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.]

Friday, April 08, 2016

Heads roll in European banks, protests in Paris after Panama Papers leak

The publication of the Panama Papers by a coalition of media outlets including the Toronto Star, investigating offshore financial dealings by the rich and famous continued to cause ripples around the world Thursday.

So far, the scandal has brought down the leader of Iceland and raised questions about the dealings of the president of Ukraine, senior Chinese politicians, famous actors, athletes and the circle of friends of Russian Vladimir Putin, who some allege has profited indirectly from such accounts.

Panama Papers expose offshore dealings of the rich and famous

There is nothing illegal about moving money offshore.

Buying and selling U.S. dollars decades ago was much easier for banks if the trades were done offshore, for instance. And if you lived where a corrupt or predatory government might seize your assets, then moving your wealth offshore could protect it.

But the secrecy surrounding the offshore industry has become increasingly unpalatable for world leaders like Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama, who have called for more transparency.

Toronto proposal would legalize Uber, loosen taxi rules

Long-awaited draft regulations dramatically loosen the rules governing Toronto’s taxi industry and create a separate licensing category to regulate companies such as Uber, according to a staff report released Thursday.

The proposed regulations would create a new licensing regime for Private Transportations Companies (PTCs), that will permit and regulate private vehicles to offer transportation services, such as UberX, the report says.

Putin Says Panama Papers Leaks Are Attempt To Destabilize Russia

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said a friend of his named in the “Panama Papers” leaks had done nothing wrong and spent the money he earned from business on buying expensive musical instruments which he was donating to public institutions.

Media reports based on the leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm alleged that Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and friend of Putin, had quietly built up a sprawling business empire involved in offshore transactions that might be linked to the Russian leader.

Super PAC Backer Says Big Money Entitles Donors to Campaign “Oversight”

Al Hoffman, a Florida real estate developer and ambassador to Portugal during the George W. Bush administration, gave over a million dollars in 2015 to Right to Rise, the Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s Titanic-like presidential campaign.

Rather than acknowledging that he feels silly, however, Hoffman is trying to make himself sound noble. And in doing so he is revealing more than he probably intended.

The US Is One of the Top Executioners in the World

The global death penalty rate is skyrocketing. According to the latest tallies, published today by Amnesty International, at least 1,634 people were put to death last year, a 54 percent increase from the previous year. That's the highest number of recorded executions in more than a quarter century, and it's not even counting deaths in China, the world's top executioner, where death penalty data is treated as a state secret.

The Rise of the Autocrats

Across the world, nations are seeking out leaders who promise strength. What explains the sudden resurgence of the autocrats, 25 years after the end of the Cold War appeared to have heralded the final triumph of liberal democracy?

The answer unquestionably lies in the specific economic and political transformations that the world has undergone since. The autocrats have risen again in response to the very specific anxieties and displacements born of an increasingly globalized and digitalized world economy.

The Leaked ‘Panama Papers’ Expose The Dirty Dealings Behind Syria’s War

Among the international figures named in the “Panama Papers,” the trove of more than 11 million leaked financial and legal documents made public over the weekend, is the richest man in Syria, Rami Makhlouf.

Makhlouf, 46, is a cousin and close friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He’s also one of the most hated men in the country. His flagrant corruption helped spark Syria’s 2011 uprising, when protesters attacked his businesses and chanted “Rami Makhlouf is robbing us.”

How the United States Became a Prisoner of War and Congress Went MIA

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land—otherwise considered sacrosanct—becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off.

The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote.

From Panama to Hong Kong — and why you can’t afford to live in Vancouver

When the dust settles on the Panama Papers saga, the Canadian angle may not be how much federal and provincial treasuries have been bilked by our own One Percenters, but what an inviting and unquestioning haven this country is for foreigners wishing to hide their wealth.

Two key Canadian government agencies have already warned that this country’s lack of rules, regulations or even basic data-gathering leaves it open to money-laundering and questionable investments. These warnings have come after a belated examination of the vast amounts of money being thrown into the Toronto and Vancouver property markets, primarily — but not exclusively — by wealthy Chinese, many of them closely connected by blood or loyalty to the Communist Party regime in Beijing.

Premier Rejects Political Donation Ban, Says She Represents Everyone

On a day when the NDP opposition introduced a bill to ban corporate and union donations to political parties in British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark said such a ban is unnecessary thanks to election spending limits and because she represents everyone.

