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.]

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Harkin among wealthiest one percent of Americans

Iowa U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Cumming) can count himself among the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to a USA Today analysis of financial disclosures of members of Congress.

Harkin has an estimated net worth of $16.6 million, putting him among the 57 members of Congress or 11 percent that are worth $9 million or more and thus in the wealthiest 1 percent.

The wealthiest 1 percent measurement has become popular in recent months as Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and others have begun referring to themselves as “the 99 percent,” decrying wealthy Americans and corporations they say aren’t paying their fair share in taxes.

Other members of the Iowa Congressional delegation aren’t included in the wealthiest 1 percent. U.S. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Ames) is worth $5 million; U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford) is worth $3.2 million; and U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Des Moines) is worth $1 million.

Moscow protest against election fraud draws tens of thousands, awakens old fervor

MOSCOW (AP) — Tens of thousands of Russians jammed a Moscow avenue Saturday to demand free elections and an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule, in the largest show of public outrage since the protests 20 years ago that brought down the Soviet Union. Gone was the political apathy of recent years as many shouted "We are the Power!"

The demonstration, bigger and better organized than a similar one two weeks ago, and smaller rallies across the country encouraged opposition leaders hoping to sustain a protest movement ignited by a fraud-tainted parliamentary election on Dec. 4.

The enthusiasm also cheered Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who closed down the Soviet Union on Dec. 25, 1991.

"I'm happy that I have lived to see the people waking up. This raises big hopes," the 80-year-old Gorbachev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

He urged Putin to follow his example and give up power peacefully, saying Putin would be remembered for the positive things he did if he stepped down now. The former Soviet leader, who has grown increasingly critical of Putin, has little influence in Russia today.

FDA Withdraws Proposal To Limit Livestock Antibiotic Use, Raising Public Health Concerns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday its withdrawal of a decades-old proposal to limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed, a move experts say could have dire implications for public health.

Experts warn the common and often unnecessary practice is decreasing the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine and increasing the deadly threat of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other difficult-to-treat infections.

"This is a step backwards in protecting the public from the rise in antibiotic resistance," said Avinash Kar, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earlier this year, the NRDC filed a lawsuit to compel the FDA to fulfill a commitment it made in 1977, when the agency first acknowledged the mounting public health threat posed by the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention. A recommendation from an advisory committee at the time addressed two major classes of antibiotics that are used in both human and animal medicine: penicillin and tetracycline. The FDA was told to "immediately withdraw approval" for subtherapeutic uses of the drugs in livestock.

According to Thursday's FDA notice, Congress stepped in before the FDA could move forward with industry hearings -- a necessary step before imposing a ban. They asked the agency to refrain from taking any action until there was more research on public health risks.

Occupy Wall Street: Major Museums And Organizations Collect Materials Produced By Occupy Movement

NEW YORK (AP) -- Occupy Wall Street may still be working to shake the notion it represents a passing outburst of rage, but some establishment institutions have already decided the movement's artifacts are worthy of historic preservation.

More than a half-dozen major museums and organizations from the Smithsonian Institution to the New-York Historical Society have been avidly collecting materials produced by the Occupy movement.

Staffers have been sent to occupied parks to rummage for buttons, signs, posters and documents. Websites and tweets have been archived for digital eternity. And museums have approached individual protesters directly to obtain posters and other ephemera.

The Museum of the City of New York is planning an exhibition on Occupy for next month.

"Occupy is sexy," said Ben Alexander, who is head of special collections and archives at Queens College in New York, which has been collecting Occupy materials. "It sounds hip. A lot of people want to be associated with it."

Prison sentence for piano playing 'overly stringent'

A Spanish prosecutor's office has conceded that the customary 7 1/2 year prison sentence for noise pollution may be too harsh for a pianist who practised at home.

The office for the northeastern region of Catalonia said in a statement released late Friday that it was studying a request for a partial pardon for 26-year-old Laia Martin, a professional musician, given that a "prison sentence could be considered overly stringent."

The office had recommended prison earlier in the week after a neighbour — referred to as Sonia B. in the prosecutor's statement — said noise from Martin's five-days-a-week, eight-hour practice sessions had left her with psychological damage, subjected her to great stress and even temporarily forced her to move out.

Martin told reporters gathered outside her house that the neighbour was exaggerating. No musician, however serious, practised eight hours a day, she said.

Marc Molins, the musician's lawyer, said the penalty originally sought by prosecutors "should be reserved for very serious and offensive conduct."

The prosecutor's office had also originally demanded Martin be banned for four years from any profession that uses a piano.

Original Article
Source: CBC 

Asterisks run amok censor words unfit for Virgin ears

Some English words should be forced to wear skirts and pants, just so readers don’t spot the naughty combinations of letters lurking within. Fortunately, a computer in the service of the British telecom giant Virgin Media has dared to act where the rest of us have complacently dozed.

For several days, a system that was supposed to insert asterisks in any rude words in Virgin’s online television listings went a step further. It began censoring harmless words that, when parsed, triggered the computer’s alarm. Among the victims: a documentary called The Golden Age of Ca**ls (Canals), film director Alfred Hitchc**k, author Charles D**kens and the London football (soccer) team A***nal – sorry, Arsenal. (The computer arguably made that last one worse.)

