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.]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

From Enron to the Panama Papers: How many financial scandals will it take to change the rules?

In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement, after being ignored and marginalized by the mainstream media, received worldwide attention. The movement was initially inspired by anti-austerity and activist groups in Europe. It drew attention to rising inequality, corruption, corporate greed -- and the ongoing incestuous marriage between governments and the financial sectors. The movement came to represent the voice of "the 99%,": the voice of the quiet majority that had seen over the last decade, as its wealth and its purchasing power eroded, one financial crisis after another.

Interview: Gordon Laxer on Big Oil, Rachel Notley and a greener future

When Rachel Notley's NDP came to power last spring in Alberta, Gordon Laxer's book, After the Sands: Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians, on ecological renewal and Canadian petro-politics was already at the publisher. And so, he was given a week to do some major rewriting because he had not foreseen this political earthquake in the making.

A year later on a book touring engagement here in Hamilton, the author figures he got it right in the last minute haste to be current.

Hillary Clinton Defends Welfare Reform

In running to be the Democratic presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders has used the issue of welfare reform against rival Hillary Clinton, a bill he didn’t vote for at the time but for which Clinton helped round up votes while her husband was president.

Now Clinton has spoken out to explain her support of the law at the time and the way she views it in an interview with WNYC.

Will Donald Trump Do to U.S. What He Did for USFL?

Football, that is “American football”, is as American as the spectacle that has become the U.S. Presidential Elections, and Trump has a history with both. The United States Football League, “USFL”, was an aspiring competitor to the establishment NFL (National Football League) in the early 1980’s. The USFL was already making an imprint by being different, from the individualism it inspired with fans in the stands to liberating the game from some rules. It was success compared to most revolutions which are extinguished in the phase from imagination to realization. And, then came Donald Trump...

Why The Oil To Tidewater Argument For Tarsands Pipelines Is Bunk

If you follow mainstream media and you haven’t heard "we need to get our oil to tidewater" ad nauseum, something weird is up.

Be it Natural Resource Minister Carr, Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Notley or pipeline and tarsands industries, it’s a drum beat that’s building in intensity.

Here’s the thing... it’s totally wrong.

Southwest Airlines Kicks Student Off Plane For Speaking Arabic

Southwest Airlines removed a University of California, Berkeley student from a flight after another passenger overheard him speaking Arabic.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old refugee from Iraq, was flying from Los Angeles to Oakland earlier this month when he decided to call his uncle, reported The New York Times. He said he was excited to tell family about an event he’d attended where he got to ask the secretary-general of the United Nations a question.

CRA execs treated to soirees at private club amid KPMG probe

Senior enforcement officials from the Canada Revenue Agency were treated to private receptions at an exclusive Ottawa club, hosted by a small group of influential tax accountants that included personnel from KPMG — even as the firm was facing a CRA probe for running a $130-million tax dodge in the Isle of Man.

The two soirees took place at the posh Rideau Club in 2014 and 2015, at the same time Canada's tax agency was in confidential talks with KPMG over its refusal to hand over the names of its multimillionaire clients who used the offshore scheme.

First they came for the comedians, and I did not speak out….

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

— Martin Niemöller

A look at the Leap Manifesto that is dividing the NDP

If the NDP split over the ousting of Tom Mulcair as party leader wasn't clear enough at last weekend's convention, the fallout from a decision to consider the Leap Manifesto has been cast by some as widening the gap.

The document, a slim five pages with an additional two-page costing document, has become a central point of debate among NDP members and pundits, especially when it comes to its energy recommendations.

Donald Trump Tells RNC: Reform Rules Or Face ‘Rough’ July Convention

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump again warned the GOP that if it doesn’t treat him fairly, it would face consequences at the nominating convention later this summer.

On Saturday, the real estate mogul called on party leaders to reform the way convention delegates are selected or face a “rough July” in Cleveland.

Ed Miliband: Panama Papers show that wealth doesn’t trickle down. It gets stashed

Google “Ed Miliband” and the fourth suggestion offered by the search engine – behind “Ed Miliband brother”, “Ed Miliband beard” and “Ed Miliband bacon sandwich” – is: “what is Ed Miliband doing now?” It’s a good question, though it feels a bit cruel to mention it, as if he’s a forgotten boy band member or a one-time reality TV contestant.

