Voter suppression act two: closing driver's license offices in Alabama's Black Belt


A favored tactic of Tea Party governors this decade has been the imposition of a poll tax in the form of voter ID laws that required voters to present a state-issued ID (usually a driver's license) in order to exercise their franchise. Read the rest

Playful, pacifist IEDs


Sculptor Petros Eftstathiadiadis makes these "pacifist bombs" as a commentary on the Greek political/economic situation, constructing them from materials chosen to seem absurd, playful and harmless. Despite that, a few of these look somewhat alarming to me, possibly because of Eftstathiadiadis's (admirable) lack of knowledge about antipersonnel weaponry -- the soap immediately makes me think of jellied gasoline, for example. Read the rest

How Canada's Tories destroyed the country's memory, and its capacity to remember


The Canadian Conservative government's war on science, statistics and evidence have been a great boon to its ability to create policy that helps its friends and destroys the country, but the deep and arbitrary cuts to science and statistics have eroded Canada's ability to know what is happening in the country to a terrifying extent. Read the rest

UK Open University plans mass closure of regional call centres


I'm a visiting professor at OU, and dearly love the institution. It's a remarkable, multidisciplinary institution with a long history of educating people who've been excluded from the traditional university system.

The regional call centres are hugely important to the OU's success. They are the university's front line, staffed by dedicated, local people who help their neighbours to navigate the OU system, and connecting current OU students with alumni and prospective students, acting as a force for social cohesion in the OU's community.

My OU Computer Science colleague, Ray Corrigan, has written a stirring and important piece about the OU regional call centres' role in the OU system:

Understanding the OU deeply takes a long time. It is full of incredible people who care deeply about our students and who have repeatedly shown they will go to the ends of the earth for this place, even to the point of putting their own health and welbeing at risk. Staff in the East Grinstead regional office which was shut down by the University at the end of November 2014, worked evenings and weekends, even in the knowledge they would be unemployed by Christmas, to ensure the students were settled with experienced, well qualified-tutors for our courses starting last autumn. In the thick of all the complexity and accommodation of massive structural changes of the past few years, though, it's worth noting that fundamentally the OU is simply about putting people in touch with people, people who care.

Historically the OU turned a discredited education method - correspondence courses - into hugely effective supported open learning at a distance which, for over 40 years, has outstripped the personal support provided by most of the conventional university sector by a street.

Read the rest

Portraits of homeless people using libraries

Libraries, "the last bastion of democracy," are a haven for America's 500,000 homeless people, where literature, Internet access, and nonfiction can come together to provide respite from the relentless brutality of life on the streets. Read the rest

Anti-austerity parties soar in Spanish elections as Greece threatens default

Two new, anti-establishment parties (including one that grew out of the indignados movement -- a kind of Spanish precedent to Occupy) took key seats in regional and municipal elections in yesterday's Spanish election, which is a kind of dress rehearsal for the upcoming national elections. Read the rest

Piketty on the pointless cruelty of European austerity

The economist says that the US's post-crisis job creation record and the EU's lagging record demonstrates that austerity cripples recoveries. Read the rest

UK police watchdog: burglary and car crime "on verge of being decriminalised"

The Inspectorate of Constabulary says that police now tell victims of property crimes to "solve the crimes themselves," directing them over the phone to review CCTV footage and canvas their neighbourhoods for witnesses. Read the rest

50,000 march against austerity in London, BBC doesn't notice

Joly writes, "It seems the BBC are capable of tracking down a single Scot in Brazil who cheered a goal against England but fail to notice 50,000 demonstrating on their doorstep." The Guardian noticed. There's much bigger stuff -- likely too big for the Beeb to ignore -- coming in October.

Read the rest

U of Saskatchewan fires tenured dean for speaking out against cuts

A reader writes, "Robert Buckingham, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan since 2009, was fired last Wednesday for critical comments about the university's restructuring plans. When he showed up for work Wednesday morning, two campus security guards escorted him off campus. The university not only fired him as dean, but also stripped Buckingham of his tenured faculty position. The termination letter signed by Provost and VP Academic Brett Fairbairn said that by speaking out against the school's restructuring plans, Buckingham had 'demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination' and was in breach of contract." Read the rest

Terror squad yanks 12-year-old out of class over plan to protest at David Cameron's office

Update: Derp. This is from 2010 -- the Independent's masthead with today's date at the top of the page tricked me! Nicky Wishart is a 12 year old from Eynsham, a village in Oxfordshire, England, where the local youth club is slated to close due to austerity. He decided to organise a protest outside of Prime Minister David Cameron's nearby constituency office (after all, Cameron once told Parliament, "we need youth clubs, we need things to divert people from crime"), so he posted a call-to-action on Facebook. In response, the Thames Valley Police's anti-terrorism squad visited Wishart's school, pulled him out of class, and warned him that he would prosecuted if the protest led to violence, even if he decided not to attend.

Hundreds more youth clubs in England are slated for closure. 20 out of 27 of the clubs in Oxfordshire alone are set to close. Read the rest

Brazil rises up: 2M march across 80+ cities, 110,000 in the streets of Rio

The street protests in Brazil have gained momentum, with huge crowds in the streets. At issue is a kind of corporatist corruption symbolized by two upcoming football tournaments that are to be held at enormous public expense, even as poor Brazilians find themselves struggling with substandard infrastructure and price-hikes for public services. As in other BRIC nations, Brazil seems like a place where the economic future is here, it's just not evenly distributed -- not by a long shot.