Virgin issued a statement acknowledging its “temporarily overzealous profanity checker” (must be those Virgin eyes) and joking that “the altered titles have been swiftly an*lyzed.” And, to be fair, the computer was only doing accidentally what late-night U.S. talk-show Jimmy Kimmel Live has been doing intentionally with its long-running “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship” segment, bleeping perfectly harmless speeches to create the illusion of offensiveness.

Indeed, news of the Virgin computer’s philological dig may add a certain frisson to everyday conversations, as those of us customarily insensitive to the words within our words realize how bold we are in fact being. Who will now feed a cockatoo or dicker at a flea market without blushing?

And don’t look to asterisks for help. Six innocent letters in the very word “asterisks” are surrounded by a term of questionable propriety. A swig of something strong – look into Virgin for a clue – might temper the, um, embarrassment.

Original Article
Source: Globe 

Extra RCMP security on Parliament Hill costs $6.6M

OTTAWA—The effort to boost the visible presence of Mounties on Parliament Hill after brazen Greenpeace activists embarrassed the Conservative government has turned into an expensive move.

Increased security on Parliament Hill cost the RCMP an extra $6.6 million this year, according to supplementary spending estimates provided to the House of Commons.

On Dec. 7, 2009, Greenpeace activists scaled the stone walls of West and Centre Blocks to stage a protest on the day an international climate change conference opened in Copenhagen, Denmark.

After the incident, the RCMP said it would beef up security until a full review of the incident was completed. It appeared to triple the number of uniformed officers outside on Parliament Hill. An internal review recommended short- and long-term improvements.

Now, day or night, Mounties patrol or idle in RCMP cruisers around the parliamentary precinct, block roadway entrances onto the hill, and conduct vehicle screening for all buses and cars that drive onto the roadway that winds in front of the West, Centre and East Block buildings.

The Star already reported that security upgrades also meant that the Mounties were to get small machine guns added to their arsenal on the Hill. The Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun was to be carried in cruisers as a secondary weapon, with Mounties wearing their standard-issue semi-automatic 9mm pistols.

Access Blocked to Bradley Manning’s Hearing

The WikiLeaks saga is centered on issues of government transparency and accountability, but the public is being strategically denied access to the Manning hearing, one of the most important court cases in our lifetime.

Twenty-four-year-old Private First Class Bradley Manning is facing life in prison or even the death penalty for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents about US wars and diplomacy to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Some of the documents in question are now posted online and have been the fodder for news articles and public discussion about world politics for well over a year. This case will show much about the United States’s tolerance for whistleblowers who show the country in an unflattering light. Are we a nation that tolerates criticism and values transparency? Or are we willing to crack down on whistleblowers of conscience? Unfortunately, the military is taking steps to block access by the media and the public to portions of the proceedings, robbing the world of details of this critically important trial.

No full transcript available

The details of Bradley Manning’s prosecution aren’t making their way into the public domain in large part because there is no full transcript being made public. During a recess from the hearing, I questioned a public affairs officer, who refused to provide his name, about when a transcript would be made available. He said that it would likely be three to four months—long after the media interest had faded.

The Tea Party in 2011: From Lions to Lambs

One year ago, Tea Party legislators were making final preparations for their glorious arrival in Washington after trouncing Democrats in the November elections. And it was a good time to be a member of the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd. In December 2010, CNN announced it would hold a Tea Party–branded Republican presidential debate, House Speaker-to-be John Boehner defiantly told 60 Minutes that “I reject the word” compromise and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed to appear before the nascent, Michele Bachmann–led Tea Party House caucus. Moreover, Tea Party legislators who weren’t even in office yet pressured Republicans who were to scuttle a large spending bill, setting up a showdown that led to the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Sure, there were a few bumps along the way—like when one incoming Florida representative had to fire a talk-radio host he had (inexplicably) hired as chief of staff, after it was revealed the radio talker thought illegal immigrants should be hanged and that if ballots didn’t work, “bullets would”—but largely, it was a triumphant time.

In the ensuing months, the Tea Party was able to force the government to come within hours of shutting down, extracting many demands in the process, and then bullied President Obama all summer on the debt ceiling—and that standoff resulted in mandatory cuts of over $2 trillion to the federal budget and a “supercommittee” on the federal deficit, not to mention endless news coverage focused on debt and austerity.

Everything Must Go

Since January 2008, 221,000 retail stores nationwide have gone out of business. Here's a partial list of store deaths within a one-block radius of MoJo's San Francisco office: The New Balance store in our building quietly pulled up the stakes. So did a Gap, a Shoe Pavilion, a men's clothing store, and a retailer of fancy writing accessories. Our favorite bento place closed overnight. And luggage retailer Malm one day posted this note on its door: "Thank you for your patronage. After 141 years we are now closed for business." Photographer Brian Ulrich has been documenting the retail carnage across the nation as part of his larger project, Copia.

