an opposition in disarray, Prime Minister Stephen Harper could be in power until 2020.

"I think he's safely ensconced for at least another eight years," predicts veteran Parliament Hill journalist and Globe and Mail national affairs columnist Lawrence Martin, who documented Prime Minister Harper's (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) consolidation of power over five years of minority government in Harperland: The Politics of Control. The bestselling book was re-released last week with a new chapter.

With both the NDP and Liberals in search of leaders who can challenge the Prime Minister in 2015, it appears that the next election is already his to lose.

Olive: We need more stimulus, not cutbacks

We can only pray that the current “austerity chic” exhausts itself while the global economy is still standing.

Canadian MPs who took in David Cameron’s address to a joint session of Parliament last Thursday are well-advised to forget what they heard from the British PM. Save, of course, the obligatory acknowledgement that without Canada’s military heroism in the World War II, Britain might have lost its independence.

“Yes, demand matters,” Cameron said. “But let me say it again, it’s a debt crisis,” not a crisis of demand and income scarcity, our distinguished visitor said in contradiction of everything history teaches us about battling our way out of recessions.

Cameron’s message was that governments cannot spend anemic economies out of recession. He should have delivered it on the banks of the Thames rather than the Ottawa River.

While Cameron was preaching austerity Thursday, Cameron’s own ministers were hastily drawing up plans to jumpstart job creation and cut taxes on low-income earners in order to, of all things, revive demand.

G8 emails show Conservative double standard on spending and ethics: NDP

OTTAWA—The NDP revealed more confidential emails about last year’s $50-million G8 spending spree in Muskoka and accused the Conservatives of adopting an ethical double standard when it comes to using taxpayers’ money.

“Conservatives seem to think a different set of rules applies to them,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus after releasing documents his party obtained from the town of Huntsville.

Angus said the emails indicate Conservative MP Tony Clement had little use for the normal government checks and balances on spending when Ottawa was dispersing millions of dollars into the Muskoka region in advance of the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville.

The NDP said one of the emails suggests Clement (then federal industry minister) concurred with Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty that federal bureaucrats at Infrastructure Canada were getting in the way by conducting a review of planned G8 spending.

Doughty wrote to Clement, saying “this is totally unacceptable — I am sure you agree,” according to the email. Clement responded right away, saying, “I agree. I’m working on it.”

Several hundred people gather on Parliament Hill to protest pipeline

OTTAWA—Several hundred people milled in front of police barricades on Parliament Hill today as a protest began against the Keystone XL pipeline.

The demonstration was organized by Greenpeace and other groups who say the 2,700-kilometre pipeline from Alberta to Texas is harmful to the environment in both Canada and the United States.

Protesters waved signs condemning the oilsands: “Ethical oil? That’s snake oil. Guaranteed,” said one. “Think outside the barrel. Stop the tarsands,” read another.

The rally was billed as peaceful and non-confrontational, but police were out in force. They handed out flyers with maps, telling protesters where they can and cannot go and outlining their rights, their limits and police duties.

The protest included members of First Nations.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, an aboriginal organizer, said Canada’s Assembly of First Nations and the National Congress of American Indians formally came out against Keystone earlier this month.

He said they are upset about the lack of consultation and destruction of hunting and fishing areas, water, air, sacred lands, tribal sovereignty and lack of government monitoring. They want oilsands development to slow down until government regulation can catch up.

Ottawa Pipeline Protest Heating Up, As Showdown With Federal Government Looms

OTTAWA - Protesters were already filing into Ottawa on Sunday for a showdown with the federal government over its support for the oilsands and a plan to build a giant pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

After the high-profile arrest of celebrities and about a thousand activists in Washington last month for their attempts to stop approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Greenpeace and other groups hope to gain similar notoriety in Canada with a civil disobedience protest on Parliament Hill on Monday morning.