"Here's my job," Clark told reporters. "It's to represent the people of British Columbia, and it doesn't matter if they vote for me, it doesn't matter if they donate to my party or they donate to the NDP, and it doesn't matter if they even vote at all.

EU Referendum Leaflet Created To ‘Divert Attention’ From David Cameron’s Tax Affairs, Claims Labour MP

David Cameron has been accused of spending over £9m of taxpayers money on a pro-European Union leaflet in order to divert attention from questions about his tax affairs.

The government yesterday announced it would be delivering a booklet setting out the case for a ‘Remain’ vote in the June referendum to every household in the United Kingdom. The move has angered pro-Brexit campaigners.

China ramps up Panama Papers censorship after leaders' relatives named

Chinese censors have stepped up their censorship of websites, ordering all content related to the Panama Papers to be scrubbed as new revelations emerged of how relatives of some of the country’s top leaders had used secretive offshore companies to store their wealth.

Documents from the leaked Mossack Fonseca database showed the relations of three of the seven members of the Communist party’s elite ruling council, the politburo standing committee, had companies that were clients of the offshore law firm. They included relatives of Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Where does David Cameron’s money come from?

Downing Street has had a torrid week fending off questions about David Cameron’s finances in the wake of the Panama Papers leak. At first, No10 said it was a private affair – a knockback that provoked even further scrutiny of his family’s wealth and how it was earned. The prime minister now says neither he nor his family will benefit from any offshore funds now or in the future. But what of the past? Here, the Guardian sets out how the Camerons made a fortune from inherited wealth and family companies.

Panama Papers reveal offshore secrets of China’s red nobility

The eight members of China’s Communist party elite whose family members used offshore companies are revealed in the Panama Papers.

The documents show the granddaughter of a powerful Chinese leader became the sole shareholder in two British Virgin Islands companies while still a teenager. Jasmine Li had just begun studying at Stanford University in the US when the companies were registered in her name in December 2010. Her grandfather Jia Qinglin was at that time the fourth-ranked politician in China.

Hillary Clinton Fundraiser Hosted by All-Star Cast of Financial Regulators Who Joined Wall Street

As Hillary Clinton questions rival Bernie Sanders over the depth of his financial reform ideas this week, a group of former government officials – once tasked with regulating Wall Street and now working in the financial industry or as Wall Street lobbyists  — are participating in a fundraiser for her in the nation’s capital.

The invitation for the April 6 fundraiser, obtained by Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time, describes a “conversation” with Hillary finance chair Gary Gensler and Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Obama’s Gift to Donald Trump: A Policy of Cracking Down on Journalists and Their Sources

ONE OF THE intellectual gargoyles that has crawled out of Donald Trump’s brain is the idea that we should “open up” libel laws to make it easier to punish the media for negative or unfair stories. Trump also wants top officials to sign nondisclosure agreements, so they never write memoirs that upset the boss. Trump is so disdainful of free speech that he has even vowed to use the Espionage Act to imprison anyone who says or leaks anything to the media that displeases him.

Obama Kills Largest Corporate Attempt Yet To Flee Overseas And Dodge Taxes

The largest-ever corporate merger to skip out on American tax obligations is now kaput.

Drug giant Pfizer is giving up on its corporate marriage to Ireland-based Allergan after an Obama administration policy change designed to prevent U.S. companies from fleeing taxes by moving their mailing address abroad. The $160 billion merger cemented last fall would have produced significant tax savings for Pfizer, at the expense of the American public.

Ohio Election Chief Sued Over Voter Purges

Ohioans who do not vote in three consecutive federal elections automatically have their registrations cancelled. In 2015, that meant that roughly 40,000 people living in Ohio’s largest county — largely low-income and minority voters — were disenfranchised. Over the last five years, roughly two million people have been removed from the rolls.

Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, alleging that the massive purge of Ohio’s voter rolls is illegal and violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), know as the “motor voter law.” Under that law, states can only remove voters from the rolls if they request the removal, die, or move out of state, and the list maintenance program must be nondiscriminatory.

Justice Thomas Thinks America Is Too Democratic. He Has A Shockingly Radical Plan To Fix It.