Original Article
Source: Mother Jones 

Occupy Albany Camp Dismantled As Police Pepper Spray Protesters

So much for the holiday spirit.

Police pepper sprayed Occupy Albany protesters in front of a man dressed as Santa Claus on Thursday night. The incident occurred as police dismantled the protester's camp, the AP reported.

After a judge issued a court order allowing the city to remove the camp's tents, a large group of city workers and police officers entered the camp. As the last tent was being removed, protesters began to fight back, holding on to it and engaging the cops in a tug-of-war. The AP reports that at least 5 protesters were pepper sprayed, 4 were arrested and 1 was taken away by an ambulance.

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings defended the police action and insisted there was "no legal ambush" or "planned force."

Original Article
Source: Huff 

Lonely Christmas In Winnipeg For Native Evacuees

First Nations residents who were forced from their homes in Lake St. Martin by floods will spend a lonely Christmas in Winnipeg hotel rooms.

Living in a hotel has been no fun, Joseph Traverse and Doreen Swan told CBC News as they watched their six-month-old daughter Anastasia play in their room, cluttered with a high chair, crib, toys and diaper boxes.

"It's just not really a home where she can grow up," Swan said, adding it's the fourth room the little girl has known since she was born in May, just weeks after thousands of First Nations residents were forced from their reserve because of flooding.

The Lake St. Martin reserve has been plagued by flooding for decades, and after the latest round Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said a new location would have to found for the community.

That means about 700 of its residents are stuck in Winnipeg hotels for the holidays and likely for months to come.

Windsor, Ont., police face $72 million in lawsuits

WINDSOR, Ont. — Police in this southern Ontario city are being sued for a total of $72 million by people who claim officers beat them up or levied bogus charges to hide police misconduct.

There are currently 30 outstanding lawsuits against Windsor police officers in cases of alleged police brutality and malicious prosecution. Under the city's insurance policy, the deductible on any single claim is $250,000, meaning any settlement or judgment for sums below that comes directly out of taxpayers' pockets.

"Their behaviour costs us a lot of money," Mayor Eddie Francis said Friday.

Since 2006, such lawsuits have cost city taxpayers $820,000, mostly in settlements reached out of court, said Dana Paladino, the city's supervisor of risk management. The city's insurer — a co-operative of member municipalities — has paid out an additional $717,000.

Public Health Care In Jeopardy

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s move to cut back on health-care transfer payments to the provinces in 2017 is the first step toward privatization of the health provision or the institution of a two-tier system in Canada sometime after 2017.

The reason for this is that the federal government, through capping transfers, is telling the provinces that if you want public health, you pay for it. Provinces, at least the ones that don’t have oil and gas such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Alberta, simply won’t have the money to continue to provide government health care while paying for seniors’ drugs. They are having trouble covering costs now and that’s before the gigantic wave of boomers reach its catastrophically high-cost health-care years. Even with the gigantic tax-revenue resources of the federal government and their health-care transfers, provinces were probably not going to able to continue to provide the services available now to the public while continuing to do the other important things this level of government does.

Particularly concerning was the way the Harper government released the news. The slowest news time is just before Christmas and New Year’s so this probably didn’t strike home with Canadians. Furthermore, this health-care transfer cap was done unilaterally by the federal government so that no public debate could occur. Traditionally and probably still today, health care is the most important issue to Canadians. Not to debate this issue in public is horrible democracy. But then that’s how Harper likes to do government. Canadians knew that before the election and yet gave the Conservatives a majority. Now they are paying the price.

Harper's majority Conservative locomotive runs down opponents, barrels into 2012

OTTAWA - No simpler summary of Stephen Harper's style as majority prime minister was offered in 2011.

"It's time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down a Prairie track," Harper warned during an October stop in Regina.

"You're much better to get on it than to lie on the tracks, because this is going ahead."

The Canadian Wheat Board's seven-decade monopoly was indeed steamrolled, leaving behind a cloud of chaff and a spray of court challenges.

But the prime minister's locomotive imagery applied straight across his majority government's agenda. It was also an apt description for his Conservative party's persona.

Whether it was limiting debate on bills it had no risk of losing, refusing to allow the Green Party and Bloc Quebecois to pay tribute to military veterans in the Commons, staging a never-before-seen exhibition of military air power over Parliament Hill, pushing committee work behind closed doors, or hiring a marketing firm to spread false rumours about a respected Liberal MP, Harper's Tories exhibited unabashed aggression.

Polls suggested Canadian voters were not perturbed by this pugnacious partisanship. But at least one lifelong Conservative who had been part of Harper's inner circle appeared taken aback.

"The Conservatives haven't yet figured out that a majority government doesn't need to be constantly on the attack," Keith Beardsley, a former senior Harper advisor, wrote on his blog in November.

Senate Appointments: Stephen Harper To Add Seven New Senators

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will appoint seven new senators to the upper chamber in early January, The Huffington Post has learned.

Alberta's Betty Unger will likely get the nod to fill the one vacancy in her province.

She hasn't been contacted yet, she told HuffPost, but if the Prime Minister calls this holiday break she will gladly accept.

