Democracy Gone Astray

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bachmann’s Political Contagion

In “Contagion,” Steven Soderbergh’s film about a virus that decimates the planet, Jude Law plays a conspiracy-minded freelance video blogger who regards vaccines as scams churned out by a medical establishment interested only in profits. Instead, he claims, with no evidence, that a homeopathic treatment based on the plant forsythia cured him of the infection that was killing nearly everyone else. His comments cause a panicked stampede of pharmacies, leading to many more deaths, since healthy people inevitably mix with those who are sick.

If you think this scenario seems a bit far-fetched, read Michele Bachmann’s lips. Last night, carrying the mantle of fear and ignorance that are hallmarks of anti-vaccine activists, Bachmann denounced Texas Governor Rick Perry for mandating vaccines for schoolgirls, starting in the sixth grade, against the human papillomavirus.

“I’m offended for all the little girls and parents that didn’t have a choice,” she said. (Actually, any parent can opt out on a child’s behalf.) She said that girls who were harmed by the vaccine don’t get “a mulligan.” Later, the offended Bachmann ventured deeper into scientific illiteracy, telling Fox News that a woman had approached her after the debate and told her that she had a daughter who had “suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.”

Federal Report Released On BP Spill

A key federal report goes further than other investigations and puts ultimate responsibility on BP for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history and the deaths of 11 rig workers, especially regarding the cement seal that was put in place the day before the explosion that triggered the spill.

The report, released Wednesday, said in the days leading up to the disaster, BP made a series of decisions that complicated cementing operations, added risk, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the cement job.

Other companies also shared some of the blame, according to the report, which noted that Transocean, as owner of the Deepwater Horizon, was responsible for conducting safe operations and for protecting personnel onboard.

The report said BP, and in some cases its contractors, violated seven federal regulations at the time of the incident. They include the failure to take necessary precautions to keep the well under control at all times, to perform a cement job that kept the oil and gas down hole, and to maintain the blowout preventer – which is supposed to lock in place to prevent a spill in case of an explosion – in accordance with industry-accepted practice.

Protect Your Care Targets Republicans With 'Let Him Die?' Campaign

Protect Your Care, an outside political group that advocates for health care reform, launched a new campaign targeting Republicans over an eyebrow-raising incident that occurred at Monday night's GOP presidential debate.

HuffPost's Sam Stein relays background on the situation that unfolded at the forum:
A bit of a startling moment happened near the end of Monday night's CNN debate when a hypothetical question was posed to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). "What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn't have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? Are you saying society should just let him die?" Wolf Blitzer asked.
"Yeah!" several members of the crowd yelled out.
Paul interjected to offer an explanation for how this was, more-or-less, the root choice of a free society. He added that communities and non-government institutions can fill the void that the public sector is currently playing.

Say Hello to the Highest Poverty Rate in 17 Years

The Census Bureau has released its poverty numbers for 2010, and the picture isn’t pretty: 46.2 million people were living in poverty last year, according to the bureau’s latest report, the largest number for the fifty-two years that the data have been published. This marks the fourth consecutive year in which poverty rose, with an overall poverty rate of 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009, and the highest rate since 1993. Indeed, with real median household income at $49,445—a drop of 2.3 prcent from 2009—incomes are lower now than they were more than a decade ago.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, poor households are much more likely to experience hardship than their middle or upper-class counterparts. Among other things, they are more likely to experience hunger, live in overcrowded housing, miss a rent or mortgage payment and forgo medical care.

The Census Bureau’s Shocking Poverty Stats

It's no secret that the economy is in rough shape—but the latest poverty figures released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday are nonetheless shocking. The overall poverty rate has reached a record high and the number of people living in deep poverty—that is, below 50 percent of the poverty level, or $11,000 for a family of four—is the highest its been since 1975. Experts are predicting that things are only going to get worse in the years to come. (Scroll down to see the data.)

Some more lowlights: Median income has sunk lower than it was almost 15 years ago. The number of people living without health insurance is up slightly. The number of kids under the age of six living in extreme poverty is up to nearly 12 percent. The recession has been especially hard on women and people of color. The extreme poverty rate for women is more than 6 percent, the highest recorded in 22 years, and the poverty rate for black women is up a percentage point from 2009, to more than 25 percent.

Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, had this grim assessment of the new data: "The main message of today's…income and poverty numbers from the Census Bureau is that, if we don't like the way things are now, we better get used to it."

Noam Chomsky on Libya, Israel & GOP Presidential Candidates’ 'Utterly Outlandish' Positions

In our extended interview with Noam Chomsky, he argues that in Libya, "you could have made a case for a no-fly zone and protection of civilians, but I think it’s much harder to make a case for direct participation in a civil war and undercutting of possible options that were supported by almost the entire world." Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Chomsky notes that Turkey and Egypt have been key allies for Israel and that the deterioration of their relations "contributes very substantially to Israel’s isolation in the region." Back in the United States, Chomsky says that while he is no fan of President Obama, the position of the Republican presidential candidates on issues such as climate change are "utterly outlandish." Chomsky is interviewed by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, along with producer Aaron Maté.

