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.]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Many Cities Leaving Protesters Alone

NEW YORK (AP) -- While more U.S. cities are resorting to force to break up the Wall Street protests, many others - Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., among them - are content to let the demonstrations go on for now.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, said Friday that the several hundred protesters sleeping in Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters of the movement that began in mid-September, can stay as long as they obey the law.

"I can't talk about other cities," he said. "Our responsibilities are protect your rights and your safety. And I think we're trying to do that. We're trying to act responsibly and safely."

Still, the city made life a lot harder for the demonstrators: Fire authorities seized a dozen cans of gasoline and six generators that powered lights, cooking equipment and computers, saying they were safety hazards.

Race and Occupy Wall Street

The incident is well-known now. When civil rights hero Representative John Lewis asked to address Occupy Atlanta, the activists’ consensus process produced a decision not to let him speak. For many, the denial was a damning answer to a question that had arisen since the earliest, overwhelmingly white occupiers first took over Zuccotti Park: Is Occupy Wall Street diverse enough?

“Diverse enough for what?” is the query that leaps to mind. Diversity alone will not ensure that OWS advances an economic change agenda that is racially equitable.

The notion of taking over Wall Street clearly resonates with communities of color. Malik Rhassan and Ife Johari Uhuru, black activists from Queens, New York, and Detroit, respectively, started Occupy the Hood to encourage and make space for people of color to join the movement. On October 19, a different group, Occupy Harlem, put out “a call to Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants to occupy their communities against predatory investors, displacement, privatization and state repression.”

Such interventions have been necessary. The original OWS organizers didn’t consciously reach out to communities of color at the beginning; as a result, many people of color felt alienated. But local movements seem able to self-correct—and some newer occupations have been racially conscious from the start.

Why Occupy Wall Street Has Left Washington Behind

Public discussion of the Wall Street protests has focused on the movement’s indictment of the economic elite, but Occupy Wall Street marks an equally profound critique of the country’s political system. As the weeks tick by, the protests at Zuccotti Park and across the nation are driving home this profound realization: this is a fight that can’t be won by voting. The crisis that most fundamentally shapes our lives cannot be solved through the legislative process. This is not because the agenda is unpopular—54 percent of Americans support OWS, with only 23 percent opposed—but because the system is corrupted beyond repair. This slowly dawning realization is both invigorating—an invitation to engage in the kind of bold, blue-sky strategic thinking that leftists have not entertained for decades—and disturbing, a harbinger of just how nasty the future may get.

What makes OWS different from the mass marches against the Iraq War or at the 2004 GOP convention is not just that it’s an ongoing occupation rather than a one-day affair. It’s that this protest is not, at its core, voicing an appeal to lawmakers.

The OWS turn away from the political system began with the choice of location—Wall Street rather than the National Mall. It is driven home, above all, by the refusal to encapsulate the protest in policy demands aimed at Congress. I don’t know whether the absence of specific policy proposals is intentional or accidental. But I do know that it’s part of what lends such power to the occupation and renders its targets so palpably uncomfortable.

The Costs of Wall Street Greed

Bank of America had impeccable timing when it decided recently to charge a $5 monthly fee for the privilege of using its debit cards. The notorious bailout baron, having just announced 30,000 job cuts, decided to stick it not to the platinums, not to the golds, but to the debit card masses.

Occupy Wall Streeters could not have asked for a more perfect target. They’ve melted the bank’s debit cards, organized “mass account closures” and rallied outside numerous branches around the world.

So thanks, Bank of America, for making one of the costs of Wall Street greed so crystal clear.

But wouldn’t it be illuminating if we got a monthly bill tallying up all the ways the financial industry makes the 99 percent pay for the pleasures of the 1 percent?

I’m not even talking about the incalculable costs of the 2008 meltdown, the bailouts and the ongoing crisis. I’m talking about the less conspicuous ways the financial industry picks our pockets. Here are just a few examples:

The Incredible Shrinking Supercommittee

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a prominent--and not normally excessively optimistic--budget expert.  This person offered me two reasons to hope that the Supercommittee in charge of finding budget cuts would choose to go big rather than go home.
1.  They would be extraordinarily foolish to pass up this opportunity; the Supercommittee has a great deal of power to do things that are normally very difficult to accomplish.
2.  There had been no leaks; if the talks really weren't going anywhere, both sides would have been leaking like sieves.

Jacques Duchesneau, Quebec Anti-Collusion Crusader, Gets The Chop

MONTREAL - The man who authored an explosive report on corruption and collusion in Quebec's construction industry, paving the way for a public inquiry, has been dumped by his boss.

Jacques Duchesneau was relieved of his duties after a meeting Friday with Robert Lafreniere, the head of the province's permanent anti-corruption unit.

The outspoken former Montreal police chief dubbed "Mr. Clean" had been at loggerheads with Lafreniere ever since he went public with his criticism of the anti-corruption unit's leadership.

The rift had been evident for weeks, with Duchesneau stating he felt the unit was operating too much like a police force and should ideally be headed by a retired judge.

Michael Ferguson Auditor General Nomination: Senator James Cowan Asks Clerk Of The Privy Council To Answer Questions On Nominee's Lack Of French

He may be a very nice man and a competent auditor general, but opposition parties in Ottawa feel it's really too bad the Conservatives' pick for the country’s next AG, Michael Ferguson, didn't meet the job's most basic requirement: bilingualism.

How did this happen?

That's what the Liberal leader in the Senate James Cowan wants to find out.

How was it that Ferguson, the Prime Minister's choice to replace outgoing Auditor General Sheila Fraser, was even considered for a job whose ad clearly stated: "proficiency in both languages is essential"?

After devoting every single question during the Senate's question periods Wednesday and Thursday to asking that very question, Cowan wrote to Senator Marjory LeBreton, the Government Leader in the upper chamber, Thursday asking that the Clerk of the Privy Council — the top public servant leading the job search — testify as to the process that allowed Ferguson's name to move forward for consideration.

BC Aboriginals: Human Rights Claims Against Canada In Washington, D.C.

VICTORIA - Southern Vancouver Island aboriginals donned traditional vests and headdresses at an international hearing in Washington, D.C. Friday as they accused Canada of long-standing human rights abuses.

History was at the forefront of the appearance of the Duncan, B.C., area's Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group before the Organization of American States, which counts 35 independent states in the Americas, including Canada, as its members.

The Hul'qumi'num human rights dispute with Canada dates back to 1884 when the federal government gave more than 200,000 hectares of what they considered their land to industrialist James Dunsmuir to build the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway through Vancouver Island.

The claim isn't new, ancestors of the group once took their land concerns to Buckingham Palace, where in 1906 British newspapers reported on the extraordinary meeting between the aboriginals and King Edward.

Jack Abramoff, In New Book, Decries Endemic Corruption In Washington

WASHINGTON -- Former superlobbyist and ex-con Jack Abramoff describes himself in his forthcoming book as a creature of a corrupted system.

"I wasn't the only villain in Washington," he writes in the book set for release on Nov. 1. Abramoff cops to the de facto bribery of public officials -- but writes that such conduct is "the way the system works."

The book, "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist," was published by WND Books -- a division of the "birther" website The Huffington Post received an advance copy.

Abramoff describes how he "lavished contributions, meals, event tickets, travel, golf and jobs on innumerable federal public officials with the expectation or understanding that they would take official actions on my behalf or on behalf of my clients."

Sizing Up A World Of 7 Billion People

Take a deep breath

We all need air, but how much of it do 7 billion people consume?

People breathe at different rates, depending on their age, sex, fitness level and what they're doing at the time. In broad strokes, though, the average person breathes about8 litres of air every minute while at rest, or about 11,520 litres a day.

So the world's population inhales at least 80,640,000,000,000 (80.6 trillion) litresof air a day, and converts more than 3,850,000,000,000 (3.85 trillion) litresof oxygen to carbon dioxide.

A University of California study determined that the average person breathes about 52 litres a minute when running, so if the entire world went jogging together for an hour we'd breathe about 21,840,000,000,000 (21.8 trillion) litres of air.

One hectare of average forest creates about enough oxygen to support 19 people, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Using that as the benchmark, the world's population needs at least 368,421,052 hectares of forested land to provide us with the air we need – an area roughly 650 times the size of PEI and 5 times the size of Manitoba.

Beaver, be gone

Yesterday, the Canadian Senate took a page from HGTV as Conservative Sen. Nicole Eaton puckishly launched a national “emblem makeover” campaign to replace the industrious, homely beaver with the “majestic and splendid” polar bear as “Canada’s symbol for the 21st century.”

At first glance, the scheme appeared a masterstroke, given concerns over the polar bear’s looming extinction. What better way of squarely facing the ravages of global warming? Sen. Eaton’s gesture even appeared a bold jab at the government that appointed her—one whose record addressing climate-change is an international joke.

But no. The senator’s pitch made no mention of the mammal’s extinction or endangerment. “The polar bear is the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore and Canada’s most majestic and splendid mammal, holding reign over the Arctic for thousands of years,” she said, nicely echoing the Harper government mandate on northern sovereignty. She even offered a shout-out to the government: “Canada is a world leader in its exemplary system of polar bear management. Our approach features co-management involving aboriginal groups and government, and a strict system of quotas and tags.”