"Yes, if I have the opportunity," Unger said.

"I've been campaigning for Senate reform since 1998. It's an issue that I very, very strongly support. I think it's time, and I know Canadians, in countless polls, have consistently said they would like to elect all of their politicians," she added.

Unger, a Progressive-Conservative candidate, came in second to Bert Brown in Alberta's last Senate nominee election held in 2004. Former Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach extended Unger and the other shortlisted candidates' terms in 2010 and the current premier, Alison Redford, has said she plans to hold a new election process in 2012.

Brown is already a member of the upper chamber, having been appointed by Harper in 2007.

Banknotables: a holiday conversation starter

Hilarity! Both of the metropolitan broadsheets in Alberta are throwing a tantrum about the Mint’s plans to dump the Famous Five feminists of the 1920s from the $50 bill and replace them with a picture of an icebreaker. Like most pundits who take a thwack at the occasional issue of personages and emblems on our currency, the authors of these editorials act like they have never been east of Flin Flon.

I ask you to sincerely disregard the epic loathsomeness of the Famous Five—that quintet of unsmiling prohibitionists, pacifists, and white supremacists, at least three of whom bear direct personal responsibility for a four-decade regime of sexual sterilization of the “unfit” in Alberta. Leave aside, too, the fact that women would obviously have been admitted to the Senate soon enough if there had never been a Persons Case. No, I ask you merely to look at the people other countries put on their paper currency. With the exception of Australia, which shares our fetish for early female politicians utterly unknown elsewhere, you’ll find they mostly like to put world-historical figures on there. Japan honours Noguchi, who discovered the syphilis spirochete. England honours Darwin and Adam Smith. Sweden remembers Linnaeus and Jenny Lind. New Zealand commemorates Edmund Hillary and Ernest Rutherford.

Prime Minister reshaping the way Canada is governed

Stephen Harper says the most fun he had in 2011 was winning his majority government. And now Canadians are seeing just how much fun he is having as he pushes through his long-promised agenda of political and justice reforms.

Canadians are seeing something else, too – how the Prime Minister is beginning to reshape the way Canada is governed.

Those who have worked with Mr. Harper and are close to him are not surprised by his approach to federalism.

Tom Flanagan, the Prime Minister’s former mentor who is now a political science professor at the University of Calgary, sees Mr. Harper moving away from “executive federalism” – constant negotiations with the provinces – to a “more classical view” of federalism, in which constitutional jurisdictions are respected.

The first hint of that came this week with the take-it-or-leave-it health-care accord with the provinces.

Standing in the living room of 24 Sussex, where he was playing host to reporters at a Christmas reception Monday night just hours after the health deal became public, Mr. Harper was in an engaging mood.

Anti-Putin protest in Russia draws largest crowd since 1991

Tens of thousands of demonstrators on Saturday cheered opposition leaders and jeered the Kremlin in the largest protest in the Russian capital so far against election fraud, signaling growing outrage over Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.

The demonstration in Moscow was even bigger than a similar protest two weeks ago, although rallies in other cities in the far east and Siberia earlier in the day drew smaller crowds than on Dec. 10. The demonstrations are the largest show of discontent the nation has seen since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Rally participants densely packed a broad avenue, which has room for nearly 100,000 people, about 2.5 kilometers from the Kremlin, as the temperature dipped well below freezing. They chanted “Russia without Putin!”

A stage at the end of the 700-metre avenue featured placards reading “Russia will be free” and “This election Is a farce.” Heavy police cordons encircled the participants, who stood within metal barriers, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Alexei Navalny, a corruption-fighting lawyer and popular blogger, electrified the crowd when he took the stage. A rousing speaker, he had protesters shouting “We are the power!”

Treat audit case as new, Rob Ford’s lawyers argue

Mayor Rob Ford’s lawyers want a court to ignore a city panel’s decision to order an audit of his campaign financial statements.

The city’s compliance audit committee, composed of three residents with expertise in election rules, decided unanimously in May to order the audit after considering a complaint from two residents who alleged that Ford had committed several breaches of the Municipal Elections Act.

Ford, who initially said he welcomed an audit because he has “nothing to hide,” is appealing the decision.

In documents filed Friday, his lawyers asked the court to treat the residents’ compliance audit request as an entirely new case rather than dealing with the matter as a regular appeal. In an appeal, Ford’s lawyers would have to convince the court that the compliance audit committee had made an error.

The court couldn’t possibly review the committee decision, his lawyers argued, because the committee formally stated no reasons for making it.

President Obama Defies Congress On Czars, Gitmo

WASHINGTON -- President Obama left town Friday for vacation not only pocketing a victory on the payroll tax, but leaving behind a message of defiance for Congress.

In signing the bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, the commander in chief also issued a "signing statement" in which he rejected several provisions of the bill, including attempts to take away his czars.

Buried deep in the $1 trillion measure are four provisions in section 627 that say the White House may not use any of the money to fund salaries or expenses for the head of Obama's health reform office, his energy and climate adviser, his car czar, or the head of his urban affairs office.

But Friday, Obama essentially said 'too bad' in issuing a dense, legalistic statement that explains what he won't accept in the bill.

