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, May 12, 2012

JPMorgan Trading Loss Suggests Little Has Changed Since The Financial Crisis

If you thought Wall Street had learned its lesson four years after the global financial crisis, JPMorgan Chase's $2 billion trading debacle suggests you should think again, investment bankers and industry experts say.

To some, it suggests that the need for financial reform is still just as urgent as it was the day the crisis broke out.

JPMorgan revealed on Thursday that it had lost about $2 billion (with possibly more losses to come) from risky bets on opaque derivatives at a London trading desk.

The pressure on the bank intensified on Friday, with reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission had opened an investigation of its trades and Fitch Ratings downgrading the bank's long-term credit rating to A+ from AA-.

Democracy Is for Amateurs: Why We Need More Citizen Citizens

This year I'll wrap up a decade as a trustee of the Seattle Public Library. Our board of five citizens has unusual authority. Appointed by the mayor, we are an independent operating body. The city council gives us a line in the budget, but how we spend those funds, on what programs, in what allocations across which neighborhoods, with what kinds of popular input, and under what policies -- all such decisions rest in the hands of our citizen board.

There's something very American about such a volunteer body. We celebrate the "citizen scientist" or "citizen diplomat" or "citizen soldier" on the idea that while the job -- scientist, diplomat, soldier -- requires professional expertise, amateurs who care can also step in and contribute. Indeed, this is something of a golden age for amateurs. With big data and social media amplifying their wisdom, crowds of amateurs are remaking astronomy, finance, biochemistry and other fields.

Canada Opposition Days: Tories Stoop To New Low In Muzzling Dissent, Says Opposition

OTTAWA - Opposition parties accuse the Harper government of stooping to a petty, new low in the muzzling of dissent.

They say the government is using its power to minimize the impact of opposition days — the rare occasions when Liberals and New Democrats get to set the parliamentary agenda, debating motions on any subject of their choosing.

They maintain the government is punishing parties that offend the ruling Conservatives by scheduling opposition days for times when they're least likely to be noticed.

A case in point: the Liberals' next opposition day has been scheduled for May 18 — a Friday before a long weekend and a break-week for Parliament, when there will be only two hours for debate and few MPs in the House of Commons.

National Defence Cuts: Major Overhaul Would Remove Quarter Of Command Structure

OTTAWA - The Harper government quietly has announced a major shakeup at National Defence, a move that will largely return the military to its pre-Afghan combat mission structure, and possibly shed thousands of jobs.

The restructuring of commands will see the headquarters that manage domestic, international and support operations merged into one structure.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the overhaul is built on some lessons learned from the Afghan, Libyan and Olympic operations.

MacKay says the new headquarters, known as Canadian Joint Operations Command, will be responsible for conducting all military missions at home and abroad at the best cost to taxpayers.

Thomas Mulcair's Dutch Disease Argument Slammed By Conservatives

The Conservatives continued to hammer NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair Friday, suggesting he is pitting the Prairies against Ontario and Eastern Canada.

Mulcair told CBC Radio last week he believes Alberta’s oilsands are artificially inflating the Canadian dollar and hollowing out the manufacturing sector in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

“It’s by definition the Dutch disease,” Mulcair said, referring to how a natural gas find in the Netherlands led to manufacturing declines in the 1960s.

“The Canadian dollar is being held artificially high, which is fine if you are going to Walt Disney World, not so good if you want to sell your manufactured product, because the American client, most of the time, can no longer afford to buy it,” he said on the CBC program "The House."

Inside Education Oilsands Tours For Teachers: Researcher Questions Impartiality Of Industry-Backed Program

EDMONTON - An industry-funded program that offers high school teachers a six-day trip to Fort McMurray to "experience Alberta's oilsands" is being expanded across the country.

While the operators of Inside Education say they work hard to ensure their programming offers plenty of balance, others say informing educators about controversial developments shouldn't be left to those with most to gain from them.

"It's always billed as being free, but what's being sold is a positive image of an industry that's controversial," said Andrew Hodgkins, a University of Alberta researcher who has published on the issue of corporate involvement in education.

Quebec Student Groups Reject Proposed Tuition Deal

The votes are in, and all three of the largest student groups in Quebec have rejected the tentative agreement reached with the Liberal government last weekend.

Eighteen student unions associated with FECQ, the federation that represents CÉGEP students, voted on the deal this week.

FECQ says 83 per cent rejected the agreement, with the majority requesting clarification on some of the deal's points.

