Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

For-Profit College Lobbying Group Sues Obama Administration Over Regulations

More than a month after the Obama administration issued weaker-than-expected regulations aimed at reining in abuses at some for-profit colleges, a trade association for the industry filed a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to strike down the new rules governing excessive student debt.

The lawsuit is a perplexing move for the for-profit college industry, which aggressively fought the Obama administration’s crackdown for more than a year, and ultimately succeeded in getting final regulations last month that were universally regarded as being substantially weakened from those proposed a year earlier.

Bernie Sanders Gets Sarcastic, Rips Gang Of Six Plan

WASHINGTON -- Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been driven to sarcasm as Congress and the White House continue to move forward with plans to cut Social Security, Medicare and other social programs in the name of deficit reduction. In a statement entitled "Congratulations Coburn, Crapo and Chambliss," Sanders, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, offered false praise to the Republican members of the so-called "Gang of Six" for winning in a "major victory" in debt negotiations with the White House.

Coming at a crucial time in debt reduction negotiations between President Obama and GOP congressional leadership, Sanders' comments reflect growing frustration among some members of Congress with what they view as too much willingness on the part of the White House to compromise with Republicans on key progressive issues.

Pembina Oil Spill In Alberta Draws Energy Resources Conservation Board Investigation

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- SWAN HILLS, Alta. - Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board is investigating a spill from an oil pipeline 200 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

The pipeline is owned and operated by the Pembina Pipeline Corporation (TSX:PPL).

An official at the Calgary-based company says 1,300 barrels of oil were released on Tuesday into an area of muskeg and a creek about five kilometres north of the Town of Swan Hills. But the company and the ERCB also say the exact size of the spill was under investigation.

China National Offshore Oil Corp To Pay $2.1 Billion, Revive Troubled Long Lake Oil Sands Project

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- CALGARY - China's largest offshore energy producer is preparing to snap up Opti Canada Inc. in a $2.1-billion deal announced Wednesday, a week after the Calgary-based oil sands developer filed for court protection from its creditors.

If the deal goes as expected, China National Offshore Oil Corp., or CNOOC, will get a 35 per cent stake in the troubled Long Lake oil sands project, which has fallen well-short of production targets since its late 2008 startup.

NASA To Privatize Space Travel After Last Shuttle Lands

HOUSTON -- How America gets people and stuff into orbit is about to be outsourced in an out-of-this-world way.

With the space shuttle's retirement Thursday, no longer will flying people and cargo up to the International Space Station be a government program where costs balloon. NASA is turning to private industry with fixed prices, contracts and profit margins. The space agency will be the customer, not the boss.

At least when it comes to the routine part of going to and from the space station, NASA hopes to rely on companies that will be the space version of FedEx and Yellow Cab.

Rice Prices Up 70% Make Asian Inflation Tough for Central Banks to Digest

Asian cuisine may be too much of a good thing for some of the region’s central banks as policy makers grapple with the challenge of responding to spikes in the cost of staples from rice and pork to onions and chilies.

Pork prices jumped 57 percent in June in China, leading Premier Wen Jiabao to vow to curb inflation even as growth slows. Rice, the staple food for more than half of the world population, has surged about 70 percent in the past year. A wider variety of diet and greater purchasing power for non-food items leave wealthier nations less vulnerable to food-cost spikes.

Food makes up more than 30 percent of inflation indexes on average in Asia, compared with about 15 percent in Europe and less than 10 percent in the U.S., according to Rabobank Groep NV. The sensitivity of their economies to swings in meat and vegetable costs means emerging-market policy makers need to raise interest rates more to stem inflation when global agriculture prices soar.

Justice isn't Harperized

It is now conventional wisdom that the Harper Conservatives are transforming Canadian criminal justice, a fact which many pundits cite as evidence of the incremental Harperization of Canadian society. It's pretty hard to disagree.

The Conservatives have passed a slew of punitive legislation, with more to come, and on Tuesday news stories noted that the cost of the federal correctional system was expected to grow more than 80 per cent between the time the Conservatives came to power and 2011-2012. I suppose I could say "I told you so." For more than a decade, I've been writing about the catastrophe wrought by so-called tough on crime policies in the United States and warning Canadians not to make the same mistake. But I won't, at least not yet. Because I think the conventional wisdom is misinformed.

Start with that figure about rising prison costs. It uses a baseline of 2005-2006, which is misleading since the Conservatives didn't come to power until February, 2006. With the more accurate baseline of 2006-2007, prison costs under the Conservatives will rise 57 per cent, not 80 per cent, and that has to be compared to the 23-per-cent rise under the Liberals in the six years before Harper took office. Clearly, the Conservatives have greatly boosted the rate of growth of spending, which is alarming at a time when crime is falling and the federal budget is in the red. But let's not exaggerate.

