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, November 19, 2011

Lobbying Firm Memo To Advise Wall Street Clients On Occupy Movement

WASHINGTON -- A lobbying firm has prepared a memo offering advice to its Wall Street clients to help them manage any political fallout from Occupy Wall Street, warning that Republicans may turn on big banks, at least in public, altering the political ground for years to come. It is one of the first clear signs that the movement may be starting to trouble the moneyed elite.

The memo, first reported by MSNBC's Chris Hayes, host of the show "Up with Chris Hayes," was written by the firm Clark, Lytle, Geduldig, Cranford and addressed to one of its Wall Street clients. It runs four pages long and is set to be sent on Thanksgiving.

The first two graphs of the memo, provided by MSNBC to The Huffington Post, express angst over the idea that the movement could mean "more than just short-term discomfort for Wall Street firms" and has "the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye."

Harper's Jet: Opposition Slams PM Over Paint Job

Opposition MPs suggested Prime Minster Stephen Harper's vanity was getting in the way of his judgement Friday, after The Huffington Post reported his office had ordered a fancy new paint job for his Airbus.

"Lots of smug talk about fiscal balance, but we have just learned that the Prime Minister has overruled his own Minister of National Defence and is forcing National Defence to repaint a VIP government aircraft because he does not like its colour," Liberal MP Joyce Murray said during Question Period. "The current fleet of aircraft are painted military grey because they are used in critical military operations. The Prime Minister's vanity paint job will make the plane unsafe for those very military operations. Why is the Prime Minister putting his own vanity above the needs of the military?"

Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of National Defence, said the paint job would only be considered if it was "cost neutral." He initially told the House there was "no current plan to change the paint scheme for any Airbus aircraft," but within a few minutes recounted his statement clarifying that he meant to say "that there has been no decision in that regard."

The government's electronic surveillance laws would target Canadians, not criminals

A recent survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada indicated that a vast majority of Canadians oppose giving authorities the power to access Internet usage data without a warrant. This may seem like a no-brainer, but don't roll your eyes quite yet, gentle reader -- the Conservative government doesn't see things quite the same way.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson have crafted a set of bills that would give virtually unchecked power to law enforcement officials who want to watch over citizens' online activity. They're calling it "lawful access"; Canadians are calling it warrantless, online spying that we oppose en masse.

The Windsor Star recently reported that Canada's police are gung-ho for these unprecedented new surveillance powers, despite there being no cases in which current methods (you know, the ones that involve court oversight) are falling short. Not a single case has been presented in which obtaining a warrant to intercept communications has impeded a police investigation. Court oversight isn't as much of a hindrance as the government and police would lead you to believe.

Spending up 22% under Tory government

Federal spending jumped 22 per cent in the first five years the Harper Conservatives were in power, says a government of Canada performance report released Thursday.

A good chunk of the increase was due to tens of billions of dollars in stimulus spending across the country during the economic downturn, but mounting healthcare costs also contributed to the spike.

Federal expenditures in 2010-11 totalled $270.5 billion, compared with $222.2 billion in 2006-07 - the Harper government's first full year in power - according to the annual federal government performance report, introduced Thursday in the House of Commons.

"Program spending had its most significant jump in growth between fiscal years 2008-09 and 2009-10, increasing from 13 per cent to 16 per cent of gross domestic product," says the report.

"During this period, through Canada's Economic Action Plan, the government invested in short-and longterm measures to counteract the effects of the global economic downturn."

The federal government's stimulus spending totalled $24.9 billion in 2009-10 and $20 billion in 2010-11, according to Finance Department numbers.

