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.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flaherty, Carney to provide economic update

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney will update Parliament on the state of the Canadian economy Friday, but Conservative MPs blocked testimony from independent economists so as not to “worry Canadians.”

Opposition MPs on the House of Commons Finance Committee forced the issue this week by requesting a meeting with the Minister, the Governor and a panel of independent economists in light of recent economic turmoil in Europe and the United States.

Some private sector economists who provided input earlier this year on the government’s revenue numbers have stated publicly that they are downgrading their projections for economic growth in Canada in light of the slowing U.S. economy.

GOP Front-runners' Hostility to Government Motivates Fiscal, Social Conservatives in Iowa

At a town hall meeting held in the parking lot of a sports bar in the Des Moines suburb of Indianola on Friday, Michele Bachmann asked a small circle of supporters and onlookers, “Why is it that government always wins? Why is it the taxpayer always loses?” Comparing the fiscal condition of the federal government to a family in bankruptcy, and blaming that on “government theft,” Bachmann positioned herself as a warrior against a rapacious behemoth. “Why should we bankrupt ourselves, why should we bankrupt our kids…to keep this thing going?” she asked. “It is a money-eating machine in Washington, DC, and I say it’s time to dismantle the machine.”

Bachmann’s answers, by her own admission, are facile. “This is the great news,” she concluded cheerfully. “The solutions, honestly, aren’t that hard. It’s pretty easy to figure out. We don’t raise the debt ceiling anymore, and you get a grip on your spending.”

Inside Kenya's Overflowing Refugee Camps

In the fall of last year, the landscape of the Dadaab refugee complex, about fifty miles from Kenya’s border with Somalia, began to change dramatically. Slipshod tents built from scavenged plant matter and windblown detritus started springing up amongst the acacia trees that dot the arid plains of northeastern Kenya.

Dadaab’s boundaries had been swelling for years, but never so far out, nor so quickly. It started at Dagahaley, one of the three original camps that make up the complex, and then at a second camp, Ifo. With no more designated land to give to arriving refugees—plots had run out in 2008—unauthorized camps, referred to grimly as “the outskirts,” appeared beyond the official sites. The white tarpaulin tents of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave way to motley hemispherical huts: loose twigs braided together into giant tumbleweeds and draped with old clothing, burlap and scraps of trash.

Daylight Robbery, Meet Nighttime Robbery

I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens, or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.

But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.

Back then the people on cable news thought looting was highly political. They said this is what happens when a regime has no legitimacy in the eyes of the people. After watching for so long as Saddam and his sons helped themselves to whatever and whomever they wanted, many regular Iraqis felt they had earned the right to take a few things for themselves. But London isn’t Baghdad, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is hardly Saddam, so surely there is nothing to learn there.

Criticism Grows Over Shell's Handling of Oil Leak

LONDON — Pressure mounted Tuesday on Royal Dutch Shell to explain how 1,300 barrels of oil could have leaked from a pipeline into the North Sea, after the spill, which was discovered last week, tarnished a widely praised record for avoiding such incidents in Britain

Shell said it was still working on finding the source of a smaller leak from the same part of the pipeline that connects a well with the Gannet Alpha platform about 122 miles, or 196 kilometers, east of the Scottish city of Aberdeen. About one barrel a day was still leaking into the sea, Shell said.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change said the spill had been “substantial” in the context of the U.K. Continental shelf, even though it was small in comparison to that caused by an explosion of a well in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Glen Cayley, Shell’s technical director in Britain, also said that it was a “significant spill in the context of annual amounts of oil spilled in the North Sea.”

North Sea Oil Spill: Shell Struggles To Shut Down Second Leak

LONDON -- Royal Dutch Shell has shut down the main leak at one of its North Sea oil rigs but said Tuesday it is struggling to stop a secondary spill in a hard-to-reach part of the ocean floor.

The company has stemmed the main leak in the flow line to the Gannet Alpha platform by closing the well and isolating the reservoir, said Glen Cayley, technical director of Shell's European exploration and production activities. The second, smaller leak has proved more elusive to control.

"The residual small leak is in an awkward position to get to," he said. "This is complex sub-sea infrastructure, and really getting into it amongst quite dense marine growth is proving a challenge.

