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Zambian Hip-Hop Artist Flees Amid Threats Over Song

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 10:56

Zambian hip-hop artist Fumba Chama won’t say where he is, or whom he is referring to in a song that caused him to run for his life. But when the artist, who goes by the stage name Pilato, spoke to VOA this week, after fleeing condemnation and death threats from supporters of the ruling party, it’s…


Supreme Court leaning to GOP on Pennsylvania gerrymandering

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 08:00

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court signaled Monday it may be open to blocking a state ruling on partisan gerrymandering at the behest of Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders. Last week Pennsylvania’s high court struck down the state’s election districts on the grounds they were drawn to give the GOP a 13-5 majority of its seats in the House…


NYC’s public campaign finance system is in trouble

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 00:38

The New York City public campaign finance system has in recent years been seen as the standard for a new model of small donor-based systems but a new report is sending the first real warning signs. Setup to increase candidate reliance on small donations from bigger numbers of voters, multiple municipalities including Los Angeles have copied parts of the NYC system.

It is in this environment that the latest report is so important, as it shows the first significant increase in the percentage of total donations coming from single large donors. The report was produced by the think tank Campaign Finance Institute and presented earlier today by CFI’s Executive Director Michael J. Malbin to the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Among the findings:

The NYC system showed a “striking increase in the percentage of money from small donors between 1997 and 2013…. Given the strength of the results through 2013, it was surprising to see the numbers for 2017. The percentage of money coming from small donors declined for both incumbents and non-incumbents, whether we look only at private money or at private and public money combined. In fact, when looking at private money alone, the percentages for 2017 were below 1997.

 The full Malbin testimony is available here. Unusual for public campaign financing systems, the New York City system matches campaign contributions collected by candidates. Most earlier public finance systems focused on giving candidates a one-time government check to finance their campaigns. A 2010 review of the effectiveness of the NYC system since its start in 1988 was put together in a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. It shows how important recent changes may be. That Brennan Center report stated plainly:

It has led to more competition, more small donors, more impact from small contributions, more grass roots campaigning, and more citizen participation in campaigns. All this, while simultaneously reducing the influence of big money in general and corporate money in particular (only donations from living, breathing New Yorkers are matched)

In light of the new findings, more eyes will be focused on the balance of future NYC political donations. You can also watch the two-hour video below to see the entire 2017 post-election hearing meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board containing the testimony by CFI’s Michael J. Malbin:


Zimbabwe’s 2018 vote is its most important in decades

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 22:47
Emmerson Mnangagwa – link

President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently said that he would announce the date of the harmonized elections anytime after 12 February. The big question is whether voters will choose the ruling ZANU-PF party led by Mnangagwa who has never been directly elected or the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance a grouping of six political parties led by former prime minister and longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Both Tsvangirai and Mnangagwa have vowed a push towards globalization and Zimbabwe’s relationship with the Britain and the rest of the world.

When are the elections in 2018?

Veritas, a trusted local Non-Governmental Organization that provides information on the work of the Parliament of Zimbabwe and the Laws of Zimbabwe and makes public domain information widely available, has been running an election watch series providing electoral information in the run-up to the elections. In its first bulletin in May 2017, Veritas said the elections will likely be held between July 23 or August 21 at the latest.

Veritas said the polling date of the next general elections was determined by what the existing Constitution says about the duration of Parliament, citing section 143(1), which states that Parliament is elected for a five-year term, which runs from the date on which the President-elect is sworn in and assumes office.

“The President was sworn in on August 22, 2013, so the five-year term of Parliament ends at midnight on August 21, 2018,” the bulletin read. “The earliest date for polling is July 23, 2018. This is based on section 158 [Timing of Elections], which states that: ‘(1) A general election must be held so that polling takes place not more than … 30 days before the expiry of the five-year period specified in section143’.

“The provisions on the timing of general elections differ from those in the old constitution. The present constitutional provisions were a deliberate change from the provisions in the old constitution in which five years was only a maximum term for Parliament and the President could dissolve Parliament by Presidential Proclamation whenever he wanted before the five-year term had expired.”

What is new about this election?

ZANU-PF has run Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, but the old model has been shattered with the coming in of what locals are calling the “new dispensation” after the fall of Robert Mugabe last November with the help of a military coup.

An unpopular and divided ruling ZANU-PF party is trying to rebrand itself and promote the country as a safe investment destination. Mnangagwa has visited several neighboring countries; he has also been to the Davos World Economic Forum were he met over 60 global leaders. After Davos, Mnangagwa took his bidding to the African Union Head of State meeting and is set to visit China in April to preach the same gospel of a “new Zimbabwe” open to investment. The move is an apparent bid to broaden his appeal by creating artificial distance between his run for power and his party’s hard-line policies that ruined the economy over the past 38 years.