"Several provisions in this bill, including section 627 of Division C and section 512 of Division D, could prevent me from fulfilling my constitutional responsibilities, by denying me the assistance of senior advisers and by obstructing my supervision of executive branch officials in the execution of their statutory responsibilities," Obama wrote. "I have informed the Congress that I will interpret these provisions consistent with my constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The Post-Truth Campaign

Suppose that President Obama were to say the following: “Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people, and he believes that only corporations and the wealthy should have any rights. He wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.”       

How would this statement be received? I believe, and hope, that it would be almost universally condemned, by liberals as well as conservatives. Mr. Romney did once say that corporations are people, but he didn’t mean it literally; he supports policies that would be good for corporations and the wealthy and bad for the middle class, but that’s a long way from saying that he wants to introduce feudalism.

But now consider what Mr. Romney actually said on Tuesday: “President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others.”

And in an interview the same day, Mr. Romney declared that the president “is going to put free enterprise on trial.”

Imagining a Gingrich Presidency

There is a serious debate among those who know Newt Gingrich well, particularly those who served with him in Congress and watched him not for the duration of a debate or speech but for hours at a time, day after day, year after year. On the one hand, there are those who fear for the country if he were ever to become president. That assessment seems a little extreme to others: they express no fear for the country because they believe (wrongly, I think) that he has no chance of becoming president. What they fear instead is the destruction of the Republican Party. The fact that those who know him best fear him the most makes it imperative to try to understand what a Gingrich nomination -- or presidency -- would mean, and to better understand who, exactly, this person is.

To this point, almost all of assessments of the Gingrich candidacy have been focused on the immediate campaign (for the Republican nomination) and the prospective campaign (the subsequent contest against Barack Obama). Those evaluations concern themselves with debate technique, ability to exploit weakness, and likeability. But this is not a sporting event, it is about who will serve as the next president of the United States. I acknowledge that I have frequently observed that the American presidency is a relatively constrained executive position, with most of the nation's ultimate powers residing with the peoples' representatives in the House and Senate. But the presidency is not a minor governmental position; whoever holds that office has some ability to do good and a frighteningly large ability to do harm. Which is why we should be assessing the campaign for the Republican nomination not in terms of who can be nastiest in a head-to-head showdown with Obama, but who can be wise, constrained, and strategic in dealing with the French, the Germans, the Chinese, the Brazilians, and the North Koreans. Newt Gingrich is not half as smart as he thinks he is, nor as he has persuaded easily-conned journalists and primary voters he is (more on that in a moment). But smart or not, nobody has ever accused him of either wisdom or constraint. This campaign is not just about 'taking it to Obama'; the current administration has not been a great success on any front and there is more than one Republican in the field who could ensure that the Obama presidency does not extend beyond the current term. The issue is not who would be most aggressive on the stump but to whom we should entrust America's future, America's prosperity, and America's safety. I am not associated with any campaign but of the choices available to us, the worst -- and that is saying something -- is Newt Gingrich.

The Story Behind Ron Paul's Racist Newsletters

So as Ron Paul is on track to win the Iowa caucuses, he is getting a new dose of press scrutiny.

And the press is focusing on the newsletters that went out under his name in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were called the Ron Paul's Political Report, Ron Paul's Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report and the Ron Paul Investment Letter.

There is no doubt that the newsletters contained utterly racist statements.

Some choice quotes:
    "Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal." "We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational." After the Los Angeles riots, one article in a newsletter claimed, "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks." One referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as "the world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours" and who "seduced underage girls and boys." Another referred to Barbara Jordan, a civil rights activist and congresswoman as "Barbara Morondon," the "archetypical half-educated victimologist."
Other newsletters had strange conspiracy theories about homosexuals, the CIA, and AIDS.

Canadian economy runs out of steam in October

Canada’s economy stalled in October after four consecutive months of growth, pointing to a fourth quarter slowdown as increasing global uncertainty mutes expectations for next year.

Statistics Canada said on Friday that October gross domestic product was unchanged from September, matching the forecast of market operators who cited the impact of turmoil in Europe and a troubled U.S. economy as factors slowing Canada’s economy.

“The Canadian economy has already exhibited signs of domestic demand fatigue - household balance sheets are stretched and will likely keep consumer spending subdued,” said TD Securities strategist Mazen Issa.

Analysts said annualized fourth quarter growth was unlikely to breach 2.0 per cent, well below the 3.5 per cent recorded in the third quarter.

Mr. Issa said subdued U.S. growth and sluggish Canadian exports meant “the first half of 2012 is expected to be tumultuous” and predicted the Bank of Canada would keep interest rates low the entire year.

Canada’s currency slipped to $1.0190 against the greenback, or 98.14 cents (U.S.), down from about $1.0183, or 98.20 cents, immediately before the figures were released.

Statscan said output of goods-producing industries fell by 0.2 per cent in October from September, cancelling out a 0.2 per cent increase in the services sector.

The utilities sector dropped by 1.5 per cent on lower demand for both electricity and natural gas, while mining and oil and gas extraction were off 0.2 per cent. These declines offset a 0.3-per-cent gain in manufacturing.