"It's taken our diving crews some time to establish exactly and precisely where that leak is coming from."

The secondary spill is pumping about two barrels – or 84 gallons – into the cold water each day. The company estimated Monday that 54,600 gallons of oil had spilled into the North Sea from the rig off Scotland's eastern coast.

James Murdoch Could Be Recalled As 'Devastating' Papers Cast Doubt Over His Evidence

James Murdoch may be recalled to parliament to give evidence on phone hacking, an MP has indicated, after new evidence was released by a select committee that revealed inconsistencies in several key witnesses' testimonies.

Described by MP Tom Watson as "devastating evidence", the documents released on Tuesday include a letter by Clive Goodman to his former employer News International in which he claims phone hacking was widespread and known about by senior figures in the company.

Former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson has come under fresh criticism as a result of the new evidence.

Possibility that senior mandarins misled AG may be more serious than Tories misleading Parliament on $50-million G8 spending, says Angus

PARLIAMENT HILL—Newly unearthed documents about $50-million in lavish G8 spending for projects in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s riding disclose Mr. Clement was up to his eyeballs in the planning as towns and cities vied for the money and that federal bureaucrats may have misled federal auditors about their role.

The documents, obtained by the federal NDP under Ontario’s Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, disclosed that Mr. Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), Industry Minister last year when the summit of G8 leaders was held in Huntsville, Ont., deep in wealthy Muskoka cottage country in the heart of Mr. Clement’s riding, show that Mr. Clement himself chaired a “Local Area Leadership Group Committee” made up of local mayors and councillors who wanted a share of the federal largesse.

A different take on Canada’s deficit-fighting story

With the United States and European Union staggering under debt burdens, Canada’s success in sorting out its fiscal problems a decade and a half ago is often held up as an example to emulate. But it’s a model I often don’t recognize, even though I covered the turnaround story back in the 1990s.

For instance, there’s this recent Washington Post piece, which touts the “Maple Leaf Miracle.” “Facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, Canada got down to work,” it says. “The country passed a landmark budget in 1995. The plan tilted heavily towards cutting expenditures but also included some new revenue (the ratio was about $7 in cuts for every $1 of revenue). Canada cut the civil service by about 25 percent and overhauled its pension program. The plan worked.”

Cameron’s war on gangs short on details

British Prime Minster David Cameron’s “all out war” on gangs is a far-reaching strategy to tackle mob mentality by helping to improve parenting while creating a police force freed from paperwork to pound the beat.

Exactly how Mr. Cameron’s “Broken Society Agenda” will change Britain’s “yob” culture isn’t clear, however. Few details were released Monday about the plan, which will unfold as Mr. Cameron also pushes ahead with unpopular plans to shave £2-billion from British police budgets by 2015 in a stagnant economy in which one in four London 11-year-olds is functionally illiterate and one in five 16 to 24 year-olds is unemployed. It also remains unclear how the prime minister will reconcile the new initiatives with the central idea on which is campaigned for election, which was to shift more power from the government to the people.

Quebec’s ‘Yes’ to NDP lost in translation

As recently as six months ago, running for the NDP in Quebec was synonymous with becoming a sacrificial lamb.

The party was going nowhere in the polls; its hold on its sole Quebec riding was tenuous; there were already unanswered questions about leader Jack Layton’s health.

The Bloc Québécois looked poised to hold the social democrat fort in Quebec for at least as long as Gilles Duceppe was at the helm.

Duceppe had cause to believe his left flank had never been more secure.

He was arguing forcefully that Quebec social democrats could not hope for a society that reflected their ideals within a Canada that was leaning more decisively towards Stephen Harper’s brand of conservatism with every election.

Rights helped lead to U.K. riots, Cameron says

LONDON—In a sweeping speech Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron said mending England’s “broken society” was his priority and he called the four days of riots “a wake-up call.”

He declared a war on gangs and announced plans to accelerate a program to “turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country.”

He also promised ministers would “review every aspect of our work,” including “the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights that has undermined personal responsibility.”

The comments come as the country struggles with the aftermath of four days of rioting and looting in English cities that began Aug. 6. Five people were killed and 1,400 have been charged with riot-related offences.

