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, March 23, 2013

Congress Has a Constitutional Duty to Preserve and Promote the Post Office

No member of Congress who takes seriously their oath sworn to uphold the Constitution can neglect the duty to preserve the United States Postal Service.

The founding document is clear. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 gives Congress the power and the responsibility: “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.”

Getting Tough on Devastating Corporate Crime

Politicians looking to bolster their appeal to voters like to talk about being "tough on crime." They think this creates a winning public image. And why wouldn't it? Anyone who has ever seen an old western knows that the bandits in the black hats are bad and the lawmen in the white hats are good. Consequently, many elected officials, desperate to be perceived as white-hatters, carry the "tough on crime" banner. A result is the United States now has more incarcerated people than any other country in the world, including China and Russia. Imagine -- over 2 million Americans are currently serving time in prison.

JPMorgan Board's Abject Failure of Oversight

In a classic example of crony board behavior, in spite of the grossly embarrassing Senate hearings highlighting massive fissures in JP Morgan's trading oversight and management, highlighting a corporate policy of proprietary trading, more clearly translated as rote gambling, that was not only countenanced but encouraged by management resulting in the disastrous positions of the 'London Whale' and its cost of billions to the institution, the Board of Directors of JPMorgan Chase said on Friday they would continue to support Mr. Jamie Dimon as BOTH the bank's Chairman and Chief Executive. (Please see New York Times, "JP Morgan Board Confirms Dual Role For Dimon.")

Experts doubt tax-snitching can bring in new revenue

Some tax experts are raising questions over the effectiveness of the new federal plan that would pay whistleblowers to squeal on offshore tax evaders. They are wondering just how much the government will recoup in unpaid taxes and whether Ottawa has the resources to make such a program cost-effective.

Toronto tax lawyer Jonathan Garbutt said he doesn't believe the government has put much thought into the Stop International Tax Evasion Program, a plan in which snitches could receive up to 15 per cent of tax collected if their information led to the collection of unpaid taxes. The reward would apply only to amounts exceeding $100,000 in federal tax.

Internal memo tells CIDA staff that current policies, programs will be maintained

OTTAWA — Officials with the Canadian International Development Agency, Foreign Affairs and International Trade say current policies and programs will be maintained and delivered consistently as the departments are amalgamated to become a new super department combining them all.

In a memo obtained by the Citizen, the senior executive and deputy ministers from CIDA, foreign affairs and trade asked staff to be patient as the amalgamation takes place and said that it will be done “respectfully and openly, recognizing the important work that is under way in our organizations and the skills, knowledge and expertise of our staff.”

New departmental legislation, the memo said, will be introduced in coming weeks.

Cyprus, dedicated transit funding and guerrilla warfare

It’s hard not to watch Cyprus the way you watch one of those plucky little countries that appear in the World Cup and people root for. This week they rejected the European hierarchy’s latest attack on its citizens. The plan involved swiping a portion of all savings accounts there in return for another bailout that won’t work. It was so blatantly unfair to ordinary folks who, as usual, weren’t to blame for the mess, that even Cypriot legislators voted it down.

Greeks, who’ve gone into the streets in awesome numbers with similar gripes, were green with envy, someone said. They never got their own reps to back them. “Apparently,” wrote Yves Smith on her Naked Capitalism website, “a fast seizure of funds is harder for the public to accept than a sustained grind-down into penury.”

Cyprus racing to complete alternative rescue plan

NICOSIA, CYPRUS — Politicians in Cyprus were racing Saturday to complete an alternative plan raising funds necessary for the country to qualify for an international bailout, with a potential bankruptcy just three days away.

Finance Minister Michalis Sarris said “significant progress” had been made, and that new legislation raising funds could be completed and debated in Parliament as early as Saturday evening, although the timing was not certain.