The federation that represents university students – the FEUQ – has also rejected the offer.

FEUQ president Martine Desjardins says more than 260,000 voted against it this week.

Can Mulcair win over the west?

Thomas Mulcair is headed for Alberta “soon”, and his maiden visit to the Fort McMurray, ahem, “oilsands.” He would be well-advised to keep his ears open and his head down.

The New Democratic Party leader hit a nerve in Western Canada recently when he complained that Alberta’s oil wealth is costing manufacturing jobs in Ontario and Quebec — a local variant of what is known as “Dutch disease.” (Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty elicited the same reaction, and was forced to retreat, when he complained about the nefarious effects of the “petrodollar.”)

This familiar, if provocative, analysis is based on the collapse of manufacturing in the Netherlands, after a 1959 North Sea gas discovery inflated the value of the Dutch currency and made the country’s exports prohibitively expensive.

The analogy doesn’t apply perfectly, because, as Mulcair quickly acknowledged, manufacturing in Central Canada has been in decline for decades, partly because of competition from China and other low-wage countries, and partly because of the relative weakness of the U.S. economy. (Still, University of Ottawa economist Serge Coulombe has estimated, in a comprehensive study, that the petrodollar was responsible for 42 per cent of manufacturing jobs lost in Ontario between 2002-07.)

Canada and climate change: all plan, no action

Canada, you might be surprised to hear, is a world leader in climate change.

Canada leads the world in presenting plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and Canada leads the world in the size of the gap between plans and deeds.

The Mulroney government had a plan (1990). The Chrétien government had plans (1995, 2000, 2002). The Martin government had a plan (2005). And now the Harper government has a plan, sort of.

The plans had two things in common. They carried ringing titles: Green Plan, Action Plan, Project Green, that sort of thing. And they all failed, which is what the Harper government’s plan will do.

The Harper government offers a target for reducing emissions that contribute to climate change by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. Over and over, ministers repeat this target, even though every environmentalist, oil company expert, academic, diplomat and bureaucrat who has studied the government’s plan agrees the target cannot be met, at least not the way the government is going about it.

‘Big Farma’ companies seek federal approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn, soybean seeds

OTTAWA — Dow Chemical and Monsanto want federal approval to sell corn and soybeans seeds genetically fortified to withstand concentrated spraying with 2,4-D and other potent herbicides to repel advancing “superweeds” on Canadian farms.

The agricultural giants are seeking Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency safety assessments for the introduction of four varieties of corn and soybeans bio-engineered to tolerate 2,4-D choline and another proven broadleaf weed killer, dicamba.

Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, hopes to have 2,4-D-tolerant “Enlist” field corn on the North American market next year. Rival Monsanto plans a limited launch of dicamba-tolerant soybeans in 2014, while Dow wants to unveil 2,4-D soybeans in 2015.

Health Canada would not discuss the companies’ specific safety submissions for the proposed novel foods, saying such information is “confidential” while under government review.

Solve reserves' water crisis, don't squabble, Rae urges

OTTAWA and the province must set aside jurisdictional squabbles and fix the clean-water crisis that plagues remote reserves, federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Friday.

"You can't let these things descend into jurisdictional and constitutional battles. Every Canadian should have access to running water," Rae said. "The two governments have to get their act together and get it done."

Along with Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, Rae travelled to St. Theresa Point Friday afternoon to visit homes with no proper plumbing and meet with the chief and council.

St. Theresa Point is one of four reserves around Island Lake, where most of the province's 1,400 homes without modern sanitation are located.

Rae and Gerrard visited the home of Alice and Francis Taylor, who live with their son, Kevin, who has cerebral palsy. Their home has no running water and the family has been outspoken about their need for better services for their son.

"You just feel, as a Canadian, that we're not living up to the most basic of standards," Rae said.

The interim Liberal leader touted an unusual agreement he made with Ottawa in the early 1990s to solve Ontario's on-reserve water crisis. Back then, a retrofit agreement saw the two governments spend more than $200 million over 10 years to upgrade electrical wiring and install running water, bathtubs, sinks and toilets in hundreds of homes.

"It was the decision of the province to insist on doing it, and to say to the federal government, 'Listen, these questions of jurisdiction, we won't continue this pointless fight,' " Rae said in French. "We will share the cost."

Original Article
Source:  winnipeg free press
Author: Mary Agnes Welch 

Anonymous: Commander X speaks out

MONTREAL - Christopher Doyon, a.k.a. Commander X, sits atop a hillside in an undisclosed location in Canada, watching a reporter and photographer make their way along a narrow path to join him, away from the prying eyes of law enforcement.