"What we see ahead is a catastrophe — a catastrophe for our grandchildren and their grandchildren," said Rosemarie Whalley, a senior citizen who came from Montreal for a day of training before the protest.

"We can't just let this situation continue and let the environment be wrecked."

She joined about 150 others at a hall at the University of Ottawa for tips on how to handle confrontation with authorities. They hope Ottawa will also draw its share of celebrity attention, with stars such as Gordon Pinsent, musician David Bidini and indigenous celebrity Tantoo Cardinal expected to be on hand.

Time to talk replacements as capitalism moves to bury itself

Where is Henry Ford when you need him? You may remember Henry -- the ruthless industrialist who nonetheless refused to be hobbled by suicidal ideology when it came to doing business. He realized as his workers cranked thousands of new cars off the assembly line that none of those workers would likely ever own one because he didn't pay them enough. So he dramatically increased their wages. It was such a good idea that most industrialists followed suit and his practical approach was dubbed Fordism. It was the foundation of a high-wage economy, it lasted a very long time and produced incredible real wealth for decades.

Until something called neo-liberalism decided to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. And the perpetrators of this ideology -- and the catastrophic damage it has done to the global economy, nations, communities and workers -- are so wedded to it that they seem determined to pursue its goals and accept its preposterous assumptions until the ship truly does go down.

The new set of goals and assumptions of neo-liberalism mandated that workers' wages and salaries had to be constantly driven down in a new global system of competition for high share prices -- not growing companies, not economic stability, not balanced growth, not even profits: share prices.

Tar sands action: Why I will be risking arrest today

Today I am going to participate in an event that will likely result in my arrest. I will be joining hundreds of other Canadians in non-violent civil disobedience to protest the Harper government's inaction on climate change and demand that they stop the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. 

The reactions of family and friends have been interesting as I explain my motivations. Most people struggle to understand how breaking the law could possibly be a good thing. The reality is, I would prefer to avoid getting arrested and instead feel confident that my government was taking seriously one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Unfortunately they are not, so I will be risking arrest on Monday.

Here is why;  

The climate crisis is real and urgent but it is not too late

By now we know well that the devastating impact of climate change threatens the food we grow, the homes we live in and the water we drink. Climate change threatens peace and security and exacerbates ongoing conflicts throughout the world. If Canada continues to refuse to act, these devastating impacts will become catastrophic. Dangerous climate change is a preventable threat to the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, millions of species of plants and animals, vulnerable populations, and our children and grandchildren that will bear the ultimate consequences of our government's indifference. The good news is that if governments like ours take serious action now, we can prevent the worst. 

Stop Harper: Moving beyond the Hill and using people power

Activist Brigette DePape was a page in the Canadian Senate when she came to the attention of the public on June 3, 2011 by a protest she made during the first throne speech of the majority government of Stephen Harper. By silently holding up a sign that said "Stop Harper!" she earned dismissal from her job, the media nickname "the rogue page," and the admiration of Canadians concerned with the undemocratic, ideologically extreme tendencies of the Harper government.

DePape has produced an extensive essay for the Council of Canadians on how we can be more engaged in political life and activism. is reprinting the essay in five parts, with part three running today. Links to parts one and two are below.

The Conservative government may have more resources than we do, but this is dwarfed by the greatest power of all -- people power.

Right after [my own] action in the Senate, while walking down Sparks Street as a Conservative politician scorned me for what I had done, a young couple and their son cheered wildly! A 91-year-old man phoned me to say that he has wanted to do something like that his whole life. Two weeks after the action, as I was crossing Rideau Street to make my way to the library, a young woman wearing a hood tapped me on the shoulder, flashed me a thumbs up, and then ran away. These kinds of encounters convince me that people in Canada want change.

The Harper Record, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), outlines the weakening of public services and the expansion of corporate powers under the Harper government. As the CCPA explains, the Conservative austerity agenda cuts corporate taxes, erodes social services, weakens democracy, criminalizes people of colour, expands prisons, and undermines women's rights. Naomi Klein explains that Harper has taken advantage of the economy to advance policies that benefit corporations instead of the public good. In a speech delivered at the first rally against Harper after the last election, Mohawk activist Ben Powless described how Harper's agenda undermines Indigenous rights. George Monbiot of The Guardian said that under Harper, Canada is turning itself into a "corrupt Petro-state" who could scarcely do more to destroy the biosphere if it tried".

Hume: City needs to get serious about suburbs

If Rob Ford cared about the suburbs half as much as he does the city, his efforts might have been received more positively. But fixated as he is on downtown, the mayor has ignored the postwar communities that comprise the new face of poverty in Toronto.

Indeed, Ford has inflicted even greater damage on these already depressed areas, most ruinously by cancelling Transit City, which would have brought decent transit to many of Toronto’s 13 “priority neighbourhoods.” In fact, members of the chief magistrate’s inner circle have also made it clear they’d like to do away with the very concept of priority neighbourhood. It’s bad for morale, they say.

The decision to kill the Finch LRT was especially painful; it will affect the daily lives of thousands of residents of northwest Toronto, never an area renowned for its urbanity.

Sadly, the truth is that the issues of the so-called inner suburbs aren’t going anywhere soon. Researchers tell us that these communities, which date from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, are in bad shape and growing worse. According to the University of Toronto’s David Hulchanski, incomes in these neighbourhoods have dropped by 20 per cent or more in recent decades.

Clement tells mayor that he will defend unorthodox funding arrangements

A few days before the G8 summit took place in his riding, Tony Clement indicated in an email that he would take action with federal officials whose review of unorthodox funding arrangements angered the mayor of Huntsville, Ont., documents obtained by Postmedia News show.

Clement has been under opposition fire since June, when an auditor general’s report criticized the odd way in which the federal government spent $45.7 million on beautification projects in Clement’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding.

The report showed that the money for the projects was quietly redirected from a fund that Parliament approved for border infrastructure by a “special one-time exemption.”

Neither G8 summit officials nor civil servants at Infrastructure Canada could show auditors how projects were selected, and municipal documents unearthed by NDP researchers show that Clement chose the 32 projects out of his riding office, a departure from normal procedure.

Clement argues that since the projects were eventually formally approved by then-transport minister John Baird, everything was on the up and up.

Emails the NDP is to release Monday morning show that Clement promised to take action when officials held up payments for a review of the unorthodox allotments.

The emails were received under freedom of information laws from the town of Huntsville.

The Keystone debate: Forget the pipeline, this is about the oilsands

When supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline tout the benefits of TransCanada's $7-billion plan to ship crude oil from Alberta to Texas, they have a long list.

The extended artery will provide energy security within North America, they say. It would be the safest pipeline ever built and will take crude that Canada doesn't have the capacity to refine to Texas refineries looking for it.

And then there are the jobs the pipeline could spawn: thousands and thousands of them. In a time of economic downturn, it would be a bright light.

Much opposition toward TransCanada’s Keystone XL project focuses on the routing of the proposed pipeline extension over the Ogallala aquifer and the Sandhills in Nebraska. The aquifer supplies water for drinking and agricultural irrigation to parts of eight U.S. states.

“We believe that [Keystone XL] is going to put the Ogallala aquifer in jeopardy,” says Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The pipeline route will go over it for much of its journey, and it will be carrying the dirtiest oil on the planet — bitumen. [Pipelines] do spill. Even the industry admits there is no guarantee.”

WikiLeaks uncovers Canadian detainee mystery

U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks have exposed a troubling case of a mentally ill Canadian-Egyptian held in a U.S.-run Afghanistan prison for more than 18 months.

Khaled Samy Abdallah Ismail, an Egyptian-born engineer, was captured in April 2006 and held at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the cables say.