Still, at least it shows people are interested,” I say, and he nods. He doesn’t seem to mind, but then he seems far more at ease and comfortable in his own skin than you’d ever imagine possible after seeing him hounded from news bulletin to news bulletin last year. He poses obediently, and even when the Observer photographer asks him to look “more with it” and, “can you try and be a bit more … suave?” he takes it all in good part, cracking jokes about various things, mostly himself.

David Cameron’s Handling Of Panama Papers Tax Revelations ‘Morally Repugnant’

Nearly half the public believe David Cameron‘s management of his financial affairs has been “morally repugnant”, according to polling.

The Prime Minister took the unprecedented step of publishing details of his tax returns following a slew of negative headlines in the wake of the Panama Papers data leak.

But the move appears to have had limited impact on voter perceptions, with 52% believing Mr Cameron has not been “honest and open” about his finances, the ComRes poll for The Independent and Sunday Mirror found.

On Israel, Bernie Sanders Is Right (and Hillary Clinton Knows It)

The most significant moment of the Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn—and perhaps any presidential debate this season—came when Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton over her refusal to criticize Israel’s excessive use of force against the Palestinians in Gaza. For the first time in memory, a major American political figure insisted publicly that the Jewish state and its leaders are “not always right”—and that in attempting to suppress terrorism, they had killed and injured far too many blameless human beings.

When did stating the obvious become ‘political suicide’?

To judge from the reaction of the Canadian punditariat, the New Democrats’ convention in Edmonton amounted to a collective murder-suicide. Tom Mulcair was ousted (and immediately resurrected as interim leader) and the convention voted to discuss the Leap Manifesto — which everyone took to be political self-immolation.

Reporting of government privacy breaches varies widely

Federal government departments breached the privacy of more than 45,000 Canadians last year but only a small fraction of those breaches were ever reported to Canada’s Privacy Commissioner.

Moreover, the proportion of breaches reported to the Privacy Commissioner’s office varied widely from one department to another. For example, while the Justice Department reported 80 per cent of the breaches it discovered, the agency with the largest number of breaches – the Canada Revenue Agency – only revealed less than one per cent of its 3,868 breaches to Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien’s office.

Trucks Are Getting More Dangerous And Drivers Are Falling Asleep At The Wheel. Thank Congress.

WASHINGTON — Illinois State Trooper Douglas Balder sat in his squad car, its red and blue lights strobing into the frozen night of Jan. 27, 2014. He was about to be set on fire.

Balder had stopped to assist a Chicago-bound big rig that had stalled out in the rightmost lane of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway. A heavy-duty tow truck and a bright yellow Tollway assistance vehicle were also pulled over, attending to the stranded semi.

Barack Obama Never Said Money Wasn’t Corrupting; In Fact, He Said the Opposite

DURING THURSDAY’S DEMOCRATIC debate in Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders asked this question about Hillary Clinton: “Do we really feel confident about a candidate saying that she’s going to bring change in America when she is so dependent on big money interests?”

Clinton’s response was to invoke Barack Obama. “Make no mistake about it, this is not just an attack on me, it’s an attack on President Obama,” she said. “President Obama had a Super PAC when he ran. President Obama took tens of millions of dollars from contributors. And President Obama was not at all influenced when he made the decision to pass and sign Dodd-Frank, the toughest regulations on Wall Street in many a year.”

It’s on: Tensions between Trump and the GOP escalate in public fight

NEW YORK — Tensions between the Republican Party and its own front-runner erupted into a full-blown public battle as top party officials rebuked Donald Trump on Friday for alleging that the GOP primary system was “rigged” against him.

Charitable Plutocracy: Bill Gates, Washington State and the Nuisance of Democracy

Once upon a time, the super-wealthy endowed their tax-exempt charitable foundations and then turned them over to boards of trustees to run. The trustees would spend the earnings of the endowment to pursue a typically grand but wide-open mission written into the foundation's charter -- like The Rockefeller Foundation's 1913 mission "to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world." Today's multi-billionaires are a different species of philanthropist; they keep tight control over their foundations while also operating as major political funders -- think Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, or Walmart heiress Alice Walton. They aim to do good in the world, but each defines "good" idiosyncratically in terms of specific public policies and political goals. They translate their wealth, the work of their foundations, and their celebrity as doers-of-good into influence in the public sphere -- much more influence than most citizens have.

A New Democratic… Pirate Party?

The Canadian scholar Northrop Frye once described the New Democrats as Canada's only truly conservative party, and he may have meant that in the worst possible way.