Harper’s foreign policy review is (almost) in (probably)

What an unexpected and not-entirely-pleasant surprise Canadian Press reporter Mike Blanchfield had for the bureaucrats at Fort Pearson yesterday: he wrote about their ongoing foreign-policy review, which they thought they were doing a good job of keeping secret. (This is actually not the first we’ve heard of this low-profile review; Carleton University’s Fen Hampson complained about its rumoured existence in July.) Oh well. Highlights from Blanchfield’s report:
The FPP will attempt to enlighten the Conservatives about a number of strategically important countries. Among them are two major Muslim countries — Indonesia and Turkey.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest country with the largest Muslim population and is spread across a sprawling archipelago that spans the Indian and Pacific oceans. Turkey is a NATO ally that shares land borders with Syria, Iran and Iraq.
A core purpose of the FPP is to give the government a heads-up on potential flashpoints across the globe. Sources say the Tories believe Canada has been caught off guard in recent years by international events and the new plan would serve to mitigate that.
The document could be tabled in Parliament at some future point after Harper’s office gives it the green light. But some sources say the FPP is unlikely to ever see the light of day because it could box the Tories in politically at a later date.
Why the low profile? Because Paul Martin’s foreign-policy review was a bit of a joke, more for its process (long delays; endless redrafts) than for the unobjectionable result, which handily remains archived at the DFAIT website.

Occupy Toronto: week five no plans to leave

My favourite Occupy tweet says it all: “In future generations they will ask, Where were you during the great shift?”

Well, we know where some folks are. As events hurtle toward that injunction hearing on Friday morning (November 18) and wealthy-born Mayor Ford works to wreck Occupy’s stand for economic justice, it’s time to note who’s doing and saying what.

All those silent sitting MPs, MPPs and councillors who’ve bought into the “gone on too long” argument are really telling us they basically don’t care about the global movement that’s taking on the social disparity eating the world alive.

As the occupiers say, the money folks own the game, which is why condo construction can disrupt the cityscape with noise, dust and fumes while a tattered-looking tent community gently interrupting business-as-usual with an urgent message faces extinction.

On frantic Tuesday, November 15, the city’s eviction notice arrived, demanding tents be dismantled and the park vacated daily from midnight until 5:30 am. Protesters, under a rare November sun, spent the day spinning out strategies and scenarios for what they feared was a looming bust.

Walkom: How Ottawa’s pension reform short-changes the young

The great irony of the debate over workplace-based pensions that consumed Ottawa this week is that it has little to do with older people.

For workers over 50, the pension reforms introduced by Canada’s Conservative government on Thursday mean virtually nothing.

Such workers have relatively little time to save before they retire even if, as Ottawa’s proposed legislation contemplates, their voluntary savings are pooled into group RRSPs.

Similarly, the counterproposal suggested by the New Democratic Party opposition — an expansion of the existing, public Canada Pension Plan — would offer little benefit to today’s older workers.

The CPP, too, is based on an employee’s contribution history. For baby boomers, the youngest of whom were born in 1964, there’s not that much working time left.

Fair isn't always equal

When introducing the government's new Fair Representation Act recently, Minister of Democratic Reform Tim Uppal declared that it "moves every single province towards the principle of representation by population." In introducing the Liberal party's response Friday, Stéphane Dion has prioritized the same principle.

What Uppal and Dion did not mention is that while "rep-by-pop" is certainly one principle for representation in Canada, it is not the only one. In fact, Canada's election laws state that constituency boundaries must deviate from rep-by-pop in order to ensure that communities of common interest, like regions, towns and neighbourhoods, are effectively represented in Parliament.

This second principle recognizes the fact that voters don't make decisions in isolation. Rather they are situated in communities - communities that often face unique needs and common challenges because of the makeup of their population or where they are located.

In many cases these two principles of representation come into conflict. Attempts to preserve or protect specific communities of interest mean that some areas (usually rural ones) are over-represented at the expense of faster-growing areas (usually urban ones). What effect does this have? Is this harmful to democracy?

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

18 November 2011

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

Linda P.B. Katehi,

I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

You are not.

I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O’Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.

One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way—linking arms and holding their ground—police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.

On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, “it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students.” You write, “while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis.”

I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”

I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.

Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.


Nathan Brown
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis

Source: Bicycle Barricade (blog) 

Tories’ crime legislation turns teens sharing marijuana into ‘organized criminals’

He’s an 18-year-old the law defines as a man.

