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.]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Extreme weather hits hard, costs taxpayers billions

While the Harper government deployed Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the United States to counter a global warming campaign, 2011 proved to be the year of weather extremes in the States. In fact, fourteen extreme weather events caused losses of US$1 billion each. The worst tornado outbreak in history hit the southern states, with April recording a staggering 753 tornadoes, and beating the previous monthly record of 542 by a startling 39%.

The United States was not alone. Rainfall records were set in Australia, Japan and Korea, whereas the Yangtze Basin in China experienced record drought.

Bank Of America Settles With Bond Insurer Syncora For $375 Million Over Mortgage Fraud Claims

NEW YORK, July 17 (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp has agreed to pay $375 million to settle a case brought by bond insurer Syncora Guarantee over toxic mortgage-backed securities at the center of the 2008 financial crisis.

Syncora sued Bank of America in 2009 to recover losses on securities transactions based on home loans made by Countrywide Financial, which was bought by Bank of America in 2008. Syncora said it was duped into insuring the mortgage-backed securities and that Countrywide misrepresented the quality of the underlying mortgages.

The Paul Ryan Rosetta Stone

The cover story of the latest Weekly Standard is a naturally adulatory profile of Paul Ryan. This passage about Ryan’s formative intellectual influences may not strike most readers as telling, and the author of the story didn’t delve into it, but it struck me:

    Ryan reported to Cesar Conda, the Republican staff director. “Paul at age 19 was the exact same person he is today,” Conda recalls. “Earnest, personable, and hard-working, with an insatiable appetite for discussing policy ideas.” Ryan often popped his head into Conda’s office with questions about supply-side economics, interruptions that became so frequent Conda had to give Ryan books to keep him occupied. Among them: The Way the World Works, by one-time supply-side guru Jude Wanniski, and George Gilder’s seminal Wealth and Poverty. (Conda finally recovered his copy of Gilder in 2007, when he noticed it in Ryan’s office, heavily marked-up.)

Will Britain's Libor Scandal Finally Force Real Bank Reform in the US?

London—As lies go, none is greater than the one that suggests banks are capable of “self-regulation.”

Given authority over their own affairs, through fantasies such as “self-reporting,” CEOs, CFOs and COOs who travel in limousines, wear very expensive suits and give to all the right charities will do what comes naturally to them: lie.

The Single Most Important Experiment in Higher Education

As of yesterday, a year-old startup may well have become the most important experiment yet aimed at remaking higher education for the Internet age. 

At the very least, it became the biggest.  

A dozen major universities announced that they would begin providing content to Coursera, an innovative platform that makes interactive college classes available to the public free on the web. Next fall, it will offer at least 100 massive open online courses -- otherwise known as MOOCs*-- designed by professors from schools such as Princeton, CalTech, and Duke that will be capable of delivering lessons to more than 100,000 students at a time.

USDA Prepares to Green-Light Gnarliest GMO Soy Yet

In early July, on the sleepy Friday after Independence Day, the USDA quietly signaled its intention to green-light a new genetically engineered soybean seed from Dow AgroSciences. The product is designed to produce soy plants that withstand 2,4-D, a highly toxic herbicide (and, famously, the less toxic component in the notorious Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange).

Readers may remember that during an even-sleepier period—the week between Christmas and the New Year—the USDA made a similar move on Dow's 2,4-D-ready corn.

Helena Guergis Lawsuit Against Harper In Ottawa Court

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lawyer told an Ottawa court this morning that the lawsuit against his client by Helena Guergis is full of bald allegations with no facts to support them.

A hearing to have the lawsuit against Harper and a long list of other defendants thrown out began Wednesday morning.

Harper's lawyer, Robert Staley, picked apart the claims made by Guergis and told Judge Charles Hackland that the lawsuit has little substance.

Northern Gateway pipeline would inject billions into economy: Study (Fraser institute)

FORT MCMURRAY, ALTA. - Sending Canadian oil to Asia via the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline will funnel billions of dollars into the national economy and create thousands of jobs, concludes a new study from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian right-libertarian think-tank.

The study, titled Ensuring Canadian Access to Oil Markets in the Asia-Pacific Region and released Tuesday, also argued First Nations communities, who are largely opposed to the proposed $5.5 billion pipeline, would economically benefit from the project.

Taliban Steve and the Robot Nation

Stephen Harper has a bad case of MOUS – master of the universe syndrome.

I am happy to report that not many democracies revert to feudalism, but in the PM’s case, wracked as he is with the shivers and sweats of megalomania, it will not be for want of trying if he fails to return us to the political Middle Ages. This man is the suspicion that somewhere someone isn’t doing what they’re told.

When you control all the levers of power, when you have no scruples, when you are surrounded by nutters who will do anything you say without thinking, when you conceive of language as disconnected from objective reality, when you believe biz bull and Beatle songs are enough to bamboozle the Great Unwashed, it’s understandable in certain personality types that the conviction begins to take hold that you are a master of the universe.

Present crisis: The expiry of social housing funding in B.C.

The already dire housing crisis in Vancouver is about to worsen with the mass expiration of funding and operating agreements for 25,000 social housing units. By 2033, 99 per cent of operating agreements across the country will have expired if current austerity measures are not reversed, amounting to $3.5 billion of reduced government expenditures annually (Steve Pomeroy, "Was Chicken Little Right? Case Studies on the Impact of Expiring Social Housing Operating Agreements," Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, p. ii). Presently there are no federal or provincial plans to initiate new or extend existing operating agreements. The forecasted federal funding for non-profit housing providers in BC for the year 2030 is zero (Alexandra Moskalyk, "The role of Public-Private Partnerships in Funding Social Housing in Canada," Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc and Social Housing Services Corporation, p. 16). This process of funding-expiry has already begun, with tenants experiencing the first wave of this unprecedented withdrawal of public housing funds. Unless a popular struggle takes shape, the entire country will move in the direction of a massive loss of public housing across the country.

Taliban bomb destroys 22 NATO supply trucks in Afghanistan

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN- A bomb planted by the Taliban destroyed 22 NATO trucks carrying supplies to their forces in northern Afghanistan, the Taliban and police said on Wednesday.

Eighteen fuel trucks and four supply vehicles were parked in Aibak, the capital of Samangan province, when a bomb ripped through them, wounding one person, local police said.

Code Orange: How Sunnybrook handled the mass shooting

Dr. Homer Tien had already put in a full day’s work and was relaxing, watching TV news at home Monday night when his pager went off. A surgeon at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, he was needed at the hospital ASAP. There had been a mass shooting and Sunnybrook was the designated trauma centre where the most seriously injured would be taken.

When a nurse told Tien over the phone what had gone down in Scarborough, he admits, he had an “oh sh-- moment.”

Trash becomes treasure at the Saskatoon Landfill

At the Saskatoon Landfill, the city’s trash is being transformed into treasure. Saskatoon Light and Power is in the process of drilling the last of 29 wells in the Landfill Gas to Energy project.

Through the use of greenhouse gases, trash collected at the landfill will be able to provide power to 2600 homes across the city. Gases created by the waste are drawn out through the wells and then piped into a power generation facility just west of the landfill site.

Hardheaded socialism makes Canada richer than U.S.

On July 1, Canada Day, Canadians awoke to a startling, if pleasant, piece of news: For the first time in recent history, the average Canadian is richer than the average American.

According to data from Environics Analytics WealthScapes published in the Globe and Mail, the net worth of the average Canadian household in 2011 was $363,202, while the average American household’s net worth was $319,970.

Walmart Heirs Worth Same Amount As Bottom 40 Percent Of Americans In 2010: Analysis

The six heirs to the Walmart fortune are worth as much as nearly half of all American households.

The Walton family was worth $89.5 billion in 2010, the same as the bottom 41.5 percent of U.S. families combined, according to Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute. That's 48.8 million American households in total.

Sylvia Allegreto of the University of California at Berkeley found last year that the six children of Walmart founders Sam and James “Bud” Walton had the same net worth in 2007 as the bottom 30 percent of American households. But between 2007 and 2010, that net worth rose, while the incomes of most Americans declined, explaining the three-year shift, Bivens notes.