Whoever wins, Emmerson Mnangagwa or Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe will have a president with an agenda for change. ZANU-PF currently has an outright two-thirds majority in parliament and the MDC currently has less than 100 Parliamentary representatives. The MDC has also already won control of several towns including the capital Harare. In general MDC efforts at local governance have involved dealing with historically poor service delivery that the new city fathers blame on incessant government interference.

However, Tsvangirai’s MDC is a party with a track record, a known quantity which once won a majority in parliament in 2008. Set up in October 1999, when Tsvangirai was a trade unionist, it has since contested several elections.

What is at stake?

Voters will be making a decision on Zimbabwe’s future direction and on its place at the heart of the African Union. If they opt for Morgan Tsvangirai, they will be backing an alliance which seeks political and economic reforms as well as deeper international integration, in the form of more open economy.

If instead they choose Emmerson Mnangagwa, judging from his speeches and interviews, they get quite the same promises. He also wants Zimbabwe to be more open to trade and investment. “We are saying to the world now that Zimbabwe is now open for business,” he said recently at the annual Davos. The assumption is that he would win election on the basis of creating a new Zimbabwe enjoyed by all.

Who will win?

It’s probably too early for opinion polls however, the opposition failed to capitalize on the fall of Mugabe and frustration created after a unity government was not formed. If the opposition does not break into traditional ZANU-PF strongholds where intimidation and harassment is rife, ZANU-PF is aiming for a big victory in the first round. The party has roped in former military personnel within its structures. General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the November coup and was retired from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, has taken up the position of Vice-President and second secretary of the country and ruling party respectively.

Robert Mugabe – link

Retired Air Chief Marshal (of the airforce) Perrence Shiri is now Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement and retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (the man who appeared on television announcing the coup) is now Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Both are committee members in the politburo, the highest seating body of the party in between congress. The party’s commissariat mandated with drumming up support is now headed by retired Lieutenant-General Elgelbert Rugeje.

The MDC Alliance’s best hope may be if urban voters turn out in large numbers on election day. However, this may be impossible considering that rural voters are in large part forced into voting for ZANU-PF through intimidation and harassment – already too rife.

Some reports say ZANU-PF members are recording serial numbers from the slips of proof of voter registration. Voters are said to have been threatened that through these serial numbers the party will be able to know how they would have voted. Although there is no way ZANU-PF would be able to note how an individual voter has voted through serial numbers by using these voter registration slips, the empty threats should be taken seriously as an attempt to force people to vote for a candidate against their will.

What are the election main issues?

Although the political parties are yet to release manifestos, one of the overriding issues facing Zimbabwe voters is unemployment, which unofficial figure say hovers around over 80 percent and is one of the in the highest in the world. The Zimbabwe economy has made a slow recovery since the downward spiral from the late 90s but all the leading candidates say deep changes are needed.

Economic challenges facing the next president

The two candidates have each publicly agreed to plans to renationalize Zimbabwe’s debt, which is currently about $13 billion. Both want to cut government jobs, reduce wage bill from the current 85 percent to about 40 percent of the total budget, and plough billions into investment to reduce unemployment.

Hopefully, no matter who wins, Zimbabwe will change for the better.

Air Marshal Shiri salutes President Emmerson Mnangagwa – link

As Always, Music and Politics Mixed at the Grammys

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 18:41

Politics took the stage at the 60th annual Grammy awards this year, along with some great music. Hillary Clinton, who ran against Donald Trump in last year’s presidential campaign, made a surprise appearance in a pre-taped skit about people auditioning to be the voice for the spoken word recording of Michael Wolff’s best-seller “Fire and Fury”…


Global rise in internet shutdowns aimed public protest

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 18:36

Governments around the world are increasingly shutting down internet access in an apparent attempt to silence discontent and dissent, activists say. In 2017, internet access was cut off more than 80 times around the world, up from 56 times the year before, drawing concerns from digital rights activists. “We do see this as evidence for a…


Star Trek’s Michelle Yeoh Takes Stand Against Rohingya Crisis

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 12:43
Michelle Yeoh – link

Hollywood star Michelle Yeoh says she’s appalled by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar into Bangladesh. Yeoh, a goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Programme, visited sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar on Saturday, as part of a Malaysian delegation led by the Southeast Asian…


Why don’t STEM majors vote as much as others?