The problem with American democracy, according to Justice Clarence Thomas, is that state governments don’t have enough power to manipulate it in order to make some people’s votes count more than others. That’s the theory Thomas laid out Monday in an opinion joined by no other justice.

If Thomas’ views had prevailed, the doctrine of one person/one vote, which prevents states from drawing legislative districts with wildly divergent populations, would be eliminated. Many states could potentially return to a system where voters in some areas had 10, 20, 30 or even 40 times as much representation as voters in other parts of the state.

Wisconsin Congressman Admits Voter ID Law Will Help GOP Nominee Win In November

In a moment of extraordinary honesty, a GOP congressman from Wisconsin said a new voter ID law will help the eventual Republican presidential nominee win the state in November.

Rep. Glen Grothman’s prediction, made in response to questions about Tuesday’s primaries in the state, gave credence to critics of voter ID laws who say they are tools used by conservatives to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, many of whom vote for Democrats.

The Ugly Duckling: Denmark’s Anti-Refugee Policies and Europe’s Race to the Bottom

COPENHAGEN — “I love Denmark!,” Hillary Clinton exclaimed during a debate with Bernie Sanders in October.

Denmark — a tiny welfare state known for its liberal values — was, according to Sanders, a model to be emulated or at least applauded.

Uefa offices raided by police after Gianni Infantino named in Panama Papers

Swiss police have raided Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon to seize details of a contract signed by the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, following the Panama Papers leak.

The files, seen by the Guardian, show that Infantino – formerly director of legal services at Uefa – co-signed a television rights contract in 2006 with two businessmen who have since been caught up in football’s corruption scandal. Uefa said it is cooperating fully with the Swiss police.

Monsanto's Willing Executioners

Is Monsanto "evil"?

Just pop that question into Google and you'll find out quickly why Monsanto ranks near the top of every "most hated company" list. And ask any news editor ... the name "Monsanto" is guaranteed clickbait that reels in readers by the bushel.

It's probably why you are reading this right now.

Panama Papers Revelation of Assad Family’s Stolen Wealth Helps Explain the Syrian Revolution

The revelation in the leaked Panama Papers that Mossack Fonseca and Swiss bank HSBC serviced the companies of corrupt Syrian billionaire Rami Makhlouf (first cousin of dictator Bashar al-Assad) long after the US imposed sanctions on him is a reminder of why Syrians revolted against the regime in 2011 in the first place.  Makhlouf was said to be worth $5 billion (likely more than Donald Trump) before the revolution, and to have dominated 60% of Syria’s economy.  Below is something I wrote about the political economy of Syria’s revolution, which I never published– but it makes even more sense, I think, in view of the Panama Papers.

Liberal budget makes it tougher to scrutinize fate of public purse: PBO

The federal budget watchdog says the Liberal government's inaugural budget has made it more difficult for people to scrutinize public finances.

The parliamentary budget office says in a new report that last month's budget failed to separate purely discretionary decisions, like new measures and changes in planning assumptions, from shifts in economic conditions, as past governments did.

Panama Papers only a glimpse into 'astonishing' wealth stashed offshore

The provocative revelations coming out of the so-called Panama Papers are just a glimpse into the murky global network that's keeping "absolutely astonishing" amounts of money out of public coffers.

The 11.5 million files taken from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca show how the financial elite exploit a secretive system to manoeuvre wealth anonymously and ensure the taxman doesn't take his cut.

G20 class-action lawsuits against Toronto police over 'kettling' get go-ahead

Two class actions over alleged civil rights abuses and "kettling" during the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto were given the go-ahead by the Ontario Court of Appeal Wednesday.

The class actions involve over 1,000 people. The lawsuit alleges people were arrested in large groups and held in "inhumane conditions" at a detention centre located inside an unused film studio on Eastern Avenue.

The migrant crisis is a test of character — and Europe is flunking it

With almost five million of its citizens now living beyond its borders, Syria has become a diaspora nation. Facing up to this fact may be the first step in helping these migrants.

Since the beginning of 2015, more than one million migrants have crossed the Aegean Sea to reach Greek shores, with a great many more expected to do the same. There are already 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, only 300,000 of them confined to refugee camps. Most of these people have no intention of spending the rest of their lives in Turkey.

Harper Signed Free Trade Deal With Panama Despite Tax Haven Concerns

The release of the Panama Papers, linking numerous world leaders and high-profile figures to offshore accounts, may be a good time to remind readers that Canada has a free trade deal with Panama.

