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, September 16, 2011

Banks Who Received Bailout Funding Made Riskier Loans And Investments: Study

After receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, banks often did not come to the aid of credit-starved American businesses. Instead, it seems many banks went back to making the same high-risk bets that left them in need of government support in the first place.

Despite claims by government officials at the height of the financial crisis that bailouts would lead to more lending, banks that received bailout funding didn't increase total lending, according to a new study out of the University of Michigan.

But the banks did shift their investments toward risky loans and investments, including mortgage-backed securities. Under few guidelines, banks largely treated the bailouts as a windfall and, more importantly, a reassurance that the government would come to the rescue in the future, said the paper's co-authors, University of Michigan assistant finance professors Ran Duchin and Denis Sosyura.

The paper, released earlier this week, argued that the key factor predicting more risk-taking was not the bailout money itself, but the message that the government had the banks' back.

Massive U.S. Embassy In Iraq Will Expand Further As Soldiers Leave

WASHINGTON -- American combat troops in Iraq may be heading to the exits -- or not -- but the U.S. government's enormously expensive intervention there is hardly coming to an end.

In a telling sign of how dangerous and chaotic Iraq remains more than eight years after President George W. Bush launched the war against Saddam Hussein, U.S. diplomats, military advisers and other officials are planning to fall back to the gargantuan embassy in Baghdad -- a heavily fortified, self-contained compound the size of Vatican City.

The embassy compound is by far the largest the world has ever seen, at one and a half square miles, big enough for 94 football fields. It cost three quarters of a billion dollars to build (coming in about $150 million over budget). Inside its high walls, guard towers and machine-gun emplacements lie not just the embassy itself, but more than 20 other buildings, including residential quarters, a gym and swimming pool, commercial facilities, a power station and a water-treatment plant.

Yet the embassy is turning out to be too small for the swelling retinue of gunmen, gardeners and other workers the State Department considers necessary to provide security and "life support" for the sizable group of diplomats, military advisers and other executive branch officials who will be taking shelter there once the troops withdraw from the country.

University Tuitions In Canada Rising Way Faster Than Inflation, Statscan Says

OTTAWA - Canadian undergrads are paying way more than the inflation rate in tuition hikes this year.

Statistics Canada reports full-time students paid an average of 4.3 per cent more in tuition this fall than they did last year, when tuitions rose four per cent.

Inflation was 2.7 per cent between July 2010 and July 2011.

StatsCan says undergraduate students are paying an average of $5,366 in tuition fees in 2011-12, up from $5,146 a year ago.

Tuition fees rose in all but one province, Newfoundland and Labrador, where they have been frozen since 2003-04.

Increases ranged from 1.4 per cent in Manitoba to 5.1 in Ontario.

New Brunswick ended three years of frozen tuition fees with a 3.6 per cent increase, while tuitions in Nova Scotia rose 4.3 after three years of declines.

On average, undergraduate students in Ontario paid the highest fees in Canada, at $6,640, followed by students in New Brunswick who paid $5,853.

Undergrads in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador continued to have the lowest average fees, $2,519 and $2,649 respectively.

Graduate students paid an average of $5,599 in tuition fees for the 2011-12 academic year, up 3.7 per cent.

Source: Huffington 

Two more Ford allies reject his Port Lands vision

Mayor Rob Ford is facing revolt over his Port Lands plan, with two more prominent allies joining Councillor Jaye Robinson in saying they will not vote to grab control from Waterfront Toronto.

Michelle Berardinetti, like Robinson a member of Ford’s executive, and TTC Chair Karen Stintz both said Thursday they want the intergovernmental agency to hasten development, but reject Ford’s vision of denser development, attractions and a shopping centre on the eastern waterfront.

Berardinetti, who voted with Ford at executive last week to start negotiations with the province and Ottawa to regain control of the city land, said in an interview she would vote against the same motion at council next week.

The rookie councillor said, after talking to the city’s Toronto Port Lands Co., which recently surprised councillors by unveiling a glitzier rival “vision” to Waterfront’s neighbourhood-based mix of condos, shops and offices, she’d like to see co-operation between the agencies, with Waterfront in control.

City overwhelmingly rejects Ford's cuts

One of the biggest polls ever conducted in Toronto shows residents from every corner of the city are overwhelmingly against Mayor Rob Ford’s cuts.

From Doug Ford’s ward in Etobicoke to budget chief Mike Del Grande’s in Scarborough, the results will serve as a sobering warning to councillors within the Ford voting bloc.

A Forum Research telephone survey of nearly 13,000 people reveals that more than three-quarters of Torontonians want their local councillor to protect services rather than comply with the mayor’s wishes. And only 27 per cent of residents say they would vote for Rob Ford if an election was held tomorrow.

