Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mike Lee, Tea Party Senator, Wants A Super PAC For His Leadership PAC

WASHINGTON -- Freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, is pushing the boundaries of campaign finance law by seeking to open a super PAC account within his leadership PAC. Having two separate, segregated accounts under the banner of his Constitutional Conservatives Fund would allow Lee to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals.

Earlier this month, the Federal Election Commission announced that most political action committees may open a separate, segregated account to accept such unlimited contributions -- "soft money" -- so long as the funds are spent solely on independent expenditures, campaign ads and materials. Groups with the double accounts are known as hybrid PACs. The FEC issued the ruling after it reached an August consent judgment on the same issue in the case of Carey v. FEC.

The question that Lee raises is whether this new rule applies to leadership PACs, which are created by a lawmaker.

Lee plans on using the Constitutional Conservatives Fund to support conservative candidates through independent expenditures much as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) did with his leadership PAC in the 2010 midterm elections.

Elizabeth Warren On Occupy Wall Street: I Created 'The Intellectual Foundation For What They Do'

Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, who is running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a Democrat, revealed that she was a Republican until the 1980s, and she came out in strong support of the Occupy Wall Street protests in an interview with The Daily Beast published Tuesday.

"I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore," she said. "I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role."

She declined to say whether she voted for Ronald Reagan.

Warren also said that she supported the Occupy Wall Street protests. "I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do," she added, referring to her academic research on consumer debt.

Tories move probe of Veterans Affairs cuts behind closed doors

An opposition manoeuvre that prompted a public exploration of the effects of cuts at the Veterans Affairs department could come to a quick end.

The Commons committee investigating the issue went behind closed doors Tuesday after hearing from just one set of witnesses in its study of the reduction of $226-million over two years to the department’s $3.5-billion budget.

What went on while committee was in camera is a secret. And the members will continue their debate in private at the next committee meeting on Thursday. But the Conservatives on the committee appear ready to stop the discussion before witnesses who oppose the cuts can be called.

The Conservatives, who hold the majority of seats, originally determined that the committee would spend its time deliberating commemorative celebrations for veterans.

Rick Perry On Increasing Income Inequality: 'I Don't Care About That'

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry says he wants a huge tax break for the rich, and he doesn't care what it means for income inequality.

Rick Perry announced on Tuesday that if elected president he would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 and give everyone the option of paying a flat income tax rate of 20 percent.

He also would try to encourage U.S. companies who have stored $1.4 trillion overseas to move their profits back to the United States by allowing them to pay 5.25 percent in taxes at first, according to Reuters.

The plan, if enacted, would dramatically reduce the tax burdens of the wealthiest people in the United States, saving millions of dollars for some, while raising taxes for poor and middle-class people who opt into the plan.

"I don't care about that," Perry said of the increased economic inequality that would result from the tax plan in an interview with The New York Times. "If that's what comes, I'll take that criticism."

Income inequality has been rising in the United States for the past three decades, as the top one-percent has claimed an increasing share of national income growth, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Indeed, the top one-percent claimed 23.5 percent of all national income in 2007: its highest share of the national income since 1928.

Police State Targets Occupy Movements

On October 17, hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in Liberty Park around cakes that had been donated by local businesses. The group was celebrating the one-month anniversary of the occupation, but the moment was simultaneously both joyous and somber.

Though OWS had won some clear victories against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, they had also withstood brutality at the hands of the NYPD.

Each candle glowing atop the cakes represented a protester who had been arrested.

While the Occupy actions have become national symbols of resistance, the movement has also served to underline the problem of America’s massive police state, which is used to suppress freedom of expression and assembly rather than as an instrument to safeguard those liberties.

New York City’s chapter is perhaps the most famous example of this clamp down. The first major media story occurred on September 24 when Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed five peaceful women who were being held by police officers in orange plastic netting. The clip took Youtube by storm. One of the versions of the video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

How the Rich Subverted the Legal System and Occupy Wall Street Swept the Land

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding—indeed, an integral part of it.

Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression. This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades. As journalist Tim Noah described the process:

During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth—the “seven fat years” and the “long boom.” Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1 percent. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20 percent. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.

Organize and Occupy!

The activists of Occupy Wall Street have captured the imagination of the world, focusing a spotlight on economic inequality and the role of big banks and corporations in hijacking democracy and plundering the economy. What is fascinating is that they have succeeded where so many of us have failed, and they have done it by violating many of the cardinal rules that have dominated past thinking about how to raise and popularize issues of inequality and out-of-control corporate power. They didn’t focus-group, poll and then milquetoast the message to appeal to the middle. They didn’t stay away from conflict, arrests and disruptions out of fear of alienating potential supporters. Nor did they play it safe and set out modest demands and goals so they would seem “reasonable” in the hope that they could influence the politics of the country from the margins.

