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.]

Thursday, October 06, 2011

‘Rules were broken’ over G8/G20 summit spending: Auditor-General

OTTAWA — The federal Auditor-General ratcheted up his criticism Wednesday of the Harper government’s spending on the G8 and G20 summits, detailing serious concerns about broken rules, potentially misleading expenditure requests and ministers hand-picking projects to receive funding.

Speaking to the House of Commons public accounts committee about his spring report, interim Auditor-General John Wiersema scolded the Conservative government for a “one-of-a-kind” situation unlike anything he has ever seen in his 33 years working in the A-G’s office.

Wiersema repeated many of the concerns first raised in the A-G’s June report, but explained in much greater detail the problems his office uncovered with the government’s management and fiscal oversight of G8 and G20 spending.

The government rushed through spending on the June 2010 G8 and G20 summits without proper documentation or explanation to parliamentarians about how the cash would be spent, he said.

He said government ignored normal protocols when approving infrastructure projects for the G8 summit in the riding of Tory minister Tony Clement — now Treasury Board president — bypassing public servants who generally determine what projects receive funding.

Occupy Wall Street March Gets Massive Turnout; 28 Arrested in Police Crackdown

Labor unions and students joined the growing Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City on Wednesday in the largest march since the protest began 20 days ago. Tens of thousands marched from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park, renamed “Liberty Plaza,” the site of the protest encampment where hundreds have been sleeping since Sept. 17. The march was peaceful ,but police later beat a handful of protesters with batons after they toppled a police barricade in an attempt to march down Wall Street. Police say a total of 28 people were arrested. We hear from eyewitnesses to an altercation between police and protesters at Wall Street.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Occupy America

The Beginning Is Near! proclaimed one early sign at New York City’s Liberty Plaza, which since September 17 has been held by a coalition of activists under the Occupy Wall Street banner. In the early days of the action, many on the professional left doubted that Occupy Wall Street would be the beginning of anything. “Another day, another demo…” some shrugged, weary from years of protests that never seem to stop another war, another robbery of the poor by the rich. In Washington, for two frustrating years, the debate has been focused on how much austerity to have—the slash-and-burn policies of the Republican Party or the austerity-lite measures of President Obama. More stimulus, we were told, was a nonstarter. Hope seemed a distant, perhaps false, memory.

But thankfully, the young protesters at the heart of Occupy Wall Street are not so cynical. The kids are alright! They may have lost faith in the key institutions of America—the elected officials, the media, the banks—that ought to be steering the country out of economic crisis, but they have not lost faith in the people. Yes, they’re angry, but they are also searching and optimistic and, above all, they have taken matters into their own hands.

The beginning really is near. The occupation of Wall Street has grown from hundreds to thousands, and more than 115 parallel occupations have cropped up in cities around the world, from Occupy Boston to Occupy Los Angeles to Occupy Finland. Crucially, labor and civil society groups like the SEIU, the Teamsters, the Transit Workers, New York Communities for Change and others have come on board, not to take over the occupation from the amateurs but to join them, won over by their DIY spirit.

Why This Prominent UK Enviro Caused a National Security Freakout

Why did the FBI detain and question a 62-year-old British environmentalist upon his arrival at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport? The bureau won't say, and the activist, who was subsequently shipped back to London, never got a clear explanation.
Last Thursday, prominent British enviro John Stewart traveled to the United States to take part in a monthlong speaking tour organized by Aviation Justice Express, a US-based coalition of environmental and community-based groups. The tour was scheduled to stop in six cities across the US, where Stewart was slated to discuss his work in the United Kingdom on aviation pollution.

Stewart, who was voted the "most effective green activist" in the UK in 2008, is best known for coordinating the campaign that successfully stopped an expansion at London's Heathrow Airport. As coordinator of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN), he worked with a wide coalition of community members, environmentalists, and politicians to block the addition of a third runway at the airport. The coalition succeeded in winning the support of the UK's conservative Prime Minister David Cameron during his election bid in 2008; in May 2010, the coalition government officially scrapped the plan. Stewart had previously led a national coalition seeking to stop highway expansion in the 1990s. In both efforts, Stewart says, his role was working to bring together diverse stakeholders. While the groups he has collaborated with have included activists who engaged in acts of civil disobedience, they also worked with mainstream politicians and people who lived in affected neighborhoods. It was that coalition-building that made the campaigns successful.

Occupy Wall Street: From March To Melee

Wednesday's anti-Wall Street protest was not one march but two. The first was an orderly, permitted procession on Broadway led by leading local labor unions that boasted 10,000 participants, according to the Associated Press. The second was a quick-moving series of confrontations that resulted in around 28 arrests, accusations of police brutality and fears that Zuccotti Park could soon be cleared out by force.