NDP calls for release of Champlain Bridge reports

MONTREAL - The New Democratic Party is denouncing Ottawa’s decision to keep a lid on Champlain Bridge safety reports.

“It’s a question of public services,” said the NDP MP for Brossard-La Prairie Hoang Mai in an interview. “The government should not be playing games and hiding the truth from the people.”

Mai was reacting to a ruling by the government’s access to information and privacy office. The party submitted a request Aug. 9 for a copy of records submitted to ministers concerning the safety of the crumbling Champlain Bridge since July 1, 2010.

The office turned down the party’s request, invoking cabinet secrecy.

But Mai, who conceded they have no idea whether the safety reports are good or bad, said they should be public regardless.

Hands off our beaver, Senator

A Conservative senator wants to toss aside our long-standing national emblem, the beaver, and replace it with the polar bear. The era of the “dentally defective rat” is over, argues Senator Nicole Eaton. Onwards and upwards, it’s time for Canada to honour the “world’s largest terrestrial carnivore.”

Would Americans stop pushing us around on border and trade issues if we had a huge predator for a national animal instead of an unassuming, industrious one? Polar bears can be pretty ruthless. They’re even known, on occasion, to eat their young. And not just the dads but the moms, too, as Toronto zookeepers discovered recently. That’s a hawkish new image for Canada indeed.

Polar bears are strong and majestic looking, so it’s easy to see their appeal over squat and toothy rodents. But looks, dear senator, aren’t everything. And what’s really curious (besides how this could possibly be a matter for the Senate to worry about) is why, as a Conservative, Eaton doesn’t see more to love in the beaver. They really are on the right side of so many issues.

Harperization of Canada in full swing with majority, critics say

"Harper, Give Us Back Our Canada."

The message scrawled on the flight attendant's placard — and waved defiantly during a recent union protest on Parliament Hill over the Conservative government's no-strike stance in an Air Canada labour dispute — stated succinctly what certain segments of the country's population are muttering darkly about these days.

Six months after the landmark election of a Conservative majority on May 2, which finally gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper a firm and unfettered grasp on the levers of power in Ottawa, critics claim the Harperization of Canada is in full swing.

Over at Heritage, they note, history's on parade like never before. War of 1812 soldiers armed with muskets and bicentennial bayonets (to be followed soon by waves of First World War fighters a century after 1914) are widely seen to be chasing the blue-helmeted, Pearsonian peacekeeper from Canadians' collective imagination.

Union members join Occupy Toronto protesters in march

Hundreds of union members joined Occupy Toronto protesters to march through the streets on Thursday afternoon, snarling traffic in the city’s financial district for nearly an hour.

The group stopped at the intersection of King and Bay Streets, where some people lay across streetcar tracks and a small group entered a nearby TD Bank and sat on the floor. They were eventually escorted out of the building by police.

Born out of anti-Wall Street protests in New York, the Occupy movement has shown surprising staying power in Toronto, Vancouver and other cities, where burgeoning tent cities have sprung up in public parks, some complete with lending libraries and makeshift cafeterias.

But as the movement nears the end of its second week in Toronto, politicians are beginning to fret over how long those camped out in St. James Park will remain as winter sets in.

Ford outsources business cards to his family’s firm

Mayor Rob Ford has outsourced the printing of business cards for himself and his staff to his family’s printing company, billing taxpayers up to four times as much per card as councillors who have them printed by the city.

Expense records released Friday include an Aug. 29 invoice from Deco Label & Tags for $1,579.15, including HST, for 20,600 cards for Ford and his staff.

The cost is 7 cents each for the first 15,000 cards and 6.205 cents for the next 5,600. The city processed payment Sept. 23.

Ford is known both for being a fierce critic of free spending and for handing out his card almost robotically when in public. The ones used by him and his staff include gold lettering on “Toronto” and the city logo, and slightly raised letters and numbers. There’s a map of the city on the back.

The city’s standard card, with flat blue letters on a white background, costs 3.644 cents when ordered from the city printer. Councillors can pay more from their office budgets for fancy features. A card with a photo costs a nickel.

Talking points for a young angry Occupy Toronto

The Occupy Toronto demonstrators don’t have a coherent point? How risible. Our economic system is so skewed that they have too many to articulate easily. Here’s a baker’s dozen to start:

1. You can’t get a degree without sinking into debt, or being told that your degree is worthless because it won’t get you hired, even though you know in your heart that a degree in anything, particularly history, will make you better able to understand, cope with, and vote against the life the 99-percenters are stuck with.