He comes from a solid middle-class family. He’s a smart, hard-working person with great potential and he’s never been in trouble with the law.

Like millions of Canadians teenagers before him, and at least a quarter of his contemporaries, he’s going through a marijuana phase: something that reliable justice statistics show he will eventually grow out of, just as many police officers, politicians, doctors, teachers and lawyers grew out of.

But times are about to change in Stephen Harper’s Canada.

Under new Conservative crime legislation, this 18-year-old man might never get the chance to reach his professional goals, legal specialists say. Instead, he’ll get a brutal two-year education in a federal penitentiary.

That’s because the young man occasionally does what many in his circle do — swaps small amounts of marijuana with friends.

DND to spend $630 million preparing Nortel campus

OTTAWA — The Defence Department plans to spend more than $630 million preparing the Nortel campus as the new home for 10,000 of its employees, according to documents obtained by The Citizen.

That cost is on top of the $208 million the federal government paid to buy the campus at 3500 Carling Ave.

The Defence Department is looking at moving into the site over the next five to seven years, transferring around 10,000 civilian and military personnel located at other offices in Ottawa and Gatineau to the new site.

The costs to prepare the site involve everything from creating new offices to installing secure computer networks. A new operational command building will also be located at the site. The Nortel complex has 12 buildings.

Blue tide of conservatism washing away last of Europe's leftists

On Sunday night, after Spain’s national-election votes have been counted, the last major patch of red will probably disappear from the European map. For the first time in modern history every major capital in the continent, from Lisbon to Helsinki, will be home to a conservative government.

Spain’s national election has been fought at the peak of a monetary crisis that has already tossed Greek prime minister George Papandreou, Portuguese leader Jose Socrates and Irish prime minister Brian Cowen, all of them broadly on the centre-left, out of office.

The crisis has provoked a real-estate crash and soaring unemployment in Spain, where 25 per cent of the population and half of all youth are jobless, and last month forced long-reigning Socialist Party prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to quit early after imposing deep and unpopular spending cuts with little success.

Voters are almost certain to replace him Sunday with Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party is promising far deeper cuts. If so, Mr. Rajoy will join a near-unanimous bloc of rightists across the continent.

The blue-tide reversal has been extraordinary. A decade ago, in the midst of an economic boom, Europe was a near-solid wall of social-democratic red, with only Ireland, Spain and a handful of Eastern European states held by conservatives. Now, if Mr. Zapatero loses on Sunday, the 27-nation European Union will have only four smaller members – Cyprus, Slovenia, Austria and Denmark – that are governed from the left.

B.C. Occupy protesters ordered to clear camps

A man was arrested during an Occupy Vancouver march following a B.C. Supreme Court decision to grant an injunction, ordering an end to the five-week protest camp outside the city's art gallery.

A group of protesters marched a few blocks from the encampment to the headquarters of the Non-Partisan Association municipal political organization and began banging on the windows of the office, which was full of campaign workers preparing for Saturday's city election.

It's not known if NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton was in the office at the time.

The man was arrested during the protest and taken into a police van.

Another group of protesters made their way to Vancouver City Hall, where a speaker demanded through a bullhorn that city politicians be more accountable to citizens and less beholden to corporate interests.

"Corporations are buying elections in Vancouver," the speaker said.

Lawyers file Occupy complaint with U.N.

A group of Ontario lawyers has filed a submission to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights protesting against the move by some Canadian cities to evict members of the Occupy Movement.

The move against the occupiers by police and municipal governments is in “violation of the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association,’’ states the brief by the Law Union of Ontario, a coalition of lawyers, law students and legal workers.

Cities are trying “to elevate the enforcement of municipal bylaws related to park use and maintenance above fundamental civil and political rights,’’ according to the submission from the lawyers, which points to occupy protests already dismantled in Halifax, London and Regina, with evictions threatened in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria.

The brief also takes a swing at the federal government for being supportive of the Arab Spring demonstrators but being “silent as to the Occupy protestors’ fundamental human rights, while municipal governments forcibly remove them and terminate their protests.’’

