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, November 06, 2011

Student Loans: The Next Bubble?

-- First the dot.coms popped, then mortgages. Are student loans and higher education the next bubble, the latest investment craze inflating on borrowed money and misplaced faith it can never go bad?

Some experts have raised the possibility. Last summer, Moody's Analytics pronounced fears of an education spending bubble "not without merit." Last spring, investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel called attention to his claims of an education bubble by awarding two dozen young entrepreneurs $100,000 each NOT to attend college.

Recent weeks have seen another spate of "bubble" headlines – student loan defaults up, tuition rising another 8.3 percent this year and finally, out Thursday, a new report estimating that average student debt for borrowers from the college class of 2010 has passed $25,000. And all that on top of a multi-year slump in the job-market for new college graduates.

Keystone XL: Thousands Gather Outside White House In Culmination Of Protests

WASHINGTON -- The fight over the construction of Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline reached a pivotal moment on Sunday when an estimated ten thousand demonstrators gathered outside of the White House to call on President Obama to reject the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that, if approved by the White House, could pump millions of barrels of crude oil from tar sands in Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast.

"We're here today to stand together and say, we believe in a brighter future," said Natural Resources Defense Council Founding Director John Adams in prepared remarks on Sunday. "We're here today to stand together and say, we believe in a brighter future. Instead of building a pipeline to the past, it's time to draw a line in the sand, and it's time to draw the line on tar sands. That's the line we're drawing here today."

Since the pipeline crosses an international border, the decision to issue the permit rests with the State Department, which is expected to complete its review of the pipeline by the end of the year. But President Obama in a statement on Tuesday vowed to take final ownership of the decision, in what has become arguably the most important, high-profile environmental issues facing him before the 2012 election.

Abbot Downing, Wells Fargo's Bank For Super Rich, Opening In Chicago

Wells Fargo & Co.'s new bank for the super rich is set to open in Chicago, targeting households with $50 million or more to invest.

Abbot Downing is named after a 19th century custom carriage builder who catered to the wealthy, according to UPI. The firm has $27.5 billion in client assets and about 300 people on staff -- including psychologists and staff dedicated to building family genealogies, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

"Abbot Downing goes beyond traditional wealth planning analysis by focusing on clients' values, goals and vision," James Steiner, who will run Abbot Downing, said in a statement. "Our advisors and Family Dynamics consultants focus not only on traditional wealth planning, such as cash flow, investments and wealth transfer, but also on human dimensions, such as family legacy, governance, leadership transition, family education and risk management."

The brand will reportedly be launched in April 2012. Aside from an office in Chicago, they will also be opening in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Naples, Jacksonville and Palm Beach.

The announcement comes as banks are increasingly desperate to increase revenues after new regulations put a stop to some fees they were charging average customers and small businesses.

“Clearly it’s a profitable area, and good businesses are always looking to leverage profitable segments,” Steven Crosby, a senior managing director for PricewaterhouseCoopers, told Scripps Howard News Service. The bank will focus particularly on baby boomers looking to sell family businesses.

Source: Huff 

Ohio Dispatch: Anti-Union Law Divides John Boehner's GOP District

Driving west on Interstate 70 away from Columbus, Ohio, the state capital, the landscape quickly settles into flat farmland, a calming tableau punctuated by the occasional billboard pitching fast food or budget hotels or the pious life. ("Meet Nice People: Go to Church.") The time passes easily, like the endless rows of corn, and before long you've arrived in the 8th congressional district, home to the most powerful Republican in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner. On a map, the district looks like a pocketknife bottle opener—flush against the Indiana border to the west, surrounding the city of Dayton on three sides without swallowing it whole.

This is solid GOP country. Mostly white, firmly middle class, the 8th's citizens haven't elected a Democrat to the House since 1933—Republicans haven't had a better winning streak in any of Ohio's 18 other districts. But the current fight over SB 5, Gov. John Kasich's new anti-union law, is defying political logic. Traveling around Boehner's backyard and interviewing more than two dozen local pols and average citizens, I've encountered a deep divide over Issue 2—a thumbs-up/thumbs-down referendum that will either uphold or SB 5 or kill it.