In some ways, Occupy has more in common with the mass industrial strikes of the 1930s than with most current political and union organizing. It may seem counterintuitive to compare strikes of the old industrial economy to the wired world of online organizing, tweeting and instant YouTube videos, but there are strong parallels. Just as the auto strikes and plant occupations of the 1930s continued until they achieved their objectives, the occupiers have said their movement will go on indefinitely, and it won’t be won in a day, or through a few demonstrations, or by electing more sympathetic politicians alone. They have a center of activity, the Occupy site, which like a picket line in a mass strike is a place anyone can show up at any time to help and get involved. And they have spread their energy far and wide, knowing they can’t win just by being at Wall Street, any more than garment, auto and steelworkers could have won by striking just one plant at a time.

"Women, War and Peace" PBS Series Examines Role of Nobel Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee in Liberia

A new series on PBS examines the impact of conflict on women around the world. "Women, War and Peace" looks at war zones from Bosnia to Colombia to Afghanistan and beyond. The most recent episode to air, called "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," focused on the story of Liberian women who took on the warlords and the regime of dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a bloody civil war. The documentary features Leymah Gbowee, one of three recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. We speak to Abigail Disney, the executive producer of "Women, War and Peace," the PBS special series on women’s role in global conflict. The next episode airs tonight, "Peace Unveiled," which examines the position of women in the conflict in Afghanistan.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Occupy Wall Street Gets Graphic

In Boston over the weekend a wave of grafitti hit nearly two dozen downtown buildings, mostly banks. "End the Fed." "Tax the Rich." "Burn the Money." A Bank of America branch got a big blue anarchist circle-A on the sign above its doorway. #OccupyBoston says its hands are clean—group members say they're into carrying signs, not spray painting buildings. The mayor of Boston gave the group his continued blessing, saying, "99 percent of those folks there don't want to cause trouble." But if a rogue 1 percent believes that walls and shop windows should be occupied with slogans, can the movement stop them? As hundreds of #occupy gatherings wrestle with the tricky logistics of physical occupation and crowd control, graffiti artists and taggers around the world are leaving marks of protest in all sort of ways. Here's a sampling.

Scott Walker's Recall Plan: Rake in Unlimited Cash

The fight to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker begins November 15, when the 60-day window opens for progressives, Democrats, and other Walker opponents to gather the more than half-million signatures they'll need to trigger a recall election. Conveniently for Walker, a loophole in Wisconsin elections law opens up the same day and spans the same 60-day window. For that two-month period, the state's $10,000 donation limit for individuals giving to gubernatorial candidates is out the window. That's right: Walker can raise unlimited campaign cash for his recall defense as his opponents round up support to recall him.

Going on a 60-day money bonanza is at the heart of Walker's recall defense strategy—at least that's how Wisconsin GOP chairman Brad Courtney put it at a GOP event in Milwaukee last Friday. According to an audio clip provided to Mother Jones, Courtney says Walker stressed to him the importance of being able to rake in unlimited funds to run ads defending his record—especially his controversial budget repair bill. That, of course, was the legislation that kneecapped public-sector unions and sparked a month of protest, including an occupation of the state Capitol. "What Scott says we're gonna raise a lot of money—we can accept unlimited money for a 60-day time period, so you're gonna see a lot of positive, wonderful ads about what's going on in Wisconsin," Courtney told the crowd. (A Walker spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment. A Wisconsin GOP spokeswoman, Nicole Larson, declined to comment.)

Goldman Sachs v. Occupy Wall Street: A Greg Palast Investigation

A controversy in the banking community has arisen around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Greg Palast investigates the story behind Goldman Sachs’ recent decision to pull out of a fundraiser for the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union in New York City after it learned the event was honoring the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. The investment bank withdrew its name from the fundraiser and also canceled a $5,000 pledge. Was the $5,000 a Goldman Sachs donation or actually American taxpayer bailout money Goldman set aside for community banks?

Source: Democracy Now!  

Rick Perry: Obama Birth Certificate 'A Good Issue To Keep Alive'

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the birther issue was worth "keeping alive" in a CNBC interview Tuesday morning. "It's a good issue to keep alive. It's fun to poke at him," said Perry, according to host John Harwood. Harwood interviewed Perry about his flat tax proposal that he is unveiling Tuesday, which sets an across-the-board twenty percent rate on individuals and corporations with some deductions.

Perry also spoke evasively about President Barack Obama's birth certificate in an interview with Parade magazine published over the weekend. When asked if he believed the president was born in the United States, he said, "I have no reason to think otherwise." Asked why he didn't give a definitive answer, Perry replied, "Well, I don't have a definitive answer, because he's never seen my birth certificate."

Perry said in the CNBC interview, "I'm really not worried about the president's birth certificate. It's fun to poke at him a little bit and say, how 'bout let's see your grades and your birth certificate." Perry's own transcript from Texas A&M University, obtained by The Huffington Post, shows that he seldom earned anything above a C and includes a D in Shakespeare and a C in gym.

'Super-Entity' Of 147 Companies Controls 40 Per Cent Of World's Economy, Study Claims

A Swiss study appears to have uncovered what anti-capitalist activists have been claiming for years -- that the global economy is controlled by a small group of deeply interconnected entities.