The lawyers are asking that the United Nations’ special rapporteurs investigate and report any abuses to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

Source: Toronto Star 

Occupy Toronto: They can’t evict a conversation

Last time I checked in with the occupiers of St. James Park, word was they were going to fight for their ground.

If Superior Court Judge David Brown rules to evict them on Monday, they plan to reoccupy, they told me.

That would be a mistake.

The movement, from what I have seen, is not about the park. It’s about a deep conversation.

You can’t evict a conversation – even a brief one.

The mayor says “they’ve made their point,” by which he means “there is no point” to Occupy Toronto or anywhere else. “Where are the actionable deliverables?” is the repeated objection right-wingers have used to dismiss the movement outright.

But, in just a month, big things have come out of the conversation unfurling in St. James Park.

Occupy DC Marchers Energized By Clashes Elsewhere With Police

WASHINGTON -- Demonstrators marching through the streets of Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon said the arrests and evictions at other Occupy Wall Street protests are only serving to make them more energized.

The protesters, in coordination with other demonstrations nationwide, were on the move Nov. 17 to mark the Occupy Wall Street movement becoming two months old and to show they would not be intimidated. In other cities, including New York and Oakland, Calif., protesters have been evicted from their camps and clashed, sometimes violently, with police.

Around 175 marchers affiliated with groups like Occupy DC, Occupy Washington D.C., Our DC and the Service Employees International Union traveled on foot from McPherson Square to the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The interaction with their police escorts was calm. After settling in near the bridge, some began chatting and laughing with the cops.

This Preoccupation With Playing the Victims of Wall Street Is Pathetic

This week marked the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. With the Zuccotti Park encampment in lower Manhattan cleared and hundreds being arrested in demonstrations in the financial district, it appears protesters have adopted an unflattering victim mentality.

There's a whole lot of talk and tweeting going on about 'police brutality', 'Nazi' NYPD officers, 'Cossacks in riot gear' sent in to 'cleanse' Zuccotti Park, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg behaving like a repressive Arab leader. It all shows that today's radical left-wing activists are happy, not only to display great historical ignorance, but also to revel in an image of themselves as put-upon underdogs.

Why else would the new poster-girls for the amorphous OWS movement be an 84-year-old lady, a pregnant teen and a disabled woman -- three people who all got caught up in the tumult in the past few days? These are all figures many will recognize as fragile and innocent and so they are pushed to the forefront to demonstrate how vulnerable the protesters are.

Rudy Giuliani Says He Would've Booted Occupy Wall Street On 'Day One'

Rudy Giuliani said if he were still mayor of New York City, he would've booted the protesters out of Zuccotti Park on "day one" of the occupation, describing the demonstrators as "bums" and "leftover hippies."

Giuliani (who is NOT running for president) told Sean Hannity in a radio interview (listen below), "I would have handled this differently. I took over a city that had had two riots in the two years before I was mayor. I didn't have a riot, because I didn't let it start."

He was less sympathetic to protesters' invocation of the First Amendment than Mayor Bloomberg, who let the protesters occupy Zuccotti for almost two months before evicting them Tuesday. "You have no right to pitch a tent in the middle of New York City, I'm sorry," Giuliani said. "That is not the First Amendment."

Giuliani also expressed disbelief over violence in the park, noting, "The minute you have any place where you have to put up a place [to] protect a woman against rape, then you've got to come in and get rid of those people. You can't tolerate that in a civilized city."

And in describing the protesters, he said, "When I see them on television sometimes, particularly the older ones, it looks like I’m seeing the leftover effects of having taken too many drugs when they were 20 years old," he said. "They make no sense. They babble."

The former mayor hasn't been quiet about his distaste for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he says "would not have happened but for [Barack Obama's] class warfare." Earlier this month, at the Defending The American Dream Summit, Giuliani mocked protesters. "How about you occupy a job," he said. "How about working? Working. Woohoo, working. I know that's tough. Woodstock is more fun, right? Woodstock is a lot more fun than working eight hours a day."

Source: Huff 

Four Popular Safety-Net Programs Tea Party Republicans Have Turned Against

Imagine how much harder the last three years would have been without the safeguards erected over the past 80 years, in many cases with bipartisan support. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance are the broadest, but there are also the programs specifically targeted toward low-income Americans: the earned income tax credit, community health centers, school lunch programs, and food stamps, to name a few.

These policies have two things in common. They've historically enjoyed high levels of support, not just from the Democratic Party, but from Republicans as well. And today's GOP plans to dismantle or seriously weaken all of them, setting back almost a century of progress.

This isn't a sudden lurch to the right, but the continuation of a process that has been in motion for decades. After Democratic president Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights laws of the 1960s, conservative southern whites began breaking towards the Republicans. With these energetically reactionary voters added to their base, Republican elites could rely on more consistently hardline support for a platform consisting largely of tax breaks for the wealthy and attacking social programs.

"We have a new breed of Republican that is much more radical," says Peter Edleman, expert on social insurance programs and an assistant secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration. "Every time the Republicans come to power, they are more conservative. Reagan was very negative about a whole series of programs that helped low-income people, Gingrich was worse than Reagan and now the Tea Party is the worst we've seen."

Below you will find four examples of social programs that used to be supported by Republicans (at least some of them), but have suffered sustained attack over the last thee years.

School Lunch Programs

Ensuring that American students can attend school with full bellies seems like the most uncontroversial public policy of all time. Besides the obvious common decency argument, multiple studies show that children learn better when they aren't hungry.

Free school lunch programs were originally instituted following World War II and the basics of the program are reauthorized every five years. The last time it was up for reauthorization, as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, it passed both houses of Congress unanimously. (Only Ron Paul voted against the iteration before that.)

Not so last year, when the Child Nutrition Bill met the Tea Party. Sure, the bill was a little larger this time and it included some additional guidelines to encourage a more nutritious diet. "The bills are very, very similar," says Joel Berg, author of All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America? and who served eight years at the Clinton administration's US Department of Agriculture (which oversees many of the government's anti-hunger programs).

But House Republicans used these changes as an excuse to vote against the bill en masse. Despite the Obama administration's desperate concessions to get more Republicans on board, 157 of the 170 member House Republican caucus voted against the bill. And they've continued their crusade against healthy school meals since gaining a majority in the House.

"The last two times it passed Congress with virtually no controversy," says Berg. "That's a huge change. Lots of people have gone after food stamps. But going after school meals, I don't know if the Grinch would do that. But House Republicans do. If they can't be for healthier school meals for kids what can they be for?"

Food Stamps

As Berg points out, food stamps--now officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)--have encountered greater conservative opposition than school lunch programs. But the program has also obtained significant levels of Republican support throughout its history. Which makes sense: food stamps are certainly a more conservative alternative to, say, cash assistance programs, which have long been derided by the GOP.

Indeed, Richard Nixon and his administration advocated for and oversaw a significant expansion of the program and laid the groundwork for the groundbreaking Food Stamp Reform bill 1977, which created the program as we know it today. Powerful conservative senators like Robert Dole and Richard Lugar allied with their Democratic counterparts to strengthen food stamps.

Ronald Reagan initially instituted significant cuts in food stamps, but the program was expanded again in 1985 and 1987. While Newt Gingrich and his ilk were venomous in their opposition, George W. Bush seemed to be a quiet supporter. In 2002, he advocated the restoration of food stamp eligibility to many legal immigrants who had been denied it as a result of a Clinton-era concession to the right. Eric Bost, the Bush administration's Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said, "I assure you, food stamps is not welfare."

But Eric Bost is long gone. Earlier this year, Paul Ryan proposed, and the House Republican caucus approved, a budget that included a plan to make SNAP a block grant program, similar to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or what remains of welfare). This would be a disaster. Block grants mean that each state will get a set chunk on money for food stamps every year. The amount of money can't rise with need, so if a bunch of new people become eligible for food stamps--because of, say, a massive recession--the states will be unable to add them to the SNAP rolls. To make matters worse, the amount of money granted to the states for SNAP will be at the mercy of inflation and will be worth less every year. If TANF is anything to go by, the lump sum won't be increased, and food stamps will cover fewer and fewer people every year.