US corn-belt farmers: 'The country has turned on us'

There were times when Arlyn Schipper could almost feel heroic on his family farm in the heart of America's corn belt.

His 1,619 hectares (4,000 acres) in Iowa, planted almost entirely with corn, were helping to feed a nation – or at least help put fuel in its gas tanks, as his crop was processed into corn ethanol.
Schipper still sees it that way. It is just he feels America has moved on, or as he put it: "The country has turned on us."

The US debt crisis, and the challenge of finding $1.3tn (£796bn) in budget cuts, has forced Congress to re-examine three decades of government subsidies for corn ethanol.

Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa have exposed further a negative consequence of biofuel production: the global food crisis. By competing with food crops for land, large-scale biofuel production has constricted supply and so boosted food prices across the world. This has led to a backlash against biofuels such as corn ethanol from environmentalists and development charities.

UK riots: magistrates told 'ignore the rule book' and lock up looters

Magistrates have been told that they can ignore sentencing guidelines and hand down more draconian penalties to rioters and looters.

Courts are being advised that the scale of last week’s civil disobedience means that offences committed during the riots should be dealt with more harshly.

The memo, sent late last week by the capital’s most senior justice clerks, led one magistrate to warn that any offenders involved in the “anarchy” can expect a prison sentence.

Magistrates appear to have heeded the message, as figures released by the Ministry of Justice last night disclosed that two in three people charged in connection with the riots and looting have been remanded in custody.

Disguised Member of Hacktivist Group "Anonymous" Defends Retaliatory Action Against BART

On Monday, officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) were forced to close four train stations during the evening rush hour as free speech advocates attempted to disrupt the evening commute. The protest was called by the activist hacker group Anonymous in retaliation for BART’s decision to shut down cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations last week in an effort to disrupt a protest over the shooting of a homeless man. As part of its self-described "OpBART" campaign, Anonymous hacked into the BART website,, and leaked the names, phone numbers and passwords of train passengers. We’re joined by a disguised Anonymous member who took part in "OpBART," speaking under the pseudonym "X." "We gave them a little taste of their own medicine," X says. "We’re information activists just trying to make our world a bit freer and a little better," says X. On the question about the FBI investigation over the hack, X says, "I don’t want to get caught… I am literally running from coffeehouse to coffeehouse, from city to city, from state to state, to try to avoid this massive, multimillion-dollar manhunt that they’ve put out for Anonymous. And for what? What have we done, Amy? Point to one thing where we’ve hurt a single human being… BART...kills its innocent people… How dare they do this in the United States of America?"

Source: Democracy Now 

Bay Area Rapid Transit Accused of Censorship for Blocking Wireless Services to Foil Protests

The operators of the San Francisco area subway system are facing intense criticism for temporarily cutting off underground cell phone and mobile-internet service at four stations in an attempt to foil a protest. On Thursday, authorities with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) removed power to underground cell phone towers at four stations to disrupt a protest against the recent death of Charles Hill, a homeless man who was shot dead on a train platform by a BART police officer in July. Police say Hill threw a knife at an officer. According to media reports, BART may be the first government agency in the United States to shutter mobile-internet and phone service in a bid to quash a demonstration. Some have compared the move to former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s blockage of internet access across Egypt in January during the popular uprising against his rule. The Federal Communications Commission says it will investigate BART’s decision. We go to San Fransisco to speak with Davey D, a hip-hop journalist and activist who has been covering the protests. He runs the popular website "Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner" at and is co-host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley. We’re also joined by Catherine Crump, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Tone down crime reforms, lawyers tell justice minister

HALIFAX —Lawyers and judges on the front lines of the criminal justice system pleaded with the federal justice minister Monday to tone down some of his upcoming anti-crime measures, saying they will only clog the courts and prisons with the mentally ill and other vulnerable people.

But Rob Nicholson was having none of it. He said the Harper government will press forward in Parliament this fall with its long-awaited omnibus package of crime laws — including the contentious introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and sexual offences.

In a polite but forceful, hour-long question-and-answer session with members of the Canadian Bar Association during its annual meeting in Halifax, Nicholson stated repeatedly that the Conservatives’ majority victory in the spring election amounts to a clear mandate to “crack down” on crime.

