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.]

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Really Happens When You Cut Taxes On Oil Companies

Tax cuts are often spoken of as an unalloyed good in American politics. But the state of Alaska is learning the hard way those cuts — especially when they are for taxes on oil companies — don’t always deliver as promised.
Alaska is the only state with neither a state income tax nor a state sales tax. For revenue, it relies entirely on federal funding and various taxes on oil production in the state. Back in 2013, the oil taxes were altered by legislation passed under former Governor Sean Parnell (R). The logic of the bill — which flattened the tax rate, thus cutting the tax burden for high-dollar oil profits and raising it for low-dollar profits — was that it would spur renewed oil industry activity in the state. But that expected economic ferment has not materialized. And now, as the price of oil drops lower and lower, Alaska’s state budget is falling well into the red.

Police: Chokehold Victim Eric Garner Complicit In Own Death

NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, "I can't breathe," it means he could breathe.

Rank-and-file New York City police officers and their supporters have been making such arguments even before a grand jury decided against charges in Garner's death, saying the possibility that he contributed to his own demise has been drowned out in the furor over race and law enforcement.

Tom Harkin Wants To Take Money From College Students To Pay Reviled Loan Contractors

An outgoing Senate Democrat wants to take federal money from low-income college students to pay student loan contractors, whose tactics toward borrowers have been criticized by consumer advocates, federal regulators and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate education committee and the appropriations subcommittee in charge of federal education expenditures, has proposed taking $303 million from the Pell grant program to increase revenues for some of the nation’s biggest student loan specialists, according to a July 24 version of a 2015 fiscal year spending bill now being negotiated by congressional leaders.

California Drought, High Temperatures Create Worst Conditions In 1,200 Years

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec 5 (Reuters) - A combination of record high temperatures and sparse rainfall during California's three-year drought have produced the worst conditions in 1,200 years, according to a study accepted for publication by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The state has gone through numerous periods of dry weather, with as little or less rainfall as the past few years, but scientists looking at the cumulative effects of temperature, low precipitation and other factors said that it all adds up to the worst conditions in more than a millennium.

Here Are Some of the Ways U.S. Treatment of African-Americans Resembles Apartheid South Africa

From 1949 though the early 1990s, South Africa was ruled by an Afrikaner Apartheid regime that made race the basis for law and politics, and which systematically excluded black Africans from their civil and national rights, empowering white Afrikaners alone.  The social statistics produced by that regime, however, are not so different from those produced by ordinary every day legal and social practices in today’s United States.  Impunity for white policemen who kill Blacks is one commonality between the two societies.  I don’t have the clip to embed yet, but Jon Stewart made this point on his Daily Show on Comedy Central Thursday night.  Here are some numbers to flesh it out.

Perhaps it’s no mystery why PM Harper would pass up on meeting with Kathleen Wynne

A spectre is haunting Canada, a growing crisis that left unaddressed could tear this country apart. The questions it raises go to the heart of our existence together as a nation; the issues it touches are fundamental, yet pregnant with ambiguity.

I speak, of course, of the prime minister’s failure to meet with the premier of Ontario. For, like, a year. As an exclusive front-page investigation by the Toronto Star revealed Friday, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spent more time with Russian President Vladimir Putin this year than Premier Kathleen Wynne.”

Canada sticks to its line on the oil sands at UN climate summit

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq heads to the United Nations climate summit this weekend with no new targets and no commitment to action on Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in the oil sands, but with a pledge to crack down on a little-known chemical that represents a tiny portion of this country’s emissions.

Ms. Aglukkaq will join global environment ministers in Lima next week as negotiators attempt to reach a draft agreement that would commit countries to aggressive action on climate change, and provide poorer countries with assistance to reduce emissions and adapt to the punishing weather conditions of a warming planet.

Osborne is now more extreme than Thatcher, says Ed Balls

George Osborne’s approach to deficit reduction as revealed in this week’s autumn statement will mean the destruction of the post-second world war consensus about the role of the state, the shadow chancellor has said.