Critics of the agreement have said it could make it harder for the government to investigate and prosecute tax evasion involving offshore accounts held in the country.

The Harper government reached the deal with its Panamanian counterparts in 2009, agreeing to eliminate tariffs on 99 per cent of trade between Canada and Panama eventually, including trade in financial services.

Almost Half Of World Heritage Sites Are Threatened, Report Finds

Nearly half of the planet’s world heritage sites are threatened by development, despite international protections, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Wildlife Fund.

The 229 heritage sites in 96 countries include Egypt’s pyramids, Florida’s Everglades National Park and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The WWF report found that 114 of these sites are under threat from oil and gas development, illegal logging, overfishing or other industrial activities.

Prisoners in Multiple States Call for Strikes to Protest Forced Labor

PRISON INMATES around the country have called for a series of strikes against forced labor, demanding reforms of parole systems and prison policies, as well as more humane living conditions, a reduced use of solitary confinement, and better health care.

Inmates at up to five Texas prisons pledged to refuse to leave their cells today. The strike’s organizers remain anonymous but have circulated fliers listing a series of grievances and demands, and a letter articulating the reasons for the strike. The Texas strikers’ demands range from the specific, such as a “good-time” credit toward sentence reduction and an end to $100 medical co-pays, to the systemic, namely a drastic downsizing of the state’s incarcerated population.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Resigns, First Casualty of #PanamaPapers

ICELAND’S PRIME MINISTER, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, resigned on Tuesday, becoming the first leader to be forced from office over the secret financial dealings revealed by the Panama Papers leak.

The prime minister, who was elected to parliament as a reformer in 2009, promising transparency following the ruinous collapse of three Icelandic banks the year before, failed to disclose that his family secretly held bonds worth millions of dollars in the same banks, through a shell company in the British Virgin Islands.

‘Panama Papers’ Law Firm Helped CIA Operatives, Gun-Runners Set Up Shell Companies

After journalists started naming names in the massive document dump known as the Panama Papers, which details the shadow networks of shell companies and tax havens used by the super-rich, many wondered why Americans went unmentioned in the international scandal. Now, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has implicated the CIA as one of the players of this secret — if technically legal — game of hiding money from tax collectors.

Utah Congressman Wants To Sell America’s 4th Most Popular Wildlife Refuge To Private Developers

A new bill to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is drawing fire over a controversial provision that would enable the sale and private development of thousands of acres in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.

The provision, authored by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), would give 3,100 acres of the popular wildlife refuge to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to sell off to private interests. Right now, the wildlife refuge is protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but in the hands of private interests, it could end up being developed — a scenario that could threaten the species that call the refuge home.

It’s Now Legal In Mississippi To Discriminate Against Unmarried Couples That Have Sex

Mississippi is now in competition with North Carolina for having the most anti-LGBT law on the books. Tuesday morning, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed HB 1523 into law, endorsing a veritable catalog of discrimination against LGBT people and even those who have sex before marriage.

“This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws,” Bryant claimed in a statement. “The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived.”

Edward Snowden Ridicules David Cameron For Defending ‘Private’ Matter Of Panama Papers Leak

The man hailed by some as one of personal privacy’s greatest defenders has expressed surprise at a statement made by David Cameron about the Panama Papers leaked yesterday.

Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower who revealed numerous covert global surveillance programs, was shocked by the PM’s insistence that his father’s implication in the list of high-profile tax avoiders was “a private matter”.

What You Need To Know About The Panama Papers Leak

Several world leaders are under fire after a consortium of journalists on Sunday revealed their ties to a Panamanian law firm that helped some of the world’s richest and most powerful people conceal their wealth through tax havens and offshore companies.

The revelations are based on the “Panama Papers,” 11.5 million leaked documents tied to the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Premier's Press Secretary Leaves Job, Next Month Registers to Lobby Her

Less than a month after working his last day as Premier Christy Clark's press secretary, Sam Oliphant named Clark as one of two cabinet members he intended to lobby on behalf of a Toronto-based healthcare app developer.

Oliphant filed with the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists for Think Research from March 23 to Jan. 1, 2017, to help Think "get their products used by the B.C. government." Health Minister Terry Lake is the other target contact.

