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, July 09, 2011

Ford’s expenses report questioned in complaint

The former editor of a left-wing political website has filed a complaint with Toronto’s integrity commissioner in which she says Mayor Rob Ford’s first office expenses report may have violated city rules.

Jude MacDonald, a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief of, says it “strains credibility” to believe that Ford’s office spent as little in the first quarter of 2011 as the proudly frugal mayor claimed: $1,718.46, less than the much smaller offices of 25 councillors and a miniscule portion of his $2 million limit. She believes it is “possible” that Ford paid additional costs with his own money without reporting having done so, a violation of council’s expenses policy.

The mayor and councillors are allowed to cover office expenses themselves rather than drawing from their taxpayer subsidies, but they must report even out-of-pocket expenditures in their official filings. The city’s auditor found in 2007 that Ford, then a councillor, had broken the rule by neglecting to report his personal spending.

The auditor said the rule exists for the sake of transparency, to ensure expenses are not being paid by third parties, and to ensure wealthy politicians are not quietly exceeding their spending limits.

“I can’t prove a negative. But it’s only with full disclosure that we will know,” MacDonald said. “Because the reporting I’m seeing online falls so short of the basic minimum, we can only look at his past practices.”

Ford’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: Toronto Star 

White House Dismisses GOP Calls For Balanced Budget Amendment

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Friday resoundingly rejected a push by Republicans to amend the Constitution with a balanced budget amendment as part of ongoing deficit talks.

"This is not a constitutional issue," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his daily briefing, in response to a question about whether President Barack Obama has ruled out the idea in his negotiations with congressional leaders on a potentially $4 trillion deficit reduction deal.

"The fact is that the balanced budget amendment would be, is basically an admission by Congress that they can't do anything, right?" Carney said. "And that's not true, as [evidenced by] these discussions that we're engaged in right now. And it should not be true. And it's a shame if people actually believe that. So no, we don't support it."

The bottom line is that Congress needs to come up with a solution to budget deficits and long-term debt, he said, not punt the issue to the Constitution.

Such an amendment "is not good for the economy; it doesn't answer the problem, and we need to act because we are capable to doing the work that the American people sent us here to do," Carney said.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), defended the need for a constitutional amendment and maintained that it wouldn't be in place of making spending cuts, but in addition to them.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

BP: Most Gulf Oil Spill Victims Should Not Get Any More Payouts

NEW ORLEANS — BP is arguing that most victims of last year's Gulf oil spill should not get any more payouts for future losses because the hardest-hit areas are recovering and the economy is growing.

The British oil company argues its case in a 29-page document made public Friday and filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. The $20 billion fund is responsible for paying for damages from the spill.

The company says the fund should end payments for future losses to everyone, except in limited cases for oyster harvesters.

The company had already argued that fund administrator Ken Feinberg's formula for determining final payments artificially inflates future expected losses.

Source: Huffington  

Obama On Jobs Report: 'We Still Have A Long Way To Go'

WASHINGTON (AP/The Huffington Post) -- President Barack Obama says the uncertainty over whether lawmakers will raise the nation's debt limit is keeping businesses from hiring.

Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama says that once Congress reaches an agreement on the debt ceiling, businesses will have the confidence they need to add workers to their payrolls.

"Today's job report confirms what most Americans already know: We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to give people the security and opportunity that they deserve," Obama said.

The Labor Department said Friday that the economy added only 18,000 jobs last month, the fewest jobs in nine months. The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 9.2 percent.

The reports come as Democrats and Republicans near an urgent deadline to increase the nation's borrowing power and prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its obligations.

"To put our economy on a stronger and sounder footing for the future, we've got to rein in our deficits and get the government to live within its means, while still making the investments that help put people to work right now and make us more competitive in the future," Obama said Friday.

Congressional Republicans used the dismal report to slam Obama's economic agenda.

"The situation that we face is pretty urgent, as a matter of fact I would describe it as dire," House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference, emphasizing that "a debt limit increase that raises taxes or fails to make serious spending cuts won't pass the House."

He was backed up by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who said that deficit reduction talks held by Vice President Joe Biden that Cantor abandoned had ended because Democrats were insisting on raising taxes.

"Now it just does not make sense for Americans to suffer under higher taxes in an economy like this," said Cantor, R-Va.

Obama has insisted that some revenue increases be included in a deficit-reduction plan.

Boehner, R-Ohio, also stressed the need to reach a deal before the government starts defaulting on its debt on Aug. 2.

"I frankly think it puts us in an awful lot of jeopardy and puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs. So I believe it is important that we come to an agreement," he said.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

DCCC Chair Steve Israel Relays Fears Over Candidate Recruitment If Dems Buckle On Medicare

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel warned lawmakers on Friday that he would have trouble recruiting candidates for office if the party caved on Medicare during the debt ceiling negotiations.

The comments came during a closed-door caucus meeting. Multiple sources confirmed the remarks, describing them as "impassioned."

"He said recruits would not consider running if Democrats did not stand up for Medicare," one attendee told The Huffington Post. "He added that national polling showed a seismic shift against House Republicans after the [Paul] Ryan budget because of Medicare."

Israel's warning adds yet another political element to a debt-ceiling debate that is entering its 11th hour. House Democrats were surprised to wake up Thursday morning to reports that the White House was putting both Medicare and Social Security on the negotiating table. Previously, Democrats had pushed to have entitlement reforms be considered on a separate track, if considered at all.

During the caucus meeting, the attendee emailed, "there was great frustration that the Obama administration was discussing cutting Medicare and Social Security (there was a little less emphasis on Medicaid). The general sense was that protecting Medicare and Social Security was a defining Democratic value, and that agreeing to cuts would be a gift to Republicans if not political suicide."

Israel, who as DCCC chair is charged with getting members elected, brought up the electoral implications. Democratic lawmakers have tried to draw a distinction between cuts to Medicare benefits and those that could be applied to health care suppliers. But officials -- including, presumably, Israel -- have worried that any changes to Medicare would dull the criticisms Democrats have levied against Republicans for attempting to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Source: Huffington 

Driving While Immigrant

On June 17, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a slate of reforms to its Secure Communities program that director John Morton said are about prioritizing its limited resources and “making sure we focus on those people it makes the most sense to remove.” In reality they amount to a political attempt to salvage Obama’s flagship immigration program, which despite a multimillion-dollar mandate to target “dangerous criminal aliens,” has been undermined by ICE’s own data, which show that the majority of those it deports have no criminal record or were charged with minor offenses like traffic tickets. Critics argue that the program has re-established racial profiling as a legitimate policing practice. If the 1990s catchphrase was “Driving While Black,” now it could be “Driving While Immigrant.”

Take the example of Salvador Licea. Last August he was returning to his construction job in McGregor, Texas, after a lunch break when a routine traffic stop turned into a check of his immigration status. A local police officer noticed Licea’s expired inspection sticker and pulled him over, then checked to see whether his driver’s license was also expired. It was. Recent changes in Texas law make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to renew their once valid licenses. So instead of getting a ticket, Licea was arrested and booked into a McLennan County jail that participates in Secure Communities. His fingerprints were automatically shared with federal immigration agents and he was marked eligible for deportation.

“What crime did I commit?” Licea asks. “I was just doing my thing, just trying to get to work.” He says he often felt nervous when he saw a police officer while driving, even when he had a valid license. “Is he going to stop me for breaking the law?” Licea says he would ask himself. “Or is he just going to stop me for the color of my skin?”

Mr. Licea’s charge was driving with an invalid license. He was among 80 percent of the 118 immigrants McLennan County has transferred into ICE custody since January 2010 who were noncriminals or accused of low-level traffic or misdemeanor offenses. This scenario has played out across the 1,417 jurisdictions that have enrolled in Secure Communities since it started in 2008 and report similar statistics. It has been cited by the three Democratic governors who backed out of the program this year—Pat Quinn of Illinois, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

These governors wanted to opt out of Secure Communities—just like Arlington County, Virginia, which voted 5-0 to opt out last September—but have found themselves similarly powerless to block the controversial program. Instead, in an attempt to address state and local concerns, Morton says he will grant more discretionary powers to federal attorneys handling deportation cases. Special consideration will now be given to veterans, victims of domestic abuse, women who are pregnant or nursing and single parents like Licea, who is the sole provider for his two US-born daughters.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

On the West's Moral Panic Over 'Multiculturalism'

On February 15, 2006, in Strasbourg the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, delivered a stout defense of freedom of speech, democratic values and modernity on the continent. With the embers from heated exchanges over a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons of Muhammad still glowing, Barroso laid out the consequences of privileging sensitivity towards “others” over core values that define “us.” If Europe failed to defend its principles in the face of such an onslaught, he argued, “we are accepting fear in our society.… I understand that offended many people in the Muslim world but is it better to have a system in which some excesses are allowed or to be in some countries where they don’t even have the right to say this.… I defend the democratic system.”