The American military held Ismail at Bagram — a prison dubbed the "other Guantanamo" — until at least October 2007 and often relegated him to segregation despite "largely circumstantial" evidence against him, while they debated whether to send him to Egypt or Canada. Ismail is the only known Canadian to be held in Bagram for that length of time.

Canadian consular officials paid their first visit to the dual citizen eight months after his capture, but another nine months passed before Canada suddenly refocused on the case and hatched a plan to bring him to Ontario, according to the cables from March and October of 2007.

Then the paper trail goes cold, shrouding his case in mystery and leaving unanswered questions about how he ended up in Afghanistan and what happened to him.

Battle lines drawn in Nebraska over Keystone pipeline

In the small farming town of Atkinson, Neb., Tim Larby is bracing for a day unlike any he’s seen in nine years as chief of the local police department.

Amid a pipeline controversy that has stirred fierce emotion across Nebraska – and, indeed, across North America – demonstrators are mobilizing. They are preparing for what some are calling “the last stand” on the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed $7-billion TransCanada Corp. (TRP-T41.50-0.02-0.05%) project that would bring oil sands crude to the Gulf Coast.

Over the course of this week, beginning Monday, the U.S. State Department will hold eight hearings across the six states that the 2,673-kilometre pipe will cross, plus an additional session in Washington, D.C. Those meetings are the final opening for the U.S. government to receive public input before it determines whether the pipeline is in the country’s national interest – and then makes a decision, expected in December, on whether to approve the project.

On that decision hinges a major plank of oil sands growth. The export outlet is so important for Alberta’s petroleum industry that its approval has become a central goal of the Canadian government, which has petitioned U.S. officials at the highest levels.

Mark Carney latest target of a Dimon tirade

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney is the latest senior policy maker to feel the wrath of JPMorgan Chase (JPM-N30.360.772.60%) chief executive officer Jamie Dimon.

In a scene that resembles a public confrontation Mr. Dimon had with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in June, Canada’s central bank governor was the lightning rod for a tirade by the JP Morgan chief over tougher financial regulations.

The clash occurred on Friday at a closed-door meeting held at the National Archives in Washington, where global financial leaders had assembled for weekend meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Financiers were in the U.S. capital for a meeting of the Institute of International Finance, a bank lobby that represents more than 400 firms in 70 countries.

Mr. Carney was invited to meet a group of about 30 chief executives at a gathering put together by the Financial Services Forum, a Washington-based group that represents the leaders of the biggest U.S. banks, and the IIF. Canada’s Rick Waugh, the head of Bank of Nova Scotia and a member of the executive of the IIF, was at the meeting, according to a person familiar with the gathering.

GOP Lawmakers Pushing to Make it Tougher to Mount Recall Elections

Republicans say millions were spent unnecessarily on summer recall elections and they want to change state Constitution to require "just cause" for a recall effort.

Even with record unemployment and minimal job growth across the country, there is still one business that has demonstrated it is recession-proof: politics.

The Wisconsin recall elections were a boon for statewide cash flow, with nearly $44 million in private funds pouring into the state for nine state Senate races. The Democrats and their supporters spent over $23.4 million for their efforts, with the GOP and conservative groups spent $20.5 million, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

By comparison, $19 million was spent on all of 99 state Assembly elections in November 2010.

On top of the money raised in the recall, it cost municipalities another $2.1 million to hold the elections, print ballots and notices, and pay poll workers and canvassers, according to the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in Wisconsin. That figure also includes the work of the GAB to oversee the recall.

Herman Cain Wins Absurd Florida Straw Poll

So Herman Cain, the former CEO of a third-rate pizza chain named after a mafia movie, has trounced his more serious presidential rivals in the Florida Republican straw poll on Saturday. Cain received 37 percent of the votes cast, to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 15 percent and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 14 percent, the race’s two front runners. Former Senator Rick Santorum, who lost his last election by 18 points and who between the debates everyone forgets is running, got 11 percent. Texas Representative Ron Paul, whose strange views guarantee he won’t win the nomination, got 10 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who isn’t even running a functional campaign, got 8 percent. They all towered over Representative Michele Bachmann, who got 1.5 percent.