Life, Death and Accountability in Anaheim

Twenty-five-year-old Manuel Diaz was hanging out in Anaheim on a sunny Saturday last July when two officers began to approach him. Diaz ran off, and Anaheim police officers Nick Bennallack and Brett Heitman pursued him. Moments later, Bennallack shot and killed Diaz—who was unarmed—on an apartment complex lawn. This week, the Orange County District Attorney’s office ruled that the shooting was justified.

What's So Funny About Steubenville?

Feminists breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday when two young men in Steubenville, Ohio, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, were found guilty of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl. In a case where social media, texts and video painted a clear-as-day picture of the horrors that happened that night, anything other than a guilty verdict was unthinkable.

But the trial outcome doesn’t change the fact that these two men, along with a party of onlookers, didn’t think anything was wrong—or even out of the ordinary—about sexually violating someone. And as the media and public response to the trial demonstrated, it’s not just the rapists who believe penetrating an unconscious girl is little more than teenage party hijinks. The truth is that for all of our cultural bluster surrounding rape—how awful it is, how it must be stopped—we’re still a country that treats sexual assault as a joke.

Bradley Manning Tried to Warn Us About the Crisis In Iraq. Will We Listen to Him Now?

In 2010, while stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Pfc. Bradley Manning decided to approach a superior officer in his chain of command to voice his concern about something he had stumbled upon in his capacity as an intelligence analyst. His unit had been helping Iraqi federal police identify suspects for detention and discovered that fifteen men had been arrested for producing “anti-Iraqi literature." After having a high-resolution photo of the “literature” translated into English, Manning discovered that the writing was hardly criminal; it was a "scholarly critique" of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But his superior officer did not want to hear about it. Manning knew if he continued to assist the police in identifying political opponents, innocent people would be jailed, likely tortured, and “not seen again for a very long time, if ever,” as he told a military courtroom in Fort Meade, MD on February 28. Hoping to expose what was happening ahead of the Iraq parliamentary election, on March 7, 2010, Manning shared the information with WikiLeaks.

Ten Years Later, NPR Still Lets War Hawks Make Pathetic Excuses

The war hawks are holding their breath: If they can just get through this week—the tenth anniversary of when they lied us into invading Iraq—without answering any “unreasonable” questions, they’ll be home free. And much of the press, in a small reprise of the obsequiousness that allowed the war in the first place, is proving them right.

We can now add a couple of NPR hosts to the list of journalists reluctant to afflict the comfortable. Renee Montagne’s interview of Richard ("the Prince of Darkness”) Perle on Wednesday’s Morning Edition and Jacki Lyden’s talk with Stephen (“Yellowcake”) Hadley on Sunday’s All Things Considered were not terrible, exactly. They each asked questions that expressed skepticism about the war’s justification. But they also repeated the media’s failings in the run-up to the war, especially an unwillingness to contradict authorities on their “facts” while providing a platform for a pro-war spin-job.

Louisiana Attorney General Says Angola 3 "Have Never Been Held in Solitary Confinement"

James "Buddy" Caldwell, attorney general of the state of Louisiana, has released a statement saying unequivocally that Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, the two still-imprisoned members of the Angola 3, "have never been held in solitary confinement while in the Louisiana penal system."

In fact, Wallace, now 71, and Woodfox, 66, have been in solitary for nearly 41 years, quite possibly longer than any other human beings on the planet. They were placed in solitary following the 1972 killing of a young corrections officer at Angola, and except for a few brief periods, they have remained in isolation ever since.

Trans-border nuclear waste shipment meeting increased resistance

OTTAWA — Activists are mobilizing on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border to block a proposed plan to secretly transport truckloads of intensely radioactive liquid waste through Eastern Ontario to South Carolina.

“Security is important, but we need to have a good discussion about whether or not this is a good idea,” said John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

“Over the years, the nuclear industry has not always been correct or totally honest about what the options are. There needs to be some outside scrutiny of this.”

Peter Penashue: The minister we never knew

When I met Peter Penashue, in 1989, he was a cold-eyed radical, a native rabble-rouser who would make the Idle No More protesters look like a bunch of poseurs.