On the very same day in the House of Commons the British government employed fear of terrorism to limit existing freedoms, expanding state power to make “glorification” of terrorism a criminal offense. Laying out the consequences of privileging freedom over security, then prime minister Tony Blair later explained that the law “Will allow us to deal with ‘those’ people and say: Look, we have free speech in this country, but don’t abuse it.” For certain groups the price for belonging and conditions for banishment have shifted dramatically in Western nations, particularly but by no means exclusively in Europe, in recent years. Citizenship is no longer enough. The clothes you wear, the language you speak, the way you worship, have all become grounds for dismissal or inclusion. These terms are not applied equally to all—they are not intended to be. The intention of this series of edicts (popular, political and judicial) is not to erase all differences but to act as a filter for certain people who are considered dangerously different.

To achieve this, certain groups and behaviors must first be pathologized so that they might then be more easily particularized. The pathologization has been made easier over the past decade by the escalation of terrorist acts or attempts in the US and Europe in the name of radical Islam. “Terror is first of all the terror of the next attack,” explains Arjun Appadurai in Fear of Small Numbers. “Terror…opens the possibility that anyone may be a soldier in disguise, a sleeper among us, waiting to strike at the heart of our social slumber.”

But in truth terrorism, and the wars and conflicts that exacerbate terrorism, sharpened this social pathologization and focused it on Muslims and Islam—but terrorism did not create it. The notion that the presence of certain groups represents an existential threat to a mythological national cohesion was present in Enoch Powell ’s infamous 1968 speech in which he prophesied violent consequences to non-white immigration in the UK: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’” It was there in 1979 in Margaret Thatcher’s sympathy with Britons who feel they are being “swamped by an alien tide.” And it was front and center in Jacques Chirac ’s 1991 “Le bruit et l’odeur” speech. “How do you want a French worker who works with his wife, who earn together about 15,000 francs and who sees next to his council house a piled-up family with a father, three or four spouses and twenty children earning 50,000 francs via benefits naturally without working…If you add to that the noise and the smell, well, the French worker, he goes crazy.”

For these threats to gain popular traction, however, these “others” have to be distinguished in the popular mind from other “others.” So when black people attack other black people it is no longer crime but “black-on-black-crime;” if a young Muslim woman in killed over a romantic relationship it is not a murder but an “honor killing.” In a country like England that has been embroiled in virtually continuous terrorist conflict for the last forty years in Northern Ireland, the notion that there are “home-grown” Muslim bombers is supposed to represent not just a new demographic taking up armed struggle but an entirely new phenomenon. Even as the Catholic Church is embroiled in a global crisis over child sexual abuse and the Church of England is splintered in a row over gay priests, Islam and Muslims face particularly vehement demands to denounce homophobia.

The combined effect of these flawed distinctions and sweeping demonization is to unleash a series of moral panics. In 2009 in Switzerland, a national referendum banned the building of minarets in a country that has only four; in 2010, 70 per cent of voters in the state of Oklahoma support the banning of sharia law even though Muslims comprise less than 0.1 per cent of the population; in the Netherlands parliament seriously considered banning the burka–a garment believed to be worn by fewer than fifty women in the entire country. Disproportionate in scale and distorted in nature, these actions cannot be understood as a viable response to their named targets but rather as emblems of a broader, deeper disruption in national, racial and religious identities. At a time of diminishing national sovereignty, particularly in Europe, such campaigns help the national imagination cohere around a fixed identity even as the ability of the nation-state to actually govern itself wanes. It is a curious and paradoxical fact that as national boundaries in Europe have started to fade, the electoral appeal of nationalism has increased; fascism, and its fellow travelers, is once again a mainstream ideology in Europe, regularly polling between 5 and 15 per cent in most countries. Their success suggests that modernity, as it has been framed and presented, poses a challenge not only to Islam and that the demographic group finding it most difficult to integrate into modern society is a section of white society that feels abandoned and disoriented.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

Factory Farms vs. Video Activists: Who Will Control What We See?

Iowa's attempt to ban undercover videographers from documenting animal cruelty is merely the latest battle in an ongoing all-out war.

