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.]

Monday, July 31, 2017

Brexit woe: London’s still calling US bankers even as they prepare to flee

Nord Anglia International School Dublin is not even scheduled to open until September 2018, but its slots are already going fast thanks to some of the wealthiest foreigners in the region: American bankers.

Three U.S. banks operating in London have contacted the school in Ireland about the prospect of enrolling their employees’ children. One bank this month asked for 50 slots — which go for an average of 20,000 euros, or $23,000, a pop, said project manager David Quigley.

Taliban claims ‘the Russians’ provided their weapons

Two different Taliban cells claim “the Russians” supplied them with arms as the Afghan government claims it is investigating the level of support Moscow has for the insurgents.

The Russian government has previously denied supporting the Taliban and only keeping in contact with the militants for the sake of peace talks. Two separate sets of Taliban told CNN in a video exclusive that their guns originally came from Russian government sources.

‘It breaks my heart’: At 102, oldest living Tuskegee Airman laments continuing US racial discrimination

Celebrating his 102 birthday, the oldest surviving Tuskegee Airman —  the nation’s first all-black aviation unit — lamented the fact that racial discrimination still pervades America almost 70 years after President Harry Truman integrated the armed forces.

In an interview with People magazine, Sgt. Preston Jowers said it “breaks his heart” that America still hasn’t moved past racial hatred.

That Sound You Hear Is Elizabeth Warren Tightening Her Grip on the Democratic Party

When Vox‘s Jeff Stein reported late last week that Democrats had, at long last, unified around a message for 2018—”A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages”—the immediate reaction was almost universal mockery. “The Democrats’ new message shows they’ve learned nothing from the 2016 campaign,” thundered Mic. The Washington Free Beacon (and seemingly everyone else) noted that the second half of the slogan sounded suspiciously like the Papa John’s motto: “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza, Papa John’s.”

How Betsy DeVos, the Koch Brothers and Donald Trump Are Selling Our Schools to the Highest Bidder

Where are Charlie and Dave, Mrs. Koch’s two mischievous boys?While the Koch brothers have stayed out of the national limelight since the White House was acquired by Trump and Company, that doesn’t mean the two right-wing billionaire brats are any less active in trying to supplant American democracy with their little laissez-fairyland plutocracy. In fact, in late June, you could’ve found them in one of their favorite hideaways with about 400 other uber-wealthy rascals, plotting some political hijinks for next year’s elections.

Frankfurt touts expertise, not pomp, in battle for Brexiting banks

FRANKFURT — While the French have tried to win the hearts of bankers fleeing Brexit, Germans focused on wooing their bosses — and it seems to be paying off.

Germany’s skyscraper-filled financial capital is emerging as the front-runner to host bankers relocating from London as the U.K. prepares to exit the EU.

Brexit burns Ireland’s British bridge to EU markets

Brexit threatens to sever the logistical lifeline that connects Irish food producers to the rest of the EU.

For many Irish farmers and food producers, Britain is a time-saving flyover from their rainswept island on the periphery of Europe to millions of hungry consumers on the Continent. The cross-U.K. route allows Irish traders to reach EU markets in a little over 10 hours door-to-door, a swift timeframe vital for transporting perishable goods.

Spicer Disease

It was the best tweet I’ve seen in a long time.

It came from former presidential advisor and political pundit David Axelrod: “O.J. Simpson paroled yesterday.   Sean Spicer today. Both greatly relieved.”

Axelrod was referring to President Donald Trump’s feckless press secretary, who was turned into a human piñata on Saturday Night Live for his slavish willingness to spew nonsense on behalf of the Oval Office.

Alexis Tsipras: 'The worst is clearly behind us'

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, has promised to defy his critics by taking the country out of its longest-running crisis in modern times. “The worst is clearly behind us,” he told the Guardian in an exclusive interview.

“We can now say with certainty that the economy is on the up … Slowly, slowly, what nobody believed could happen, will happen. We will extract the country from the crisis … and in the end that will be judged.”

China demands India pulls back troops in border dispute

China has demanded that India pull back its troops from a contested region high in the Himalayas, warning New Delhi not "to push your luck" amid a festering border dispute.