Pay for Play Politics in BC Must Stop

"There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can't remember what the second one is." -- U.S. Republican Senator Mark Hanna, 1896

Secret dinners where corporate executives and lobbyists can pay $10,000 each for a private meal with Premier Christy Clark are simply wrong.

Caregivers are needed more than ever, but burning out

Debbie Berry, a 60-year-old retail worker, was forced to go on social assistance in order to stay at home with her elderly father, who has liver cancer, dementia and mobility challenges.

Lyndon Blackbird, a 50-year-old business analyst, put his career on hold to provide round-the-clock care to his wife, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Marie Henein: Not a feminist, not a surprise

Marie Henein, the now-famous lawyer who defended sexual predator, Jian Ghomeshi, in his recent sexual assault trial, would like us to believe she chose the most ethical route towards winning the case.

On CBC's The National, Henein told Peter Mansbridge that justice was "absolutely" served in this case, and that "justice does not mean that you are guaranteed the result that you want," rather, it means getting a "fair trial." This may well be true, based on the way in which the justice system is currently set up, but what is "fair" and what is not is a matter of perspective. Was it "fair" to bring up Ghomeshi's victims' behaviour prior to and following his abuse? I'd argue that it was not, seeing as it was his abusive behaviour that was on trial, not his victims' reactions to said behaviour. But that is merely my opinion, as a woman and as a feminist -- one who knows full-well that a woman's behaviour towards an abusive man rarely makes much rational sense and has absolutely nothing to do with his choice to abuse women. Henein and the justice system clearly disagree with me on that one.

Everyone Is Freaking Out About the Panama Papers—But the Biggest Fallout Is Yet to Come

This is from a memo by one of the partners of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based outfit that specializes in setting up offshore accounts and shell corporations:

    Ninety-five per cent of our work coincidentally consists in selling vehicles to avoid taxes.

Justice Ginsburg Just Shut Down One Of America’s Most Notorious White Rights Activists

Edward Blum is the godfather of white rights litigation in the Supreme Court. He spearheaded the litigation in Shelby County v. Holder, which convinced five conservative justices to strike down much of the Voting Rights Act. And he played a similar role in a major challenge to affirmative action currently pending before the Supreme Court. As I have previously noted, “Blum has probably done more than anyone who does not sit on the Supreme Court to dismantle America’s civil rights laws.”

How offshore banking is costing Canada billions of dollars a year

The hidden identities of 350 Canadians with offshore tax haven investments have been revealed in the private database of one of the world’s leading shell company registration firms, according to a Toronto Star analysis of a massive leak obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Obscured by figurehead directors, untraceable money transfers and anonymous company ownerships, these Canadians paid for the secrecy promised by Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm renowned internationally for establishing shell companies.

Food Bank Society's Two-Tier Membership Shuns Clients, Critics Say

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society is facing criticism over a rule change made last year barring anyone who uses the service from full voting membership.

The membership rules undermine the dignity of people who use the service, said member Jim Spencley, who has used the food bank services intermittently over the last three years.

"We can get their charity but we can't contribute to the process," he said. "I find that offensive."

Dion’s blunders undermine Trudeau’s claims that Canada is back on international stage

Not much that Justin Trudeau has done since winning government has worked out badly, but appointing Stephane Dion as his foreign minister is threatening to become the rookie prime minister’s first major clunker.

Dion’s most recent blunder was an ill-considered Tweet questioning the appointment of respected Canadian professor Michael Lynk as the UN’s new Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian Territories.

Fighting Israeli Occupying Forces Is “Terrorism.” Boycotting Is “Anti-Semitism.” What’s Allowed?

THAT “TERRORISM” IS a malleable term of propaganda, with no fixed meaning or consistent application, is now quite well-established. Still, its recent application to a spate of violence targeting Israel’s occupying soldiers in the West Bank is so manipulative and extreme that it’s well worth highlighting.

How the Trump Campaign Spread a Dirty Meme About Protesters Paid by Clinton, Sanders, and Soros

THREE WEEKS AGO, when Donald Trump called off a rally in Chicago because hundreds of protesters managed to crash the party, a more introspective candidate might have asked himself what he had done to inspire such loathing.

Instead, Trump seized on a more comforting explanation: The young people who refused to let him speak must have been dispatched by his rival insurgent, Bernie Sanders.