Next time you drive through Iowa farm country, you may want to put away your camera. Earlier this year, the state proposed a new piece of legislation, House File 589, that would make it a crime to videotape, audio record, or in any way document a crop or animal facility without the prior consent of the owner. Anyone who produces, possesses, or distributes an unauthorized recording would face hefty fines, jail time, or both. The proposed law, an amendment to Iowa Code 717A, passed the Iowa House by a wide margin. It recently stalled in the Senate, but it will most likely be taken up again months from now in the state's next legislative session: as Iowa Representative Jim Lykam recently noted, "I'm sure that somebody will try to see if they can resurrect it." Most importantly, the underlying issue—industrial agriculture's fear that activists will continue to expose its practices—hasn't gone away.

Although HF 589 has been decried by animal welfare, food transparency, and civil rights groups, it has galvanized large-scale agricultural entities—from multinational corporations like Monsanto and DuPont to influential statewide organizations like the Iowa Poultry Association. The measure is a backlash against the undercover sting operations that constantly threaten factory farmers and the commodity crop growers who supply their feed. In recent years, activists have documented routine abuse and horrifying conditions at large farms in Iowa, Texas, Minnesota, California, Maine, Ohio, and elsewhere. Easily disseminated through the Internet, these startling and often graphic videos can result in independent audits, fines, and even criminal charges.

Iowa State Senator Matt McCoy, who has opposed HF 589, told me that recent legislative changes in California explain why Iowan producers feel so threatened. When 63 percent of Californians voted for Proposition 2 in 2008, they ensured a better future for their poultry: by 2015, all laying hens in California must have enough room to fully extend their limbs or wings without touching cage walls or one another. "The poultry industry doesn't want to see the same mandates in Iowa," McCoy said. "They see this as an offensive attack, and that they have to protect their industry." Considering that strong public support for Proposition 2 was garnered, in large part, by a media campaign that compared photos of animals in industrial farms with animals raised in less confining conditions, it's easy to see why large-scale operators think HF 589 might help diffuse growing public resistance to factory farming.

Iowa's proposed law is part of a broader move to silence the growing din of undercover factory farm videos. This year, legislatures in Florida and Minnesota also proposed anti-surveillance laws. The concerted nature of this campaign is evident in the legislation itself: HF 589 and its sister bill in Minnesota, SF 1118, use nearly identical language. Florida's proposal is terser in style but virtually the same in content. According to McCoy, all three bills began with Iowa's powerful agricultural interest groups—people like Don Peterson, an influential lobbyist for Iowa's Farm Bureau, who traveled on behalf of similar legislation elsewhere. "We've seen high-profile, visible lobbyists," he said, "and they've made efforts to work this in several states." The bills in Florida and Minnesota died without a vote, but McCoy feels the odds are better in Iowa, where the legislative push began, and where well-heeled lobbyists have strong government ties.

Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

How Your Private Emails Can Be Used Against You in Court

A cybersecurity scholar argues that the power to subpoena information that consumers have stored in the cloud is overly broad.

Who has copies of your emails? You do, of course, as do all the people you sent them to. But so does Google or Yahoo or whichever cloud email service you use. And emails are just the beginning: more and more of our communications and transactions are happening online and stored by someone for some amount of time.

In this new world, the rules that govern grand jury subpoenas may have troubling implications, argues Joshua Gruenspecht, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology, in the spring issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.

Grand jury subpoenas are used to collect evidence. Unlike warrants, subpoenas can be issued with less than probable cause. The reasoning for the lower bar is in part that if someone does not want to turn over the requested evidence, he or she can contest the subpoena in court. Grand juries can subpoena not only the person who created a document but any third parties who might be in possession of that document. Under the Stored Communications Act, a grand jury can subpoena certain types of data from third parties whose only role is storing that data.

Gruenspecht argues that this reflects outdated notions of the role of third parties. When these laws developed, it was reasonable to believe that any third party with access to someone's data would have a stake in that data and a relationship with the person who created it. The opportunity to contest a subpoena was therefore assumed to be genuine. But when a company that merely stores the data is subpoenaed, it may have no reason to protest and just fork over the information.

In the old days of storing information in filing cabinets, subpoena power was constrained because people didn't save everything and investigators had to know where to look to find incriminating evidence. Today, Gruenspecht writes, "mass digital storage ... has significantly increased the chances that records of any given document exist and is increasingly unifying the locations in which those records can be found."

Google, law-abiding corporate citizen that it is, says, "As stated in our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, Google complies with valid legal processes seeking account information, such as search warrants, court orders, or subpoenas." Google promises to notify its users when their information is subpoenaed, but doing the legal minimum might make any cloud company less than the ideal consumer advocate.