In conversation: Shawn Atleo

On moving beyond residential schools, overcoming cynicism and trusting the Tories

AFTER TWO YEARS as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo is cautiously optimistic about the relationship he is forging with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. On Tuesday, at the assembly’s annual meeting in Moncton, N.B., he proposed replacing the federal Aboriginal Affairs Department with a system that allows bands more autonomy and lessens the heavy federal intervention required under the Indian Act. “The patterns of the past have to be essentially smashed,” he told Maclean’s. Atleo, a hereditary chief in the tiny B.C. island community of Ahousaht, reads vindication in the recent report by now-retired auditor general Sheila Fraser. It warns, as Atleo and successive national chiefs have said, that the quality of life on reserves is worsening and the existing system of financing and accountability must be overhauled.

Top five Ford truthiness fact checks of the week

There's a lot of truthiness going around the Ford camp these days—but here's a collection of some truths.
When politicians speak off-the-cuff, they occasionally don’t have all the facts quite nailed down, and it’s only fair to clarify the specifics when their words are being reported (or after they’ve been reported). But sometimes the remarks are so far from the actual facts—and so underscore the point the politician is trying to make—that one suspects the speaker either lives in a fantasy land or is being intentionally misleading. Their cited mis-facts have the ring of truth, corroborating as they do the gut feeling represented by the politician’s message, but are completely misleading, and often outright false. This is what Stephen Colbert famously defined as “truthiness” a few years back.

This week, the brothers Ford have had a particularly bad week with fact checkers. Here’s a rundown, in no particular order, of their greatest misses:

1. Toronto spends 80 per cent of its budget on payroll

ROB FORD SAYS: “The last thing we want to do is lay off, Johnny, but when [payroll] makes up 80 per cent of your budget, there’s a lot of gravy there.”

THE TRUTH: Labour costs account for 48 per cent of the city’s budget.

FACT CHECKER: Margus Gee, in the Globe and Mail.

2. Ford has already cut the Toronto budget by $70 million

ROB FORD SAYS: In his first six months in office, “We have saved over $70-million… And so if we can find 70 million, I’m sure we can find 700 million”

THE TRUTH: $64 million of that money was not cut from spending, as Ford seems to claim, but cut from revenue, in the form of the elimination of the Vehicle Registration Tax. This does not save the city money, it costs the city money—the exact opposite of his claim.

FACT CHECKER: Gee, in the Globe.

3. Libraries in Etobicoke outnumber Tim Horton’s Franchises

DOUG FORD SAYS: “I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons.”

THE TRUTH: Tim Hortons franchises outnumber public libraries in Etobicoke—where Doug Ford lives—by a margin of three to one. There are 13 public libraries in Etobicoke, and 39 Tim Hortons franchises.

FACT CHECKER: Maureen O’Reilly, Our Public Library

4. Toronto has more libraries per capita than any other city

DOUG FORD SAYS: “We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world.”

THE TRUTH: Vermont has more than seven times as many libraries per capita as Toronto. Halifax has 4.3 libraries per 100,000 people, while Toronto has 3.9.

FACT CHECKER: Maureen O’Reilly, Our Public Library

5. Labour costs should make up no more than 1/5 of an enterprise’s spending

ROB FORD SAYS: “In business the first thing you look at is the labour. Your labour should be making up maximum 20 per cent…”

THE TRUTH: The ideal labour cost as a percentage of total spending varies wildly depending on the industry the company is operating in. As KPMG—a consulting firm Ford presumably trusts, since he hired them to investigate the city’s spending—notes in their Competitive Alternatives study, “For manufacturing operations, labor typically represents 46 to 60 percent of total location-sensitive costs, while for non-manufacturing operations this range is typically 74 to 85 percent.” Meanwhile, in the construction equipment industry, in 2008 average payroll costs were about 58 per cent, according to this report. Second Wind consultants say that a lot varies by industry, but that 30-38 per cent of revenue is “a good place to be.” Apparently celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says restaurants should aim to have labour costs be about 1/3 of the total budget.

FACT CHECKER: Me. With help from the sites linked above.

Source: the Grid TO 

Sorry, Elizabeth Warren, Wall Street Said No

So much for the meritocracy. Despite an elite education, effusive charm and brilliant wit, Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, has ended up betraying his humble origins by abjectly serving the most rapacious variant of Wall Street greed. They both talk a good progressive game, but when push comes to shove—meaning when the banking lobby weighs in—big money talks and the best and the brightest fold.

The defining moment of Clinton’s capitulation was his destruction of Brooksley Born, the one member of his administration with the courage and prescience to warn him about the unregulated derivatives trading that ultimately led to the housing collapse. For Obama, it is his decision not to nominate Elizabeth Warren to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she fought so hard to create.

Obama’s refusal to take the fight to Senate Republicans by nominating Warren should be taken as the vital measure of the man. This gutless decision comes after the president populated his administration with the very people who created the financial meltdown.

