Nobody has pushed the idea of direct democracy further than the Pirates: they use the internet to maintain constant dialogue with their base, all party meetings are streamed live online—but even with their vigorous efforts, crowdsourcing has not been able to fill the space left in representative democracy.
The nation is once again polarized, but I don’t hear our politicians talking about social justice or the public good. They’re talking instead about the budget deficit and sequestration.
At bottom, though, the issue is still social justice.
What the left has been too timid to say is this: it is obvious that we do (and must) make laws that conflict with religious views, endlessly variant as they are. The spinal column of our national beliefs is not that religious practice must be unbounded, but that we are all equal: that is what is “primary.
On Saturday June 9, 2012, Major Avtar Singh, formerly of the Indian Army and living in Selma, California, shot his wife and three children. Before turning the gun on himself, he called the Sheriff’s office and told them that he had killed four people. The SWAT team that responded to the call found his youngest and oldest sons, ages three and seventeen, and his wife, dead of gunshot wounds to the head; the middle son, fifteen years old, was critically injured, but alive. He died a few days later, from wounds to the head.
The execution-style gunshots to the head were identical to those which killed Major Singh’s most famous victim, the Kashmiri human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi. Andrabi was abducted, tortured and murdered in 1996 for exposing abuses carried out by the Indian Army in Kashmir. Major Avtar Singh was also wanted by Kashmir’s courts and Interpol for the murder of twenty-eight people in Kashmir in the course of his career as an officer in 35 Rashtriya Rifles, a counterinsurgency unit of the Indian Army. The story of his crimes and the manner in which he evaded justice for sixteen years is a grim chronicle of Indian crimes against humanity in Kashmir and of the silence of the international community which has abetted these. The impunity exploited by India and enabled by the international community clearly corrupted Singh’s conscience, to judge by the murder of his family and his subsequent suicide. Until it deals with the gross human rights violations in Kashmir and an impunity that harkens back to its colonial past, India’s proud claims as the world’s most populous democracy are fatally tainted.
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Close to twenty million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.
It would be one thing if we didn’t know what to do about all this. But we do know. It’s not rocket science.
The only reason for employers to hire more workers is if they have more customers. But American employers have not had enough customers to justify much new hiring.
There are essentially two sources of customers: individual consumers, and the government …
American consumers—whose purchases constitute about 70 percent of all economic activity—still can’t buy much, and their purchasing power is declining. The median wage continues to drop, adjusted for inflation. Most can’t borrow because they don’t have a credit record sufficient to allow them to borrow much.
…So if we can’t rely on consumers to stoke the economy, what about government? No chance. Government spending is dropping, too.
The major reason the economy contracted between the start of October and end of December 2012 was a major reduction in government spending in the fourth quarter.
Government spending has declined in nine of the last ten quarters, but it took a precipitous drop in the last quarter …
…More jobs and faster growth should be the most important objectives now. With them, everything else will be easier to achieve—protection against climate change, immigration reform, long-term budget reform. Without them, everything will be harder.
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Here’s our rundown of measures Congress exempts itself from:
1. Whistleblower Protections: Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989, which protects workers in the executive branch from retaliation for reporting waste, mismanagement or lawbreaking. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act gives similar protections to private-sectors workers. But legislative-branch workers—a category that includes congressional staffers as well as employees of the Library of Congress, the Architect of the Capitol and other offices—don’t get the same protections.
2. Subpoenas for Health and Safety Probes: The Occupational Health and Safety Act empowers the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate health and safety violations in private-sector workplaces. If an employer doesn’t cooperate, the agency can subpoena the records it needs. The Office of Compliance, the independent agency that investigates such violations in the legislative branch, doesn’t have the power to issue those subpoenas.
3. Keeping Workplace Records: A number of workplace-rights laws—the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and others—require employers to retain personnel records for a certain period of time. But as a recent report on the congressional workplace notes, “Congress has exempted itself from all of these requirements.” Congress is also exempt from keeping records of injuries and illness the way private-sector employers are.