This draconian policy proposal was approved by almost every Republican in the House, including former anti-hunger advocates like Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). All but five Senate Republicans voted for Ryan's budget too, including Lugar. The Democratic majority in the upper chamber defeated the Ryan bill, but Lugar, personifying the GOP's hard-right swing on this policy, proposed deep cuts to the program a few months later.

Community Health Centers

Community health centers have existed since the 1960s, introduced as part of the War on Poverty and really taking off in the 1970s. These health centers are meant to provide quality healthcare regardless of income or insurance status (they are generally priced on a sliding scale).

Conservatives have appreciated the fact that community health centers are phenomenally cost-effective. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, the "Estimated Total Medical Savings Per Person" for center patients in 2009 was $1,262. Another study shows that health centers save $24 billion a year.

No less a conservative than George W. Bush was a big fan, doubling federal spending on community health centers during his presidency. He called them "an integral part of the healthcare system because they provide care for the low-income, for the newly arrived, and they take the pressure off of our hospital emergency rooms."

It wasn't just the president who supported community health centers. The Health Care Safety Net Act, which passed in 2008, was entirely uncontroversial with hardly a hand raised against it.

Fast-forward three years, and GOP attitudes have changed dramatically. In 2011, the House decimated the $2.2 billion in appropriations annually allocated to health center funding, cutting more than one-third of the budget. The Affordable Care Act provided funds to further expand the number of community health centers across the nation, but the money mostly had to fill in the gaps left by Republican marauding instead. If the reduced annual appropriations remain in effect past 2014 the money from the Affordable Care Act will dry up, leaving community health centers with less federal support than they won in 2008. Millions could be left without care.

The Earned Income Tax Credit

Conservatives love shaking their heads in righteous consternation and asking: "Did you know that only 53 percent of Americans pay taxes?" They've even got a Tumblr about it.

This juicy little sound bite ignores several key points. First, those 47 percent of people who "don't pay taxes" actually just don't owe any federal income taxes, largely because they don't have much income. Second, they do pay state, local, sales, payroll, gasoline, and other excise taxes -- federal income taxes made up just 22.7 percent of all taxes paid in this country last year. (Note that rich people get to avoid the vast majority of their payroll taxes, which represent about the same share of the total as federal income taxes.) Third, the reason many of the so-called 47 percent don't pay income taxes is because of the earned income tax credit (EITC), a policy instituted in the 1970s as a more conservative way to boost working-class incomes than the minimum wage.

The EITC essentially rewards parents who work hard for low pay with a break on their incomes taxes and, in many cases, a refund. It was expanded and greatly strengthened under Ronald Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986, which indexed it to inflation so the benefit wouldn't stagnate. He declared the tax program "the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job-creation measure to come out of Congress." To a lesser degree George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush beefed the EITC up too, while the latter also allowed bipartisan moderates to expand access to the child tax credit to low-income people too.

"It's a real blend of conservative and liberal values," says Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "If you talk to average people, this is one that Americans are generally for: a big catch for [American attitudes towards social programs] is that the person on the receiving end is doing their best and working hard. [By that logic], the earned income tax credit is something conservatives should like."

That's not the way today's GOP sees it. The "We are the 53 Percent" nonsense is an implicit attack on the earned income tax credit. But there have been plenty of explicit attacks as well from Senator John Cornyn, R-Tex., to conservative Fox News anchors who deride it as "a form of welfare income redistribution." More substantively, Republican state politicians are actively attempting to slash the program and Tea Party icon and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has promised to "do away with EITC," if she is elected.

The Democratic majority in the Senate and President Obama's veto pen have defeated many of the worst of these reactionary excesses. But what happens if, and when, the Republicans have a more powerful position in Washington, D.C.? So much for compassionate conservatism.