Bachmann's Former Church Holds Anti-Catholic Views—Why Isn't This Hurting Her?

In a country with 70 million Catholics, belonging to a church that believes the Pope is the Antichrist would seem like a lliability for any presidential aspirant. But the revelation last week that Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) belonged to the a church affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) until she resigned her membership last year doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact yet. WELS says in its Doctrinal Statement on the Antichrist that “it is Scripture which reveals that the Papacy is the Antichrist.” (In essence, WELS sticks carefully to Martin Luther’s teachings and interprets the notion that the Pope is God’s voice in the world as an Antichrist-like attempt to assume the place of Christ.)

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League—which The Atlantic’s Joshua Green, who broke the story, refers to with the overly generous description of a “a national organization devoted to protecting Catholic civil rights”—showed a lot of Christian forgiveness towards Bachmann regarding her membership in WELS. “We never went after Obama for sitting there for twenty years listening to Rev. ‘Goddam America’ Wright. I don’t want to give him a pass, but I saw no bigotry on Obama’s part,” Donohue told Green. “Similarly, I have see [sic] none on Bachmann’s part. But it’s clear that the [synod]’s teachings are noxious and it’s important for her to speak to the issue.” That’s a non sequitur. Rev. Wright wasn’t anti-Catholic, so his statements weren’t in the Catholic League’s purview. But the Catholic League is not really a Catholic civil rights organization, it’s a politically conservative group that seems to exist primarily to get Donohue on Fox News where he can fight the War for Christmas and other ridiculous battles. Viewed in that light, Donohue’s statement should be seen for what it is: a politically hackish attempt to point out that President Obama had a radical black pastor who might make them uncomfortable.

Debt Ceiling Delusions

As the partisan fight over the debt ceiling approached the August 2 deadline, President Obama presented Republicans with what, at almost any other time in recent history, would be seen as a conservative’s dream: $4 trillion in spending cuts over ten years, and the offer to restructure core pieces of the Democratic legacy, including Social Security and Medicare. GOP House Speaker John Boehner walked away from the deal not because the cuts weren’t steep enough but because they would be achieved, in part, through tax increases on hedge-fund managers, private jet owners and oil and gas companies.

The Republicans have once again shown themselves to be a party, to paraphrase Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent. It is a party that accepts no new taxes, no closing of loopholes, no crackdowns on overseas tax havens and no increase in corporate tax rates, even as the biggest corporations pay little or no taxes on billions in profits. It is a party that embraces savage cuts in the social safety net but then draws a line in the sand to protect the wealthy. To Republicans, shared sacrifice is anathema. Now, as before, the global economy may be their victim.

The Lobbyist File: Doug Johnson

A.K.A.: "The most effective lobbyist in Washington" —National Review
"The indispensible man behind all of the greatest pro-life victories in Congress since Roe v. Wade" —Life Prizes

POSITION: Chief lobbyist for National Right to Life Committee, the nation's preeminent anti-abortion group. He's been there since 1981. Most recently the unseen force behind the House GOP's push to orchestrate the most audacious legislative assault on abortion rights in recent memory.

An Oil Slick Runs Through It

Alexis Bonogofsky points to a pool of oily water left behind on their farm
I'm standing in a field next to Montana's Yellowstone River, a gentle breeze swaying the pasture grass and tempering the 85-degree heat. White fluffs from a cottonwood tree drift slowly across the sky like cartoonish snowflakes. It would be an idyllic scene, if it weren't for the strong smell of crude oil and the guys in hazmat suits patrolling the farm next door.

It's two weeks to the day after ExxonMobil's Silvertip pipeline ruptured under the Yellowstone, spilling an estimated 42,000 gallons of oil into the raging waters in Laurel, Montana. When the spill started late in the evening of July 1, the river had overflowed its banks, pushing water out into the surrounding fields. This meant that the oil, too, flowed in, and when the floods receded they left a ring of black crude around this particular field, and the thick gunk still clung to the blades of grass. Most of the damage was within 50 miles of the site of the break, though oil has been reported as far as 240 miles away.

Minister investigates anti-Israel blogging during office hours

OTTAWA - Heritage Minister James Moore is investigating allegations someone in his department used a government computer to slag Israel during office hours.

Moore was responding to a report by Sun Media columnist Ezra Levant who identified Monzer Zimmo as the financial and business development adviser to Moore, and a part-time anti-Israel blogger.

“In this one particular case I have asked my deputy minister to do an investigation to find out exactly what went on in office hours and what was said and whether it can be attributed to a particular employee,” Moore said in Vancouver on Tuesday.

News International 'Deliberately Blocked' Scotland Yard Investigation, MPs Report

News International "deliberately" tried to block the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, a parliamentary committee has said in a report.

In the damning report, which accused Scotland Yard of "a catalogue of failures", the committee said that police failed to look at evidence that could have identified further phone hacking victims. There was "no real will" by the police to overcome News International's "deliberate attempts... to thwart the various investigations", it said.