The day's activities began in Zuccotti Park around 3:30 p.m. EDT. A massive crowd populated "Liberty Square" with a buzz of activity in preparation for the big community and labor march that many thought could serve as a turning point in the movement's impact. The mostly young occupiers were headed north to a union rally in Foley Square. Then, together, the two groups would turn to march back down Broadway to to exchange ideas over what has been dubbed the people's microphone.

Eleanor Moriarty, a 70-year-old retired social worker who was visiting Zuccotti Park for the first time, said she was taken by "the younger people and their energy." Inside the park, Erica Basco, a 21-year-old Purchase College student, painted a pro-union sign and explained that her mother, while a Communications Workers of America member, couldn't attend the rally because she was working a late shift.

CBC Funding: Boss Says Rivals Have An Interest In Diminishing Public Broadcaster

OTTAWA - The CBC's top boss says one of its major competitors is determined to damage the reputation of the public broadcaster in order to weaken it and he's determined to set the record straight on Parliament Hill.

MPs will be examining the CBC's current court battle with the Information Commissioner over access to information beginning Thursday. The Conservatives pushed for the study this fall, saying Canadians were concerned that the taxpayer was funding both sides of a case that hits the Federal Court of Appeals on Oct. 18.

At the same time, the Conservative Party of Canada is polling its members on the value of the CBC, the National Citizens Coalition has mounted a campaign to defund the CBC, and the Sun Media chain has published a months-long series of articles and editorials targeting the Crown Corporation for its refusal to provide expense information requested under access to information.

Asked what he thought was behind the campaign, CBC president Hubert Lacroix said:

"It depends on what kind of interest you have in putting the broadcaster in what kind of light."

"That's why I'm actually kind of looking forward to this hearing of the ethics committee on Nov. 1st," Lacroix said in an interview.

Should We Think Twice About Online Voting?

Prioritizing convenience over genuine citizen engagement is the wrong strategy.

Seduced by technology's ability to facilitate the mundane tasks of daily life, many Canadians are finding the act of going out and voting too disruptive. With the exception of a slight uptick of around three per cent in the most recent federal election, voter turnout continues to decline.

What can be done to compel more people to take part in this fundamental function of a healthy democracy? Elections Canada is now exploring the possibility of “e-services” such as internet voting. Yet, as we wade into considerations of altering our voting practices, we must ask ourselves an important question: In addressing the participatory deficit plaguing our democracy, should our primary focus be on making voting more convenient?

Obama embraces Wall Street protesters

President Barack Obama embraced the Wall Street protesters Thursday after dozens were arrested the day before in the largest demonstration to date that drew thousands of participants and had the support of major union groups.

Obama said during a press conference at the White House that the three-week-old protests that have spread around the country “expresses the frustrations that the American people feel.”

“We had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place,” he said.

Obama said the demonstrators’ anger is “going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like, once again, they’re getting back to some old-fashioned values.”

On Wednesday, New York City police announced that 28 people were arrested during a march through Lower Manhattan, significantly fewer than the more than 700 protesters arrested during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday.

The Rich Can Afford to Pay More Taxes

Warren Buffett’s commentary in The New York Times on Aug. 15 has opened a new front in the continuing debate on whether taxes should be raised to reduce projected budget deficits.

Mr. Buffett asserted that the well-to-do could easily shoulder a higher burden. Specifically, he proposed an increase in the current 35 percent top rate for those making more than $1 million and a further increase on those making more than $10 million. He also proposed taxing dividends and capital gains as ordinary income (currently, they are taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent).

Conservative groups such as the Tax Foundation pooh-pooh the idea of raising tax rates on the rich, asserting that there isn’t enough money available to bother with.

On Friday, however, the respected Tax Policy Center published estimates showing that the potential revenue would have a significant impact on projected deficits. It looked at several options, including a 50 percent top rate on incomes over $1 million and changes to the taxation of dividends and capital gains.

Tony Clement Investigation Won't Go Further: Auditor General

OTTAWA - The federal spending watchdog says the Harper government clearly broke the rules when it set up and doled out a controversial $50-million G8 legacy fund.

Still, interim Auditor General John Wiersema says there's no point in revisiting the matter in another audit.

He says he's satisfied his office was not misled and came to the right conclusions about the fund in a report last spring.

The report concluded the Harper government kept Parliament in the dark when it diverted $50 million from a border infrastructure fund to create the legacy fund.

It also found that public servants were shut out of the process of selecting which projects would get money from the fund, set up to help the Parry Sound-Muskoka region host last year's G8 summit.

Thirty-two beautification projects were approved by John Baird, then infrastructure minister, based strictly on the recommendation of local MP Tony Clement, now Treasury Board president.

Source: Huffington 

The Commons: All in favour of cutting taxes, say ‘yea’

The Scene. “I don’t believe,” the Prime Minister once declared, “that any taxes are good taxes.” Most everything Stephen Harper says is sure to be contested by at least a couple people, but on this point all parties now seem mostly to agree. Even if they do make a great show still of objecting to each other.

“Mr. Speaker,” the NDP’s Libby Davies began this afternoon, not bothering to pause for her colleagues’ applause and talking fast, “the Conservatives’ reckless policy of corporate tax cuts has helped gut our country’s manufacturing sector. The Conservatives do not mind helping profitable oil companies and the big banks just love the handouts that they get, but there has been no benefit for the manufacturing sector, and now we have lost hundreds of thousands of good jobs. Nowhere is this more evident than in Ontario, with even Mr. Hudak saying as much. Will the Prime Minister wake up, see the evidence and cancel his next round of pointless corporate tax giveaways?”

The Prime Minister stood to respond, but a rejoinder had already been tabled moments before by Conservative MP Eve Adams. ”The last thing Canada’s families need now,” she had warned the House, “is the NDP’s massive job-killing tax hikes that would cost jobs and hurt our economy.”

Tories refining patronage, opposition says

Defeated candidates get paid to campaign for next election, critics say

Conservative government patronage is being taken to new levels since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won re-election with a majority, opposition critics say.

Immediately after the 2011 election, Harper appointed three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate, raising opposition ire. Now the government is being accused of helping other candidates get a jump-start on the next campaign.

One of them, Cecil Clarke, ran for the Conservatives in Nova Scotia's Sydney-Victoria riding, losing to Liberal Mark Eyking by fewer than 1,000 votes. Now he's a federally paid consultant, travelling the province meeting with businesses and individuals. He'll get $135,000 a year for three years.

Chalk River reactor has been leaking for 50 years, tribunal hears

OTTAWA — The aging NRU research reactor at Chalk River has been leaking low-level radioactive water into the Ottawa River for about 50 years, a federal licensing tribunal has heard.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), owner-operator of the 53-year-old reactor, has been unable to halt tritium-laced water seeping from the reactor’s control rod bays and is instead diluting the concentration of tritium with fresh water before it somehow leaks into the nearby Ottawa River, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) tribunal was told.

The five-member CNSC panel is deliberating on an AECL application to renew the operating licence of the NRU and surrounding Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) to 2016. AECL officials have assured the panel that NRU can run for at least another five years without compromising safety. One of its chief missions is producing medical isotopes. The current operating licence expires Oct. 31.

Tritium is a low-energy, radioactive form of hydrogen generated in the heavy-water used to moderate nuclear fission.

The tribunal seemed surprised to learn of the leak and that it has been depositing small amounts of tritium into the Ottawa River since the 1960s.

AECL’s unsuccessful attempts to stop the flow highlight the challenge the newly-restructured Crown corporation faces trying to keep the world’s oldest operating reactor in service. NRU’s containment vessel sprang a heavy-water leak in 2009 that led to a 15-month, $70 million shutdown and a global shortage of medical isotopes. It followed another emergency safety shutdown in 2007 that ended when Parliament legislated the reactor to resume operating.

Think Occupy Wall St. is a phase? You don't get it

(CNN) -- Like the spokesmen for Arab dictators feigning bewilderment over protesters' demands, mainstream television news reporters finally training their attention on the growing Occupy Wall Street protest movement seem determined to cast it as the random, silly blather of an ungrateful and lazy generation of weirdos. They couldn't be more wrong and, as time will tell, may eventually be forced to accept the inevitability of their own obsolescence.

Consider how CNN anchor Erin Burnett, covered the goings on at Zuccotti Park downtown, where the protesters are encamped, in a segment called "Seriously?!" "What are they protesting?" she asked, "nobody seems to know." Like Jay Leno testing random mall patrons on American History, the main objective seemed to be to prove that the protesters didn't, for example, know that the U.S. government has been reimbursed for the bank bailouts. It was condescending and reductionist.

More predictably perhaps, a Fox News reporter appears flummoxed in this outtake from "On the Record," in which the respondent refuses to explain how he wants the protests to "end." Transcending the shallow partisan politics of the moment, the protester explains "As far as seeing it end, I wouldn't like to see it end. I would like to see the conversation continue."

Elizabeth Warren Blasts Wall Street, Scott Brown In First Massachusetts Senate Debate

In her first debate as a candidate for U.S. Senate Tuesday night, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren declined to criticize her fellow Democratic candidates, taking aim instead at Republican Sen. Scott Brown, whom the Democratic nominee will face, and Wall Street.

"Forbes magazine named Scott Brown Wall Street’s favorite senator. I was thinking that’s probably not an award I’m going to get," she said to applause and laughter from the audience at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Two recent polls put Warren and Brown in a statistical tie.

"America's middle class has been hammered, squeezed and chipped at for a generation now, and it can't take it much longer," she added. "This is what I work on. This is my life's work. I've done research on it, I've written about it, I've advocated for these families. When we hit a financial crisis I went to Washington to try to work on the bank bailout and bring some transparency and accountability to it," she said.

She also made the audience laugh and applaud with the second question, which asked each candidate how they paid for college, since Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan to pay.

"I kept my clothes on," she quipped. She added that she borrowed money to go to a public university and had a part-time job.

Putin's Treasure Dive Find Was Staged: Spokesman

MOSCOW -- The widely publicized incident in which Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulled up ancient Greek jug fragments from the seabed on a diving expedition was staged, his chief spokesman said.

The August dive in the Kerch Strait that connects the Black and Azov seas was reported extensively in Russian and overseas media. Putin is noted for his habit of appearing in vigorous and adventurous settings, including fishing while stripped to the waist and riding with leather-clad motorcyclists.

In video footage of the dive, Putin holds two fragments of what are said to be 6th century B.C. Greek jugs and says "the boys and I found them" in about six feet (two meters) of clear water.

JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Accused Of Overcharging Military Veterans

In what is only the latest instance of questionable mortgage practices coming to light, a new lawsuit claims that 13 banks and mortgage companies -- including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan and PNC Bank -- charged hidden, illegal fees to military veterans trying to refinance their homes.

The lenders, unable to charge certain fees under U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rules, simply increased another set of fees without making it clear to veterans that they were doing so, the suit alleges.

The result was hundreds of thousands of cases where veterans trying to refinance their homes ended up paying between $300 and $1,000 more than they were supposed to, according to the suit.

The veterans' loans are some of many of misleading or fraudulent loans that banks made during the housing bubble that are only recently coming to light.

Herman Cain's 2004 Campaign: 'Godless' Gays And Planned Parenthood Eugenics

WASHINGTON -- Herman Cain's widespread appeal, which has helped him ascend the ranks of the Republican primary field, stems in part from his ability to cast himself as the reluctant candidate. Cain is known as a successful businessman first and a motivational speaker and author second. He often tries to portray his run for the White House as an answer to the call of a unique time and challenges.

“I’m not a professional politician," he says. "I’m a professional problem solver."

But if Cain is not a professional politician, it's not entirely by choice. He ran for a Senate seat in Georgia in 2004 but lost in the Republican primary to current Sen. Johnny Isakson. That period of Cain's political life has gotten scant attention even as his White House bid has transformed from a quixotic quest to something more serious. That might be because the Cain who ran for Senate is a different type of candidate than the one running for the White House.

What stands out in particular is the extent to which the former Godfather's Pizza CEO used sharply conservative cultural issues to set himself apart from his fellow Republicans. An archived search of Cain's campaign website shows that he routinely attacked Isakson for wavering on abortion rights, chastising him in an early radio ad for voting "to allow abortions in our tax-funded military hospitals overseas." (The bill had simply allowed servicemen or women serving overseas to use personal funds on abortion.)

Mohamed Ali Muflahi Arrest: First Person Detained Under Alabama Immigration Law Was In U.S. Legally

Mohamed Ali Muflahi, the first person arrested under Alabama's strict new immigration law, is actually residing in the United States legally, his attorney proved on Monday.

Muflahi, a 24-year-old born in Yemen, was arrested Friday during a drug raid in Etowah County, Alabama, along with two other Yemenis, the Gadsden Times reported last week. According to local Sheriff Todd Entrekin, the three men were taken into custody for obstructing a government operation, and upon processing at the jail, only Muflahi was unable to produce documentation of his legal status.

This is a misdemeanor violation according to the new Alabama immigration law that went into effect late last month, and, Entrekin told the Times last week, the first arrest carried out under the new measures.

But it turns out that Muflahi is not in the U.S. illegally, as some had suggested. His attorney provided documentation of his legal status on Monday, Etowah County officials told the Associated Press.

New Trade Deal Would Benefit Big Pharma At AIDS Programs' Expense

WASHINGTON -- In 2003, with the AIDS pandemic developing into one of the most severe humanitarian crises in modern history, President George W. Bush pledged billions of dollars in relief funding for citizens of the world's poorest countries. Seven years in, the initiative, called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is widely regarded as an outstanding success, responsible for saving millions of lives in 15 developing nations.

