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, August 19, 2011

Pardon Fee Increase: Conservatives Going Ahead Despite Criticism

OTTAWA— The Conservative government is pressing ahead with a plan to quadruple pardon applications fees despite the fact that 99 per cent of the respondents in its own consultations said it was a terrible idea — and an independent panel struck to review the decision sided against the Tories.

Out of the 1,086 responses the federal government received to its proposal to raise pardon user fees from $150 to $631, a total of 1,074 individuals and organizations disapproved saying it would amount to an undue financial burden and make it impossible for many offenders to obtain a pardon.

Only 12 respondents said they agreed with the Conservatives' plan.

NDP want tough pre-election ad rules

The New Democrats want to ban all political advertisements before elections and make leaders own up to third-party attack ads.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says voters are tired of being manipulated by special interest groups and need to hear each party’s ideas without political spin.

She’s also pushing for three televised debates across the province, focusing on health care, jobs, the economy and energy.

As the province gears up for an Oct. 6 election, there have been ads attacking the Liberals over what they call a “road to nowhere” in Windsor — paid for by the Canadian wing of a business that owns the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit.

The Progressive Conservatives also have been targeted by the Working Families Coalition, a group that is backed by some of the province’s private and public unions.

Both Tories and Liberals have attacked each other as well as the NDP, but Horwath says she has no plans to “get in the sandbox” and join the negative campaigns.

Source: Toronto Star 

Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

In October 2005, three Citigroup analysts released a report describing the pattern of growth in the U.S. economy. To really understand the future of the economy and the stock market, they wrote, you first needed to recognize that there was “no such animal as the U.S. consumer,” and that concepts such as “average” consumer debt and “average” consumer spending were highly misleading.

In fact, they said, America was composed of two distinct groups: the rich and the rest. And for the purposes of investment decisions, the second group didn’t matter; tracking its spending habits or worrying over its savings rate was a waste of time. All the action in the American economy was at the top: the richest 1 percent of households earned as much each year as the bottom 60 percent put together; they possessed as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; and with each passing year, a greater share of the nation’s treasure was flowing through their hands and into their pockets. It was this segment of the population, almost exclusively, that held the key to future growth and future returns. The analysts, Ajay Kapur, Niall Macleod, and Narendra Singh, had coined a term for this state of affairs: plutonomy.

Rick Perry vs. the Tea Party

The narrative was all ready to go: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2010 re-reelection campaign was supposed to be an old-fashioned brawl between the incumbent governor of nine years and the state's most popular politician, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texas Monthly put the duo on its cover with the tag line, "It's On and It's Gonna Get Ugly." Political junkies stocked up on popcorn.

But it didn't turn out that way. After starting off 30 points down, Perry went on to crush Hutchison in the primary. The senator's attacks on Perry mostly fell flat; instead, the sharpest critiques of the governor came from a third candidate: Debra Medina, a nurse and former Wharton County Republican Party chair, who, with zero name recognition or institutional support, a bare-bones budget, and a whole lot of tea party backing, soared to 20 percent support in the polls.

USDA Scientist: Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide Damages Soil

August hasn't been a happy month the for the Monsanto PR team. No, I'm not referring to my posts on how Gaza and Mexico don't need the company's high-tech seeds—the ones it will supposedly be "feeding the world" with in the not-so-distant future.

Monsanto's real PR headache involves one of its flagship products very much in the here and now: the herbicide Roundup (chemical name: glyphosate), upon which Monsanto has built a highly profitable empire of "Roundup Ready" GM seeds.

The problem goes beyond the "superweed" phenomenon that I've written about recently: the fact that farmers are using so much Roundup, on so much acreage, that weeds are developing resistance to it, forcing farmers to resort to highly toxic "pesticide cocktails."

Thousands launch mass protest in Washington, D.C. against tar sands pipeline

A climate-related record is about to be broken this summer, joining the others that have already been experienced so far. However, it's not in the form of the devastating heat waves, droughts, storms and torrential floods we have been seeing around the world. Consider it, instead, as a sign of hope, as Washington, D.C. hosts the largest act of civil disobedience for the climate ever seen in America.

From tomorrow through Sept. 3, a wild range of protesters -- including Nebraskan ranchers, teachers from Wisconsin, Texan landowners and Canadian indigenous leaders, alongside some of the country's top scientists and a few celebrities -- will gather outside the White House for a series of mass sit-ins. Their demand is that President Barack Obama deny a permit for a pipeline that would further hook his country to Alberta's tar sands, the world's dirtiest oil. 

Tinker, tailor, soldier, councillor

It’s hard to explain to anyone under 30 (who’d have been 8 when the Berlin Wall fell) what the Cold War was like, or even that it happened. Clashes between “communism and freedom,” a readiness to incinerate the planet, stalking “subversives.” A culture bathed in politics. The Hollywood red scare, the career of Ronald Reagan: from B-actor to president. And spy mania. It seems as remote as the Middle Ages yet many of us were there.