According to Indian officials, about 300 soldiers from either side face each other about 150 metres apart on the Doklam plateau, an area also claimed by India's ally Bhutan.

Chuck Schumer Says Senate Democrats Are Open To Single-Payer Health Care

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued Sunday that it’s time for the Democratic party to take a “bold” approach on economic issues, adding a single-payer health care system is “on the table.”

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Schumer previewed the economic agenda his party plans to roll out this week. He acknowledged that Democrats failed to win over voters in the 2016 election with a clear economic message, and said his coalition plans to change that.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?

Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn Is ‘Parroting Lies’ Over Brexit, Warn Lib Dems

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is “parroting the lie” that the UK cannot stay in Single Market once it leaves the EU, the Lib Dems have claimed.

The Labour leader today said the Britain would have to quit the Single Market after Brexit as membership was “inextricably linked” to being in the European Union.

Jeremy Corbyn Insists Labour Never Promised To Write Off Historic Student Debt

Jeremy Corbyn has insisted Labour never committed to writing off historic student debt in the run-up to the General Election.

The Labour leader was questioned by Andrew Marr on what exactly he meant when he said he would “deal” with student debt.

During the election, the Islington North MP told NME: “I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively.”

At Least Six Dead In Worst Israeli-Palestinian Bloodshed For Years

JERUSALEM, July 21 (Reuters) - Six people were killed on Friday in the bloodiest spate of Israeli-Palestinian violence for years, prompted by new security Israeli measures at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

Three Israelis were stabbed to death in a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, hours after three Palestinians were killed in violence prompted by Israel’s installation of metal detectors at entry points to the Noble Sanctuary-Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City.

Is it possible to beat facial recognition software? One company says it is.

Facial recognition software is virtually inescapable.

The technology has become a critical tool for government agencies and law enforcement. The Trump administration recently announced an expansion of the technology’s use in airports for international travelers and along the border using drones. Some local police departments already use facial recognition technology, and the feature is expected to be added to body cameras. Even consumer electronics companies are building facial recognition into everything from smartphones to video games.

Study: How Breitbart Media's Disinformation Created the Paranoid, Fact-Averse Nation That Elected Trump

Right-wing media evolved into a hall of mirrors in 2016, when Breitbart displaced Fox News as the key agenda-setting and attack-leading epicenter of a disinformation-filled, paranoid ecosystem promoting Donald Trump and his pro-white America agenda.

Breitbart not only led the right’s obsessive, hostile focus on immigrants, it was also the first to attack professional reporting such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Breitbart's disruptive template fueled the political and information universe we now inhabit, where the right dismisses facts and embraces fantasies.

The Tories' U.S.-based Khadr comms strategy is a really, really bad idea

Since the subject is Conservative party politics, let me begin with a joke from the U.S. presidential election of 2016.

It belongs to Conan O’Brien.

“Fox News has forbidden Sean Hannity from appearing in any more campaign ads for Donald Trump. ‘We want to appear neutral while covering the race between Mr. Trump and that Sickly, Lying Witch.’”

How the Left Can Win in the South

Bernie Sanders didn’t just lose the South in the 2016 Democratic primary—he got destroyed in it.

The Vermont senator lost all 11 states that made up the Confederacy to his opponent, Hillary Clinton—and most of them by huge margins. Clinton won by nearly 50 points in South Carolina, almost 60 in Alabama, and a whopping 66 points in Mississippi. In all, Clinton won around 5.1 million votes to Sanders’s estimated 2.5 million. Without such a poor showing in the region, his party’s nomination might have been within Sanders’s reach.

Students say Christian college turned a blind eye to serial rapists

WENHAM, Mass. — Joggers weaved their way through a group of friends along the Gordon Woods trail on a sunny Friday afternoon. Behind them, a breeze rippled across the quiet surface of Gull Pond. On the beach, a tree log served as a makeshift bench.

It’s a spot where many students at Gordon College, a conservative Christian campus of approximately 1,700 students just north of Boston, go to relax. But for Isabella — who asked to be identified only by her first name out of fear of backlash — it’s where her nightmare began.