Vietnam has received more than $320 million from the program since 2004, giving thousands of people living with HIV access to critical, life-saving medicine for the first time. But a new trade deal the Obama administration is pushing to complete with Vietnam and seven other Pacific nations threatens to seriously hinder both U.S. and international efforts to combat AIDS -- including the government's own efforts in Vietnam.

According to leaked documents from the talks, U.S. negotiators are seeking to impose a set of restrictive intellectual property laws that would help American drug companies secure long-term monopolies overseas. The result? Higher prices for drugs. That's good for corporate profits, but disastrous for relief programs like PEPFAR that depend on cheaper generic medications to treat the global poor.

Hot off the PMO InfoAlerteBot Presses: Per-vote subsidy a "tax on voting"! Wait, what?

In which the tireless talking point generator experiences the logical equivalent of a general protection fault:
From: Alerte-Info-Alert
Sent: Tuesday, October 04, 2011 12:37 PM
To: Alerte-Info-Alert
Subject: Eliminating the Tax on Voting/Éliminer la taxe sur le vote
Eliminating the Tax on Voting
Today our government introduced the Budget Implementation Act II which includes measures to eliminate the Per Vote Party Subsidy. In November 2008, our government committed to ending this tax on voting that will save the Government of Canada around $30 million per year. This move is being heavily criticized by the NDP, who receive most of their funding from large unions and have come to rely on this subsidy for a portion of their annual funding. This disrespect for taxpayers' money is yet another reason why the NDP are not fit to govern.
In 2006, our government took big business and big labour out of politics with the Federal Accountability Act.
We are acting quickly to continue bringing transparency to government by phasing out the direct subsidy of political parties.
We think money should come from voters. Not from corporations, not from unions, and not from government.
Political parties should do their own fundraising, not live off of taxpayer funded handouts.

WARNING: Attempting to reproduce the semantic gymnastics required to redefine the per-vote subsidy as a "tax on voting" may result in confusion, irritability and spontaneous outbursts of "But that's not how it works at all!" 

After all, it's not like you hand over a loonie and change to the returning officer when casting your ballot. Under the current formula, it is the total number of votes cast for a registered political party that determines how much money it receives.

There is no link between the particular party for which you voted and your identity as a taxpayer. You don't even have to pay taxes to vote -- and in fact, even if you don't vote at all, you still would still be hit by what PMO has dubbed the "tax on voting," as a portion -- an almost unfathomably minuscule one, but a portion nonetheless -- of the taxes you pay would still make its way into the coffers of every single party that qualifies for the allowance.

Also of note: the now apparently obligatory reference to the NDP's reliance on support from "large unions" and "big labour," which -- doesn't make much sense either, really, at least when described in the present tense, as such donations have been banned since 2006, as the InfoBot itself helpfully points out in the very next sentence.

Source: CBC 

Will ‘dingwalling’ taxpayers come back to haunt entitled Tories?

David Dingwall famously asserted he was “entitled to his entitlements.” And now the former Liberal politician’s name has morphed into a verb.

“Dingwalling” is being used in the House of Commons to describe the haughty actions of certain front-bench government MPs who think that because they are cabinet ministers they are entitled to planes, to gold-embossed business cards and to use government funds as a treasure trove of largesse for their own ridings.

But this new verb represents even more than that, argues Peter Stoffer, the veteran Nova Scotia New Democrat who coined the new term. It’s a warning to governments to be more humble.

“Once you start dingwalling the Canadian people you are starting to become arrogant,” Mr. Stoffer told The Globe and Mail. “And once you become arrogant the Canadian people will throw you out on your arse.”

This is not new to him. It’s a pattern of governments, no matter their stripe.

“I have seen this happen with the Liberals in 1997 and onwards,” Mr. Stoffer said Wednesday. “A level of arrogance starts to seep on the front bench and people start thinking they are entitled to those entitlements.”

Conservative flag-protection bill won’t apply to MPs

The Conservative government wants to make it illegal for anyone to stop Canadians from flying their county’s flag – unless those Canadians happen to be members of Parliament.

Heritage Minister James Moore told reporters on Wednesday that he and his fellow parliamentarians would still have to abide by the rules of the House of Commons that say no flags may be flown in the windows of Parliament Hill offices.

Those rules were adopted by the elected members and are governed by the Board of Internal Economy, which is chaired by Speaker Andrew Scheer.

They are approved on consensus, Mr. Moore said. “So whatever rules they have, it’s not a law, but it’s a consensus that all parties will operate on the standard within the Parliamentary precinct.”