Source: The Atlantic 

How the Recession Turned Barack Obama Into John McCain

Two years ago, nearly the entire budget was a canvas for stimulative action. We're left with the payroll tax. The recession made conservatives of us all.

In a press conference this morning to address the dismal June jobs report, President Obama said he would consider extending his payroll tax cut another year. That tax break, which reduces the Social Security levy on all workers by two percentage points, keeps an extra $1,000 per year in the typical worker's wallet. It represents our last best hope for stimulus in the sputtering recovery.

It also represented one of our first hopes. In February 2009, Sen. John McCain revived an idea from the campaign trail to replace the Recovery Act with another multi-hundred-billion plan grounded in ... a payroll tax cut. Republicans lost that debate. Democrats' stimulus plan instead focused on state aid and a $800 across-the-board tax break called Making Work Pay.

Two years later, Sen. John McCain has faded from the economic news cycle, but his idea has taken center stage. Many liberals, moderates and conservatives agree: a second payroll tax cut might be the only good arrow left in Washington's quiver worth firing.

And so it is that Year-2011 Barack Obama's best shot to help the recovery might be to steal a page from year-2009 John McCain.


The case for stimulus is dead. Who killed it? Some blame the I-95 corridor, the thin artery between New York media and Beltway power, and its obsession with deficits. Some blame the inherent failure of the Recovery Act. I blame the housing crisis.

My favorite metaphor for the stimulus, like many things, comes from sports. In baseball, the Recovery Act would be a seven-run seventh inning for a team losing by ten runs. It was a big inning, but not enough to pull ahead. The housing crisis was the ten-run deficit. Not only did it freeze the real estate industry, but also it stunned businesses and families who had spent the former decade powering the economy with debt and credit. Today we're dealing with the big freeze.

Like the metaphor? Hate the metaphor? It doesn't matter. In politics, where perception is reality, the perceived failure of the stimulus is indistinguishable from actual failure. Even before the 2010 election turned the House deep red, the case for more spending had been poisoned not only on the right, but among moderates of the Democratic Party, and across the country, as polls indicated. In an off-the-record Treasury event for reporters, one top official conceded to me that the economy was horrible but "nothing was possible," because the case for more spending had been killed by the slow recovery.

The spending side argument has disappeared, replaced with a very McCain-ish sounding plea for government to live "within its means" today, even with unemployment stuck at 9 percent. The only acceptable stimulus left comes from taxes. For better or worse, we are witnessing a profound Republicanization of Washington economic policy.


It's of limited use to ask the White House what the president "wants" today. The universe of things he can achieve is confined to how a majority in the conservative House and super-majority in the moderate Senate will vote. Even inside a $4 trillion deal to reform the budget over the next ten years, there is scant enthusiasm for plowing money into infrastructure or state relief in the next few years.

President Obama's last chance to save the economy in 2011 is to do a spot-on impression of Sen. John McCain from 2009. That is to combine payroll tax breaks and corporate tax incentives, to go along with his extension of the entire Bush tax cuts. This doesn't look much like liberal economics. Then again, liberal economics had its moment in February 2009. Maybe the stimulus was underfunded or poorly designed. For whatever reason, the recession steamrolled it.

Two years ago, nearly the entire budget was a canvas for stimulative action. We're left with the payroll tax. Thus the deepest recessions make conservatives of us all.

Source: The Atlantic 

'News of the World' is Dead ... Long Live 'News of the World'!

Does Rupert Murdoch, the News Corp CEO, intend to simply change his tabloid's title without addressing the alleged crimes?

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the title character laments how quickly his father's death was followed by his mother's betrothal. "The funeral baked meats, did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables," he says. Similarly, in Britain, the public may be concerned by how speedily the closure of Rupert Murdoch's scandal-ridden tabloid, the News of the World, has been replaced by celebrations over the launch of a new paper. Given Murdoch's wealth, however, they probably won't need to reuse the baked meats.

The News of the World, a tabloid appearing only on Sunday, is Britain's biggest selling newspaper. In fact, with a circulation of 2.7 million, it easily outsells every American paper. But after 168 years, the News of the World is running its last edition this weekend. Murdoch decided to ax the paper after allegations that it bribed police officers for information, lied to Parliament, and hacked into the voice mail messages of not only a murdered girl but also victims of a terrorist attack and soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, said that the News of the World was tarnished by "inhuman" editorial practices, which were "without conscience or legitimate purpose."

It's like Watergate in reverse, but with Woodward and Bernstein bribing the cops and then covering their tracks by deleting millions of emails.

The web of malfeasance stretches to the highest levels of government. Andy Coulson, a past editor of the News of the World, and recently British Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications, has just been arrested by police. British journalist Peter Oborne believes the scandal will permanently damage Cameron's reputation in the same way that the Iraq War hurt Blair.

So what's the next move for Rupert Murdoch? The least likely option is that he withdraws from the Sunday tabloid market. Tabloid newspapers have an influence on British politics and culture that is far greater than in the United States. In fact, British tabloids can seem a law unto themselves, ferociously championing their favored political party at election time. After the Conservatives emerged victorious in the 1992 election, another Murdoch tabloid, The Sun, ran the headline: "It's the Sun Wot Won It" -- and many agreed.

Murdoch will probably publish a new Sunday tabloid soon, perhaps without even missing a week. At present, The Sun runs for six days, and then like the divine, rests on Sunday. The end of the News of the World creates a big commercial hole. Abhorring a vacuum, Murdoch may simply turn The Sun into a seven-day-a-week operation.

But what to call it? The Sunday Sun would be an obvious choice, but a local newspaper in Newcastle, England has already taken the name. Here, we have an important clue. On July 5, just as the storm clouds were gathering, someone registered a domain name: We shouldn't be surprised if it was an agent of the Murdoch empire.

The British Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke concluded that the closure of the News of the World was a cosmetic enterprise: "All they're going to do is rebrand it." Meanwhile, the former Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Ben Bradshaw, described the move as "a smokescreen" that failed to deal with the alleged crimes.

Axing the News of the World was designed to amputate the sickened limb and save the body. Seemingly dramatic action would help to achieve Murdoch's bigger goal -- getting the British government to approve his takeover of the highly profitable satellite television company BSkyB.

But if Murdoch simply changes the paper's title, while keeping many of the same faces and practices, the public may conclude that something is still rotten in the state of Britain.

Source: The Atlantic 

Humberto Leal Garcia: The Supreme Court Makes a Bad Situation Worse

When the five conservative justices of the United States Supreme Court turned their backs Thursday afternoon on Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia, they weren't just ensuring that the convicted murderer would then be executed by Texas prison officials. They were also abdicating their solemn judicial responsibility not to make a bad situation worse. It was one of the most ignoble acts by the Court in recent memory; a reminder, as if we needed one, of the hostility the current majority often expresses toward the workings of the real world.    

In a brief, unsigned opinion that was long on sterile formalism and short on sense and justice, the Court rejected an appeal to delay Leal's execution for a few more months pending the passage of federal legislation designed to formalize the rights of foreign nationals -- including Americans abroad -- to be able to contact their consular officials if they are detained. About an hour after the Supreme Court denied his final request, Leal was executed. He said he was sorry and reportedly shouted "Viva Mexico" before the lethal injections were administered to him in the state's death chamber in Huntsville, Texas.

Although this is not an evident case of an innocent man wrongly convicted -- no one seriously claims that Texas prosecutors got the wrong man -- the matter of consular notification has been a vibrant topic of international discussion and angst for years. Leal, convicted of murder in Texas 16 years ago, was denied the right to access to the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest. In 2004, the International Court of Justice at the Hague declared that such rights were valid under the Vienna Convention. In 2008, the Supreme Court agreed -- but said that Congressional action was necessary to allow Leal to fully vindicate his right. Congress has not yet acted on the Court's invitation -- to the eternal shame of lawmakers, but that's a whole other story -- and on Thursday the Court said that Leal's time had run out.

It didn't matter that Leal's rights were violated, the Supreme Court's conservatives declared Thursday, because there was no reason to think that the outcome of his case would change were he now to have such access to consular officials. It was a "harmless" violation of law, the justices ruled, and Texas' interest in executing someone sentenced to death was greater than the interests of the federal government in ensuring a measure of comity and mutual respect in its international relations. We don't stay executions on behalf of legislation that may or may not be passed, the per curiam order read.

In condemning Leal, the Court thus blew off the Solicitor General of the United States, who had warned on behalf of the White House and Justice Department that executing Leal would "place the United States in irreparable breach" of international law. The Court blew off the United Nations High Commissioner, who had asked Texas to commute Leal's sentence to life in light of the violation of his rights. The Court blew off scores of former law enforcement officials and diplomats, who recognized the destructive message that Leal's execution (with relevant legislation pending) would send to the rest of the civilized world.

And, most important, the Court blew off Congress (specifically, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy fo Vermont) as it was working through the legislation that would expressly adopt consular rights. Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from the majority opinion on behalf of himself and the Court's three other progressive justices, well described the balance of factors. He wrote:

Thus, on the one hand, international legal obligations, related foreign policy considerations, the prospect of legislation, and the consequent injustice involved should that legislation, coming too late for Leal, help others in identical circumstances all favor granting a stay. And issuing a brief stay until the end of September, when the Court could consider this matter in the ordinary course, would put Congress on clear notice that it must act quickly. On the other hand, the State has an interest in proceeding with an immediate execution. But it is difficult to see how the State's interest in the immediate execution of an individual convicted of capital murder 16 years ago can outweigh the considerations that support additional delay, perhaps only until the end of the summer.
Full Article
Source: The Atlantic 

Where Are the Jobs, Dammit!?

The Labor Department's June jobs report was a mess of bad news. The jobless rate increased to 9.2 percent, job growth was anemic (a measly 18,000 new jobs were created), hourly wages decreased, 272,000 workers left the labor force, and more.

The report was cause for alarm—and within moments of its release partisans on all sides were yelling (via email press releases). The reaction boiled down to this: Republicans and conservatives are blaming Democrats for failing to slash the federal debt, lower taxes, and wipe out regulations, all of which, they claim, stifle job creation (even if taxes are at a historic low and President Obama and the Republicans negotiated a deal last December that extended the Bush tax cuts). Congressional Democrats are blaming GOP obstructionism. And progressives are excoriating the GOP's obsession with deficit reduction and the Obama administration's acceptance of this misplaced focus on the debt. In a statement, Obama acknowledged that "the debate here in Washington has been dominated by issues of debt limit," not jobs creation. But he did not assume any blame for that and called for continuing negotiations on debt reduction and for jobs-related programs, including an infrastructure initiative, patent reform, and trade deals.

From that swirl of finger-pointing, here's a sampling of reactions:

Heather Boushey, an economist at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, says cutting jobs spending, which the GOP wants, will only hurt the labor market more:

New data show that the labor market is floundering. Private-sector employers added only 57,000 new jobs in June while layoffs in government brought the total new jobs to a mere 18,000. This is grim news for workers and should be seen as a serious wake-up call to policymakers. We cannot get our fiscal house in order until we get America back to work. The economy will not be able to withstand the shock of running into the debt ceiling, but it will be a tragedy if the negotiations lead to reductions in public spending while the job market is so weak.
Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, says "virtually every single measure [in the jobs report] was devastatingly weak":

This is a remarkable, across-the-board backslide. The President and Congressional leaders need to stop talking about deficit reduction and start talking about job creation.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says the weak figures show that the White House's policies had failed and that major spending cuts without tax hikes were needed to reboot job creation:

The stimulus spending binge, excessive government regulations, and our overwhelming debt continue to hold back job creators around our country. Tax hikes on families and job creators would only make things worse.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used the jobs numbers to repeat his demand for a "balanced approach" to shrinking the federal deficit:

I hope the news that our economy is not creating jobs at an acceptable rate will cause Republicans to start taking job creation seriously. So far this year, Republicans have derailed every common-sense, bipartisan jobs bill we have brought to the floor. Democrats will continue to fight to put Americans back to work and we hope Republicans will join us.
...Most of all, we need to make sure we avoid the economic catastrophe that would result from letting the United States fail to pay its bills for the first time in our history. This would cause the markets to plummet and harm the economy as Americans see their savings and retirement funds depleted. That is something the middle class cannot afford.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told CNBC that June's job numbers are proof that Obama's economic policies have outright failed:

[The American people] really know that the number one issue right now is turning the economy around and creating jobs, and clearly the president's policies haven't worked and are a failure. I wish it was otherwise, but it has not worked and the stimulus has only brought us deeper in debt with nothing to show for it.
Former Obama White House economist Jared Bernstein wrote on his blog that "the American jobs machine has stalled":

Washington needs to quickly and aggressively shift from its long-term debt obsession to the much more immediate jobs problem.
To do otherwise at this point would be deeply irresponsible....
Look, I'm not trying to be unduly negative here. Obviously, a stall is better than the massive job losses that characterized the Great Recession. But if policy makers fail to recognize that our most pressing problem right now is job creation, they are a big part of the problem. We need them to be part of the solution.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) says Washington lawmakers must not raise taxes as part of a deficit reduction deal, even more so in light of the jobs report:

If you look at the jobs report, the results of current policies, and where we are in this economy, that is why the Biden talks had to end. Because the discussion in those talks turned to the other side insisting that we raise taxes. Now it just does not make sense for Americans to suffer under higher taxes in an economy like this. As the Speaker said, there is no way that the House of Representatives will support a tax increase.
Chad Stone, the chief economist for the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, contends that Washington is on the wrong road:

Today’s very disappointing employment report shows that two years after the technical end of the recession and after 16 straight months of private-sector job creation, the jobs deficit remains huge (see chart). The depth of the job losses from the recession is unprecedented since the Great Depression, and the length of time it will take just to get out of the jobs hole—much less to restore full employment—will dwarf that of the sluggish jobs recovery from the 2001 recession.
It makes no sense that in an economic recovery still struggling to gain momentum, policymakers are easing up on the gas and threatening to slam on the brakes. But that is just what is happening.
Mary Kay Henry, head of the Service Employees International Union, blamed the GOP's "cut-and-grow" agenda for June's terrible jobs numbers:

"Today’s disappointing jobs report is proof that Congressional Republicans' plan to hold our economic recovery hostage for their own political gain is working at the expense of millions of Americans who are still looking for work. The right wing is using the uncertainty caused by the potential of defaulting on our financial obligations as leverage to institute their cut and gut economic policies.
"We cannot accept any deal on the debt limit that harms seniors, low-income Americans or adds one more worker to the unemployment rolls. That means we cannot accept billions in cuts to Medicaid and Medicare."
The lousy jobs numbers—no surprise—have reaffirmed the economic views on all sides. But perhaps they will add even more urgency to the ongoing debt/deficit negotiations. They do seem to have reminded the president that it could be politically perilous for him to be sucked into a deficit-over-all-else black hole.

Source: Mother Jones 

Wait, Did the USDA Just Deregulate All New Genetically Modified Crops?

A Kentucky bluegrass trial in Fayetteville, Arkansas
It's a hoary bureaucratic trick, making a controversial announcement on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend, when most people are daydreaming about what beer to buy on the way home from work, or are checking movie times online. But that's precisely what the US Department of Agriculture pulled last Friday.

In an innocuous-sounding press release titled "USDA Responds to Regulation Requests Regarding Kentucky Bluegrass," agency officials announced their decision not to regulate a "Roundup Ready" strain of Kentucky bluegrass—that is, a strain genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate, Monsanto's widely used herbicide, which we know as Roundup. The maker of the novel grass seed, Scotts Miracle Gro, is now free to sell it far and wide. So you'll no doubt be seeing Roundup Ready bluegrass blanketing lawns and golf courses near you—and watching anal neighbors and groundskeepers literally dousing the grass in weed killer without fear of harming a single precious blade.

Which is worrisome enough. But even more worrisome is the way this particular product was approved. According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food and Environment Program, the documents released by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) along with the announcement portend a major change in how the feds will deal with genetically modified crops.

Notably, given the already-lax regulatory regime governing GMOs (genetically modified organisms, click here for a primer), APHIS seems to be ramping down oversight to the point where it is essentially meaningless. The new regime corresponding with the bluegrass announcement would "drastically weaken USDA’s regulation," Gurian-Sherman told me. "This is perhaps the most serious change in US regs for [genetically modified] crops for many years."
Understanding why requires a brief history of the US government's twisted attempts to regulate GMOs. Since the Reagan days, federal regulatory efforts have been governed by what's known as the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. Despite its name, the Coordinated Framework amounts to a porous hodgepodge of regulations based on the idea that overseeing GMOs required no new laws—that the novel technology could be effectively regulated under already-existing code. 

Long story short, it means that the USDA theoretically regulates new GMO crops the same way it would regulate, say, a backyard gardener's new crossbred squash variety. Which is to say, it really doesn't. But that's absurd. GM crops pose different environmental threats than their nonmodified counterparts. The most famous example involves the rapid rise of Roundup Ready corn, soy, and cotton, which were introduced in the mid-late 1990s and now blanket tens of millions of acres of US farmland. Spraying all of that acreage every year with a single herbicide has given rise to a plague of Roundup-resistant "superweeds," forcing farmers to apply more and more Roundup and also resort to other, far-more-toxic products. Crops that aren't engineered to withstand an herbicide could never have created such a vexation.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones