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.]

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tea Party To Push Paul Ryan Medicare Plan In Town Halls

WASHINGTON -- With Medicare at the top of lawmakers' fall agenda, Tea Party movement leaders hope to ignite support for Republican plans to transform the popular federal healthcare program for the elderly.

Thousands of Tea Party movement activists are expected to descend this month on town hall meetings across key battleground states as part of an intensifying campaign ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Their priority is a plan to slash Medicare costs proposed by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which could gain momentum now that a debt-limit deal between President Barack Obama and Congress has made potential Medicare cuts a centerpiece of the deficit debate.

Missouri State business-school professor leads successful campaign to ban Slaughterhouse-Five from local schools

Wesley Scroggins, a business school professor at Missouri State University, wrote an editorial for Gannett's News-Leader condemning the teaching of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five in Republic, MO curriculum. He said that the Vonnegut novel (considered one of the best novels of the twentieth century and widely taught in schools across the English-speaking world) contained too much cussing for children. He also condemned Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer, a book about a girl who experiments with sex during summer holidays because it contained sex.

In response, the Republic school board has banned Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer, removing them from both its classrooms and school libraries. Scroggins is disappointed that they didn't ban another book, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.

Austerity and Welfare State Practices

I'm going to dip my toe back into the blogging pool via a quick "Lookee here!" post. In the last little while, lots of energy on the left has been focused on decrying and trying to figure out how to fight austerity measures. After all, in Canada we have a new federal government that has already shown positive glee in using the might of the state to run roughshod over collective bargaining and the right to strike and that promises to cut and privatize and further transform the state in neoliberal directions. And in the U.S., the recent debt ceiling deal drives a stake into the remaining fragments of the welfare state there.

What to do in the face of this is not at all clear, and I tend to feel dispirited and overwhelmed whenever I think about it. However, there is an added complexity that makes our task harder but that we simply cannot omit: Lots of the things that are under attack, and that for moral and political reasons we are put into a position of defending, have a lot of really serious problems. For example -- and here is the "Lookee here!" part of this post -- check out this useful article on welfare systems in Canada by Wendy Chan, co-author of a great little book on the impacts of the earlier phase of neoliberal transformation on welfare and welfare recipients in Canada.

Planned Layoffs At U.S. Firms Surges To Sixteen-Month High In July

NEW YORK - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms rose to a 16-month high in July as sectors which had been seeing fairly few layoffs unexpectedly bled jobs, a report on Wednesday showed.

Employers announced 66,414 planned job cuts last month, up 60.3 percent from 41,432 in June, according to a report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

July's job cuts also were up from the same time a year ago, rising 59.4 percent from the 41,676 job cuts announced in July 2010, and recording the largest monthly total since March, 2010.

Economist Dean Baker Predicts "Really Bad Deal or No Deal" from Deficit "Super Committee"

President Barack Obama welcomed the deficit deal as "an important first step" and urged both parties to work together on a larger plan to cut the deficit. The deal includes no new tax revenue from wealthy Americans and no additional stimulus for the lagging economy. It has a provision to create a joint committee of 12 legislators charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts. The committee must hold its first meeting in 45 days and is expected to set in motion a lobbying frenzy. For more, we speak with Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, who voted against the plan, and economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Rep. Donna Edwards on Why She Voted Against Debt Deal: “A Bad Framework for the Future”

President Obama has signed legislation to increase the U.S. debt ceiling in time to avoid a national default. The $2.1 trillion deficit-reduction plan cleared its final hurdle in the Senate yesterday, passing with a 74-to-26 vote. Six Democrats and 19 Republicans opposed the measure. Members of the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus rejected the deal because of its massive cuts to domestic spending and a lack of tax increases for the wealthy. Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland was among those to vote no, summing up her disappointment on Twitter by writing: "Nada from million/billionaires; corp tax loopholes aplenty; only sacrifice from the poor/middle class? Shared sacrifice, balance? Really?" We speak with Rep. Edwards about why she voted against the plan.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Israeli courts must end anti-Arab discrimination

Israeli courts discriminate against Israeli Arabs. If there had been any doubt left about this, a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study commissioned by Israel's Courts Administration and the Israel Bar Association just determined it decisively.