4. Prosecution for Retaliating Against Employees: If a private-sector employer retaliates against a worker for reporting health or safety hazards, the Department of Labor can investigate and, if necessary, sue the employer. Congress’ Office of Compliance doesn’t have that power—legislative-branch employees must file suit personally and pay their own legal fees.
5. Posting Notices of Workers’ Rights: Workplace-rights laws require employers to post notices of those rights, which often appear in office lunchrooms. Congress is exempt from this requirement, though this has little real-world impact. The Office of Compliance sends legislative employees the same information each year, formatted “in a manner suitable for posting.”
6. Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Retaliation Training: The No Fear Act requires agencies in the executive branch to provide such training to employees, but the legislative branch is exempt.
7. The Freedom of Information Act: The public can request information from federal agencies, but Congress, the federal courts and some parts of the Executive Office of the President are exempt.
When President Obama told supporters that he would morph his campaign into a new nonprofit that would accept unlimited corporate donations, the announcement set off a familiar round of griping from campaign finance reformers.
The creation this month of Organizing for Action, which will promote the president’s second-term agenda, appears to be the fourth reversal by Obama on major money-in-politics issues since 2008.
“No big bank or corporation will donate million-dollar checks to OFA without the expectation that it will impact which issues they engage on, and that’s very troubling,” said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The Washington Post noted that in reorganizing his campaign as a tax-exempt social welfare group, the president is embracing a structure that has been criticized for allowing anonymous money into politics.
Conservatives who’ve been attacked by the Obama camp for their reliance on such “dark money” groups called out the president’s “brazen hypocrisy.” Neither the White House nor Organizing for America responded to requests for comment.
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He’s been battered by big-money conservative groups looking to derail his bid for secretary of defense. Critics say he wants to end America’s nuclear program. They claim he’s anti-Israel and soft on Iran. So you can expect intense questioning—if only for theatrical effect—about all of the above (and undoubtedly then some) as Chuck Hagel faces his Senate confirmation hearings today.
You can be sure of one other thing: Hagel’s military service in Vietnam will be mentioned—and praised. It’s likely, however, to be in a separate and distinct category, unrelated to the pointed questions about current issues like defense priorities, his beliefs on the use of force abroad, or the Defense Department’s role in counterterrorism operations. You can also be sure of this: no senator will ask Chuck Hagel about his presence during the machine-gunning of an orphanage in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or the lessons he might have drawn from that incident.
Nor is any senator apt to ask what Hagel might do if allegations about similar acts by American troops emerge in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Nor will some senator question him on the possible parallels between the CIA-run Phoenix Program, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese venture focused on identifying and killing civilians associated with South Vietnam’s revolutionary shadow government, and the CIA’s current targeted-killing-by-drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. Nor, for that matter, is he likely to be asked about the lessons he learned fighting a war in a foreign land among a civilian population where innocents and enemies were often hard to tell apart. If, however, Hagel’s military experience is to be touted as a key qualification for his becoming secretary of defense, shouldn’t the American people have some idea of just what that experience was really like and how it shaped his thinking in regard to today’s wars?
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Libertarians, the Tea Party and other so-called conservatives devoted to slashing all government spending not related to the military, prisons, the drug war and highways have an easy answer when asked what happens to people whose lives and livelihoods depend on public programs. They point to volunteerism—the tradition of people taking care of each other, which has sustained human civilization for millennia.
It’s an attractive idea, which evokes the spirit of the commons. Volunteers working largely outside the realm of government—neighborhood organizations, local fire brigades, blood banks and other civic initiatives—are obvious examples of commons-based sharing and caring.
So that means John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Sean Hannity qualify as commoners, too, despite their adamant skepticism about Medicaid, environmental regulations and campaign finance limits?
…To truly encourage widespread volunteerism, we’d need to make sure that everyone (not just the well-to-do) had the time to do it. Most people today working longer hours for less pay are frantic just to get through the day. Finding extra time in their crunched schedules to manage upkeep at the local park or take care of elderly neighbors looks impossible.
What it would take to make this happen is dramatically expanded vacation time, family-leave benefits and probably a four-day workweek—or at least stringent enforcement of overtime provisions for all people working more than 40 hours a week.
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