It’s been a few weeks of encrypted emails back and forth, working out the security protocol to follow for interviewing Doyon, one of the brains behind Anonymous, now a fugitive from the FBI.

Doyon, who readily admits taking part in some of the highest-profile hacktivist attacks on websites last year – from Tunisia to Orlando, Sony to PayPal – was arrested in September for a comparatively minor assault on the county website of Santa Cruz, Calif., where he was living, in retaliation for the town forcibly removing a homeless encampment on the courthouse steps.

The “virtual sit-in” lasted half an hour. For that, Doyon is facing 15 years in jail.

Stephen Harper promised accountable government but hasn’t delivered

Does anyone recall Stephen Harper’s pledge in the first line of the Conservative election platform Stand up for Canada back in 2006? “The time for accountability has arrived.” That became the Tory mantra in the dying days of the discredited Liberal government.

Harper used the words “accountable” and “accountability” no fewer than 10 times on the first page of the manifesto.

But 6 ½ years into Conservative rule even Harper fans have reason to feel queasy, looking back. The gap between promise and delivery grows by the day, along with secrecy and manipulation.

The Tories are still taking a beating for keeping Parliament in the dark on the F-35 fighter’s cost, which is closer to $25 billion than the $16 billion advertised. Meanwhile on Friday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay was again under fire for lowballing costs. He told CBC News last year that the nearly completed Libya mission had cost “under $50 million” by Oct. 13, but didn’t say the final tab would be $100 million.

Harper moves to dismiss 'frivolous' lawsuit by Guergis

Prime Minister Stephen Harper filed a motion in court Friday to get Helena Guergis's "frivolous" lawsuit against him dismissed.

"The action is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process and accordingly should be stayed or dismissed," the court document obtained by CBC News says.

The document notes that Guergis filed a complaint against the prime minister with the Canada Human Rights Commission in May 2011, a year after she resigned from cabinet due to the controversy that emerged in April 2010. She lost the complaint and Harper's court motion says she then set out to launch the lawsuit.

Harper's motion to strike out the lawsuit comes two days after a similar one filed by his former chief of staff, Guy Giorno, who is also being sued by Guergis. The motion is also on behalf of Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, Conservative MP Shelly Glover and Ray Novak, Harper’s principal secretary, who are all named in Guergis's lawsuit.

Time to put the brakes on “going forward” — the new way of saying nothing in politics

OTTAWA—Warren Beatty had a great idea for a movie back in the late 1990s: what if a politician with a death wish spoke the unvarnished truth?

And so he made Bullworth, the story of a disillusioned liberal politician who decides he would rather be dead than give another speech filled with meaningless bromides.

“We stand at the doorstep of a new millennium” is the line that makes Senator Jay Bulworth snap.

So, after arranging his own assassination, Bulworth spends the rest of the movie speaking the awkward truth on the campaign trail, mainly in rap.

“You can call it single-payer or Canadian way; only socialized medicine will ever save the day! Come on now, let me hear that dirty word — socialism.”

Military brass says MacKay knew full estimated cost of Libya mission

OTTAWA — Already under fire over the cost of the F-35 fighter, Defence Minister Peter MacKay found himself fighting a second front Friday following confirmation he knew the Libya mission would cost tens of millions more than he told Canadians.

"He knew the estimates, for sure," Maj.-Gen. Jon Vance said. "In fact, he presents the estimates to cabinet. So yes, the minister would have known what the all-up estimated costs of the mission could be."

The revelation, coming weeks after the Conservative government admitted it did not reveal the F-35 would cost $25 billion, likely will reinforce allegations Canadians have been misled and put pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to replace MacKay.

Watchdogs of Parliament forge closer ties

They provide the fuel to some of the most explosive political stories in Ottawa. And now, in the face of a growing grumble from federal mandarins, they’re ganging up.

The eight agents of Parliament – independent watchdogs that include the Auditor-General and the Commissioner of Elections Canada – are working more closely together than ever.

In a trend that started a couple of years ago, most of the agents now meet about every other month over meals, sometimes at Ottawa’s Rideau Club, to discuss mutual issues.

Interviews and government documents obtained by The Globe and Mail under access to information legislation show a fascinating political dynamic playing out in the power triangle of the agents, the government and Parliament.