Source: Democracy Now! 

The GOP's Genius Plan to Beat Obama in 2012

Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania are pushing a scheme that, if GOPers in other states follow their lead, could cause President Barack Obama to lose the 2012 election—not because of the vote count, but because of new rules. That's not all: there's no legal way for Democrats to stop them.

The problem for Obama, and the opportunity for Republicans, is the electoral college. Every political junkie knows that the presidential election isn't a truly national contest; it's a state-by-state fight, and each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state's congressional delegation. (The District of Columbia also gets three votes.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; win 270, and you're the president.

Here's the rub, though: Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)

BP Oil Spill: New Evidence Cites More Mistakes

A BP scientist identified a previously unreported deposit of flammable gas that could have played a role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but the oil giant failed to divulge the finding to government investigators for as long as a year, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.

While engineering experts differ on the extent to which the two-foot-wide swath of gas-bearing sands helped cause the disaster, the finding raises the specter of further legal and financial troubles for BP. It also could raise the stakes in the multibillion-dollar court battle between the companies involved.

A key federal report into what caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history is set to be released as early as Wednesday.

"This is a critical factor, where the hydrocarbons are found," said Rice University engineering professor Satish Nagarajaiah. "I think further studies are needed to determine where this exactly was and what response was initiated by BP if they knew this fact."

French Banks Credit Agricole SA And Societe Generale Downgraded By Moody's Amid Eurozone Fears

Two French banks have been downgraded by credit rating agency Moody's because of their exposure to Greek debt, amid fears the debt crisis gripping the eurozone is reaching a "climax".

Credit Agricole SA and Societe Generale were both cut one notch from Aa1 to Aa2 and Aa2 to Aa3 respectively.

The agency said it would also review BNP Paribas for a possible downgrade but for the moment believed the bank's profitability and capital base could support its exposure to Greek, Portuguese and Irish debt.

Christian Noyer, Governor of the Bank of France, was not put off by the downgrade, saying: "Moody's had a higher rating than the other agencies so it's just put them on the same level or slightly better than the others".

The true cost of 9/11

No one can deny that our lives as citizens of the Western world have been affected by the tragic events of 9/11, a day when close to 3,000 innocent civilians of different backgrounds have been murdered in cold blood.

What is rarely talked about is the fact that close to a million innocent civilians, including women and children, the majority of whom are Muslims, lost their lives during the illegal wars that were immediately launched in Iraq and Afghanistan. And what's worse is that the counter is still ticking.

There seems to be no agreement on the exact number of civilian causalities in both of these countries. Some studies put the number as low as 100,000 deaths and others put it as high as 2 million. One particular poll that I found worth mentioning was conducted by the British firm Opinion Research Business. The poll, conducted in 2008, asked 1,720 Iraqi adults if they had lost family members by violence since 2003. Sixteen per cent had lost one, and 5 per cent has lost two. Using the 2005 census total of 4,050,597 households in Iraq, this suggests 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion. When the margin of error is taken into account, the study finds that a minimum of 733,158 to a maximum of 1,446,063 Iraqis have died as a result of the war.

Dealing With Food Insecurity in Canada

Canada needs food policies that target the chief determinant of hunger: poverty.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper finished up his Latin and Central American tour in August, he announced a series of comprehensive food-security projects for his last country stop, Honduras. The projects range from nutritional support for vulnerable groups to agricultural diversification and development projects – most aligned with the policy goals of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.

On the domestic front, Canadians recognize that many people remain food insecure at home, too. Food insecurity means that people are worried about not having enough food, that they reduce the quality of their food because they cannot afford more expensive items, or that they often cut back on the amount they eat as a trade-off for meeting other basic needs.

Canadians seem to understand that food insecurity is bad for health, that it compromises nutritional intake, and that people are often eating “the wrong kinds of foods.” In other words, the way food insecurity is framed in Canada recognizes that it is a legitimate concern, that it is related to poverty, and that it has adverse effects on people.

This recognition should be sufficient to engender a thoughtful policy response from government. However, current food-insecurity policy in Canada is woefully confused with a vague, arguably indulgent policy framework based on what a food secure Canada should look like. That is, food-security policy in Canada is largely equated with agri-food policy, which is concerned with food sovereignty, a sustainable food supply, safe and healthy foods, and protection of domestic markets and producers. Consumer needs are expressed as a desire for local foods, organics, and value-added foods such as foodstuffs that are more nutritious than their unprocessed counterparts (e.g., calcium-enriched orange juice).

Useless User Fees Punish the Poor

Making patients pay won't make our health system more affordable or accessible.

Here it comes again – an idea that surfaces regularly in Canadian health-care debates and seems to hold sway with those who advocate common-sense principles: user fees.

Some people think that charging patients when they use the health system would help control health-care costs and ensure that people are getting the care they need and are not overusing the system. Others believe that user fees would bring in much-needed revenue.

Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support these aspirations. Research to date suggests two good reasons patient-financed health care doesn’t make sense.

First, user fees discourage patients from seeking both necessary and unnecessary care. This is often penny wise and pound foolish.