Avi Gabbay, Israel’s Rising New Threat to Benjamin Netanyahu

In 1981, I accompanied the secretary-general of Israel’s Labor Party, Haim Bar-Lev, on a visit to Jerusalem’s Moroccan fruit market. Bar-Lev, a storied former Army chief of staff, was distributing flowers in an effort to show voters that the leaders of his once dominant party could relate to average people. Four years earlier, the conservative Likud Party had won its first general election, and a new national vote was in the offing. “You trust Arabs?” a fruit vender shouted at Bar-Lev. “You want to give them back the land?” Bar-Lev responded with a fifteen-minute disquisition, with careful distinctions, regarding the meaning of “trust,” “give back,” “land,” and “Arabs.” Exasperated, the vender finally interrupted him. “I still don’t trust them,” he shouted. Likud had mismanaged the economy; inflation was already hurting him. Many thought Labor would sweep back into power. But, after watching the exchange, I realized that the vender’s ten-second shouted question had given Likud a fourteen-minute-fifty-second advantage. It also exposed a widening gap between working-class Israelis, many of them of Moroccan background, and Labor leaders.

Democrats, Not Republicans, Stand for “Freedom” in Health Care

There was a moment, early in the House GOP’s secret health care deliberations, when they reportedly considered doing something fairly radical and—under different conditions—very good. In Republicans’ haste to repeal every tax in the Affordable Care Act, their budget lines were hemorrhaging revenue, leaving them torn between taking health care subsidies away from millions of poor and working class people or finding a new revenue stream to limit the insurance coverage loss their bill would cause.

New Studies Cast Doubt on Cherished Conventional Wisdom From 2016

Last month, four studies were published by the Voter Study Group that, taken together, provide a serious challenge to some of the most common—and perhaps cherished—beliefs of what went down during the 2016 presidential election. (One might be tempted to write that they “destroyed,” or “blew up” the conventional wisdom, but that would be overstating it.)

The studies used a unique database that offers some advantages over previous efforts to determine what motivated voters last year. Rather than surveying random samples of, say, 1,000 voters at various points in the race, the Voter Study Group researchers, in conjunction with the polling firm YouGov, repeatedly surveyed the same panel of 8,000 voters before and after the 2012 election, and then again before and after the 2016 election. This allowed them to see how individual voter’s preferences changed over time.

The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Anymore

Notwithstanding the addictive daily drama of leaks, tweets, and resistance, there are major issues that exist separate and apart from the 24-hour news cycle. These long-term problems are as salient in the digital moment as they were in the analog ’60s.

This coming October 9 will mark the 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s murder. Yet the pathology underlying his famous quip that when the American left is asked to form a firing squad it gets into a circle is as relevant today as a Rachel Maddow response to Kellyanne Conway’s spin du jour.

My Daughter Was Murdered in a Mass Shooting. Then I Was Ordered to Pay Her Killer’s Gun Dealer.

At 24 years old, my daughter, Jessi, was sparky, beautiful, and ambitious, with red hair that mirrored her fiery spirit. In summer 2012, she was finishing her final year of college in Colorado and looking forward to pursuing a career as a sports journalist. On the night before she had an interview for a dream job, she went with her close friend Brent to a midnight movie.

U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel

The criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

Students And Graduates Deserve Better Than Jeremy Corbyn’s Cynical Bait-And-Switch

In the run-up to this year’s general election, the Labour leader had some fine words for students and graduates. He claimed that university tuition fees had put the poorest young people off attending university, and so he would abolish tuition fees. And when asked about the debt of those had already been to university, he said confidently that he would “deal with it”.

Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump

Democrats are expecting one of their party’s biggest fields in history will battle to take on President Trump in the 2020 election.

They say Trump’s low approval ratings, his lack of legislative accomplishments and the lingering controversy surrounding multiple investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 race have a number of Democrats positioning themselves for a White House run.

“So long as Trump is hanging around [with approval ratings] in the 40s, potential challengers will be attracted like moths to a flame,” said David Wade, a Democratic strategist who served as a top aide to former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in his 2004 presidential run.

Another factor? The lack of a whale candidate who might scare off other rivals.

For the first time since Kerry was the party’s nominee, no one named Clinton or Obama is expected to run for the Democratic nomination.

“Candidates knew that opportunities didn’t come around often to run in a wide-open field without an anointed front-runner or incumbent Democratic vice president,” Wade said, comparing the lead-up to the 2004 cycle with the 2020 cycle.

Hillary Clinton was the clear front-runner going into both the 2008 and 2016 campaigns, and her presence left some Democrats wary of getting in the race — particularly in the last cycle. In 2012, no Democrat challenged then-President Obama.

“Hillary and her team did a good job freezing the field and keeping most other potential candidates at bay,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a Clinton surrogate in 2016, said of last year’s cycle.

“The Democratic Party thought they could try and control the process, but I don’t think that’s going to be an option this time around. No one is going to be able to clear or winnow the field. There’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

Dozens of Democrats, along with Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), are thought to be eyeing the race, though no one has officially thrown their hat in the ring at this early stage.

Besides Sanders, 75, the heavyweights include former Vice President Joe Biden, 74, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is 68.

A survey released this week by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling showed Biden ahead of Trump 54 percent to 39 percent in a hypothetical matchup, and Sanders leading 52 percent to 39 percent.

Britons living in Europe could lose right to live in another EU country

British people living in the European Union could lose the right to live in another EU member state after Brexit, it emerged at the end of talks in Brussels.

British officials raised the issue with their European counterparts during three-and-a-half days of intense technical talks. The EU made clear it would not move without a reciprocal offer for European nationals living in Britain that would allow them to move to another EU country and return to the UK.

A Top Rohrabacher Aide Is Ousted After Russia Revelations

Paul Behrends, a top aide to Representative Dana Rohrabacher, has been ousted from his role as staff director for the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Rohrabacher chairs, after stories appeared in the press highlighting his relationships with pro-Russia lobbyists.

“Paul Behrends no longer works at the committee,” a House Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson said on Wednesday evening.

The Mega Rich Are Getting Mega Richer: A Former CEO Exposes the Corruption Behind Their Obscene Paychecks

The following is an excerpt from the new book The CEO Pay Machine: How It Trashes America and How to Stop It by Steven Clifford (Blue Rider Press, May 2017), available from Amazon and IndieBound:

In the long term, the indirect effect of the Pay ­Machine—​the increase in income inequality—is economically more injurious than the erosion of company earnings or a stock market downturn.

Income inequality in America has risen sharply since 1976. Economists and pundits point to multiple causes—globalization and competition from low-wage​ countries; growing educational disparities that particularly affect men and minorities; technological changes that reward the highly skilled; decline of labor unions; changes in corporate culture that place stock price and earnings above employees; free market philosophy and the rise of winner-take-all economics; households with high-income couples; lower rates of marriage and of intact families; high incarceration levels; immigration of low­-skilled individuals; income tax and capital gains tax cuts and other conservative economic and tax policies; deregulation; and decreased welfare and antipoverty spending coupled with redistribution programs that disproportionately benefit the elderly.

Trump Team, ALEC, Koch Industries Debate Gerrymandering the US Senate in Denver

Now that GOP state legislators have control over 32 state legislatures (both chambers), thanks in large part to partisan gerrymandering, some extremists are preparing to use their clout to gerrymander the US Senate.

This week in Denver, July 19-21, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will welcome Republican state legislators and its corporate funders, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, K12 Inc., Peabody Energy, and PhRMA, to vote on corporate legislative priorities and create cookie cutter "model" bills in task force meetings that are still closed to the press.

In Turkey, defending human rights is a crime

In Turkey, truth and justice have become strangers. Six human rights defenders were imprisoned this week on the absurd charge of supporting a terrorist organization. They await trial, which could prolong their incarceration for several months. Four others were released but remain under investigation. Their movements have been restricted and they have to report to the police three times a week.

Moscow spooks return to Hungary, raising NATO hackles

NATO allies are worried about expanding Russian intelligence operations in Hungary.

While Western officials have often criticized the government in Budapest for backsliding on democracy, they’ve tended to praise it for a steadfast commitment to NATO. But officials from allied countries say Russia increasingly sees Hungary as an operational backdoor into Europe.

How Anti-Clintonism Gave Birth to Trumpism

Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain is pitched as a book about Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News executive chairman who is now chief White House strategist, but it isn’t a biography per se. The now-familiar checkpoints of Bannon’s life—his working-class roots and Catholicism, his stints in the Navy (the source of his Islamophobia) and Goldman Sachs, and his stewardship of Breitbart—are mere fodder for an inevitable ending: the election of Donald Trump. Which is to say that Devil’s Bargain is really a campaign book.

ALEC Is Talking About Changing the Way Senators Are Elected and Taking Away Your Vote

The United States Senate is an undemocratic institution. Just do the math: Progressive California Senator Kamala Harris was elected in 2016 with 7,542,753 votes. Yet her vote on issues such as health-care reform counts for no more than that of conservative Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, who was elected in 2014 with 121,554 votes.

This is an absurd imbalance. In fact, the only thing that would make it more absurd would be if voters were removed from the equation altogether.

Democrats Don’t Need a “Core Message” in 2018

Democrats, you may have heard, have a messaging problem. President Donald Trump’s poll numbers are imploding, and the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is sunk once more, yet members of the opposition are “still struggling to tell voters what their party stands for,” the Associated Press reported on Sunday. “The message is being worked on,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley told the outlet. “We’re doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well. So that’s coming together now.” The fact that the number-four Democrat in the House admitted “his party lacks a clear, core message even amid Republican disarray,” the AP claimed, “highlights the Democrats’ dilemma eight months after President Donald Trump and the GOP dominated last fall’s elections, in part, because Democrats lacked a consistent message.”

Netanyahu Tells European Leaders Concern for Palestinian Rights Is “Crazy”

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was caught on tape on Wednesday urging four European leaders to help him undermine a provision of a European Union trade agreement that imposes an obligation on Israel to respect the rights of the millions of Palestinians it rules in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Why Hillary Clinton Is Really Unpopular – Again

Hillary Clinton is even less popular now than when she was running for president.

Just 39 percent of Americans view Clinton favorably, according to a Bloomberg national poll conducted last week and released on Monday. A year ago, when Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee, her favorability was at 43 percent. The former secretary of state is viewed slightly more negatively than President Donald Trump, who has historically low poll numbers for a president this early in his administration.

People in Denmark Are a Lot Happier Than People in the United States. Here’s Why.

Last week, in Denmark, Malthe and Lærke Knudson had a baby girl they named Emma. That same day, the Robinsons—Dale and Beth—had a little baby in the United States. They called her Rachel.

Right now, they’re just two little babies keeping their parents awake at night. But Emma and Rachel were born in countries that have very different priorities, and that’s going to lead to pretty different futures.

The Real Voter Fraud

For a while there, it appeared that the GOP’s long-running assault on voting rights was finally losing steam. In recent years, federal courts have struck down or significantly weakened several of the country’s worst voting restrictions. At the same time, many states—including red ones—have debated or passed bills to expand access to registration and polling places.

Donald Trump's Defenders on the Left

When it comes to possible collusion with Russia, Donald Trump’s most interesting defenders don’t reside on the political right. They reside on the political left.

Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich aren’t defending a principle. They’re defending a patron. Until recently they were ultra-hawks. Now, to downplay Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, they sound like ultra-doves. All that matters is supporting their ally in the White House.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Maryam Mirzakhani’s Pioneering Mathematical Legacy By

The Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who died on Friday, at the age of forty, was known to her colleagues as a virtuoso in the dynamics and geometry of complex surfaces—“science-fiction mathematics,” one admirer called it—and to her young daughter, Anahita, as something of an artist. At the family’s home, near Stanford University, Mirzakhani would spend hours on the floor with supersized canvases of paper, sketching out ideas, drawing diagrams and formulae, often leading Anahita, now six, to exclaim, “Oh, Mommy is painting again!”

Mirzakhani could be private and retiring, but she was also indomitable and energetic, especially at the blackboard. According to Roya Beheshti, an algebraic geometer at Washington University in St. Louis, and a lifelong friend—the two talked math, read math, and did math, sometimes competitively, for several years growing up—Mirzakhani’s passion was evident early on. “Maryam’s work was driven by a certain pure joy,” Beheshti told me. “A lot of people have been saying how humble she was, and that’s true. She was very humble. She was also really, really ambitious. From the very beginning, from a very young age, it was clear that she had very big goals.” When Mirzakhani was in sixth grade, in Tehran, a teacher discouraged her interest in mathematics, noting that she was not particularly talented, not at the top of the class. A quarter century later, in 2014, she became the first woman (and the first Iranian) to win the Fields Medal, math’s highest honor.

America’s Biggest Publicly Funded, Fully Integrated Health-Care System Is Under Attack

In the Bay Area, public meetings critical of conservatives are not hard to find. But when about 200 San Francisco military veterans jammed into an auditorium in their city’s Veterans War Memorial Building in mid-April, they added diversity to the local “resistance.” Those in attendance—representatives of veterans-service organizations, patients of the Veterans Health Administration, health-policy experts, and local Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi—were trying to educate veterans and the public about proposals that could destroy a single-payer plan for 9 million Americans whose past military service, in combat and noncombat jobs, makes them eligible for VHA coverage.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A basic income really could end poverty forever

I first heard the term “basic income” in the socialist magazine Dissent in 2005. I was a 15-year-old leftist with a taste for weird, radical plans to restructure society: say, having the government buy up majority stakes in every company and then distribute them equally to every American; converting all companies into worker cooperatives; trying a planned economy where the planning is done by decentralized worker and consumer councils rather than a government bureaucracy. Basic income, wherein the government gives everyone enough cash to live on with no strings attached, struck me as an idea in that mold: another never-going-to-happen but fun-to-think-about alternative to the unfettered financial capitalism of the second Bush term.

Beijing’s Balkan backdoor

BELGRADE — In the thick of a discussion about the future of the Balkans, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić jumped from his chair, unfurled a wall-sized map and spread it across the thick mauve carpet in his private receiving room.

“You’ll see what my real passion is,” he said, kneeling next to a multicolored map of Serbia criss-crossed with planned highways and rail lines. “It’s roads and economy.”

Serbia is in the midst of a physical transformation that Vučić has promised his compatriots will end their isolation and open the door to the European Union. To turn his “passion” into reality, the Serbian president is relying not just on Europe, but on an old ally farther east — China.

The Strange Defense of Martin Shkreli

On Wednesday, June 28th, the criminal-defense attorney Benjamin Brafman stood in front of a Brooklyn jury and presented an unusual argument. In white-collar trials, which this was, defense lawyers often do their best to portray their clients—typically wealthy executives from companies or industries that may not be known for high ethical standards—as generous folk who go to church and coach children’s soccer leagues, gentle-hearted people who happen to drive Porsches. In this case, though, Brafman was representing Martin Shkreli, the notorious hedge-fund manager and drug-company entrepreneur, and such an argument wasn’t an option. Instead, Brafman tried to build a case around Shkreli’s greatest potential liability, one that Shkreli has highlighted live-streaming himself and in interviews—his behavior. “Is he strange? Yes,” Brafman said, of his client, during his opening argument. “Will you find him weird? Yes.” He said that Shkreli had been compared to “Rain Man” for his eccentricity, and finally added, “As Lady Gaga would say, he was born this way.”

Ukraine wants Russia held to account over MH17 downing

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says Russia must be held to account over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, three years after the tragedy that killed 298 people.

International investigators have said the Boeing jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014 by a Russia-supplied missile system that was fired from territory held by Russian-backed fighters.

Defend Europe boat tries to block migrant rescues

Far-right activists have set sail in a boat with plans to prevent the arrival of Europe-bound boats carrying refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, sparking criticism from an anti-racism monitor.

Defend Europe, the group behind the journey which began Sunday, said on its fundraising page that its members would set sail in a 422-tonne vessel with a 25-member crew after receiving more than $115,000 in donations in recent weeks.

Turkey’s free press on trial

In a small courtroom at the city’s gargantuan Palace of Justice, Canan Coşkun took the stand with her hands clasped nervously behind her back.

As a journalist covering the courts for Cumhuriyet — the Turkish newspaper that has been most outspokenly critical of the government — Coşkun is no stranger to judicial proceedings. But on this Tuesday morning in June, she wasn’t there to cover a case. She was on trial herself, for the fourth time this year.