More significantly, because of the poll’s size, Forum was able to provide the first authoritative assessment of support on a ward-by-ward level.

At White House, Weighing Limits of Terror Fight

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s legal team is split over how much latitude the United States has to kill Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia, a question that could define the limits of the war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to administration and Congressional officials.       

The debate, according to officials familiar with the deliberations, centers on whether the United States may take aim at only a handful of high-level leaders of militant groups who are personally linked to plots to attack the United States or whether it may also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers focused on parochial concerns: controlling the essentially ungoverned lands near the Gulf of Aden, which separates the countries.

The dispute over limits on the use of lethal force in the region — whether from drone strikes, cruise missiles or commando raids — has divided the State Department and the Pentagon for months, although to date it remains a merely theoretical disagreement. Current administration policy is to attack only “high-value individuals” in the region, as it has tried to do about a dozen times.

Toews Says Dechert Did Nothing 'Untoward'

The Prime Minister's Office has looked into the Bob Dechert email controversy and found nothing untoward occurred, says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

The Conservative MP admitted to sending “flirtatious” emails to Shi Rong, a journalist in Toronto working for China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, in 2010 while parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs.

In an interview with the CBC's Evan Solomon on Power & Politics, Toews said he had no evidence to indicate anything untoward took place between the journalist and Dechert.

Some have wondered if there should be an investigation into the matter in order to make sure no sensitive information was exchanged in their correspondence.

Late Thursday, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Rong now has left Canada on a "scheduled vacation."

Military chief used VIP jets for flights to Caribbean, NHL, CFL games: CTV

Since 2008, Canada's top military commander has used government VIP aircraft to fly to sporting events, galas and a Caribbean holiday, racking up a bill of more than $1-million, CTV News is reporting.

Passenger logs requested by the broadcaster through the Access to Information Act provide details of several flights taken by General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of the Defence Staff.

In January of 2010, for instance, a repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton caused him to miss a flight to Saint Maarten Island, in the Antilles, for a cruise with his family. So, he took a government Challenger jet to the island, CTV reported, at a cost of $92,956.80.

Six months later, he used the plane to attend the Calgary Stampede with his wife. CTV cited records showing that the jet dropped them in Calgary, flew back to Ottawa empty, then returned to Alberta three days later to pick them up. The total cost was $200,000.

That fall, Gen. Natynczyk spent $121,550.70 to fly to the Grey Cup in Edmonton; on another occasion, in January of 2009, he and his family flew from Ottawa to Toronto to drop the puck at a Maple Leafs hockey game during the Canadian Forces Appreciation Night for $23,231.30.

In total, $732,366.50 went towards flights to attend hockey and football games in various cities across the country.

There were other bills for appearances at various events and fundraisers, including a Support Our Troops Gala in Edmonton in September of 2009 and True Patriot Love Foundation dinners in Toronto and Vancouver.

Gen. Natynczyk's office told the broadcaster that he tries to use commercial flights “whenever available and where his official travel schedule permits,” but that regular airline service “often doesn't provide the flexibility needed.” The flights, it noted, often take him to events where he is representing the Canadian Forces.

As for the excursion to the Caribbean, his office said it was “not deemed to be a personal trip” since his holiday has been delayed by work.

Source: Globe&Mail 

Ford waterfront vision sinking quickly

The political will is waning for Mayor Rob Ford’s vision for the Port Lands as members of his inner circle work to broker a deal before next week’s council meeting, and public opposition mounts to the plan that would put a Ferris wheel and mega-mall at the mouth of the Don River.

Peter Milczyn, a supporter of the mayor, is trying to steer the debate away from the lavish conceptual drawings presented last week at City Hall and praised by the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford.

“The way this has unfolded is not the way it should have unfolded,” Mr. Milczyn told The Globe and Mail on Thursday. “There were a lot of carts being put before the horses here.”

Talk by Councillor Ford of jaw-dropping plans, long before any drawings were made public, has created a “distraction” from the real issue – the cost of developing the site and the need to speed up that process, he said.

U.S. Takes Lonely Path In Opposing All Forms Of Palestinian Recognition

WASHINGTON -- When Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, appeared at a breakfast meeting with reporters here on Monday, it was just one event in an unusually busy day.

"If you were to see my schedule," Rice joked, "you'd wonder why I am here."

For much of the past few weeks, Rice's hectic agenda has been dominated by a single item: persuading members of the United Nations to vote against a Palestinian bid for statehood.

"The United States, and I, and others, have been working very energetically to talk to member states about the real-world consequences of this kind of approach," Rice said.