Penashue was trying to shut down the low-level flying training flights out of CFB Goose Bay, which enraged the non-native townspeople who depended on the base for their employment.

Tory MPs urged to fish for positive feedback despite fresh cuts

The Conservative government is bracing for criticism of budget cuts that again hit hard at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, according to a leaked internal email.

The "talking points" message sent Friday to the 21 B.C. MPs in the federal Conservative caucus gave West Coast MPs some advice if they are talking to "constituents who may be concerned" about the $33-million-ayear Fisheries Department cuts starting in 2015-16.

What Jim Flaherty didn’t want you to know

The convention of budget secrecy has governed the release of budgets for many decades, on the principle that sensitive tax or regulatory changes that might move markets ought to be announced to everyone at the same time. Hence the “lockup,” in which hundreds of reporters are herded into drafty conference halls hours ahead of the budget speech and imprisoned there, incommunicado, lest they call their brokers with hot tips on, say, the doubling of veterans’ funeral allowances.

Under this government the convention of budget secrecy has evolved somewhat. Nowadays, most of what’s in the budget has been leaked well in advance. It’s only after the budget has been released that the secrecy begins.

How Jim Flaherty resignation could save the Conservatives

OTTAWA — If this is actually Jim Flaherty’s final budget as finance minister, his real lasting legacy might well have nothing to do with the nation’s balance sheet. Instead, his (still imagined) departure could hand the prime minister a splendid opportunity to reshape the cabinet, energize the government’s mid-term program and return a measure of balance to the unacknowledged race to succeed Stephen Harper as Conservative leader.

This is all contingent on promoting a prospective successor not named Jason Kenney to the coveted finance portfolio – someone with the chops to do the job and the potential to keep the Conservatives competitive in the post-Harper era. Whenever that might begin.

Is EI in the Harpersphere reform or destruction?

The triumphal Harper plan — trash the public sector and all its (Liberal) works, and let the oilsands economy pick up the slack while transforming Canada into a right-wing energy superpower — is on the skids. The polls are reflecting it in the prime minister’s and his party’s slipping public confidence ratings. The Harper showpiece, the budget, is full of non-specifics and shoes-yet-to-drop and merely raises new questions. The real point now, I suggest, is how much damage is yet to be done by this government before its number is finally up in a couple of years.

Canadian voters may be experiencing seven-year itch with Tories

MONTRÉAL—Seven years after Pierre Trudeau’s arrival in power in 1968, the clouds that heralded the 1979 Liberal defeat were fast accumulating on his government’s horizon.

At the same juncture in his tenure Brian Mulroney was just two years away from watching voters sweep his Tory party out of office in the 1993 election.

As for Jean Chrétien, he had barely celebrated his seventh anniversary in power with a third majority victory in 2000 when he became embroiled in the Liberal civil war that would poison the well of his party for years to come.

The Disaster that Made the Modern World

While we are undoubtedly changing climate, climate is changing us.

The warming of the last 50 or 60 years is likely the root cause of the low-grade civil wars that have been flaring up in the belt just south of the Sahara, from northern Nigeria to South Sudan and the Horn of Africa. Australia is adapting to a new regime of droughts and bushfires followed by rains and floods. Dengue fever is returning to Florida.

Idling No More

Several years ago, sitting in my office in Vancouver where I was heading up Ecotrust Canada -- a West Coast conservation and community development organization -- I received a call from Alberta from a senior communications executive at Shell Canada.

Shell, at the time, was at the early stages of a coal-bed methane exploration program in northern British Columbia, specifically in Tahltan country, in and around Iskut. The natives, it seems, were restless. Shell had provincial permits to develop lands in a region called the Klappan, adjacent to the Spatsizi wilderness area and had been trying to get trucks and drill rigs in place to pursue its legal authority to assay the abundant gas reserves there. It had sunk three test wells, but that's as far as it got.

Is Toronto’s condo boom causing too much density?

Predrag Kalinic only partly jokes when he says that every time he gets stuck on the Gardiner Expressway, he sees condo dwellers “just three metres away, eating, drinking and making love” in their suites.

“I don’t know what those people were thinking buying those condos,” the independent cabbie says, adding that tourists laugh when they peer into their glass cubbies.

· How close is too close to the Gardiner??

Jim Flaherty’s dirty little job-training secret

The federal government says it is serious about job-training. It is not.

If it were, it would not make it so easy for business to hire cheap workers from abroad.

This is the dirty little secret about job-training in Canada. Employers don’t train workers because most don’t have to.

Federal Budget 2013: Quebec furious over support for Ontario manufacturing industry

OTTAWA—Ontario is not getting a better deal from Ottawa’s new budget than Quebec, federal officials informed the Quebec government after the budget set off a round of bickering and provincial jealousy.

Quebec “should put old quarrels aside” and “stick to the facts,” Transport Minister Denis Lebel said Friday.

Lebel stepped in after Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ government reacted furiously to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget. Quebec Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau called it “economic sabotage” and Federal-Provincial Minister Alexandre Cloutier suggested Ottawa had eliminated a tax credit much used in Quebec and instead shifted money to Ontario’s manufacturers.

High suspension rates for black students in TDSB need to change, experts say

Toronto public board statistics showing that black students were suspended at triple the rate of white students confirms what educators have known — and it’s time to bring about change, experts say.

“It is good to have the data out in the public,” says Jeff Kugler, executive director of the Centre for Urban Schooling, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

One-year anniversary demo fizzles

MONTREAL —  Police sent a clear message to the city's protesting students Friday evening by cracking down on their demonstration before it could even begin.

About 200 people were surrounded by riot cops, detained and issued $634 fines just moments after defying a police order instructing the crowd not to march throughout downtown Montreal.

It was a stark contrast to the student demonstrations that dominated the cityscape last spring — when violent clashes between protesters and police were a regular occurrence in Montreal.

Federal minister promoting budget challenged over EI reforms

Two federal cabinet ministers were in New Brunswick on Friday to help sell the Harper government's new budget, but not everyone was buying.

Bernard Valcourt, the MP for Madawaska-Restigouche and minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, was promoting the budget to the Moncton Chamber of Commerce, but was challenged afterward by a small group of people over recent Employment Insurance reforms.

NRA Robocalls In Newtown Spark Outrage From Local Gun Control Group

WASHINGTON -- The National Rifle Association came under fire late Thursday from members of a gun-control advocacy group in Newtown, Conn., after reports surfaced of Newtown residents receiving robocalls and pro-gun postcards from the NRA.

The advocacy group, the Newtown Action Alliance, posted a Facebook message Thursday about the calls, prompting responses from people who said they'd received communications from the NRA and were upset by them.

One Nation Under The Gun: Thousands Of Gun Deaths Since Newtown

On the morning of his murder, Feb. 11, Devin Aryal, 9, dressed to the ticking of his race car clock. His collection of stuffed animals, won from those arcade claw games, stared back at him from their perch on his top bunk.

Devin felt he had outgrown the cutesy animal prints that had adorned the walls of his Oakdale, Minn., bedroom. He was in fourth grade now, after all. Without telling anyone, he had yanked the prints off his walls one by one. He had yet to decide how to fill up the blank spaces.

RBC chief Gord Nixon’s pay tops Dimon as gap with U.S. vanishes

Royal Bank of Canada Chief Executive Officer Gordon Nixon was paid more than his counterparts at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. as record earnings last year helped most Canadian bank CEOs narrow the pay gap with the U.S.

Nixon was awarded C$12.6 million ($12.3 million) in salary, stock and bonuses for fiscal 2012, his biggest pay raise since 2006, making him the highest-paid bank CEO in Canada. Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan, 53, was awarded $12 million, while Jamie Dimon, 57, at JPMorgan saw his pay halved to $11.5 million. Citigroup paid its new CEO, 52-year-old Michael Corbat, $11.5 million.