Source: Huff 

Revealed: Mark Duggan was not armed when shot by police

The investigation into the death of Mark Duggan has found no forensic evidence that he was carrying a gun when he was shot dead by police on 4 August, the Guardian has learned.

A gun collected by Duggan earlier in the day was recovered 10 to 14 feet away, on the other side of a low fence from his body. He was killed outside the vehicle he was travelling in, after a police marksman fired twice.

The new details raise questions about the official version of events. The shooting triggered some of the worst riots in modern British history, which began in Tottenham, north London, in response to the treatment of the Duggan family. The investigation into Duggan's death is being carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), but the Guardian has learned new details of the shooting, and a much more complex picture than first revealed is emerging.

On the day Duggan was shot, there is overwhelming evidence he had obtained a firearm, and there is video supporting that. But the investigation is considering whether Duggan had a weapon in his possession when he was shot dead by the police.

Explainer: How Did Inequality in America Get So Bad? And What Can the Government Do to Fix It?

In one of the more odd recent pairings, both the wonks at the Congressional Budget Office and the activists occupying Wall Street and beyond have come to the same conclusion: inequality is skyrocketing and one percent of the country is taking home a bigger and bigger share of all the income in the country. The CBO just released a study, years in the making, which confirms that the income for the top one percent has nearly tripled from 1979 to 2007. And not only are those in the top one percent much richer, they also take home a larger share of the economy as a whole than they did thirty years ago. What caused this? And what, if anything, can the government do about it? Below, Mike Konczal explains.

Austerity Alternatives

Yesterday we posted a video of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explaining how the supercommittee might reduce the deficit without imposing crushing austerity measures, nor damaging the social safety net relied upon by millions of Americans. It’s really excellent, and you ought to check it out.

On the eve of some decision by the supercommittee—or no decision and painful automatic cuts—this is a time to remember the other ideas out there for balancing the budget. There are plenty of credible and thoughtful plans out there. Granted, they are not politically viable at the moment, given the Republican Party’s control of the House of Representatives, and its ability to stop virtually anything in the Senate—not to mention the six votes it controls on the supercommittee.

But to listen to most media coverage of the deficit debates—and too often, the rhetoric thrown about by Republicans and some Democrats—one comes away thinking the only way to get the fiscal house in order is via “entitlement reform” and deep domestic spending cuts, along with higher taxes and fewer loopholes.

But this just isn’t so. For example, the Congressional Progressive Caucus crafted a “People’s Budget,” which eliminates the deficit within ten years while creating a $31 billion surplus—all while protecting valuable programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. You can read the entire budget here (PDF), a one-page summary here (PDF), and an outside analysis by the Economic Policy Institute here (PDF).

As the World Burns - How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change

On April 20, 2010, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman, along with three aides, visited Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, at the White House. The legislators had spent seven months writing a comprehensive bill that promised to transform the nation’s approach to energy and climate change, and they were planning a press conference in six days to unveil their work.

Kerry, of Massachusetts, Graham, of South Carolina, and Lieberman, of Connecticut, had become known on Capitol Hill as the Three Amigos, for the Steve Martin comedy in which three unemployed actors stumble their way into defending a Mexican village from an armed gang. All had powerful personal motivations to make the initiative work. Kerry, who has been a senator for twenty-five years and has a long record of launching major investigations, had never written a landmark law. Lieberman, an Independent who had endorsed John McCain for President, had deeply irritated his liberal colleagues by helping the Republicans weaken Obama’s health-care bill. Graham, a Republican, had a reputation as a Senate maverick—but not one who actually got things done. This bill offered the chance for all three men to transform their reputations.

The senators had cobbled together an unusual coalition of environmentalists and industries to support a bill that would shift the economy away from carbon consumption and toward environmentally sound sources of energy. They had the support both of the major green groups and of the biggest polluters. No previous climate-change legislation had come so far. Now they needed the full support of the White House.

The senators sat around the conference table in the corner of Emanuel’s office. In addition to the chief of staff, they were joined by David Axelrod, the President’s political adviser, and Carol Browner, the assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Lieberman introduced his aide, Danielle Rosengarten, to Emanuel.