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 12:24

By Inger Bergom, Senior Researcher, Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University and Hyun Kyoung Ro, Assistant Professor, Bowling Green State University. college voters There’s no shortage of talk about the need to get more students to go into STEM majors. But a growing body of research, including our…


Randy Newman’s satirical Putin song wins Grammy

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 22:13

Sardonic songwriter Randy Newman on Sunday picked up his latest Grammy for a sarcastic tune about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Newman won in the relatively obscure category of Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for “Putin,” released amid rising US focus on the Russian leader over what US intelligence says was his government’s meddling in the 2016…


Hong Kong Democracy Protests Follow Candidate Exclusion

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 21:20

Pro-democracy groups took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest the government’s decision to disqualify a prominent activists from legislative elections in March. Agnes Chow, 21, was seeking to become Hong Kong’s youngest council member ever, contesting the seat of another “umbrella movement” activist, Nathan Law, 26, who was stripped of his seat…


Thousands Take Part in Nationwide Russian ‘Voters Strike’

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 20:16

Several thousand people braved sub-zero temperatures in cities across Russia to protest what they say is a lack of competition ahead of March presidential elections all but guaranteed to extend Vladimir Putin’s grip on power through 2024. The rallies were part of a nationwide “Voters Strike” called by opposition leader and erstwhile presidential candidate Alexey Navalny,…


Supreme Leader Planning New Iranian Internet Restrictions

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 20:10

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met recently with “cyberspace experts” to discuss challenges that the internet poses to Iran’s leadership, the head of the powerful Guardians Council said. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati did not specify when Khamenei’s meeting took place, but many Iranian officials have blamed social media for fomenting unrest that erupted in December and January…


How weak democratic institutions led to an out-of-control Internet

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 20:01

This article was first published in The Washington Spectator. Late last year, Facebook, Google, and Twitter appeared before Congress to explain how a foreign government that targeted democratic institutions in the United States subverted their services. For months, the companies denied wrongdoing, hid behind spurious legal claims, and acted genuinely surprised that anyone would question their…


At Least 79 Arrested Sudanese Protesters Disappear

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 19:47
Omar al-Bashir has been in power since 1989 – link

Activists held by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in Sudan have been subject to torture, says the Committee of Families of Political Detainees. According to the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), at least 79 people are currently being detained incommunicado following the government crackdown on popular protests against its austerity measures.…


The Dangerous Faults Built Into Nigeria’s Elections

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 19:17

The unending comments on the letter by former President Olusegun Obasanjo chastising President Muhammadu Buhari for alleged poor performance makes the subject look like the issue of the moment and the decider of elections but it is not. For media professionals such as this columnist, who know that adversarial journalism is what best fits African leaders,…


Should Hoboken, NJ return to a runoff election system?

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 16:44

Hoboken’s new mayor and his chief rival in November’s municipal contest are battling over whether city voters should get a chance to re-instate runoff elections, which were eliminated six years ago. Mayor Ravi Bhalla on Thursday vetoed a council measure that would have placed a referendum on November’s ballot asking voters whether runoffs should return. The…


How the Voting System to the Decide Grammy Winners Works

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 16:38

It’s music’s biggest night, and fans tune in by the thousands to see if their favorite artists will take home big awards. However, while they get to have a say when it comes to most other music award shows, the Grammy’s are the ones that fans don’t get to have a say in when it comes…


Nationwide Russian Protest Against Putin as Top Critic Arrested

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 16:16

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic has been arrested on the day of nationwide protests against the leader’s bid to stay in office for at least another six years. Anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny mobilized two waves of protests in dozens of cities last year, incensed at the reported wealth of government officials under Putin’s protection.…


How to predict corruption using artificial intelligence

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 13:00

Can governments around the world predict corruption with artificial intelligence? New research suggests so. Two University of Valladolid researchers in Spain built a computer model designed with artificial neural networks to predict which Spanish provinces will have a greater propensity for future corruption based on statistics like how long one party has been in power.

The fascinating paper’s authors were Félix J. López-Iturriaga from the University of Valladolid’s School of Business and Economics and Iván Pastor Sanz from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia. The authors published their work in the Social Indicators Research journal under the title, “Predicting Public Corruption with Neural Networks: An Analysis of Spanish Provinces”. From the research abstract:

We contend that corruption must be detected as soon as possible so that corrective and preventive measures may be taken. Thus, we develop an early warning system based on a neural network approach, specifically self-organizing maps, to predict public corruption based on economic and political factors.

Unlike previous research, which is based on the perception of corruption, we use data on actual cases of corruption. We apply the model to Spanish provinces in which actual cases of corruption were reported by the media or went to court between 2000 and 2012. We find that the taxation of real estate, economic growth, the increase in real estate prices, the growing number of deposit institutions and non-financial firms, and the same political party remaining in power for long periods seem to induce public corruption.

Our model provides different profiles of corruption risk depending on the economic conditions of a region conditional on the timing of the prediction. Our model also provides different time frameworks to predict corruption up to 3 years before cases are detected.

According to a write up about the new study at Science Daily:

To carry out the study, the authors have relied on all cases of corruption that appeared in Spain between 2000 and 2012, such as the Mercasevilla case (in which the managers of this public company of the Seville City Council were charged) and the Baltar case (in which the president of the Diputación de Ourense was sentenced for more than a hundred contracts “that did not complied with the legal requirements”).

Be sure to also check out the Democracy Chronicles Election Technology section and our articles on Technology Dissidents, the Internet and Voting or Voting Machines.

Celebrating Thomas Paine’s Birthday – Do You Know Paine?

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 10:00

The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.
– Thomas Paine

A quick search for Thomas Paine’s birthday related activities reveals that a dedicated cult following is still actively engaged with the legacy of the amazing pro-democracy revolutionary Thomas Paine. Events are scheduled in many cities for Paine’s 281st birthday on Monday.

As an example of the events underway, California hosts the perhaps the United States’ most important center dedicated to Paine’s legacy known as the Thomas Paine Society in the Historic Castle Green of Pasadena. A recent ‘bulletin board’ post at the local newspaper Pasadena Weekly contained an announcement regarding the Thomas Paine Society’s festivities:

This Sunday, the Society celebrates its 25th anniversary with its latest edition of the “Headstrong Evening Club,” hosting an evening of rousing conversation, great food, libations, and fun while recreating Paine’s favorite 18th Century English haunt, the White Hart Inn.

Ian Ruskin will portray Paine, while Weekly columnist Ellen Snortland will guest as Eleanor Roosevelt. Other special surprise guest historical figures will also appear, with musician Harold Payne providing accompaniment throughout the evening. The evening’s topic will be “Income Inequality: Was Thomas Paine’s ‘Agrarian Justice’ a Blueprint for Universal Basic Income?”

Be prepared for an evening of rousing conversation, libations, food and fun. Join the conversation and speak your mind in this audience participation event like no other. Light fare, wine, ale and non-spirited drinks will be available throughout the evening.

More information and tickets for that event may be found at Across the pond in Paine’s home country, the one that sentenced him to death in absentia, an event was held at the Working Class Movement Library to mark Thomas Paine’s birthday. The event takes place in the City of Salford, a borough of Greater Manchester, in North West England where Thomas Paine was born. The Working Class Movement Library organized the event with the Mary Quaile Club. Speakers included:

  • Trevor Griffith, author of a play about Thomas Paine: ‘These are the Times’
  • Michael Herbert, will talk about the celebrations of Thomas Paine’s birthday
  • Mandy Vere, from Liverpool’s radical bookshop “News from Nowhere”

In other Paine related news, Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania, recently announced a ‘Renewing Philadelphia’s Historic Streets’ project that will spend a million dollars on the “restoration of Thomas Paine Place in the Society Hill National Register district, including making the historic transportation facility accessible to people with disabilities”.

And finally the big Painist event of 2018 is shaping up to be the ‘Third International Conference of Thomas Paine Studies’ hosted by the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies on the campus of Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. New Rochelle is the location of the Thomas Paine Cottage Museum, located on the “last two acres of a 300 acre farm awarded to Paine by a grateful New York State for his services in the struggle for independence”. The event takes place October 11-13 and more information can be found at the event webpage. The goal of the event is:

“To build an interdisciplinary program in which the links – and ruptures – between late eighteenth century and twenty first century media, particularly digital publishing and archive development, social media, resource accessibility, author attribution software, and information technology, are explored.”

January 29, 1737 is Thomas Paine’s birthday and it is a good deed to remember his life and work. He was a British born revolutionary who was a central character in the American and French Revolutions on the side of democracy and human rights. He supported the causes of both Native Americans and African slaves in a time where this was heresy. Perhaps, his most important contribution to modern democracy is the words he wrote to inspire America to revolution for the sake of representative government in January of 1776:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.

From the US history government website:

Throughout most of his life, his writings inspired passion, but also brought him great criticism. He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States. He had a grand vision for society: he was staunchly anti-slavery, and he was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly. But his radical views on religion would destroy his success, and by the end of his life, only a handful of people attended his funeral.

If you don’t know Paine, or want to know more, take a look at New York Times best-selling author Christopher Hitchens’ “Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (Books That Changed the World)” or watch this documentary about Paine’s life by the BBC called “Thomas Paine: The most valuable Englishman”: