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Democrats Must Be The Genuine Article

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 19:29

If the Democrats are ever to win and have any influence for good they have to be real the Genuine Article. The party of Clinton won the battle but lost the war. Corporate Democrats aren’t any better than Republicans, maybe worse. Their hypocrisy and confusion helps nobody but the oligarchs and it’s true that many Democrats are just selling out to the same ole group.

I’m not saying capitalism does not have its place but the fact is that capitalism through greed in America has actively tried to destroy our ideals. There should be some kind of working relationship between capitalism and labor but capitalism in America has said, “I’m in charge, forget you. Forget your ideals, your family and your future”.

Now these same forces have begun to be unleashed upon the rest of the world attacking whom it may: the Chinese, Iran, Canada, whomever. What will it take to demand change? Trump has already assaulted the transgender soldier, the refugee, women, our environment, labor, public education, and has started his attacks on social security and Medicare. The man is a liar. I hate to say it, but it’s true. The only way to counter him is to be the Genuine Article.

So Democrats, don’t compromise to win lobbying dollars from the likes of Goldman Sachs. “The borrower is slave to the lender”. Fight the good fight. Bernie Sanders has done this better than anyone in recent history and it can be done I believe by the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party made a major mistake being aligned to Hillary, to its undoing. The future of the party comes from nominating people like Bernie. He leads by example. Elizabeth Warren is another leader who has earned respect from Democratic voters. Together, these two have showed the way, they set the example. They are not asking for blind trust because they are not autocrats. They are the Genuine Article.

My Time With The Gaza Freedom Flotilla: In Gijon, Spain

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 10:00

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is sailing in a peaceful effort to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and for the ideals of freedom of movement and the right to a decent future. The coalition sought volunteer ground crew and I decided to go to Spain to help. This is the first of several articles I will post reporting on my time in Spain volunteering to help on the Freedom Flotilla Coalition to Gaza. The photo essay and videos in this article are from the time I arrived at the Flotilla when it was ported in Gijon, Spain.

Thank you again for all who supported my trip through donations!

I arrived in Gijon, a coastal city in northern Spain, by train in this photo and walking from the train station to my hostel with Barbara Briggs-Letson, Marny Kittredge and Keith Meyer when we came across this painting. There was a lot of support for Palestine in Gijon. From left: Marny “Kit” Kittredge, Barbara Briggs-Letson and I stand with one of the pro-Palestinian paintings in Gijon.

Here is my Facebook Livestream recorded as I was arriving in Gijon and at the dock of the Flotilla:

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Gijon Spain

CAR Refugees Sing for Peace at Camp in Cameroon

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:19

VOA – ENGLISH

A group of Central African Republic refugees is using music to call on the world to save their country from misery and stop the conflict so they can return home. On the streets of Cameroon’s northern town of Garoua, they also asked their host country Cameroon to push for peace.

These are the voices of five refugees from the Central African Republic singing in Garoua, northern Cameroon, for peace to return to their troubled country.

They sing every weekend along the streets and in front of churches and mosques, urging people in conflict to talk and not fall into the same situation as their country.

Twenty-seven-year old Puchi Urbain is the group leader. He says they fled from their city, Alindao, when armed groups attacked, killing several people, and looting cattle, farm produce and cash.

He says they ended up in Cameroon at a United Nations-run refugee camp in the village of Mbaimbum. After sharing their stories, they thought more people should know about their experience. So, they created a singing group called Peace Crusaders.

Urbain says they decided to sing in French as well as the Sango, Fulfude and Lingala languages spoken in several parts of Africa so that all people should know that peace is priceless. He says they sing for children who have lost their parents in wars around the African continent.

The Central African Republic has been in conflict since 2013, when the Seleka, a coalition of rebels from a predominately Muslim region, forced President Francois Bozize from office. Violence between armed Christians and Muslim groups has forced more than a million people from their homes.

Urbain says he had experience singing in a Catholic church choir group.Their church was destroyed before he fled to Cameroon.

In a song titled “We Want Peace,” the group questions why weapons are used as solutions to crises when history teaches the world that after every conflict, people still sit at the negotiating table to sort out their differences.

Twenty-seven-year old Dende Claudette is the lead singer and joined the group two years ago. She lost her grandmother in the war and is still hoping that one day she will see her three sisters who were lost in the conflict.

She says her heart bleeds because she has seen many people being killed and stray bullets taking the lives of those fleeing the carnage. She says parents watched helplessly as their children were slaughtered in front of them and armed men stole their money. Some mothers were not able to bury their children because they had to flee for their lives.

The refugee singers have opened a clothing repair shop in Garoua to earn a living and receive donations from well wishers. They say they will keep singing until there is peace in the C.A.R.

Another Trump Supreme Court Nominee and Danger Ahead

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 17:29

One more right wing Supreme Court Justice will be the final nail in the American coffin. I hope Mitch McConnell is proud of the fact that his act of denying President Obama the Merrick Garland nomination for the Supreme Court seat as well as his support for Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch is going to bring total control of the Supreme Court to corporate America, thus leading to the undoing of this great nation.

This unmerciful biased court is going to undo not just the Great Society of President Johnson but probably the New Deal itself. Social Security is at risk. Medicare is at risk. Medicaid is at risk. Roe v Wade, child labor protection, environmental protection, public education, even our voting rights are at risk.

The right wing of the country, especially the 1% has taken control. The last time this happened was in the late 1800’s and was known as the era of the “Fuller Court”. That system produced not only the biggest stock market crash in history but also World War I as well as World War II.

So now of more recent history, Clarence Thomas’s wife Virginia worked on the Bush campaign of 2000 through the Heritage Foundation owned and operated by the Koch Brothers. The Heritage Foundation functions as the intellectual lobbing cult of the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers, a serious conflict of interest. Virginia Thomas assured us it was not a conflict of interest even though George H W Bush had nominated her husband to the Supreme Court. So forget who she sleeps with at night. If Supreme Court Justice Thomas can’t admit or see the corruption in that, he’s not fit to be a Supreme Court Justice.

I believe we should have impeachment proceedings on this matter and on how it has led to Citizens United through the friendly ties of some of the Justices to the Heritage Foundation. They are corrupt and have to go. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of George W Bush to take and win the Presidential election because they stopped the vote count in Florida. Al Gore had more votes and he should of been president. But he conceded.

12,000 black males were thrown off the voter roles because they were labeled felons. This was the beginning of the ongoing Republican scam to take minorities off voters roll nationwide leading to the scam of Kris Kobach’s campaign against voter fraud. The only fraud though has been has been on the side of the Republicans. I believe it was this campaign of Republican voter suppression that led directly to the economic crash of 2008 and even cost the lives of about 500,000 Iraqis due to the invasion of Iraq.

So don’t tell me fair elections aren’t important. Supreme Court Justices have been given the power of God and the consecutive ones act like devils. When our children are working in the salt mines instead of earning an education in public schools, the American public may wake up. But I doubt it. For we are sheep. We won’t believe our country would do these evil acts to us because we believe in our authorities. We are proud of our heritage. We have yet to understand that those in power are not like us and that will be our undoing: our pride in a oligarchy that no longer cares about us.

So keep your vigilance because it is the work of patriot to leave the fools of the crowd and come out from among them and have a mind of your own. So America, judge rightly. No longer believe the lies of the corrupt but help plan a future with your brethren in the progressive movement for a better tomorrow. I pray.

Conviction of Six Turkish Journalists is Another Blow to Press

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 16:56

Six prominent former Turkish journalists and editors from Zaman newspaper, a media outlet recently taken over by the government, were given jail terms of between eight-and-a-half and ten-and-a-half years at a recent trial. According to Amnesty International’s Campaign Director for Europe Fotis Filippou, the case is a continuation of a deterioration of press freedom in the increasingly autocratic nation led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Filippou:

“Yet again, journalists have received criminal convictions under anti-terror laws with nothing more than their critical writings presented as evidence. These absurd convictions have sent a further shock through Turkey’s already devastated media landscape. They must be overturned immediately.

Whilst all were acquitted of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ and five were acquitted of all charges, the conviction of six journalists on terrorism charges without a shred of credible evidence against them shows that the systematic attempt to silence the media in Turkey continues.”

Zaman newspaper was accused of links to the Fethullah Gülen movement, a group the Turkish government accuses of backing an attempted coup in 2016. Fethullah Gülen left Turkey in 1998 and lives in effective exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, despite long running efforts by Turkey to have the United States send him back home for trial. The US has so far refused to allow his extradition even granting him a green card.

After the trial, the defence lawyer in the case, Ergin Cinmen, said in statements to independent online news site Ahval, “it was one of the cases we are seeing in Turkey where there is no evidence. The case file contains nothing other than their writings. After every coup (and coup attempt) in Turkey, the government behaves in the same way towards the opposition. We have seen it in every prior period, and we are seeing it now, too. But there were never trials opened against people based solely on their opinions.”

According information posted by Amnesty International – USA:

  • İhsan Dağı, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural Akman, Mehmet Özdemir and Orhan Kemal Cengiz were acquitted.
  • Ahmet Turan Alkan, Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç were sentenced to eight years and nine months.
  • Mustafa Ünal and Mümtazer Türköne were sentence to 10 years and six months.
  • İbrahim Karayeğen was sentenced to nine years.
  • The “Zaman trial” opened on 18 September 2017, 14 months after many of its defendants were imprisoned pending their prosecution. The court ruling came at the end of the fifth hearing in the case. Four of the 11 defendants have spent almost two years in pre-trial detention.
  • On 6 June, Amnesty International marked the one year anniversary of the arrest of the Honorary Chair of Amnesty Turkey Taner Kılıç.

Improving Zimbabwe Ballot Access is Key to Boost Vote Credibility

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 12:39

ZIMBABWE – Reuters Staff

HARARE (Reuters) – A European Union election observer mission on Friday urged Zimbabwe’s election agency to be more open about the printing and storage of ballot papers to enhance the credibility of a July 30 presidential and parliamentary vote.

The southern African nation will hold its first election since a November army coup ended Robert Mugabe’s near four-decades rule and paved the way for his longtime ally Emmerson Mnangagwa to become president.

For the first time since 2002, foreign observers are monitoring the vote. If they give it a seal of approval it will allow Harare to repair ties with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to access the large-scale funding it needs to rebuild the economy.

The run-up to the vote has been largely peaceful compared with past elections, but a dispute between the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) over ballots threatens to mar its credibility.

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said on Wednesday there would be no election without an agreement between ZEC and political parties on the printing, storage and distribution of ballot papers. The MDC has planned protests for next week.

Mark Stevens, EU Election Observer Mission (EUOM) deputy chief observer, told reporters that he was in favour of allowing political parties greater access to the printing of ballot papers.

“When such access is provided it can enhance confidence, it can enhance transparency and credibility,” he said.

The ZEC has said it is not bound by law to accede to the opposition’s demands on the ballot papers.

The EU last month deployed 44 observers around Zimbabwe, and more are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Zimbabwe has since 2000 held disputed elections, with the opposition and Western powers accusing the ruling ZANU-PF party of using violence and cheating to cling to power.

EUOM chief observer Elmar Brok said he hoped this year’s election would be a break with the past.

“These elections are a critical test of Zimbabwe’s reform process. In the context of past contentious elections, great efforts need to be made to ensure public credibility and confidence,” he said. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe Editing by Alexander Winning and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

The Era of Blockchain Elections is Coming

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 12:23

The recent scandal of Russia’s incursion into the democratic processes across Europe and in America requires a response that secures the will of the American public over the undiplomatic processes of Putin to promote the new Russian geopolitical philosophy. In an age where there democracy is increasingly under assault, blockchain technology has arrived with the promise of more security and an approach to democracy and the administration of democracy that is more efficient.

In effect, the use of blockchain allows us the chance to take out the middlemen in elections and in doing so to creates more freedom for individuals over governments, corporations, and other entities. While it is not a panacea approach and will not solve every problem, its increasing use in financial, administrative and in the election process provides a blueprint for a future where democracy is more ubiquitous than ever.

So, what is blockchain? Well, you may have heard of bitcoin. Bitcoin was touted as the currency of the future, which still remains to be seen. Blockchain is the technology behind Bitcoin and other digital currencies. It is a secure way to create ‘blocks’ which link to old-fashioned currency. Really, it’s just an advanced ledger that connects two individuals to provide a secure way to communicate, whether that’s by transactions or in other respects.

The security of blockchain is really its greatest asset and why it may be essential to the security of elections in the United States and beyond. While America is far away from adapting blockchain for the administrative processes of government, the first adaptation may very well come in the form of securing an election. The process of creating a ledger where individuals vote by phone or a secure transactional process may be the first step towards securing the future of elections.

Democracy is built on a continuing process of designing increasingly free and fair elections and responding to undemocratic impediment through promotion of the power of democratic ideals in the face of irrational state actors. America cannot continue to be a democracy until it takes steps to protect its vote and denies the promotion of authoritarianism by irrational state actors trying to influence American elections. To both promote democracy and secure our elections from whoever wishes to influence America’s politics, blockchain elections may be the answer we’ve been looking for.

The Failure to Punish Bush For Lies About Iraq Has Damned Us

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 20:01
From the United States Department of Defense

Colin Powell sold the bill of goods to the United Nations regarding weapons of mass destruction and we, Americans,  subsequently have not held George W. Bush and his administration to account. We basically have set precedents in this country that would rival Nazi Germany. At least the Germans had a resistance, his generals tried to remove Hitler from power.

Part of the problem is we feel we can’t prosecute or correct the Commander in Chief unless they are Democrats like President Bill Clinton, a man demonized by the Republicans during his impeachment. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was one of the biggest proponents of this action, even though he’s been married three times. Newt left his first wife while she was dying of cancer in the hospital and was actually having an affair on wife number two during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Speaker Bob Livingston of Louisiana who replaced Gingrich was having an affair on his wife also, stepping down due to those accusations. The job ultimately went to Dennis Hastert of Illinois who was soon accused of molesting at least four teenage boys.

I think one of the reasons that we haven’t successfully prosecuted Republican Presidents stems from President Gerald Ford’s pardoning of President Nixon. That pardon has led to a culture of impunity. Now America can’t even agree that the Iraq War was wrong and unjust. And we have the Patriot Act.

We have been acting like sheep and have been going on like normal while participating in mass murder through crimes of omission. We knew the war was wrong but did nothing about it – the same old line of “I was just following orders” that the Nazis used at the Nuremberg Trials.

While our family and friends have been soldiers and we rightly support them, because many of America’s youth may have unknowingly joined the military for love of country, it is America’s conscience that should be wrestling with good and evil. But you and I give ourselves only half truths while the government launches unjust wars.

We have not been good stewards of this democracy and I think our complacency is setting the stage for a dictatorship, if not now, sometime. I believe the business community supports that type of government, anything that is socialist , unionist, or for the good of the people is typically labeled anti-American or communist by Wall Street.

Is this ok with you? It’s not with me. I think to move forward and be better citizens of the world we need to move backwards by admitting guilt and confessing to our crimes. We don’t play well with other people or even work together for the common good. Think the Paris Accord, the G7 or the United Nations. We do our own thing to the destruction of our consciences, our relationships and our planet.

VIDEO: How Election Officials Can Manage Ranked Choice Voting

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 17:52

A nationwide battle to push for use of ranked choice voting is underway and the first shots have already been let loose. Last month, the first state system was fully authorized after voters in Maine, for the second time, backed instituting ranked choice voting statewide. That first-in-the-nation voting law has changed the national debate. But for America’s army of local, state and federal election workers, election judges, election clerk, and poll workers, what will a switch to a new system mean?

At the end of this article, you can watch a video published on YouTube by the Washington State Association of County Auditors from a recent conference held in Davenport, Washington. The June 14th presentation is meant to teach you about the challenges and solutions faced during the administration of ranked choice voting in state and local settings. According to Democracy Chronicles’ friends at at the nonpartisan nonprofit FairVote, an organization with its headquarters in Takoma Park, Maryland:

Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact. With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. When used as an “instant runoff” to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.

The presentation includes a discussion with election experts Chris Hughes and Karen Brinson Bell, PMP. Bell is an Elections Administration and Ranked Choice Voting Project Consultant based out of Charleston, South Carolina and working with the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center. According to Bell’s LinkedIn Account, she is:

…a multifaceted leader and certified project manager with more than 11 years of experience implementing and administering voter registration processes and voting equipment systems for federal, state, county, and municipal elections. More than twenty years of professional experience in departmental and regional project management, training development and facilitation, public relations, event planning, and sales in industries including elections, non-profit, and real estate.

On the other hand, Chris Hughes is a Staff Attorney at FairVote where he:

…focuses on ranked choice voting at the local and state levels, with an eye towards national implementation. He has studied and worked on voting rights, electoral reform, and civil rights, working for structural reforms to electoral systems and litigation to enforce voting and other civil rights.

Chris graduated with a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Miami in May 2012 and received his J.D. from New York University School of Law in 2015. He interned at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the ACLU Voting Rights Project while in law school. Chris also served as an Executive Articles Editor on NYU’s Annual Survey of American Law and represented two refugee clients through the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) while in law school.

The video is about 60 minutes. Take a look:

Thousands in Colombia Protest to Call for End to Activist Killings

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 17:08

VOA – ENGLISH

Thousands of Colombians gathered in cities across the country Friday night to demand an end to a wave of activist killings that threatens to undermine a fragile peace process.

Demonstrators holding candles filled Bogota’s main Plaza Bolivar to draw attention to the 311 leftists and human rights defenders that authorities say have been killed since 2016, the year the government signed a landmark peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The gatherings in almost 50 cities came a little more than two weeks after Ivan Duque was elected Colombia’s president, and the conservative politician’s pledge to roll back parts of the accord was on many protesters’ minds.

“A lot of us are worried that with the change of government the progress in terms of human rights and the peace deal is at risk,” Chris Duarte said as she collected handwritten letters of support that she intends to deliver to activists in high-risk rural areas where the vast majority of the killings have taken place.

A bloody week

The protests were organized over social media following an especially bloody week in which at least four activists were slain, including a campaign worker for Gustavo Petro, Duque’s leftist rival in the polarizing presidential race.

Ana Maria Cortes died Tuesday when an unidentified gunman opened fire on her at a coffee shop just a few steps from a police station in the western town of Caceres.

Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas further alarmed many people by claiming, without offering any evidence, that Cortes might have been linked to Colombia’s biggest drug-trafficking organization.

“This is a sad mistake,” Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, said of Villegas’ comments.

He said that instead of publishing information on victims, authorities should focus on the killers and those who fund and direct them.

Petro said that Cortes had denounced the town’s mayor for corruption and that she and other campaign workers were targeted with insults and threats by the local police chief.

Homicides down

While homicides in Colombia fell to the lowest level in four decades in 2017, activists tied to causes such as peasant land rights and the environment are increasingly under threat, especially in remote areas where drug-trafficking gangs and dissident rebel groups are operating.

Many of those gathered Friday said they feared a return to the campaign of extermination that followed a previous attempt at peace with the FARC in the 1980s. Thousands of former guerrillas, communist militants and trade unionists were gunned down by paramilitary death squads, sometimes in collaboration with state security forces.

Outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos, the architect of the peace deal, has boosted resources to investigate the killings and punish those responsible. The chief prosecutor’s office says it has identified the perpetrators in half of the 178 slayings of social leaders that it has registered since 2016 and made 184 arrests.

1 activist killed every 3 days

But the killings continue, on average one every three days, according to the government’s top human rights official.

Duque joined Santos and the United Nations in condemning the killings.

“I don’t accept that any Colombian undergo threats because of their political thinking, race or personal beliefs,” the president-elect said from Spain. “I want a country where the law shines and all Colombians feel protected.”

Jonathan Melo, a government employee, said he is tired of politicians’ promises and worries the opportunity to end decades of civil conflict could be squandered, given that some of Duque’s allies have vowed to tear the peace accord to shreds.

“It’s been a year and a half since authorities started warning about this problem,” Melo said at a demonstration in Bogota’s wealthier north, “and so far the killings are still taking place.”

London Mayor Says Trump Baby Blimp Protest Can Fly

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:24
link

VOA – ENGLISH

The mayor of London has approved a protester’s request to fly a blimp depicting Donald Trump as an angry, orange diaper-wearing baby during the U.S. president’s visit to the British capital next week.

The 6-meter tall inflatable will fly over Parliament between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. local time on July 13 during a scheduled protest.

“The Mayor supports the right to peaceful protest and understands that this can take many different forms,” Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office said Thursday.

Leo Murray, the activist behind the blimp dubbed Trump Baby said the mayor’s office originally did not approve of the blimp but “following a huge groundswell of public support for our plan, it looks like City Hall has rediscovered its sense of humor.”

Murray used an online crowdfunding site to raise more than $20,000 asking donors to “make our six-meter high orange, inflatable baby with a malevolent face and tiny hands fly over central London during Trump’s U.K. visit.”

During the three-day visit, Trump will meet with the Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Theresa May.

Effort to Extend Current South Sudan President’s Term Condemned

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:19

VOA – ENGLISH

The United States on Thursday condemned a bill proposed by South Sudan’s government that would extend President Salva Kiir’s term for three years.

“The draft bill undermines ongoing peace talks with opposition groups and civil society,” said a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Backed by the United States, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

Fighting broke out two years later over a political disagreement between Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar. Tens of thousands of people have since been killed and over three million forced to flee their homes.

Kiir and Machar met last week and agreed on a new peace deal. It included a cease-fire, which took effect on Saturday. It was violated that day when government and rebel forces attacked each other’s positions.

A spokesperson for the rebel group, SPLM-IO, said on Tuesday that the government was proposing an “illegal procedure” in attempting to extend Kiir’s presidential term.

The proposed bill would amend South Sudan’s constitution to extend Kiir’s presidency through 2021, lawmakers told Reuters on Tuesday.

The State Department official said that South Sudan should work quickly to reach a peace agreement that leads to free and fair elections.

The Time is Now For a Wakeup Call to Patriotic Republican Voters

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:04

The actions of this administration are bad and wrong, this is how totalitarian regimes operate not democratically elected governments. Come November, please join me and the majority of Americans to take our country back from those who don’t believe in our constitutional government, nor We the People.

This administration and its cronies do not believe in the United States of America, they believe We the People and a healthy and sustainable environment are an inconvenience to their personal profits and greed. They would pass on the burden and suffering of their short term decisions on the rest of us, and generations as yet unborn.

Their version of making America great is exploitation pure and simple. If you believe in conservative and Republican ideology and policies, it is time to recognize that they have sold us all a false bill of goods under the guise of conservatism and Republican beliefs. They are usurpers, not saviors of this country.

They are making America great for a very small group, and leaving the costs and consequences to everyone else. This is oligarchy, not republican democracy.

This cult of personality, leading us into treacherous waters, in so many areas, needs a course correction. The decisions of the administration are bad for our present, our future, and the people who live in this country and in our world.

VIDEO: Towards a New York City instant runoff voting system

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 18:13

Activists have launched a campaign aimed at fixing New York City elections by  instituting an instant runoff voting system and dumping plurality for good. The video below explains the current status of the campaign. You can show your support by signing a petition organized by Fairvote, a nonpartisan proponent of electoral reforms that has been an ally of Democracy Chronicles since we were founded in 2011. Supporters of New York City Instant Runoff Voting are also encouraged to post a public comment to the NYC Charter Revision Commission as part of the campaign.

So does New York support Instant Runoff Voting? Should it? Add your comments below. Some more information was provided by Fairvote:

IRV allows voters to rank candidates for office in order of preference, rather than only voting for one candidate. If a candidate earns more than half of voters’ first choice, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who selected that candidate have their vote instantly go to their next choice. This process continues until one candidate emerges with a majority of the vote. This “instant” runoff would replace the runoff elections currently held for offices where no candidate receives 40% of the vote. These runoffs cost the City millions of dollars and consistently see abysmal voter turnout. Here are the reasons IRV would improve democracy in New York City:

  • Eliminates the need for costly, low-turnout runoff elections.
  • Increases voter participation and turnout.
  • Uphold representatives outcomes better than our current voting system.
  • Ensures military voters and voters with disabilities are able to fully participate in elections.
  • Enhances voter expression
  • Leads to more diverse candidates.
  • Discourages negative campaigning and promote inclusion.

The video is about 3 minutes. Take a look:

After Mugabe, How Free and Fair Will Zimbabwe’s Vote Be?

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 18:02

From Voice of America Zimbabwe

It will be a first for Zimbabwe’s voters: The name of Robert Mugabe won’t be on the ballot when elections are held on July 30. But the military-backed system that kept the former leader in power for decades, and then pushed him out, is still in control.

That is the conundrum facing a southern African country anxious to shed its image as an international pariah, and to draw the foreign aid and investment needed for an economic revival. The government promises a free and fair vote and the military, whose 2017 takeover led to Mugabe’s resignation, says it won’t stray from the barracks.

Some Zimbabweans, though, wonder how much things have really changed.

They ask whether a political establishment accused of vote-rigging and state-sponsored violence over a generation would accept an election outcome— that is, an opposition victory— that might damage its interests or even expose it to prosecution for alleged human rights abuses. The military’s economic interests include the alleged involvement of security forces in Zimbabwe’s diamond-mining sector, which Mugabe himself once said had been plundered of billions of dollars in revenue.

Then there is the uneasy legacy of the military’s November takeover. It sent euphoric Zimbabweans into the streets to celebrate and was later described as a coup by Mugabe, who quit as impeachment proceedings loomed in parliament. The military intervention was mostly peaceful and tacitly supported by other countries, but critics compared it to letting a genie out of the bottle: Once the military steps brazenly into politics, why wouldn’t it do so again?

“Do you believe that people would risk their lives to carry out a coup, only to hand over power six months later to some unknown person?” Dewa Mavhinga, regional director for Human Rights Watch, asked at a recent forum on Zimbabwe in Johannesburg.

In this scenario, the “unknown person” would be Nelson Chamisa, the new leader of the MDC opposition party whose members were brutalized by ruling ZANU-PF party supporters during violent, fraud-tainted elections in 2008.

The establishment’s man is President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former vice president and Mugabe ally who rewarded the military’s support with key Cabinet positions for former generals. Mnangagwa, who survived a deadly grenade attack at a campaign rally on June 23, says this election won’t be like those under the 94-year-old Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe since independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Some things are very different. A record 23 presidential candidates and 128 political parties will participate; there are more than five million registered voters. Western monitors, banned during the Mugabe era, are invited; concerned about military involvement, some are urging senior officers to pledge loyalty now to the election winner, regardless of who it is.

The opposition has held rallies without interference from a police force once quick to break up gatherings of government opponents.

But the idea of accountability for past crimes by suspected state agents has no traction under Mnangagwa, himself linked to the killings of thousands of people in the Matabeleland opposition area in the 1980s. And on Monday, the MDC’s chief election agent, Jameson Timba, said the state election commission had failed to provide an accurate voters’ roll and was trying to manipulate the vote.

“We are sure Zimbabweans will not be railroaded into a sham election,” Timba said.

Zimbabweans don’t need to worry about the military, said Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who was military commander in November when soldiers and tanks deployed in Harare, the capital. The military intervened to back a ruling party faction loyal to Mnangagwa, who had been fired as Mugabe’s deputy, in a feud with a group associated with Mugabe’s politically ambitious wife, Grace.

“There will not be a recurrence, let me assure you,” Chiwenga said last week, according to Zimbabwe’s NewsDay newspaper. “We had created a situation which was bad for ourselves and that will not happen again.”

The military on Wednesday told reporters it would have no direct role in the election, except for helping police with law and order and helping the election commission with transport logistics, which could prove contentious with the opposition.

The military also denied reports that it has deployed soldiers to campaign for the ruling party.

For many Zimbabweans, the grenade attack on Mnangagwa’s campaign rally in Bulawayo last month highlights the country’s political tensions.

The blast killed two security agents and injured dozens of other people, including high-ranking officials, in what the government said was an attempt to assassinate Mnangagwa. Unscathed, the president said the election would proceed as planned and blamed the ruling party faction linked to Grace Mugabe, who is no longer considered a political player.

Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and MDC supporter, said the attack reflected a tendency in Zimbabwe to settle political scores through extra-constitutional means. The same was true for the military takeover in November— an act that never got the scrutiny it deserved, he said.

“We sank our heads in the sand,” Biti said last week in Johannesburg. “We didn’t ask the tough questions.”

How Endemic Kenyan Corruption Depletes State Coffers

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 16:44

VOA – ENGLISH

Kenya’s government is failing to pay many of its contractors on time, as corruption drains funds for legitimate projects from state coffers, suppliers and officials say.

The late payments are in turn hitting the financial sector, where non-performing loans have jumped this year to their highest level in more than a decade.

The alleged link between corruption and non-payment of government invoices was made explicit in May, when dozens of officials and business people were charged with involvement in the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds.

They are accused of using doctored invoices to bill fake suppliers.

Asked about the difficulties that contractors were facing, Finance Minister Henry Rotich admitted that late payments by the state were an issue.

“This is a problem which we are obviously addressing. It is important that we ensure there is prompt payment both at national government and at the county government,” he told Reuters.

The government had drawn up new regulations requiring payments be made within 60 days of goods or services being supplied, he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to stamp out graft when he was first elected in 2013, but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials and ministers.

Former anti-graft chief Philip Kinisu told Reuters in 2016 that Kenya was losing a third of its state budget to corruption every year. The government denied the figure.

Too much trouble?

Many Kenyan small and medium-sized businesses bid for government contracts because the state is the biggest spender in the country.

But some have decided that the financial pain that comes with years-late payments on everything from PR campaigns to supplies of construction materials is too much to bear.

Five business people who have contracts with the government say they and others have ended up blacklisted by credit reference bureaux after falling behind on loan repayments or defaulting.

“No bank wants to finance you any more especially if you have a contract from the government,” said one small business owner who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A second supplier said: “You get disrupted in the middle of (the contract) …either because you are not speaking to the right people, making commitments to the right people, or your payments may just be delayed.”

George Muiruri, managing director of Leakey’s auctioneers, says repossessions among government suppliers had increased. “They are financially stuck,” he said, adding he was dealing with at least one such case every day.

Central bank governor Patrick Njoroge said in late May that delayed payments to suppliers, the bulk contracted by the government, made up 10 percent of the total volume of bad loans.

Such loans stood at 12.4 percent of the total in April, the highest level in more than a decade.

The central bank’s monetary policy committee cut its benchmark lending rate by 50 basis points in March, saying economic growth was well below its potential.

Outlining How to Fix Ghana’s Right to Information Law

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 15:12

From the Centre for Law and Democracy:

Eight international organisations that promote respect for the right to information released a Joint Statement today calling on the Ghanaian authorities to review the Right to Information Bill, 2018, which is currently before parliament. The Statement outlines five key areas where the Bill fails to meet international standards.

“We very much welcome the fact that Ghana is finally moving forward with this important piece of legislation,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, the current version of the Bill needs to be improved so that it can provide a strong foundation for fighting corruption and promoting good governance and robust democratic participation for the people of Ghana.”

In addition to the Centre for Law and Democracy, the seven other signatories to the Joint Statemetn are Access Info Europe, Africa Freedom of Information Centre, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria, International School for Transparency and Media Rights Agenda.

The five areas addressed in the Joint Statement are Exceptions, Scope and Requesting Procedures, Appeals, The Duty to Publish (Proactive Disclosure) and Sanctions, Offences and Promotional Measures. For each issue, the Joint Statement highlights the key amendments that are needed to bring the Bill into line with better practice.

On 12 June 2018, CLD released a detailed analysis of the Bill along with an assessment of it based on the RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org). The Bill scored 89 points out of a possible maximum of 150, which would place Ghana in 49th place globally out of the 111 countries currently on the Rating.

The Joint Statement is available at: Joint Statement on Ghana’s Right to Information Bill.

Ethiopian Prison Officials Fired Amid Investigation of Torture Claims

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 13:02

VOA – ENGLISH

Ethiopia’s government has fired five prison officials as it confronts allegations of torture and other abuses of inmates as part of a wave of reforms. Among those fired is the federal prison chief who until recently defended the treatment of inmates as “fair.”

The firings came ahead of a new Human Rights Watch report released Thursday that documents widespread arbitrary detention, torture, rape and humiliation over several years in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region. It urges new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to investigate the “horrific” situation.

Abiy has admitted that security forces have tortured people but has yet to “tackle Ethiopia’s culture of impunity and ensure accountability,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Ethiopian government officials were not immediately available for comment. State television in recent days has broadcast interviews with inmates who alleged rights violations against them.

“I was kept in solitary confinement in complete darkness for most of my detention,” one former prisoner who was held for three years told Human Rights Watch. “I was only taken out at night for torture. They did many things to me— they electrocuted my testicles, they tied wire around them and they put a plastic bag with chili powder over my head. I often had a gag tied in my mouth so I wouldn’t scream too much.”

The Human Rights Watch report says the abuses occurred in a prison called Jail Ogaden and that the prison’s security forces, including the Somali region’s notorious paramilitary force, the Liyu police, are implicated. The unit reports to the Somali region president, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, the report says, urging regional leaders to hold security forces accountable.

While the report focuses on a single region, Human Rights Watch said torture is a serious problem throughout Ethiopia and it regularly receives allegations of abusive interrogations countrywide. The report describes a brutal pattern of abuses with little access to medical care, family, lawyers or even food.

Most of the detainees were suspected of having links to the armed Ogaden National Liberation Front, one of three armed groups that were removed from Ethiopia’s terror list this week.

Controversial Moscow Museum Featuring Soviet History in Miniature

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:59

VOA – ENGLISH

Moscow’s most famous landmarks — Red Square, the Kremlin, and the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral — are swarmed with World Cup fans doing a bit of sightseeing in between matches. Just upriver, more adventurous tourists will find an anonymous-looking apartment block whose history sheds light on the Soviet Union’s darkest days.

The House of the Embankment embodies the history of revolution and dictatorship in miniature. It lies just upstream from the Kremlin and was completed in 1931 to house the Soviet Union’s governing elite.

“These people living here were the so-called ‘old Bolsheviks’ [revolutionaries]. And they were people close to each other — in their spirit and ideology — as well as their fate,” said Olga Trifonova, who runs the House of the Embankment museum, inside one of the block’s roughly 500 apartments.

The museum displays some of the luxurious fittings and furniture the first residents enjoyed. The block offered in-house theaters and cafeterias, libraries and sports halls.

Soon, however, the ostentatious lifestyles of the residents began to look at odds with the ideals of the revolution.

In the mid-1930s, Soviet leader Josef Stalin began the “Great Purge” to rid the country of those deemed enemies of the working class. A million people were imprisoned and 700,000 executed. The residents of the House of the Embankment — once the elite of the revolution — were among the first in line. Arrests and disappearances created a crushing paranoia.

“The residents of the house stopped paying visits to each other. One stopped having confidence in other people,” Trifonova said.

During the 1930s, 800 of the residents were arrested. Close to half of them were executed.

Olga Trifonova’s late husband, Yuri, grew up in the House of the Embankment. His father was arrested during the purges in June 1937 and never seen again. His mother was sent to a Gulag prison in Kazakhstan. In 1976, Yuri Trifonov wrote a best-selling book about his memories, which gave the apartment block its name. He died in 1981.

“This is a story about the nature of fear. How fear mutilates a human for his entire life,” Trifonova said.

Memories of that fear appear to be fading. An opinion poll last year crowned Stalin as Russia’s most outstanding historical figure.

But the grim history of the House of the Embankment is not forgotten, according to Dmitry Taganov of real estate firm INCOM, which is selling some of the apartments on the block.

“Many buyers are scared off by the gloomy background of this House. Many people undoubtedly know about that, even the ones belonging to the younger generation.”

A younger generation that is forming its own historical image of Stalin and the legacy of Communism.

On the Use of White House Twitter Accounts Against Democrats

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:55

VOA – ENGLISH

The White House is using its official Twitter handle to target Democratic lawmakers who have criticized President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, drawing complaints that government resources are being used to undercut potential 2020 presidential rivals.

The White House Twitter handle, which has more than 17.3 million followers, falsely accused California Senator Kamala Harris on Monday of “supporting the animals of MS-13,” a violent gang that the president has sought to eradicate.

In a separate tweet, the White House account erroneously asserted Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was “supporting criminals moving weapons, drugs, and victims” across the border.

Watchdog groups said the use of the Twitter handle didn’t appear to violate any government laws but represented a politicization of the social media accounts at a time when Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a vigorous debate over the nation’s immigration laws and the separation of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Responding on Twitter, Harris pointed to her work as a prosecutor who “went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations. That’s being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers.” Warren assailed Trump’s immigration policies during a rally last Saturday, saying Trump seemed to think “the only way to have immigration rules is to rip parents from their families, is to treat rape victims and refugees like terrorists and to put children in cages. This is ugly. This is wrong.”

The White House Twitter account is separate from Trump’s personal account, which has more than 53 million followers and is used daily by the president. The White House account is similar to Trump’s official presidential account, @POTUS, and tweets from the three accounts are preserved under the Presidential Records Act.

In separate tweets Tuesday, the @WhiteHouse account tweeted at Democratic Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, accusing him of supporting human smuggling, and Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, claiming he was protecting drug smugglers. The two lawmakers recently proposed legislation to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Pocan responded that if Trump “truly cared about victims of human trafficking, he would put an end to his ongoing assault on immigrants.” Blumenauer said in a statement, “Before tweeting, they should reunite the families they needlessly tore apart. Even people at ICE understand significant changes need to be made.”

The White House did not immediately respond to the lawmakers, but officials pointed to a June 2015 tweet issued by the White House account during President Barack Obama’s second term. The tweet was directed against the Twitter handle of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, taking issue with his characterization of the “Obamacare” law as a broken promise.

Government ethics experts said the White House tweets did not appear to be violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. “It may be a violation of ethical norms or civility, but not the Hatch Act,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.