Iowans march to promote ‘Bank Transfer Day’

DES MOINES — More than 70 people answered the call of Occupy Iowa and an independent grassroots movement Saturday morning to march roughly two miles in protest of two national banks along Ingersoll Avenue.

Demonstrators gathered in Western Gateway Park in downtown Des Moines on Saturday morning and, with police escort, traveled Grand and Ingersoll avenues in order to visit Wells Fargo Bank, 2840 Ingersoll Ave., and Bank of America, 3422 Intersoll Ave.

At Wells Fargo, the group’s first stop, entrances to the bank were blocked by members of the Des Moines Police Department, but some demonstrators made their way inside. Among those entering the bank were Cat Rocketship and her husband, Scott Kubie, who closed their business account with Well Fargo — a key message of the social media-sparked “National Bank Transfer Day” initiative.

Canadians expect provinces to help federal government fight crime: Stephen Harper

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his contentious anti-crime measures aren’t “terribly expensive” and provinces such as Ontario and Quebec that complain about having to foot the bill for the added costs to their prison systems should accept their “constitutional responsibilities” to help keep streets safe.

Harper made the comments in an interview broadcast Sunday on the debut of Global TV’s The West Block, a new political affairs show hosted by veteran journalist Tom Clark.

“There’s constitutional responsibilities of all governments to enforce laws and protect people,” Harper said.

“I think the people of Ontario and Quebec expect that their government will work with the federal government to make sure we have safe streets and safe communities.”

Also in the interview, recorded in Cannes, France, late last week, Harper spoke candidly on a range of issues including: the apparent start of a recession in Europe; the fate of social programs in that continent’s debt-ridden nations; the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the United States; and what he feels is his government’s greatest accomplishment so far — managing the economy.

Occupy Vancouver death dooms protest camp

The death of a woman taking part in the Occupy Vancouver protest at the city's art gallery has led the city's mayor to announce the protest movement's tent city will be cleared.

"I have directed the city manager to expedite the appropriate steps to end the encampment as soon as possible with a safe resolution being absolutely critical to that," Mayor Gregor Robertson said Saturday night.

Police said a woman in her 20s was found unresponsive inside a tent at the encampment at about 4:30 p.m. PT Saturday.

"Tragically, she could not be revived," Vancouver police Const. Jana McGuinness told reporters. "She was transported to hospital and pronounced deceased at hospital."

Unilingual AG Appointment Prompts Resignation

The appointment of an auditor general who does not speak French has prompted a veteran public servant to resign in protest.

Michel Dorais, a former federal deputy minister who had been serving as one of two independent members of the internal audit committee that oversees the Office of the Auditor General, resigned in a letter to the interim auditor general this week.

In an interview with Radio-Canada's Emmanuelle Latraverse, host of the weekly political program Les coulisses du pouvoir, Dorais said he considers Michael Ferguson "highly competent" and he has "a lot of admiration for the individual."

"His competencies in audit are absolutely outstanding, there's no doubt in my mind," said Dorais.

But, Dorais said, "the impact is that the language of work [at the auditor general's office] will over time change substantially" if the person in the top leadership role can only function in English.

Veteran Alleges Another Privacy Breach At Agency

Another veterans' advocate says government officials breached his privacy by unnecessarily going into his medical record hundreds of times, one year after Sean Bruyea settled a similar complaint.

In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House, Dennis Manuge said he decided to look into his own file when he heard Bruyea's complaints. Manuge often appears alongside Bruyea to demand changes to how the government treats veterans, and is leading a class action lawsuit against the government over a claw-back on disability benefits.

Bruyea went public after discovering through requests under federal access to information laws that Veterans Affairs Canada staff had gone into his personal files and put confidential medical information into briefing notes to ministers under both the Liberal and Conservative governments.

Occupy Calgary: Mayor Naheed Nenshi Says Demonstrators' Rights Must Be Respected

CALGARY - Calgary's mayor says that the city's Occupy demonstrators have been peaceful and the city has no right under the charter of rights and freedoms to force them out of a downtown plaza.

Naheed Nenshi says that regardless of what other cities have experienced, the protest has not created a hardship for Calgarians.

He says any suggestion the issue is a crisis is ridiculous, adding it doesn't rank in the top 10 concerns for Calgarians.

About a dozen people are living in tents in the city's Olympics Plaza.

Temperatures have dropped below zero and snow fell Thursday night, but it hasn't deterred the protesters, who have not delivered any particular demands to city officials.

Nenshi says the charter of rights and freedoms trumps any civic bylaws so the only thing police can do is write ticket and not arrest the protestors.

Nenshi hopes the situation will be settled through negotiation, but he says that could be difficult as the group has no real leader.

Source: Huff 

Insanity, not logic, guides Israel's leadership

If Iran dares mount a nuclear attack against Israel, Iran will be committing public, painful, mass suicide. Israel will respond, and the world will not be silent. Jerusalem knows that and, more importantly, so does Tehran. But in Tehran, so we are told from morning to evening, the "crazy" leadership could shuffle the deck.

And so Israel is threatening to bomb Tehran before it is too late, and many Israelis are even in favor of doing so. But the debate now underway, with terrifying seriousness, about the possibility of bombing Iran makes one suspect that it is actually here, in Israel, that lunacy prevails. The Iranian lunacy has yet to be proven; in Israel, it is already as plain as day.

Israel does not have rational leadership. Most of its moves cannot be logically explained. It is not logic that dictates continued construction in the territories; it is not logic that explains the war that the government of Israel has declared on the Palestinian Authority, without considering what will come instead. Neither is there logic in Israel's Hamas-strengthening moves, from the continued siege of Gaza to the release only of Hamas prisoners. There is no logic in continuing to imprison Marwan Barghouti; there is no logic in causing relations with Turkey to deteriorate, and there was no logic in Operation Cast Lead, which damaged Israel much more than it benefited it. There is also no logic in the fearmongering against the Arab Spring, which actually could ensure Israel a few quiet years from countries whose armies have crumbled, whose societies are preoccupied with domestic matters and whose regimes are on the rocks. And, of course, there is no logic in the continued occupation, which endangers Israel more than anything else.

Multiple missteps led to drone killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan

On the evening of April 5, a pilot settled into a leather captain's chair at Creech Air Force Base in southern Nevada and took the controls of a Predator drone flying over one of the most violent areas of southwestern Afghanistan. Minutes later, his radio crackled.

A firefight had broken out. Taliban insurgents had ambushed about two dozen Marines patrolling a bitterly contested road.

The Air Force captain angled his joystick and the drone veered toward the fighting taking place half a world away, where it was already morning. He powered up two Hellfire missiles under its wings and ordered a crew member responsible for operating the drone's cameras to search for enemy fighters.

It didn't take long to find something. Three figures, fuzzy blobs on the pilot's small black-and-white screen, lay in a poppy field a couple of hundred yards from the road.

Crony capitalism

Conservative columnist Michael Taube recently criticized me and other fiscal conservatives for expressing some sympathy for the Occupy Wall St. movement and its Toronto offshoot.

He wrote in the Ottawa Citizen he was puzzled why Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (now heading the G20 Financial Stability Fund), the Fraser Institute’s Mark Milke and Conrad Black, have not been totally dismissive of the “Occupy” protesters.

Speaking for myself, here’s why:

I support the protesters for correctly identifying Wall St. as the scene of a massive heist of global wealth, jobs and homes that started with the subprime mortgage securities crisis of 2008 and continues to this day.

As a result, tens of millions of people world-wide have lost trillions of dollars in their pensions and life savings — including in Canada — along with their jobs and homes.

Most are hard-working, law-abiding, citizens, who pay their taxes, never signed for mortgages they couldn’t afford (given they didn’t expect to lose their jobs in a global economic meltdown) and have never demonstrated in the streets or occupied a park.

PM not winning Quebec hearts: pundits

Pierre Trudeau's biggest political success was bringing home the Constitution in 1982, but it also was the beginning of the end for the Liberal Party in Quebec, political pundit Chantal Hebert said Saturday at an Edmonton conference analysing the historic move.

Many Liberals MPs who voted for patriation lost their seats in the 1982 election, and the Mulroney Conservatives made inroads in Quebec.

But Progressive Conservatives were also eventually a casualty of patriation, Hebert, a Toronto Star columnist and CBC panellist, said while speaking at a University of Alberta conference marking the 30th anniversary of the patriation negotiations.

In his efforts to bring Quebec into the Constitution, PC leader Brian Mulroney brought Quebec nationalists into the party and shifted the makeup, eventually paving the way for the Reform Party.

Today, it's ironic that support for independence in Quebec is at a low ebb, even though Harper is the most unpopular federal leader in years in that province, said Hebert.

That's because of Harper's "hands-off policy" toward the provinces, said Hebert. He does not spend time increasing the federal presence in Quebec. That approach to the federation has more in common with former prime minister Joe Clark's vision of Canada as a "community of communities," she said. It's the one aspect of continuity between the old PCs and the Harper Conservatives.

Mayor heckled for more services after Occupy Vancouver death

The death of a woman at the Occupy Vancouver camp means the site has become so unsafe that it must be shut down as soon as possible, says Vancouver's mayor.

Gregor Robertson said Saturday night he's instructed city officials and the chiefs of the fire and police departments to look at how that can be done safely and peacefully.

The 20-year-old woman was found unresponsive in a tent at the site in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday afternoon, two days after a man suffered a non-fatal overdose at the encampment.

“There is a serious problem here and we want to address it urgently,” Mr. Robertson said.

The woman's death is tragic and is also upsetting for him because he has a 20-year-old daughter, he said.

Occupy Vancouver supporters tried to drown him out as he spoke to reporters, with one woman shouting that at least his daughter has a home.

CIA’s ‘vengeful librarians’ mine Facebook, Twitter for global intelligence

MCLEAN, VA.—Inside an anonymous industrial park in Virginia, in an unassuming brick building, the CIA is following tweets — up to five million a day.

At the agency’s Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the “vengeful librarians” also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openly.

From Arabic to Mandarin, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in the native tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.

Occupy Wall Street: The origins of an occupation

NEW YORK—If Georgia, a 31-year-old performance artist from Greece, had not thrown a fit at a protest last summer near the famous statue of the Charging Bull, Occupy Wall Street might not have become the movement that crackled around North America.

Georgia is intense. Petite, her hair pulled back in messy bun, with a knapsack and skinny jeans, a former Fulbright scholar at Columbia, she has been an activist since she was 12.

“I couldn’t stand people telling me what to do.”

When she arrived at that demonstration on Aug. 2, a dress rehearsal for the protests in September, she saw immediately it was not as advertised.

She had hoped she would be part of a General Assembly, a form of protest not well-known in North America that is at the heart of the European anti-austerity protests that have defined the summer.

Scott Walker Recall Effort Officially Begins As Supporter Files Petition, Launches Fundraising Period

The first official recall petition against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was filed Friday, kicking off a period of unlimited campaign fundraising that was originally expected to begin Nov. 15.

According to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, David Brandt -- a supporter of Walker -- filed the petition in order to give the governor an extra week and a half to raise unlimited campaign contributions. Walker's ability to raise funds without the binds of the state's $10,000 donation limit for individuals comes thanks to a loophole in Wisconsin election law that lifts the limit for targets of recall elections.

Brandt -- who along with Bettie Brandt has given Walker a total of $238 since September 2010, according to the Wisconsin State Journal -- filed the petition with the state's Government Accountability Board under the committee name "Close Friends to Recall Walker." Brandt wrote in the petition that he was registering the recall committee to "fulfill my friend's last request," and noted that he would not raise or spend more than $1,000 in his recall effort.

The official recall petition complicates matters for those leading the more serious recall effort against Walker. Organizers of the effort will have 60 days starting Nov. 15 to gather, on a separate petition, the more than 540,000 signatures required to bring on a recall election. Until an election is authorized, Walker may continue to fundraise without limits.

While the official recall campaign is just beginning, anti-Walker sentiment has been present in Wisconsin since he took office in January 2011. His controversial anti-union law, which stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights, sparked a wave of recall elections in which six Republican state senators were challenged and two lost their seats.

Most recently, Walker was targeted by protesters involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Chicago protesters crashed a breakfast event where Walker was speaking on public policy, chanting "union busting, it's disgusting" and "we are the 99 percent" during his remarks.

Source: Huff 

Of 50,000 Marijuana Arrests In New York City A Year, Most Are Black And Hispanic Men

NEW YORK — As the nation's biggest city deals with threats of terrorism and a variety of violent crimes, carrying a little bit of marijuana is still a big deal.

There are more arrests for low-level pot possession in New York City – about 50,000 a year – than any other crime, accounting for about one of every seven cases that turn up in criminal courts.

It's a phenomenon that has persisted despite more leniency toward marijuana use – the state loosened its marijuana-possession laws more than 30 years ago.

Critics say the deluge has been driven in part by the New York Police Department's strategy of stopping people and frisking those whom police say meet crime suspects' descriptions. More than a half a million people, mostly black and Hispanic men, were stopped last year – unfair targets, critics say. About 10 percent of stops result in arrests.

The department says that the strategy's main goal is to take guns off the street and prevent crime, and that the tactic is a life-saving tool. But critics say officers looking for guns in pockets more often find pot and – though state law says the drug is supposed to be in open view to warrant an arrest – lock up the possessor anyway.

NY mayor lashes out at Occupy Wall Street protesters

(Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out at anti-greed Occupy Wall Street activists on Thursday after reports of self-policing, his patience seeming to wear thin with the seven-week old movement.

The mayor said there were sexual assaults and a possible rape at the protesters' gathering place in Zuccotti Park.

"There have been reports, which are equally as disturbing, that when people in Zuccotti Park become aware of crimes, instead of calling the police, they form a circle around the perpetrator," Bloomberg said.

People in the park then "chastise him or her and chase him or her out into the rest of the city to do who knows what to who knows whom," the major said.

‘I will never give up,’ plaintiff says after Ottawa blocks aboriginal lawsuit

The Harper government is fighting a class action lawsuit by aboriginal children who argue the loss of their culture in foster and adoptive care was a wrongful act — a case that could make western legal history.

Although Ontario Children’s Aid agencies took 16,000 children from their families during the so-called Sixties Scoop and placed them in non-aboriginal care, the multi-million-dollar lawsuit names only the Attorney General of Canada. Ottawa is constitutionally responsible for native peoples.

Ottawa quietly appealed the lawsuit in a Toronto courtroom on Oct. 28 — a year after it was certified by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

As a result, the case hasn’t gotten to court almost three years after it was filed.

Taken as children, the plaintiffs are now middle-aged and, in many cases, desperate to find their roots. They tell stories of abuse, prejudice, loneliness and isolation. They convey a sense of having been treated like commodities rather than human beings. Accounts suggest many were bounced around — even from country to country — with nobody keeping track.

Veterans Protest $226M In Proposed Cuts

Veterans across Canada staged protests on Saturday to rally against $226 million in proposed budget clawbacks targeting Veterans Affairs.

The veterans worry that the cuts to the department will substantially affect their benefits, despite assurances to the contrary from the government.

At a demonstration in Halifax's Grand Parade square, dozens of protesters — some wearing their military honours — argued that Veterans Affairs Canada should be sacrosanct when it comes to budget trimming.

Speaking from Ottawa, Michael Blais, the founder and president of the non-profit lobby group Canadian Veterans Advocacy, told CBC News Saturday that veterans should be protected from the negative consequences of the deficit reduction.

"We do not feel that veterans who have served this country, who have been seriously injured, should have their treatment …dictated by a government's policy on fiscal stability," he said.