Ever since its days as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the NDP has essentially accepted the old 19th-century industrial model in which wealth is created by extracting resources and then converting those resources into manufactured goods. The workers accepted that model. They were, in effect, just a group of disgruntled investors, demanding a bigger return on their investment of skill and labour.

Reforms up to council as licensing committee rejects legalizing UberX

The complicated task of how best to simultaneously reform the taxi industry and companies like Uber is now up to council.

On Friday evening, the six-member licensing committee, which has largely defended the traditional taxi industry, voted to scrap all of the staff-recommended changes that would legalize competition from services like UberX after 15 hours of public debate and dozens of speakers stretched over two days.

Panama Papers prompt governments to drop ‘hammer blow’ on tax dodgers

In the tumultuous two weeks since the Panama Papers revealed how the wealthy hide their money in offshore tax havens, governments around the world have sprung into action, launching audits, opening criminal investigations and announcing international collaborations to identify those abusing the tax system and punish those who help them.

As masked police officers in three countries conducted raids on the offices of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm behind the unprecedented leak of offshore financial information, Europe’s five richest countries agreed to work together to deliver “a hammer blow against those that would illegally evade taxes and hide their wealth in the dark corners of the financial system,” said British Finance Minister George Osborne.

Rather than fearing the Leap Manifesto, let's bring on the debate

That silly Leap Manifesto -- giving itself away right in the subtitle, which calls for "a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another." No wonder it provoked fury and outrage.

As my colleague Thomas Walkom pointed out earlier this week, reports of the manifesto's scariness have been greatly exaggerated; its call for a transition from fossil fuels to green energy is solidly based in science and widely accepted.

Clinton and Goldman: Why It Matters

Why is Hillary Clinton refusing to release the transcripts of her Goldman Sachs speeches? After losing eight of the last nine contests to Bernie Sanders, Clinton is trying to reassure voters that she is a reform-minded politician who can be trusted. Yet she has repeatedly refused requests to make public the texts of the three speeches she gave to executives of the Goldman Sachs investment bank in the fall of 2013, for which she was paid a total of $675,000. First she said she would look into it; then she said that she would release the transcripts only if all the other presidential candidates of both parties released the paid speeches they had given. What does she have to hide?

Uber rejects key parts of proposed reforms as debate continues at city hall

As a public debate over regulations for taxis and companies such as Uber stretched into a second day at city hall Friday, it appears no one is satisfied with the proposed changes.

While members of the taxi industry continued to call on councillors who sit on the licensing and standards committee to scrap the staff-recommended reforms before them, Uber representatives quietly registered their own concerns.

UC Davis spent $175,000 to suppress Google search results of pepper-spraying incident

Back in 2011, then-police officer Lt. John Pike and the University of California, Davis came to national attention when Davis was videoed and photographed aggressively pepper-spraying peaceful student protestors. The protests were part of general unrest directed at the University of California’s leadership, which had approved significant pay increase for administrators at the same time it furloughed professors and raised student tuition. Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi also came under fire for her actions both before and after the protest — scrutiny that’s going to resume now that we know UC Davis spent $175,000 attempting to scrub both its own online image and that of its chancellor.

Time Magazine Is Lying To You. Here’s Why.

Time Magazine is lying to you.

The cover of the venerated publication’s newest issue sports a shocking warning with an all-red klaxon cover that shouts: “DEAR READER: You owe $42,998.12.” The article in question, by gold-standard quack and dad-bod analyst James Grant, argues that America’s national debt is so large that our government must stop spending so much money.

Spanish Industry Minister Resigns After Alleged Links To Offshore Deals Emerged In Panama Papers

Spain’s acting Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria said on Friday he was resigning with immediate effect after alleged links to offshore dealings which emerged after he was named in the Panama Papers.

Soria has denied all wrongdoing, but said he was stepping down to limit any damage to the caretaker government, the People’s Party (PP), following revelations of alleged links to an offshore company in the British island of Jersey.

Angela Merkel agrees to prosecution of comedian over Erdoğan poem

The German chancellor has authorised the prosecution of comedian Jan Böhmermann for reading out an offensive poem about the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Angela Merkel insisted her government’s decision did not amount to a verdict on whether the comedian was guilty or not, but should be understood as a reaffirmation of the judiciary’s independence.

Why My Mother Supports Bernie Sanders for President

Hello, Mom.

Hi, Honey. How are you?

Good. I’m at the tracks. I’m going into the city tonight to cover the debate.

Oh, good! That sounds fun.