The folly of benevolence

In Australian philosopher David Stove’s What’s Wrong with Benevolence, no question mark is required. This essay is assertive: Here’s what’s wrong with benevolence – specifically, the benevolence of governments taken to its nth degree, its uttermost limit.

Mr. Stove retrieves a narrative tale from a 19th-century storybook to make his point: “A solitary Indian in his canoe … has been fishing many miles upstream from Niagara Falls. Despite all his local knowledge, he makes some slight misjudgment of time, or wind, or water, and finds himself surprised by the current. For hours he puts forth all his strength in trying to reach the shore. … [Eventually] he passes a point at which his diminishing strength, and the increasing strength of the current, make further resistance vain. He then ships his paddle, lights his pipe, and folds his arms.”

From Mr. Stove’s perspective, England’s Poor Laws are historically comparable to the metaphoric moment when the current of the Niagara River begins surreptitiously to speed our solitary Indian toward the Falls. Enacted in Elizabethan times, the Poor Laws originally gave succour to the poor, the sick and the elderly by means of a modest tax levied at the parish level. With the passage of time, the civic administrators noted a perplexing paradox: “It was found,” Mr. Stove writes, “that the proportion of the population receiving money under the [Poor] Laws (and consequently, of course, the burden on those who paid the tax) always increased.”

Campbell confirmed as next envoy to U.K., Davidson appointed ambassador to Afghanistan

OTTAWA — Former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell is headed for a plum diplomatic post in the United Kingdom and, in a somewhat unusual move, Canada's current ambassador to Syria will be posted to Afghanistan.

The government confirmed the appointments on Monday along with nine other new diplomatic postings.

The appointment of Campbell as high commissioner to the U.K. comes after a lengthy political career, including nine years as Liberal premier of B.C. — until his retirement this year — and three terms as mayor of Vancouver.

The diplomatic post has historically oscillated between career politicians and diplomats and is considered by experts to be a symbolically important position.

Ex-B.C. premier Campbell appointed as Harper’s envoy in U.K.

OTTAWA Former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell is off to London.

The Harper government formally announced his appointment as the new high commissioner to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland on Monday.

The Canadian Press first reported Campbell’s new job in June.

Campbell resigned as premier earlier this year after the controversial introduction of the 12 per cent harmonized sales tax.

While a Liberal, he was responsible for reinvigorating the relationship between B.C. and the Conservative government.

Feds won’t allow judges more leeway on mandatory sentences

HALIFAX Canada’s judges will get no leeway on mandatory minimum sentences as Ottawa proceeds with its anti-crime agenda during the fall session of Parliament, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Monday.

A resolution passed by the Canadian Bar Association in Halifax during its annual conference says judges should have more discretion in cases where there could be an injustice by use of a mandatory minimum sentence.

But Nicholson told the association that the government is “comfortable” with current sentencing guidelines.

“There are a number of mandatory minimum sentences ... and I would suggest to you that the ones that we have introduced are reasonable and appropriate,” Nicholson said, adding that sentencing guidelines allow judges to use discretion when delivering sentences.

Union leader urges public control of steel prices

Rolf Gerstenberger wants Canada’s steel prices brought under public control to stop the wild price swings he accuses companies of using to justify attacks on workers.

In his latest flyer to locked-out members of United Steel Workers Local 1005, he argues for the same kind of supply management system Canada already has for wheat and milk.

“Canada must produce its own steel and Canadian wholesale steel prices must come under public control so that they at least equal their prices of production,” Gerstenberger writes. “Frankly, we are sick and tired of being the scapegoat for the failures of the industry and the current economic model.”

Riots: magistrates advised to 'disregard normal sentencing'

Magistrates are being advised by the courts service to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with those convicted of offences committed in the context of last week's riots.

The advice, given in open court by justices' clerks, will result in cases that would usually be disposed of in magistrates courts being referred to the crown court for more severe punishment.

It may explain why some of those convicted have received punitive sentences for offences that might normally attract a far shorter term.

In Manchester a mother of two, Ursula Nevin, was jailed for five months for receiving a pair of shorts given to her after they had been looted from a city centre store. In Brixton, south London, a 23-year-old student was jailed for six months for stealing £3.50 worth of water bottles from a supermarket.

What financial crises teach us about economic democracy

The left can learn an important lesson from the financial upheavals that are becoming routine these days. As elites scramble to confront each successive crisis, they prove by example that which they consistently deny: there is an alternative to the dictates of the free market.

One of the most politically disempowering aspects of neoliberal capitalism is the mantra that we were powerless to resist economic forces. We are constantly told that there is no help for our economic complaints. The free market created the situation, and market forces reign supreme.

In particular, governments are portrayed as powerless to override the dictates of the market. Politicians supposedly have no power to resist the punishing discipline of the invisible hand. Sorry for your troubles, have a nice day.

Losing It

If one were to look back at this week a year from now, this most surreal of weeks, I’ll wager that the most significant moment was the one where the mayor’s press secretary started waving her arm in front of a CTV News camera.

The CTV reporter was taping a sit-down interview in Ford’s office, while Adrienne Batra, the mayor’s all-seeing, all-controlling press secretary, sat off-camera to one side. Having wrapped up an interview on a presumably serious matter, the reporter had the temerity to change topics, and ask him about the talk of the day.

You, like every man, woman and child in Canada, may have heard. Apparently, a motorist had seen Ford illegally talking on a cellphone while in traffic. Rolling down her window, she and her six-year-old daughter gave him a thumbs-down and told him to get off the phone. The mayor is said to have responded by giving the pair the finger, and mouthing a message whose particulars went sadly unrecorded.

Should Billionaires Pay Lower Taxes Than You Do?

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett wants to pay more money in taxes. He also thinks that other rich investors like him aren't paying their fair share. In order to level the playing field, he wants to see the tax code reformed so that investments don't receive such favorable tax treatment. Let's look at the logic behind taxing investors so little, and whether there are some sensible reforms to make here.

Buffett's Argument

First, what exactly is Warren Buffett complaining about in his New York Times op-ed this morning? He bemoans the fact that he only paid a 17.4% tax rate last year, which would effectively put him in the bracket for making an income of between $8,500 and $34,500. Of course, he didn't. The numbers he provided imply that he made close to $40 million. That's not a bad year. So what's going on here? He explains:
Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as "carried interest," thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they'd been long-term investors.
Buffett seems confused about why it is that investors aren't taxed at a higher rate. Why isn't their dividend and capital gains income taxed like the income of any other worker? So let's help him to understand why such income is taxed at a lower rate. There are two main reasons.

Rethinking Politics in the Classroom

“We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.”    —Tony Judt

This quote appears on the first page of my dad’s book Ill Fares the Land. The book is a call to arms for my generation: if we do not learn to “‘re-think’ the state” and break away from the purely money- and market-oriented world we were born into, these questions of right, justice and betterment of society will fade. This, my dad argued, would be catastrophic. My generation must be capable of looking at society through the lens of ethics and morality rather than efficiency and productivity. The question, then, is how to engineer this change before we, too, become engulfed by an obsession with wealth. How do we engage in conversation and debate about issues that, as Dad put it, “we have forgotten how to talk about”?

Rick Perry's Neocon Friends

No one seriously believes that Republicans will nominate the wild-eyed, certifiable Michele Bachmann for president, and Romney the Robot isn’t setting Tea Party hearts aflutter. So it looks like Rick Perry, the Bible-thumping, secessionist hawk—who’s already assembling a team of neoconservative advisers—will get the nod to challenge President Obama in 2012.

Were Perry to win, his victory—especially if the GOP, as seems likely, conquers the Senate—will speed the United States down the merry path to oblivion at least a couple of decades before the rise of China and India do anyway. Worryingly, Perry might be exactly the know-nothing hawk who decides to use US military power to forestall America’s inevitable decline by force, even if it leads to World War III. Like Tea Party fanatics who courted financial Armageddon by insisting that reneging on US debt obligations wouldn’t be so bad, Perry’s own Tea Party Pentagon, staffed by neoconservatives, might decide the nuclear Armageddon wouldn’t be so bad, either, as long as it makes the world understand how exceptional American exceptionalism is.