In a Guardian interview, Ed Balls promised that Labour would cut the deficit year on year. But he said David Cameron and Osborne had vacated the centre ground of politics and were emerging as more extreme than even Margaret Thatcher. “If, at the end of the next parliament, George Osborne actually got his way and brought spending back down to the level of the 1930s, I don’t think this would be the kind of country any of us would want to live in. I don’t think it is the kind of country I would want my children to grow up in.”

Conservative MP’s private member’s bill could be used against pipeline protesters, critics say

OTTAWA — A private member’s bill backed by the minister of justice taking aim at industrial thieves could be used to punish environmental protesters, lawyers say.

The bill, introduced by Conservative MP Wai Young on Wednesday, would slap harsh penalties on anyone who damages or interferes with “critical infrastructure.”

While Bill C-639 was originally intended to beef up fines for anyone caught stealing wire from power facilities, the language in the legislation goes further. It creates a new Criminal Code offence for anyone who damages, destroys, incapacitates, “obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation” of any critical infrastructure. The mandatory minimum prison terms range from two to 10 years and the fines from $500 to 3,000.

Stop Stephen Harper's Assault on our National Parks

Unlike our current Prime Minister's attack on climate policy and push for every pipeline and tanker in sight, this one is flying under the radar. In fact, Conservative Party talking points make great claims of having expanded the national park system.

The following is from the Conservative Party website:

Since 2006, the Government has taken significant action to protect our natural areas, including taking steps to add more than 160,000 square kilometres to the Canadian federal parks and marine conservation system -- a more than 58 per cent increase...

Veterans Affairs: Managers reaped rewards after cuts

OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs Canada managers made hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for cutting costs as the department shed hundreds of jobs.

In 2011-12, the department paid $343,000 to 60 managers under what appears to be a new program for “Savings/Spending Targets.” No such bonuses were given out in previous years.

Bonuses ranged from $2,376 up to $14,728, and averaged about $5,700 per person, said a departmental response to a question tabled by Sen. Percy Downe of Prince Edward Island.

There's Going To Be A Gated Man-Made Private Island For Calgary's Rich People

Calgary developers have received the green light to build a gated community of 22 mansions on a man-made island in a fake lake.

Hopewell Residential's plan to add a gate to the pending development on its Mahogany Manor Island has been controversial. In 2001, Calgary's city council banned new gated developments, according to the Calgary Sun, picturing a more inclusive future for the city.

On Thursday, Calgary's planning commission rejected that ban and gave Hopewell the go-ahead to add a gate to the first of two planned island neighbourhoods, according to the National Post. City planners had recommended the commission refuse the request for the gate.

CRA Got Few Complaints About Charities' Politics Prior To 2012

OTTAWA — Very few Canadians had complained about the political activities of charities before the Conservative government announced plans to audit more charitable groups, newly released data shows.

In a document tabled in the House of Commons Thursday, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) said it received 20 complaints about the political activities of charities in 2008-2009, 27 complaints in 2009-2010 and 25 complaints in 2010-2011.

Suzanne Legault warns MPs against raising access-to-information user fees

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says she doesn't support increasing user fees for access to information requests, a proposal made by Conservative MPs at a Commons committee this week.

Canada's Access to Information Act allows members of the public to request government information from various departments. There is currently a $5 fee to make a request.

Legault told CBC News that increasing the cost is "not a good idea."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie meets privately with Harper, praises Canada

OTTAWA—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination, met privately with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday and later called for closer ties between Canada and the United States.
Christie breezed through Ottawa with no official advance notice of his visit from the Conservative government but was seen in the hallway outside the House of Commons in the morning with Industry Minister James Moore and a dozen Tory MPs.

Chief constable warns against ‘drift towards police state’

The battle against extremism could lead to a “drift towards a police state” in which officers are turned into “thought police”, one of Britain’s most senior chief constables has warned.

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, said police were being left to decide what is acceptable free speech as the efforts against radicalisation and a severe threat of terrorist attack intensify.

It is politicians, academics and others in civil society who have to define what counts as extremist ideas, he says.

Police Clear Largest Homeless Encampment In America

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Police and social services in Silicon Valley are starting to clear away what likely had been the nation's largest homeless encampment.

Animal control and a construction contractor are also helping dismantle the square-mile site that once was home to more than 200 homeless people, San Jose homelessness response manager Ray Bramson said.