Political pundits are already telling us what this means, as if it means anything. On Friday the media overhyped the importance of Perry’s unimpressive performance in Thursday’s debate, suggesting that one defensive performance might toss him out of his lead in the polls. So naturally they are eager to glom onto evidence of their perspicacity. “Perry’s failure to win on the heels of a shaky performance in Thursday’s debate will underscore concerns by some of his supporters about whether he can maintain and build on his quick rise in the polls,” reads a typical entry from USA Today.

In the usual manner of these inane expectations’ games, the loss for Perry is seen as worse than for Romney because Perry attempted to win the Florida straw poll and Romney did not. Perry, unlike Romney or Bachmann, instantly blasted out a statement on the results, graciously congratulating Cain and putting the best possible spin he could on being outgunned by a novelty candidate. “Today’s Florida P5 straw poll shows the conservative message of job creation, fiscal responsibility and limited government is gaining momentum,” said Perry.

Some pundits will point to Bachmann’s numbers as evidence that her star is dimming, while others will give her a pass because she did not appear on the ballot.

No such grand conclusions should be drawn from this meaningless, non-binding contest. Straw polls, like the famous one in Iowa, are not good proxies for future primary results. They include only a small number of paying participants. The Florida straw poll took place at an event hosted by the Florida GOP that cost $175 to attend. Cain won with only 996 votes. In 2008 John McCain won the Florida Republican primary with 36 percent of the votes. That equaled 701,761 votes. If you want to get an idea of how Florida Republicans might vote, you can take a poll. The last one, from Quinnipiac, showed Rick Perry in first with 28 percent and Romney in second at 22 percent. Cain came in ninth with 7 percent. (The poll included Sarah Palin.)

Those numbers are a lot closer to whatever the final result in the Florida primary will be. But the voting is still five months away. So you shouldn’t make too much of any poll this early, much less a straw poll.

Source: the Nation 

Rick Perry's Attack on Democracy

Texas Governor Rick Perry has brought to the race for the Republican presidential nomination a radical antidemocracy stance borrowed from the far-right fringe that once expressed itself at John Birch Society meetings but has now entered the mainstream of the Grand Old Party.

Perry’s particular extremism seeks to limit the role of voters at the national level of American politics: he would end the direct election of senators. But his candidacy highlights a broader agenda of Republican governors, who have been moving in recent months to diminish state and local democracy by undermining the authority of local elected officials, who tend to be the ones most accountable to the people. Those governors are instead shifting power to statewide executives, who are more accountable to the billionaire campaign donors and business interests that were freed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision to buy the election results that most favor their interests.

Perry is not the first antidemocracy extremist to make a presidential bid. But he is the first in recent decades to achieve front-runner status in the race for a major party’s nomination. And Perry’s fringe views are not the “youthful indiscretions” of a former right-wing radical. In a book published last year, he wrote, “The American people mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early twentieth century by giving it an unlimited source of income (the Sixteenth Amendment) and by changing the way senators are elected (the Seventeenth Amendment).”

CIA Keeps its Climate Work Under Wraps

As I reported last month, the CIA's Center on Climate Change and National Security has been keeping a low profile—probably because Republican members of Congress have been trying to axe the program. But apparently the CIA is going so far as to keep all information about the program classified, Secrecy News reports.

The CIA categorically denied a request under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of studies or reports from the center on climate change impacts. Jeffrey Richelson, an intelligence historian with the National Security Archive, filed the FOIA request. And while it's conceivable that some of the work the center is doing should be classified, it seems rather unreasonable that all if their work should be secret.