Mr. Moore stood with MP John Carmichael last week when the backbench Tory, who represents Toronto’s Don Valley West, announced that he was tabling a bill that would result in fines or even jail terms for Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf.

Groups sue to stop groundwork for proposed Keystone pipeline

OMAHA, NEBRASKA—Three conservation groups are suing to halt preliminary work on a proposed 2,730-kilometre oil pipeline from the oilsands of western Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

The lawsuit to be filed Wednesday in federal court in Nebraska contends that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broke the law by allowing Canadian pipeline operator TransCanada to start preparing the route for its Keystone XL pipeline.

The groups say federal officials allowed TransCanada to clear a 160-kilometre pipeline corridor through the Nebraska Sandhills despite a federal law barring projects from launching before they receive approval.

The project would cross the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies groundwater to Nebraska and seven other states.

The lawsuit also names the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Source: Toronto Star 

Foreclosure Crisis Lessons Not Yet Learned

The Home Affordable Modification Program ("HAMP") emerged from Treasury's initial promise that Troubled Asset Relief Program would be used to bail out homeowners on Main Street as well as the megabanks on Wall Street. As originally sold to Congress, TARP funds would be used to purchase "troubled assets" -- the mortgages and mortgage-backed securities whose plummeting value helped trigger the financial crisis. Treasury promised that once it purchased those mortgages, it would then modify them where appropriate, potentially helping millions of struggling homeowners keep their homes. It was this promise, of course, that helped deliver many of the votes from Congress that ultimately authorized TARP.

After Treasury shifted the focus of TARP from the direct purchase of mortgage-related assets to capital injections into the struggling Wall Street behemoths, President Obama announced the mortgage modification program in February 2009 to address the government's still-unfulfilled promise to assist struggling homeowners. As announced, HAMP was intended to help 3 to 4 million homeowners stay in their homes through permanent government-subsidized mortgage modifications. By any meaningful definition, that effort has been a failure.

When I stepped down as the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program ("SIGTARP") at the end of March, I warned that HAMP was falling far short of its stated goals and even further short of meeting the urgent needs of American homeowners. Unfortunately, there has been little improvement since then. The foreclosure crisis continues to wreak havoc on millions of American homeowners. While the number of foreclosure filings has "dropped" in the first half of 2011 to a still-devastating 1.2 million properties (compared to 1.6 million properties in the first half of 2010, and a record-setting 2.9 million for all of 2010), this improvement is illusory.

Michele Bachmann Agrees With Supporter Who Wants To Impeach Obama

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was on the campaign trail in Iowa Tuesday when she agreed with a supporter who suggested that President Barack Obama be impeached in order to "get him out of the way."

"Well, I'll tell you, I'll tell you, I agree, I agree. Some people are really upset," Bachmann replied to the man before moving on to meet another supporter.

Bachmann has a penchant for making eyebrow-raising statements. And she herself has subtly glossed over the issue of presidential impeachment on more than one occasion.

The Republican congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate made news earlier this week for a similar encounter during a radio interview in which she seemed to casually accept a controversial comment from a caller.

"I would vote for Charles Manson before this guy," the caller said, comparing the notorious criminal to Obama. "But I’m pulling for you big time, all the way, go Michele!"

"Thank you for saying that," Bachmann replied.

Bachmann's campaign has had a difficult week, following up on an even tougher month. On Tuesday, The Huffington Post's Jon Ward reported that longtime Republican pollster Ed Goeas and other aides were leaving her presidential campaign, a sign that her funds were beginning to dwindle.

The latest moves are consistent with a trend that has seen Bachmann slipping in the polls ever since a high-profile win at the Iowa straw poll in mid-August.

Source: Huffington 

Grinnell Students Hold Protest Signs At Bachmann Event, Are Cordoned Off By Police

Grinnell students are certainly a political force to be reckoned with.

On Tuesday, Michelle Bachmann made a campaign stop at Caroll's Pumpkin Patch in Iowa. When she arrived, she was greeted by about 50 Grinnell students milling about and holding signs.

Does this sound like a threatening scene? The police thought so. At about 5:30, right before the event was to start, the police cordoned the students from the gathering with tape.

The New York Times has more:
A few students, who had been alerted to the visit by an e-mail from the campus Democrats, unfurled signs protesting Mrs. Bachmann's opposition to gay rights ("Pumpkins are the Gayest"). But there was no chanting and no heckling. Most students said they had come to hear her speak and to ask a question or two. "Grinnell's known for being a very liberal and politically active campus, but we're very peaceful,'' said one student, Jillian Johnson. "We weren't going to throw anything. We just wanted her to talk to us."
A Bachmann spokesman denied the barrier had anything to do with the students presence. CBS reports, however, that she cut short her visit and canceled her speech.