Some claim that user fees are benign because they discourage only frivolous use. But that assumes that most people have the expert knowledge required to know what care is needed. A host of studies have found the opposite to be true. One U.S. study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving fairly healthy adults showed that user fees led to a 20-per-cent increase in risk of death for people with high blood pressure because people were less likely to see a doctor and get their blood pressure under control.

The same thing happened in Canada in 1996, when Quebec began requiring patients to pay part of the cost of all drugs purchased. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients reduced their use of less-essential drugs and essential drugs, often resulting in serious negative effects on their health and increased emergency-department visits.

Mayor Ford's office slams 'deliberate attack' by Waterfront CEO

The hostility between Rob Ford and Waterfront Toronto is real and escalating, judging by the frank language contained in a letter from the mayor’s office to the agency that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Penned by the mayor’s chief of staff, Amir Remtulla, the missive accuses Waterfront Toronto chief executive officer John Campbell of “a very serious breach” of responsibility for comments that appeared in The Globe last week. It also states that the issue has been taken up with federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, suggesting the mayor’s office may be building consensus to remove Mr. Campbell from his post.

The Globe story came out on Sept. 9, three days after Mr. Ford endorsed a vast overhaul of Waterfront Toronto’s plan for 180 hectares of land at the mouth of the Don River – a vision that was more than a decade in the making. Highlighted by a Ferris wheel and megamall, the Ford-backed plan was largely seen as a public flogging of Waterfront Toronto, the three-government agency charged with cleaning up and developing the area – also known as the Port Lands – and much of the rest of Toronto’s largely dormant lakeshore.

China to EU: Need help with your debts? Here's what we want

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has delivered a message to world leaders looking hopefully to China to rescue them from a double-dip recession.

Get your financial affairs in order. And it might help if you moved a little faster on recognizing China as a market economy.

“Governments should fulfill their responsibilities and put their own house in order,” Mr. Wen told the opening of the summer session of the World Economic Forum, in the northeastern port city of Dalian, earlier today.

“The major developed economies should develop responsible and effective monetary policies, properly handle debt issues, ensure the stable operation of investment in the market and maintain confidence of investors around the world.”

China’s seemingly unquenchable demand for raw materials and its $3.2-trillion foreign currency reserves have turned the world’s second-largest economy into a beacon of hope for European nations struggling under heavy debt and worsening unemployment. Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that Italy had sent a delegation to Beijing to encourage purchase of its sovereign debt. China already holds some Portuguese and Greek debt, though exact values are not known.

Perry served up at Tea Party debate

WASHINGTON—Is America ready to put another tough-talking Texan in the White House, so soon after the last one?

Or is the meteoric rise of Tea Party darling Gov. Rick Perry only a mirage — another here-today, gone-later-today example of a fast-and-fickle Republican leadership race that remains almost anyone’s to win?

That the answer to these questions has changed in barely 48 hours underscores the sheer volatility of the political agonies unfolding stateside.

On Monday, the camera-friendly Perry was on a seemingly unassailable roll, vaulting toward that night’s CNN/Tea Party debate polling head and shoulders above the pack.

And then the pack turned on him live on CNN, hammering away at every moderate chink in the ostensibly archconservative governor’s political armour.

Ford considering service cuts, says mayor’s press secretary

In a list of budget “talking points” she distributed this week to right-leaning councillors, Mayor Rob Ford’s press secretary acknowledged the obvious fact Ford will not: He is indeed considering service cuts.

Adrienne Batra’s “talking points” were intended to keep the utterances of Ford’s allies consistent with his own. But in her list, obtained by the Star, she abandoned a notable part of Ford’s personal messaging strategy.

Ford “guaranteed” during his mayoral campaign that he would not cut any services. He has steadfastly refused to utter the words “cuts” or “service reductions” in recent months, repeatedly insisting that he will find “efficiencies.”

The list nonetheless includes the following: “There are many ways to reduce our budget, before we decide to cut services. For example, better purchasing, reducing back office staffing, etc. However, some services that are not as important to the public may be reduced to maintain funding for services that are important.”

Ford support plummeting, poll suggests

Mayor Rob Ford’s handling of the 2012 budget has badly shaken Torontonians’ faith in him, according to a new opinion poll that finds his popular support dropping like a rock across the city.

The Forum Research survey of 1,046 Torontonians conducted Monday after the release of city manager Joe Pennachetti’s recommended budget cuts, pegs Ford’s support at 42 per cent — a big drop from 57 per cent on June 1, and 60 per cent in late February.

Lorne Bozinoff, the Forum president independently tracking Ford’s support each quarter, said the mayor’s “very low” numbers are only likely to sink.

“This drop in support has come without any cutbacks actually coming into effect, we’re only at the idea stage,” Bozinoff said. “This is a ceiling — I think it’s going to get a lot worse for him before it gets better.

“He campaigned on a gravy train, none was found and the reality of cuts to services that residents rely on, often daily, is setting in. That has shaken public confidence in his ability to handle the job of mayor.”

The poll also found no public appetite for the major KPMG-suggested cuts Pennachetti is forwarding to the executive committee Monday as part of Ford’s solution to fix Toronto’s finances.