Retail trade grew by 0.6 per cent, reflecting widespread gains, while the finance and insurance sector rose 0.3 per cent on increased mutual fund activity.

Original Article
Source: Globe 

What stops governments from ignoring FOI requests?

What’s stopping a government from ignoring your freedom of information request for all eternity?

The law, and the province’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) — though you’ll have to prod it into action yourself.

A provincial statute, the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, requires municipal governments to respond to requests for documents within 30 days unless more time is needed to locate them.

If a government misses the deadline, your only recourse is to file an appeal with the IPC. It has the power to force the government to make a quick decision.

“We’re quite successful with our expedited process in getting action out of institutions. Normally, it doesn’t come down to us having to issue an order,” said assistant IPC commissioner Brian Beamish.

Most requests to Toronto’s government are fulfilled quickly. In 2010, according to the IPC’s annual report, Toronto complied with the standard 30-day limit 83 per cent of the time.

The city’s typical punctuality is partly why a recent decision of Mayor Rob Ford’s staff is unusual.

When the Star requested Ford’s itineraries, his staff obtained a 20-day deadline extension on the grounds that they needed to conduct a lengthy search. They missed even the extended 50-day deadline, which was Wednesday.

Ford faced criticism on Thursday for another decision related to freedom of information. The Globe and Mail reported that his office destroyed documents related to his purchase of business cards from the company his family owns.

His office, the Globe reported, had deemed the records “transitory.” The city’s rules on records, however, say that transitory records are those “of insignificant or no value in documenting city business transactions” and “not related to city business.”

Original Article
Source: Star 

Windsor police chief abruptly resigns

Windsor Police Chief Gary Smith abruptly announced his retirement Thursday amid controversies facing the force.

Smith, however, denied the timing related to allegations that include police brutality.

Mayor Eddie Francis, who joined Smith at a news conference, said a review into the force will be conducted and steps taken to “change the culture at the Windsor Police Service.”

“The public is asking questions. We are asking questions,” said Francis, who also heads the city’s police services board.

Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer has filed a $14 million lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Tyceer Abouhassan, who alleges a Windsor police detective “gratuitously and viciously” assaulted him on April 22, 2010. The doctor, who is visually impaired, suffered a detached retina, broken nose and a concussion.

ORNGE president was paid $1.4 million per year

ORNGE air ambulance boss Dr. Chris Mazza was paid $1.4 million a year, making him the highest publicly paid official in Ontario.

The Star is revealing this after two weeks of stonewalling by the air ambulance service.

Health Minister Deb Matthews called Mazza’s salary and others at the non-profit ORNGE “outrageous, shocking and unacceptable.”

That salary puts him $600,000 ahead of the highest paid hospital chief in the province and almost $65,000 ahead of the president of Ontario Power Generation. Mazza left his post on indefinite medical leave Thursday, departing from the “crystal palace,” the Toronto airport area headquarters where he once enjoyed a cold smoothie delivered to him at 3 p.m., fitness facilities and fine meals paid for by ORNGE.

Forensic auditors from the province, with orders from the health minister to “follow the money,” have been sent in to his well-appointed ORNGE offices to find out if public dollars were misspent at the agency created to help sick and injured Ontario residents.

Weapons procurement could fall to private sector under new proposals

Ministers are considering proposals under which the private sector could play a large role in the procurement of weapons and equipment for the armed forces.

The civil servant in charge of defence procurement, Bernard Gray, has submitted a report setting out options for bringing in private expertise, and a decision is expected in the New Year.

Defence officials stressed that no decision had yet been made, but the procurement minister, Peter Luff, said it was "unlikely" that he would stick with the status quo, under which multimillion-pound purchasing decisions are made by ministers and civil servants.

Ministry of Defence procurement has been the subject of damning reports for some years, after a series of projects came in late and over budget.

Chinese dissident Chen Wei handed nine year jail term

Veteran human rights campaigner Chen Wei was found guilty of "inciting subversion of state power" on Friday after a two hour trial.
His lawyer Zheng Jianwei said after the verdict Mr Chen warned the court: "Dictatorship will fail, democracy will prevail."
Mr Chen was one of more than 130 dissidents rounded up by nervous security officials after online calls in February for a so-called Jasmine revolution in China to mirror the Arab Spring uprisings.
Mr Chen's wife Wang Xiaoyan, who was in court, said her husband and other dissidents would not be broken by the severity of the punishment – a jail term designed to scare and intimate those who continue to dare speak out against Beijing's Communist leadership.
"His behaviour will be tested by history," she posted on China's version of Twitter, Weibo, shortly after the trial.

"They don't allow people to speak. There is no freedom of speech," she said.

Mr Chen was convicted for penning four topical think pieces for foreign websites.

Is a Clue to China’s Future on Its Dinner Tables?

In Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless,” the central character is a grocer who hangs a sign in his window: “Workers of the World Unite!” Havel wondered: “Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world?” On the contrary, he concluded, the grocer’s slogan is the lament of a double life, a public substitute for the truth that he bears only in private: “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.” The grocer’s silent concession, Havel wrote, is “one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society,’ as they say.”

Twelve years later, on New Year’s Day, 1990, just days after being elected the first president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia, Havel delivered a famous speech and returned, I notice, to the political implications of produce: the doomed regime, he said, cultivated “special farms, which produce ecologically pure and top-quality food just for them” rather than send “their produce to schools, children’s homes, and hospitals.”

To a reader in China, Havel’s focus on the symbolism of “special farms” has a certain resonance. There are few issues more deeply and universally felt in China than the safety of its food; after years of scandals on cooking oil sifted from gutters, glow-in-the-dark pork, deadly infant formula, and so on, it has become a proxy for fraying public trust in the system to put the public interest above all. So it was grim news last fall when Chinese reporters uncovered a network of “special farms” dedicated to providing Party leaders with top-quality vegetables, chicken, pork, rice, beef, fish, and tea oil. In the province of Zhejiang, for instance, forty “high-class eco-farms” were said to have been earmarked to supply the land-resource department, water conservancy, agricultural units, and other government offices. (What are we to make of the fact that the offices receiving special food are exactly the ones overseeing the public’s supply?)

The Power of the Powerless - Vaclav Havel (1978, Excerpts)

{1}A SPECTER is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called "dissent" This specter has not appeared out of thin air. It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the present historical phase of the system it is haunting. It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity. What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures. . . .

{2}Our system is most frequently characterized as a dictatorship or, more precisely, as the dictatorship of a political bureaucracy over a society which has undergone economic and social leveling. I am afraid that the term "dictatorship," regardless of how intelligible it may otherwise be, tends to obscure rather than clarify the real nature of power in this system. . . Even though our dictatorship has long since alienated itself completely from the social movements that give birth to it, the authenticity of these movements (and I am thinking of the proletarian and socialist movements of the nineteenth century) gives it undeniable historicity. These origins provided a solid foundation of sorts on which it could build until it became the utterly new social and political reality it is today, which has become so inextricably a part of the structure of the modern world. . . . It commands an incomparably more precise, logically structured, generally comprehensible and, in essence, extremely flexible ideology that, in its elaborateness and completeness, is almost a secularized religion. It offers a ready answer to any question whatsoever; it can scarcely be accepted only in part, and accepting it has profound implications for human life. In an era when metaphysical and existential certainties are in a state of crisis, when people are being uprooted and alienated and are losing their sense of what this world means, this ideology inevitably has a certain hypnotic charm. . . .

Congress moves toward tougher stand on pipeline safety, but is it enough?

A bill to strengthen pipeline safety regulations passed the U.S. House and Senate last week and now awaits President Obama’s signature. But while many applaud Congress’s move toward more oversight, others question whether the impending law goes far enough to prevent oil and natural gas pipeline accidents.

The pipeline industry reports more than 100 significant hazardous liquid spills each year. (See a map of those spills). Every year, an average of 275 accidents kill 10 to 15 people and injure five to six times as many.

The 2011 Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 would double potential fines for violations (up to a max of $2 million), require automated shutoff valves for new and replaced pipelines, and hire 10 new safety inspectors to join the current 124.

“This is a huge step forward for the safety of America2019s pipelines,” Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) said in a statement [4].

But as the Associated Press [5] noted, the bill doesn’t implement several recommendations from a National Transportation Safety Board investigation [6] of the natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California [7] that killed eight people last September (the San Francisco Chronicle has a recent series on the disaster [8]). One of those recommendations [9] is that automated shutoff valves be installed on already existing pipelines (particularly old ones in highly populated areas, which are prone to accidents).

Draft report on Canadian handling of Afghan prisoners to remain secret

The military watchdog investigating Canada’s handling of Afghan prisoners has penned an interim report, but the public won’t get to see it.

The Military Police Complaints Commission says it has handed its preliminary assessment to the Defence Department for review by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the head of the military.

It will be some months before a final report is issued.

The agency held a series of on-again, off-again public hearings into the question of what military police knew — or
should have known — about alleged torture in Afghan prisons.

As part of its release, the commission also issued notice that is expecting a response to its recommendations and that “reasons must be provided for not acting on any of the findings and recommendations in the report.”

That is significant, according to the human-rights lawyer who launched the case.

Peter MacKay fined for ethics violation

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has been hit with a $200 fine for violating Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act, making him the only member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet to have violated the law twice.

In a notice quietly posted to her website, conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson says that MacKay violated paragraph 22 (2) of the act by “failing to report a description of all assets and an estimate of their value” in his filings to her office. The $200 fine was paid Nov. 9.

Dawson’s office refused to provide more detail about the infraction.

In a statement posted to his website, however, MacKay said the fine was the result of an oversight on his part.

“I’d like to advise you that there was an inadvertant omission made in a past disclosure to the ethics commissioner concerning my RSPs,” MacKay wrote Nov. 8. “The ethics commissioner was made aware of this omission because it was included in material I sent to her this year. As soon as the ethics commissioner notified me of this omission I acted to ensure the matter was resolved quickly. I accept responsibility for the omission and I now consider the matter closed.”

How did we get here? And, more importantly, how do we get back?

Surely this wasn’t the way Parliament was meant to evolve.

In Canada, the debate over possible reforms to our democratic institutions is frequently derailed by the claim that x or y would be inconsistent with the British parliamentary traditions on which our governance is based.

For the most part, such claims seem made with little understanding of the dynamic history of those still-evolving traditions, or the basic precepts upon which they are founded.

Through centuries of evolution, the central notion of British parliamentary governance has involved empowering a group of citizens with the authority to limit the powers of the Crown, to control the purse strings and to shape the laws of the land.

From Senate floor to national stage

It was just a 20-second silent protest, but it helped her find her voice.

Ever since holding up a hand-painted red “Stop Harper” sign during the current Conservative government’s throne speech in June, former senate page Brigette DePape has thrown herself into grassroots activism and now spends her time expressing her dreams for her country.

“It’s been so inspiring to take part in collective action,” DePape told The Canadian Press in an interview.

“I really think that it is through action that we can have hope and it’s really only by taking action that we can start to imagine a better Canada.”

The University of Ottawa graduate was catapulted into the national spotlight after she pulled her sign out from beneath her skirt and held it up in the middle of the Senate Chamber to an astonished audience before being escorted out.

Her actions prompted an array of responses from across the country, and made more people tune into highlights of the throne speech than in previous years, but the aftermath of the stunt wasn’t easy for the 22-year-old.

Health-care funding: How Harper views the Canadian federation

In the wake of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s surprise announcement on the future of health-care funding, the hand-wringing has already started. Many in the media were looking forward to months of rhetorical pre-positioning leading to a make-or-break first ministers conference with 13 angry premiers arrayed against a recalcitrant Prime Minister. And the dark talk has already started about the presumed federal abdication of national leadership: “If the feds aren’t telling the provinces how to fix health care, well, they obviously don’t care.”

But there’s another story here. It’s about a Prime Minister with a very different federal-provincial agenda, based on a view that seriously respects the Constitution. It’s also about provinces finally coming of age and being mature enough to manage their own affairs.

The Finance Minister’s announcement this week is a surprisingly generous offer: continued 6-per-cent annual increases in federal transfers for three years after the current health accord ends in 2013-14, after which transfers will be pegged at the rate of nominal GDP growth with a guaranteed base of 3 per cent a year. By short-circuiting the expected federal-provincial negotiating process, it effectively marks the end of executive federalism, that time-honoured Canadian way of running the federation. It also provides the clearest window yet into how Prime Minister Stephen Harper views the federation.

Supreme Court’s securities regulator decision delivers stern reminder to PM

In striking down the Conservative government’s proposed national securities regulator, Canada’s highest court has reminded Stephen Harper that, even with a majority government, there must be limits to his ambitions for reshaping the federation.

The no-strings funding formula for health care that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled this week was pivotal in revealing how this Prime Minister plans to make his mark. For Canadians who grew up believing that the central government should play a key role in shaping national social policy, Mr. Harper offers a very different alternative, with Ottawa leaving the provinces to shape social policy as they see best.

But in its own area of jurisdiction, the Harper government has moved aggressively, beefing up the military and taking strong and sometimes contentious stands on foreign policy.

And the Prime Minister also sees Ottawa playing a more active role in promoting the economic union, by tearing down the walls of provincial interest that he believes hamper the growth of the economy.

Mr. Harper must finish his project

The Harper government appears to have fallen out of love with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, but it can't abandon its responsibilities that easily. The Conservatives entered into this marriage willingly and with full knowledge that complex projects inevitably run over budget.

In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Winnipeg to announce the Conservatives were embracing the museum as a federal project. It would be a national museum, the first outside Ottawa, and operated by the federal government as a Crown corporation.

The government subsequently assumed complete control of the project, hiring its first employee, chief financial officer Patrick O'Reilly, and appointing the board of directors and its first CEO, former Manitoba Progressive Conservative leader Stuart Murray.

These officials, and others who came later, were selected without consultation with those who had earlier been struggling to get the project off the ground. Ottawa was in charge.

In 2008, the government announced the entire development was under review, including Antoine Predock's architectural design. All tendering would be through the federal government, and budgets would be scrutinized by bean counters in Ottawa.

At that time, the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the private fundraiser led by Gail Asper, committed to raising $105 million in private capital, while the province and city were in for a total of $60 million. Ottawa's $100 million contribution meant the total budget was now $265 million.

Ottawa urges flyers to go Nexus

Ottawa is touting shorter travel times for trusted passengers and fewer missed flights as it starts to roll out the details of Canada’s new border security deal with the United States.

The government is urging citizens to apply for Nexus cards, which offer quicker movement through streamlined security checks.

Canada and the United States are aligning their systems so Nexus users will be able to skip to the front of lines as they cross the border. Cardholders still must be screened but are able to jump ahead of other travellers and skip some steps like consulting with a border agent when they return home.

Nexus cards were already in limited use for domestic and some overseas flights but were not recognized by American systems.

On the flip side, Canada is switching to American standards for scanning baggage.