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.]

Monday, November 21, 2011

Montreal Research Chair On Homophobia Will Be First In North America

MONTREAL - Montreal will be getting North America's first research chair on homophobia, with the Universite du Quebec a Montreal planning to study its impact on mental, physical and sexual health.

The program will receive a $475,000 grant from the Quebec government, Premier Jean Charest announced Monday.

The project will benefit from the work of 20 researchers, coming from a handful of Quebec post-secondary institutions.

The university has also received private donations and there are plans to do corporate fundraising — as well as asking for a federal contribution.

The announcement comes a month after the suicide of Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley, whose death prompted a national conversation on homophobic bullying.

"The most recent statistics paint an alarming portrait," said provincial Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier.

"We can see that homosexual people are almost three times as likely to become victims of a violent crime as heterosexuals.

"One gay or lesbian person out of two has suicidal thoughts because of the homophobic violence at school. Elderly gay and lesbian people fear going into a residence, out of fear they'll have to hide their sexual orientation."

Source: Huff 

Pickton Inquiry: Leadership Failures Stalled Probe Of Missing Sex Workers

VANCOUVER - A massive leadership failure within the Vancouver Police Department stalled the investigation into reports of missing sex workers in the late 1990s, the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case heard Monday.

That failed leadership extended all the way up to the chief, who was apparently unaware of the most basic details of the case and did nothing to ensure it was taken seriously, according to a review prepared by an outside police agency.

"While some recognized the increased number of missing women as significant, certain officers failed to take ownership and ensure the proper resources were dedicated to the problem," says the report by Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans of Ontario's Peel Regional Police.

Evans' report offers scathing criticism of both the Vancouver police and the RCMP, which together failed to stop Pickton as he hunted sex workers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was able to continue killing for years after he was first identified as a suspect.

Is Occupy Toronto eviction ethical?

The Star’s Ethics columnist Ken Gallinger, who happens to live near St. James’ park where the protesters were ordered to end their five- week occupation today, weighs in on the ethics of kicking out the Toronto Occupiers.

I live close enough to St. James’ park that, on a good day, I could drive a golf ball from our solarium and hit the water fountain. And by last week, the novelty of having “those people” squatting in my park had worn thin.

Our goddaughter loves the park. She’s five, and the gazebo is her favourite make-believe playhouse. She mounts magical “productions” on the “stage” — with song, dance, and the world’s worst knock-knock jokes. So when we told her, on the weekend, that “those people” might soon be kicked out, she replied, without hesitation, “YAY! I get my stage back.” Such a reaction is totally appropriate — in a 5-year-old.

The hard question, from an ethical point of view, is whether such a response is appropriate in adults. In neighbours. In me.

Newt Gingrich: Child Labor Laws Are 'Stupid'

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called child labor laws "stupid" Friday in an appearance at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid," said the former House speaker, according to CNN. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

"You're going to see from me extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America," he added.

Generally, the Fair Labor Standards Act allows minors over 14 to work in most jobs, with several exceptions for minors under that age. Hours are limited for minors under the age of 16. Some states have higher age standards.

What the judge said in rejecting Occupy’s bid

  Is the camp a form of political protest protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Yes. Brown wrote “the structures erected by the applicants and other protesters in the park form part of manner of expressing their political message,” and are protected by the Charter section covering freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

   So the camp can stay? Not necessarily. The Charter also recognizes the competing rights of different park users and “does not remove the need to apply common sense” to how all are accommodated.

  Have the protesters lived up to their message of participatory democracy? No. “They did not ask those who live and work around the park or those who use the park — or their civic representatives — what they would think if the park was turned into a tent city.”

  Have the protesters been good neighbours? No. “The evidence filed before me from the (neighbouring) residents indicates . . . the tents and other shelters hog the park land and non-protesters who seek to use the park face a chilly and somewhat intimidating reception.”

  Do protesters’ rights trump those of the other users? No. “The Charter offers no justification for the protesters’ act of appropriating to their own use — without asking their fellow citizens — a large portion of common public space for an indefinite period of time.”

  Are city rules forbidding the erection of tents and other structures in city parks, and forbidding protests between 12:01 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., constitutional? Yes. The rules are “reasonable, tailored, minimal impairments on the expressive and associational rights of the protesters, and a reasonable balancing act of the rights of all who wish to use the park.”

  Are protesters who ignore the trespass notices and refuse to take down tents breaking the law? Yes.

   Does that entitle the city to take down the tents and police to arrest those who interfere with those efforts? Yes. “I conclude that the trespass notice is constitutionally valid. The city may enforce it. I dismiss the (Occupy) application.”

Source: Toronto Star 

Canadian troops headed to U.S. survival school for Afghan risks

OTTAWA—The military is seeking security and survival training for Canadian soldiers who must “operate outside the wire” in Afghanistan, a mission that had been originally been pitched as low-risk.

And they want to give the work to a private American contractor.

The revelations raise questions about why Canada must turn to the United States when a generation of soldiers has gained combat expertise risking life and limb over the last few years in Kandahar.

It also tests the Conservative government’s assurance that the more than 900 soldiers involved in the 2011-2014 training mission would be operating largely out of harm’s way.

“Deployed (Canadian Forces) members now have a standing task to operate outside of the wire (OTW) to fulfill its tasks while deployed,” says a government document soliciting firms to bid on a training contract.

Occupy protests & the Falun Gong precedent

As Occupy Toronto gets a slightly bumpy ride in court from Superior Court Justice David Brown, I’ve been waiting for just one legal analyst, amateur or professional, to stumble across what appears to me to be the best, highest-level judicial treatment of the Charter issues that the Occupy movements raise. The case, Vancouver v. Zhang, is all of a year old, and involved a unanimous decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal.

I’m no lawyer, but Zhang seems awfully instructive. The BCCA was presented with a question of crucial importance to the Occupy situations: can a non-artistic structure, in itself, have protected expressive content? Falun Gong protesters had erected a “meditation hut” and a billboard in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street. The City Engineer ordered it torn down as an admittedly minor, hypothetical sort of traffic “obstruction”, and the city argued that removing a structure didn’t unduly restrict the protesters’ free-expression rights. City officials weren’t making a political distinction between types of speech, the lawyers contended; they simply had an inflexible mandate to smash any structure that was on city property without a permit.

The U.S. and Canada: we used to be friends

No one was more surprised than TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. itself by the Obama administration’s decision to impose a fresh year or more delay on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline—TransCanada’s proposed 2,673-km project that could transport more than 700,000 barrels of crude oil from the oil sands in Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast of Texas. It had been heavily promoted by the governments of Canada and Alberta. And after two years of studies and drafts, the U.S. State Department had issued a final environmental assessment on Aug. 26 that had turned out to be even friendlier to the pipeline than supporters had been hoping for.

Indeed, the State Department concluded that there are “no significant impacts” to the environment along the route of the pipeline. The department also concluded that the pipeline would fill a need: even under a “low demand” outlook for oil, and even if there was increased fuel efficiency and a greater use of alternative energy sources, the hunger for Canadian crude oil would continue to grow among Gulf Coast refineries because supplies from countries such as Mexico and Venezuela are declining. Alternative transportation methods, such as trucking or rail, would add more emissions and run a higher risk of accidents than a pipeline. The project would not increase greenhouse gas emissions, State reasoned, because the oil would be produced for somebody to use in any case. And State also looked at 14 alternative routes and decided that none of them was preferable to the one proposed by TransCanada.

NGO bill aims to create a democracy for Jews only

The NGO culture is part of globalization: Money flows from financial centers to all kinds of corners, in a mixture of philanthropy and business, idealism and cynicism. The left is being destroyed by this culture, which dictates a rupture between the community in whose name it acts and its coterie of professional activists, whose funding comes from abroad.

The separation between the professional activists and the grass-roots kind and the need to show donors a "return" on their money have given rise to all kinds of fake activity - demonstrations whose participants are activists in or employees of "neighboring" nongovernmental organizations, or, alternatively, free-of-charge "mass" Internet petitions, which no one reads except the signatories (in place of the old-fashioned method - signing people on a petition to the newspaper that involved real communication and raising money from the signatories; in short, genuine political activity ).

The culture of "Europe will pay" has also intensified a kind of nihilism on the left. For instance, from time to time, the Zochrot organization used to put out a journal, Sedek, which was extremely extravagant in its use of color plates. Aside from its political material, it consisted mainly of colorful (and apolitical ) plastic art, thanks to "generous funding," in the journal's words, from a Danish organization for... eradicating hunger.

Pfizer To Pay Tens Of Millions To Settle Bribery Probe: Report

-- Pfizer Inc. will pay at least $60 million to settle allegations by the U.S. government that the drugmaker paid bribes to win overseas business, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The paper, citing "people familiar with the matter," said in an article published to its website Sunday that settlements are expected to be made public by the end of the year.

In April, health care giant Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $70 million to settle civil and criminal charges of bribing doctors in Europe and paying kickbacks to the Iraqi government to illegally obtain business. Terms of the deal included J&J putting in place a program to make sure it complies with anti-bribery laws across its businesses.

The charges were brought under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Source: Huff 

Billionaires Duck Buffett 17% Tax Target Avoiding Reporting Cash to IRS

When billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications Inc., reported a $9.8 million loss on his tax return, he failed to include about $259 million from a lucrative stock transaction.

After an audit, the Internal Revenue Service ordered him to pay $44.7 million in back taxes. McCombs, who is worth an estimated $1.4 billion and is a former owner of the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs sports franchises, sued the IRS, settling the case in March for about half the disputed amount.

McCombs’s fight with the IRS illustrates an overlooked facet in the debate over tax rates paid by the nation’s wealthiest. Billionaires -- from McCombs to Philip Anschutz to Ronald S. Lauder -- who derive the bulk of their wealth from stock appreciation are using strategies that reap hundreds of millions of dollars from those valuable shares in ways the IRS often doesn’t classify as taxable income, securities filings and tax court records show.

“The 800-pound gorilla is unrealized appreciation,” said Edward J. McCaffery, a professor of law, economics and political science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

'Occupy The SEC' Scrutinizes The Volcker Rule For Loopholes

NEW YORK -- A handful of protesters at Occupy Wall Street are doing what the authors of a complex piece of financial legislation may have hoped no one would do. They are reading it.

The legislation is a draft of the so-called Volcker rule, a 298-page regulatory document that came out of last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform act. As originally proposed by Paul Volcker, then chairman of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, the rule was aimed in part at preventing federally backed banks from making risky trades that could ultimately cost taxpayers. But in its current form, the Volcker rule is long, dense and -- critics fear -- full of language that affords banks a lot of wiggle room.

"It's a daunting document to look at," said Alexis Goldstein, a former financial sector employee who joined the Occupy protests a few weeks ago.

Yet Goldstein, 30, and a small party of fellow Occupiers are doing just that. The group, known as Occupy the SEC, has been reading through the Volcker rule line by line, flagging passages that seem to enable banks to skirt around regulatory intentions.

Boring Cruel Romantics

There’s a word I keep hearing lately: “technocrat.” Sometimes it’s used as a term of scorn — the creators of the euro, we’re told, were technocrats who failed to take human and cultural factors into account. Sometimes it’s a term of praise: the newly installed prime ministers of Greece and Italy are described as technocrats who will rise above politics and do what needs to be done.

I call foul. I know from technocrats; sometimes I even play one myself. And these people — the people who bullied Europe into adopting a common currency, the people who are bullying both Europe and the United States into austerity — aren’t technocrats. They are, instead, deeply impractical romantics.

They are, to be sure, a peculiarly boring breed of romantic, speaking in turgid prose rather than poetry. And the things they demand on behalf of their romantic visions are often cruel, involving huge sacrifices from ordinary workers and families. But the fact remains that those visions are driven by dreams about the way things should be rather than by a cool assessment of the way things really are.

And to save the world economy we must topple these dangerous romantics from their pedestals.

Let’s start with the creation of the euro. If you think that this was a project driven by careful calculation of costs and benefits, you have been misinformed.

Top 0.1 Percent Netting Nearly Half Of All Capital Gains: Report

As large as the income gap between rich and everyone else is today, one area of the economy has an even wider gulf to bridge.

The top 0.1 percent of earners are netting half of all capital gains -- or gains on the sale of shares or property -- according to Forbes. That means that 315,000 Americans are benefiting disproportionately from the financial transaction, which accounts for 60 percent of the income of the Forbes 400.

(Read the entires Forbes piece here)

Capital gains have been featured prominently in the debate over how best to overhaul the tax code and reduce the budget deficit. That's because capital gains, which largely benefit the wealthy, are taxed at a rate of about 15 percent -- lower than the 26.5 percent top effective tax rate paid by households making less than $100,000 in 2006.

Americans, Western Europeans Divided On Society's Role In Protecting The Impoverished

More than an ocean divides the United States and Western Europe.

Americans are significantly less supportive of a social safety net than Western Europeans, and they are more likely to say that success is determined by one's own hard work rather than outside forces, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, 58 percent of surveyed Americans said it is most important for people to have the freedom to pursue life's goals, much more than the 35 percent who said it is more important to make sure no one else is in need.

In contrast, at least six in ten people in Germany, Spain, and France said it was more important to make sure that no one else is left in need.

Republicans Campaign On Failure Of Super Committee, Blame All On Democrats

WASHINGTON -- Republicans have already begun campaigning on the Super Committee's impending failure by blaming Democrats in a blast email Monday morning.

"Without fail, Democrats have refused to get serious about restoring fiscal accountability in Washington as they show a blatant lack of interest in giving up their limitless credit card that has spiraled America's debt out of control," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay in an email aimed at Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.).

Shuler was not a member of the 12-member Joint Committee On Deficit Reduction, but was a leader of a "Go Big" coalition that advised the Super Committee to aim for at least $4 trillion in deficit cuts, not just the minimum $1.2 trillion.

But Shuler, a conservative Democrat from a tough swing district, was among 50 members of Congress targeted in the email.

Newt Gingrich Unveils Alternative To Social Security In New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich on Monday proposed allowing younger workers still decades away from retirement to bypass Social Security and instead choose private investment accounts that would be subject to stock market gyrations.

The former House speaker, who has risen in the polls, would allow younger workers to take their share of the payroll tax that funds Social Security and put it in a private account.

Employers would still pay their share of the tax, which would be used to pay benefits for current retirees. But it would create a funding shortfall that Gingrich brushed off.

"That gap is more than covered by the savings" that would come from giving states control of 185 social welfare programs, Gingrich told reporters after a speech that laid out broad concepts but lacked key details.

Gingrich's plan would cover the near-term deficits by giving to states responsibility for such programs as AmeriCorps volunteers, Section 8 public housing and Pell Grants for college students. He said states were better suited to administer those programs.

Understanding Research Funding and Folly in Canada

The role of research funding to an academic's career has never been more important, and yet there is an emerging consensus that the way we organize our system of research grants is broken. While concerns about Canada's model of research funding are longstanding, in recent years they have become increasingly stark. These include perpetual underfunding, charges of bias, and an over-reliance on the peer review system, which favours orthodoxy over innovation. Some believe that this has dumbed downed the professoriate and decreased the quality of expertise in Canadian society. Over time, hiring, promotion and tenure committees have favoured grant writers and grantsmanship over other perhaps more creative and innovative scholars who don't toe the line. There are serious consequences when, as in the current system, you invest in projects and not people.

There are at least three related issues.

First, fewer and fewer academics are getting funded to engage in the research upon which social and technological innovation is based. A variety of other approaches to grant funding could support more researchers and increase research impacts. Case studies suggest that freedom to pursue one's ideas leads to the greatest innovations. Under the existing system, however, the rewards are few, meted out based on what might be called the perversions of peer review justice in which "research funds are literally monopolized by the few who see themselves as the truly excellent researchers according to their own skewed yardsticks."

Syria Strife Keeps Canadian Navy In Mediterranean

The Royal Canadian Navy, its mission in Libya completed, will continue to patrol the Mediterranean Sea for another year, increasing speculation that the situation in Syria could lead to NATO intervention.

The move was announced by Defence Minister Peter MacKay on Sunday, the final day of a weekend gathering of international security and defence officials.

The deteriorating situation in Syria, which was the main topic of discussion during the Halifax International Security Forum, was a factor in the decision, MacKay said, but not the only one: Canada has also committed to participate in a NATO counter-terrorism campaign in the Mediterranean, he said.

As for NATO intervention in Syria, where the government of President Bashar Assad has turned its military's guns on a widespread protest movement, MacKay reiterated that it is too early to say whether military action in Syria will be required.

Canada Income Inequality: How A Growing Earnings Gap Is Raising Home Prices For All Of Us

CALGARY and TORONTO — When it comes to the eye-popping housing boom that has seen house prices in Canada more than double in just 10 years, there are a few common explanations. Despite sluggish wages, bulls and bears alike generally cite some combination of easy credit, tight supply and, until recently, a relatively strong economy for opening the floodgates to an unprecedented housing binge, ratcheting up house values — and mortgage debt.

But there is evidence to suggest that income inequality — a trend that has been widening the gulf between Canada’s very rich and everyone else for the last three decades — may also be part of the equation.

For many of us, incomes have become so detached from house prices that any relationship between the two may seem unfathomable. This is particularly true in Vancouver, where the city's optimism about a once-sleepy outpost finally realizing its cosmopolitan dreams came face to face with the recession, prompting a festering suspicion that something had to give.

By mid-2009, with debris from the United States housing bust lodged firmly in the gears of the world economy and debt levels surpassing record highs, observers were beginning to question the stability of the most expensive housing market in the country, which dipped only briefly before resuming its steady climb.

It was amidst this anxiety-ridden atmosphere that a little-known Vancouver real estate blogger tapped out a controversial post titled "Invisible Hand of Income (Inequality)." Noting that average income figures "don't really tell you what is happening at the upper end of the distribution," the self-described Van Housing Bull argued that wealthy buyers could support the market — regardless of what the bears may have been prophesying.

How the 99% Won in the Fight for Worker Rights

The Unsung Victors in the Hottest Election of 2011

Cross-posted with

No headlines announced it. No TV pundits called it. But on the evening of November 8th, Occupy Wall Street, the populist uprising built on economic justice and corruption-free politics that’s spread like a lit match hitting a trail of gasoline, notched its first major political victory, and in the unlikeliest of places: Ohio.

You might have missed OWS's win amid the recent wave of Occupy crackdowns. Police raided Occupy Denver, Occupy Salt Lake City, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Portland, and Occupy Seattle in a five-day span. Hundreds were arrested. And then, in the early morning hours on Tuesday, New York City police descended on Occupy Wall Street itself, fists flying and riot shields at the ready, with orders from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to evict the protesters. Later that day, a judge ruled that they couldn't rebuild their young community, dealing a blow to the Occupy protest that inspired them all.

Instead of simply condemning the eviction, many pundits and columnists praised it or highlighted what they considered its bright side. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote that Bloomberg had done Occupy Wall Street a favor. After all, he argued, something dangerous or deadly was bound to happen at OWS sooner or later, especially with winter soon to arrive. Zuccotti Park, Klein added, "was cleared... in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next."

Greenhouse Gases Hit Record Levels; Concentrations Exceed Scientists' Worst-Case Scenarios

GENEVA -- Global warming gases have hit record levels in the world's atmosphere, with concentrations of carbon dioxide up 39 percent since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the U.N. weather agency said Monday.

The new figures for 2010 from the World Meteorological Organization show that CO2 levels are now at 389 parts per million, up from about 280 parts per million a quarter-millenium ago. The levels are significant because the gases trap heat in the atmosphere.

WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa said CO2 emissions are to blame for about four-fifths of the rise. But he noted the lag between what gets pumped into the atmosphere and its effect on climate.

Paul Krugman, George Will Bash Newt Gingrich On 'This Week'

Columnists Paul Krugman and George Will may not agree on much, but both men came together to bash Newt Gingrich on Sunday's "This Week."

Gingrich has been surging in the GOP polls lately, even as he has come under fire for his ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Both Will and Krugman, however, had little love for the former House speaker.

“It is an amazingly efficient candidacy in that in embodies everything disagreeable about modern Washington,” Will (whose wife consults for Rick Perry) said, running through a long list of problems he had with Gingrich. He also mocked Gingrich's explanation that Freddie Mac had given him over a million dollars to be a "historian" for the company. "He's not a historian!" Will snapped. Later, he piled on more, saying Gingrich was guilty of "absurd rhetorical grandiosity."

Fellow panelist Peggy Noonan came to Gingrich's defense, saying that he had a "fresh" debate strategy and was exciting the Republican base.

Krugman gave a dismissive answer to this assertion.

"The Republican base does not want Romney, and they keep on looking for an alternative," he said. "And Newt, although somebody said he's a stupid man's idea of what a smart man sounds like, but he is more plausible than the other guys that they've been pushing up."

Source: Huff 

Super Committee Fails: Panel's End Run Around Democracy Fizzles

WASHINGTON -- An ill-conceived scheme to make an end run around public opposition to major spending cuts to entitlement and social programs has foundered, with leaders of both parties huddling through the weekend to come to terms on a joint explanation for the spectacular failure of the super committee.

The White House and congressional leaders had thought that by empowering the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction with broad powers to sidestep the traditional congressional quagmire, the panel would somehow be able to craft a "grand bargain" that trimmed Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while perhaps raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting the defense budget.

Failure, the reasoning went, would mean living with $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending starting in 2013. Leaders said often that such cuts were not an option, and as late as Sunday still held out faint hope of a last-second compromise. "I don't think there's failure yet. I believe that the elements of a deal -- probably not as big as some of us would like -- are still there," committee member Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Yet sources familiar with negotiations have been saying for more than a week that the sides were deadlocked, primarily over how to treat the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats want them to expire before they'll accept deep cuts to entitlement programs. Republicans have been insistent on lowering tax rates further. The elderly, then, have Republican recalcitrance to credit for the continuation of their benefits.

Pepper Spray on Campus: A Tale of Two Videos

Two unforgettable videos flew around the World Wide Web on Saturday, one horrifying, the other inspiring. Everybody knows the first: black-clad cops at UC Davis shooting pepper-spray into the faces of Occupy Wall Street student demonstrators who are sitting passively on the ground with linked arms. More than 2 million people have watched that video on YouTube—you might title it “The Whole World Is Watching.”

But there’s a second video, shot the next night, that is amazing in a different way: it shows the chancellor of UC Davis, Linda P.B. Katehi, walking to her car after a press conference, with hundreds of students lining her path on one side, sitting on the ground with linked arms—like the students in the first, famous video—but now in a silent protest against the violence she presided over. This video is titled “walk of shame.”

The Davis students’ message is clear: we are not the violent ones. We’re not like you. We stand for a different kind of world. And: your violence is not working. We are not afraid. It’s the message of the nonviolent civil rights movement of the 1960s, of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke of “meeting physical force with soul force.” (On Common Dreams, Rebecca Solnit explains more.)

The hypocrisy of the Davis chancellor has been hard to miss. She said in her first official statement that the cops pepper-sprayed students because the university was “driven by our concern for the safety and health of the students involved in the protest.” It doesn’t take a genius to expose the flaws in logic here, and students and others did—by the thousands. One was Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English, whose open letter to the chancellor has been quoted widely: “you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis.”

The hypocrisy of the cops has also been pretty obvious. The official position of the UC Davis police is that they had to use pepper spray to “get out of the protest area,” because the students had “encircled the officers,” who “were looking to leave but were unable to get out." That’s what UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza told reporters on Saturday. Of course the 2 million people who watched the video saw something different: the cops are not trying to leave, and nobody is preventing them from doing so. When the cops finally do leave, hundreds of kids are chanting at them, “Shame on you! Shame on you!”

The story behind the Davis Chancellor’s “walk of shame” is even more amazing. After the press conference, with hundreds of students outside, Chancellor Linda Katehi refused to leave the building. According to Lee Fang, an investigative reporter who has written forThe Nation, she was “attempting to give the media the impression that the students were somehow holding her hostage.”

Then “a group of highly organized students formed a large gap for the chancellor to leave,” chanting, “We are peaceful” and “Just walk home.” After several hours. student representatives convinced the chancellor to leave. As she was videotaped walking past the silent students, Lee Fang asks her “Chancellor, do you still feel threatened by the students?” She replies “No. No.” (More here.)

The chancellor is now under intense pressure to resign, and has made various concessions to students and faculty: expressing belated regrets, putting the two pepper-spraying cops on leave, promising some kind of investigation. Many activists at Davis say they’d like to see a lot more than a resignation—Jesse Drew, for example, an associate professor who teaches in the film studies program, said it was more important to build a sustained student movement, to mobilize the faculty and to keep attention focused on the Occupy Wall Street issues of economic injustice.

One of the really good things about the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it is not a campus-based, student movement—it is a movement of “the 99 percent.” But campuses provide a special setting where tactics are tested and strategies are developed, and the students at UC Davis have set an amazing example—when the whole world is watching.

Source: the Nation 

What George Orwell Can Teach Us About OWS and Police Brutality

Why did police use baton strikes and pepper spray against nonviolent protesters on University of California campuses? Some say they're brutes. My colleague Alexis Madrigal argues their behavior is the logical result of aggressive police tactics adopted in the wake of the 1999 WTO protests. Peter Moskos posits that they're victims of wrongheaded officer training. Without discounting these theories, or minimizing the brutality involved, I'd like to offer a complementary explanation. It involves George Orwell and the length authority figures will go to avoid derisive laughter.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

A bit of background first. 

On the U.C. campuses where I've spent time, there's always been a fraught relationship between students and campus police. For the officers, the job entails endless encounters with the minority of frequently drunk undergrads who get into fights, pull fire alarms, break windows, vomit, litter, blare music at 3 a.m., drive around at unsafe speeds, or even steal livestock. Especially for a working class cop who never went to college, it's easy to start seeing all students as entitled, self-absorbed brats, especially the openly disrespectful element.

The student perspective? Most are well-behaved, aren't particularly aware that a small minority of their classmates treat campus police with open disdain, and wouldn't do so themselves. At the same time, they can't help but see campus police as slightly ridiculous figures. They dress like real police and carry weapons, but aren't they mostly dealing with students vomiting in the bushes? What's the deal with the ones who tazed that kid in the UCLA library? Or the time they tried to charge a student with grand theft auto for driving a maintenance golf cart across campus?

Super Screwed

If the congressional supercommittee fails this week to agree on a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion or so over the next decade, it won’t be for lack of advice from Washington players and policy wonks.

For years, deficit hawks and policy advocates in the nation’s capital have been fighting over what to do about the US government’s budget and long-term fiscal challenges. And their weapon of choice often is…the chart. As these policy warriors have circled around the supercommittee—sometimes testifying before it—they have brandished various graphics to make their point in ways far more dramatic than lectures on baseline projections and budget authority.

The supercommittee, created as part of the debt-ceiling agreement crafted in August, is comprised of six members from each party. They’ve been on an extraordinarily tight deadline to come up with a plan, due Wednesday, that will pass muster with their colleagues—or else a series of automatic spending cuts will take place starting in 2013. Here’s a brief guide to the supercommitte’s super-tough job via the charts.

Inside the Corporate Plan to Occupy the Pentagon

With time fast running out for the so-called deficit supercommittee, the mammoth amount of government money spent on the military has become a prime target in Washington. But the main focus isn't on big-ticket weapons projects or expensive wars—it's on retirement benefits for the roughly 17 percent of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen who have served 20 years or more in uniform. Currently the total cost of their benefits is about $50 billion a year.

Cuts to military pensions are "the kind of thing you have to consider," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in September. When President Obama unveiled his $3 trillion debt reduction plan the same month, it called GIs' benefits "out of line" with private employee retirement plans, saying the system was "designed for a different era of work." When Congress held a hearing on military retirements in October, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) promoted a cheaper 401(k)-style plan that would slash existing benefits for many troops. "I see nothing wrong with them being able to choose a different retirement plan," he said.

Asbestos Cracks Conservative Party Unity: Harper Government Position On Export Causes Internal Rift

A growing number of Conservative MPs are questioning their government's position on the export of asbestos, with a group of them independently summoning industry experts to a meeting on Parliament Hill last week.

Solid caucus discipline has been one of Stephen Harper's political achievements over six years in power. While open revolt over asbestos hasn't erupted, clear faultlines over government resistance to having the substance listed as hazardous internationally suggest the prime minister may be forced to deal with a rare case of internal dissent.

The first public cracks in the Conservative party line came on Nov. 1, when five Tory MPs broke ranks and abstained from an NDP vote that would have banned asbestos exports.

That was followed last Monday with a private Parliament Hill meeting that saw about a dozen Conservative parliamentarians ask some pointed questions of the Chrysotile Institute and industry scientists over several hours.

The remarkable, evolving Occupy movement

The amazingly resilient Occupy phenomenon is running up against the same ugly reality that so many social movements have encountered over the past 20 years: there is a world of difference between influence and power. Governments and the corporations they serve have power -- that is, the power of money (and the law) to make decisions that can immediately and dramatically affect people's lives. Laying off thousands of people with no notice, cancelling or slashing social programs, building mines and oil pipelines, providing subsidies and tax breaks to private companies or refusing to build social housing or provide childcare are all things governments and corporations do almost exclusively.

And, most important for the Occupy movement, the power to facilitate the creation of a super-rich class of feudal lords by re-writing rules, making laws, deregulating finance and establishing (and for the state, allowing) corporate practices that pay billions to the 1 per cent based on nothing more than their elite status.

Those decisions involve power and as the occupiers are discovering anew, that power is entrenched, protected, and ruthless and it will not be denied easily what it has accumulated over the decades.

While there is always reference to people power when new social movements flex their muscles, unless the people in the streets number in the tens or hundreds of thousands or millions (as in Tahrir Square) what we are actually talking about is influence: the capacity to change people's minds, to inspire resistance, to engage a broader public on an issue in a different way, to change the political landscape so that inconvenient truths are put on the table or to legitimize deeply held values otherwise suppressed or denied by the dominant institutions.

Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires

[Q&A] Ronald Wright talks to The Mark about inequality, the Tea Party, and the decline of the American empire.

As the Occupy movement continues to evolve, The Mark caught up with esteemed novelist, historian, and essayist Ronald Wright – author of A Short History of Progress- to discuss the changes afoot in American society.

In your 2008 book What is America?, you argued that the American empire – or what you call the “Columbian Age” – is at its end. Have the past three years changed your mind?

Well, I have to say that the past few years have persuaded me that I was on the right track. I think the Columbian Age – which of course began with Europeans and was brought to its culmination by the Americans – certainly does seem to be running out of room. It is also running out of credibility. The land of opportunity has become a place with the greatest inequality between rich and poor in the developed world today.

In the United States, there’s been a backlash from the right with the Tea Party movement, and now from the left with the emerging Occupy movement. What do you make of these movements, and what do they tell us about the state of the American empire?

The Tea Party is, to some degree, a manufactured movement. It’s been heavily financed by extremely wealthy people such as the Koch brothers, and others. It continues the neo-right confidence trick (which I think we can say really took off with Ronald Reagan) whereby the poor are persuaded that their interests lie in voting for the party of the rich. Due to poor public education and a very strong religious element, many Americans no longer approach politics in a spirit of enlightened, rational self-interest, which is the way democracies have to be if they’re going to work.

Seymour Hersh: Propaganda Used Ahead of Iraq War Is Now Being Reused over Iran’s Nuke Program

While the United States, Britain and Canada are planning to announce a coordinated set of sanctions against Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry today, longtime investigative journalist Seymour Hersh questions the growing consensus on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. International pressure has been mounting on Iran since the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in a report the "possible military dimensions" to Iran’s nuclear activities, citing "credible" evidence that "indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." In his latest article for The New Yorker blog, titled "Iran and the IAEA," Hersh argues the recent report is a "political document," not a scientific study. "They [JSOC] found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization," Hersh says. "In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities to build the bomb. This is simply a fact."

Source: Democracy Now! 

On access to information, Canada is a developing country

Canada's access-to-information laws are not working, in spite of the country's avowed commitment to open government.

In an Associated Press study, researchers filed access-to-information requests for government documents on terrorism and convictions in 105 countries. Canada asked for a 200-day extension, and then only gave a partial response. The U.S. stalled for 10 months before releasing two spreadsheets and one piece of paper with all names blanked out.

In new democracies and developing countries, meanwhile, access-to-information laws work as tools for transparency and citizen engagement. India replied in full and on time, while Turkey provided answers within 10 days. Mexico's law is cited as a “model;” it makes all responses public and allows anonymous requests.

Today, Canadians are made to file access to information requests to discover what a government ministry has already released.

There should be no political interference with access to information requests. Documents need to be produced in a timely fashion, and not redacted without cause. If Canadian officials are unable to do this themselves, they should send delegations to India, Mexico and Turkey, and study how right-to-know laws work there.

Source: Globe&Mail 

Military satellite project sparks secrecy concerns

The Conservative government’s plan to spend almost half a billion dollars on the construction of a U.S. military satellite is sparking concerns about the secrecy surrounding the project and about who will ultimately control the information it transmits.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has heralded Canada’s proposed participation in the U.S. military’s Wideband Global Satcom network, pointing out that it is aimed at protecting Canada’s economy and businesses from cyber attack.

But military officers and space industry representatives it has nothing to do with foiling foreign cyber attacks or protecting commercial information from such strikes.

U.S. Maj.-Gen. Susan Mashiko, in charge of the country’s military satellite communications systems wing, has noted that Wideband Global Satcom will allow for faster communications with troops on the battlefield.

“It is primarily a satellite communications network,” added Canadian Department of National Defence spokesman Daniel Blouin.

But DND has been silent on the reasons behind the push to spend $477 million on joining the U.S. satellite program by the end of the year.

PM Harper takes communications strategy to new level

Since the days of prime ministers Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker, the federal communications bureaucracy has gradually swelled to “huge” proportions, and while this growth didn’t start with the majority governing Conservative Party, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has certainly “changed the rules,” say some political watchers.

On CBC’s The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti on Nov. 1, CTV’s Craig Oliver, speaking from over 50 years of journalistic experience covering the rein of 10 prime ministers, said in the last 30 years, the size of “media control” operations has greatly expanded.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Oliver said Mr. Diefenbaker—who was prime minister when Mr. Oliver kicked-off his reporting career—and Mr. Pearson typically went on the road with one communications person, “usually somebody who’s a former reporter who’s kind of bemused to find himself on the other side of the line.”

Mr. Oliver said on The Current, “There’s a whole infrastructure at every level of every department, of people whose job it is to manipulate and massage media. Highly paid people…hundreds of people. Their only job every day is try to manipulate a message.”

Occupy Toronto protesters must leave park

A judge has ruled that Occupy Toronto protesters must end their five-week long encampment at a downtown park.

Superior Court Justice David Brown’s ruling, issued just after 9 a.m. on Monday, upholds eviction notices issued last week by city bylaw officers to protesters who have been camping at St. James Park since Oct. 15.

Protesters had argued in court they had a constitutional right to camp in the park, which is located near the corner of King Street East and Church Street.

However, Mayor Rob Ford and his allies on Toronto city council have said occupiers have had their say and that neighbours and businesses in the area want the protesters to leave.

In submissions to the court, city officials have also pointed to damage to park grounds caused by the encampment and the need to prepare the park for winter.

Protesters had argued the encampment was essential to ensuring their right to expression guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Brown, however, rejected this argument in his ruling and said the city's trespass order was "constitutionally valid."

G8 spending includes $1,650 to remove bed, $3,500 to move light fixtures

Canadian taxpayers forked out almost $2-million — including more than $1,600 to remove a bed — to spruce up a luxury Muskoka resort for last year's G8 summit.

The renovations included $500 to remove a small light fixture from one room and $3,000 to raise a large chandelier in the main lobby of Deerhurst Resort.

The Harper government picked up the tab, which also included $1,540 to move furniture in rooms used by the German delegation and $1,650 to remove a king-sized bed and headboard from a room used by the French delegation.

The details were obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request.

Deerhurst was sold to Skyline Hotels and Resorts for $26-million nine months after hosting the June 2010 summit.

A spokesperson for Public Works, which reimbursed Deerhurst for the renovations, said modifications to rooms were “based on the operational requirements identified to us” by the Foreign Affairs department and requested by the various leaders' delegations.

Occupy Toronto eviction order stands, court rules

Occupy Toronto protesters can no longer camp out at St. James Park, according to an Ontario judge who ruled Monday morning that city officials can end the encampment.

Five protesters challenged the city’s orders to take down their tents and vacate the park between midnight and 5:30 a.m. last Tuesday by seeking an injunction.

“The Trespass Notice is constitutionally valid. I dismiss the application,” Ontario Superior Court Judge David Brown ruled.

Lawyers for the protesters had argued that the encampment was a key part of the movement.

Judge Brown, however, said their freedom of speech could be conveyed without the use of tents or overnight stays.

You may have to work more for less EI in Ontario

I have always had mixed feelings about the fact that eligibility for employment insurance and duration of payments is linked to regional unemployment rates.

While it may be reasonable to make people work longer and give them benefits for a shorter period if it is easier to get a job where they live, the logic breaks down at the individual level.

Whether you are out of work in Toronto or Windsor or Northern Ontario, it’s tough. And if you haven’t worked enough hours in the last year to qualify for EI or you don’t have a new job before your benefits run out, hearing that the “average” unemployed person in your community is back to work in fewer weeks isn’t going to put money in your pocket or a smile on your face.

The EI program characteristics for the period October 9/11 to November 5/11  illustrate the significant differences in how benefits are administered in various parts of the country.

Where unemployment is 13.1 per cent or more (i.e. Newfoundland and Labrador) applicants only have to work 420 hours to qualify for up to 45 weeks of benefits. However, if unemployment is 6 per cent or less (i.e. Ottawa, Calgary, Regina) 700 hours of work are required to collect a maximum of 36 weeks of payments.

DiManno: Beneath the legal veneer about the right to protest, the park squatters are bullies

As a downtown loft-dweller, I don’t have a backyard. No patio, no terrace, not even a tiny Juliet balcony.

St. James Park, a block away, is my backyard. And I’ve wanted it back for a while now. I have faith that Justice David Brown will force that to happen — with a reasonable accommodation for Occupy Toronto participants — when he releases his decision Monday morning on lifting the temporary injunction that halted the city from evicting dug-in trespassers.

For those who ask why this Camp Whinge has become all about a park when the issues that the worldwide 99 per cent movement have spotlighted are so much more profound, I would counter: How would you like the protesters planting their tent pegs, with no exit date, on your front lawn in the Beaches or the Annex or suburban Scarborough? How’d you like your kids to play in the dump that St. James has become?

It’s so easy to be hospitable and solidarity-minded when not personally inconvenienced or if merely Occupy-slumming as an encampment tourist.