White House Report Says That Native American Education Is In 'State Of Emergency'

The White House on Wednesday released a report outlining the current state of education for Native American students, bleakly declaring that "Native youth -- and Native education -- are in a state of emergency."

The report, titled "2014 Native Youth Report," accompanied an announcement from President Barack Obama that the administration is launching an initiative to increase opportunities for Native American youth, called Generation Indigenous.

Phoenix Police Shoot Unarmed Black Man, Igniting Outcry

PHOENIX (AP) — The deadly shooting of a black, unarmed drug suspect by a white Phoenix police officer who mistook a pill bottle for a gun demonstrates the challenges law enforcement agencies face at a time of unrest over police tactics.

Phoenix police say the officer feared the suspect was armed during their struggle, but some critics say the officer went too far. Despite the department's efforts to be transparent with information, protesters marched Thursday night against the fatal shooting of 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon.

Eric Garner Protests Spread Across The Country; Police Arrest More Than 200 In NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, "I can't breathe," it means he could breathe.

Rank-and-file New York City police officers and their supporters have been making such arguments even before a grand jury decided against charges in Garner's death, saying the possibility that he contributed to his own demise has been drowned out in the furor over race and law enforcement.

Elizabeth Warren Doesn't Like This Treasury Nominee. Here's Why.

Last year, liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren helped doom President Barack Obama's effort to nominate former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve. Now the Democratic senator from Massachusetts is leading the charge to derail another Wall Street-friendly Obama nominee: investment banker Antonio Weiss. Last month, the president tapped Weiss to become the Treasury Department's undersecretary for domestic finance, a position with immense power over big banks. If confirmed, consumer advocates fear, Weiss may not go to bat for average Americans while helping craft banking rules and battling Republican-led efforts to gut financial reform.

Insufficient data, bad planning and so-con overreach help explain Prentice Government's GSA gong show

The spectacular incompetence exhibited by the Prentice Government in its effort to curry favour with social conservatives by scuttling an opposition MLA's private bill to protect gay-straight peer support groups in Alberta's schools is breathtaking, reminiscent of the Redford Government's lowlights.
This is "new management"?
Late yesterday, Premier Jim Prentice tried to press the pause button on the roiling controversy, which had seen prominent members of his own party protesting and threatening to quit, by placing third reading of the government's Bill 10 "on hold, pending further consultation with Albertans."

Canada Revenue Agency Goes After Ailing B.C. Senior For $12K

The Canada Revenue Agency is demanding thousands of dollars from a B.C. senior, who suffers from dementia and Parkinson's disease, for failing to declare a foreign pension on his tax return.

Arne Sorbo, 88, forgot to declare the small Norwegian pension he receives on his 2011 tax return. The CRA discovered the mistake following a reassessment, and slapped him with a fine.

Now the retired Certified General Accountant, who for decades prided himself on getting the numbers just right, says he feels "rotten."

Fantino is the fall guy. The problem is Harper.

In the business of Harper government message control, job one is splashing perfume on the pig.

That’s Stephen Lecce’s new assignment as Julian Fantino’s chief of staff in the besieged Department of Veterans Affairs. Lecce has done some of the PMO’s fancier stick-handling in crafting media lines during the government’s gravest crises — including the Wright/Duffy Affair. This time, he’ll have to channel Karl Rove to get the job done.

Future of Western Canada's Largest ESL Programs Still in Doubt

It's unclear if a decision by the B.C. government to allow public institutions to charge tuition for high school upgrading courses will be enough to save the English as a Second Language programs at Vancouver Community College, Western Canada's largest, which are set to close at the end of this month.

The closure of the programs would affect roughly 2,200 students like Gary Weng, a Taiwanese immigrant currently taking career English at the college. A former marketer, Weng needs another semester of English in order to land a marketing job in his new country.

New Supreme Court judge challenged on conduct as a lawyer in two cases

The newest judge on the Supreme Court of Canada is facing questions about her conduct as a lawyer in two cases. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to drop public hearings in which legislators ask questions of new judges means the opportunity to scrutinize the story of Suzanne Côté of Montreal is at an end.