It comes as no surprise that the U.S., a longtime ally of Israel, has pledged to oppose the Palestinian statehood bid. If the Palestinians seek formal recognition of their state in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. has promised to veto the measure. If they instead ask for informal "observer" status in the U.N. General Assembly, the U.S. is enlisting allies to vote against it -- even though by all accounts Palestinians have the votes to win.

NLRB Boeing Case: Bill To Weaken Labor Board Passed By House Republicans

WASHINGTON -- In their latest effort to aid the Boeing Company, House Republicans took the extraordinary step on Thursday of voting to strip the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of much of its power.

The bill, entitled the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, would bar the federal labor board from ordering a company to close or relocate a workplace, even if that company has violated labor law. Thursday's House vote fell along party lines, with 238 Republicans for the bill and 186 Democrats against it.

The bill is designed expressly to thwart a controversial complaint brought by the NLRB against Boeing that has put the future of a South Carolina Boeing plant into limbo.

Although Republicans claim the law would save South Carolina jobs, Democrats and union leaders say it would gut the 77-year-old independent agency of its authority, while also letting Boeing off the hook for alleged misdeeds.

The NLRB's acting general counsel filed the complaint in April, alleging that the aerospace giant violated labor law when it established a production line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. The move was retaliation against Boeing's unionized workers in Washington state for having gone on strike in the past, the complaint alleged. If Boeing and the board don't settle the case, the company could feasibly be forced to close its South Carolina facility and bring the work to Washington.

John Boehner Jobs Speech Blasts Obama Plan, Rules Out Tax Increases

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) threw cold water on the prospect of passing President Obama's jobs bill during a speech on Thursday, casting doubt over the viability of longterm debt talks as well.

Addressing the Economic Club of Washington, Boehner called Obama's plan to create jobs, which includes a mix of tax incentives and state-targeted spending, a "poor substitute" for policies he views as more effective.

“Private-sector job creators of all sizes have been pummeled by decisions made in Washington. They’ve been slammed by uncertainty from the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating," said Boehner. “They’ve been hurt by a government that offers short-term gimmicks rather than fundamental reforms that will encourage long-term economic growth."

The Problem of Media Stupidity

There is a specter haunting America today. It is the specter of stupidity. A few months ago, I wrote a column I called “The Problem of Republican Idiots.” Believe me, this problem has not gone away. Rick Perry, the Republican Party’s presidential front-runner right now, believes the phenomenon of man-made global warming to be a conspiracy by “a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data.” No less alarming is that this stupidity is apparently contagious. The men and women who inhabit the upper reaches of the US media (and pull down the multimillion-dollar salaries) appear to believe that to do their jobs properly, they must make themselves behave like idiots in order to be “fair” to the Republicans and their idiotic ideas.

I have in mind two examples, both involving, as it happens, David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press. Neither one is exactly new, but I picked them because not only is Gregory host of television’s highest-rated Sunday morning news show, by far, but his program is also considered to be the most influential and important of all TV news programs. As the alleged gold standard of television interviewing and discussion, it sets the tone for much of the rest of the week’s reporting. Also, I just can’t get these two examples out of my head, they are so damn stupid. See if you agree.

University of Calgary climate research accounts used for PR, travel, wining and dining: records

OTTAWA — A pair of "research" accounts at the University of Calgary, funded mainly by the oil and gas industry, were used for a sophisticated international political campaign that involved high-priced consultants, lobbying, wining, dining, and travel with the goal of casting doubt on climate change science, newly-released accounting records have revealed.

The records showed that the strategy was crafted by professional firms, in collaboration with well-known climate change skeptics in Canada and abroad, allowing donors to earn tax receipts by channeling their money through the university.

All of the activities and $507,975 in spending were organized by the Friends of Science, an anti-Kyoto Protocol group founded by retired oil industry workers and academics who are skeptical about peer-reviewed research linking human activity to global warming observed in recent decades.

Rob Ford: Buyers eyeing Toronto Zoo, theatres

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says "people are knocking on my door" trying to buy the city's marquee zoo and theatres.

The newly-elected mayor told Toronto radio station CFRB Thursday morning that some parties would like to expand the Toronto Zoo in the northeast end of the city to include an amusement park.

"There are people knocking on my door all the time saying 'we would love to buy the zoo from you, but we want to put an amusement park with it'…" he told CFRB's Jerry Agar in an interview.

"We should not be in the business of running the zoo. Let's privatize the zoo, there's a huge amount of money there. You can't put a price on it right now. There are millions and millions of dollars for what people want to purchase the zoo for and add onto."

Selling off the city's zoos — including the downtown Riverdale Farm and the larger Metro Zoo — was part of independent auditor KPMG 's suggestions in a comprehensive document released earlier this summer.