If you want your kids to understand the Middle Ages, you can take them to Medieval Times at the CNE. If you want give them a sense of the Cold War, take them to a council meeting at city hall. Look for Giorgio Mammoliti.

He announced recently that there are six or seven secret Communists on council with a long-term plot to take over all private property and control everyone’s thoughts and views. They’re hiding “underground” but he can detect them with his “keen” sense of political smell.

Government is Muzzling Scientists ... Again

The Privy Council is squelching discussions of research indicating the harmful impacts of salmon farms.

Fraser River sockeye salmon are what the Grand Banks used to be to Canada – a remarkably abundant source of food security. They are also vital to First Nations communities, and helped establish the B.C. economy – they feed most of the interior of B.C. with rich ocean nutrients, growing trees and feeding wildlife. They are a power cord carrying energy from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. However, beginning in about 1996, they began to behave strangely, entering the river too early when water temperatures were not good for them, and dying just before spawning, whether the water was warm or cool.
While the Fraser sockeye rallied for a surprising historic high return in 2010, the problem remains. Their behaviour has become unpredictable, and this suggests there is a new variable that is responsible for whether they live or die. The Cohen Inquiry was initiated to figure out what this variable is.

The Verizon Labor Battle: As Strike Continues, Customers Report Delays and Disruptions To Service

As a strike by 45,000 Verizon workers approaches the two-week mark, the company’s customers are beginning to feel the impact on its services. Consumers are reporting significant delays in booking Verizon technicians to fix and install landline telephone, Internet and cable television services. The strike was called after Verizon pushed for the workers to accept far-reaching concessions, including a pension freeze and fewer sick days. The company also asked workers to contribute far more toward their health coverage. Meanwhile, Verizon made $22.5 billion in profits over the past four and a half years and has paid its top five CEOs $258 million in the past four years. We’re joined by Steven Greenhouse, the labor reporter for the New York Times.

Source: Democracy Now! 

A Debate: Should the U.S. Approve TransCanada’s Massive Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline?

Thousands of environmental activists from across the continent plan to gather in Washington, D.C., tomorrow to launch a two-week protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to U.S. oil refineries Gulf of Mexico. The massive pipeline would cross the Yellowstone River, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in the United States. Environmentalists plan to hold sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience outside the White House everyday in order to pressure the Obama administration as it decides whether to approve the pipeline’s construction. Supporters of the pipeline say the pipeline will create some 20,000 construction jobs, and the company behind it, TransCanada, has already signed agreements to employ the members of four international unions if the project is approved. Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed a measure that would force a decision on the Keystone XL by November 1. As the Obama administration faces industry pressure on one side and sustained grassroots protest on the other, we host a debate between Cindy Schild, the Refining Issues Manager at the American Petroleum Institute, and Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, a group taking part in the Washington protests.

Source: Democracy Now! 

The Politics of Climate Change

We need to reframe the climate-change debate in a way that encourages rational discussion.

This is Part 3 in a three-part series on tackling climate change. Part 1 addressed the obstacles that human nature poses to dealing with these sorts of long-term problems, and Part 2 focused on the tools available to overcome them. Part 3, found here, explores the political dimension of the issues, and what needs to change.

In the first two segments of this series, I suggested that the unhindered progression of serious challenges like climate change is partly due to our tendency to deny and rationalize, but that things can still be turned around. One condition, however, is that we must recast the “framing” of the debate in a way that is not only in accord with our core beliefs and nature, but that also encourages rational debate. In this regard, there are number of things to keep in mind:

A Crisis of Confidence

Short-term, election-cycle thinking means our federal leaders are lacking national vision.

This is Part 1 of a four-part series that outlines the crisis of confidence in national governance, and the urgent need for Canada to develop clear long-term national goals for which our federal government is directly accountable. Part 1 focuses on Canada’s need to break out of election-cycle thinking and transform our approach to national governance and public finances.

Unnoticed in the heat of an all-too-short Canadian summer, with Parliament shuttered for an extended recess, the business of the nation quietly continues under the radar. Occasionally, a first ministers’ conference or a crisis of some sort will merit enough media attention to register fleetingly in our collective psyche. But, for the most part, billions of dollars of national revenue steadily flow out of Ottawa each month, channeled to individual Canadians and to other levels of government (provincial, municipal, aboriginal) with little or no direct accountability with respect to even the most basic national goals or objectives.

Clement's constituency office a 'mail box' for G8 funding applications, says aide

PARLIAMENT HILL—Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s constituency office was acting simply as a “mail box” where municipalities sent applications for money from the $50-million G8 legacy fund and had no part in deciding which towns and villages would get cash to beautify streets and upgrade infrastructure for the summit last year, an aide to Mr. Clement says.

But, The Hill Times confirmed Thursday that two local mayors who took part in closed-door planning for the projects donated to Mr. Clement’s 2008 election campaign and his riding association. The controversy over the legacy fund is now tinged with new allegations involving the election in October that year.

Mr. Clement’s spokesperson denied that Mr. Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka) contravened any election period guidelines for ministers or MPs when he chaired a private committee of local mayors in September 2008—in the midst of the federal election campaign that year—to begin plans that would eventually lead to the selection of municipalities that would get G8 build-up money as the 2010 summit neared.

Panda Express Sued By Feds For Treatment Of Latino Employees

"For months [the manager] treated me like a worthless employee," Aremy Lomely, a former Panda Express employee, told the Oakland Tribune. "I felt so ashamed when the Asian workers watched me obediently run from the bathroom to the tables to the counters, cleaning when they did not have to."

Lomely is part of a federal court filing against a San Jose Panda Express restaurant that allegedly forced Latino employees to clean toilets and perform other menial tasks while Asian employees of equal ranking stood by and watched. According to the suit, the manager of the restaurant also punished Latino employees more often and more harshly, frequently cutting Latino employee hours and awarding them to Asian employees instead. According to SFGate, the allegations occurred from 2008 to 2009, and the restaurant has since hired new management.

Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?

A whistle-blower claims that over the past two decades, the agency has destroyed records of thousands of investigations, whitewashing the files of some of the nation's worst financial criminals.

Imagine a world in which a man who is repeatedly investigated for a string of serious crimes, but never prosecuted, has his slate wiped clean every time the cops fail to make a case. No more Lifetime channel specials where the murderer is unveiled after police stumble upon past intrigues in some old file – "Hey, chief, didja know this guy had two wives die falling down the stairs?" No more burglary sprees cracked when some sharp cop sees the same name pop up in one too many witness statements. This is a different world, one far friendlier to lawbreakers, where even the suspicion of wrongdoing gets wiped from the record.

That, it now appears, is exactly how the Securities and Exchange Commission has been treating the Wall Street criminals who cratered the global economy a few years back. For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation's worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – "18,000 ... including Madoff," as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – has apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.

Plants And Animals Moving As Climate Changes, Study Finds

A new study suggests that plants and animals are moving as the climate changes.

Red Orbit reports on research published in the journal Science, showing that as temperatures rise, plants and animals are moving away from the equator and to higher elevations. As the Associated Press writes, they are "fleeing global warming."

2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record, according to government climate experts. According to the Associated Press, National Climatic Data Center's David Easterling noted that since 2000, we have experienced nine of the 10 warmest years on record.

In response to a changing climate, the study finds that species are moving away from the equator at an average rate of more than 15 feet per day, or about a mile per year.

The article also asserts that the plants moving the most are in the areas with the highest levels of warming.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Chris D. Thomas, a conservation biologist who lead the work, said, "It's not a matter that might happen in the lifetime of our children and our grandchildren. If you look in your garden you can see the effects of climate change already."

The findings are based on the largest analysis to date of the shifting ranges of species in certain areas of the world, according to the Washington Post.

"The more warming there’s been in an area, the more you would expect a species to move, and the more they have moved,” Thomas, told the Post. "This more or less puts to bed the issue of whether these shifts are related to climate change."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Tony Clement Used G8 Legacy Fund To Buy Re-Election

OTTAWA - The NDP is accusing federal Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement of using a controversial, $50-million G8 legacy fund to buy re-election, prompting a heated denial from the government.

Municipal documents obtained by the New Democrats show Clement met with local mayors and councillors in the midst of the 2008 election campaign. They discussed how to identify projects that could be eligible for the legacy funding.

Twelve days after that meeting, a local news outlet reported that Clement had posted video endorsements from "local townspeople, mayors and council members" on his campaign website.
"It gave him a major advantage over the other candidates," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said in an interview Thursday.

Toronto considers a complete ban on panhandling

It was an issue that was bound to resurface sooner or later. After all, the two previous mayors attempted to sweep the streets clean of homeless and poor people.

So why should the Ford administration be any different?

"It creates a really nasty, harmful atmosphere in the city," said Cathy Crowe, street nurse and spokesperson for the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. "We feel that there have been hate crimes against homeless people inspired by some of that language. And for sure less tolerance."

Some of that intolerance has led to an enormous increase in tickets handed out under the Safe Streets Act. In 2010, police laid 15,000 charges as compared with about 2,000 in 2004.

"They've done it because there's been some kind of direction or permission for them to focus their efforts on that," said Crowe. "And they know just as well as anyone that those tickets can't be paid."

The consequences of Toronto city cuts for youth

Here's one dirty word you can call me, Mammoliti. Call me motha. You, too, Ford brothas. It's about time we started to talk family, because you're not just messing with the grown-ups when you tear all civility and grace from Toronto's public sphere.

The KPMG report you're studying for surgical guidance documents every place where the city offers any degree of excellence or innovation. These are highlighted as "opportunities" for the knife. How's that for a subliminal message to the kiddies? Let's gang up on the best and brightest.

This is perhaps too subtle for the mayor, but if you check out news from across the pond you can see it's time we paid attention to the subliminal messages in our urban culture fashions.

Ford's dysfunctional political fam has probably been too busy figuring out how to slice the flesh off our already thin metropolis to have noticed that last week in the U.K., thousands of angry, urban (and suburban) kids took their power in the way they know how -- a destructive rage on their neighbourhoods.