In a letter signed by more than 350 law students, lawyers and professors from several provinces, Justice Côté is accused of demeaning a Manitoba judge and contributing to her decision to resign from the bench. Separately, she is accused of dragging out a lawsuit, now at 16 years and counting, as part of a legal team representing Imperial Tobacco. Justice Côté, 56, who was sworn in this week, is the first female lawyer appointed to the court straight from private practice.

Taxpayers group calls out human rights commissioner's $760K travel, living expenses

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants to know how David Langtry, the Acting Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, has been allowed to rack up nearly $760,000 in travel and living expenses over the last eight years.

The group says Langtry has been expensing the cost of commuting to Ottawa from his home in Winnipeg since 2006. He's taken 264 flights since he took the job and 80 per cent of those flights were for trips between Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Harper cabinet stricken by arrogance

This week’s Nanos Research poll shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a 12-month high in terms of his popularity with voters. For the first time in a year, he has surpassed Justin Trudeau as Canadians’ preferred choice for prime minister.  Since other polls show that the Conservatives have caught up to the Liberals, it appears that the Conservatives are on the proper trajectory to return to power in 2015.

But all that could change in an instant, and the recent actions of two Conservative cabinet ministers could well provide the impetus for a downward surge in popularity.

Sister of Fired Researcher Losing Faith in Government Probe

The sister of a researcher who committed suicide three months after the British Columbia health ministry fired him said she's unhappy with the progress of a government review into the matter.

"When we first heard that there was to be an independent review we were hopeful," said Linda Kayfish, whose brother Roderick MacIsaac killed himself in 2012. "We have become disheartened," Kayfish said in a prepared statement.

Premier Christy Clark has apologized for the "heavy handed" firings of MacIsaac and others and had said the review was intended to find out what happened. The government announced the review on Oct. 3, initially with a deadline of Oct. 31. The deadline has since been extended to Dec. 19.

Ann Craft's Fracking Nightmare: A Top Lawyer's Startling Counsel

In fall 2013 Brent O'Neil*, a veteran global oil and gas driller, went in search of a lawyer to help his mother, realtor Ann Craft.

For the last two years she's been embroiled with a fight with the province's regulators over two separate incidents as exclusively reported by The Tyee yesterday.

In 2012, a seismic-like event lifted up the deck of his mother's mobile home in central Alberta. It damaged her property and even changed the topography of her land.

Feds Find Shocking, Systemic Brutality, Incompetence In Cleveland Police Department

WASHINGTON -- In recent years, Cleveland police officers have punched a 13-year-old boy who was in handcuffs for shoplifting and shot at an unarmed kidnapping victim who was wearing only his underwear, according to disturbing allegations released Thursday by the Justice Department. The agency's investigation found that officers in Cleveland routinely use unjustifiable force against not only criminals and suspects, but also innocent victims of crimes.

Chokehold Cop Is 'Eagle Scout' Blameless In Eric Garner's Death, NYPD Union President Says

The president of the NYPD’s largest police union said Thursday that the officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal chokehold is an Eagle Scout who shouldn’t be blamed for the death.

Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, did fault one person for the death: Eric Garner.

Wall Street Demands Derivatives Deregulation In Government Shutdown Bill

WASHINGTON -- Wall Street lobbyists are trying to secure taxpayer backing for many derivatives trades as part of budget talks to avert a government shutdown.

According to multiple Democratic sources, banks are pushing hard to include the controversial provision in funding legislation that would keep the government operating after Dec. 11. Top negotiators in the House are taking the derivatives provision seriously, and may include it in the final bill, the sources said.

Tories at war with 'biased BBC'

The Conservatives have accused the BBC of “bias” and “systematic exaggeration” after David Cameron and George Osborne launched an unprecedented attack on the corporation’s coverage of the Autumn Statement.

The row threatens to cause tensions between the Tories and the BBC five months from what is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable general elections in decades.

Premier Foods tells suppliers: Give us money or face losing our business

Premier Foods has been criticised for asking suppliers to hand over money or face losing business with the company.

Premier, which owns some of Britain’s most popular food brands, including Mr Kipling, Oxo and Bisto, has written to its suppliers requesting an “investment payment”.

Firms that do not pay up risk being taken off its approved 1,000-strong supplier list.