Greek president attempts 11th-hour coalition talks

Greek President Karolos Papoulias called for the leaders of Greece's political parties to meet on Sunday, in a last-ditch effort to broker a deal for a coalition government and avoid another general election.

Papoulias took the step Saturday after Greece's socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos officially gave up the mandate to form a coalition government after three rounds of negotiations proved fruitless .

Papoulias' office announced that the president would meet initially with the heads of the three parties that won the most votes in last Sunday's inconclusive elections —the conservative New Democracy, radical left-wing Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) and socialist PASOK. He will then meet individually with the leaders of the other four parties that won enough votes for parliamentary seats — the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks, the Communists, the extreme-right Golden Dawn and the moderate left Democratic Left.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon is a clear and present danger to world banking systems

We have to hope at this moment that JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM), America’s biggest financial institution, is a rogue bank. And that the massive, almost deliberate incompetence in putting the global financial system at risk less than four years after the epic 2008 world banking meltdown is not widespread throughout the system, from Frankfurt to Tokyo to London.

The staggering $2 billion that JPM acknowledged late yesterday it will lose on an epic trading mistake is not the act of a rogue trader. The losses, which JPM acknowledges will grow to $3 billion and perhaps more as revelations continue, are instead the system-threatening mistake of about a dozen JPM bankers – notwithstanding JPM’s effort to pin the blame on a larger-than-life London trader known as “the whale” for his outsized risk taking.

Bill masks vindictive intentions

This week the Harper government party threw its support behind Bill C-309 (Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act) put forward by Wildrose MP Blake Richards. Owing to this support, Bill C-309 will almost certainly become law. But like so many recent Conservative initiatives, the bill is vindictive and manipulative.

Riding a public wave of unease after the riots in Vancouver and those in the U.K. in the summer of 2011, Richards drafted the bill in order to add ammunition to the police toolkit to respond to public assemblies. The bill aims to increase the punitive capacities of the law when reacting to people participating in the already illegal acts of rioting and unlawful assembly.

Let’s be clear: the deplorable behaviour of rioters in Vancouver was the act of vandals that should be punished. The problem, however, is the potential for this proposed amendment to the Criminal Code to be used in situations of legitimate protest, given the subjective criteria for determining riots and unlawful assemblies.

Green party leader May threatens budget delay

Saanich-Gulf Islands Green MP Elizabeth May is threatening to hold up a vote on the Conservatives' sweeping budget bill for days if the prime minister won't consider breaking it up into related items.

May said the federal government's sweeping budget bill - which includes changes affecting everything from Old Age Pensions to oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency - would change Canada's environmental regulations, laws and policies for the worse.

"I think all of us in the Opposition ranks are scandalized by the effort to hide so much within the 425-page Budget Implementation Act," May said.

May has not been able to speak on second reading of Bill C-38, the Budget Implementation Act, but said she would put forward amendments at the report stage.

Quietly awarded $105M defence contract leads to accusations Tories trying to hide details of military spending

OTTAWA — The same day Defence Minister Peter MacKay issued a flurry of seven press releases about minor renovations and the painting of buildings at military installations — worth thousands of dollars — the Conservative government quietly announced on an industry contracting website that it had awarded a German firm a $105-million contract for armoured vehicles.

This came on the same day that MacKay faced questions on the reported costs of Canada’s mission in Libya.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in the Commons on Friday answering questions about a Postmedia News article that revealed how the government gave the contract to the German company FFG, but that the government’s notice described the order as “transmission components.”

That has prompted accusations from opposition MPs the Conservatives are trying to hide details about military spending.

On climate change, the Tories generate heat without light

If there is one thing on which all federal parties and all national political leaders are agreed, it is that they "believe the science" on climate change. They believe that the earth is warming, they believe its effects are on balance malign, and they believe it is caused by human activity. As such they believe it can and should be mitigated by human action, namely by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There isn't any dispute between them over this. Every party agrees there's a problem, every party agrees on its cause, and every party agrees on its solution. And no party (or none with any chance of governing) has anything resembling a serious policy to achieve it.

More than two decades have passed since the Second World Climate Conference in 1990, at which Canada committed to stabilize its emissions of greenhouse gases at then-current levels within a decade. Since that time we have had a succession of different federal "strategies" and "processes" — Action Plan 2000, Project Green, Turning the Corner, on and on — with emissions reductions commitments to match. The current federal climate plan lists more than 20 different programs aimed explicitly at reducing GHG emissions, from the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program to the Marine Shore Power Program to the various ecoENERGY schemes.