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, November 04, 2011

Oligarchy, American Style

Inequality is back in the news, largely thanks to Occupy Wall Street, but with an assist from the Congressional Budget Office. And you know what that means: It’s time to roll out the obfuscators!

Anyone who has tracked this issue over time knows what I mean. Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated versus the less educated.

So what you need to know is that all of these claims are basically attempts to obscure the stark reality: We have a society in which money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people, and in which that concentration of income and wealth threatens to make us a democracy in name only.

The budget office laid out some of that stark reality in a recent report, which documented a sharp decline in the share of total income going to lower- and middle-income Americans. We still like to think of ourselves as a middle-class country. But with the bottom 80 percent of households now receiving less than half of total income, that’s a vision increasingly at odds with reality.

BofA Threatens Foreclosure Over Missing $1 From Already-Sold Home

How could a home be repossessed when it's no longer in the homeowner's possession? One family in Utah asked itself the same question.

Shantell Curtis and her family were threatened with foreclosure months after they had sold their Vernal, Utah house. What's more, the problem revolved around a single dollar, reports (h/t The Consumerist). Months after the Curtises sold and moved out of the home in August of last year, their lender, Bank of America, reportedly sent them a foreclosure notice.

Bank of America claimed the family owed months of missed mortgage payments, before realizing a $1 coding error had held up the Curtises' title transfer. While BofA has taken months to resolving the issue, the Curtises' credit report has taken a beating since then.

The episode is far from the first foreclosure mishap BofA has dealt with in recent months, and not even the smallest dollar amount related to foreclosure threats. In June, BofA tried to foreclose on a man living in Massachusetts over a missed mortgage payment totaling $0.00.

RCMP Widens Probe Into Allegations Canada Revenue Agency Officials Took Bribes In Quebec

UPDATE: The NDP is demanding a cross-Canada probe into alleged corruption at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The call comes after The Globe And Mail reported that the RCMP is widening its probe into allegations that tax officials in Quebec accepted private sector bribes.

The RCMP is widening a probe into whether Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) officials took private sector bribes in exchange for favourable tax treatment in Quebec.
The investigation, which began in 2008, originally focused on Montreal, but the probe has been widened to include other Quebec CRA offices after allegations emerged that tax officials asked for kickbacks for services such as ignoring unreported income and giving special treatment on an audit, The Globe And Mail reports.
Some of the alleged bribed mentioned in RCMP search warrants include free home renovations, trips abroad and Montreal Canadiens tickets.

Beaver be dammed

Sen. Nicole Eaton had no idea when she stood up in the Red Chamber last week to propose the polar bear replace the beaver as Canada’s national emblem that she was about to mine a national nerve.

And what a geyser she hit. Within hours of her statement, inflamed blog posts and “shocked and appalled” letters to the editor were flowing from the inhabitants of a nation built on lust for the once-fashionable, highly lucrative beaver pelts, one so great the Hudson’s Bay Company adorned its coat of arms with four of the rodents in 1678.

Since then, Castor canadensis has become enmeshed in the mercantile fabric of the country, as apparent in the swift reaction from Michael Budman and Don Green, co-founders of clothing company Roots, which has had a beaver on its logo since 1973, two years before the animal received official emblem status from the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau. They immediately launched a “Save the Beaver” petition online, collecting more than 6,000 signatures by early this week. The senator’s remarks also triggered response from foes of the aquatic rodent, rallying a group of 100 Ottawa-area farmers who’ve seen trees destroyed and land flooded by a surging beaver population.

Troops get warm welcome as veterans decry paltry benefits

There will plenty of celebration Friday and Saturday as cabinet ministers travel to air-force bases around the country to welcome home Canadian Forces personnel from a mission in Libya that saw rebels overthrow long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The 630 members of Canada’s military are returning home from Operation Mobile and NATO-led Operation Unified Protector, which saw them enforce an arms embargo and a no-fly zone around the North African nation for most of this year.

Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of National Defence, has been dispatched to Bagotville, Que., to greet troops Friday afternoon. Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, will be waiting for them on Friday night in Trenton, Ont. And Defence Minister MacKay will be at 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia on Saturday, an event that was delayed by weather.

Why did the city spend $5 million to upgrade garbage yard to let it sit unused?