Iraq war reconstruction: $6 billion to $8 billion wasted, US official says

The official in charge of monitoring America’s $51 billion effort to reconstruct Iraq has estimated that $6 billion to $8 billion of that amount was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) for the past eight years, gave that estimate in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity on Monday, shortly after releasing a new summary of his office’s many grim discoveries since it began work in in 2004.

$190M Plant Move Part Of Democracy, McGuinty Says

Voters understand that when politicians make campaign promises it's taxpayers who will pay the cost if that party wins, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday as he defended a $190-million bill for cancelling a power plant already under construction in Mississauga.

"Political parties in the context of the campaign present commitments, then should they earn the privilege of forming the government, the responsibility is to honour those commitments," McGuinty told reporters after touring a factory in Guelph.

Bennett’s Law: Meaningful consultation = saying + listening

Could there be a law that makes government listen to the public?

St. Paul’s MP Carolyn Bennett thinks so. She wants to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons to ensure that when the federal government consults with Canadians, the consultation is meaningful, that is, that government genuinely considers what people have to say.

The citizen advocacy group Democracy Watch has stepped in to assist by offering Bennett a draft bill they think can achieve this.

Kenney’s mean bill hurts refugees — and Canada’s rep

You can judge a nation sometimes on how it treats its weakest citizens.

Canada, historically, has always known itself to be a nation of immigrants and refugees. All of us — with the exception of our First Nations, whose leadership are gathered this week in Toronto to select a national grand chief — have come here from somewhere else. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that much.

Army trucks project cancelled after DND added $300 million to price tag without permission

The Conservative government shut down a project to buy new army trucks because the Defence Department tried to spend more than $300 million without permission, government, military and industry officials have told the Citizen.

The Defence Department had received government approval in 2009 to move forward with the $430 million purchase of 1,500 off-the-shelf medium-sized trucks. But in subsequent years department and military officials began adding more capabilities to what they wanted in the vehicles, bumping the estimated cost to between $730 million and $800 million.

Quebec and Canada keep deadly asbestos industry alive

Mesothelioma is a nasty cancer that affects the lining around a person's lungs. It can also damage membranes around the abdomen, heart, and testicles. The prognosis for those who have it is poor. It causes close to 90,000 preventable deaths a year. More than 90 per cent of cases are attributed to asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres that can be inhaled, penetrating the lungs. Because they are mineral-based, they can't be broken down by the body's natural defences, so they cause inflammation. The fibres also remain in the lining around the lungs, and over time - often 20 to 30 years or more - may cause mesothelioma or other diseases.

Mayor Ford says it's 'time to declare war' on gangs

Mayor Rob Ford blames the bloody Scarborough shooting that left two dead and 24 injured on gangs and says it's "time to declare war" on them.

Earlier in the day, Ford said "everyone has to move on and carry on with their life." But he sounded more aggressive later in the day.

"This is about gangs and gang violence," a statement said. "Frankly, it doesn’t matter if they hurt people with guns or knives, bats or bricks. There is no room in Toronto for violent gangs."

Chinese companies warn profits plunging as slowdown spreads

Some of China’s biggest companies, from tech giants to airlines and retailers, are warning of unexpectedly sharp drops in profit of up to 80 per cent, adding to pressure on Beijing to reverse a painful economic slump.

On Wednesday, Air China Ltd., one of three main government-owned airlines, warned first-half profit will fall by at least half from a year earlier. State-owned ZTE Corp., one of the world’s biggest producers of telecommunications equipment, is projecting a decline of up to 80 per cent.

'The Death of Evidence' in Canada: Scientists' Own Words

[Editor's note: On July 10, at least 2,000 people, many of them scientists and their graduate students, marched through Ottawa to Parliament Hill to protest the Harper government's cuts to scientific research and clamp-down on what government-funded scientific researchers can say in public -- a development organizers named "The Death of Evidence." Some of the speakers' remarks are reprinted here.]