Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Wrong Worries

In case you had any doubts, Thursday’s more than 500-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average and the drop in interest rates to near-record lows confirmed it: The economy isn’t recovering, and Washington has been worrying about the wrong things.       

It’s not just that the threat of a double-dip recession has become very real. It’s now impossible to deny the obvious, which is that we are not now and have never been on the road to recovery.

For two years, officials at the Federal Reserve, international organizations and, sad to say, within the Obama administration have insisted that the economy was on the mend. Every setback was attributed to temporary factors — It’s the Greeks! It’s the tsunami! — that would soon fade away. And the focus of policy turned from jobs and growth to the supposedly urgent issue of deficit reduction.

But the economy wasn’t on the mend.

Canada's F-35 Purchase: Are We Buying Jets That Can't Fly?

It seems that the F-35, the fighter jets that Canada is planning on buying to replace our aging F-18s, are running into more trouble.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the plane's power systems are failing in ground tests forcing the entire fleet to be grounded. The story also points out that the planes have had two other serious delays in the last year.

In 2010, the government announced that it would be buying about 65 planes at a cost of about $9-billion. The cost could rise to $18-billion once a maintenance contract was included. But earlier this year, the parliamentary budget officer estimated that the cost of the planes would likely be much higher, closer to $30-billion. Canada's purchase of the F-35 became a major issue in the last federal election, with then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff vowing to scrap the deal and hold a competition.

Critics have condemned the Canadian government for rushing into a contract for the jets without knowing the final cost.

Canada Jobs And The Long View On Single Mothers, Retirees and Youth

Since the bottom fell out on the world’s economy in 2008, investors have pored over Canada's monthly job gains and losses, searching for a glimmer of good news. But the business cycle is not the only factor that can influence labour markets. According to UBC economist Kevin Milligan, since the 1970s, public policy decisions and personal preferences have played a major role in everything from the number of working single moms to the average retirement age. Before today’s release of today’s jobs numbers, Milligan analyzed 35 years of employment data to see how these underlying factors have changed the face of our workforce.

Citizen engagement: The overarching solution

Experts know the overarching solution to all of the big problems we face. You can find it in the last 10 pages of any book on a large-scale problem such as climate change or sustainable cities or childcare or food security. In the last chapter every author echoes every other. The solution is more citizen engagement.

So how do we increase citizen engagement? Good question, because at this point virtually every author just ends the book. Not even a hint about how to do citizen engagement. If this is the ultimate solution, a few suggestions would be helpful since the number of citizens regularly involved in public affairs is less than 10 per cent.

How strange we see nothing amiss in detailing every aspect of big problems, but leave solutions undefined. Why become aware of the mess, if we can't do anything about it? Maybe we assume that any large-scale problem automatically lacks any clear way forward. Or maybe large problems are paralyzing and that's all there is to it. But there could be a purpose to the silence around the solution of citizen engagement.

All societies are biased in favour of stability. Without this bias, the inventiveness that constructed a society in the first place would go on to create something else. But a bias for stability has a downside; it gets in the way of making changes when changes are necessary. If experts see citizen engagement as the ultimate problem-solving mechanism; it is unavoidably the ultimate change mechanism. It is this threat of change that has blockaded citizen involvement, and produced a resilient system of social and political institutions that appear to respond to demands for change, without changing much at all. Together they make a "rubber room" from which escape is difficult.

The zombie of neoliberalism can be beaten – through mass direct action

Phone hacking and police corruption represent neoliberalism's undead status, even as it marches on. Yet change is possible.

Just days after the deal that was supposed to banish it, the eurozone crisis is back. Poor growth figures put a "new" financial collapse back on the cards. The response from politicians, bankers and business leaders is more of the same – more of the same neoliberal policies that got us into this situation in the first place.

Neoliberalism no longer "makes sense", but its logic keeps stumbling on, without conscious direction, like a zombie: ugly, persistent and dangerous. Such is the "unlife" of a zombie, a body stripped of its goals, unable to adjust itself to the future, unable to make plans. It can only act habitually as it pursues a monomaniacal hunger. Unless there is a dramatic recomposition of society, we face the prospect of decades of drift as the crises we face – economic, social, environmental – remain unresolved. But where will that recomposition come from when we are living in the world of zombie-liberalism?

In the midst of such hopelessness the phone-hacking scandal seemed to offer a moment of redemption, but as the news cycle moves on we are left wondering what effect it will really have.

New Exposé Tracks ALEC-Private Prison Industry Effort to Replace Unionized Workers With Prison Labor

Many of the toughest sentencing laws responsible for the explosion of the U.S. population were drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helps corporations write model legislation. Now a new exposé reveals ALEC has paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor. We speak with Mike Elk, contributing labor reporter at The Nation magazine. He says ALEC and private prison companies, “put a massive amount of people in jail and created a situation where they could exploit that.” Elk notes that in 2005 more than 40 million pounds of beef infected with rat feces processed by inmates were not recalled in order to drawing attention to how many products are made by prison labor.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Secretive Corporate-Legislative Group ALEC Holds Annual Meeting to Rewrite State Laws

Hundreds of state legislators from all 50 states have gathered in New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. Critics say the Washington-based organization plays a key role in helping corporations secretly draft model pro-business legislation that has been used by state lawmakers across the country. Unlike many other organizations, ALEC’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives who gather behind closed doors to discuss and vote on model legislation. In recent months, ALEC has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in drafting bills to attack workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries and passing voter ID laws. Nonetheless, this year’s annual ALEC meeting boasts the largest attendance in five years with nearly 2,000 guests in attendance. We go to New Orleans to speak with Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Last month, her organization released 800 model bills approved by companies and lawmakers at recent ALEC meetings.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Cargill Meat Recall Heightens Fears Budgets Cuts Will Weaken Oversight, Threaten Public Health

In one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history, this week the food giant Cargill ordered the recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey. The recall came after at least one person died from Salmonella, and another 76 people fell ill from turkey products traced to Cargill’s processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas. According to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Salmonella outbreak involves a strain of the bacteria known as Salmonella Heidelberg, which is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics. Although the recall was announced this week, the outbreak began in March. More than 3,000 people die a year from food poisoning in the United States and millions more get sick. Food safety advocates say this latest outbreak shows how budget cuts have hampered the ability of federal and state health agencies to effectively protect public health. We speak with Patty Lovera, assistant director of the food safety group, Food & Water Watch. “As Congress comes back this fall... in budget cutting mode [where] nothing is really sacred, we need to be telling them that food safety inspections are not acceptable places to cut savings,” Lovera says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

American Millionaires: 1,400 Paid No U.S. Income Taxes In 2009

New tax data from the Internal Revenue service shows that in 2009, incomes fell, unemployment claims rose, and the U.S. economy shed nearly two million taxpayers.

And of the 235,413 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more in 2009, 1,470 of them paid no taxes.

According to the data, the average income for American taxpayers fell to $54,283 -- a drop of $3,516, or about 6.1 percent, between 2008 and 2009. Not only that, but the overall number of taxpayers -- that is, individuals or married couples filing with the IRS -- fell by almost two million.

With Debt Deal, Congress Abdicated Its Responsibilities

America voted for divided government. President Obama labeled it "dysfunctional."

Divided, yes. Dysfunctional? Not remotely. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, the past few weeks of budgetary spats were hardly the most passionate in our history.

The Nevada Democrat reminded skeptics of the infamous beating on the Senate floor in 1856 of Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by South Carolina's Rep. Preston Brooks during a debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and slavery. Brooks clubbed Sumner with a heavy cane so severely that Sumner was momentarily blinded by the blood of his head wounds. So, Reid has a point. This summer, the nation was shoved to the brink of default and economic chaos, but no lawmaker was beaten to a bloody pulp.

A Record 82% of Americans Disapprove of Congress

A New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday evening puts into perspective just how upset Americans are over the handling of the debt crisis by Congress. Michael Cooper and Megan Thee-Brenan report:

A record 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job — the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977, and even more than after another political stalemate led to a shutdown of the federal government in 1995. More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world.
Other relevant numbers include a 72 percent disapproval rating for Republicans' handling of negotiations, 66 percent disapproval for Democrats and a 47 percent disapproval rating for the president. White House correspondent for The Huffington Post Sam Stein calls that final figure "the best-of-worst news" for the president and his staff.

Source: the Atlantic Wire 

Why Unions Matter: The Numbers

A few months ago I wrote a piece for the magazine arguing that the decline in unionization over the past three decades has been a key factor of the decline of the American left over the same period. But it's a hard case to prove because there are so many moving parts to it. So I was intrigued earlier this week when my colleague Josh Harkinson linked to a new study that attempts to quantify the effects of unionization on income inequality using a rigorous regression analysis of census data.

The study comes from Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld and was published this month in the American Sociological Review. The authors use a model that accounts for both individual membership in unions as well as overall unionization rates in specific industries and regions. It also controls for education, age, race, ethnicity, and gender, which allows them to estimate the effect of unionization both between groups (e.g., the evolution of income inequality between high school dropouts and high school grads) and within groups (e.g., the evolution of income inequality within the entire subset of high school grads).

What to Expect From Rick Perry's Prayer Festival

On Saturday morning, Texas Governor Rick Perry will join Christian religious leaders at Reliant Stadium in Houston for a day of prayer and fasting for America. "With the economy in trouble, communtiies in crisis, and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry explained in a YouTube spot promoting the event. "That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast, like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelites to do in the book of Joel."

Joel 2, the specific Old Testament chapter Perry is referring to, has a special meaning for many Evangelical Christians—and more specifically among a small but growing movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. Its adherents believe the nation has become unmoored from its moral foundations, and that our present misfortunes are a direct consequence. They believe it will take a new push by modern-day apostles—messengers who've received their instructions to directly from God—to put things back on course. And the apostles, as the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder has detailed, believe Perry is one of them.

Wisconsin Recall Elections: The Dark Money Pours In

Mike McCabe has never seen anything like it.

He runs the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group tracking the flow of money in Badger State politics—though, presently, "torrent" may be the best way to describe the state's campaign finance environment. In the run-up to next week's recall elections targeting six Republican state senators, outside advocacy groups have flooded Wisconsin with millions in campaign spending. McCabe estimates that nearly $31 million has been spent on the recalls in about four months' time. It's a staggering sum considering $3.75 million was spent on the entire slate of state races in 2010. Recall spending "is totally off the charts," he says. "This is so out of whack from everything we've ever seen."

Clifford D. May: The media’s double standard on terrorism

Who deserves the blame for the terrorist attacks in Norway? My answer would be the perpetrator and no one else — unless it turns out there really is a modern Knights Templar or some other organized movement that sent him on his mission of mass murder.

But there are those who disagree, who see this atrocity as part of a wider conspiracy — or, perhaps, as a convenient stick with which to beat their political and ideological opponents.

Closing libraries doesn’t sit well with Toronto councillors

Call it the Atwood effect. At least half-a-dozen more city councillors – including several members of mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle – have added their names to the growing list of prominent Torontonians speaking out against potential library closings.

Those sentiments clash with a recent KPMG review of city services that suggests shuttering libraries as a cost-saving measure, a proposal to which the mayor’s brother, Etobicoke Councillor Doug Ford, lent his hearty support.

Environment Canada cuts put public at risk, critics say

OTTAWA—Deep cuts at Environment Canada could put public safety at risk from freak weather events and the impacts of climate change, critics warn.

News that scientists, meteorologists and engineers are among 776 jobs on the chopping block has department officials facing tough questions about how they plan to cope.

“It’s a real shock it’s so many,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said, calling the cuts “wrong-headed.”

“Show us where these 800 jobs are. Show us how you think the work can still be done. What I’m asking for is some transparency and some answers,” May said in an interview.