According to the study, whose main findings were reported by Tomer Zarchin in yesterday's Haaretz, Arabs are given jail sentences more often than Jews convicted of the same offenses, and Arabs receive longer sentences than Jews who are jailed. The study's authors conclude that their most conspicuous finding is the tendency of Israeli courts to treat Arab defendants more harshly: When Arabs wind up in court, they are more likely to be convicted; when convicted, they are likely to receive a stiffer sentence than a Jew normally would. It's hard to imagine a more disturbing fact.

The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor

The breaded chicken patty your child bites into at school may have been made by a worker earning twenty cents an hour, not in a faraway country, but by a member of an invisible American workforce: prisoners. At the Union Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Florida, inmates from a nearby lower-security prison manufacture tons of processed beef, chicken and pork for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE), a privately held non-profit corporation that operates the state’s forty-one work programs. In addition to processed food, PRIDE’s website reveals an array of products for sale through contracts with private companies, from eyeglasses to office furniture, to be shipped from a distribution center in Florida to businesses across the US. PRIDE boasts that its work programs are “designed to provide vocational training, to improve prison security, to reduce the cost of state government, and to promote the rehabilitation of the state inmates.”

Who's Helped and Who's Harmed By Debt Deal?

Congress might pass a debt deal this week that would raise the debt ceiling into 2013 and reduce government spending by $2.5 trillion. After all the debate over who would be affected—or not—what does the final policy scoreboard say?

In short, it’s a rout of the lower and middle classes by the wealthiest Americans. Since the deal relies entirely on spending cuts with no revenues—don’t believe the White House spin that revenues are possible, because that would require Republicans to suddenly desire them—the wealthy escape any sacrifice since very few of them rely on the government services that will be cut.

'The Interrupters'—Stopping Violence Before It Spreads in Inner-City America

Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz are something of a narrative power couple in Chicago. They’ve both become leading chroniclers of inner-city America—James with his seminal documentary  Hoop Dreams and Kotlowitz with his probing first book,  There Are No Children Here. When they were filming their new documentary, The Interrupters, James joked that more people had seen Hoop Dreams but that Kotlowitz’s book had become a cult classic in prisons across the state.

The Interrupters tackles a topic that has underscored much of their work—why violent crimes are so prevalent in inner-city America and what can be done to break this endless cycle of senseless murder. The film presents a new take on an old story, emerging from an article Kotlowitz wrote for the New York Times Magazine about an organization called CeaseFire, which treats violence as a public health problem, attacking the virus before it spreads. Ceasefire deploys “violence interrupters,” reformed ex-gang members who know the streets and can stop violent incidents before they explode. The Interrupters tells the stories of three of them: Ameena Matthews, a charismatic daughter of one of South Side Chicago’s most famous gang leaders; Eddie Bocanegra, a remorseful convicted murderer from the predominantly Mexican Little Village neighborhood; and Cobe Williams, a relentless activists who spent twelve years in jail for drugs and gang-banging.

Senate Approves Debt Deal, as Palin Declares Tea Party 'Victory'

Following in uneasy but steady lockstep behind the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives, the Democrat-coontrolled US Senate voted 74-26 Tuesday to endorse the deal between President Obama and Congressional Republicans that will impose massive cuts in federal programs in return for a temporary hike in the debt ceiling.

Obama will sign the deal quickly, even as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner admits it may not avert a downgrading of the Triple AAA credit rating the US has long enjoyed.

Few of the Democratic senators who backed the plan were happy with what they were doing. “At the end of the day I will vote for this measure, but obviously with a heavy heart,” said assistant majority leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a liberal who was President Obama’s political sponsor and mentor when the young state senator sought an Illinois US Senate seat in 2004.

Double Dip Approaches? Why the Recovery Has Stalled

June was an ugly month for the U.S. economy. After seeing the recovery slow in April and May, the backwards trend continued through the end of the second quarter. Taking stock of the major economic indicators, you really have to squint to see anything good. One thing is clear: the U.S. economy had better break out of its funk if it wants to avoid a double dip.