The Brazilian president has praised the protesters for demanding justice but the state's spies have ramped up their social media surveillance, and the Brazilian police have met the protesters with extreme use of force, including gas, rubber bullets, and shotgun-toting cops on horseback and motorcycles:

Simultaneous demonstrations were reported in at least 80 cities, with a total turnout that may have been close to 2 million. An estimated 110,000 marched in São Paulo, 80,000 in Manaus, 50,000 in Recife, and 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and Salvador.

Clashes were reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in Campinas north of São Paulo and in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

Thirty-five people were injured in the capital Brasilia, where 30,000 people took to the streets. In São Paulo, one man died when a frustrated car driver rammed into the crowd. Elsewhere countless people, including many journalists, were hit by rubber bullets.

The vast majority of those involved were peaceful. Many wore Guy Fawkes masks, emulating the global Occupy campaign.

Read the rest

Brutal police crackdown on protesters in Sao Paolo

Diego sez, "Protestors - mainly students - are taking the streets of Sao Paulo. The problem: the government just raised the bus fare from R$3 to R$3,20. The protests are getting a really violent reception from the police. You can see a video of the police action. The problem isn't the 20 cents. I think the real problem is that we are having so many issues of inflation, very high taxes, corruption - 2014 World Cup stadiums being built with public money, costing about $1 billion each pop - so future looks really bleak here. Everything seems to be boiling after this 20 cents. If you ask me, Brazilians are getting tired of being treated as clowns. Tonight (6/13), there's going to be a new protest. People won't stop until they get what they want. Hopefully, with some international attention, Sao Paulo's police may stop hitting students with their batons and tear gas." Read the rest

European Broadcasting Union steps in to keep the Greek national broadcaster on the air after police shut it down

Yesterday, the Greek government forcibly shut down the state broadcaster, ERT, sending in the police to drag journalists away from their microphones. The government claimed that the shutdown was the result of inescapable austerity measures. In response, the European Broadcasting Union -- an umbrella group representing public broadcasters across Europe -- has set up a makeshift mobile studio where ERT broadcasters can continue to work and stay on air.

This is being fed around Europe on an EBU satellite as part of its European news exchange operation and can be picked up by commercial stations in Greece but not the general public.

A spokesman for the EBU, which is headquartered in Geneva, said a "high-level meeting with a conference call" with the director general of ERT would take place later on Wednesday to decide on next steps.

Roger Mosey, the BBC's editorial director, who is on the EBU board told the Guardian: "We're watching events in Greece with great concern. When countries are in difficulty, there's an even bigger need for public service broadcasting and for independent, impartial news coverage. I hope that's restored in Greece as soon as possible."

The EBU spokesman said ERT staff in contact with the organisation have told them the power has not yet been cut by the government, but email servers have been taken down. They are now contacting the EBU through smartphones, using Facebook and personal email accounts.

"This is unprecedented, stations have closed and re-opened for a number of reasons, but never with such abruptness," said a spokesman for the EBU.

Read the rest

Greek government shuts down state broadcaster, police force journalists out of the building

Michael sez, "The Greek government forcibly shut down transmissions of all TV and radio stations operated by the state-owned broadcaster ERT, with police ejecting journalists and other employees who were occupying the buildings."

A few hours ago, the Greek government announced that state television and radio channels would be silenced at midnight. No public debate, no debate in Parliament, no warning. Nothing. ERT, the Greek version of the BBC, will simply fold its tent and steal into the night. As probably the only Greek commentator to have been blacklisted by ERT over the past two years, I feel I have the moral authority to cry out against ERT’s passing. To shout from the rooftops that its murder by our troika-led government is a crime against public media that all civilised people, the world over, should rise up against.

ERT (Greek state tv-radio) is dead: A blacklisted person’s lament Read the rest

Austerity: the greatest bait-and-switch in history

Mark Blyth, a delightfully sweary Scottish economist, talks for about an hour to Googlers about the stupidity of austerity as a means of recovering from recession, describing it in colorful, easy-to-grasp language. This is brilliant, accessible and important economics:

Governments today in both Europe and the United States have succeeded in casting government spending as reckless wastefulness that has made the economy worse. In contrast, they have advanced a policy of draconian budget cuts--austerity--to solve the financial crisis. We are told that we have all lived beyond our means and now need to tighten our belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer.

That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget. The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn't work. As the past four years and countless historical examples from the last 100 years show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all we do is shrink the economy.

Read the rest

Meet austerity's millionaires

Britain's harsh austerity measures have produced a sharp decline in real income and quality of life for the majority of the country; but the number of people earning £1M+ has doubled and is at an all-time high.

Official figures reveal that 18,000 people now earn at least £1m – the highest number recorded by HM Revenue & Customs. In 2010-11, 10,000 earned more than £1m, and in 1999-2000 there were only 4,000 earning such a salary.

There is also growth further down the salary brackets, with 5,000 more earning £500,000 to £1m in 2012-13 compared with 2010-11, an extra 31,000 earning £200,000 to £500,000, and 7,000 more earning £150,000 to £200,000.

The figures will increase concerns that the trends of the 1990s and early 2000s are continuing, with a growing disparity between the top-earning 1%, many of whom work in finance, and the rest of the workforce. In sectors such as manufacturing, construction and hospitality salaries have been squeezed in recent years. A recent report showed that if low to middle earnings were to rise by the 1.1% a year above inflation achieved in the past, average annual household incomes in this group would take until 2023 to reach £22,000 – the equivalent of where they stood in 2008.

Super-rich on rise as number of £1m-plus earners doubles [Daniel Boffey/The Observer] Read the rest

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