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One Year On, Has the United Kingdom’s Democracy Been Enhanced?

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 12:57


So it has now been one year since the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU and the good people of the UK voted to leave. Truly a momentous moment and a shiny beacon of British democracy, action was taken by the people to bring back power into their hands so they can shape their own destiny.

Well not really. In the aftermath of the referendum it became clear and was admitted by prominent people of the Leave campaign, that they had indeed lied. The first thing to be unearthed was the £350 million a day to the NHS promise, Farage himself the very next day said this wasn’t going to happen. Then there was the admission that some of the claims, such as the economic worth of migrants, were distorted and not entirely true.


To be polite about it, it was a farce. David Cameron resigns as a result and Theresa May ascends to the throne in 10 Downing Street (much to the annoyance of Boris Johnson who got stabbed in the back by Michael Gove).

The next Act in the play that is Brexit was the initiation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the process in which Brexit begins. The Government claimed it could be initiated by Executive Order and by-pass Parliament, this was challenged at the High Court and it was ruled Parliament needed to consent. The Government then challenged this ruling and it was taken to the Supreme Court. Predictably the Supreme Court ruled with the High Court and decreed that an Act of Parliament was needed and Parliament alone had the power to initiate such articles.

It actually took about 2 months between the Supreme Court’s ruling and Parliament passing Article 50. In the time proceeding this Theresa May flipped flopped on her decision not to call a General Election and decided to do so. She felt that because everyone wasn’t agreeing with her and she couldn’t control them she needed to let the public vote. End result, Tories lose their majority, Labour do vastly better than expected, Theresa May looks very sheepish.

The past year of British politics has been a whirlwind of delusion, stupidity and general idiocy. The Tories and especially Theresa May, have lost all credibility and respect and really are not in a decent position to carry on governing. I suppose I can give them credit for consistency; they are the ones who started this mess and they are the ones carrying on making more mess.

Jeremy Corbyn – link

Even with the beacon of hope in the distance that is Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, the fact remains that constitutionally them forming a government would present a lot of problems and a minority Labour Government would find passing Bills very difficult.

So back to my overall query of this piece, has democracy been enhanced in the UK in the past year? I would say no. While there have been elections that would otherwise not have taken place, democracy is so much more than simply the frequency of elections.

The sheer deep divisions between some areas of society that have arisen due to this referendum and General Election is truly astounding. If things do not get managed properly, not only will we have the younger generation against the older, the poorer against the rich, we’ll start having Scotland against England and with the DUP entering talks with the Tories, would could get the rest of the UK against Northern Ireland.

The nasty and deceitful message of the Leave campaign has truly damaged this country to extents that may yet be fully understood. They conducted it in such a way that their objective was purely for their own self-interest and had no regard for what would benefit the nation. Coupled with the awfully run campaign and ridiculous message of the Tories in the General Election, British politics has been kicked into gutter.

Jeremy, please come and throw us into the sunshine.

Are Military Lobbyists Now in Charge of Foriegn Policy?

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 12:47


A new advisory panel has been tasked with streamlining the procurement process

A new advisory panel has been tasked with streamlining the Department of Defense’s procurement process. Sitting on the powerful panel: several current or former employees of major military contractors including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Electric. Those corporations every year do billions of dollars of business with the Department of Defense — and have given more…


Key Vietnamese Political Activist Arrested in Crackdown

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 12:41

Pham Minh Hoang – link

A Vietnamese political activist stripped of his citizenship was detained Friday night

Hanoi (dpa) – A Vietnamese political activist stripped of his citizenship was detained Friday night, the activist’s wife told dpa. Pham Minh Hoang, who until recently was a Vietnamese and French national, was detained and taken from his Ho Chi Minh City home at 6:15 pm (1115 GMT), said Le Thi Kieu Oanh. “They used force…


Liberation or Protectionism

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 11:40

Occupy Oakland – link

The Western world has slowly been forced to realize that the old cornerstones of society are no longer a given. Liberal market economy, representative democracy and the shift of influence away from citizens up to a global and unreachable level makes for a drop in confidence.

The new political currents have led the rulers of the West to react with alarm. Finally, there has begun to be an understanding that the left-right-scale no longer applies. It has been replaced by a people-elite scale or a close-large scale. But instead the debate is dominated by the fear of populism. News reporters and political analysts now travel across Europe in droves, from election to election, country to country, in pursuit of a single election result that may indicate a break in the trend and a return to the old ways.

Bahraini Arab Spring – link

In fear of the new politically radical currents, whether they have traces of right, left, liberal, green or anarchy, what is perhaps the West’s greatest cause for pride, the tolerance of minorities, has been curtailed. Radical political ideas are under constant attack from a middle layer of politicians and the powers that be.

People’s longing for something new remains.

This was already noticeable 5-6 years ago with the North African uprising, the protest movements around the Mediterranean Sea and the Occupy Movement and the “1% of the population ruling over 99%”. The two western political “people’s outrages”, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as president, are thus a natural consequence of years of a growing fatigue in the political status quo in favor of the more popular and cohesive.

In Spain, a referendum on independence is due in September. In Scotland, a new application for one has been submitted and in California, signatures are being collected to create a referendum on independence. In Europe, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the EU as a sphere of power. In all these examples, calls are made for independence, nationalism and/or regional rule. But the trends are rarely discussed in the same debate. Self-government in the form of a protectionist nation state seems to be something completely different from a struggle for independence, even though there is merely a difference of degree in the aspiration for self-rule and control.

It is a longing for liberation from the big and incomprehensible beyond human contact that is the motivating common denominator. In a smaller context, this can be noticed when social services such as schools, healthcare or different types of service facilities are concentrated into central municipalities in the name of efficiency and economics. Or when jobs disappear or are moved elsewhere and people are forced to break up from their loved ones and their neighborhood culture. A development that few politicians want to touch and which is beyond people’s influence.

The western growth machine creates communities with millions of “non-people”, unemployed youth or senior citizens who lack social significance. At the same time, a clique of financially well-off’s just grows stronger. Solutions seem to be lacking within the current political and social western framework.

The longing for a real society; for justice and community, seems impossible to stop in these times of break-ups, individualization and lack of human dignity.

Yanis Varoufakis, founder of DiEM25 – link

The new perception of in what direction society is heading, has created new alliances of political movements as, for example, the European DIEM25 which works for a democratized and transparent EU. DIEM25 and the new French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as the radical American Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, reflect rather well the current state of affairs, both in Europe and the US; either new radical political currents beyond the classical political choices, or, as in the case of Macron, a longing to move away from the old at the same time as there is a wish to be anchored in the old. A political three-way-forecast à la 2017.

But the biggest political change is not about who is elected but rather about the distrust of the eligible. Both Macron and Donald Trump are both politically skilled businessmen who have perceived a new radical need for change, unlike the classic politicians and their eternal promises of change which are no longer considered credible. The political change from left versus right to small scale versus large scale, regardless of which political icon that represents it, was completely unthinkable just 3-4 years ago.The direction of regionalization and “the small-scale” causes fears; both among those who are afraid of an increasing intolerance to minorities as well as among liberal market forces and globalists. Those who want to restore participation, proximity and popularity see liberation.

Is it then possible to regionalize our societies without losing a tolerance for others? The answer should be obvious. Intolerance is not created by diversity; it is created by economic injustice and the lack of influence, involvement, belonging, respect plus the absence of a sense of community. People who are satisfied and feel visible do not look for someone to blame.

Why Did Democrats Decline Help From Feds After Election Hack?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 20:00


The Democratic National Committee declined an offer to help after they were hacked

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday told the leading House panel investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election that much to his “disappointment,” the Democratic National Committee declined an offer by his agency to help after they were hacked. In widely anticipated testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Johnson provided tense and…


The Success of Malta’s Ranked Choice Voting System

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 20:00


A really fascinating article recently was published by our friends at FairVote. Ranked voting has been in place in Malta since 1921 and its benefits have been plain to see. The recent Maltese election also had 92% turnout. Not so bad. The new article is by Jesse Docter from FairVote. Take a look at this excerpt:

The Maltese political system is one of the oldest of its kind in the world. Multi-winner RCV has been in place in the island nation since 1921, surviving several dramatic changes in government and sovereignty. The local system is uncharacteristic of multi-winner RCV, because unlike most regions that use it, in Malta, the parliament is consistently dominated by two parties. The two party system is encouraged by a variety of structural factors, including social polarization and a constitutional amendment that gives the two major parties an advantage.

These factors allow two parties to dominate in an electoral system that traditionally empowers third parties. Though voters are, in practice, limited to these two credible parties, they are still able to express their more nuanced political preferences by choosing candidates within a party. Because the major challenge for candidates is intra-party competition, candidates have an incentive to appeal strongly to a specific subset of voters. Incumbents most often lose because of shifting preference votes within parties, not by being defeated by the opposing party.

See more about the recent election in Malta at BBC but also, here is more about the unusual Maltese election system from the abstract to a research paper, “Malta: STV in a Two-Party System”, by Wolfgang Hirczy de Miño of the University of Houston and John C. Lane of the State University of New York at Buffalo :

Although STV is often held up as a voting system that maximizes voter choice and does not presuppose partisan candidacies, political parties play a key role in Malta and are firmly entrenched at every level of electoral politics, including the mass public. There are virtually no formal barriers that impede candidacies by independents or third parties, yet only two, the Nationalist Party (PN) and the Malta Labor Party (MLP) have been represented in parliament for the past thirty years.

In the Maltese setting, STV primarily serves to allow for competition within parties. The incidence of cross-party transfers is minimal. The two major parties routinely over-nominate. Even though the system is highly proportional, a minor deviation in the vote-seat ratio led to a major political crisis in 1981, when a party whose candidates had received an absolute majority of first-preference votes wound up as a loser in parliamentary representation.

The ensuing impasse was resolved through a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that the party winning the popular (i.e. first-preference) vote will form the Government, by giving it as many additional seats as are necessary to achieve a parliamentary majority. First-preference votes alone, rather than the number of candidates initially elected, may thus determine which party will control the Government in Malta.

Time For Reviving the Heart of the Voting Rights Act is Now

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:54

The time to reverse the gutting of the Voting Rights Act is now, as problems of voter access remain stubborn. A new article by Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in The Root had the story:

Instead of focusing on actual problems, like modern-day voting discrimination, however, the Trump administration is working to further undermine our democracy. One of Jeff Sessions’ first moves as attorney general was to withdraw the Department of Justice’s long-standing position that Texas had engaged in intentional discrimination in enacting its ID law. As the former head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, I’m proud of the Justice Department’s work under President Barack Obama to aggressively challenge restrictive voting laws across the country

President Donald Trump’s recently announced election commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is key to his administration’s anti-civil-rights mission. The naming of Kobach is deeply troubling—as reporter Ari Berman outlined last week in a must-read New York Times Magazine story (or as The Root did in May).

Needless to say, Kobach is no friend of efforts to expand the franchise. The commission itself is a farce, plain and simple, and focuses on a problem that doesn’t exist. Voter fraud is infinitesimally rare, as has been demonstrated by study after study. Trump’s absurd claim that millions voted illegally during the 2016 election—an election that he won—is both wrong and bizarre.

About the current legal battle over the Voting Rights Act from the ACLU:

Since 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has protected minority voters at the polls. In June 2013, in a huge blow to democracy, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula used for Section 5 of the VRA, which required jurisdictions with significant histories of voter discrimination to “pre-clear” any new voting practices or procedures, i.e., get federal approval from the Department of Justice, and show that they do not have a discriminatory purpose or effect. Importantly, however, the 5-4 decision did not strike down Section 5 itself, leaving it to Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ACLU is working with Congress to do just that.

There have been two major amendments to the act including first in 1982, according to information posted on the Justice Department website:

Congress renewed in 1982 the special provisions of the Act, triggered by coverage under Section 4 for twenty-five years. Congress also adopted a new standard, which went into effect in 1985, providing how jurisdictions could terminate (or “bail out” from) coverage under the provisions of Section 4. Furthermore, after extensive hearings, Congress amended Section 2 to provide that a plaintiff could establish a violation of the Section without having to prove discriminatory purpose.

And a summary of the 2006 Amendments:

Congress renewed the special provisions of the Act in 2006 as part of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Cesar E. Chavez, Barbara Jordan, William Velazquez and Dr. Hector Garcia Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act. The 2006 legislation eliminated the provision for voting examiners.


Should Trump’s Election Commission Tackle Russian Hacking?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:25

Efforts of Russia to obstruct US voting may become the new focus of Trump’s commission. The recent article on the Boston Globe had the story:

Two members of a presidential commission charged with investigating alleged voter fraud want the panel to focus on what could be the biggest fraudulent scheme of all: attempted Russian hacking of numerous state election systems. The call, by the secretaries of state in New Hampshire and Maine, presents a potential change in direction for a special commission that has widely been seen as a political smoke screen to justify the president’s unfounded claims about widespread fraud by individual voters in places like New Hampshire and California.

Kobach, a Republican who is the Kansas secretary of state and vice chairman of the commission, said the panel would examine the vulnerabilities that Russians exposed if the group wanted to go in that direction. “In the initial descriptions of the commission, election security and the integrity of equipment and voter databases was not specifically described,” Kobach said. “But if it’s something the commission wants to discuss, we can.”

Rick Hasen, of Election Law Blog fame, had the following to add on a recent post Professor Richard L. Hasen is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine:

Maybe these Democratic commissioners also want to study whether restrictions on voting such as strict voter identification laws suppress the vote.  I guess Kobach would go along “it it’s something the commission wants to discuss.”

President Trump named three more members of the Commission last night:  They appear to be Luis Borunda, Deputy Secretary of State of Maryland (appointed by Republican gov. Larry Hogan); Mark Rhodes, a county clerk from Wood County, WV (who won his reelection for office as a Democrat by 5 votes!), and David Dunn, who may have been a Democratic legislator in Alabama.Thanks to Doug Chapin for helping to identify these folks. (If any of this is wrong I will update).

Democrats have been up in arms against the appointment of Secretary of State of Kansas Kris Kobach to lead Trump’s election commission. Here is a Slate article that attacks Kobach on this point:

Far from a neutral figure, Kobach is a fierce advocate for harsh, restrictive voting laws. By itself, his presence is a sign that this commission is a sham, and that the drive for “confidence” is actually a push to raise the barriers to voting and participation.

To understand why Kobach’s presence on this panel is so alarming, you need to know his background. The architect of draconian anti-immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama—as well as the mind behind Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” rhetoric—Kobach has been a prominent champion for voting restrictions. In the aftermath of 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, Kobach emerged as a major voice for voter suppression. He has backed strict ID laws and pushed for states to require a birth certificate or passport for registration, measures that primarily burden low-income voters, including many voters of color. From his perch as Kansas’ top election official, Kobach has launched a crusade against “illegal voting,” winning power from state lawmakers to prosecute “voting crime.” In keeping with most studies of voter fraud—which find little to no evidence of its existence—Kobach has found just nine cases of alleged fraud out of 1.8 million registered Kansas voters.


When Monarchs Run For Elections: Leadership Alternation in Africa

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:24

African leaders: Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi – link

Democracy can be defined as the extent to which citizens enjoy broad political rights and civil liberties without repression from the Government or the ruling elite. We can measure it using Freedom House Aggregate for Political Rights and Civil Liberties, 2017. As far as leadership alternation is concerned, we borrow the definition by Hoff, Horowitz and Milanovic’s research paper from a 2005, “Political Alternation as a Restraint on Investing in Influence: Evidence from the Post-Communist Transition“. These authors have stated that “leadership alternation means a personnel change in the control of the executive, whether or not the leader is from the same party as his predecessor.” So it can be measured by total number of Presidents a country has had in a given period of time. We wish to explore how leadership alternation might have impacted democracy in Africa.

Rotate for solution – link

Our methodology involves a simple comparative study in which we look at the level of democracy in four countries where the present incumbent has been in power for more than 15 years and four other countries where two or more Presidents succeeded in office in the last 15 years. 15 years is the time for two or three mandates as Presidential mandates are usually four, five or seven years in Africa.

Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Zimbabwe and Cameroun

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has been in power since 03 August 1979, that is, 38 years in power. José Eduardo dos Santos took office as the second President of Angola at the death of Agostinho Neto on 21 September 1979, also 38 years in power.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe became prime minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980 and was elected President in 1987. At age 93 Mugabe Mugabe is not only the third longest serving President in Africa, ruling uninterrupted since Zimbabwe’s independence, but is also the oldest Head of State in the world.

Born Paul Barthélemy Biya’a bi Mvondo on 13 February 1933, President Paul Biya of Cameroun, aged 84, is Africa’s fourth longest serving President with a total of 34 years in power. He took office on 06 November 1982 two days after the resignation of Ahmadou Ahidjo.

On an aggregate scale, Freedom House (2017) in its Freedom in the World Index places Equatorial Guinea in the list of its 11 worst countries in terms of political rights and civil liberties. Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016 has shown a steady decline in Equatorial Guinea’s democracy since 2006, giving the country a score of 1.76 in 2016 which suggests that Equatorial Guinea is a totally authoritarian regime, not to say a totalitarian regime.

For Freedom House, Angola is not an electoral democracy and in terms of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House (2017) aggregate qualifies Angola as one of the least free countries. For Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016, Angola has not escaped the “colours” of an authoritarian regime despite constitutional reforms to accommodate political contest.

In Zimbabwe, the democratic landscape is also not the best. With a score of 32 on an aggregate score on political rights and civil liberties, Zimbabwe is classified as only partly free by Freedom House. After 37 years in power, Mugabe has scored as an authoritarian ruler since 2006 on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.

The Republic of Cameroun’s (ROC’s) political rights and civil liberties indices at Freedom House are on the downside. With an aggregate score of 24, Freedom House qualifies ROC as not free. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016 has shown ROC’s regime to be authoritarian and the ROC is on the alert marks on Fragile State Index 2017.

Senegal, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa

On the other side, four other countries seem to be doing very well in democratic terms.

South Africa seems to be no news in this regard ever since the collapse of the apartheid system in 1991. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016 scored South Africa 7.41, placing it within the flawed democracy range but close enough to a full democracy. At the same time, with an aggregate score of 78/100 for political rights and civil liberties, South Africa is considered a free country by Freedom House (2017).

President of Botswana Seretse Khama Ian Khama – link

Botswana also scored 72/100 in the Freedom in the world 2017 aggregate score for political rights and civil liberties, making her a free country. Equally free are Senegal, 78/100 and Ghana with probably the highest score in Africa, 83/100 for political rights and civil liberties (Freedom House, 2017). Also, Ghana, Botswana and Senegal are very close to full democracies according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016.

The commonality between these four countries is that they all have had sustained leadership alternation since the landmark periods of the independence of African countries in the 1960s and of the (re)adoption of democracy in Africa in 1990s after three decades of One-Party rule. All four have had more than two rulers succeeding office in the last two decades.

Senegal has had four Presidents since 1960 with the last three transitions occurring relatively smoothly. While Ghana has had a tormented past, she has had up to 13 persons ranking as Head of State since her independence in 1957. The last two decades have seen peaceful transitions between four Presidents in Ghana.

In South Africa the end of the apartheid regime saw the victory of Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress (ANC) in the elections of 1994. Since then South Africa has had two other Presidents.

On its part, Botswana is considered the “miracle of Africa” as it has never experienced a military coup d’Etat and was not seized by the madness of One-Party rule in Africa. Since independence on 30 September 1966 Botswana has had three Presidents and one acting President.


It appears that in countries like Senegal, Botswana, South Africa and Ghana that have experienced leadership alternation, democracy tends to do better than in countries like Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Zimbabwe and Cameroun where the same person has governed for a relatively long period of time. While this observation relies on a small data set, it is important to pursue research on this question of leadership alternation and democracy.

This is a burning issue in several milieus. There are those who seem to have embarked on demonstrating that democracy includes the “freedom to choose the same leader indefinitely”. Are monarchs going for elections now? This philosophy is somewhat problematic as it would seem that as an individual tends to stay in power for too long, democracy, which is vital for socio-economic development, instead tends to deteriorate.

100+ Researchers Sign Public Letter With Election Security Warning

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 16:01


More than one hundred security researchers and experts signed on to a letter sent to Congress

More than one hundred security researchers and experts signed on to a letter sent to member of the United States Congress to warn of their belief that not enough has been done to protect against potential threats to state and federal elections. The letter, published Wednesday as a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference during…


What Life Is Like for a Soldier in North Korea’s Army

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 15:56

North Korea has one of the world’s biggest ground armies with more than 1 million active members

On June 18, a North Korean soldier fled to South Korea by swimming across a river, the second defection by a member of the military in a week. South Korea’s joint chief of staff said the man had escaped by swimming across a narrow part of the fast-flowing Imjin River, which crosses the demilitarized zone. He…


Culture Shift: Why Do So Many Young People Swing to the Left?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 15:37

As the 2017 British elections passed, we have witnessed a surge in popularity for the Labour party among young voters. While the Conservative party flaunted its victory in gaining 5 points from 2015 to reach 42%, the public is largely unsuspecting of the attraction young voters have to Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetoric. YouGov finds that 71% of 18-24 year old voters would be voting Labour, compared with just 15% of that base supporting the Conservatives.

Jeremy Corbyn – link

This vast swing to left-wing ideology among young voters will come as no surprise to the baby boomer generation that witnessed (or partook in) the countercultural movement of the 1960’s. The “New Left” as they were called, was largely consisting of young people that were disheartened by Nixonian conservatism as well as capitalism in general.

Much of what we see happening on the political left continues to mirror the actions and rhetoric of the countercultural movement. We can see why young voters are so attracted to this rhetoric when we look at some of Corbyn’s quotes.

  • The dividing lines in this election could not be clearer from the outset. It is the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all.
  • They are yesterday’s rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past. It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations. It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors.
  • It was their wealthy friends in the City who crashed our economy. How dare they ruin the economy with their recklessness and greed and then punish those who had nothing to do with it? It was not pensioners, nurses, the low or average-paid workers or carers who crashed the economy.

It comes as no surprise that much of Corbyn’s rhetoric consists of blaming the wealthy and the capitalists for the failures of the British economy, this message resonates with young people who also blame large corporations and older generations for their faults.


How Big Pharma and Insurance Lobbies Influenced GOP’s Health Bill

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 15:13


U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle have lambasted Republicans for conducting secret meetings

U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle have lambasted Republicans for conducting secret meetings while crafting their version of the American Healthcare Act, the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare and hand President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory. Most recently, Republican Arizona Senator John McCain even quipped Tuesday that Russia might actually…


Investors See Benefits to Vietnamese Political Dissent Crackdown

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:59

Shell Button Factory in Vietnam – link

Foreign investors are finding an up side to the suppression of dissent in Vietnam

Economic analysts say many foreign investors are finding an up side to the suppression of dissent in Vietnam, taking comfort in the expectation of business stability as the country’s one-party government moves toward a landmark economic summit later in the year. Plain-clothed authorities beat rights campaigners and bloggers in 36 incidents between January 2015 and April…


Group of New York Election Reforms Fail to Move Forward

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:12

New York State Legislature leaves all election reforms on back burner despite the dire state of voting. A new article on the subject, “New York Legislature Adjourns without Passing Any Election Law Bills”, was posted on Ballot Access News by Richard Winger. Take a look.

The New York legislature adjourned on the evening of June 21. Although 222 bills to amend the election law had been introduced this year, none of them passed (many of these bills are duplicates of other bills). Bills that would have improved the appearance and clarity of the ballot were SB 2792 and AB 7333. Bills that would have somewhat liberalized the law on residency of circulators were AB 567 and SB 218.

SB 4780 and AB 5735 would have provided that the state should spend money educating voters that New York has closed primaries. AB 3052 and SB 3562 would have moved the independent candidate petition deadline from August to May. Many bills would have made voting easier, by allowing early voting or same-day voter registration, or easing the deadline for primary voters to join parties so as to be able to vote in their primaries.

According a review by the New York City based Gotham Gazette:

Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills — including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures — as they do each year. While most passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.

The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.

An update from a new article on the Associated Press by David Klepper:

The six-month legislative session began in January with big proposals from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to modernize the state’s antiquated voting system and make state college tuition free for middle-class students.

The voting reforms never materialized and Cuomo’s college tuition plan was significantly altered. The program will cover the tuition — though not room and board — for in-state students from families earning $125,000 or less. But the students must remain in New York for as many years as they receive the benefit, or else repay the money as a loan.


On Censorship and Political High School Yearbooks

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:52


The president has reached out to a group of New Jersey teenagers who recently made headlines

No one is exempt from Donald Trump’s quest to make America great again—not even a high school yearbook. The president and his team revealed Monday that they reached out to a group of New Jersey teenagers who recently made headlines after claiming their yearbook edited out references to the Trump campaign. Michael Glassner, the executive director…


Battle Over Mayoral Term Limits Consumes Pennsylvania Town

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:47


The City Council reportedly overrode mayor’s veto of a referendum for a new two-term cap

A referendum on term limits for the Allentown mayor is reportedly back on track for the November general election. City council on Wednesday voted to override sitting Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s veto of a measure putting the question of term limits for mayor before voters, The Morning Call reports. Council had voted unanimously June 7 to ask…


What Netflix’s New Film War Machine Says About US Policy

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:41

War Machine is not a great film, but it does convey some important truths to U.S. audiences

Brad Pitt Netflix’s recently released War Machine (WM) is not a great film, but it does convey some important truths to U.S. audiences. A half century after escalating our troop involvement in Vietnam, we are still making a similar mistake. President George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq in 2003 and gradually increased the number…


Angolan Journalist Indicted For Exposing Government Corruption

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:32

Angola journalist Rafael Marques de Morais – link

Rafael Marques, winner of 2017 NED Democracy Award returns home to legal harassment

Winner of 2017 NED Democracy Award returns home to legal harassment The Office of the Attorney General in Angola indicted award-winning investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais for “outrage to a body of sovereignty and injury against public authority,” under the Law on Crimes against the State Security. In an article published on his anti-corruption watchdog…


Is U2 Frontman Bono Washington’s Best Lobbyist?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:26


His two organizations, ONE and Red, have raised millions of dollars to combat global poverty

Whenever U2 and the band’s frontman, Bono, perform in Washington, D.C., it’s as much about lobbying on behalf of the world’s poor as it is about the music. In the past, Bono has used his stadium stage to promote ONE, the anti-poverty group he co-founded, and to praise politicians of all parties who have worked on…