It added that John Yates, the former assistant commissioner of the Met who gave evidence to the committee yesterday, made a "serious misjudgement" in deciding in 2009 not to reopen the investigation.

The threat to democracy posed by Rupert Murdoch's media empire

"People say that Australia has given two people to the world," Julian Assange told me in London recently, "Rupert Murdoch and me." Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, was humbly dismissing my introduction of him, to a crowd of 1,800 at East London's Troxy theater, in which I suggested he had published perhaps more than anyone in the world. He said Murdoch took that publishing prize.

Two days later, the Milly Dowler phone hacking story exploded, and Murdoch would close one of the largest newspapers in the world, his News of the World, within a week.

On Tuesday, Murdoch claimed before the British House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that it was his "most humble day." But what does it mean for a man with no humility to suffer his most humble day? The principal takeaway from the committee hearing must be, simply, that Rupert Murdoch is not responsible for the criminal activities under investigation, from police bribery to phone hacking. When asked if he was ultimately responsible, his answer was simple: "No." Who was? "The people I trusted to run it and maybe the people they trusted."

Somalia famine has killed tens of thousands

Parts of southern Somalia are suffering from famine, a UN official said Wednesday, and tens of thousands of Somalis have already died in the worst hunger emergency in a generation.

The Horn of Africa is suffering a devastating drought compounded by war, neglect and spiraling prices. Some areas in the region have not had such a low rainfall in 60 years, aid group Oxfam said.

The UN needs $300 million in the next two months, said Mark Bowden, the UN's top official in charge of humanitarian aid in Somalia. The last time conditions were this bad was in 1992, when hundreds of thousands of Somalis starved to death. That famine prompted intervention by an international peacekeeping force, but it eventually pulled out after two American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in 1993.

Canada’s youth crime plans bewilder international observers

If Canada follows through on plans to crack down on miscreant youth, it’ll be one of the few jurisdictions in the world heading in that direction.

And the tough-on-crime approach in the face of contrary evidence is bemusing international observers.

Judges, criminologists and policy-makers in the United States, Britain and Australia – countries whose systems, for the most part, closely resemble Canada’s – can’t figure out why this country is planning to shift toward a jail-intensive approach. Everyone else seems to be doing the opposite, not for ideological reasons, but because evidence shows it works.

To discuss the phone hacking scandal engulfing the Rupert Murdoch media empire from Britain to the United States, we are joined by longtime journalist Sarah Ellison. She is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and author of the book, "War at the Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle to Control an American Business Empire," which chronicled the sweeping changes at the publication after Murdoch acquired the newspaper in 2007. Ellison spent 10 years working at the Wall Street Journal. Commenting on Murdoch denying responsibility for the scandal, Ellison says: "It is even more difficult to really believe that when you know the way that his news organizations work... There is a myth of Rupert Murdoch, that his editors know what he wants without him even having to tell him. He creates a culture where everyone is of a like mind. … It is difficult to imagine that some of the responsibility wouldn’t lie [at] his feet given that it is his organization."

Source: Democracy Now! 

1,800 new Canadians poised to lose citizenship: Kenney

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney confirmed Wednesday that as many as 1,800 new Canadians could be stripped of their citizenship because they were obtained fraudulently.

“We are in the process of notifying them that we will be revoking their citizenship because Canadian citizenship is not for sale,” Kenney told the Economic Club of Canada.

Kenney said some of the individuals are believed to have used “unscrupulous” immigration consultants who submitted fraudulent applications on behalf of people who did not meet the qualifications for citizenship.

The 1,800 were identified following a three-year investigation by the RCMP, other police forces and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Hammers, Nails, and Canadian Foreign Policy

Our interest in international co-operation is absent from Harper's Manichean worldview.

Given the relish with which the Harper government has plunged into showy international policy stands such as boycotting the upcoming UN Conference on Disarmament, observers could be pardoned for thinking that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long been yearning to put his stamp on Canada’s foreign affairs. In fact, however, he gave little thought to matters beyond Canada’s borders until recently.

In an interview this month in Maclean’s, the prime minister remarked that what has surprised him the most since taking office is the centrality of foreign affairs: “There’s hardly anything today of any significance that doesn’t have a huge international dimension to it.” From the economy to “security matters or pandemics,” he has discovered, “it’s all international.”

Rupert Murdoch And James Murdoch Appear Before Parliament To Take Questions On Phone Hacking

Rupert Murdoch and his son James have been quizzed by MPs at a hearing about the phone hacking crisis, in an appearance that the News Corporation chairman described as the "most humble day" of his life.

The dramatic session, where an intruder attempted to attack Murdoch with a plate of foam, began with an apology.

Taking questions about the News of the World phone hacking scandal, James Murdoch was accused by the chair of the culture media and sport select committee, John Whittingdale, of misleading parliament.

Bachmann Doubles Down On Opposing Debt Ceiling Hike In New Ad

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) had already released a 30-second ad this month in which she said the words, "I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling."

But in her first ad, that statement didn't come until 20 seconds into the spot. On Wednesday morning, Bachmann released a second 30-second ad to make extra clear where she stood. This video gets right to the point.

"I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling," Bachmann says in the first four seconds. Bachmann pauses between every word to emphasize each one. She gestures with her hands.

Lesbian Couple Ordered To Leave Museum For Holding Hands

A lesbian couple was enjoying an art exhibit at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum over the weekend when they were reportedly approached by a museum security guard and told they had to leave -- all because they were holding hands.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's C.W. Nevius, the guard told the women they were not permitted to hold hands inside the museum. When they began to argue with him, he attempted to usher them outside. The women refused and asked to see the head of security, while an outraged crowd of people formed to watch the altercation. The head of security met with the women and immediately removed the guard from duty, according to Daryl Carr, the museum's Director of Marketing and Communications.

Most Anti-Environment House of Representatives in History Tries to Do More Damage

Tea Party leaders in the House have dramatically stepped up their assault on America's environmental and public health safeguards. Last week alone they used about 50 floor votes and more than 30 policy riders on spending bills to undermine the protections that keep our air safe, our water clean, and our public lands intact.

Another barrage of anti-environment bills is on its way. The upcoming debate in the full House on funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department will likely feature votes on even more policy riders designed to prevent the government from upholding basic environmental standards.

These attacks could continue into the fall unless Americans put a stop to it.

Long Road Ahead In Firing Atlanta Teachers Targeted In Cheating Report

Atlanta educators charged with cheating on students' standardized tests received a letter from Erroll Davis, Atlanta's interim superintendent last week.

He told the 178 educators they had until Wednesday, July 20, to either resign or get fired.

"You either confessed to cheating or were otherwise implicated in wrongdoing," Davis wrote. "We give you the opportunity to resign your employment with APS prior to official notice of my intent to recommend your termination."

California Prison Hunger Strike: Some Inmates Show Early Signs Of Starvation

Inmates in a third of California's prisons are conducting a hunger strike in protest of solitary confinement policy. Recent reports show that many inmates, who are in their third week of the strike, have shown dramatic weight loss and are collapsing from starvation, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The protesting inmates, who are most active at Pelican Bay State Prison, Corcoran State Prison, and the California Correctional Institute at Tehachapi, have been refusing meals since July 1, according to KPCC radio. Many of the protesters are in solitary confinement, otherwise known as security housing units (SHU).

Michele Bachmann Campaign Accused Of Shoving ABC News Reporter Brian Ross

AIKEN, S.C. — ABC News says a reporter trying to question GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was pushed and shoved by members of her camp after a campaign event in South Carolina.

Network news senior vice president Jeffrey Schneider said reporter Brian Ross was shoved Tuesday as security tried to block him from the Minnesota congresswoman while he asked whether she had to miss votes because of migraines. Schneider said Ross has been a victim of worse violence but added no reporter should be roughed up pursuing a story.

A spokeswoman for Bachmann did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

An online news site claimed Monday that Bachmann was reportedly sidelined by headaches. Bachmann says her symptoms are controlled with medication and have not gotten in the way of her political work.

Source: Huffington 

Nikki Haley Blasts Media For Challenging Jobs Report, Says Other Governors Are 'Jealous'

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called the media too negative after The Associated Press raised questions about her claim that 10,000 jobs had been created in the state since she took office in January.

Haley complained during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday the media doesn't want to report anything positive about her administration. She says regardless of the exact number of jobs, other governors are jealous.

An AP analysis of the 10,000 jobs cited by Haley revealed some of them were announced before she took office and others won't be filled for years. She also included hundreds of jobs created in a business deal that she opposed.

After repeated questioning by the AP, the state changed its jobs total several times before finally lowering it to about 9,000 positions, including 4,000 positions at Walmart stores.

From Mass Prosperity to Severe Recession in Fifty Years

The financial crisis of 2008 produced a rash of books on Wall Street covering these events from the point of view of all the major investment banks, politicians, mortgage dealers and everyone else within arm’s reach. Judging from most of them, though, you might think the problems in our financial sector go back only a decade and originated in the schemes of Wall Street’s financial geniuses to repackage bad mortgages into super-safe assets.

The story is now a familiar one: speculation in mortgage-backed securities added steam to a runaway housing bubble. When the house of cards eventually collapsed, it required a taxpayer bailout to save Wall Street while the subsequent bad debt lead to the most severe recession since the Great Depression.

Even the most ambitious books generated by the meltdown go back only fifteen years or so and discuss such things as the bailout of the hedge fund ironically titled Long-Term Capital Management; the removal of the last piece of New Deal banking regulation, Glass-Steagall; Goldman Sachs going public; and the isolation of the few regulators, such as Brooksley Born, head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, who sounded the alarm about the rapidly expanding derivatives market.

Elizabeth Warren Makes It Personal

Elizabeth Warren is ready to name and shame. After 10 long months spent crafting a brand-new federal agency in her image and likeness, years before that willing the institution into statutory existence, only to be passed over on Sunday in favor of Richard Cordray just as the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is moving out of beta, Warren, on a press call late yesterday afternoon, was eager to share her clarity on who's to blame for the especially precarious position the new federal-friend-to-the-American-consumer now finds itself in.

Those enemies of Warren, of the CFPB? Republicans, first and foremost, namely Senate Banking ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) and the forty three other Republican senators who signed a letter to Obama in May raising heck over the "unfettered authority" the CFPB had supposedly been granted by the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in the wake of the mortgage meltdown. That's no surprise. But Warren's also annoyed with the press for buying the GOP's story that it's simply a more efficient consumer advocate they're eager for, when really what Republicans want is for the CFPB to die an early death. She also blames her own political naiveté. She's been "too busy busting [her] tail" in starting an agency, she says, and didn't pay all that much attention to those inside the Beltway sharpening their knives. Some heard those noises over at 1600 Pennsylvania. Perhaps she's heard the chatter that Obama was more sold in public than in private on her eventual appointment as CFPB's first-ever director. But Warren gives Obama and fellow Democrats a pass.

Israel's Boycott Bill and the U.S.-Israel Alliance

The vote last week by the Israeli Knesset to pass the "boycott bill," which subjects anyone calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements to lawsuits and severe penalties, was intended, according to its sponsor, Likud member Zeev Elkin, to make it easier to fight back against those seeking to delegitimize Israel and to ensure Israel's accepted place in the global community. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Wednesday that the ban on calls for a boycott is not a violation of democratic principles and does not tarnish Israel's reputation. He called the condemnations of Israel over the law unfair "attacks on a democracy's attempt to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not." Netanyahu and the law's supporters may indeed believe that banning Israeli citizens from calling for boycotts will strengthen Israel's standing in the world by eliminating what they see as a potential fifth column of enemies within, but the unfortunate reality is that this law will have the exact opposite effect of that which Elkin intended. By enacting a law with such anti-democratic overtones, and that explicitly embraces the settlements as equivalent with Israel proper, Israel is putting its global status in peril by endangering its crucial support from the United States.

Time to reduce exposure to Europe

CBC National News reconvened their "Bottom Line" economics panel (including yours truly) last night to discuss the twin debt crises (Europe and America) that are currently roiling financial markets. Here's the link to the webcast for aficionados.

In the last segment, Peter Mansbridge asked all the panellists how the debt problems should affect individual Canadians' personal strategies and behaviour. (My answer was to pray! And to then get political, demanding serious reforms to stabilize the financial system.) The others focused mostly on how individual investors might adjust their portfolios in light of what's happening (buy gold, etc.). I was interested to hear both Patricia Croft (ex-RBC) and Preet Bannerji (Pro-Financial Asset Management) suggest that investors should reduce their exposure to Europe.

This is ironic, because the other big news this week is that the Canadian government is now very close (after another round of talks in Brussels last week) to quickly inking a free trade deal with the EU. Details of the talks (and, in particular, what Canada sacrificed in order to get so close to a resolution) were not released. But the reality is that the Harper government is about to substantially increase Canada's national economic "exposure" to Europe, at the very moment when financial advisers recommend we head in the other direction.

Canadian oil: ethical, and sensible

While the Canadian government worries about the country’s dependence on oil exports to the U.S., the security of future sales there and developing a national energy strategy, the Fraser Institute’s Mark Milke offers Americans a stark choice: It's us, or someone much more unsavoury.

In short, a study released Tuesday by the Vancouver-based think tank argues that “attempts to restrict U.S. imports of Canadian oil ignore the reality of U.S. dependence on foreign oil and could force America to buy oil from repressive governments.”

The logic of the argument is derived from an analysis of how 38 major oil producers -- defined as those countries that turn out more than 250,000 barrels per day -- stack up on 17 measures of civil, political and economic freedoms.

China’s CNOOC to buy OPTI Canada for $2.1-billion

China has agreed to make another multibillion-investment in Canada’s oil sands, this time striking a deal to buy OPTI Canada Inc., the struggling energy company that filed for bankruptcy protection last week.

China National Offshore Oil Corp. has agreed to pay about $2.1-billion (U.S.) for the Calgary-based company, with most of the cash going toward OPTI’s lenders. Indeed, equity shareholders will only receive $34-million, or 12 cents per share. The deal was announced early Wednesday morning.

Rebutting the CRTC's Stance on Internet Billing

With the flaws in the CRTC's arguments, it's hard to believe usage-based billing has made it this far.

I’ve been following the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) proceedings on usage-based billing (UBB) and aggregate-volume pricing (AVP) for a few years now, and I must say that I’m extremely disappointed that such a deceptive, and potentially fraudulent, concept for an internet billing scheme has survived for this long.

Despite not having made a presentation in front of the CRTC, I still feel the need to make a rebuttal for the current proceeding, and possibly help clarify a few of the many misconceptions that have been disseminated over the years, and which, I regret to say, the interveners opposed to “billing by the byte” have failed to thoroughly denounce during their many appearances in front of the commission.

Canada Energy Policy Charted At Kananaskis Ministers' Meeting

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- KANANASKIS, Alta. - Ministers emerged from a summit on Tuesday with a rough outline of what a pan-Canadian approach to energy will look like, though it's likely to take many more such gatherings for them to fully flesh out all the key details.

"There were expectations by some that we would come out of this conference with all of the details that would set energy policy for this country for the next several decades," Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert told a news conference at a picturesque Rocky Mountain lodge southwest of Calgary.

"I can tell you that if there's one recipe for failure, it's trying to do too much at once and get into too many details in the beginning."

Veteran Aid Pledge Turns Out To Be Far Less Than Promised By Tories

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - As thousands of Canadian soldiers adjust to home life after the battlefields of Kandahar, what looked like a flood of aid for the wounded among them and veterans of other wars is turning out to be only a trickle.

The Conservative government made a $2-billion promise last September to increase disability benefits, just as veterans' outrage began to boil over how survivors of past and present conflicts were being treated.

Support for the military is a key priority for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

But the pledge was for the lifetime of the program, meaning the money is meant to last until the last veteran alive needs it.

Cut, Cap And Balance: House Passes Tea Party-Backed Debt Ceiling Plan

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans easily passed their "Cut, Cap and Balance" fiscal plan on Tuesday, a proposal that boosts their standing among Tea Party supporters but has no chance of becoming law.

The bill passed, 234 to 190, on a largely partisan vote.

Five Democrats, including Reps. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Health Shuler (N.C.) and Dan Boren (Okla.), sided with Republicans in passing the measure. Nine Republicans opposed the bill, including Tea Party favorite and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). In a statement issued after the vote, Bachmann said the bill "does not go far enough" and should have included provisions to defund health care reform.

Save Compassion Farm

Grounded News headed over to the island to meet up with Dirk Becker who runs Compassion Farm, and who is curently facing possable jail time for what he does…growing food.  Lantzville Council is proceeding with legal action -- taking the Beckers to court to shut down their "urban" farm which is located in a semi-rural area, on a dead end road.

The Beckers transformed their property from essentially a gravel pit (created by the previous owner who strip-mined, removing soil, sand and gravel, lowering the level of the property three to five feet) to a lush oasis of life (see article:’s-fight-for-the-right-to-gro...). They have received certification from the Canadian Wildlife Federation for creating "Backyard Habitat" for wildlife. They also shared with council information about what they do, how they do it, along with links and videos on "urban farming," the "urban farming movement" and the "local food movement."

For the benefit of readers, this is a fast-growing movement all over the world. All "urban farming" is done in "residentially zoned" areas. Hence the term: "urban" farming. Municipalities across North America are responding to this movement by changing bylaws to support local food -- to allow the growing of food as a home based business. To feed one person for a whole year, it takes about two acres of land. On Vancouver Island, we only grow 5 per cent of the food we eat and there are only two days of fresh food supply in the grocery stores. So it behooves us to support and encourage the growing of local food.


Psychiatric survivors continue to fight against the stigma of mental illness

On a sweltering July afternoon over 50 people reunited under the shade of the maple trees on the grounds of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where they've gathered yearly over the past 18 years, to create awareness about mental health issues.

They hung around, chatted and waited for the speeches to begin before the start of  the fifth annual Bed Push, symbolic of going to a safe place where there is no forced treatment, and then paraded west across Queen Street to the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre.

It's the final event of Toronto Mad Pride Week, designed to educate, raise awareness, diminish isolation and diffuse the power of the stigma of mental illness. Mad Pride began in Parkdale and is now celebrated around the world.

Crime, poverty and the mistake of the Conservative punitive approach

Kudos to Iglika Ivanova for her effort to quantify the costs of poverty in British Columbia. Included in her analysis is a consideration of the relationship between crime and poverty. She correctly points out that poverty is not a cause of crime, but is rather a risk factor for crime. As one example, Newfoundland should have been a hotbed of crime in the 1960s and 1970s if poverty were a cause, but its crime rate was not remarkable.

The connection between poverty and crime is complex, but it does exist. Poverty is a risk factor for crime in much the same way that untreated mental illness, drug addiction, illiteracy, or a history of sexual abuse are risk factors for crime. As well, many poor people experience more than one of these risk factors. Racial background enters into the equation too, since far more Aboriginal people are incarcerated than can be justified by their proportion of the population.

Winterlicious, Christmas gifts on the chopping block

Winterlicious, the annual event that offers fixed-cost menus to budget-conscious diners as a way to tempt them out on a cold night, is the latest initiative to be lined up in the cost-cutting crosshairs at city hall.

Michael Thompson, head of the city’s economic development committee, said Tuesday it’s time the city consider “graduating” mature programs that can stand on their own, including Winterlicious, along with some established business improvement areas.

Toronto is in the midst of a massive service review, a money-saving exercise designed to find the gravy Mayor Rob Ford pledged he’d stop flowing during the election campaign. Estimates for next year’s budget show the city short by about $774-million and Mr. Ford has said he will not raise taxes by more than 3 per cent.

The newcomers numbers game: Jason Kenney’s balancing act

The mastermind of the Conservative strategy to woo new Canadians during the last federal election launched the West Coast leg of a tour to re-examine Canada’s immigration system – one that is likely to recalibrate the way newcomers are admitted into the country.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was in Vancouver on Tuesday asking agencies that work with immigrants, as well as academics and community leaders, to weigh how Canada should adjust its immigrant intake, both in total numbers and in the mix of immigrants selected.

Consult this, Toronto!

What right do rich, paid private consultants have to decide what public services our communities in Toronto should or should not have?

KPMG is a private consulting firm that was hired by the City of Toronto and paid millions of dollars to do a completely subjective review of all of Toronto's public services. KPMG is currently releasing their 8 final reports detailing service by service what they think could be cut, changed or con...tracted out. These reports will be used to identify nearly $800 million dollars worth of cuts to services that Ford wants to push through at the end of September.

KPMG has taken their 'vision' of devastated Toronto public services to City Hall, and now we will take our vision of the kind of Toronto we want straight to them!

KPMG has a long and ugly multi-national track record in advising governments on how to privatize and impose poverty and misery on people. Join the Toronto Stop the Cuts Network on Thursday, July 21st as we tell KPMG that their role is not welcome here and is being challenged!

Public services, those who rely upon them, and those workers who deliver them, are NOT gravy! We demand that services be improved instead of obliterated. Services our communities receive should be delivered by workers who are paid living wages. If revenue is to be found, why not look at the bloated police budget and tax breaks for corporations.


Hume: Ford's way sending Toronto on a downward spiral

As the Core Services Sideshow grinds to its foregone conclusion, it’s clear Mayor Rob Ford is less interested in slashing costs than slashing government.

Now in its second week, the spectacle unfolding at City Hall is almost entirely divorced from reality at this point. The script, carefully prepared by the efficiency experts, offers alternatives, not recommendations. This is just Act One.

Though even the bean counters have found waste hard to come by, Ford himself continues to see it everywhere he turns: As recently as last week he was telling a radio talk-show host that “There’s tons of gravy.”

Monday’s session explored the possibility of eliminate licences for everything from small businesses to cats and dogs. These actually make the city a bit of cash, but they, too, are on the table.

Funding for Christmas program targeted by Ford ally

Councillor Michael Thompson, a Christian who paid for a pastor to bless his City Hall office in December, would like to be clear: he does not hate Christmas.

“I love Christmas,” he said, smiling but entirely serious, in an interview. “Don’t anybody think for a moment that Thompson doesn’t love Christmas. I do.”

Thompson felt compelled to make the unusual proclamation after he put forth a motion at Tuesday’s economic development committee meeting that raised the possibility of halting city funding to the Christmas Bureau.

The program, founded in 1956, costs $125,000 per year. It helps non-city donors such as the Star’s Santa Claus Fund distribute gifts to the poor.

American owners behind anti-McGuinty ads in Windsor

The U.S. owners of a popular bridge that is a vital artery between Windsor and Detroit are behind an advertisement aimed against Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Dubbed a “Road to Nowhere,” the television ad claims the Windsor Essex parkway, about to be built by both Ontario and Ottawa, is a $2.2 billion waste of money.

The parkway will eventually lead to a new bridge over the Detroit River linking Windsor and Detroit.

The ads are paid for by the Canadian Transit Company, the firm that owns the Canadian half of the Ambassador Bridge. The Ambassador is owned by wealthy U.S. businessman Manuel Moroun and family.

Police violating name tag policy, U of T student claims

The Toronto Police Service is violating its policy requiring officers to wear name badges, the force’s civilian board will be told.

University of Toronto student Vikram Mulligan says he was so troubled by police failing to identify themselves at last summer’s G20 summit he began photographing officers without proper name tags.

On-duty officers have been required to wear name tags since Dec. 31, 2006. But Mulligan said he’s witnessed officers obscuring or failing to wear a name tag on eight occasions since January.

He will take his photographs and concerns to the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday, arguing it must crack down on nameless officers.