North Sea Spill: U.K. Says Hundreds Of Tons Of Oil May Have Leaked

LONDON -- The British government warned Monday that several hundred tons of oil may have leaked into the North Sea from a Royal Dutch Shell rig.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change said it estimates that the leak from a flow line at the Gannet Alpha platform off the Scottish coast that began last week could have spilled several hundred tons of oil into the sea.

It said the leak was small compared to the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, but said it was still substantial for the U.K.'s continental shelf. The government said the oil would disperse naturally and was not expected to reach the shore.

Jailing Undocumented Immigrants Is Big Business

LOS ANGELES -- At dawn on July 19, nearly 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Immigration (HSI) agents burst into the home home of Carmen Bonilla, 44. The agents were searching for "Robert" an alleged drug dealer, but ended up terrifying Bonilla and her son Michael, 16, daughter Josefina, 23, daughter-in-law Leticia, 28, and two of her granddaughters.

According to Jessica Dominguez, the family's lawyer, and Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesperson of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the family was subjected to "different levels of physical and verbal abuse," including screaming, "kicking, beating and aggression." Their treatment was documented last week by HuffPost LatinoVoices' Jorge Luis Macías.

What happened to the Bonillas has happened to thousands of immigrant families. Immigration authorities -- both local police and federal ICE agents -- have embarked on a program to seek out "criminal illegal aliens" and, whether they find them or not, have often rounded up entire families for deportation.

The Real U.S. Crisis Is Not the Debt Downgrade

The U.S. has a fiscal crisis, but not the one that everyone is talking about. Standard and Poor’s proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the U.S. still has the world’s preeminent reserve currency. When shocks hit -- and investors have no idea who or what might be next in line for a downgrade -- they buy U.S. government securities.

Downgrades don’t usually have this effect. For example, if S&P or other rating companies downgraded France, that would set off a crisis within the euro region -- pushing up interest rates on French government debt, undermining euro-area banks, and perhaps putting pressure on the fabric of the European Union itself. With a one-notch downgrade of the U.S. government, on the other hand, S&P inadvertently managed to lower the U.S.’s borrowing costs, both at the federal level and for homeowners who refinanced their mortgages.

The U.S.’s fiscal problem is not that the market questions the country’s ability to pay its debts. The willingness to pay was clearly proved by the outcome of the debt-ceiling debate, when even a majority of Tea Party adherents in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to lift the ceiling (though it would have passed without their votes). We most definitely do not have the kind of solvency crisis experienced by some emerging markets and now, for the first time, parts of Western Europe.

Public Unrest, Social Institutions and Trust

We will no doubt be asking for some time to come what happened in England's towns and cities over the past few days. It is clear that the trigger was the police response to the marchers requesting an explanation for the death of their son, brother, friend and lover Mark Duggan. Some reports have said that he was killed in a 'cross-fire' with the police: the ballistics report confirms that this is fiction -- the gun found on the scene had not been fired and the bullet in the police radio was from an officer's weapon. It seems, therefore, that the family was right to quietly demand answers. The people of Tottenham did not wait for ballistics evidence, but acted upon past experience of black deaths in interaction with the police -- Duggan was one in a line of local residents to die at the hands of enforcement officers. The Duggan family has condemned the violence: the vigil was planned to be peaceful.

However, this was not just a race riot: Mark Duggan's death cannot explain the further violence and looting in London and around the country.

Obama Bus Tour Takes President To Midwest To Talk Jobs, Economy

CANNON FALLS, Minn. -- Hitting back against an emboldened GOP, President Barack Obama launched a rare direct attack Monday on the Republican presidential field, criticizing his potential 2012 rivals for their blanket opposition to any deficit-cutting compromise involving new taxes.

"That's just not common sense," Obama told the crowd at a town hall-style meeting in Cannon Falls, Minn., as he kicked off a three-day bus tour through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

"You need to take a balanced approach," he insisted.

Obama recalled a moment in last week's GOP presidential debate when all eight of the candidates said they would refuse to support a deal with tax increases, even if tax revenues were outweighed 10-to-1 by spending cuts.

Obama didn't mention any of the candidates by name, and prefaced the remark by saying, "I know it's not election season yet."