Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Evidence about Canada/Colombia Relations

Medellin Antioquia, Colombia (Photo credit: jduquetr)

Below the FDA shares evidence of questionable conduct by Canadian mining companies in Colombia including the Canadian federal government's complicity by ignoring the conduct. Also, below is a link to a FDA podcast which discusses Canada/Colombia relations and Canadian companies with operations in Colombia. The FDA requested, with follow-up email, an interview from Conservative MP Devinder Shory who is involved in international trade for the federal government, but he has ignored the interview request. Mr. Stephen Garvey, FDA Executive Director, met Mr. Shory in July/2012, and at that time, Mr. Shory expressed interest in the interview stating that he believed in expressing his beliefs and that there is a lot hearsay surrounding Colombia. In addition, the Canadian Fair Trade Association has so far ignored the FDA's request for interview.


Idarraga and Ramirez Castigate Canadian Mining Companies
By Asad Ismi

Joining in the release of my report, "Profiting from Repression: Canadian Investment in Trade with Colombia, on May 3 in Ottawa was the Colombian Network Against Large-Scale Transnational Mining (RECLAME), a coalition of 50 rights and environmental organizations in Colombia.

I was greatly honoured RECLAME’s participation. The coalition was represented by Andres Idarraga, who was on a speaking tour of several Canadian cities. Idarraga is a labour organizer who works with the National Union Institute in Colombia.

"It's a very valuable and very good report that explains the true role of Canadian corporations in Colombia," Idarraga told me, commenting on "Profiting from Repression". “It also explains well the role of the Canadian government, whose policy in Colombia during the last 15 years has come close to criminal complicity because it has hidden the injustice and impunity in the country. Canadian corporations in Colombia are engaged in criminal behaviour. It is criminal that a Canadian company such as Cosigo Resources insists on undertaking exploitation of minerals in a territory that is protected from such activity in Colombia by national and international legislation, while knowing about such legal protection.

“Cosigo has gold mining exploitation rights over more than 9,300 hectares of territory in the Colombian Amazon. We must also note the link between the militarization of certain areas and the arrival of mining companies. We have to really make this part of the discussion about Canadian corporations in Colombia because the mining companies are generating violence in Colombia [there are 26 Canadian mining companies in Colombia, more than from any other country].

“Canadian mining companies generating violence in Colombia include Cosigo Resources, which did so in the north of Cauca department [province]; and Gran Colombia Gold Corp., which did so in the north of Narino department and in the town of Marmato in Caldas department. Cosigo Resources is linked to armed groups, and the communities living in the areas they operate in, say so. This link is also shown by the fact that the start of Cosigo's mining activity has been accompanied by the militarization of the areas the company was entering. This militarization included death threats to the leaders of the community in the mining area, to people who opposed large-scale mining. These death threats were made by paramilitaries known as the "Black Eagles" and "The Rastrojos" [Human Rights Watch calls paramilitaries 'the sixth division' of the Colombian army]. The facts say that there is a relationship between Cosigo Resources and the paramilitaries. The real facts and events that happen do prove this.

"Regarding the resistance of the Colombian people against Canadian mining companies, communities in Colombia know that only by working together will they be able to stop the activities of such companies. It is to facilitate such cooperation that RECLAME exists. RECLAME unites indigenous people, environmentalists, employees of the mining companies, farmers and peasants and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These groups are joined in the effort to defend the people's right to territory through public actions, conferences and news publications, all of which highlight the impacts of the mining companies. In October 2011, 15,000 Colombians assembled in the People's Congress, a conference held to oppose large-scale mining.

“RECLAME aims to not only to remove Canadian mining companies from Colombia, but also all transnational mining corporations. Mining capital in Colombia is mainly Canadian. Foreign mining investment in Colombia is one of the major sources of international finance capital for the country, and our struggle against the mining industry is also a struggle against capitalism.

Canadians can help us in this struggle by applying public pressure to ensure that their taxes do not finance violence in Colombia.”


Francisco Ramirez Cuellar is a prominent labour leader in Colombia and former president of the Colombian Mineworkers Union. State-linked death squads in Colombia have tried to kill Ramirez seven times. I talked to him in May when he visited Toronto soon after the release of my report.

"It is an excellent report,” Ramirez told me, “and very important at this moment because it shows that what the Canadian and Colombian governments say about the situation in Colombia is not true. We are preparing lawsuits against two Canadian companies in Colombia: the oil company Pacific Rubiales and the mining corporation Greystar [now called Eco Oro Minerals]. We ask the Canadian people to prevent their pension funds from investing in Canadian companies active in Colombia. We also call for Canadian solidarity with the indigenous people and Afro-Colombian people in Colombia because Canadian companies are destroying entire such communities and fomenting genocide."


Human Rights Violations in Colombia Lead to the Tabling of Two Parliamentary Motions
2011 03 24

OTTAWA - The implementation of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Deal, approved by Parliament last June, has led to the tabling of two Motions in the House of Commons and at the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) by NDP Critic on International Trade, Peter Julian MP (Burnaby-New Westminster).

The Private Member’s Motions reflect growing concerns over increasing levels of human rights violations which have been taking place in Colombia since the trade agreement was signed by this government in June. The killings of trade unionists and teachers, forced displacements, human rights violations against Afro-Colombians and Colombian First Nations have been ongoing in Colombia, with impunity.

“Many believe Canada made a huge mistake in implementing a free trade agreement with Colombia,” said Peter Julian. “The signing of this trade agreement is considered by the Colombian regime and current President Santos as a blank cheque to further human rights abuses” continued Julian. “This government’s reckless actions, has led us to a situation where, in a sense, Canada is now complicit in these ongoing violations with its rubber stamp approval of the Santos administration – and Canadians don’t approve.”

The Motions tabled will be considered next week if Parliament continues to stand. If the Conservative government falls due to a non-confidence motion, these motions will be re-tabled when Parliament resumes after the election.


M-675 — March 24, 2011 — Mr. Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster) — That, in the opinion of the House, the growing human rights abuses in Colombia are troubling, namely (i) the killing of 52 trade unionists in 2010, (ii) the murder of three teachers in 2011, (iii) the magnitude of forced displacements at the hands of paramilitaries, military and secret police, which have risen to worldwide record levels, (iv) the increase in violence and forced displacement against Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations in rural areas, (v) the forced detention of political prisoner Liliany Obando and others and, therefore, the House condemns the Colombian government for not keeping its commitment to guarantee the safety of community leaders, teachers and trade union activists.


The Federal government is not bound to act on this motion. The FDA has no evidence which shows that the federal government has acted on this motion by condemning the Colombian government or investigating the conduct of Canadian companies with operations in Colombia.

FDA Podcast: Asad Ismi Interview on Canada/Colombia Relations

Monday, July 30, 2012

Partisan Politics and the U.S. Voter ID Law Saga

Pennsylvania Voter ID information

The emergence of U.S. Voter ID laws across the United States has turned into a partisan battle. Republicans are behind the Voter ID laws (and their voting base is least impacted by them), and Democrats are contesting the laws (and their voting base is most impacted by them). Voter ID is essential for a well-functioning democracy in order to prevent illegal and non-eligible voters from casting ballots. Yet, it is unclear why the voter ID, in some states like Texas, has to be state ID only. However, the requirement for state ID only to vote does not in-of-itself prove disenfranchisement. Nor does the requirement that voters without the ID travel to state offices to attain the ID. Hopefully, the U.S. courts determining the outcome of these laws will allow objectivity and sound legal principles to prevail.


Example of partisan battle:

Democratic election inspector from Pennsylvania says he will not enforce the Voter ID laws:

Delco election official vows to defy ID law
By Mari A. Schaefer and Julie Zauzmer, Inquirer Staff Writers

Even as the fate of Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law plays out in a Harrisburg courtroom, an election official in Delaware County is vowing not to enforce it.

Christopher L. Broach, a Democratic inspector of elections in the tiny borough of Colwyn, said he would not ask voters to prove who they are on Election Day.

"To ask me to enforce something that violates civil rights is ludicrous and absolutely something I am not willing to do," Broach said Thursday in an interview.

An IT consultant, Broach was elected inspector of elections but has recently acted as judge of elections to fill a vacancy. He called the law a ploy by the Republican-controlled legislature, "a wholly unethical decision that violated civil rights for the sake of getting Mitt Romney elected."

Though Broach is the only official publicly taking such a stance, Philadelphia's nonpartisan Committee of Seventy received a call from a Pittsburgh poll worker saying he, too, plans not to demand photo ID from voters he knows. The law has set off defiant talk among voters as well, with a few vowing to vote without the required forms of photo ID.

"If I get turned away from the polling place," said Democrat Jean Yetter, 65, of East Stroudsburg, "I will never vote again."

The talk isn't all from Democrats. In Radnor Township, Jane Golas, a Republican inspector of elections, said she wondered how she could ask anyone for identification when she will have to count ballots of absentee voters who are not held to the same standards.

"This is a move by people to suppress the vote in the city of Philadelphia," Golas said. "We never had an issue with people coming in to fraudulently vote."

Marcel L. Groen, the longtime leader of Montgomery County Democrats, said in an e-mail, "I have heard from some voters that they will not provide ID when requested. It is not widespread at this point.

"More importantly, a number of election officials indicated that in the primary, many people were upset about showing ID. Then, it was only optional. There are concerns about long lines and frayed tempers."


In another example, Democrat and N.Y. Columnist, Charles Blow says that the Voter ID laws cause disenfranchisement:

Democrat Rant or Cry?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Democrat Rant or Rally Cry?

Charles M. Blow (N.Y. Times Columnist)
In this opinion piece below, Charles Blow argues that American federal democracy is being overrun by Republican money interests through unlimited contributions to Super PACs and unlimited expenditures by these PACs. In addition, Blow argues that American democracy is being undermined by systematic disenfranchisement of minority voters. Blow's arguments simply do not stand.

Blow admits that he is concerned by the lack of enthusiasm by Democrats for Obama's re-election bid, and he blames the lack of enthusiasm on Obama being an incumbent. Could Democrats and other Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 be disillusioned with Obama, especially considering that he campaigned on "change" which never really manifested itself?

In the 2008 Election, the Democrats out spent the Republicans $800 million to $333 million. Democrats have Super PACs just like the Republicans, and they have their wealthy donors of Super PACs. The oligopoly (control of American society including the U.S. government) Blow refers to applies as much to the Democrats as the Republicans.

Blow's contention that the Republicans are suppressing Democrat votes through legal restrictions on voting is questionable. The Voter ID laws are necessary to ensure the integrity of the vote; every democracy has some form of ID process to identify voters and prevent illegal and non-eligible voters from voting. In addition, the U.S. Voter ID laws only apply to about 10 percent of the voting population, and in many instances the voter ID is free. All voters have to do is travel to state offices and get the ID. This is a far cry from disenfranchisement. As mentioned previously, if the Democrats are so concerned about voter travel to the state offices, then they should offer travel to and from. The FDA acknowledges that it is unclear why the ID has to be state ID only; although that in and of itself does not result in disenfranchisement.

The issues Blow refers to appear to be much deeper and apply as much to the Democratic Party as the Republican Party. Systematic issues.


Where's the Outrage?
By CHARLES M. BLOW

Are too many Democratic voters sleepwalking away from our democracy this election cycle, not nearly outraged enough about Big Money’s undue influence and Republican state legislatures changing the voting rules?

It seems so.

A Gallup poll released this week found that: “Democrats are significantly less likely now (39 percent) than they were in the summers of 2004 and 2008 to say they are ‘more enthusiastic about voting than usual’ in the coming presidential election.” Republicans are more enthusiastic than they were before the last election.

Some of that may be the effect of having a Democratic president in office; it’s sometimes easier to marshal anger against an incumbent than excitement for him. Whatever the reason, this lack of enthusiasm at this critical juncture in the election is disturbing for Democrats.

First, there’s the specter of the oligarchy lingering over this election, which disproportionately benefits Republicans. According to a report by Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, “So far this year, 26 billionaires have donated more than $61 million to super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s only what has been publicly disclosed.” That didn’t include “about $100 million that Sheldon Adelson has said that he is willing to spend to defeat President Obama; or the $400 million that the Koch brothers have pledged to spend during the 2012 election season.”

During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday,Sanders put it this way: “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy; you own Wall Street; you own the coal companies; you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.’ ”

Then, of course, there’s the widespread voter suppression mostly enacted by Republican-led legislatures.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, at least 180 restrictive voting bills were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, and “16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election” because they “account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.”

A provision most likely to disenfranchise voters is a requirement that people show photo identification to vote. Millions of Americans don’t have these forms of ID, and many can’t easily obtain them, even when states say they’ll offer them free, because getting the documentation to obtain the “free” ID takes time and money.

This is a solution in search of a problem. The in-person voter ID requirements only prevent someone from impersonating another voter at the polls, an occurrence that the Brennan Center points out is “more rare than being struck by lightning.”

The voting rights advocates I’ve talked to don’t resist all ID requirements (though they don’t say they are all necessary, either). They simply say that multiple forms of identification like student ID and Social Security cards should also be accepted, and that alternate ways for people without IDs to vote should be included. Many of these laws don’t allow for such flexibility.

Make no mistake about it, these requirements are not about the integrity of the vote but rather the disenfranchisement of voters. This is about tilting the table so that more of the marbles roll to the Republican corner.

Look at it this way: We have been moving toward wider voter participation for a century. States began to issue driver’s licenses more than a century ago and began to include photos on those licenses decades ago. Yet, as the Brennan Center points out, “prior to the 2006 election, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls (or elsewhere) in order to vote.”

Furthermore, most voter laws have emerged in the last two years. What is the difference between previous decades and today? The election of Barack Obama. It is no coincidence that some of the people least likely to have proper IDs to vote are the ones that generally vote Democratic and were strong supporters of Obama last election: young people, the poor and minorities.

Republicans are leveraging the deep pockets of anti-Obama billionaires and sinister voter suppression tactics that harken back to Jim Crow to wrest power from the hands of docile Democrats.

There is little likely to be done about the Big Money before the election, and, although some of the voter suppression laws are being challenged in court, the outcome of those cases is uncertain.

These elements are not within voters’ control, but two things are: energy and alertness.

If Democrats don’t wake up soon, this election might not just be won or lost, it could be bought or stolen.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Evidence of Looming Political Problems for Belarus

Belarus Protesters 2011 (Photo Credit: Reuters)

In the article below Robert Bridge provides insight into the perspective and motivations of the Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. President Lukashenko takes a negative view of the Arab Spring by characterizing it as a potentially negative force for Belarus. In addition, he suggests that foreign meddling through globalization is an imminent threat. His response to these apparent threats is to defend Belarus against any internal insurrection which could emerge during the upcoming Belarusian parliamentary elections.

The FDA believes that President Lukashenko's defensive and confrontational posture, although pragmatic to some global realities such as the existence of foreign subversion, is shortsighted and ignorant of Arabs' plight against dictators such as Mubarak and Ben Ali. What is the source of Lukashenko's perspective? Is he protecting a Belarusian regime similar to those unpopular and corrupt Middle Eastern regimes? If he is connected and supported by Belarusians as a whole, why would he have to fear?  



Spring loaded: Lukashenko tightens screws for autumn vote
By Robert Bridge (Political Commentator for RT)

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has told the military to be prepared to handle any efforts by internal and external forces that seek to destabilize the situation in the country ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

­The Belarus leader, clearly interested in the social and political upheaval that has rocked much of Arab world, is not letting his guard down as this landlocked Eastern European nation of some 10 million people prepares to head for the polls.

"We will hold the next parliamentary elections in autumn,” Lukashenko told a conference in Minsk devoted to military reform. “This is the moment when those who fiercely hate Belarus and are opposed to how things stand will step up their activities both inside and outside the country."

Lukashenko, alluding to the “forces of globalization,” drew attention to the political strife that is gripping the Middle East, specifically in Syria, where government troops are engaged in an increasingly desperate struggle against rebel forces.

“During globalization, negative tendencies are able to spread very fast, regardless of geographical borders,” he warned. “There are lots of examples in the Middle East and especially in Syria.”

He also mentioned the “pressure” that is being exerted on Iran, which is presently engaged in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear energy program, which the United States and Israel say is a cover for acquiring a nuclear weapon.

In order to offset the possibility of similar circumstances erupting in Belarus, Lukashenko handed down orders to the country’s defense minister.

“He has received detailed instructions to have a close look at the recently-reformed Belarusian military forces,” he told the conference. “The situation with the Arab Spring and with Syria is changing rapidly and the military must be equipped to handle such a situation.”

In case, God forbid, something should happen, he added.

Meanwhile, on a slightly different note that may go far towards reinforcing the conviction that “outside forces” want to disrupt the nation’s internal situation, Lukashenko confirmed that a “foreign light aircraft” breached Belarus air space on July 4.

"How can this provocation involving a light aircraft be explained,” he asked the assembled military officers. “The plane not only crossed the border, but intruded into the territory of the Republic of Belarus unpunished!”

The matter first of all affects the security of all citizens of Belarus, he declared.

Lukashenko has proven in the past that he will come down hard on individuals who seek to disrupt and even kill innocent civilians to advance a particular agenda.

On March 17, Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, both 26, were put to death for their involvement in an attack on the Minsk Metro last April that killed 15 people and wounded over 300.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Good Example of the Lack of Objectivity and Superficiality of Western Mass Media

The recent British and American articles on the apparent Romney adviser uttering statements about the Anglo-Saxon heritage and special relationship between the U.K. and the U.S., has turned into a superficial media frenzy based again on assumptions. The western mass media needs to sell newspapers, magazines, attract viewers, and not necessarily inform the western public with objective, well-researched findings. Where has the rigor of the mass media gone? Was there ever rigor? Perhaps this story is symbolic of the final nail in a struggling industry as internet based news and freelance media persons capture increasing market share of media corporations' advertisement dollars.

If you don't believe us, read the article below. There is this mysterious Romney adviser who is never mentioned by name, and then we are told by the writer of the story from The Daily Telegraph, that the adviser is a member of Romney's foreign policy advisory team. No name. No background specifics. No articulation of this person's relationship to Romney and his campaign team. A story built on assumptions and an unnamed person's statement.

What can Americans take away from this flimsy, superficial story? Romney's spokesperson Amanda Henneberg says the Anglo statement is not reflective of Romney's views nor of the Romney campaign. That is fact. Whether or not you believe her is another issue. Be our guest to assume.

Vice President Biden's comment should make Americans question his leadership ability as he bites into the story and likely for political purposes:

"Vice President Joe Biden, in a statement about the Telegraph article, said in part:

Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign."


Anglo-Saxon Heritage, Multicultural Future
By CHARLES M. BLOW

On Tuesday, The Daily Telegraph, a leading conservative newspaper in Britain, quoted an anonymous adviser to Mitt Romney commenting on the so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States:

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr. Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

The paper pointed out that the comments “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity,” and they did.

The reporter who wrote the story said later on Twitter that the anonymous adviser “was a member of the foreign policy advisory team.”

The Romney campaign sought to distance itself from the remarks. As Talking Points Memo reported on Wednesday:

“It’s not true,” Romney spokesperson Amanda Henneberg said in quotes confirmed by T.P.M. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Gov. Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

Vice President Joe Biden, in a statement about the Telegraph article, said in part:

Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign.

Rebutting the vice president’s attack, Ryan Williams, another spokesperson for Romney, said that Biden had “used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign.”

Whew, that’s quite a bit of back and forth, and yet it remains unclear, to me at least, what the Romney campaign is saying. If it is accusing the newspaper of misquoting someone or fabricating quotes, it should demand a retraction.

But according to T.P.M.:

The Telegraph, which stands by the piece, told T.P.M. that the paper has not received a request from the Romney campaign to retract or correct the story.

If Romney’s team is suggesting that someone in the campaign could have said it without Romney’s knowledge or blessing, then the campaign should seek to identify the adviser and dismiss him or her from any role in promoting Romney’s candidacy.

But as is often the case with this campaign and with the modern Republican Party, Romney’s team stopped short of issuing a complete repudiation and demanding a total cleansing of these poisonous ideas from their ranks.

The phrases “if anyone said,” and “weren’t reflecting the views” are weak and amorphous and don’t go far enough towards condemnation.

The reason is simple: the Republican Party benefits from this bitterness. Not all Republicans are intolerant, but the intolerant seem to have found a home under their tent. And instead of chasing the intolerant out, the party turns a blind eye — or worse, gives a full embrace — and counts up their votes.

Take Romney’s relationship with Donald Trump. Trump, one of America’s most prominent and vocal birthers, is also a Romney surrogate and major fundraiser. Just last week, after Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz. held a press conference to announce that he believed that the birth certificate that the president supplied is fake, Trump went on a radio show hosted by Fox’s Sean Hannity to say: “The fact is Sheriff Arpaio is, in my opinion, correct.”

The problem with courting or even countenancing the fringe is that it’s an incredibly short-sighted strategy. With every new gaffe the gulf between the Republican Party and our ever-diversifying nation grows.

As The Atlantic’s Max Fisher pointed out, assuming that the term Anglo-Saxon is a “colloquialism for the English people”:

In the 2000 U.S. census, only 8.7 percent of Americans identify their ancestry as English, which is ranked fourth behind German, Irish, and African-American.

The bipartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund projects that in November the Latino vote will be almost 26 percent higher than it was in 2008. That would be a staggering increase.

No amount of corporate money and voter suppression can hold back the demographic tide washing over this country. As each of these gaffes further reaffirms the Republican Party’s hostility to minorities, the shorter the party’s lifespan becomes.

I for one don’t believe that this is a coordinated effort. It’s the seepage from a hateful few slipping in like water through a compromised dam. But it will not be enough for the Republicans to plug the holes. They must drain the reservoir.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Republican and Democrat Calculations

This article by Steve Hollands provides subtle insight into the political rhetoric, tactics, and calculations of the Republicans and Democrats, and minimal discussion on issues important to Americans. With the indirectly legislated U.S. two-party federal system, American voters are given limited choice as to who governs them. And even within this limited choice, the U.S. electoral college ensures that Americans do not determine via the ballot box who their president is. The U.S. electoral college is controlled by state legislators and ultimately the state electors selected. These electors, whose number per state is proportional to the number of Congressional representatives each state has, select the U.S. president (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1).

Within this limited framework of electoral choice, the important question American voters need to determine is which presidential candidate and party has a better plan and vision to steer the country's economy (coupled with social and environmental protection).


Romney campaign’s ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’ slam on Obama gets UK visit off to rough start
By Steve Holland, Reuters

LONDON — U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney began a foreign tour on Wednesday on the wrong foot, with his campaign forced to dismiss a report that an adviser accused President Barack Obama of not understanding the shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage” of Britain and the United States.

As Romney arrived in London for a three-day stay, The Daily Telegraph quoted an unnamed Romney campaign adviser as lauding the special relationship between the two countries.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the Telegraph quoted the adviser as saying, “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

The Daily Telegraph said the adviser’s remarks “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity.”

Romney is in London to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games on Friday, the first leg of a week-long trip that will take him to Israel and Poland as he seeks to burnish his foreign policy credentials and present himself as a viable alternative to the Democratic incumbent.

A Romney spokesperson denied that the Anglo-Saxon comment represented his campaign’s thinking.

“It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.

The Obama re-election campaign, which is trying to portray Romney as a foreign policy novice, leaped on the remark by issuing a statement from Vice President Joe Biden, who accused Romney of “playing politics with international diplomacy.”

“The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Governor Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage. Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership.

This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign,” Biden said.

The former Massachusetts governor is to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Party leader Ed Milliband and other British officials as well as former Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday.

While he is not expected to issue any policy pronouncements, all of the meetings will have carefully orchestrated photo opportunities with the aim of showing American voters images of Romney on the world stage.

Romney largely stayed out of sight after his arrival in London but taped an interview with NBC News from the Tower of London. An aide tweeted a picture of him in a vehicle that passed by the House of Parliament.

Obama is trying to head off a strong challenge from Romney in a campaign largely centered on the weak U.S. economy. Romney is taking some risk by spending a week abroad in the heat of a close campaign since any comment he makes could be seen as criticizing the president, which most U.S. politicians are loathe to do once they leave American shores.

To get around that problem, Romney set the stage for his trip with a scathing speech on American soil on Tuesday, accusing the president of mishandling foreign policy hot spots from the Middle East to China and neglecting U.S. allies.

Romney’s visit to London is aimed at recalling the role he played in salvaging the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a key portion of his resume as a businessman who can fix problems.

That part of his biography has come under fire from the Obama campaign, which insists that at that time he was still nominally in control of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that had shipped some U.S. jobs overseas.

U.S. Electoral College 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Invasion of Drones--Are You Ready? What Does It Mean for Democracy?

Police-drone (Photo credit: BGR)

The article on drones (below) touches on the looming expansion of drones in the United States and some of the drone issues. However, the article touches barely on the privacy issue from drones being used to track people's conversations, movements etc., Expect drone busting technology to emerge which may protect citizens from unlawful drone privacy invasions.

On a broader scale, the expansion of drones could change the nature of warfare and increase emotional detachment from acts of violence and war. For instance, less risk would be involved for a country to sabotage another country using drones, and in which the drones are programmed to self-destruct following the completion of their missions.

In terms of democracy, drones could be used to track and suppress opposition movements, target members of opposition political elements, invade privacy of opposition elements, and suppress freedom of speech through reduced privacy and fear of retaliation.


Excerpts from:
Expanding use of drones raises privacy, security fears in U.S.
By Kazi Stastna (CBC News)

Before going ahead with plans to allow the widespread use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, in civilian airspace, lawmakers must do more to protect privacy and reduce the likelihood of sabotage, experts and members of the U.S. Congress told a House committee looking into the issue this week.

Currently, there are about 200 unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, owned by 100 non-government entities like law enforcement agencies and academic institutions, that have been authorized to fly in the U.S., Congressman Michael McCaul, said in his to the Homeland Security committee's subcommittee on oversight investigations, and management.

McCaul is the chairman of the subcommittee, which held a hearing Thursday on the government's plan to to allow the use of non-military drones nationwide by 2015.

The Federal Aviation Administration has already started expanding the regulations governing the use of drones in national airspace.

To date, the drones had been limited to just a few restricted zones controlled by the military and those wishing to use them had to apply for special "certificates of authorization."

But in May, the FAA began a three-year process of integrating drones into U.S. airspace by allowing police, firefighters and other civilian first-responders to fly UAVs that are no heavier than 11 kilograms.

The next step in the integration is to select six test sites where the FAA will test how safe it is for civilian drones to share airspace with other aircraft.

The FAA estimates that about 10,000 non-military drones will be in use in the U.S. within five years.

GPS hacking a possibility

But this growing interest in unmanned vehicles has raised concerns that the surveillance capabilities of drones could violate people's privacy or that the signals used to guide them could be hacked and the drones diverted to crash into infrastructure or other targets, particularly in heavily populated areas.

Some have also worried that the increasing availability and affordability of drones makes them likely delivery systems for chemical or biological weapons or explosives.

McCaul referenced a 2011 case in this context in which the FBI uncovered a plot to use small drone-like aircraft laden with explosives to collapse the dome of the U.S. Capitol and attack the Pentagon.

McCaul warned on Thursday that no federal agency is currently charged with examining these issues and that the FAA has so far restricted its regulatory actions to ensuring the new drones don't pose a risk to civilian aircraft but has not tackled the national security and privacy implications of opening up civilian airspace to drones....

Private sector interest growing

To date, the drones have mostly been used by the military and law enforcement agencies or for weather- and other science-related research. Generally, they perform tasks that are too dangerous or tedious for humans or collect data from remote or hard-to-access areas.

But there is growing interest by the private sector to use drones for things such as mapping and surveying in the oil and gas, forestry and utilities sectors, and for crop-dusting in agriculture.

Drones are a cheaper alternative to manned aircraft, and some predict the growing market for them could be worth billions of dollars.

Although specialized military drones can cost in the tens of millions of dollars, civilian drones can cost as little as $25,000 US.

The Ontario Provincial Police uses drones that cost about $30,000 Cdn each and which the OPP says is much cheaper than leasing planes and helicopters for about $1,000 and $1,600 an hour.

State, provincial and municipal police departments are some of the most interested in expanding their use of drones for everything from surveying crime scenes to patrolling borders and spying on criminals.

Military drones also vulnerable

The experiment conducted by Humphreys and his team was not the first example that highlighted the security vulnerabilities of drones.

In December 2011, a U.S. military drone spying on Iran's nuclear infrastructure was downed by Iranian authorities who said they used spoofing to hack into the drone's communications system and fool it into landing in Iran.

Jammers that could disrupt drone GPS signals can be had online for as little as $50 US, Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told the hearing.

Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, said in a written submission to the subcommittee that the industry that builds drones for civilian use "takes the potential for spoofing very seriously and is already advancing technologies ... to prevent it."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Perpetual Aftermath of Citizens United Ruling (The Ruling that Won't Go Away)

Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator for Rhode Island (Photo credit: Sheldon Whitehouse)
The N.Y. Times editorial below sheds more light on the affects of the Citizens United Ruling. However, unfortunately, the editorial points the blame on the Republicans. Both the Democrats and Republicans have their fair share of super donors and Super PACs; and don't forget that in 2008, for example, Obama out spent McCain $800 million to $333 million.

Financial transparency is critical to a healthy democracy. Yet by the same token it is not a panacea. In the case of Alberta's provincial and municipal electoral systems, there is financial transparency, and yet these systems produce consistently severe financial contribution bias to particular parties and candidates, financial irregularities that are ignored at the municipal level, and contributions from single sources to more than one party and candidate (commonly called hedging).

Financial transparency requires enforcement and laws and regulations such as reasonable caps and expenditure limits which make election finances about the people and not minority and special interests. See the FDA report on the Canadian Provinces which shows Canadian provinces with model electoral finance legislation and provinces with systematically corrupt legislation.

Facts on the U.S. Senate as pertaining to the Disclose Act:

There are 100 U.S. Senate seats. Presently, the Democrats have 51 seats, Republicans 47 seats, and independents 2 seats. The vote to overcome the filibuster blocking the Disclose Act was 53 in favor, and 45 against. 60 votes in favor are required to end the filibuster. Based on the vote, 3 Senators did not vote; assuming that all Democrats and 2 independents voted in favor, then all Republican voted against short of those that abstained.

The issue of the Act is privacy (of donor) versus an informed public. Presently, U.S. federal candidates, candidate committees, and political parties are required to disclose their finances.

As an example from the 2012 FDA Report on the U.S. Federal Electoral System (soon to be published):

In an election year, presidential candidates are required to report monthly when contributions aggregate $100,000 or expenditures aggregate $100,000 or anticipate the aggregations during the calendar year. In addition, the presidential candidates generally are required to submit pre-election reports, post-election reports, and year end reports. The reports must contain designations, record of contributors and disbursements, statements (Federal Election Campaign Act, Articles 434 2(A), 3 (A)).

In non-election years, political committees are required to submit quarterly financial reports. These reports must contain all designations, statements, record of disbursements, reports, including name and address of contributors in excess of $50 and identification of any person who contributes in excess of $200 (Federal Election Campaign Act, Articles 432, 434 2(B)).

So the Disclose Act applies to Super PACs. As noted above, electoral finance transparency though a step in the right direction does not in itself eliminate the influence of minority and special money interests. See the FDA Canadian Provinces Report which shows why.


Sheldon Whitehouse's July 17, 2012 Statement on the failed Disclose Act:

Washington, DC – Today, for a second day in a row, Senate Republicans blocked debate on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to end secret spending in elections by corporations and other groups. The vote failed to overcome a filibuster by a vote of 53 in favor to 45 against. 60 votes were required. Following the vote, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released the following statement:

“I’m disappointed that so many of my Republican colleagues, many of whom have clearly supported disclosure in the past, chose today to once again defend secret spending by special interests rather than stand up for the voices of the middle class. However, I’m also optimistic that ultimately, we will pass this bill, or something like it, to end secret spending and defend the voices of the middle class.

“I’m optimistic because throughout this debate, the American people made their voices heard loud and clear: they support the DISCLOSE Act, and they detest the secret spending that is poisoning our elections. Through phone calls, emails, online petitions, tweets, and more, people in Rhode Island and across the country joined Senate Democrats in shining a bright light on this issue and demonstrating a groundswell of popular support.

“As I have said many times, I am cognizant of the fact that not every fight is won in the first round, or even the second or third round. But ultimately, history has shown that the will of the people always shines through.

“In these past few days, the American people have helped us land some resounding blows against the special interests, and I am left more confident than ever that, ultimately, their voices will be heard. And I intend to keep up the fight to make sure that they are.”


The Power of Anonymity
By N.Y. Times Editorial

Two years ago, Congress came within a single Republican vote in the Senate of following the Supreme Court’s advice to require broad disclosure of campaign finance donors. The justices wanted voters to be able to decide for themselves “whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

The court advised such disclosure in its otherwise disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, which loosed a new wave of unlimited spending on political campaigns. The decision’s anticorruption prescription has grown even more compelling as hundreds of millions of dollars in disguise have flooded the 2012 campaigns — a great deal of it washed through organizations that are set up for the particular purpose of hiding the names of the writers of enormous checks.

The ability to follow the money has never been this important since the bagman days of the Watergate scandal. But when the Democratic Senate majority made a fresh attempt to enact a disclosure bill on Monday, the measure was immediately filibustered to death by Republicans, like other versions.

Still, the vote was a chance for the public to see who stands for and against such basic transparency in political spending. The answer: not one Republican showed the courage to break ranks and speak up for disclosure.

Republicans have been the main beneficiaries of corporate and independent spending sprees. The party’s lock-step opposition to letting voters see who writes the big checks is an embarrassment to Congress.

Opponents are crying that disclosure violates donors’ privacy and favors unions. This is election-year nonsense to give cover to the aggressively partisan groups that pose as “social welfare” organizations but tip the campaign scales heavily with stealth financing.

The Senate measure would require corporations, unions and any other organization paying for election-cycle messages to disclose expenditures of $10,000 or more within 24 hours and identify donors writing checks of $10,000 or more. It would further require reporting of third-party money transfers, a shadow device to hide contributors.

The measure’s chief sponsor, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, has tried to win Republican support by eliminating a provision requiring that the top five donors be identified at the end of election commercials.

But Republicans turned their backs, including John McCain, once the great champion of campaign finance reform who has been predicting that “huge scandals” will inevitably flow from Citizens United.

Voters concerned about the big-money distortion of politics now know precisely who put the issue quietly to bed.

2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Report 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Analysis of U.S. Media: Krugman Demonstrates Political Bias

Paul Krugman (Photo Credit: Fred R. Conrad)

In the FDA opinion, Paul Krugman, columnist for the N.Y. Times, demonstrates in the article below his political bias for the Democratic Party. In the article, he assumes that Romney won't release pre-2010 tax returns, because he thinks he is better, and that because of his wealth, he is entitled to different rules than Americans who are not wealthy (plutocracy). To put this in context, it took Obama three years to release his long-form birth certificate. Does this mean that Obama falls into the category of Romney less his lack of wealth prior to entering his presidency? Further, as mentioned in a previous post, there is no requirement or rule that Romney or any other candidate has to release pre-2010 tax returns. The FDA contends that an inclination to privacy is not exclusive to wealthy Americans. Every human being is private on some level.

An objective assessment of Romney based on his actions is that he is a private person; he is hiding things; he thinks he is better; he is.... on and on with assumptions. Political leanings likely underlie these assumptions. Let's just stick to the facts: Romney did not disclose pre-2010 tax returns; he is not required to do so; he has no conviction or pending conviction for illegal wrongdoing regarding his investment businesses. Done. Move on.


Pathos of the Plutocrat
By Paul Krugman

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald — and he didn’t just mean that they have more money. What he meant instead, at least in part, was that many of the very rich expect a level of deference that the rest of us never experience and are deeply distressed when they don’t get the special treatment they consider their birthright; their wealth “makes them soft where we are hard.”

And because money talks, this softness — call it the pathos of the plutocrats — has become a major factor in America’s political life.

It’s no secret that, at this point, many of America’s richest men — including some former Obama supporters — hate, just hate, President Obama. Why? Well, according to them, it’s because he “demonizes” business — or as Mitt Romney put it earlier this week, he “attacks success.” Listening to them, you’d think that the president was the second coming of Huey Long, preaching class hatred and the need to soak the rich.

Needless to say, this is crazy. In fact, Mr. Obama always bends over backward to declare his support for free enterprise and his belief that getting rich is perfectly fine. All that he has done is to suggest that sometimes businesses behave badly, and that this is one reason we need things like financial regulation. No matter: even this hint that sometimes the rich aren’t completely praiseworthy has been enough to drive plutocrats wild. For two years or more, Wall Street in particular has been crying: “Ma! He’s looking at me funny!”

Wait, there’s more. Not only do many of the superrich feel deeply aggrieved at the notion that anyone in their class might face criticism, they also insist that their perception that Mr. Obama doesn’t like them is at the root of our economic problems. Businesses aren’t investing, they say, because business leaders don’t feel valued. Mr. Romney repeated this line, too, arguing that because the president attacks success “we have less success.”

This, too, is crazy (and it’s disturbing that Mr. Romney appears to share this delusional view about what ails our economy). There’s no mystery about the reasons the economic recovery has been so weak. Housing is still depressed in the aftermath of a huge bubble, and consumer demand is being held back by the high levels of household debt that are the legacy of that bubble. Business investment has actually held up fairly well given this weakness in demand. Why should businesses invest more when they don’t have enough customers to make full use of the capacity they already have?

But never mind. Because the rich are different from you and me, many of them are incredibly self-centered. They don’t even see how funny it is — how ridiculous they look — when they attribute the weakness of a $15 trillion economy to their own hurt feelings. After all, who’s going to tell them? They’re safely ensconced in a bubble of deference and flattery.

Unless, that is, they run for public office.

Like everyone else following the news, I’ve been awe-struck by the way questions about Mr. Romney’s career at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, and his refusal to release tax returns have so obviously caught the Romney campaign off guard. Shouldn’t a very wealthy man running for president — and running specifically on the premise that his business success makes him qualified for office — have expected the nature of that success to become an issue? Shouldn’t it have been obvious that refusing to release tax returns from before 2010 would raise all kinds of suspicions?

By the way, while we don’t know what Mr. Romney is hiding in earlier returns, the fact that he is still stonewalling despite calls by Republicans as well as Democrats to come clean suggests that it could be something seriously damaging.

Anyway, what’s now apparent is that the campaign was completely unprepared for the obvious questions, and it has reacted to the Obama campaign’s decision to ask those questions with a hysteria that surely must be coming from the top. Clearly, Mr. Romney believed that he could run for president while remaining safe inside the plutocratic bubble and is both shocked and angry at the discovery that the rules that apply to others also apply to people like him. Fitzgerald again, about the very rich: “They think, deep down, that they are better than we are.”

O.K., let’s take a deep breath. The truth is that many, and probably most, of the very rich don’t fit Fitzgerald’s description. There are plenty of very rich Americans who have a sense of perspective, who take pride in their achievements without believing that their success entitles them to live by different rules.

But Mitt Romney, it seems, isn’t one of those people. And that discovery may be an even bigger issue than whatever is hidden in those tax returns he won’t release.

Friday, July 20, 2012

One-sided, Negative View of U.S. Foreign Policy

The article below by Dr. Roberts argues that the U.S. government is funding subversion worldwide, and it is planning a three front war: Middle East, Asia (China), and Europe (Russia), with the intent of taking global control. Roberts argues that the U.S. subversion is through U.S. NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

It is unclear where Roberts gets his information from, but it appears he assumes that the U.S. subversive activities in the Middle East, China, and Russia means a looming three front war. Only one U.S. funded NGO is mentioned in the article, NED, which is already widely known to be linked to the U.S. State Department and its agenda.

The FDA assumes that all governments are guided by their self-interest, whether that self-interest is founded in the people of the country, or minority and special interests. In addition, all national or central governments are capable of some form of subversion, and are likely doing some form of subversion. The United States with its current dominant financial and military position is likely doing more subversion than all other countries.

Subversive (politics) refers to an attempt to overthrow structures of authority, including the state. It is an overturning or uprooting. The word is present in all languages of Latin origin, originally applying to such diverse events as the military defeat of a city.

Subversive activity is the lending of aid, comfort, and moral support to individuals, groups, or organizations that advocate the overthrow of incumbent governments by force and violence [or calculated non-force like in Paraguay and the sudden and quick removal of President Lugo]. All willful acts that are intended to be detrimental to the best interests of the government and that do not fall into the categories of treason, sedition, sabotage, or espionage are placed in the category of subversive activity (Source: Urban Dictionary).


War On All Fronts: Washington's three-front war: Syria, Lebanon, Iran in the Middle East, China in the Far East, Russia in Europe... By Dr. Paul Craig Roberts (from Global Research)

The Russian government has finally caught on that its political opposition is being financed by the US taxpayer-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other CIA/State Department fronts in an attempt to subvert the Russian government and install an American puppet state in the geographically largest country on earth, the one country with a nuclear arsenal sufficient to deter Washington’s aggression.

Just as earlier this year Egypt expelled hundreds of people associated with foreign-funded “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) for “instilling dissent and meddling in domestic policies,” the Russian Duma (parliament) has just passed a law that Putin is expected to sign that requires political organizations that receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents. The law is based on the US law requiring the registration of foreign agents.

Much of the Russian political opposition consists of foreign-paid agents, and once the law passes leading elements of the Russian political opposition will have to sign in with the Russian Ministry of Justice as foreign agents of Washington. The Itar-Tass News Agency reported on July 3 that there are about 1,000 organizations in Russia that are funded from abroad and engaged in political activity. Try to imagine the outcry if the Russians were funding 1,000 organizations in the US engaged in an effort to turn America into a Russian puppet state. (In the US the Russians would find a lot of competition from Israel.)

The Washington-funded Russian political opposition masquerades behind “human rights” and says it works to “open Russia.” What the disloyal and treasonous Washington-funded Russian “political opposition” means by “open Russia” is to open Russia for brainwashing by Western propaganda, to open Russia to economic plunder by the West, and to open Russia to having its domestic and foreign policies determined by Washington.

“Non-governmental organizations” are very governmental. They have played pivotal roles in both financing and running the various “color revolutions” that have established American puppet states in former constituent parts of the Soviet Empire. NGOshave been called “coup d’etat machines,” and they have served Washington well in this role. They are currently working in Venezuela against Chavez.

Of course, Washington is infuriated that its plans for achieving hegemony over a country too dangerous to attack militarily have been derailed by Russia’s awakening, after two decades, to the threat of being politically subverted by Washington-financed NGOs. Washington requires foreign-funded organizations to register as foreign agents (unless they are Israeli funded). However, this fact doesn’t stop Washington from denouncing the new Russian law as “anti-democratic,” “police state,” blah-blah. Caught with its hand in subversion, Washington calls Putin names. The pity is that most of the brainwashed West will fall for Washington’s lies, and we will hear more about “gangster state Russia.”

China is also in Washington’s crosshairs. China’s rapid rise as an economic power is perceived in Washington as a dire threat. China must be contained. Obama’s US Trade Representative has been secretly negotiating for the last 2 or 3 years a Trans Pacific Partnership, whose purpose is to derail China’s natural economic leadership in its own sphere of influence and replace it with Washington’s leadership.

Washington is also pushing to form new military alliances in Asia and to establish new military bases in the Philippines, S. Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

Washington quickly inserted itself into disputes between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines. Washington aligned with its former Vietnamese enemy in Vietnam’s dispute with China over the resource rich Paracel and Spratly islands and with the Philippines in its dispute with China over the resource rich Scarborough Shoal.

Thus, like England’s interference in the dispute between Poland and National Socialist Germany over the return to Germany of German territories that were given to Poland as World War I booty, Washington sets the stage for war.

China has been cooperative with Washington, because the offshoring of the US economy to China was an important component in China’s unprecedented high rate of economic development. American capitalists got their short-run profits, and China got the capital and technology to build an economy that in another 2 or 3 years will have surpassed the sinking US economy. Jobs offshoring, mistaken for free trade by free market economists, has built China and destroyed America.

Washington’s growing interference in Chinese affairs has convinced China’s government that military countermeasures are required to neutralize Washington’s announced intentions to build its military presence in China’s sphere of influence. Washington’s view is that only Washington, no one else, has a sphere of influence, and Washington’s sphere of influence is the entire world.

On July 14 China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said that Washington was interfering in Chinese affairs and making China’s disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines impossible to resolve.

It looks as if an over-confident US government is determined to have a three-front war: Syria, Lebanon, and Iran in the Middle East, China in the Far East, and Russia in Europe. This would appear to be an ambitious agenda for a government whose military was unable to occupy Iraq after nine years or to defeat the lightly-armed Taliban after eleven years, and whose economy and those of its NATO puppets are in trouble and decline with corresponding rising internal unrest and loss of confidence in political leadership.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Claim of Voter Disenfranchisement/Discrimination a Stretch

The claim that about 10 percent of the voting population may be impacted by ID laws is ambiguous. According to the Brennan Report on ID laws and their impact, 11% of voters in ten States with voter ID laws, do not have State ID. The Center calculated that 10% would be inconvenienced with having to travel to nearby State offices to get their State ID card. In some cases, the card is free. The only cost in these cases are travel. The Brennan Center calculated that the ID cost could range from $8 to $25.

On the flip side, the strict voter ID laws help ensure the integrity of the voting system by preventing ineligible voters and non-voters from casting ballots.

Clearly, the Democratic Party has reason to be concerned by the ID laws, because it impacts part of their voting population, and the Party realizes that some voters may not be bothered with getting the State ID. Perhaps, if it is so concerned, the Democratic Party should fund the transportation of these persons to the State offices.


Commentary:

Report: ID laws could impact 1 in 10 eligible voters
By Jillian Rayfield

A new report suggests that one in 10 eligible voters will be impacted by voter ID laws, and that these laws will disproportionately affect minorities.

According to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 11% of eligible voters don't have the government-issued photo IDs mandated by a slew of new laws passed by Republican-dominated states over the last year.

The percentage goes even higher for seniors, students, minorities, the disabled, and low-income voters.

In the past, the federal courts have ruled that if states pass strict voter ID laws, it must be a free-of-charge process so that the laws don't effectively create an unconstitutional poll tax, Rachel Maddow explained on her show Wednesday.

But, according to the Brennan Center's new report, which examined 10 states with the strictest laws, "this promise of free voter ID is a mirage. In the real world, poor voters find shuttered offices, long drives without cars and with spotty or no bus service, and sometimes prohibitive costs."

For example, 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from the nearest office that issues the IDs. So, though the photo ID itself may be free, the costs of getting to the office—or, for that matter, getting a hold of a birth certificate or other documentation required to get the ID—could run between $8-$25.

"Despite the promise, and even the constitutional requirement of making this ID available to everybody, in reality it is going to be very hard to get to the place where you get the ID, to get the documents, for a lot of our fellow citizens," Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center, said on The Rachel Maddow Show. "That really runs counter to the basic premise of American democracy."

Waldman explained that there may be some hope once the courts start taking a look at these laws, but "a lot of these laws are so new that we don't know how the courts are going to rule on that kind of question."

"In some places it's going to be kind of hand-to-hand combat in the courts, all the way up until election day," Waldman continued. "Because you've got local officials purging people from the rolls, you have people challenging voters at the polling place, and unfortunately we're going to see this kind of thing play out all across the country."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Can't Stop Assuming About Romney

Some Americans can't stop assuming about Romney and his financial background. As an example, in the article below John Cassidy makes four assumptions about why Romney has not disclosed more tax returns. Why assume what you don't know? It would be far more interesting and productive to focus on what you do know.

Some things we know about Romney:
  1. Romney earned about $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million in 2011—most of it from capital gains on investments related to Bain Capital.
  2. Romney has declined on releasing tax returns prior to 2010. He is not required to release these tax returns.
  3. There is no evidence that Romney has broken the law from his investment businesses.
  4. In the U.S. it is not illegal to be an investor capitalist.
In contrast, prior to Obama becoming U.S. president, we know that
  1. Obama had almost no private sector experience.
In evaluating these two candidates, Luzimar Serviss, FDA Senior Researcher with a PhD in Economics writes:

"the ability to make money for oneself or successfully run a business does not automatically grant a candidate the ability to successfully run a country [nor does the ability to be a community organizer in a housing project (in the case of Obama) grant the same thing].

Obviously, it does not hurt to understand the functioning of the economy and the markets but even so it’s a large step from analyzing economic issues from a firm’s perspective to generalizing this knowledge for the entire economy.

Ultimately what a president requires is vision of what needs to be done to guide the economy to prosperity; such as creating jobs, conducting tax reforms, reducing inequality and promoting democratic process with a set of well structured policies to achieve these goals. It is not required that the president himself elaborate on them. There are experts, economists, finance professionals and policy makers, whose job it is to put the president’s ideas and visions into practical terms and implement them. From the president is required the commitment to successfully run the country and the ability to put the right people in the right position to make things happen."

Which of these two candidates, Romney and Obama, has a better vision of what needs to be done to guide the United States to economic prosperity [balanced with social and environmental stability]?


Commentary Why Won’t Romney Release More Tax Returns?
By John Cassidy

I’m following Mitt Romney’s example and vacationing in New England this week, but the Sunday-morning talk shows make it to out to Cape Cod, and I couldn’t quite go cold turkey. In addition to rehashing of Friday’s Bain Capital story, the network gabfests actually generated some news on another front: three well known Republican pundits—Bill Kristol, George Will, and Matthew Dowd—all criticized Mitt Romney for not releasing more of his tax returns.

“He should release the tax returns tomorrow: it’s crazy,” Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You gotta release six, eight, ten years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.” Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Will, the veteran columnist, agreed, saying, “If something going to come out, get it out in a hurry.” And Dowd, who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, said Romney’s refusal to release returns for the years prior to 2010 was a sign of his “arrogance.”

With even prominent Republicans saying that his current stance is unsustainable, the obvious question to ask is: Why is the Mittster being so obstinate? He surely isn’t standing on principle, for what principle would that be? The notion that very rich men running for President shouldn’t have to disclose as much information about their personal finances as less wealthy candidates? The principle that if your father also ran for President, and released twelve years of tax returns, then you can release just two and claim the family average is a respectable seven years?

No. It’s only fair to assume that Mitt is doing what he always does: acting on the basis of a careful cost-benefit analysis. Will’s comments on this were spot on: “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear,” he said. “Therefore, [Romney] must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.” But what information could the earlier tax returns contain that would be so damaging if it were brought out into the open? Obviously, we are entering the realm of speculation, but Romney has invited it. Here are four possibilities:

1. Extremely high levels of income. According to the tax filings and estimates he released earlier this year, Romney earned about $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million in 2011—most of it from capital gains on investments related to Bain Capital. This is a lot of money, but Romney may well have earned considerably more in earlier years. His ten-year severance agreement with Bain Capital ended in 2009. The terms of it haven’t been revealed, but quite probably it allowed Romney to keep pocketing a substantial portion of the firm’s profits. And the years before 2008 were massively successful ones for Bain and other private-equity firms.

But even if Romney earned fifty million dollars a year in some years, would be that be sufficient reason for him to keep his returns secret? I doubt it. Americans don’t begrudge people a telephone-number income as long as they are perceived to have earned it. And insofar as any private-equity mogul earns the money he makes, Romney earned his. He created Bain Capital and ran it for (at least) fifteen years.

2. More offshore accounts. The Obama campaign has already made much of Romney’s Swiss bank account, his Bermuda-based investment company, and the income he receives from Bain Capital-related trusts that are domiciled in the Cayman Islands. It is perfectly possible that in the years before 2010, Romney and his financial advisers were even more aggressive in their use of overseas investment vehicles and tax shields. Hedge funds and private-equity funds, such as Bain Capital, routinely exploit offshore shell companies, to minimize their tax burdens but also to escape government regulation and oversight.

Here, too, though, I doubt whether this would be sufficient reason to justify not releasing the returns. Thanks to the Obama campaign, Romney’s name is already indubitably linked to offshore accounts. I doubt whether the average American is very shocked. Most people know full well that one of the reasons rich people employ so many fancy accountants and tax lawyers is to shield as much of their income from tax as possible, and that one of the ways they do this is by keeping cash offshore.

3. Politically explosive investments. Over the years, Bain Capital invested in all sorts of companies, including some that helped corporations outsource and offshore some of their operations, and one, a medical-waste-disposal company, that helped family-planning clinics to dispose of aborted fetuses. Romney, even after he left, kept much of his money in investment funds managed by the firm.

It is conceivable that Romney’s earlier tax returns reveal that he made a lot of money out of some controversial investments. Again, though, it is difficult to see how this would justify taking more heat on the tax issue. The Obama campaign is already attacking him mercilessly for Bain’s actions in shutting down plants, slashing wages, shifting production offshore, and driving companies into bankruptcy while extracting hefty fees from them. Unless Romney were investing in a Chinese sweatshop company that was taking business from American firms, or helping to finance a chain of for-profit abortion clinics, most of the damage has already been done.

4. A very, very low tax rate. Romney’s filings indicate that his effective federal income-tax rate in 2010 was 13.9 per cent, and his estimated rate for 2011 is 15.4 per cent. Those figures reflect the fifteen-per-cent tax rate on capital gains and dividend income. But it is perfectly possible that in earlier years he paid even lower rates. Since his 2010 and 2011 returns were prepared during an election campaign, it seems likely that his accountants took a conservative approach to deductions and other aspects of his finances. In prior years, they may well have been more aggressive. And maybe at some point Romney suffered some investment losses that enabled him to reduce his tax burden in subsequent years. Obviously, we don’t know. But there may have been a year in which Romney’s federal tax rate was in the single figures, and possibly even close to zero.

This seems pretty unlikely. But, hey, as Matthew Dowd noted, “there’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it.’ ”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

U.S. Electoral College Deprived of Democratic Sense

What were the U.S. constitutional framers thinking when they agreed to Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution? This Section of Article II allows U.S. State electors to determine the U.S. president rather than the American people. Also, the Section allows each State to determine how to select its electors, and the number of electors from each state must correspond proportionally to the number of congressional representatives each State has. The consequence of this approach is that the American people do not directly select their president, and the number of votes for a candidate and party has no bearing on who is president, as shown by the Gore/Bush presidential race in which Gore and the Democratic Party had a majority of the overall national vote, and yet Bush and the Republicans had more electoral college votes. Further, the popular vote and electoral college vote can be quite different. In 1984, Reagan received 59% of the popular vote versus 40.6% for Mondale, while Reagan received about 98% of the electoral college votes.

U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1 excerpt:

             The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows:

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves. And they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the wthole number of electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President; and if no person have a majority, then from the five highest on the list the said House shall in like manner choose the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by States, the representation from each state having one vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. In every case, after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes of the electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal votes, the Senate shall choose from them by ballot the Vice President.

The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States. (Source: Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute.)

The framers of the U.S. Constitution lived in a privilege, inequitable society. As an example, male blacks and women did not have the right to vote. (The 15th Amendment gave male blacks the right to vote as long as they paid a poll tax; women did not receive the vote until the 19th Amendment.) And clearly based on the electoral college, the framers may have had a disdain and/or distrust for the majority of Americans determining their president. It may be argued that the States' electors are extensions of the people by being selected based on a process determined by the State Legislatures. This position assumes that the States' political representatives are extensions of the people. Why not just have the people decide? Is the electoral college a form of societal control by elites and/or privilege class?

The lack of U.S. urbanization at the time of framing the U.S. Constitution helps explain why the framers decided upon the electoral college:


In 1790, the United States population was 5% urban and 95% rural. In 1900, the U.S. population was 47% urban and 53% rural. In 1940, the U.S. population was 57% urban and 43% rural. In 2000, the U.S. population was 79% urban and 21% rural (Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Commentary:

Do Away With the Electoral College
By Alexander Keyssar is the Stirling professor of history and social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School

In a presidential election season, it seems obvious (yet again) that we should rewrite parts of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution — so that we can dispense with the Electoral College and hold a national popular vote to choose our chief executive.

Indeed, if we were drafting a constitution today, few people would even consider a presidential electoral system like the Electoral College. (Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, in the mid-19th century, characterized it as “artificial, cumbrous, radically defective and unrepublican.”) The concerns that prompted the Founding Fathers to adopt this system — a distrust of popular elections, worry that the people would be unfamiliar with national candidates, a desire to reinforce the great constitutional compromises between large states and small states, slave states and free states — have lost much of their salience since 1787.

Moreover, we have learned a lot in the last 225 years about shortcomings in the framers’ design: the person who wins the most votes doesn’t necessarily become president; the adoption of “winner take all” rules (permitted but not mandated by the Constitution) produces election campaigns that ignore most of the country and contribute to low turnout; the legislature of any state can decide to choose electors by itself and decline to hold an election at all; and the complex procedure for dealing with an election in which no candidate wins a clear majority of the electoral vote is fraught with peril. As a nation, we have come to embrace “one person, one vote” as a fundamental democratic principle, yet the allocation of electoral votes to the states violates that principle. It is hardly an accident that no other country in the world has imitated our Electoral College.

If we were writing or revising the constitution now, we would almost certainly adopt a rather simple method of choosing our presidents: a national popular vote, followed by a run-off if no candidate wins a majority. We applaud when we witness such systems operating elsewhere in the world. Perhaps we should try one here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Texas Photo ID Law

Below Ackerman and Nou argue that Texas' Photo ID law violates the 24th amendment of the U.S. Constitution by disenfranchising individuals and groups through an indirect tax on voting. The Texas ID law requires Texans to produce state-issued photo ID in order to vote. If Texans don't have the photo ID, they need to "travel to a driver's license office and submit appropriate documents, along with their fingerprints, to establish their qualifications. If they don't have the required papers, they must pay $22 for a copy of their birth certificate." The law appears unnecessarily restrictive and discriminatory by requiring a specific photo ID which can be problematic for some citizens to attain. However, the laws applies to all Texas citizens. 

Why did the Texas government exclude other legitimate forms of ID such as passports and state driver licenses?

The Texas government states that the law helps prevent voter fraud. Those opposed to the law claim that voter fraud is not prevalent in Texas. A three-judge federal panel is currently determining whether or not the law is unconstitutional. The panel's decision will be made in August/2012.


Commentary on the Texas ID Law:

Texas' poll tax in disguise
A law requiring a photo ID to vote attacks a key achievement of the civil rights era.
By Bruce Ackerman and Jennifer Nou

In 1964, the American people enacted the 24th Amendment, to prevent the exclusion of the poor from the ballot box. In his speech last week at the NAACP convention, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. wasn't indulging in election-year rhetoric when he condemned Texas' 2011 voter photo identification law as a poll tax that could do just that. He was speaking the hard legal truth.

The Justice Department would be right to challenge this new law as an unconstitutional poll tax. The department has temporarily blocked the Texas law under special provisions of the Voting Rights Act that prevent states with a history of discrimination from disadvantaging minority groups. But the attorney general should go further and raise a 24th Amendment challenge against Texas and other states that are joining the effort to bar the poor from the polls. This exclusionary campaign should not be allowed to destroy a great constitutional achievement of the civil rights revolution.

The 24th Amendment forbids the imposition of "any poll tax or other tax" in federal elections. Texas' law flatly violates this provision in dealing with would-be voters who don't have a state-issued photo ID. To obtain an acceptable substitute, they must travel to a driver's license office and submit appropriate documents, along with their fingerprints, to establish their qualifications. If they don't have the required papers, they must pay $22 for a copy of their birth certificate.

If they can't come up with the money for the qualifying documents, they can't vote. But the 24th Amendment denies states the power to create such a financial barrier to the ballot box.

Texas' violation is particularly blatant. In drafting its law, the Legislature rejected a provision that would have provided free copies of the necessary documents. Rather than paying for this service out of the general revenue fund, it chose to disqualify voters who couldn't pay the fee. This is precisely the choice forbidden by the Constitution.

The 24th Amendment doesn't only invalidate the $22 tax. Texas also can't impose unnecessarily arduous certification procedures. The Supreme Court took up this issue shortly after the amendment was ratified in 1964. The state of Virginia had told its citizens they could avoid its $1.50 poll tax only if they filed a formal certificate establishing their residency. Lars Forssenius and others refused to comply, and a near-unanimous Supreme Court in 1965 agreed with them. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the ruling that the state's administraton of its residency certificate requirement was a "real obstacle to voting in federal elections" that "abridged" the franchise. He emphasized that constitutional end-runs were not permitted. "For federal elections," he explained, "the poll tax is abolished absolutely as a prerequisite to voting, and no equivalent or milder substitute may be imposed."

This broad functional view of taxation is firmly rooted in our constitutional tradition. In his recent opinion in the healthcare case, for example, Chief Justice John G. RobertsJr.adopted the same approach in finding that the "penalty" imposed by the Affordable Care Act was the functional equivalent of a tax.

But in Warren's ruling, the same broad approach to taxation led to a very different conclusion. Unlike Roberts, Warren was not marking out the boundaries of congressional power. He was restricting the power of the states to impose unnecessary administrative barriers that were the functional equivalents of poll taxes.

Applying Warren's approach to the present day has large practical implications. The estimated number of registered voters in Texas without valid IDs ranges from 167,000 (according to the state) to more than 1 million (according to the federal government). The Justice Department also emphasizes that minority groups are disproportionately affected. What is more, 10 other states have passed similar laws in the last two years alone. All these statutes raise fundamental problems under the 24th Amendment.

Curiously, these problems have been overlooked in the escalating wave of challenges to this recent round of exclusionary legislation. Civil rights lawyers have focused instead on more familiar texts such as the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. Though these provisions are important, they were created in response to a host of other issues. The poll tax amendment, in contrast, was focused on the very problem that now threatens again to undermine our democracy: imposing costs on the poor that prevent them from voting.

The attorney general was right to recall the amendment from legal obscurity, and to insist that we remember the determined effort by the civil rights generation to end this disgraceful practice forever.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wide Gap Between Elections

In this article "Democracy: Thinking Outside the Box," Rick Salutin raises some fundamental issues with democracy around the world. In particular and not limited to, the notion that elections are infrequent, and there are large gaps between elections in which elected politicians are disconnected with the majority of the people, and their actions and non-actions are largely inconsistent with what they campaigned on. Or as Mr. Salutin says, "we elect governments that go away for four years and do things they never mentioned during the campaign without asking our opinion." In addition, Mr. Sultan quotes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, who says, “voting will not alter the corporate systems of power. Voting is an act of political theatre. Voting in the United States is as futile and sterile as in the elections I covered as a reporter in dictatorships like Syria, Iran and Iraq.” Mr. Sultan goes on to suggest that democracy may have more to do with consulting people than elections.

One example of what Mr. Sultan refers to is the recent Canada/Colombia Free Trade Agreement (in effect August 14, 2011) in which the Canadian federal government without consulting the Canadian people or being entirely transparent with them, has aligned itself and some Canadian Corporations with the Colombian government and its paramilitaries. CAN Gov't and Paramilitaries

Beyond this, perhaps people need to think outside of or beyond governments, and become more independent. If you don't like something, do something about it, rather than rely on someone else to deal with it or merely hope that someone else does.


Democracy: Thinking Outside the Box
By Rick Salutin

I’ve been vexed by elections going back to high-school student council. The wrong candidate usually won: the quarterback beat the class intellectual, convincing me that “the people” are stupid and democracy doesn’t work.

Voters whose candidates lose often react that way. But what if the problem is elections, not democracy — because elections aren’t all there is to democracy. That may be hard to absorb, since we tend to equate them. But perhaps democracy isn’t just a political system; it’s a core part of being human.
Recent democratic eruptions in diverse places raise such questions.

Take Tunisia. The Arab Spring began there in late 2010. Tunisians, led by the young, rose up, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a feared dictator for decades, soon fled. Cairo’s uprising followed. Then Spain’s Real Democracy Now camps, which led to Occupy Wall St., Occupy Toronto and the likes.

I went to Tunis last November, just weeks after the country’s first free election. What struck me was a disconnect between the “revolution” and the election that had just occurred. Many who went fearlessly into the streets a year before chose not to participate. They didn’t see the connection. One blogger, “A Tunisian Girl,” was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her role in the uprising, but she said she wouldn’t vote. There was even a group called Bloggers against the Election.

In the end, only 55 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot — just one year after an inspiring, democratic catharsis in the streets.

Alhem Belhadj, a child psychiatrist, is president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women. “We tell people voting is important,” she says, “but half the population don’t participate and it’s not women, it’s youth. They don’t feel elections are the road to democracy.”

Young people tell her the way to democracy is through economic programs and expansion of rights. Their concerns are free expression, police violence against kids, the fact many of the guilty still face no charges, and the way money and media dominate elections.

Belhadj agrees that the parties are “stuck far behind those who made the revolution” — the young and fed up. She acknowledges the critique of voting isn’t mindless. It’s not because youth don’t care about politics; it’s because they do.

Her own most intense political experience came not from voting but in the street protests a year before, when she felt accepted fully, as a woman and citizen: “The dictatorship denied our ability to be both at the same moment; then you live it on Avenue Bourguiba.”

Those moments were ineffable for many: like the lawyer who wandered the dark streets of Tunis alone on the climactic night of Jan. 14 shouting, “Ben Ali has run away.” In comparison, elections pale.

Asma Nouirais a political scientist. She distinguishes the revolution, which she says wasn’t about democracy in the accepted sense — “it was the apprenticeship of democracy,” from the electoral process it led to. It’s as though there were two trains on different tracks, related but distinct. When one ended its run, the other began chugging out of the station. In the revolution, she says, everyone came together. The absence of leadership made unity easier: “Dictatorship makes so many things clear.”

The transition to elections came afterward, when she was appointed to a commission charged with preparing for them. She saw the electoral sausage being stuffed, and it wasn’t pretty. “There was lying, people tried to delay the election, the distinction between politics and morality vanished, they all acted the same; left, right, secular, religious — they were all idiots.” It’s as if she had a seat on both trains.

As for the election that occurred just before we met, “we’re still waiting to see the effects.”

Those results, giving most seats to Ennahda, an Islamist party, even though it fell short of an overall majority, unsettled many enthusiasts of The Revolution.
“C’est inquiétant,” says Elyes Gharbi, a broadcaster.

During the dictatorship, he stayed under the radar as a producer. But on Jan. 14, the crucial day, he went on air. He knew all Tunisia was watching. He forgot 15 years of caution. “What I lived was like a birth moment,” he says, an image others have used. It’s not a phrase people utter as they step from a polling booth.

But now, a year, an election and an Islamist plurality later, he’s fearful. “After the romantic moment of revolution, we are awakening from this beautiful dream to a nightmare.” Election reality meets popular fervour. “As an opposition, how do you disagree with God? It will be a good or a terrible Tunisia.”

I found the same unease at a meeting of artists in a suburban cinema. They were thrilled and electrified along with others during the revolution. The moment it succeeded, however, everything was frozen for them in public terms. The future became hazy and electioneering took over. So they busied themselves in their work and scattered.

They dropped back in a year later, after the election. The success of Ennahda unfroze them. “Islamists have two problems,” says actor Anissa Daoud, who organized the meeting, “art and women.” Following the election, they demanded control of the ministries of culture and education.

They got neither and formed a coalition government with secular parties. So far so good. Tunisia remains the poster child for the Arab Spring.

But the forebodings weren’t misplaced. Just last month, an art show was attacked by Salafists — radical Islamists — and other malcontents, for being blasphemous (“Allah,” spelled out by ants, etc.). There were riots, someone died, many were injured and arrested. The leader of Ennahda denounced the attacks, but also denounced the art.

The main conflict right now may be between Islamists; Al Qaeda has called for the destruction of the Tunisian revolution and Ennahda sees itself as Al Qaeda’s chief combatant. On the other hand, there was a protest march by tourism operators demanding government action so tourists won’t stay away from the country’s famous beaches. All in all, this looks like the somewhat ragged shape of real democracy.

This disconnect is becoming familiar. In Egypt, for instance, in last month’s presidential elections that followed Cairo’s own spring. The runoff pitted the last prime minister under the old regime against a candidate from the venerable Muslim Brotherhood — as if no vibrant popular movement in Tahrir Square had made it all possible a year earlier.

There, too, many youth endorsed a boycott to depress an already low first-round turnout in order to discredit the legitimacy of whoever won. The eventual turnout was reported as 51 per cent, a suspiciously narrow majority of eligible voters, making one wonder if it had been even less. And the vote was preceded by a supreme court dismissal of the elected parliament alongside a reassertion of military power. You’d have to give points to any youth who’d voiced doubts about the electoral version of democracy versus the preceding in-the-streets kind.

It’s tempting to dismiss these disconnects and rejections of elections as signs of political naivete and inexperience: a failure to accept that the apprenticeship is over and now the tedious but unavoidable electoral realities begin, with all their frustrations.

But that might be hasty and simplistic. I talked in Tunis, for instance, to Ahmed Bouazzi, an older man in a business suit, a veteran of one of the parties allowed to function under the dictatorship, though just barely. They plugged away for years but were surprised by the sudden outburst of democratic passion.

“It was like a snowball,” he said, as we sat surrounded by desert on the shores of the Mediterranean. “Still,” I said, “people here have only known dictatorship” — implying they may not be ready for the next phase: elections. He looked puzzled. As if to say, this isn’t about experience with elections; people yearn for freedom as they breathe air, it’s a natural process no one has to teach you.

“What I see in young people,” he said, “is the natural desire to be part of decisions. What they normally want is to express themselves, not just individually but publicly.”

He went on to proudly describe the deep roots of the democratic impulse in Tunisia. In 1846, it abolished slavery two years before France and long before the United States. In 1861, it wrote the first Arab constitution. In 1956, polygamy was abolished and women won the right to divorce — before Italy and Spain. In 1959, women gained the right to vote before Swiss women.

That Tunisian snowball has been rolling for a long time.

I heard similar sentiments from Said Ferjani, of the Ennahda party. He spent 22 years exiled in London and returned after the revolution.

“I wish in the West they would focus on our non-violence when they talk about Islam,” he said. “How the masses of people did not react, even to incredible abuse. Here you see love of freedom and non-violence, yet we are dismissed as unsuited to democracy.”

Western critics of the Muslim world, believers in a “clash of civilizations,” clearly get in his craw. “Yes, we are Muslims but we share with the world an attachment to freedom and democracy. And these things go not only from the West to Muslims but from Muslims to the West.”

There are inklings of a democratic disconnect in the West, too. The U.S. equivalent is the looming dropout from this fall’s elections by many who campaigned ardently for Barack Obama in 2008. It was their Tahrir moment, but they see little connection between it and the Obama policies that followed. Many joined the Occupy movement.

One of their mentors, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, says: “Voting will not alter the corporate systems of power. Voting is an act of political theatre. Voting in the United States is as futile and sterile as in the elections I covered as a reporter in dictatorships like Syria, Iran and Iraq.”

The now literally unlimited power of big money to dominate U.S. election campaigns following a Supreme Court decision plays into the same sense. It undermines any sense of an even minimal level of democratic debate. You hear people quote Emma Goldman, the revolutionary anarchist: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” But this deep skepticism about elections comes from people who are fervent democrats.

So is it a crisis for democracy or just a crisis for elections? Maybe we’ve shoehorned the concept into too tight a box. We believed too readily in Churchill’s claim — that democracy is the worst form of government except for all others. By democracy he meant a system like Britain’s, that traces itself back to ancient Greece and was passed on to places such as Canada, then sprinkled around the world.

But what if democracy is less a specific historical system than a basic human instinct?

In Athens last February I asked protesters outside Greece’s parliament if they were furious because their views were being ignored right here in democracy’s birthplace. They said they were doing what normal people do anywhere when their rights are denied. (They also pointed out that democracy in ancient Athens wasn’t so democratic: women and slaves were excluded.)

Have we had too narrow, and too historically anchored, a sense of the term?

For help with this, I visited British anthropologist Sir Jack Goody, now 93, at Cambridge University. During his years in a World War II PoW camp — “for the first time in our lives we didn’t have books or pencil and paper” — he got interested in non-literate peoples. That led him to switch, after the war, from literature to anthropology and do field work in West Africa. His recent books challenge the notion that certain ideas were invented in the West: democracy, capitalism, individualism, romantic love. He finds evidence instead that they’re rooted in human nature and can occur almost anywhere.

I asked what he might say about democracy as a basic instinct, to people who hadn’t read his books. “When literacy arose,” he replied, “you might have got a special form of consultation but before that you had other forms.”

That’s already interesting: he’s implying that consultation rather than voting could be the essential component.

He recalled the chief of a West African tribe who wanted to move camp. He consulted every tent, or all family heads, for their opinions. “That form of consultation is general but it’s the impulse that evolved into democracy and in some places led to elections. It’s been called primitive democracy. A chief doesn’t only make decisions; he wants people to follow him so he consults.

“Sometimes people come together and raise their hands. I remember a group in Ghana who dropped a stone in a box to make a choice. You had that often. I think of Greece as one of many places in the Near East that had a version of elections. They did it every four years but ancient Carthage (now Tunis) did it yearly, making them more democratic in that sense.”

So democracy might include elections in some form, but then again it might not.

“Democracy is far wider than we think,” he went on. “Even if the idea of a king seems authoritarian, you may have representatives operating at lower levels, so he can test people’s opinions. If you’ve spent time in a simple society as I have, the power of the chief is limited. Consultation occurs. Any human community must consult in order to get things done.

“I knew a West African tribe where the ruler was called ‘the man who speaks last.’ He was an important, powerful chief but he always went around the room and took the sense of the meeting, as it were. He didn’t decide alone.

“What is the prime minister except the man who the king consults, who took the opinion of commoners to the king? I think our conception of the constitution of democracy has been very narrow. This kind of thinking opens a box in a sense.”

What box? Well, there’s the box that contains the idea that ancient Greeks and no one else (or only a few others) invented democracy. But there’s also the box that says democracy equals elections. What if it is as much, or more, about consulting “the people.”

Elections may sound more democratic to us. But we elect governments that go away for four years and do things they never mentioned during the campaign without asking our opinion. In that case, ongoing consultation might be more democratic than occasional elections. And are there other options? How would you decide which is “truer” democracy?

Maybe you don’t have to. What if it isn’t a specific thing, with a definition you can look up. Maybe instead it’s a general capacity or potential, built into us — like our capacities for language, musicality, love and so forth — which finds various ways to express itself, none “right” or inevitable? So that the idea would be to open the box occasionally — or the concept — and let it breathe.

The point isn’t that others are somehow democratically right and we’re wrong, or vice versa; it’s that democracy’s future may be a more open book than we thought.