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News sums up the problem with this approach:
The CIA response indicates a fundamental lack of discernment that calls into question the integrity of the Center on Climate Change, if not the Agency as a whole. If the CIA really thinks (or pretends to think) that every document produced by the Center constitutes a potential threat to national security, who can expect the Center to say anything intelligent or useful about climate change? Security robots cannot help us navigate the environmental challenges ahead. Better to allocate the scarce resources to others who can.
This is an issue that came up repeatedly in my reporting on the center. Several people in the national security community raised the question of whether our traditional intelligence-gathering programs are really the best way to deal with climate change and national security, for a lot of good reasons. Climate change is a threat much different than traditional security concerns, and the agency's experts might not be the best suited for looking at it. It's an international problem, and addressing it will require more openness, cooperation, and transparency with other nations and stakeholders, not less of it. And the sea level rise, droughts, famines, and extreme weather events associated with climate change aren't exactly secrets.

The agency's strategy, in light of attacks from climate skeptics, seems to be to lay low and hope no one notices them. (Trust me, I tried desperately to get info about the program for my story last month, to no avail.) But that makes it practically impossible to publicly justify the program's existence, given that we have no idea what they're up to over there.

Source: Mother Jones 

Spreading Freedom: Google, Microsoft And The War For The Web

WASHINGTON -- You can't swing a dead cat video in Washington lately without hitting a lobbyist, consultant, attorney or adviser on retainer to Google or one of its tech rivals. Google, whose top executives have long been a bottomless cup of campaign coffee for Democrats, is finally entering its bipartisan phase, theatrically hiring Republican operatives and broadcasting the news through insider Washington publications, pumping air into a K Street tech bubble.

The shift in political strategy comes as Google faces a serious antitrust threat, punctuated by a high-profile hearing on the company held Wednesday afternoon in the Senate. But Google's investment in the infrastructure of the conservative movement goes much deeper than what's been reported this summer.

The company known for its progressive politics is now giving money to the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Republican Governors Association, the GOP firm The David All Group, Crossroads Strategies, the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee, among others. On Thursday, Google and Fox News cosponsored a Republican presidential debate.

In the last nine months, Google has hired 18 lobbying shops -- not 18 lobbyists, but 18 firms, a dozen of them since July, a head-turning torrent of hiring that also includes consultants not required to register as lobbyists.

Proposed Seal Cull In St. Lawrence Gulf Draws Fire From Top Scientists And Conservation Group

HALIFAX - Two of Canada's leading marine biologists and a conservation group say a five-year proposal to slaughter 140,000 grey seals in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is being driven by politics, not science.

"I don't support it," said Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax who specializes in the study of whales. "From what I've seen of the rationale, it doesn't make much sense to me."

Earlier this month, a federal advisory panel urged Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to approve the cull, which would result in the killing of 70 per cent of the grey seals that feed in an area that stretches from Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula to the east side of Cape Breton.

The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, made up of scientists and fishing industry representatives appointed by the minister, said the proposed cull is an experiment that will test indirect scientific evidence suggesting grey seals are impeding the recovery of cod stocks.

Whitehead said the council's description of the project as an experiment is laughable.

More dangerous than a thousand rioters

THE ASHES had hardly cooled from the house fire that killed labor radical Lucy Parsons in 1942 when the Chicago police raided the remains of her home, confiscating her personal library of 3,000 volumes of literature and writings on "sex, socialism and anarchy"--in the cops' words--turning it over to the FBI. This trove of revolutionary material was never again to see the light of day.

Through the six decades of her adult life, Lucy Parsons was a revolutionary, with a reputation as one of her generation's finest orators. She led workers and oppressed people in struggle, wrote widely on the questions facing anarchists and socialists, and lived a full and remarkable life.

It was no surprise that the Chicago police were anxious to bury Parsons' legacy as quickly as possible. In their own words, she was "more dangerous than a thousand rioters." For virtually the entirety of the last 40 years of her life, the police tried to bar her from making any public speeches and routinely arrested her for the "crime" of handing out revolutionary pamphlets on the street.