Oxfam Report Brings the Outrage Home With Exposé on U.S. Companies’ Offshore Adventures

After reviewing the material released in the recently published Panama Papers, a new Oxfam report connects the 50 biggest U.S.-based corporations to the widely condemned hidden tax sanctuaries that allow companies to hide profits and avoid paying taxes.

These corporations have been receiving benefits, and in some cases, U.S. taxpayers’ money, and stashing away $1.4 trillion in tax havens. The report found that General Electric, which receives $28 billion in taxpayer money, has $119 billion stored away in tax haven subsidiaries.

Offshore Accounts Of U.S.'s Largest Companies Hold $1.4 Trillion: Oxfam

The U.S.’s 50 largest companies have US$1.4 trillion stashed offshore through an “opaque and secretive” network of 1,600 subsidiary companies, anti-poverty group Oxfam says in a new report.

To put that number in some perspective, $1.4 trillion is nearly equivalent to the entire economic output of Canada (US$1.6 trillion at last count).

Apple, Coca-Cola, Walmart, ExxonMobil and Google parent Alphabet are among the many companies with billions hidden offshore.

Donald Trump Is Beginning His Exit Strategy

Donald Trump does not want to be president. In fact, he never wanted to be president. His entire campaign has been a long con and a ruse to strengthen his brand and feed his ego.

Last week, Stephanie Cegielski, a strategist for the Make America Great Again super PAC published an open letter to Trump supporters on the website xoJane in which she details the original intent of Trump’s presidential bid:

    Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it. The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.

Panama Papers reveal billions hidden in anonymous paper shares

The Panama Papers chronicle various complex, labyrinthine ways in which the world's wealthy tried to distance themselves from their money, but one of the most common is surprisingly simple: paper stock certificates.

That's right, like the ones your grandmother has under the bed along with the gold bullion in preparation for that proverbial rainy day. Except in the Panama Papers, their intended use was less rainy day, more cloud cover.

Justin Trudeau’s Saudi sellout

There are lots of ways to record Stéphane Dion’s sad collapse in the few short months since he was handed real power.

I guess the execution of 47 prisoners by Saudi Arabia — including dissident Shia cleric Sheik al-Nimr Nimr — tracks Dion’s moral arc as well as anything.

On the one hand, Canada’s foreign minister went through the pantomime of principled denunciation in the wake of the mass beheadings. He urged the Kingdom to “protect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings.”

Obama’s Trillion-Dollar Nuclear-Arms Train Wreck

STANFORD, Calif.—“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” These were the words from the Hindu religious text, the Bhagavad-Gita, that flashed through the mind of the man credited with creating the first atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, as the first nuclear explosion in history lit up the dark desert sky at the Trinity blast site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.

Weeks after that, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, and thrust the world into the atomic age. Since then, humanity has lived with the terrible prospect of nuclear war and mass annihilation. Conventional wisdom holds that the likelihood that these unconventional weapons will be used has decreased since the end of the so-called Cold War. That perception has been challenged lately, especially since President Barack Obama announced a 30-year, $1 trillion program to modernize the U.S. nuclear-weapon arsenal.

Panama Papers Offer More Evidence That Free Trade Isn’t Really Free

You might wonder what the connection is between a friendly game of golf last summer in Martha’s Vineyard and the Panama Papers. Read on.

As anyone who hasn’t been in a cave—or otherwise away from the Internet—knows, last week the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, working with more than a hundred publications around the world, broke news of the biggest data leak in history, from an anonymous source tapping into the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Kleptorenumeration: When the Highest-Paid Jobs Cause the Most Harm

There is an inverse relationship between utility and reward. The most lucrative, prestigious jobs tend to cause the greatest harm. The most useful workers tend to be paid the least and treated the worst.

I was reminded of this while listening to a care worker describing her job. Carole's company gives her a rota [assignment] of, er, three half-hour visits per hour. It takes no account of the time required to travel between jobs, and doesn't pay her for it either, which means she makes less than the minimum wage. During the few minutes she spends with a client, she might have to get them out of bed, help them on the toilet, wash them, dress them, make breakfast and give them their medicines. If she ever gets a break, she told the radio program You and Yours, she spends it with her clients. For some, she is the only person they see all day.

Foodbanks Have Hit A New UK Record - And Many People Using Them Are Not ‘Work Shy’

A record number of Britons are now using foodbanks, new analysis has revealed, with many of their customers being skilled workers or disabled people unable to hold down a job.

Foodbank use in the UK rose 2% last year to a new high, according to the latest figures from The Trussell Trust, which show that it has handed out over a million three-day emergency food supplies since April 2015.

New Documents Show Oil Industry Even More Evil Than We Thought

In 1968, a pair of scientists from Stanford Research Institute wrote a report for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for America’s oil and natural gas industry. They warned that “man is now engaged in a vast geophysical experiment with his environment, the earth” — one that “may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.”

The scientists went on: “If the Earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans and an increase in photosynthesis.”

Microsoft Says U.S. Is Abusing Secret Warrants

“WE APPRECIATE THAT there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.”

To Protect Hillary Clinton, Democrats Wage War on Their Own Core Citizens United Argument

FOR YEARS, THE Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United was depicted by Democrats as the root of all political evil. But now, the core argument embraced by the Court’s conservatives to justify their ruling has taken center stage in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — because Clinton supporters, to defend the huge amount of corporate cash on which their candidate is relying, frequently invoke that very same reasoning.

The CIA Is Investing in Firms That Mine Your Tweets and Instagram Photos

SOFT ROBOTS THAT can grasp delicate objects, computer algorithms designed to spot an “insider threat,” and artificial intelligence that will sift through large data sets — these are just a few of the technologies being pursued by companies with investment from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, according to a document obtained by The Intercept.

The Panama Papers and the box of cookies: Tracking the technology behind the leak

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Panama Papers investigation is the technology involved. The extent and the international complexity of the tax avoidance, tax evasion and money laundering would have been impossible without the electronic transfers, databases and encrypted communications available to contemporary financial institutions.

Even more important for the investigation is that all of those byzantine transactions were recorded and archived as 2.6 terabytes of digital data that could, these days, be copied onto a hard drive the size of a box of Girl Guide cookies. It would be difficult for the whistleblower, John Doe, to sneak out of the Panama law firm, Mossack Fonseca, with dozens of boxes of paper. Conrad Black tried that a few years back, and look where that got him.

Why World Leaders Are Terrified of Water Shortages

Secret conversations between American diplomats show how a growing water crisis in the Middle East destabilized the region, helping spark civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and how those water shortages are spreading to the United States.

Classified US cables reviewed by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting show a mounting concern by global political and business leaders that water shortages could spark unrest across the world, with dire consequences.

Citing Racist Trial, Protesters Hold Vigil as Georgia Executes Kenneth Fults

EARLY TUESDAY EVENING, as the state of Georgia prepared to kill 47-year-old Kenneth Fults, I drove 10 miles west from historic Jackson toward Prison Boulevard, which leads to death row. Along the way, green lawn signs lined Highway 36, advertising “Jesus.” Soon after I arrived, a dozen peaceful protesters began pulling up at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, gathering just inside the gate. A black-clad security squad wearing helmets and riot gear stood watch as vehicles approached; one by one, drivers exited their cars before parking so that German Shepherds could search for contraband.

This Study Shows How Low Corporate America’s Taxes Really Are

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) requested the Government Accountability Office study.
The presidential hopeful said the findings reveal that “there is something profoundly wrong in America.”

The report comes amid a rise in “corporate inversion” deals aimed at avoiding U.S. corporate taxes.

A new government report shows just how easy corporate America has it.

Elizabeth Warren Has Basically Had It With Paul Krugman’s Big Bank Nonsense

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) appeared to offer a thinly veiled rebuke of liberal economist Paul Krugman on Wednesday by highlighting a “scary” too-big-to-fail ruling from federal bank regulators.

The Federal Reserve and the FDIC said Wednesday that five of the biggest banks in the country cannot credibly be unwound safely without bailout money from taxpayers.

Wall Street’s Fraud of the Week Club

In April 2006, while Goldman was preparing an RMBS backed by Countrywide loans for securitization, a Goldman mortgage department manager circulated a “very bullish” equity research report that recommended the purchase of Countrywide stock. Goldman’s head of due diligence, who had just overseen the due diligence on six Countrywide pools, responded “If they only knew ...”
— Annex 1, “Statement of Facts,” Goldman Sachs/US Department of Justice, April 11 2016

US corporations have $1.4tn hidden in tax havens, claims Oxfam report

US corporate giants such as Apple, Walmart and General Electric have stashed $1.4tn (£980bn) in tax havens, despite receiving trillions of dollars in taxpayer support, according to a report by anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The sum, larger than the economic output of Russia, South Korea and Spain, is held in an “opaque and secretive network” of 1,608 subsidiaries based offshore, said Oxfam.