Andrew Bacevich Attacks Iraq War Architect Paul Wolfowitz In Open Letter

A leading critic of American military expansionism has written a critical open letter to Paul Wolfowitz on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War.

Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate and Vietnam war veteran, is a foreign policy academic who has long argued against American global hegemony. In the wake of the Cold War, Bacevich contends, Americans were emboldened to believe in the supremacy of their worldview. "History had rendered a verdict: The future belonged to America and to those who embraced the American way," Bacevich wrote in a 2011 Washington Post op-ed.

Cecile Richards: 'It's Not Safe To Be A Woman' In Some States

U.S. states may have passed a flood of abortion restrictions over the past two years, but North Dakota is showing "a whole new level of extremism" right now, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said on Friday.

In just two months, North Dakota lawmakers have voted for a 20-week ban on abortions, a 6-week ban on abortions and a ban on abortions in cases of genetic disorders, and on Friday, the state House of Representatives voted to send to the voters a fetal personhood amendment, which would ban abortion entirely. Richards said she is shocked that the state went this far after voters nationwide seemed to reject anti-abortion policy in the 2012 elections.

Private sector parasites

You don’t have to be a Tea Party conservative to believe that the economy is threatened when there are too many “takers” and not enough “makers.” The “takers” who threaten the dynamism and fairness of industrial capitalism the most in the 21st century are not the welfare-dependent poor — the villains of Tea Party propaganda — but the rent-extracting, unproductive rich.

The term “rent” in this context refers to more than payments to your landlords. As Mike Konczal and many others have argued, profits should be distinguished from rents. “Profits” from the sale of goods or services in a free market are different from “rents” extracted from the public by monopolists in various kinds. Unlike profits, rents tend to be based on recurrent fees rather than sales to ever-changing consumers. While productive capitalists — “industrialists,” to use the old-fashioned term — need to be active and entrepreneurial in order to keep ahead of the competition, “rentiers” (the term for people whose income comes from rents, rather than profits) can enjoy a perpetual stream of income even if they are completely passive.

How rich “moochers” hurt America

In a previous column detailing the true “makers” and “takers” in America, I argued that the greatest threat to American capitalism today comes not from public taxation supporting public programs, but from “private taxation” in the form of excessive private “rents” that subsidize private sector parasites or “rentiers” (like landlords, lenders and providers of health insurance and healthcare). These excessive private taxes or rents are costs on productive enterprise that can be as crippling as excessive public taxation.

Obama Withdraws Caitlin Halligan's Nomination To D.C. Circuit Court

WASHINGTON -- The White House officially withdrew President Barack Obama's nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A statement issued on Friday comes after repeated attempts to confirm the former New York state solicitor general were filibustered by Senate Republicans.

In a statement, Obama said he was "deeply disappointed" that a minority of senators had blocked Halligan's nomination for almost two and a half years, and called the vacancies on what is arguably the country's second-highest federal court "unacceptable."

Enbridge North Dakota Pipeline Plan Rejected By U.S. Energy Regulator

CALGARY - Enbridge Inc.'s plans to pipe more oil out of North Dakota were handed a setback Friday, as the U.S. energy regulator rejected its plan to recover the costs of a proposed $2.5 billion project from customers.

Enbridge (TSX:ENB) had argued to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the petition would give the company the certainty it needed to allow the Sandpiper project to go forward.

Little cause for workers to celebrate in federal budget

As expected, the federal Conservative government's budget for 2014-15, released Thursday, provided little in the way of new spending to improve employment in Canada. There is a few million here, a few million there for job training programs, but overall it is an austerity budget with very little direct job creation.

 The government trumpeted its plans to increase infrastructure spending -- generally associated with strong short-term job creation -- by $70 billion over the next decade. But most of that spending is planned for later rather than sooner, and according to economist David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, infrastructure transfers to cities will actually see a $1 billion cut in 2014-15 – from $1.25 billion to only $210 million.