But don't grab a pitchfork and head to the nearest Occupy protest just yet. Systems researchers say this isn't the result of an Illuminati-type global conspiracy, but rather a natural force to be expected.

"Such structures are common in nature," complex systems expert George Sudihara told NewScientist.

According to the study's authors -- a trio of systems researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology -- the research isn't ideologically motivated. Instead, they say, it's the first attempt at mapping the power structure of the global economy, an effort that may help to prevent future financial crises.

What they found, they say, was an economy so deeply interconnected that its structure is alarmingly susceptible to shocks.

Bill C-10 will create the prisoners to fill Conservative prisons

Stepping out of a cold, windy Toronto Wednesday night and into the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor street, I'm a little shocked as the warmth of the standing room only crowd hits me. Hundreds of people are here to listen to a panel discussion on Bill C-10, a crime bill being introduced by the Canadian government. The panellists sitting on the stage look small and unobtrusive in comparison to the high ceilings, big stained glass windows and large yellow brick walls with the words "I know that my redeemer liveth" looming over them. But the mental contrast tonight is between the vast open space of the church we're in and the small confines of a seven square metre prison cell.

Bill C-10 is a massive piece of legislation of roughly 100 pages that rolls nine laws from organized and drug crime, to pardons, to child sex offenders, to migrants entering Canada and young offenders into a single omnibus law. The panel is focusing on how the bill's policy on mandatory minimum sentencing for selling, or even giving away a small amount of drugs, will criminalize a generation and attack some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

"I teach an third-year criminology course at the University of Ottawa. Eighty per cent of my students are criminals under this legislation. About 10 to 20 per cent of them would be liable to a mandatory minimum sentence in a federal penitentiary of two years for simply passing a tab of ecstasy at a party on university campus," said Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer who was a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy and has appeared many times before Canadian Parliamentary committees on drug policy issues.

The Commons: The F-35 has as many explanations as problems

The latest twist in this epic tale of stealth flight involves the small matter of whether or not the expensive aircraft will be more or less useless when patrolling our vast northern frontier. ”We learned today that the aircraft will be delivered to Canada without adaptive equipment to allow communication in the Arctic. It’s really something,” the interim NDP leader exclaimed for the benefit of those who like their parliamentary invective relayed in the most folksy manner possible.

Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, duly stood here to wrap himself in the flag and throw himself around the troops. ”We are proposing to deliver to Canadian Forces the resources and equipment it needs to be able to protect Canadian sovereignty and security and to ensure that our defences are strong,” he explained. “The F-35 will have all the capabilities that are necessary to do so, including that primary critically important mission of ensuring our northern sovereignty is protected.”

This did little to assuage Ms. Turmel, who returned to her feet with a list of concerns.

“Mr. Speaker, at what costs? This is incredible,” she surmised. “The F-35s Canada is buying cannot be refuelled mid-air with existing air force equipment and they cannot land on short runways in Canada’s North. Now, we learn that our brave pilots will not be able to communicate while patrolling our Arctic airspace. Can members believe this?”

Building a better democracy

It’s a difficult time for those who demand balance, who are married to the ideal that Toronto should be a world city that takes care of its young, supports its poor, creates opportunity for artistic, social and business entrepreneurs, and engage citizens in local democracy. In short, be the best city on the planet.

The Walrus magazine summoned some of these dreamers a couple of weeks ago to the Art Gallery of Ontario to “imagine” a future Toronto, today.

They are challenged by another Toronto — disengaged, frustrated, living on the margins or fearing life at the edges. That Toronto was not at the Imagining Toronto session.

It’s good when citizens gather to dream about their city; but on the streets, there is a pitched ideological battle between those who want to destroy the public service, those who want it tamed, and those who want it left untouched. Mayor Rob Ford’s election campaign masterfully appropriated this chaotic swirl. Now, we aren’t sure where it leads.

Enter Dave Meslin, one of the Walrus dreamers and one who elegantly styles himself a “community choreographer.”

Lesbians booted from Tim Hortons for going ‘beyond displays of affection’

BLENHEIM, ONT.—Dozens of people are planning to protest outside a Tim Hortons in Blenheim on Thursday after a same-sex couple says they were told to leave the coffee shop because they were lesbians.

A spokeswoman for Tim Hortons says the couple was asked to leave after they “went beyond public displays of affection” while visiting the outlet three weeks ago.

While the chain is apologizing to Riley Duckworth, 25, of London, and her partner Patricia Pattenden, 23, for what it calls a misunderstanding, Duckworth says she is not satisfied.

Duckworth says she and her partner Patricia Pattenden, 23, were outside drinking coffee with a group of family and friends and saw a man watching them from inside the restaurant.

She says soon after, the man went up to the counter, and a few minutes later the assistant manager came out and asked the couple to stop doing what they were doing and leave.

Duckworth says her partner had her hand around her waist, and had kissed her on the cheek once or twice but she denies they were groping each other.