Bachmann was at the patch to fund-raise for a Christian group called The Family Leader.

“This was never intended to be a big public event,” Bachmann told reporters, “This was always intended to be a private fundraiser.”

Source: Huffington 

Occupy Wall Street Protests Ignite Progressive Political Fire In Washington

WASHINGTON -- With the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations inspiring scores of similar protests nationwide, a progressive conference in the nation's capital has drawn thousands of activists dedicated to harnessing that energy into a full-blooded political movement.

The conference is an overhaul of the annual progressive event hosted by Campaign for America's Future, which teamed up with Van Jones, former adviser to President Barack Obama, for a three-day gathering starting Monday dubbed "Take Back The American Dream." Like most major political events in recent years, the conference was dominated by economic concerns, with the political prominence of too-big-to-fail banks, widening income inequality and rampant unemployment taking center stage. Speakers at the conference and activists in attendance excoriated Beltway politicians for focusing on the federal budget deficit instead of addressing the American jobs crisis.

Leaders at the conference also pressed progressives to focus their energy beyond Obama, highlighting broad dissatisfaction with an administration that has repeatedly derided liberals, dismissing many of the activists present at the conference as "the professional left." The message from progressive leaders -- who included Jones, economist Robert Reich and The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, among others -- was clear: Neither political party in Washington is listening to working Americans struggling through the worst recession since the Great Depression. Progressives will have to continue hosting events like Occupy Wall Street that bring voters into the streets and pressure political leaders to take action on the jobs crisis. Progressive members of Congress have already taken note, with the Progressive Caucus -- the largest alliance of House liberals -- endorsing Occupy Wall Street amid the conference cheerleading.

Conference events continue through Wednesday, with an official Occupy D.C. jobs rally scheduled for the early afternoon.

Source: Huffington 

CBO: Deficit Would Be One-Third Lower If Economy At Full Potential

The U.S. federal deficit in fiscal year 2012 would be about one-third lower if the economy were operating at its full potential, the Congressional Budget Office said in a letter to a member of the bipartisan deficit-reduction committee, released Tuesday.

The official budget score-keeper said the deficit would only be about 4% of gross domestic product, instead of CBO’s 6.2% projection for 2012, if the economy was not under-utilizing capital and labor resources, according to the letter answering a Sept. 27 request from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.).

If the economy were stronger, incomes would be higher, sending more tax revenue to the government and unemployment would be lower, reducing the cost of some government benefits, CBO said in its letter. These “cyclical factors” contributed about $340 billion to the roughly $973 billion deficit projected for 2012, the nonpartisan agency said.

Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is also one of 12 lawmakers on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which must find a way to curb the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years or automatic spending cuts will be triggered.

Source: Huffington 

#OccupyWallSt, Then #OccupyKSt, Then #OccupyMainSt

It is way too early, and perhaps even a bit crazy, to see an American Spring in the growing protests on Wall Street. Yet. But there is no doubt that if there is one place in America that these protests should begin, it is there, and it is now.

Writers by the dozen have lamented the influence that Wall Street exercised over Washington throughout the 1990s, leading up to the great collapse of 2008. A multi-billion dollar lobbying campaign, tied to hundreds of millions in campaign contributions, got Washington to erase its regulations and withdraw its regulators. One statistic summarizes it all: in 1980, close to 100 percent of the financial instruments traded in the market were subject to New Deal exchange-based regulations; by 2008, 90 percent were exempted from those regulations, effectively free of any regulatory oversight.

But there is nothing at all surprising in that story. The spirit of the times was deregulation. The ideology of Democrats and Republicans alike was regulatory retreat. No one should be surprised, however much we should lament, that politicians did what the zeitgeist said: go home -- especially when they were given first class tickets for the ride.

Rick Perry Fundraising Effort Nets $17.1 Million Since Mid-August

WASHINGTON — Republican Rick Perry raised more than $17 million in his first seven weeks running for president, a large haul that helps cement his status as the top alternative to rival Mitt Romney despite the Texas governor's recent campaign struggles.

GOP opponent Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who is a favorite of libertarians, brought in $8 million and, in doing so, proved that he's in the race for the long-haul even though he hasn't been able to break into the top tier of candidates in national polling.

"We're not competing with people who can wave a magic wand and get money from the big donors," Paul said.

"All donors are not equal, you know. I will take my smaller donations with the enthusiasm of the people who send me the money," he later said of his fervent supporters.

Of the rest of the GOP field, only Romney was expected to come close to either of those totals for the three-month fundraising quarter that ended Sept. 30; the former Massachusetts governor is expected to raise less than the $18 million he brought in during his first three-month fundraising period.

No one is expected to approach President Barack Obama's totals; his campaign and the Democratic National Committee have set a combined goal of $55 million for the quarter. A record-shattering fundraiser, Obama raised $750 million for the 2008 primary and general elections.

Per-Vote Subsidy: Ending Funding For Parties Will Change How Politics Is Conducted, Experts Say

OTTAWA - It was a day of giving and taking away for Canada's registered federal political parties, but its impact will be felt for years.

The Conservative government introduced a bill Tuesday that, among other things, makes good on a campaign promise to phase out the per-vote subsidy provided to parties since 2004.

The legislation arrived at the same time as quarterly cheques from Elections Canada based on the results of the May 2 vote, a $7.4-million quarterly bonanza that has become the mother's milk of Canadian federal politics.

"Political parties should do their own fundraising and not live off of taxpayer-funded handouts," Tim Uppal, the Conservative minister of state for democratic reform, said in an interview.

The subsidy, currently worth just more than $2 per vote, will fall to $1.50 in three months, to $1 in 2013 and to 50 cents in 2014. By the time Canadians return to the polls for a federal election in 2015, the subsidy will be gone altogether.

Taking a Close Look at Rick Perry’s Civil Rights Record

On Sunday the Washington Post revealed that Texas Governor Rick Perry’s family hunting ranch was named “Niggerhead.” Perry maintains that his parents painted over the sign on the rock at the ranch’s entrance right after buying it, but some visitors to the ranch interviewed by the Post say otherwise. Perry has come under fire for the insensitivity this demonstrates from his presidential primary opponent African-American businessman Herman Cain, who has risen to a tie with Perry in the Post’s latest national poll. Perry responded with the mantra of most Republicans accused of racism: that some of his best friends are black. “Rick Perry has a long and strong record of inclusiveness and appointing African Americans to key state posts, including Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, his former chief of staff and general counsels, university regents, parks and wildlife commissioner and other high profile posts,” said his campaign in a statement.

The race of Perry’s appointees is not nearly as important as the content of his policies. So how is Perry’s record on race and civil rights?

Perry may be better than his predecessor, George W. Bush, but that’s damning him with faint praise. “We had no access to Governor Bush and we had no rapport with him,” says Gary Bledsoe president of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP Branches. “We will disagree with Perry, but he’s got an open mind.”

'Occupy Wall Street': What Should a Populist Movement Ask of Washington?

The "Occupy Wall Street" protest might seem inchoate, disorganized, even chaotic and confused. That's to be expected. This is movement about a middle class crisis that has no easy culprit.
If you look across the placards at the protest, there is no one cause. Some signs call for student loan reform. Some call for tax reform. Some call for legal reform. Some are contradictory, such as the calls for anarchy and better government. Some don't make all that much sense. But so what? This is a populist movement, not a campaign platform. Not yet, anyway.

The most moving part of the protests might be a Tumblr account called We Are The 99 Percent, a collection of testimonials. A homeowner who had to abandon his house. A student with $75,000 in debt. A daughter whose mother took her life after she lost her job and couldn't afford health care. What makes these stories effective is that most of them are not about pinpointing culprits. They're about explaining the crisis from the ground level. Here is the first testimony on the site today:
At 21 years old, I am...
-One semester from graduating college with a degree no one seems to hire
-In massive debt because of that once "dream degree"
-About to become a mother to a baby whose illness has gotten us booted off government health 9 months pregnant...
-Scared for our future
-I am the 99%-

Are Korea Trade Pact Boosters Selling "Snake Oil"

In 1961, Allen Rosenstein used a $500 loan from his father to found Pioneer Magnetics, an electronics company that grew from a small NASA contractor in Southern California to a major manufacturer of computer components. By 2000, he employed 500 workers and grossed $27 million a year. But that was before competition from low-cost Asian manufacturers inspired much of the American high-tech industry to relocate overseas. "They have persuaded my biggest competitors to move over there," says Rosenstein, who's had to lay off 80 percent of his US workforce to stay competitive. "The net effect is it beggars this country, and we don't seem to be able to recognize it."

On Monday, the Obama administration sent Congress its latest version of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA)—a bilateral pact that would be the largest of its kind since the North American Free Trade Agreement. (The package included free trade deals with Panama and Colombia, but those are small potatoes compared with Korea, the world's 15th-largest economy—and a tech and manufacturing powerhouse.) The US Chamber of Commerce, which launched a national pro-ratification campaign in January, was juiced. "America is finally getting back in the game," Thomas J. Donohue, the group's president, declared in a statement. "The chamber will pull out all of the stops to get the votes in Congress, where the agreements already enjoy bipartisan support."