Civil liberties watchdog files formal complaint against CBSA's use of Reality TV

Opposition to the Canada Border Services Agency's (CBSA) partnership with a Reality TV series, 'Border Security: Canada's Front Line,' continues to grow in the wake of last week's raids targeting migrant workers at construction sites in the Lower Mainland.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association issued the following statement at a press conference in Vancouver Thursday.

This is how the PBO ends, not with a bang…

Perhaps the question about the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s mandate has been put in the wrong kind of context.

The focus of the hearings on Thursday and Friday in Ottawa was, largely, the PBO’s mandate as outlined in the Parliament of Canada Act, and whether the judge present could offer an opinion on it. The PBO, seeking a clarification on its mandate, thinks the answer is yes. The attorney general and both Speakers tend to think the answer is no, and that the PBO’s mandate is something that ought to be defined exclusively by Parliament.

Why I'm Opposing Canada's Economic (In)Action Plan

Yesterday Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduced his government's budget plan for Canada. My Liberal colleagues have rightly renamed it Canada's Economic (In)Action Plan. It is in reality a political smoke screen, replete with gimmicks designed to convince Canadians that the Conservatives, somehow, are in fact balancing the books. This could not be further from the truth.

We are facing many challenges, with high youth unemployment, hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs placing a serious strain on economic growth. In yesterday's budget there was no new or increased funding for skills training, infrastructure projects or Aboriginal education, an area that is particularly important for Canada's future prosperity.

CIDA's Death Leaves a Foreign Aid Skeleton

The young agency didn't even make it into its 20s. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) burst into public notice with the announcement of its first minister in 1995. Sadly, with yesterday's Conservative budget, CIDA suffered a premature passing.

Prior to that moment in 1995, Canada's foreign aid and development projects and policies were worked out and monitored under the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Yet under Brian Mulroney's government, and in partnership with Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Clark, government commitment to the world's needy took on a far more prominent role and Clark made it a matter of principle to ensure that the world understood that this country took its role in foreign aid seriously.

Canada Skills Training Program: Quebec Wants Out Of Federal Initiative

QUEBEC - The Quebec government has formally requested to be excluded from the new federal skills-training program.

The province's pro-independence government is particularly livid about the budget, and has held two news conferences 18 hours apart in order to blast it.

CIDA Shutdown: Harper Transition Team Wanted Merger With Foreign Affairs In 2006

OTTAWA - The seeds of the Canadian International Development Agency's demise were sown in the days before Stephen Harper was sworn in as prime minister.

After the Conservatives won power in January 2006, the veteran diplomat and public servant leading Harper's transition team recommended the merger of CIDA with Foreign Affairs, but he was slapped down by a hostile bureaucracy that included the Privy Council Office.

Canada-U.S. Price Gap: Budget's Tariff Changes Could Mean Higher Prices For Consumers

OTTAWA - Canadians will be paying hundreds of millions of dollars more on everything from food to bicycles because of a little-noticed change in tariffs Ottawa places on imports from emerging nations like China and India, say analysts.

The change comes from a notice in Thursday's federal budget that starting in 2015, Canada is "graduating" 72 countries previously classified as developing to full developed status for the purpose of tariffs.

FAA To Close 149 Air Traffic Towers Because Of Budget Cuts

CHICAGO — Under orders to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget, the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday released a final list of 149 air traffic control towers that it will close at small airports around the country starting early next month.

The closures will not force any of those airports to shut down, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. Those procedures are familiar to all pilots.

Lincoln Journal, West Virginia Paper, Prints Anonymous Rant Claiming Gays, Minorities Be Put To Death

A West Virginia paper has found itself in the midst of controversy after printing an anonymous, hate-filled rant about minorities and gays.

The Lincoln Journal, a small paper serving the Lincoln County area of southern West Virginia, printed the rant Wednesday on its "Gripes and Gratitudes" section.