The savings from contracting-out garbage collection aren’t quite as impressive as Mayor Rob Ford’s administration says.

The administration likes to emphasize taxpayers will save $11 million a year by having a private company collect garbage from 165,000 homes west of Yonge St.

What wasn’t mentioned when the collection contract was awarded by city council last month is the approximately $5 million spent upgrading the Ingram Yard for maintenance and parking of garbage trucks. It turns out the contractor doesn’t need the facility.

As recently as January of this year, after Mayor Rob Ford had taken office, council’s government management committee adopted a staff request to increase the renovation budget by $800,000 to cover unforeseen costs.

The city offered to lease its upgraded yard to GFL Environmental East Corp., which won the collection contract west of Yonge St. to the Humber River and from Lake Ontario to Steeles Ave.

But the company has its own truck servicing and turned down the offer to lease Ingram for $444,000 a year plus utilities and $130,000 in annual property taxes. The city is now trying to figure out what to do with the facility.

Drones on Trial: 38 Protesters Face Charges for Disrupting Syracuse Base Used in Overseas Attacks

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the CIA has made a series of secret concessions in its drone campaign after military and diplomatic officials complained large strikes were damaging the fragile U.S. relationship with Pakistan. Meanwhile, a trial is underway in Syracuse, New York, of 38 protesters arrested in April at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field. The defendants were protesting the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the Guard has remotely flown over Afghanistan from Syracuse since late 2009. "Citizens have a responsibility to take action when they see crimes being committed," said retired Col. Ann Wright, one of the 38 on trial. "And this goes back to World War II, when German government officials knew what other parts of the German government were doing in executing six million Jews in Germany and other places, and that they took no action. And yet—and they were held responsible later, through the Nuremberg trials. And that is the theory on which we are acting, that we see that our government is committing crimes by the use of these drones, and that we, as citizens, have the responsibility to act."

Source: Democracy Now! 

Occupy Vancouver: City Debates Use Of Force To End Protest

VANCOUVER - Vancouver's police chief says he isn't interested in dispersing Occupy Vancouver protesters by force because the tactic simply hasn't worked in U.S. cities.

Chief Jim Chu appeared in front of city council Tuesday and was asked by the mayor his opinion of the city's "wait-and-watch" approach to resolving the demonstration, part of a global movement.

"In other jurisdictions where they tried to end it with police interventions, it hasn't ended it," Chu told the public meeting, as councillors asked questions of senior city staff and mulled over how best to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Chu noted that when officers descended on the demonstration in Oakland, Calif., protesters reconverged in equal numbers. Riot-clad police raided the camp last week and used tear gas to drive out crowds, yet the camp returned the next day.

The city report noted using the hardline police approach has also not worked in Chicago or Melbourne. Mass arrests have been made in Denver, Portland and Perth. Officials in London abandoned attempts at seeking a court injunction.

Analysis: Let's Be Clear, Canada Is Still At War In Afghanistan

For years, Canadians have been puzzled by government statements about our real role in the Afghanistan war. So it's no wonder we're still confused about the nature of our large training mission still over there.

We were shocked last week when a Canadian military trainer was killed in an ambush in Kabul. There was political and media confusion over whether this job was to have been quite risky, or generally low-risk.

The larger point, however, seems not yet grasped. For the reality is that while Canada's military pulled out of a costly, direct combat role this summer, it is now plunging even deeper into the real heart of the war.

Still, the confusion over this is understandable, and you will find an excellent explanation for it in a remarkable new book, The Savage War: the Untold Battles of Afghanistan by veteran Canadian Press correspondent Murray Brewster, who captures the extraordinary mind-deadening effect on public consciousness of years of spin control by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his PMO.

"The Harper Government had done everything it could to shove Afghanistan off the public agenda and it succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams," Brewster writes. "A sort of collective amnesia took hold, a grey, foggy recollection. People knew the war was coming to an end, they just didn't know how or when."

G8 Spending: Tony Clement And John Baird Defend Use Of Infrastructure Money

OTTAWA - Tony Clement sought Wednesday to put an end to controversy over the $50-million G8 legacy fund, appearing before a parliamentary committee to answer any and all questions from opposition MPs.

But the Treasury Board president's performance shed little new light on the affair and did nothing to quell opposition allegations that the money was little more than a political slush fund for Clement to dispense as he saw fit around his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding.

"I believe that my record is a good record, it's an untainted record. It's a record of probity and honesty," Clement told the committee.

"I try to do my job the best I can for the people who've not only elected me but for the people of Canada and I will continue to do so in my new role as president of the Treasury Board."

Clement was industry minister when the money was being handed out to municipalities in his Ontario riding, which hosted last year's G8 summit. Almost $45 million was ultimately spent on gazebos, park upgrades, public washrooms and beautification projects, often many kilometres away from the actual summit site in Huntsville, Ont.

Budget Cuts Impact Starting To Show: Review

OTTAWA - A review of the federal government's books shows some departments are beginning to come clean about the effect of budget freezes and cuts.

And the information these departments are providing appears to contradict the government's own perception of how much detail it can share.

The federal government began producing quarterly reports this year in a bid to improve the timeliness of financial information available to Parliament.

The office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer decided to review the first batch of reports for the period ended June 30, 2011, to see if the documents produced were useful.

Toronto Public Works: Living On Sidewalks, Streets To Be Banned

TORONTO - Toronto's public works committee has passed a motion to ban people from lodging or living on city sidewalks and streets.

If approved by council, it would essentially make it illegal for homeless people to reside in a public space.

The motion would simply clarify a bylaw already in place that allows officers to remove people from obstructing a sidewalk where work will be done.

The city will make exceptions for people who wait in line all night for concert tickets.

But it defers any mention of parks, leaving the Occupy Toronto protesters alone for the time being.

The group of protesters are currently camped out in a downtown park.

Source: Huff 

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline: A Symbolic Struggle Steeped In Fuzzy Math

At the end of September, the mayor of tiny Atkinson, Neb., sat calmly waiting for an invasion. David Frederick's rural outpost of about 1,000 residents, set along the northeastern edge of Nebraska's Sandhills, was about to see its population briefly swelled by a phalanx of U.S. State Department officials, itinerant union laborers, ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and reporters.

The crowds were headed Frederick's way for a final public airing of opinions along the proposed route of the Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile stretch of pipe and pumps that would link a mammoth oil patch in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Nebraska would account for 257 of those miles, and maps show the proposed pipeline slicing clear through the state's midsection, passing a few miles west of Atkinson.

But there are also lots of other towns near the proposed oil route, and it wasn't clear even to Frederick how Atkinson's high school gymnasium had been chosen for the national spotlight. "I've never been directly contacted," the mayor said in his tidy Main Street office just hours before the throngs arrived. "This was very much presented as, 'The State Department is having a party, you're going to host it and you're in charge of cleaning up afterward.' "

The Commons: A salute to cognitive dissonance

The Scene. Shortly before the start of Question Period this afternoon, Conservative backbencher Patrick Brown rose to repeat his side’s line that the NDP is too “disunited” to govern. A moment later, Conservative backbencher Greg Rickford rose to lament that the NDP, in punishing two MPs who defied the party’s decision to whip a vote on the gun registry, was also too committed to enforcing unity.

Presumably this was Mr. Rickford’s way of protesting his own government’s decision to whip this week’s vote on asbestos exports. Hopefully his caucus leadership won’t too severely punish him for so bravely asserting the independence of individual MPs.

Immediately thereafter, the Speaker then called for oral questions and the official opposition sent up Joe Comartin, Mr. Comartin having apparently discovered an example of irony that he was eager to share with everyone.

Tim Harper: Less will be Moore’s way of dealing with the CBC


It was the CBC’s 75th birthday Wednesday, but at the weekly Conservative caucus meeting there was no cake.

There were no Conservative tributes to the public broadcaster in the House of Commons, no press releases, not even a wink, just an icy silence as the CBC filled the airwaves with vintage images of everything from Barbara Frum to Mr. Dressup.

In fact, as it enters its 76th year, the public broadcaster again finds itself under daily assault.

It may seem like it was always thus.

Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien regularly feuded with the broadcaster and it has run afoul of federal governments for at least half a century.

But it has never been under siege like this.

Demanding CBC documents an abuse of power, MPs say

OTTAWA—A battle over access to internal documents at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has come to a head with opposition MPs accusing the Conservative government abusing their parliamentary powers to interfere with the court.

“This is not a partisan issue,” New Democrat MP Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay) said Thursday. “This is about the fundamental workings of Parliament.”

Conservative MPs on the Commons ethics committee passed a motion during a special closed-door meeting late Wednesday ordering the CBC/Radio-Canada to give them both the censored and uncensored versions of documents at the heart of a judicial dispute over access-to-information requests.

Heritage Minister James Moore gave the move a resounding endorsement.

“The truth is the CBC receives a lot of money. Our government has been clear: if it is going to receive that money then it needs to be accountable for it,” Moore said during question period in the Commons on Thursday.

There are people in the park, then there are people behind them

There are the people in St. James Park. They put their numbers at around 500.

Then there are the people behind the people in the park. I’d put their numbers in the thousands.

People like Mita Hans. She works the night shift as a counsellor in a group home for adults with disabilities. Most mornings, she pulls up to St. James Park in her little grey Hyundai on a mission.

Her daily self-prescribed task: collect 12 empty five-gallon water jugs from the pantry tent, cart them home, disinfect them with bleach, fill them with fresh tap water. She picks up a protester to help her with the heavy lifting. Sometimes, she serves them coffee.

“It’s the first time since the G20 I’ve woken up without some feeling of dread about the kind of world we’re living in,” she says.

Together, they lug the full jugs into her trunk and return them to the park.

It takes only 40 minutes a day. But three weeks into the occupation, that adds up to 1,260 gallons of water.

Sparro Kennedy Fights For Occupy Wall Street's Homeless, Mentally Ill

Before Sparro Kennedy knew it, she was grabbed and thrown to the ground. All 4 feet, 5 inches of her was sprawled out like a rag doll behind a tent in Zuccotti Park, home base for the Occupy Wall Street protests. No one reacted: not a peep, a yelp or even a gasp from the dozen or so onlookers. No one rushed to her aid or tried to chase off her attacker. They all seemed a bit bored, as if this were as a common as an uptown bus. Even her attacker stood by impotently as Kennedy wiggled slowly to her feet.

"See what I have to go through?" Kennedy said, dusting herself off.

For Kennedy it was just another day at the office, or tent rather, which serves as headquarters for the Comfort Community, where occupiers come for donated clothing, supplies or to sign up for showers. Getting into arguments, the occasional shouting match, or tussle is an everyday occurrence for Kennedy, who has waged a fight within the movement on behalf of Occupy Wall Street's most vulnerable participants: the chronically homeless and the mentally or emotionally unstable. Kennedy herself is homeless, currently living in the tent in the park that she shares with a dog and two other people.

Occupy Quebec Camp Facing Eviction

Occupy protestors in Quebec City are facing imminent eviction after the mayor, citing safety concerns, said the area had to be cleared out Thursday.

Mayor Régis Labeaume told the media Thursday morning the protesters would need to leave their site at Place de l'Université-du-Québec by the end of the day.

The order comes after a fire broke out Tuesday morning near one of the tents set in the Occupy site.

The propane stoves used by the protestors are also being cited as a hazard.

The demonstrators voted Thursday morning to remain at the camp even if police choose to intervene.

A post on the Occupon Quebec Facebook page said the group planned to stay at the site and form a human chain. They also appealed for legal help.

They received official notification from police at 2:45 p.m. ET, but there no confrontation was reported.

The group did discuss changing locations and will post notices on their website if they decide to do so.

The protestors have been on the site since October 15, when the Occupy Movement rolled out demonstrations in cities across the country.

Hundreds of Occupy Montreal protestors remain at Place Victoria where they set up their own camp more than two weeks ago.

Source: Huff 

Keystone XL: Haste And Inexperience Hampered State Department's Environmental Review

Earlier this year, top officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Justice hauled a handful of senior State Department officials into a White House meeting.

The gathering was the governmental equivalent of being called into the principal's office. The energy regulators wanted to know why State -- which had the power to approve a controversial oil pipeline project called Keystone XL -- hadn't demanded the completion of an important task: the evaluation of alternative pipeline routes between Canada and the Gulf Coast that would avoid the Nebraska sand hills, a hotbed of environmental concern and local outrage.

A Canadian company, TransCanada, planned to use Keystone to deliver "tar sands" crude through the American heartland and -- as with nearly every major interstate infrastructure project -- the pipeline's approval hinged on its ability to pass an environmental review. Because this pipeline crossed an international border, oversight for that process fell to State.

Environmental groups and other government agencies had already panned the first draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that the State Department had produced, nearly a year earlier. Now State, under fire for its handling of Keystone XL, hoped to mollify the pipeline's critics by issuing a rare supplemental draft of the review.

How Wall Street Occupied America

During the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains in 1890, populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease exclaimed, “Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us.”

She should see us now. John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they fill it. Barack Obama criticizes bankers as “fat cats,” then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person.

That’s now the norm, and they get away with it. The president has raised more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and private equity managers than any Republican candidate, including Mitt Romney. Inch by inch he has conceded ground to them while espousing populist rhetoric that his very actions betray.

Let’s name this for what it is: hypocrisy made worse, the further perversion of democracy. Our politicians are little more than money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy—fewer than six degrees of separation from the spirit and tactics of Tony Soprano.

Banning Political Loans Will Benefit The Conservatives, Spare The NDP And Hurt The Liberals

The Conservatives’ plan to limit and cap political loans received praise from the NDP Wednesday. Although the bill benefits the Tories for now, it spares New Democrat leadership candidates from stiffer rules while making it more difficult for Liberal leadership contestants to raise money.

Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal told reporters the Political Loans Accountability Act would “level the playing field” by banning loans from corporations and unions and limiting the amounts individuals can lend themselves or borrow from others.

Rich candidates or those with access to easy money would no longer have the ability to fund their own campaigns, Uppal suggested.
“We don’t want wealthy individuals to have undue influence on the political process,” he said.

The government’s bill would only allow political parties, riding associations, candidates and leadership contestants to obtain loans from financial institutions or political party and riding association themselves. Mandatory disclosure terms, on information such as the interest rates of the loans and the identity of lenders and loan guarantors would also be imposed. And candidates would also no longer be able to walk away from any unpaid loans, writing them off as donations, as political parties and associations would be held responsible for the unpaid cash.

Jump In Greenhouse Gases Is Biggest Ever Seen, U.S. Department Of Energy Calculates

WASHINGTON — The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

"The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing," said John Reilly, co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The world pumped about 564 million more tons (512 million metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009. That's an increase of 6 percent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries – China, the United States and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases.

Conservatives Block Green And Bloc MPs' Attempts To Recognize Veterans

Conservative MPs have blocked efforts to allow Bloc Quebecois and Green Party MPs a chance to recognize the contribution of Canada's veterans.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May tweeted this afternoon that the NDP had tried again to allow the independent MPs a chance to speak but were squashed.

Thursday, the Tories refused to to give the Bloc and May the right to speak because they didn't have official party status.

Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae said the Conservatives were acting disgracefully.

" Mr. Speaker, let the record show that when a member of this House rose to pay tribute to the veterans of this country on behalf of his political party, a party with which I do not agree, it was the members of the Conservative Party who would not allow that member to speak."

Source: Huff 

Siddiqui: Israel’s isolation is laid bare by UNESCO vote

It wasn’t even close. Only 13 of the 194 members of UNESCO voted with Israel against granting full membership to Palestine. As many as 107 voted for, while 52 abstained and the rest were absent. Even the European Union did not vote with Israel as a bloc. France sided with the Palestinians and Britain abstained.

This shows how isolated Israel and its dwindling backers have become because of Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence toward the Palestinians.

In fact, the picture is worse when you consider that many of those 13 governments, including American and Canadian ones, are acting against the wishes of their own people, who favour granting the Palestinians full status at the United Nations and its agencies, according to a recent BBC poll.

The U.S. is yanking its $80 million a year contribution to UNESCO’s $643 million budget. The cutback, decreed by Congress, is going ahead even though the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization advances a western agenda around the world, especially in Afghanistan — literacy, schooling, teacher training, gender equity, clean water and basic health. The Stephen Harper government is, to its credit, keeping Canada’s $10 million a year support.