5 Ways the Debt Crisis Changed Washington

The stalemate is over, but the partisan clash over spending and borrowing has irrevocably shifted things in D.C. Here's how.

The debt crisis left in its circus-like wake five permanent truths.

1. A new precedent. Debt-ceiling increases are now tied to deficit reduction. With President Obama's signature, every future president until America's debt monster is tamed must come to Congress on bended knee and plead for the privilege of avoiding default. What had been an unhappy obligation of governance is now a lever to impose either spending cuts or tax increases in the pursuit of deficit reduction. A senior House Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee did not dispute this point. "We are bearing the burden of having to pass our own president's legislation." One side note: This episode also proves that the 14th Amendment's linkage to debt discussions is dead. Numerous House Democrats said off the floor on Monday that if there was ever a time to invoke the amendment and raise the debt ceiling, it was now. "I still hold out hope," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). "It's very important." Lee conceded, though, that her hopes are probably dashed and the issue is settled.

2. Bipartisan entitlement protection lives on. For all the GOP fervor to rein in government spending, the agreement defers all decisions about entitlement spending to a so-called super committee with an internal architecture almost built for stalemate. If that happens, Republicans who now crow about changing the way Washington works will see the knife of across-the-board spending cuts exempt Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, veterans benefits, food stamps, and other antipoverty entitlements. Yes, the automatic cuts can hit Medicare, but it won't touch beneficiaries. The cost-cutting can only reduce payments to providers--a scheme that Congress has tried over and over only to be undone by successful lobbying from doctors and hospitals. This means that the deal repeats a futile process that Congress has tried and abandoned before--achieving deficit reduction on the backs of well-connected and influential doctors and hospitals.

3. Congress's back-loading of spending cuts lives on. A Democratic president and a tea party-inspired Republican Party will mutually agree to cut domestic discretionary spending (defined by budget authority) by $10 billion compared with 2011 budget totals. That's out of projected domestic discretionary spending of just more than $2 trillion for fiscal 2012 and 2013. The big cuts are all deferred to another Congress and a reelected Obama, or to a new Republican president. But the trajectories for defense and all other fundamental actions of day-to-day government--although weakened by the lack of inflation adjustments--will be tilted downward only slightly. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) is one of the freshmen who came to Washington to shake things up, and he sees the spending cuts, lower by $24 billion than the House GOP budget, as defensible and even laudable. "The process is slow," he said. "I see that now. It takes time. I mean, my wife wants me to lose 50 pounds, but I can't do it by this weekend." House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the cutting will stick. If not, Congress could see a budget clash and a shutdown showdown at the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The back-loading of cuts goes a long way toward avoiding such a mess. When it comes to spending, the back-loader is still the machine of choice in Congress.

4. Speaker John Boehner wobbled but didn't fall. And he won't. Internally, the House GOP's sense is that the leadership pulled together and that Majority Leader Eric Cantor's movements out of the talks and against tax increases didn't undermine Boehner nearly as much as first thought. In the clutch, Boehner and Cantor marched side-by-side and delivered a final product--and they didn't ask for permission to pass it. On Sunday, Boehner scheduled his conference call to brief members for the same time that Obama was announcing the deal to the nation. The message: The deal is done. I'm not seeking your reaction as much as laying out the contents.

5. The first quarter of 2013 will be a doozy. Here's what is in store: Another debt-ceiling request will be due. Spending cuts under either the special committee's direction or across-the-board sequestration will begin to bite in big numbers at the Defense, Homeland Security and State departments, as well as in all discretionary government services. The budget deal calls for $917 billion in these cuts, but only a small fraction (see back-loading section above) will occur in the first two years. The country will begin to feel the consequences of pushing the rest of the cuts through eight remaining budget years of the deficit-reduction deal. Also, if the super committee imposes new taxes, they will probably take effect in this time frame. Even if the committee doesn't impose tax increases, all the Bush tax cuts are due to expire on January 1, 2013--forcing intervention to protect some or all of them. "It's going to be one festive first quarter of 2013," Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said. Festive is one word. It might not be the one economists will use.

Source: the Atlantic 

Why Aren't There More Muslim Terrorists?

Immediately after last month's terror attacks in Norway, Islamic extremism shot to the top of almost every list of suspected culprits. Among the soothsayers of creeping Shariah, there was never any doubt who was responsible. Others' more rational, if hasty, assessments of Norway's threat matrix pointed to the same (wrong) conclusion. For all their differences, both lines of reasoning shared a common assumption: that the sheer volume of Muslim terrorists out there made their involvement likely. Or as Stephen Colbert skewered the media's rush to judgment: "If you're pulling a news report completely out of your ass, it is safer to go with Muslim. That's not prejudice. That's probability."

Charles Kurzman begs to differ. In his new book, The Missing Martyrs, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill sociology professor rejects that Muslims are especially prone to violent extremism. "If there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom," he asks, "why don't we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?"

The Abortion Wars Come to Maryland

GERMANTOWN, Md. — In 1991, thousands of protesters descended on the Wichita, Kansas clinic of late-term abortion provider George Tiller, blocking his doors and those of two other local clinics and lying in the streets. Some 2,700 protesters were arrested over six weeks, and Tiller was forced to close his doors for a week. The protesters called it the "Summer of Mercy."

Now, 20 years later, anti-abortion activists believe that God is "issuing a similar historic call." Tiller is dead—he was murdered by an anti-abortion extremists in May 2009—and the clinic that was the focus of the protests two decades ago is now closed. So the "Summer of Mercy 2.0" is taking place here in Germantown, where Tiller's onetime assistant LeRoy Carhart provides late-term abortions at his clinic in a brown-sided, teal-trimmed suburban office park.

Man, That Debt Ceiling Fight Sucked! Let's Do It Again!

On Monday, with a flick of his pen, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, ending a contentious, months-long fight over the nation's debt ceiling, spending, and taxes that brought the nation to the brink of default and possibly economic catastrophe. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief as the president turned the lopsided, GOP-friendly bill into the law of the land.

At least we won't have to go through that again—or so you might think.

Bzzt. Wrong. If you listen to Republicans, you'll know the debt ceiling fight was just the beginning.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in remarks on the Senate floor on Monday, described the Republican tactic of refusing to raise the debt ceiling in order to extract favorable concessions as "a new way of doing business in Washington." He went on: "One of the most important things about this legislation is the fact that never again will any president, from either party, be allowed to raise the debt ceiling without being held accountable for it by the American people and without having to engage in the kind of debate we've just come through."

Rob Ford's Jig

I have been at this dance before.

Rob Ford, Toronto's recently-elected mayor, danced into office promising to "stop the gravy train" at city hall. Problem is, he and his strategy are still dancing but there is no gravy. After stacking the City Council Executive Committee with like-minded councillors, the mayor shepherded a spending audit by consultancy firm KPMG that promised to find all of the excess fat and waste that must be hidden in city coffers. Instead, "What they've delivered is a process that is rushed, incoherent, poorly thought out, heavy on political dogma," according to Royson James of the Toronto Star. The fat he's now holding is a $3 million dollar invoice from KPMG. The firm is notorious for helping governments (national, regional and municipal) who seek to shift public services (read: wealth) to the private sector.

Turning a Blind Eye on Climate Change

Human nature and the power of the wealthy result in a willful blindness that could have devastating effects.

It’s hard to be optimistic about humanity’s future. Our overpopulated world faces a lack of human rights, disrespect for the rule of law, endemic corruption, war, terrorism, and grotesque inequalities of wealth (in 2005, the world’s three richest people had assets greater than the combined gross domestic product of the poorest 47 nations). And we’re drawing down our environmental capital: It’s been said that if everyone in the world lived like the average North American, we would need several planets to support us.

Fords want to speed up land sales to ease debt

The young agency tasked with making money from surplus city land will soon provide a dividend of more than $10 million to the public purse.

The reaction from Mayor Rob Ford’s administration: Thank you. Faster please.

Build Toronto has been given control of 40 properties that are worth more than $200 million. Real estate heavyweight Lorne Braithwaite, the chief executive of the city-owned corporation, would like council to quickly hand over enough additional properties to double that value figure — and Councillor Doug Ford, Build’s vice-chair, would like to triple it, Braithwaite said with a chuckle in an interview.