Arctic ice near all-time low, 2nd study confirms

A second major scientific body has said Arctic sea ice is about as low as it's ever been since satellites began monitoring it.

And a researcher at the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center said that open water at the top of the globe may already be affecting weather in more southern reaches of North America.

The amount of ice in the North is almost at the all-time low of 2007 and could drop further in coming weeks, the centre said Thursday. That assessment came days after German researchers concluded ice cover is already less than it was four years ago, which was the lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979.

There is now about one-third less ice in the Arctic than the 1979-2000 average.

Northern sea ice is considered a leading indicator of global warming.

Although the National Snow and Ice Data Center suggests the ice level could still drop below the all-time low, this year's result is more worrisome because it happened in a summer that didn't have the same kind of unusual weather as in 2007.

Terrorism, waterboarding and CIA censorship: Ex-FBI agent Ali Soufan talks to The Star

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan speaks with the Toronto Star’s National Security Reporter Michelle Shephard about terrorism, waterboarding and why the CIA censored his newly-released book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al Qaeda. Below is an edited transcript of their discussion.

MS: Let’s start with the most recent news. Wednesday night, Wired Magazine published FBI training documents that stated that “main stream” (sic) Muslims are likely “terrorist sympathizers” and the Prophet Mohammed is akin to a “cult leaders.” Did you experience such perceptions at the bureau?

AS: First of all, I would like to know if these documents are genuine or not. My experience with the training of the FBI, when I was there at least and what I saw until I left, is this kind of behaviour wasn’t part of the institutional culture at all so that for me was surprising . . . I’m not shocked (however that) in the government that we might find some people who equate Islam with terrorism. It’s leaking into the government from a popular culture where Islamophobia is unfortunately being marketed by some.

Why my library matters to me

When I visited my grandparents in China last spring, my grandfather stood atop a chair and handed me my dad’s collection of books from a cupboard. They were wrapped in plastic bags, each with a mothball. Bugs, too, can be voracious readers.

Among the collection was a slim volume that was stitch bound and well worn. It was a pocketbook in which someone had hand-copied an entire book of poetry from the Tang dynasty. It lay right next to the hardcover copy of the same volume. A gift, my grandfather explained.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government banned books, and the mob burned them. High-school students were sent to rural labour camps. The “revolutionaries,” who locked down universities, took pride in not knowing literature and so persecuted those who did.

In one of the camps, where my father and his classmates worked 12-hour days, someone had smuggled in a poetry anthology. Nobody spoke of it, but at night, in the privacy of their beds, these 18-year-old kids lit candles to copy this book. Not all of them loved poetry, but they all pored over it and took their turns. From one pair of hands to the next, the book circulated through the camp and on to the next one. Where it passed, manuscripts were left behind, and those, in turn, were copied, then passed on.

Henry Waxman: 'The Most Anti-Environment House In History'

WASHINGTON -- During the 112th Congress, the Republican House majority has taken aim at issues ranging from labor protections to women's right to choose. But it may be the environment that’s hardest hit by Republican efforts to reshape the federal government.

Since the beginning of the current Congress in January, the House of Representatives has passed 125 bills that undermine environmental protection. Taken together, these votes make this "the most anti-environment House in history," according to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The list of bills, compiled by Democratic staffers on the committee, includes legislation limiting the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency by prohibiting it from regulating carbon emissions from power plants, votes to defund enforcement of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and efforts to target federal agencies such as the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy.

Grassroots Groups Offer Plan For $1 Trillion In Deficit Reduction

WASHINGTON -- Two grassroots political organizations -- one from the right, one from the left -- are offering Capitol Hill an entirely different way of looking at deficit reduction.

Rather than seeing it in partisan terms, or simply as a zero-sum choice between raising taxes and slashing social programs, the two groups on Thursday released a list of $1 trillion in proposed cuts targeting wasteful spending, ineffective programs and massive giveaways to special interests.

The two organizations -- the public-interest group U.S. PIRG and the anti-tax National Taxpayers Union -- have agreed on more than 50 specific recommendations for the congressional super committee on deficit reduction. Taking those recommendations would get the committee 80 percent of the way to its target of reducing the federal deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years.

Given the two groups' constituencies, raising taxes and breaking social contracts were both off the table. Instead, they found agreement on what they describe as $215 billion in savings from ending wasteful subsidies, $429 billion from addressing outdated or ineffective military programs, $232 billion from improving program execution and government operations and $132 billion from reforms to entitlement programs.

Rick Perry Supplemented Wealth With Profitable Deals Involving Political Friends & Their Businesses

(AP) AUSTIN, Texas — When it comes to presidential candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a man of modest means.

Perry's state salary peaked at $150,000 after two decades as a public official, and he and his wife earned just over $2 million in wages between 1991 and 2009.

Perry is worth is at least $1.1 million. His chief Republican rival, businessman Mitt Romney, is worth more than $190 million.

Perry became a millionaire through a practice common to many other politicians over the years: taking part in profitable deals involving political friends and their businesses. He made more than $800,000 in 2007 reselling a resort development plot he had gotten from a Republican friend in the Legislature, and he cleared a quick $38,000 in 1995 by flipping stock in a company owned by one of his top campaign donors.

Private deals involving campaign supporters are widely criticized by government reformers as a potential form of backdoor donations or influence-buying. But they are often legal; in Perry's case, the Securities and Exchange Commission did not act on a complaint about his stock windfall.

Rick Perry Calls Social Security 'A Criminal Enterprise', Defends 'Ponzi Scheme' Criticism

Texas Governor Rick Perry defended harsh words he's used to define his stance on Social Security in an interview with Time published online on Thursday.

"I don’t get particularly concerned that I need to back off from my factual statement that Social Security, as it is structured today, is broken," he said. "If you want to call it a Ponzi scheme, if you want to say it’s a criminal enterprise, if you just want to say it’s broken -- they all get to the same point."

The Republican presidential contender has taken heat from Democrats, rival presidential candidates and even Karl Rove for repeatedly characterizing Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." After walking back his choice of words as they appear in his memoir, Perry stood by his criticism of the entitlement program during last week's GOP presidential debate.

The Most Racist Thing That Ever Happened to Me

There's a Chris Rock joke that is emblematic of modern racism. It's from his 2008 standup routine "Kill the Messenger," and it's about Alpine, New Jersey, the posh town where he lives in a multi-million dollar home. His neighbors include Mary J. Blige, Patrick Ewing, and Eddie Murphy. Rock says Blige, Ewing, Murphy, and he are (or were) among the best in the world at their professions, legends in their line of work. They're also the only four black homeowners in town.

Then he says his next-door neighbor is a white dentist. "He ain't the best dentist in the world," Rock says. "He ain't going to the dental hall of fame. He's just a yank-your-tooth-out dentist." Rock spells out the point with a devastating punchline: "The black man gotta fly to get to somethin' the white man can walk to."

He's saying that in modern America blacks can ascend to the upper class, it's possible, but they have to fight so much more to get there because white supremacy remains a tall barrier to entry. The fact that a few slip through the infinitesimal cracks is a way of advancing the idea that white supremacy does not exist, an attempt to mask its awesome power, because the Matrix doesn't want you to know it's there. How can someone argue that Alpine, New Jersey, is racist when four black families live there, welcomed by the community and unharassed by police?

Mitt Romney's Biggest Backers: Pyramid Schemers?

Mitt Romney is probably best known for his work at the private equity firm Bain Capital. But the former Massachusetts governor and current GOP presidential contender also has close ties to a Utah-based company—one that doesn't have quite the cachet of the Wall Street power broker Bain. Instead, some of Romney's most loyal financial backers hail from a Provo, Utah-based company called Nu Skin that has had repeated run-ins with federal regulators for deceptive business practices and has been criticized as nothing more than a pyramid scheme.

In August, MSNBC broke the news that a new super-PAC had been created to support Mitt Romney's presidential bid, and that one of the donors was essentially a shell company that dissolved right after giving $1 million to the PAC. Buried in the story, though, was some other interesting news about the PAC's funders. Two other companies later outed as shell corporations that didn't do any business also donated $1 million each to the super-PAC. Both of those companies were founded by top operatives of Nu Skin, including the former CEO and cofounder of the firm, Steven Lund, a longtime Romney supporter. On Monday, the Washington Post noted that Lund is a big Romney supporter and described his firm as one that specializes in anti-aging creams.

The GOP's Plan to Deport Abused Women

House Republicans are pushing a bill that would remove all administrative discretion from deportation decisions—even if it means potentially deporting victims of domestic violence.

Rebeca Gonzales* is one of the women who could be left in the lurch. In February, she was arrested after calling 911 on her boyfriend, who she says after years of physical abuse was threatening to keep her from seeing her one-year-old child. When the police arrived, she tried to explain to them in Spanish why she had called—only to have the police angrily tell her to speak English. Convinced she had staged the incident, they ultimately arrested her instead of her boyfriend.

"I fainted because I never imagined that they would arrest me instead of him," Gonzales said.

Gonzales later found herself cuffed to a hospital bed. Although the doctors told the police her body showed signs of physical abuse, she was booked anyway. The charges were ultimately dropped, but it was too late: Gonzales' information had been forwarded to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) via the Obama administration program known as Secure Communities. After calling the authorities for help in finding a safe haven for herself and her child, Gonzales found herself about to be deported.

How Rick Perry Put Teacher Retirement Money in His Cronies' Hands

On October 19, 2010, shortly before Texans voted to elect their governor, Democratic candidate Bill White took aim at Republican incumbent Rick Perry with what he called a "smoking gun." He revealed a leaked internal memo written in 2009 by Michael Green, an investment director-turned-whistleblower at the state's $100 billion public-teacher pension fund, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The memo accused TRS brass and Perry-appointed trustees of pressuring employees to violate ethics rules and possibly state law by reversing negative outlooks to positive ones on a slew of questionable investment deals. As it turned out, big-time Perry donors ran many of the investment funds cited in the memo. It was, White claimed, a classic case of crony capitalism, and it merited an independent investigation.

The memo sparked a brief media firestorm, but Perry soon squashed the controversy. He pointed to probes by TRS and a Travis County district attorney, both of which found nothing wrong, as proof that Green's memo and White's claims were much ado about nothing. "There is no 'there' there," he said. There would be no new investigation, and with that the scandal vanished. Perry cruised to a third term as Texas' longest-serving governor.

SEC Admits Documents From Preliminary Investigations On Big Banks, Bernie Madoff Likely Tossed

WASHINGTON — The Securities and Exchange Commission has acknowledged that some documents from preliminary investigations of major banks and convicted swindler Bernard Madoff likely were destroyed under a former agency policy.

The SEC's enforcement chief made the disclosure in a letter Wednesday to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley had asked about allegations by an SEC attorney that the agency illegally destroyed records related to thousands of preliminary probes, including investigations of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Madoff.

Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said the agency doesn't believe any current or future investigations were harmed by the policy, which allowed documents to be discarded in cases that were closed when staffers decided a formal probe wasn't warranted. A review by the SEC inspector general is under way to determine if any law was violated.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, Inuit leaders talk about the lack of support

Inuit and non-Inuit alike marked World Suicide Prevention Day on Parliament Hill on Sept. 9 with an urgent message to government to take action against the crisis facing Inuit communities, where the suicide rate is 11 times higher than that in the rest of Canada.

The major message was that a lack of support services in the north is leading to a huge number of Inuit, especially youth, taking their own lives. This marks the 5th year in a row that this day has been marked on the Hill by Inuit looking to draw attention to the decimation taking place in their communities.

Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), one of the six national Inuit or Aboriginal organizations putting on the event, talked of her personal experience with her niece's suicide in March this year, and how these suicides affect everyone due to the small size and close-knit nature of Inuit communities.

She also focused on the need to implement mental health support in their communities: "It's a day where we recognize suicide prevention. So typically I would come here ... and encourage people to get more involved, sort of the pro-forma type of speech. But today, I wanted to speak about how I felt about it, as an individual and as a leader that's been dealing with mental health issues since I became president of ITK and trying to increase the support that people need in the north to address their issues."

Crown applies to intervene in HIV criminalization case

Ontario’s attorney general has applied to intervene in a Supreme Court of Canada decision that activists say could make it easier for courts to convict HIV-positive Canadians who don’t disclose their status to sexual partners. 

In a document submitted on Sept 9, the attorney general’s office noted there was “uncertainty and unfairness” in current laws.  

It is calling for a consent-based framework rather than the current legal approach, which has been applied unevenly and has allowed judges to convict HIV-positive Canadians even when they haven’t passed on the virus. 

“This is a kick in the face for people working on this issue,” says Tim McCaskell, a member of the AIDS Action Now steering committee. “This basically makes disclosure a requirement for any kind of interaction. As we know from Bill Clinton, it’s difficult to know what’s sex and what’s not. If we give someone a peck on the cheek, is it sex?”

McCaskell is frustrated with Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley, who last year told Xtra he would consult members of the community about creating prosecutorial guidelines to ensure less confusion in the courts. 

Cutting the core

Those in council’s mushy middle who’ve been propping up Ford will have to decide if they will take a bullet for the mayor
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Scarborough Civic Centre was chosen as the venue for the city’s response to consultants KPMG’s cost-cutting exercise known as the Core Services Review.

Perhaps it’s because Scarborough, so instrumental in electing the current mayor, has practically become Rob Ford’s adopted home. Or maybe it was his idea of a joke.

Scarborough, after all, stands to lose most through cuts first outlined by KPMG and now backed holus-bolus by city manager Joe Pennachetti and his staff of Ford-pleasing bureaucrats.

The official reason for the Scarborough locale: budget chair Mike Del Grande was in the house for the regularly scheduled Scarborough community council meeting, so it made sense.

But it also doesn’t hurt to get the press corps away from City Hall, especially now that it’s clear (as if it weren’t before) that the mayor was BSing us during the election when he said there wouldn’t be cuts to city services as a result of his promised tax cuts. Hard not to notice his conspicuous absence from Monday’s highly anticipated presser. The mayor has been reluctant to own up to his cuts lies. Maybe in his mind his no-cuts guarantee wasn’t a lie but just a broken promise, since he never intended to follow through anyway.

Lies Rob Ford has told

Recognize any of these 14 lies Rob Ford has told since taking office?

1. The promise during the election that there’d be no service cuts has followed a familiar trajectory for the pathological exaggerator. First he said there’d be no cuts, “guaranteed.” Then that there’d be no cuts in 2011. Then no “major” service cuts. Of course these were all lies. The city manager has identified 50 for council’s consideration September 26.

2. Ford said on election night that he would work hard to earn the trust of those who didn’t vote for him. Instead, he’s completely shut them out of the decision-making process – and hasn’t stopped the knuckle-dragging gorillas on his executive from demonizing his political opponents as “communists.”

3. He invoked William Lyon Mackenzie in his inaugural address, promising to fight against privilege and for the “little guy.” Guess that big social housing sell-off he’s orchestrating is for the “little guy” and not his development friends. The horrible truth: the Ford administration is the Family Compact all over again.

Rob Ford’s War on Toronto

Schoolyard bullies try to make their victims feel hopeless, like resistance is futile so you may as well hand over your lunch money and get ready for a smack.

The undynamic duo, mayors Rob and Doug Ford, are bullies trying to divide and defeat citizens in the course of making over a once-great city as a right-wing science experiment.

And you’d better not complain, because “there’s more where that came from.” Rob Ford said as much Monday when, in announcing proposed cuts that make a lie of almost all his campaign promises, he warned, “This is just scraping the surface right now.”

Get it? Shut your mouth or you’ll really see what he can do.

The Fords have traded in abusive language and us-versus-them rhetoric since their con job of a campaign, mocking their opponents and peddling simplistic solutions to problems both real and imagined.

There was no gravy-oozing golden goose hidden at City Hall ready to disgorge misused funds to maintain services citizens hold dear without using anything as quaint as taxation to pay for them.

U.S. border deal could compromise Canadian privacy: report

OTTAWA — The anticipated trade and security agreement with the United States carries no guarantee of a reduction of red tape at the border for Canadian business and is more likely to violate national privacy laws, a new report suggests.

In a report released Wednesday, the Rideau Institute offers a scathing rebuke of a new cross-border agreement with the U.S., expected to be announced within weeks, that the federal government says will increase perimeter security and ease trade with our neighbours to the south.

In February, Canada and the U.S. announced negotiations of the “Beyond the Border” initiative designed to reduce red tape at the border for businesses and improve North American security.

The Rideau Institute argues the new agreement may do neither.

Canada is being asked to compromise the civil rights of millions of Canadians without any guarantee the Americans will hold up their side of the bargain, says the report, written by Gar Pardy, a former senior diplomat to Washington.

Ford says city employees are the ‘gravy’

Jerry Agar, a NewsTalk 1010 radio host who supported Rob Ford’s bid for mayor, challenged Ford on Thursday to identify the wasteful “gravy” he had promised to find and eliminate if elected.

Ford’s response: “The gravy is the number of employees we have at City Hall.”

Ford refuses to use the word “cuts” when discussing the budget, habitually referring to “efficiencies.” Challenged by Agar to say whether the elimination of daycare subsidies for 2,000 people would be a cut, Ford said, “No, it's an efficiency.”

Ford usually conducts one-on-one radio interviews only with friendly hosts. In perhaps an indication of shifting political winds, Agar, a longtime booster, grilled him about his proposed cut to the police budget, his suggestion of a possible 2.5 per cent tax increase, his weakening grip on council and, twice, on his apparent inability to locate true waste.

A New Era for Environmentalists?

The Keystone pipeline protests reveal the shifting fault lines and changing culture of protest movements.

The Keystone XL pipeline protests in Washington, which concluded on Sept. 3, were about more than the fight over the tar sands – they were, in fact, proxy arguments for many things. For climate-change activists, preventing the pipeline is a method of holding U.S. President Barack Obama accountable to his pledges. For others, it is a symbolic struggle against oligarchy. Still others view it as a spiritual movement to fix humanity's extractive relationship with the Earth.

Yet, more than any particular aspiration, the two-week exercise in civil disobedience that led to 1,200 peaceful arrests was a referendum on the capacity to build, and sustain, a political movement.

Movements are defined, and remembered, as much by their conflicts as by their conquests. These conflicts are fodder for political writers, whose editors feed on antagonism.

Every evening between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., those who planned to be arrested the following day met for a working dinner and training. During the first night's training at Saint Stephen Episcopal Church – after the opening talk by prominent environmental writer Bill McKibben, but before the rice and beans – there emerged a recognizable, if subtle and brief, dispute over the following question: Should we sing while being arrested?

Tories cutting vital climate science, critics say

Environment Canada is planning to axe a monitoring network that is key to assessing Earth’s protective ozone layer, according to a report in a leading science journal.

The British journal Nature says scientists and research institutes around the world have been informally told the Canadian network will be shut down as early as this winter putting an end to continuous ozone measurements that go back 45 years.

“People are gob smacked by this decision,” Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, said in an interview with Postmedia News.

He and his international colleagues say they’ve been told the network and a related data archive will be closed down as part of the Harper government’s deep cuts at Environment Canada where hundreds of jobs are being are eliminated.

The scientists say the “drastic” cuts to the ozone program threaten not only international monitoring programs, but Canada’s reputation.

Council rebellion could halt Ford revolution

His political honeymoon long over, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has lost the public’s confidence. And now, he’s about to lose council’s as well.

The Ford revolution may be aborted before it takes root.

Torontonians are not impressed with Ford’s confrontational style, his lone-wolf approach to leadership and his threats to gut city services after guaranteeing during the election that he’d cut the “gravy” and not cut a single service.

But what may have tipped the balance, fatally, is a waterfront plan he and his councillor brother, Doug, dreamed up in secret to deliver a mega-mall, giant Ferris wheel and monorail to private developers on Toronto’s most valuable real estate asset.

Rookie Councillor Jaye Robinson, a member of the mayor’s hand-picked executive committee, says she can’t in good conscience support the mayor’s plan to displace waterfront plans developed after years of public consultation.

Ford ally joins experts in rejecting his Port Lands plan

A member of Mayor Rob Ford’s executive says she will vote against his mall-and-monorail Port Lands vision that leading experts will blast Thursday as “ill-conceived, reckless,” and poised to do “irrevocable harm to the city.”

The increasing likelihood that council will reject Ford’s attempt to wrest control of the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto had other allies scrambling Wednesday for a compromise to help him save face.

Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West) told the Star that, after much study and receiving more than 500 emails supporting the existing Port Lands plan, she can’t support the mayor’s glitzier rival vision.

“Voting on something where there’s no business plan and there’s been no extensive public consultation — I ran on civic engagement — I can’t do it,” Robinson said in an interview in her city hall office.

And the winner in Keystone feud is… jobs and security

The hottest environmental trigger point in North America today isn’t the melting Arctic ice or the disappearing polar bear. It’s the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, which, if it gets the go-ahead, will pipe bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands (or tar sands, depending on your point of view) to refineries in Texas.

Al Gore opposes it, of course, along with Bishop Desmond Tutu and The New York Times. Last month, a long list of environmental/Hollywood celebrities, including Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Margot Kidder, and Daryl Hannah, begged for the privilege of being arrested at protest demonstrations outside the White House. On Sept. 26, protesters will gather on Parliament Hill for another day of action.

Ms. Klein said she didn’t originally intend to get arrested. But the speeches she heard “from the people living downstream, who are dealing with having their land spoiled, who are dealing with outbreaks of disease and cancer, [were] just so moving that I really felt the need to stand with them in solidarity.”

Rookie Toronto councillor pulls support for Ford’s waterfront plan

A week before council votes on the Ford brothers’ contentious vision for Toronto’s dormant Port Lands, one member of the mayor’s once-loyal executive committee is breaking ranks.

Jaye Robinson, rookie councillor for Don Valley West, said the Ford-endorsed plan to build a mega-mall and Ferris wheel on 180 hectares at the mouth of the Don River is “too light” for her to back.

“I can’t support this plan,” she told The Globe and Mail. “The lack of consultation, the lack of a business plan, it’s a concern.”

Her rejection of the Fords’ port plan came the same day a poll was released showing plummeting support for the mayor, and follows a string of Ford allies openly questioning the mayor’s policy direction on everything from possible library closings to potential layoffs of emergency workers. Left-leaning members on council are interpreting the grumbling as a sign of a slow-motion mutiny in the Ford camp.

Mid-East shuttle diplomacy ahead of Palestinian UN bid

Senior US and international envoys have begun a fresh round of shuttle diplomacy to try to head off a Palestinian bid for UN membership.

US diplomats Dennis Ross and David Hale, as well as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Middle-East envoy Tony Blair are in the region to try to revive stalled peace talks.

Palestinians are preparing a bid for UN membership later this month.

Israel has warned of "harsh and grave consequences" if the move goes ahead.

Mr Ross and Mr Hale arrived in Israel on Wednesday and held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the US State Department said.

They were due to travel to the West Bank on Thursday for talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.