Friday, August 31, 2012

Frenzied Fund Raising and the 2012 U.S. Election

2012 U.S. Presidential Candidates: Romney and Obama
In this article (below), Sheila Krumholz sheds light on the frenzied fund raising taking place in the 2012 American Presidential race. She says that although money does not guarantee an election win, the Presidential candidates that raise the most money normally win the elections. Money buys electoral influence through the media, or putting on events etc. However, ultimately, it is up to Americans to decide who their congressional representatives are. Americans have no choice in who their President and Vice-President are. The Electoral College electors determine the President and Vice-President. Historically, the Electoral College has followed the popular vote with the exception of four times.

If a majority of American are being inundated with certain political messages this may influence how they vote for the congressional candidates and impact the broadness of electoral discourse.

Key Aspects of the American Federal Electoral Finance Laws:

1. Independent third-parties (whether individual or corporations) known as Super PACs can receive unlimited contributions and have unlimited expenditures. There is minimal disclosure of Super PACs contributors.

2. There is no campaign expenditure limit on privately funded presidential candidates nor is there a limit on personal contributions by privately funded presidential candidates.

3. There is no personal contribution limit on congressional candidates.

4. The maximum individual contributions of $46,200 (to candidates) and $70,800 (to dependent PACs and parties) are not reflective of U.S. per capita income. The FDA calculated the 2010 U.S. per capita income to be $33,585 (less children).

The current U.S. electoral finance process equates money with free speech, but through unlimited contributions and expenditures favors the wealthier individuals and organizations in society, and actually diminishes freedom of speech by diluting and making irrelevant the campaign voice of the average American. The current U.S. federal campaign period is like a Darwinian jungle in which the most powerful economically and politically have the loudest voice and greatest influence. Democracy, at least a people's democracy, is rooted in equality of voice ("one vote, one person"), and will of the people as a whole.

Shortly, the FDA will be publishing an audit report on the U.S. federal electoral system which shows objectively what is going on in terms of process, and what electoral reform is needed in the United States.


Will money buy the White House? By Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics

In case you haven't noticed, this election season is awash in money.

By the end of July, Mitt Romney had widened his cash advantage over President Obama by $62 million. Romney has also been raising more money than Obama in the last three months.

If Romney continues to outraise Obama, does it mean that he will win the presidential race? Can money buy elections?

Historically, the candidate who raises the most money is likely to win. In recent presidential elections, the only victors whose campaign committees raised less than their opponent were Bill Clinton in 1996 (raising $116.8 million to Sen. Bob Dole's $134.7 million) and Ronald Reagan, who raised less than Jimmy Carter but nevertheless swept into Washington in a 1980 landslide.

In both instances, the comparison of funds raised is limited to their primary campaigns as, unlike today, these candidates relied exclusively upon the presidential public financing system which provided funds in equal amounts to both major party candidates for their general election campaigns.

Fortunately, for candidates in any given race, money alone provides no guarantee of victory. Candidates need exceptional campaign skills, a solid election team, charisma, name recognition and it helps to be an incumbent who usually has these attributes and whose viability often attracts more donations.

Still, money is essential. For example, in the 2010 cycle (including both primaries and general elections), only 9 winning House challengers spent under $1 million. Candidates need a lot of resources to conduct a meaningful campaign and, these days, that costs $1.4 million for an average House seat and up to hundreds of millions to take the White House.

Over the last decade, we've seen that in the vast majority of congressional races, those who raised the most money emerged victorious. In 2004, Senate candidates who raised the most money won 88% of the time and House candidates who raised the most money won an astonishing 97.8% of the time. It is a testament to money's influence that even in what was widely considered to be a "wave election" in 2010, when the political environment favored the GOP, candidates with the most money still held sway in most of the races.

In 2012, money is even more important because candidates are not just competing with their electoral opponent anymore, but also with the messages and money from highly professionalized super PACs and nonprofits with lots of campaign experience. These unfamiliar groups' agendas may or may not be clear to candidates, or the voters they're trying to influence.

Outside spending is now the hallmark of America's elections, particularly in tight races.

Expect to see record spending this year, which will largely come from very few donors. While the presidential campaigns are raising less money overall than in 2008, money spent by super PACs and secretive nonprofits, ostensibly independently, to influence elections is soaring. Groups across the political spectrum are making "independent expenditures" and "issue ads" that talk about candidates and issues without explicit "vote for" messages.

This is the evolutionary effects of two critical changes in the campaign finance world. One is the demise of the presidential public funding program and the other is the formal legal sanctioning of unlimited and unrestricted spending directed at candidates.

Since 1976, the presidential public financing system included matching funds for small contributions in primaries and equal grants for the two general election nominees. Beginning with George W. Bush rejecting public matching funds in the 2000 primary campaign (and the spending limits that went with them), that system was diminished incrementally until 2008 when Obama's rejection of general election funding spelled its final demise.

The system was far from perfect, but it offered an equal base from which the two presidential candidates could conduct the eight or nine week sprint to the finish. And it would reduce the fundraising frenzy that now surrounds this presidential race.

Witness how Paul Ryan began his tenure as Romney's running mate with a stop at the Venetian Hotel to meet Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who has previously said he will spend up to $100 million to ensure President Obama's defeat. Team Obama, meanwhile, is holding exclusive, coast-to-coast fundraisers in homes of the super-rich, giving face time (with the president, vice president, first lady and various other celebrities) to those who can bring $70,000 or so to the table.

Similarly, a series of judicial and regulatory decisions in recent years has yielded a system in which unlimited funds from virtually any source can be brought directly into the campaign at any time, often with no indication of who is paying the bill. The maze of obscure organizations designed to coordinate these outside efforts and obfuscate their financial sources is just one more example of the cynical efforts of the political class to bend the rules and manipulate the process in hopes of gaining some small advantage on Election Day. It's an attitude that is not lost on an already frustrated electorate that finds little in the political process worthy of respect.

The result is an atmosphere where candidates and parties must raise upwards of $20 million or more each week or risk falling behind. The airwaves are saturated in an unprecedented effort to influence voters in the dozen states up for grabs this year. In the largest of these states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia) the campaigns, super PACs and other shadowy groups have spent an average of nearly $30 million each month since May, levels not seen until late fall in the closest of previous presidential races.

We've reached the point in the campaign where groups running issues ads that identify a candidate would normally have to disclose their donors. But in a cynical move, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS readily admit to employing evasive tactics which, ironically, require that they take a more aggressive position for or against the candidate, in exchange for which they may completely dodge disclosure of their donors.

Meanwhile, we move toward fall pretending that our campaign finance system remains sound and will protect us when, in some key respects, the rules and disclosure that the Citizens United decision, and the entire system, depends on no longer exist.

Partisan advantage appears to have replaced institutional dysfunction as the driving forces behind the eroding disclosure of those "paying the piper" in this election. The question is whether and when enough people will engage their representatives and collectively demand more authentic dialogue and intellectually honest leadership from lawmakers in Washington. If there is to be any hope of change, this is step No. 1. Otherwise, we shouldn't be surprised when, come 2013, we start hearing a new tune, but can't see who's calling it.

Meanwhile, Romney, Obama, their parties and the outside groups that support them are all locked in an exhaustive race for funds. While Romney has done well compared to Obama in the last few months, the Obama campaign has raised far more overall this cycle. Both camps will have enough money to get their message out, but only one will win the election. In the end, money may not be the only reason, but if history is any indication, whichever candidate raises more of it will likely be our next president.

Alberta Government Fails to Disclose Financial Details

Redford after winning the 2012 AB Election
The Alberta government under Redford failed to disclose financial details for the 2012 first quarter fiscal update. Instead, the government gave a presentation with few specifics. There is no legal requirement on the government to disclose specifics.

The Alberta government redistributes Alberta tax dollars. The importance of financial transparency is to prevent and identify corruption, and encourage fiscal change if need be.

The Redford PC government ran in the 2012 Alberta Election partly on transparency and accountability.


Commentary:


Alberta government slammed for keeping financial details secret
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Transparency and accountability advocates lambasted the Redford government Thursday for severely restricting Albertans’ access to information about the troubled state of the province’s finances.

Finance Minister Doug Horner released a first-quarter fiscal update Thursday that makes no financial projections, omits capital planning and financial assets, and dramatically reduces the number of raw figures available for public scrutiny.

The government also revoked journalists’ access to finance officials, who have for decades been available at technical briefings to explain the most complicated aspects of the province’s financial situation. Reporters rely on these briefings to prepare informed questions for political leaders.

Advocates said keeping financial details hidden from the public robs the electorate of its ability to understand what government is doing and strips Albertans of their democratic rights. Horner said the changes were designed to make the information easier for Albertans to understand.

“We didn’t do a technical briefing, because the reality is if we have to do a technical briefing for (journalists), how do we expect that Albertans are going to understand what I am telling them?

“I want Albertans to understand (that) the first-quarter results are based on actual-to-budget, just the way they would do at home or in their businesses, and that’s the way we are going to report.”

He said the Redford government is not going to rewrite the budget four times a year. “We are not going to make decisions for the rest of the year based on what happened three months ago.”

Premier Alison Redford campaigned on promises of transparency and accountability, but advocates say her government has restricted access to the most basic financial information....

Evidence of Redford Operating in Another World

Thursday, August 30, 2012

U.S. Federal Court Motivated by Partisan Politics?

Texas state government building
The recent decision by a U.S Federal District Court against the Texas Voter Identification Law appears to be motivated by partisan politics.

The Texas Law (Bill 44) states that "voters who show up at the polls to identify themselves with one of five forms of ID, including a driver’s license, a United States passport or a state-issued license to carry a concealed handgun. Those lacking one of the five types of identification must obtain an election identification certificate, a government-issued card similar to a driver’s license."

Yet, the U.S. Court argues that Bill 44 would hurt turnout among minority voters (disenfranchisement) and be "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor". "Prospective voters would need to travel to a state Department of Public Safety office to get an election ID card, and, although the card is free, they would have to verify their identity to obtain one, in some cases paying $22 to order a certified copy of their birth certificate." Moreover, in the judges decision (below) says that "while a 200 to 250 mile trip to and from a D.P.S. office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor."

The flaw in this decision is that Texas voters have the option of getting one of five forms of identification in order to vote. The U.S. Court decision makes it seem that only one form of voter identification (i.e. state election identification certificate) is required to vote.

Voter identification is integral to preventing election fraud. The decision is made by a federal court which is connected to the Obama Administration through the United States Attorney General. The Obama Administration argues that it is a burden on voters to produce identification to vote, and therefore, they should not be required to produce identification. In Canada, for example, producing identification prior to voting is simply the norm based on the common sense understanding that voters need to be identified prior to voting to prevent fraud and mistakes such as voters voting at the incorrect polling station.

US District Court Decision on Texas Bill 44


Commentary:

Court Blocks Texas Voter ID Law, Citing Racial Impact
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and MANNY FERNANDEZ (NY Times)

WASHINGTON – A federal court on Thursday struck down a Texas law that would have required voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots in November, ruling that the law would hurt turnout among minority voters and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” by charging those voters who lack proper documentation fees to obtain election ID cards.

The three-judge panel in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia called Texas’ voter-identification law the most stringent of its kind in the country, though Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s attorney general vowed to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. The judges’ ruling came just two days after another three-judge panel in the same court found that the Texas Legislature had intentionally discriminated against minority voters in drawing up new political maps for Congressional and legislative districts, citing the same section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Known as Senate Bill 14, the state’s voter-identification law requires voters who show up at the polls to identify themselves with one of five forms of ID, including a driver’s license, a United States passport or a state-issued license to carry a concealed handgun. Those lacking one of the five types of identification must obtain a so-called election identification certificate, a government-issued card similar to a driver’s license. Prospective voters would need to travel to a state Department of Public Safety office to get an election ID card, and, although the card is free, they would have to verify their identity to obtain one, in some cases paying $22 to order a certified copy of their birth certificate.

In its unanimous 56-page ruling, the federal judges found that the fees and the cost of traveling for those voters lacking one of the five forms of ID disproportionately affected the poor and minorities. “Moreover, while a 200 to 250 mile trip to and from a D.P.S. office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor,” the decision read, referring to the fact that dozens of counties in Texas do not have a public safety office.

Mr. Perry and other Texas Republicans had argued that voter identification laws were constitutional methods of preventing voter fraud at the ballot box, and they believed the courts could not legally consider factors like poverty when determining whether a law complies with the Voting Rights Act.

After the court’s decision, Mr. Perry on Thursday sharply criticized the federal judges and the Obama administration. In July, United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the N.A.A.C.P. that the Texas law’s requirements amounted to a poll tax.

“Chalk up another victory for fraud,” Mr. Perry said in a statement. “Today, federal judges subverted the will of the people of Texas and undermined our effort to ensure fair and accurate elections. The Obama administration’s claim that it’s a burden to present a photo ID to vote simply defies common sense.”

Mr. Holder, who has been an outspoken critic of the spate of newly imposed restrictions on voting, praised the ruling. “The court’s decision today and the decision earlier this week on the Texas redistricting plans not only reaffirm — but help protect — the vital role the Voting Rights Act plays in our society to ensure that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted,” he said in a statement.

The wave of voter ID laws enacted by Republican-led state governments in recent years has led to a polarizing debate.

Supporters – mostly conservatives – argue that such restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud. While there is no evidence of significance levels of voter impersonation – the sort of fraud that would be addressed by ID requirements – they argue that it is just going undetected. But critics – mostly liberals – say voter impersonation fraud is rare and contend that the restrictions are a veiled effort to suppress turnout by legitimate voters who are less likely to have a photo ID card and who tend to support Democrats, like students, the indigent and minorities.

While opponents of voter ID laws celebrated Thursday’s ruling as a broad victory for their cause, the ruling was narrowly focused on the Texas law and emphasized that it should not be read as implying that all voter ID laws should be blocked by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling cited with approval the Justice Department’s decision to allow Georgia to implement a less restrictive version of such a measure, saying the difference between the two state laws was “stark.”

Mr. Perry signed the voter identification bill into law last May, but it had not yet taken effect, because Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination cannot make any changes to their voting procedures without first receiving so-called preclearance from either the United States attorney general or the federal court in Washington. Texas sought approval from Mr. Holder, who denied granting preclearance in March, in part because the state’s data showed that Hispanic voters were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic voters to lack a government-issued driver’s license or identification card.

Texas filed a lawsuit asking the court to grant preclearance and allow it to enforce the new law, and there was a trial before the three-judge panel in July.

The two federal rulings this week were bittersweet victories for State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio who testified at the voter ID trial in July and is chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, one of the groups that sued the state over redistricting.

“Texas has sort of aired its dirty laundry across a national stage for the last two days, and it’s a history that we are not very proud of,” Mr. Fischer said. “This is an opportunity for minorities to recognize that there is a political party in this state that has a decision to make, when it comes to embracing and making them an inclusive part of their party structure. Rather than be inclusive, I think the Republican Party has decided to make them the targets.”


Question for Readers: Is it unreasonable to expect voters without 5 main pieces of identification to get either one of the main identifications or a state issued certificate to vote?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 U.S. Presidential Election and beyond (Part 2 of 2)


Solomon Comissiong
In part 2 of 2, Stephen Garvey, FDA executive director interviews Solomon Comissiong about the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election and beyond. Solomon is an American educator, author, human rights activist, community and youth advocate, and executive director of Your World News media collective. Solomon speaks frankly about the U.S. two party system, and what it would take to set America on a new trajectory towards more equality, justice, and peace both internally and externally. Solomon challenges the American status quo with facts, reason, and values, and he presents a case for rehabilitation of the American psyche. For non-mainstream, insightful, and provocative discussion from people working in the field of international politics, listen in or download the FDA podcasts.

The views in any of the FDA podcasts do not necessarily represent views of the FDA. The FDA supports free and broad speech. The purposes of the FDA podcast are to encourage discussion about timely and significant democracy related issues, and educate.

Question for listeners of podcast: 

Solomon identifies the U.S. corporate media as a main cog in the U.S. system for perpetuating the status quo and two-party politics. How would you reform the U.S. media sector especially during campaign periods? Lets hear your perspective in the comment section.

US Presidential Election and Beyond Part 2 (Released 8/28/2012)

FDA RSS Feed


Monday, August 27, 2012

Canadian Government and Torture

Example of torture: water boarding at Guantanamo Bay
There is a progressive pattern of association between the current Canadian federal government and torture. Canadians may find this pattern relevant and important.

Below, the FDA outlines some of the main allegations and evidence: 

1. RCMP and Canadian Border Patrol

The Canadian government has given a green light to the RCMP and Canadian Border Patrol to use information derived by means of torture. According to the CBC, "the Conservative government has quietly given Canada's national police force and the federal border agency the authority to use and share information that was likely extracted through torture." The Canadian government says that information derived from torture will only be used to protect lives. A moral argument to justify immoral acts. The danger with this policy of allowing information derived from torture is that it justifies the existence of torture and the policy may be misused whereby information derived from torture is used for non-life threatening situations.

RCMP, Border Agency Can Use Information Tainted by Torture


2. Colombia

On August 15, 2011, the Canadian/Colombia Free Trade Agreement came into effect. However, the Colombian government is linked to death squads and paramilitaries, and there is mounting evidence of the Colombian government murdering and repressing its own citizens to cater to international corporations operating in Colombia. Canadian companies operating in Colombia have been implicated in death squads and the displacement and murder of indigenous and unionist groups, while the current Canadian government ignores this implication. According to Canadian researcher and journalist, Asad Ismi, the current Canadian government when negotiating the Canada Colombia Free Trade deal told the Colombia government to charge at least a fine if persons are caught murdering unionists.

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 Trade Minister Ed Fast and the Canadian Fair Trade Association has so far ignored the FDA's requests for interviews.

FDA interview of Asad Ismi on Canada's involvement in Colombia:

Canada's Involvement in Colombia (Interview posted July 6, 2012)


3. Guantanamo Bay

Canadian citizen Omar Khadr has spent over 8 years in the Guantanamo Bay Correctional Facility, which is widely known for torture. During these 8 years the Canadian government has dismissed the idea of securing Omar's release on grounds that the U.S. government should be allowed carry out its law. In 2008, and again in 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Canadian government violated Khadr's Charter rights. Canada is the only western country to not secure the release of its citizens from Guantanamo Bay. Although Omar is set to be released to a Canadian prison, the Canadian government is stalling the decision on his release. Canadian Government Stalls its Decision on the Release of Omar Khadr

Here is a FDA video interview which touches on the issues of Omar Khadr:

FDA Video Interview of Dr Macklin on Omar Khadr


4. Afghanistan

There are allegations and evidence that the Canadian government since 2002 has been complicit in torture by knowingly transferring prisoners to torture facilities and to persons known for acting out torture.

In 2007 Amnesty International and BC Civil Liberties Association launched a Federal Court application for an order to halt the transfers and filed two complaints with the Military Police Complaints Commission (“MPCC”) challenging the transfers.

In June 27, 2012, the MPCC released its final report, in which it "found significant problems with respect to information sharing, reporting, and accountability within the military police, and between the military police and the Canadian Forces, generally. On detainee abuse issues, the Commission found that the Military Police were kept “out of the loop” and “marginalized” by Canadian Forces leadership. The Commission noted that it is ultimately “for others to examine the overall appropriateness of Canada’s detainee transfer policies, and the results achieved.”

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada: “But it has never been clear who those ‘others’ are. And the government has made it clear that they do not invite or welcome scrutiny of that nature when it comes to detainee transfers. There is much that remains unexamined, such as the legality and appropriateness of relying on non-binding state to state agreements and prison visit and monitoring arrangements in the face of a well-documented and serious risk of torture. There is still, also, a pressing need to impartially and independently establish an accurate picture of the numbers of prisoners transferred, the numbers of allegations of torture and ill-treatment; the response to those allegations by both Canadian and Afghan officials, the frequency, nature and outcome of monitoring visits, and many other crucial factual questions.”

In 2009, Canadian field officer Richard Colvin reported that the Canadian government was knowingly transferring prisoners to torture facilities. The Canadian government responded by dismissing Colvin from his field officer position and attacking the credibility of Colvin. Here is an article about the attempted character assassination:

Richard Colvin: Portrait of a Whistle Blower


Law: 

"The use of torture is absolutely prohibited under Canadian and international law. What this means is that torture is prohibited under all circumstances, and that there can never be situation where the use of torture can be justified. The universal prohibition against torture does not simply mean that the government shouldn’t engage in torture or be complicit in torture, however. It also means that a government has a duty to prevent the perpetration of torture and to ensure that it is not responsible for delivering individuals to situations in which they would be at risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Issues:

Is the Canadian government violating Canadian and international law by justifying torture in order to protect lives? (Note, G.W.Bush made the same argument about water boarding at the Guantanamo Bay Correctional Facility).


Question for Readers:

Do you think it is right morally to knowingly and indirectly contribute to a person's torture by either handing over the person to a torturer, ignoring the acts of the torturer, and/or having a business relationship with the torturer?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

No Process or Recourse What Good is Transparency?

U.S. Capital Building
The N.Y. Times editorial (below) touches on an important social condition: transparency of intuitive moral wrongdoing without legislative process to deal with the wrongdoing. The editorial focuses on the U.S. financial crisis in which there is clear evidence of moral lapses by major banks and their top executives, and yet there is no legislation to hold them accountable nor is there political will to create the legislation to hold them accountable. In the case of the U.S. federal electoral system, there is transparency of candidate and party contributions and expenditures, in which there is clear evidence of an inequitable, undemocratic electoral finance process. Yet, there is no political will by elected officials to correct the deficiencies.

What good is transparency if there are no laws or processes in place to deal with what the transparency shows, and there is no political will by elected officials to make reform?

Yes, a legal system is in constant flux, but what about the lack of political will?

Yes, transparency can encourage reform, but transparency itself may not necessarily lead to reform.

Does it follow that the elected officials need to be replaced by ones who are willing to make the reforms? Does the U.S. federal electoral system, for example, allow reasonably for such replacement? (In the previous post,  Kihano argues that it does not.  Public Trust and Democracy)


No Crime, No Punishment
N.Y. Time Editorial (August 25, 2012)

When the Justice Department recently closed its criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs, it became all but certain that no major American banks or their top executives would ever face criminal charges for their role in the financial crisis.

Justice officials and even President Obama have defended the lack of prosecutions, saying that even though greed and other moral lapses were evident in the run-up to the crisis, the conduct was not necessarily illegal.

But that characterization of the financial industry’s actions has always defied common sense — and all the more so now that a fuller picture is emerging of the range of banks’ reckless and lawless activities, including interest-rate rigging, money laundering, securities fraud and excessive speculation.

Which is not to say that prosecuting wrongdoing in the financial crisis is easy. Proving federal fraud requires evidence of intent, no small lift. But proving intent does not require a smoking gun. The financial crisis, fomented over years by big banks and presided over by executives, involved reckless lending, heedless securitizations, exorbitant paydays and illusory profits, all of which led to government bailouts and economic calamity. Is it plausible that none of that broke the law and that none of the people in positions of power and authority knew what was going on?

It seems likelier that it’s not intent that’s missing, but creative thinking on the part of federal prosecutors about the web of federal statutes that could be brought to bear on potential cases. As far back as 2009, when the Justice Department lost a financial fraud case against a pair of hedge fund managers at Bear Stearns, it seems to have made an institutional determination that it could not win against big banks and top bankers. That stance has dovetailed with the Obama administration’s emphasis on protecting the banks from any perceived threat to their post-bailout recovery.

In the meantime, the statute of limitations, generally five years for securities fraud and most other federal offenses, is running out, precluding the possibility of bringing many new suits dating from the bubble years.

The result is a public perception that the big banks and their leaders will never have to answer fully for the crisis. The shameless pursuit of Wall Street campaign donations by both political parties strengthens this perception, and further undermines confidence in the rule of law. There may be more civil fraud suits related to the financial crisis, producing settlements and fines. But to date, those cases have rarely named top executives and the banks have rarely admitted wrongdoing. And the fines, even those in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have been small compared with bank profits and banker bonuses.

After all these years, what is still needed are cases with convictions and settlements severe enough to deter future bad behavior. If institutions operating at the heart of the economy really cannot be held to account, the solution should be to break them up, not give them and their leaders a pass.


Question to readers:

What good is transparency if there are no laws or processes in place to deal with what the transparency shows, or there is no political will by elected officials to make reform?


Friday, August 24, 2012

Is democracy contingent on public trust in political representatives?

The question, 'is democracy contingent on public trust in political representatives?' is addressed by Mr. Ivan Krastev in a recent TED speech.

Certainly, most westerns for example would agree that there is a lot of distrust of elected officials. Does that mean western democracy is not really a democracy, or that trust is not that important to democracy?

Mr. Ivan Krastev's perspective:


Selected commentary on Mr. Ivan Krastev's speech, with emphasis on Mr. Alonso Kihano who challenges Mr. Krastev's perspective and his credibility:

Mr. Hipolito Hernanz (Oregon Education Association, Assistant Executive Director - 17 years; National Education Association, Financial Advisor to State Affiliates - 2 years; WETA/26 (PBS) Business Manager -4 years; Argentine Embassy staff - 5 years):

Mr. Krastev expresses with eloquence the disappointment most of us feel when we can change candidates but cannot change policies. I think he missed an opportunity to explain why this is so.

It is essential to understand that we live in a democracy of special interest groups. By the time the candidates are announced, it is already too late for us, the voters, to make any difference. In rough terms, this is how it works:

Potential candidates are scouted and interviewed by political action committees set up by these groups. They can be the teacher unions, steel workers, bankers associations, or extremely wealthy individuals. They are selected on the basis of promises that the aspiring candidates make to these political action committees. The PAC then makes recommendations to the parent group, which decides which candidate to endorse and initiates the flow of money and professional campaign management. That's how candidates first appear on the scene.

The aspiring candidates make the rounds from interview to interview, gathering endorsements and pledges of money, without which their campaign can not even get started. By the time they can actually start they have already sold their soul to these bosses. Rarely, if ever, does a citizen start the process by himself or herself. They are almost always scouted and selected by the PAC's. Often they come from within their own ranks, such as teachers (democrats), bankers (republicans), or churches (far-right republicans). The one thing they all have in common is access to money and other campaign resources, such as lawyers, research staff, political consultants, and volunteer workers.

The Supreme Court just sanctified this process by allowing corporations and individuals to contribute without limit. Thus, one billionnaire, Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, has pledged up to $100 million to help elect Mr. Romney. One man!

How do we fix this, Mr. Krastev?


Mr. Alonso Kihano (from Russia):

The reasons why people are distracted from politics and voting in particular is that there is no democracy, but plutocracy, i.e. their vote means nothing.
2. The reason for having plutocracy is only one – the private ownership of capital and means of production. When you put the means from which you depend vitally in the hands of someone you can not control him democratically.
3. The private ownership of the mass media predetermines what you will hear from them. And it is always in favour of the rich, i.e. of the owners.
4. There exist a world network of privately sponsored think-tanks that have a declared aim to defend and develop democracy, but what they do is just the opposite – they suffocate the democracy and limit the range of the acceptable ideas to the desired by the rich.
5. Economics is not science. It is also politics, politics of the rich.
6. Due to points 3-6 all ideas for significant social improvements are being suffocated. People are being misled. A form of cultivated ignorance is being constantly spread. Thus, people are being misled, that there is no choice. Thus there is nothing to vote for.
7. The collapse of the Soviet Union accelerated all processes described in 5-6.
8. Democratic socialism without private ownership of capital and means of production is the only possible solution to the most of the current problems of the world.
Ok, I ended up with a numbered list. By the way only statement 1 alone renders the talk of Ivan Krastev senseless.
...

Actually, the “invisible hand of the market” is nothing more that the pseudo-scientifically stylised wishes of the owners of capital and means of production and their top managers. 

I can now return to the topic which Ivan Krastev avoids to discuss. The picture is clear as shiny day. If a nation is about to vote for government there is no choice; the political parties are also financed by donations from the rich people, especially in the USA. But even if they are not so dependent on donations, they have no ideas. Both think-tanks (already too powerful network unfortunately), and economists say – “there is no choice”, “capitalism may not be good, but there is no better”, “we cannot go against the market laws”, and so on. And, these are “our experts”. People believe them, and the politicians do not want to look stupid and ignorant. So, they conform to the “experts”. It is actually even worse. The “experts” dictate to the politicians what to do. If occasionally a nation dares to vote against the wish of the rich, or government does something against the wish of the rich then the last will answer in the usual way – cutting jobs windrowing investments, attacking the local currency. The economists will tell us, it is not the rich owners of capital and means of production that are doing that, it is the market! Thus, the economists speak for the private owners, and by their “science” actually threaten the society by the name of the class of the rich. If we disobey, they punish as, as they have threatened, and the economists say, “You see, the market laws are true!”. And the people believe that, even the economists believe that. 


The only significant change in this picture during the last 150 years is the existence of the countries of the socialist (not communist!) alliance. During the years of existence, and actually due to the socialist ideas itself, the rich had to care about the opinion of the masses. The West had to compete the east in equality....


Were the ideas coming from below, would the think tanks never be neoliberal. The effect is suppression of the democracy and the civil society – just the opposite of the declared aim. Moreover, the think-tanks put a lot of direct efforts to suffocate every different, not new just different, idea by immediately labelling it as “populist”, “totalitarian”, “communist”, “backward” and so on. There was also a good investigation (“La "main invisible" de la transition”) on that issue by a French anthropologist (also of Bulgarian origin) Dostena Lavern. Most of the works of the think-tanks are biased and quality ranges from mediocre to awful. But, the declared aim of the think-tanks network is false. The network was originally designed to suppress the democracy as we may see from the Canadian documentary “Encirclement - Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy”. One may be surprised to find out, that Friedrich Hayek is among the founders of this network, and that the principles of the network operation can be found in his book “The road to serfdom” (yes, I know, it is devoted to “socialism”. That is the curiosity.). 

Third, economics is not a science; it is politics that hides behind the mask of a science. I know you may not agree, but there are already many economists that admit it. (eg. Prof. Ha-Joon Chang). The economics just does not use scientific methods. The best description I ever met for the activities in the field of economics is by the Nobel prise winner Wassily Leontief - “We move from more or less plausible but really arbitrary assumptions, to elegantly demonstrated but irrelevant conclusions.” Moreover, the economy is based on a couple of historical myths (to avoid writing “falsifications”) especially the one of the “Golden era of European free trade” (see Paul Bairoch “Economics and world history”). Nevertheless, not only think-tanks, but university economists are keen to convince us in the “invisible hand” of the market....


The lecture is nearly completely misleading. Yes, there is growing mistrust in the politics and the political parties, but the reasons are quite different from the five ones discussed by Krastev. There are actually no new ideas in the talk that would be worth spreading. The talk is just an intellectual noise. 

First of all, there is no democracy in the western societies, there is plutocracy. This is easy to understand, but difficult to believe. And what corrupts the democracy is the private ownership of capital and means of production. Think a little, for example, you have granted someone the right of ownership of the bakery where you bake your bread. Then you vote differently from that guy. And, he gets angry and closes his bakery where you bake your bread. What democracy is that? We see such economic interference in the politics everyday and everywhere! Things are of course much worse.
 

Second, there are no new visible ideas for improving the society. The reasons are again two. The first reason are the private media that are also run for profit as private companies. Apart of being directly dependent on their owners, media are dependent also on the corporations via the advertising business. Thus, the media spread limited information patterned to the shape required by the owners and corporations. Noam Chomsky has a good book about that “Necessary illusions”. The second reason is the network of mainly neoliberal think-thanks financed by private foundations and the US government. As a matter of fact Ivan Krastev is a member and active participant in this network. The network and each think-tank declare an aim in the development of democracy and civil society, but what they do is just the opposite. To see the contradiction is easy, the network is financed via the project principle. The topics of the acceptable projects come from above, from the sponsors, not from below, from the citizens....

A democracy in which the people can shape the government is a rather limited one. In a true democracy the people can shape the politics, not the government only. 

Second, capitalism and democracy are incompatible. You, in the USA, do not have democracy, you have plutocracy (so does the rest of the “democratic” world, do not worry). Nevertheless, even real democracy will turn into plutocracy in a capitalist country.
 

Next, communism is not distribution of the resources evenly. It is a distribution where everyone gets as much as he needs. Also, money are abolished under communism. I have not heard when China abolished the use of money? China is a socialist, not communist country. But socialism also does not mean equal distribution of resources. Socialism means distribution according to the contribution.
 

By the way, I am not surprised. You in the USA are subject of very strong propaganda of every type. So, there is severe political ignorance, particularly on the questions about democracy, socialism, communism and USSR.


Question to Readers: 

Is Democratic Socialism the answer to United States' and the world's democracy ills, or will Democratic Socialism make the situation worse by concentrating economic power into fewer hands?
 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ironies and Realities of Assange

Julian Assange; speech on August 19, 2012
Julian Assange is full of ironies.

Based on August 19, 2012 public speech (below), ironically Assange supports greater freedom of speech than the United States. Assange believes that freedom of speech includes disclosing stolen classified documents on individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments. The U.S. government draws the line at Assange's speech by stating that freedom of speech which threatens American interests and lives is not permitted, and will be prosecuted/punished/silenced.

Assange's release of stolen American classified documents has created an opportunity and motivation for the U.S. government to strengthen its leaky bureaucracy, and therefore, Assange has done a service to the U.S. government. Yet, ironically, the U.S. government views Assange as a villain who has aided the "enemy".

Assange's release of American classified documents has exposed wrongdoing by the U.S. government, and therefore he has created momentum to correct the wrongdoing such as evidence of lax U.S. military conduct as it relates to civilian deaths and causalities. Yet, ironically, the U.S. government views Assange as a villain who has aided the "enemy".

Assange mentions the Russian band, Pussy Riot in which three members were jailed for two years for doing a political performance against Russian President Putin or 'hooliganism motivated by religious hatred', and yet the Russian government has been pressuring the U.K. government to honor Ecuador's decision to grant Assange political asylum.

Despite Assange's broad interpretation of freedom of expression, there are legislated limits to freedom of expression in many countries for promoting hatred, violence, and racism.

Realities:

The lengthy detention of Bradley Manning without trial by the U.S. government, for example, shows the limits of justice and freedom in the United States.

The three year prison sentence for Nabeel Rajab for sending a tweet confirms the authoritarian nature of the Bahraini kingdom (which is supported by the U.S. government). Bahraini Kingdom and Authoritarianism

The division over how to deal with Assange, with the Swedish and United Kingdom governments siding with the United States government, and Latin American governments siding with Assange, demonstrates the lack of clarity over the Assange issue.

The U.S. government's intolerance for anyone who goes against its interests supports the case for Assange's political asylum. By the same token, the disclosure of stolen classified documents demands some response, and therefore does not support Assange's political asylum. Hence, the Assange standoff will come down to political will and power.


Assange's Speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the London, United Kingdom on Wednesday, August 19, 2012:

I am here today because I cannot be there with you today. But thank you for coming. Thank you for your resolve and your generosity of spirit.

On Wednesday night, after a threat was sent to this embassy and the police descended on this building, you came out in the middle of the night to watch over it, and you brought the world’s eyes with you.

Inside this embassy, after dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape. But I knew there would be witnesses. And that is because of you.

If the U.K. did not throw away the Vienna conventions the other night, it is because the world was watching. And the world was watching because you were watching.

So, the next time somebody tells you that it is pointless to defend those rights that we hold dear, remind them of your vigil in the dark before the embassy of Ecuador.

Remind them how, in the morning, the sun came up on a different world and a courageous Latin America nation took a stand for justice.

And so, to those brave people: I thank President Correa for the courage he has shown in considering and in granting me political asylum.

And I also thank the government, and in particular Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, who upheld the Ecuadorian constitution and its notion of universal rights in their consideration of my asylum. And to the Ecuadorian people for supporting and defending this constitution.

And I also have a debt of gratitude to the staff of this embassy, whose families live in London and who have shown me hospitality and kindness despite the threats we all received.

This Friday, there will be an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of Latin America in Washington, D.C., to address this very situation.

And so, I am grateful to those people and governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, and to all other Latin American countries who have come out to defend the right to asylum.

And to the people of the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Australia who have supported me in strength, even when their governments have not. And to those wiser heads in government who are still fighting for justice. Your day will come.

To the staff, supporters, and sources of WikiLeaks, whose courage and commitment and loyalty has seen no equal.

To my family and to my children, who have been denied their father. Forgive me, we will be reunited soon.

As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies. We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America.

Will it return to and reaffirm the values, the revolutionary values it was founded on, or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world, in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark?

I say it must turn back. I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunts against WikiLeaks. The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation.

The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.

There must be no more foolish talk about prosecuting any media organization, be it WikiLeaks or be it The New York Times.

The U.S. administration’s war on whistleblowers must end.

Thomas Drake, William Binney, and John Kiriakou and the other heroic whistleblowers must — they must — be pardoned or compensated for the hardships they have endured as servants of the public record.

And to the Army private who remains in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who was found by the United Nations to have endured months of torturous detention in Quantico, Virginia, and who has yet — after two years in prison — to see a trial: he must be released.

Bradley Manning must be released.

And if Bradley Manning did as he is accused, he is a hero and an example to us all and one of the world’s foremost political prisoners. Bradley Manning must be released.

On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day of detention without trial. The legal maximum is 120 days.

On Thursday, my friend Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, was sentenced to three years in prison for a tweet. On Friday, a Russian band were sentenced to two years in jail for a political performance.

There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response.

Thank you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 U.S. Presidential Election: Prospects for Americans

Solomon Comissiong
In this FDA monthly podcast on World Democracy Discussion, Stephen Garvey FDA executive director interviews Solomon Comissiong on the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election and beyond. Solomon is an American educator, author, human rights activist, community and youth advocate, and executive director of Your World News media collective. In this interview, Solomon speaks frankly about Obama and Romney and the state of American democracy. He challenges the American status quo with facts, reason, and values, and he presents a strong case for American democracy reform. This interview is part 1 of 2.

Solomon Comissiong Interview

Monday, August 20, 2012

Russia Applies Pressure to the UK over Assange

Red Square, Moscow
Russia challenges the United Kingdom's threat of forced entry into the Ecuadorian Embassy by pointing out Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the inviolability of diplomatic premises and that the United Kingdom has a history of offering political asylum to persons who have been suspected of committing grave crimes in other countries.


Russia issues warning to Britain over Assange
By blade

Russia on Friday warned Britain against violating fundamental diplomatic principles after London suggested it could arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside Ecuador's embassy.

"What is happening gives grounds to contemplate the observance of the spirit and the letter of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and in particular the Article 22 spelling out the inviolability of diplomatic premises," the Russian foreign ministry said.

Ecuador on Thursday granted asylum to Assange -- whose website enraged the United States by publishing a vast cache of confidential government files -- but Britain has vowed not to grant him safe passage out of the country.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said his government was obliged under its own law to extradite the Australian national to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes.

Britain has angered Ecuador by suggesting it could invoke a domestic law allowing it to breach the usual rules and go in to arrest Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador's London mission since June.

This would challenge a fundamental principle of the diplomatic system, and the threat has left Britain in unchartered legal waters.

At the same time, Moscow warned Britain against interpreting the law selectively, stressing that London has given refuge to "dozens of people suspected of committing grave crimes" who are wanted in other countries.

"What to do with a right to refuge for Julian Assange when London turns the observance of this right for this category of people into an absolute principle?" the Russian foreign ministry asked, referring to a number of high-profile figures granted asylum in Britain.

Russia has for years sought the extradition of top Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky as well as several other figures.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

U.S. Government Turns Screw on Ecuador

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa
The United States government has indirectly threatened trade sanctions against Ecuador for offering political asylum to Julian Assange. This act makes it clear that the United States government is intent on extraditing Assange from Sweden if Assange is extradited by the United Kingdom to Sweden.

The Canadian government followed the American government in voting against holding a meeting of the Organization of American States to discuss the Assange issue. Ecuador is part of the Organization of American States.

The Assange issue has exposed a geopolitical conflict between the old and the emerging world powers: colonists/neo-colonists (United Kingdom, United States) and liberated nations (Latin America).


Ecuador rallies Latin America in Assange battle with UK
By Eduardo Garcia

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Saturday cast the Andean country's tensions with Britain over asylum for WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange as a menace to Latin America, warning the UK that it should think twice before trampling on the region's sovereignty.

Incensed by London's threat to break into the Ecuadorean embassy where the former hacker is taking refuge, Correa's government has accused Britain of "colonial" bullying and has formally granted the Australian asylum.

Britain says it will not allow the anti-secrecy campaigner from Australia to travel to South America because it is obliged to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations.

"They're out of touch. Who do they think they're dealing with? Can't they see that this is a dignified and sovereign government which will not kneel down before anyone?" Correa said in his weekly address on Saturday.

"What a mentality, eh? They have not realized that Latin America is free and sovereign and that we'll not put up with meddling, colonialism of any kind, at least in this country, small, but with a big heart."

Correa spoke as Ecuador was hosting a weekend gathering of foreign ministers from the ALBA group of leftist-led Latin American nations, and from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

ALBA, which includes the governments of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Raul Castro in Cuba, issued a strong statement in Caracas this week.

"We warn the United Kingdom ... about the grave consequences that carrying out their threats will have in relations with our countries," it said.

"INVIOLABILITY OF EMBASSIES"

Support for Ecuador appears to be growing in the region.

"Britain ... is wrong. The threat is not only an aggression to Ecuador, it's against Bolivia, it's against South America, against the whole of Latin America," Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Friday.

Ecuadorean state media said other nations including Colombia and Argentina were backing Correa's position.

On Friday representatives of the hemispheric Organization of American States (OAS) called for a foreign ministers' meeting next week over the Assange affair.

Canada and the United States voted against holding the meeting.

"The central issue is not the right of asylum, it is the inviolability of embassies," OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said after the vote.

Ecuador, an oil-producing nation of 14.5 million people that seldom finds itself in the global spotlight, is furious Britain said it could make use of an obscure measure to break into its embassy where Assange has been for more than two months.

The Ecuadorean government shares Assange's fears that he ultimately could be extradited to the United States, which is angry that his WikiLeaks website has leaked hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic and military cables.

The leftist Correa, who has high popularity levels and is expected to run for re-election in February 2013, had developed some rapport with Assange during an online interview the WikiLeaks founder did with him this year.

Correa's stance has been largely cheered by Ecuadoreans, and there have been scattered protests at the British embassy.

"The whole world should back Ecuador for giving Assange asylum and because this country is the first one to promote freedom of expression," said Mary Valenzuela, a 39-year-old restaurant owner.

After WikiLeaks released its deluge of diplomatic cables that laid bare Washington's power-brokering across the globe, Assange became revered as a freedom-of-speech champion in many parts of Latin America, where there is strong tradition of criticizing the United States for meddling.

Leftist nations, and others, have been increasingly turning to new partners like China and Russia in recent years.

However, Europe and the United States are still important trade partners with the region, so Ecuador could suffer should the conflict escalate along commercial lines.

Business leaders and analysts told Reuters this week that long-time U.S. trade benefits for the Andean country are at risk due to the Assange saga.


Some Options for Assange

Friday, August 17, 2012

Screws Tighten on Assange

The screws tighten on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as he remains holed up (for 8 weeks now and counting) in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom. Despite, the Ecuadorian government granting Assange political asylum, the British government led by conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, is denying Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom. The British government has strong ties with the United States and Swedish governments, and therefore, the British government is likely more interested in cultivating favor from these governments than respecting the political asylum request of Ecuador. (Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden for a sexual misconduct complaint, and if he is extradited to Sweden he would likely be extradited to the United States to face charges over releasing U.S. government classified documents. Based on the treatment of U.S. corporal Bradley Manning (who apparently supplied documents to WikiLeaks), Assange could face torture in the United States, and possibly the death penalty.) Manning has spent over a year in solitary confinement and may face the death penalty for aiding the "enemy". Manning may face the death penalty

It is unclear how Assange can get safe passage out of the United Kingdom. Public pressure could force the British government to allow him safe passage, but that may be prevented if the British government uses force to enter the Ecuadorian embassy. However, this forced entry would set a precedence of forced entry into British embassies. Interestingly, the British government exaggerates the reason why the Swedish authorities want to question Assange regarding sexual misconduct allegations. The British government claims that serious sexual assault may have taken place, (rather than minor sexual misconduct), thereby revealing their bias against Assange.



Nenshi myth or reality?

The FDA question the mythical connotations surrounding Maheed Nenshi election win in the 2010 Calgary Mayoral race. (Nenshi is the 2010 Calgary mayoral winner who received some international attention by the fact that he is a Muslim.) The FDA do not question that Nenshi competed well in the 2010 Election; rather, the FDA question that Nenshi's mayoral win is comparable to David and Goliath or similar analogy. (This post does not evaluate Nenshi's performance as mayor or abilities to be mayor.)

1. There was no incumbent mayoral candidate in the 2010 Calgary mayoral race. An election with an incumbent candidate is generally much harder to win for non-incumbents than an election without an incumbent.

2. Alberta municipal election law does not have a cap on candidate campaign expenditures. This lack of cap allows candidates to separate themselves in terms of fund raising. Nenshi took advantage of this by raising the third most funds of all mayoral candidates:


Total campaign revenue of the 2010 Calgary mayoral candidates (Foundation for Democratic Advancement)

Total contributions over $100 for each 2010 Calgary mayoral candidate (Foundation for Democratic Advancement)

3. Alberta municipal election law has no cap on individual contributions to multiple candidates. Therefore, for example, it is legal in Alberta for an individual to contribute the maximum contribution of $5,000 to three candidates or more. This type of contribution occurred in the 2010 Calgary mayoral election, and it allowed for a large distribution of funds to the front runners (including Nenshi). The cap on individual contributions helps to mitigate the inequality effect from individual contributions to multiple candidates. (In contrast, U.S. federal election law for example has a cap of individual contributions to multiple candidates.)

4. The FDA did a background and policy audit of all the 2010 mayoral candidates. All mayoral candidates including Nenshi in the 2010 mayoral election were determined to be mediocre or worse. Therefore, it follows based on this report that Nenshi did not face significant election competition. The FDA believes that this reality helped to cancel out that Nenshi was less known than other mayoral candidates at the start of the mayoral race. (FDA Election Audit Report on the 2010 Calgary Mayoral Election )

5. Some media coverage of the 2010 Calgary election was biased to particular candidates. The FDA believes that Nenshi benefited from the biased coverage.

6. Although Nenshi is a Muslim, and he is at the same time a secular Muslim. The FDA believes his Muslim religion was a non-factor. If Nenshi was a fundamentalist Muslim, the outcome of the election may have been different.

7. Nenshi is known for his speaking ability and smile, and social media savvy which he excelled at in the 2010 Calgary mayoral election. The FDA believes that these three factors helped propel him ahead of the other candidates.


A more interesting mayoral race occurred in 2010 in Iceland, in which Jon Gnarr comedian/artist took on an incumbent mayoral candidate and campaigned on a rejection of political norms and style, among other things, and he won. Jon Gnarr and the Best Party

Understanding CAN government: Prime Minister Powers

Canadian Parliament Building
Powers of the Prime Minister:
  1. To appoint the Governor General of Canada (through whom the PM technically exercises most of his/her powers, some of which are listed below);
  2. To appoint Senators to the Canadian Senate;
  3. To appoint Supreme Court justices and other federal justices;
  4. To appoint all members of the Cabinet; [to remove any member of the Cabinet]
  5. To appoint the entire board of the Bank of Canada;
  6. To appoint the heads of the military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other government agencies;
  7. To appoint CEO's and Chairs of crown corporations such as CBC;
  8. To dissolve Parliament and choose the time of the next federal election (within a 5 year limit);
  9. To run for re-election indefinitely (no term limits);
  10. To remove Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling party's caucus;
  11. To deny any MP the right to participate in parliamentary debate or run for re-election;
  12. To dismiss individuals or groups of representatives from serving in Parliament;
  13. To ratify treaties; and
  14. To declare war;
  15. To determine Canadian federal laws including election law within the constraints of the Canadian Constitution and Charter and contingent on passage in the Parliament (Source: Canadian Federal System ).
The Canadian Governor General, who the Prime Minister appoints, determine ceremonially who is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is not legally required to be elected to the Canadian Parliament. Although based on the Canadian Constitution, the Prime Minister must conform to the eligibility requirements for persons wishing to run for federal office: citizen of Canada, and at least 18 years of age. [1]

Generally, the Prime Minister is the chosen leader of the party with the majority of the parliament or minority control of the parliament. 

Checks on the Prime Minister: 

1. Canadian electorate vote every four to five years. However, the Prime Minister through the majority of the Parliament determine the Canadian federal election laws, and therefore through legislated electoral unfairness for example, the Prime Minister can reduce the influence of the electorate. For example, public subsidies to only parties with a seat in the Parliament favors larger, more established parties. Also, first-past-the-post, the current way to determine federal election winners, allows parties to form a majority of the Canadian Parliament without representing at least an absolute majority of the voting public. This is particularly problematic when factoring in the powers of the Prime Minister, and it is inconsistent with the concept of government of, by, and for the people. In addition, the Prime Minister's power to determine when elections occur may influence the outcome of elections.

2. Canadian Supreme Court. However, the Prime Minister appoints the Canadian Supreme Court Justices. These appointments become more problematic the longer the Prime Minister remains in office. As mentioned, the Prime Minister has no term limits.

3. The Parliament through a vote of no confidence can remove the Prime Minister. This vote could be initiated by a cabinet revolt against the Prime Minister. However, the Canadian Parliament has strict party discipline, so this vote is highly unlikely if the Prime Minister has a majority of the Parliament.

4. Canadian Senate can delay or impede legislation. However, the Prime Minister appoints the members of the unelected Senate. These appointments become more problematic the longer the Prime Minister remains in office.

5. Canadian Governor General powers to hold the Prime Minister accountable to the Queen and people have evolved into a ceremonial role similar to the King of Norway. Also, the Prime Minister appoints the unelected Governor General, and therefore it follows that the Prime Minister can remove the Governor General.

6. Freedom of Expression. However, freedom of expression can be marginalized and/or diluted by the corporate media for instance. Also, freedom of expression in of itself does not necessarily lead to result.

7. Civil suits. However, these are costly, and they do not deal with the possibility of a partisan Canadian Supreme Court.

Rationale:

It is unclear how a person with so much political power is not elected directly by the people. Can the Canadian Westminster Parliamentary system be considered democratic? Is the role of the Canadian Prime Minister a dictator?

In contrast, in France for example, the President is elected directly by the people and must meet a threshold of absolute majority or face a run-off election of the two most popular candidates.

In the United States, the U.S. President and Vice-President are elected by the Electoral College: a small group of electors selected by the state legislatures. Although the U.S. President appoints members of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. President unlike the Canadian Prime Minister, is limited to a maximum of two terms. Therefore, the U.S. President's influence on the U.S. Supreme Court is limited and subject to the retirement of Supreme Court justices. In addition, the U.S. Congress has constitutional authority over federal legislation, and therefore, this bicameral elected body acts as a check on the powers of the U.S. President. 

[1] The prime minister, along with the other ministers in cabinet, is appointed by the governor general on behalf of the Queen. However, by the conventions of responsible government, designed to maintain administrative stability, the viceroy will call to form a government the individual most likely to receive the support, or confidence, of a majority of the directly-elected House of Commons; as a practical matter, this is often the leader of a party whose members form a majority, or a very large plurality, of Members of Parliament (MPs). Legally, this may be any citizen of Canada of voting age (18 years and over)—the requirements to gain election to the House of Commons. It is not actually clear as to whether there are age or citizenship restrictions on the position of prime minister itself, as it is not necessary for the incumbent to be a sitting MP. However, this is more of an academic question since the constitutional conventions involved in selecting the prime minister make the appointment of anyone ineligible for election to the house an obvious infeasibility. (Source: Qualifications and Section )

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Republican Party under the Microscope

U.S. Republican Party symbol
The Mitt Romney campaign (as outlined on its website) identifies 24 issues. None of these issues involve democracy and democracy reform. As of August 16, 2012, the Mitt Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have no policy on American democracy reform.

The current Romney campaign slogans are "America's Comeback Team" and "Believe in America".

In its about statement (below), the Republican National Committee identifies five core issues which make up the Committee: economy, national defense, health care, education, energy, and courts. There is no mention of democracy or democracy reform. In addition, there is an ongoing GOP 2012 Platform survey which includes government reform. There is no mention of democracy or democracy reform as part of government reform. (Regulatory reform, courts and Constitution, entitlements, immigration, and transportation and infrastructure are only mentioned.)

Based on the evidence above, the Mitt Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee support American democracy status quo, with no intent of American democracy reform. Although as of August, 2012, House Speaker David Ralston, Republican-Blue Ridge, will propose next year a full ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. This would be a positive step forward to lessen the influence of lobbyists. Presently, lobbyists spend about $1.6 million a year in gifts on congressional politicians. (Lobbyist Gift Ban)


Republican National Committee "Our Party" Statement (2012):

Economy

We believe in the power and opportunity of America’s free-market economy. We believe in the importance of sensible business regulations that promote confidence in our economy among consumers, entrepreneurs and businesses alike. We oppose interventionist policies that put the federal government in control of industry and allow it to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.

National Defense

President Ronald Reagan’s approach to America’s national defense, which successfully confronted the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War, is as essential today as it was then: Peace through strength — an enduring peace, based on freedom and the will to defend it. Today, it requires defending America’s homeland, including remaining vigilant in confronting global terrorism, maintaining a robust defense against the threats arising from nuclear proliferation, including a strong ballistic missile defense for America and our allies, and promoting an effective, capable intelligence community. It requires a full commitment to America’s Armed Forces to ensure they are modern, agile and adaptable to the unpredictable range of challenges in the years ahead. And it requires a sustained international effort, which complements our military activities, to develop and maintain alliances and relationships that will lead to greater peace and stability. While the United States participates in various international organizations which can serve the cause of peace and posterity, they must never substitute for principled American leadership nor prevent America from joining other democracies to protect our vital national interests.

Health Care

We support common-sense reforms that will lower costs, ensure quality health care that Americans deserve, and end lawsuit abuse. We oppose government-run health care, which won’t protect the physician-patient relationship, won’t promote competition, and won’t promote health care quality and choice.

Education

We believe that maintaining a world-class system of primary and secondary education with high standards in which all students can reach their potential is critically important to America’s future. We believe parents should be empowered to send their children to the school of their choice.

Energy

We believe in energy independence. We support an “all of the above” approach that encourages the responsible production of nuclear power, clean coal, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, as well as drilling for oil and natural gas in an environmentally responsible way. We oppose so-called cap and trade legislation that would impose a national energy tax on families and small business that would kill jobs and raise utility prices.

Courts

Republicans believe a judge’s role is to interpret the law, not make law from the bench. Judges in our federal court system, from district courts to the Supreme Court, should demonstrate fidelity to the U.S. Constitution. We trust the judicial system to base rulings on the law, and nothing else.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Democratic Party under the Microscope

U.S. Democratic Party symbol
In buildup to the U.S. Presidential Election on November 6, 2012, the FDA will be examining the policies of the main political parties.

Below the FDA takes a look at the Democratic Party and the issues it views as important with regard to democracy reform.

Overall and currently, the Democratic Party identifies twelve core issues facing Americans. Only two of the issues are indirectly about democracy reform: open government and voting rights. The Democratic Party does not list democracy reform as an issue.

The Obama Administration created The Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (1966) which directs the Attorney General to release greater transparency of the processing of freedom of information requests. It is unclear whether or not this Memorandum will result in a U.S. government more open, transparent, and responsive to public needs. Regardless, transparency alone does not necessarily bring about change. Transparency sheds light on what is, and through knowing what is change may be encouraged. Therefore, the FDA thinks that the Democrats and Obama Administration are stretching the truth by claiming that they have changed politics in Washington by creating greater transparency. Real change occurs by changing actions and non-actions. Transparency is neutral.

The FDA questions the Democrats and Obama Administration emphasis on voting rights as an issue. The United States has substantial process in place for American voters, both abroad and in the homeland. For example,

U.S. Voter Assistance

FDA Research Findings:

The Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, recognizes that physically or otherwise impaired American citizens have been systematically disadvantaged in critical areas of life including voting and that legislative provisions ought to be made to prevent this (The United States Department of Justice, The Americans with Disabilities Act, 2012).

The Help America Vote Act provides legislation to improve access to polling places and voting systems for persons with disabilities. Federal funding was provided to states to replace or upgrade the outdated lever voter system, which was seen as an exclusionary piece of technology for those hindered by a disability. Additionally, states must provide other forms of assistance where necessary to allow disabled voters to cast their ballot properly. This may take the form of, such as the case in Texas state legislation, a polling station worker reading the ballot or providing a voting system with headphones that dictates the ballot to an illiterate or blind voter (The Help America Vote Act, 2002; Texas Secretary of State, Services to voters with Special Needs in Texas, 2012).

States are required to offer voters alternative means of voting for those unable to be physically present at a polling station. For example, voters are allowed to register to vote by mail as long as they meet the required criteria. Exact legislation concerning voting by mail varies from state-to-state, but the right to do so as a disabled person is secured by The Help America Vote Act (The Help America Vote Act, Section 303 (A) (ii)).

Polling stations have a checklist to ensure that all locations are accessible for those with limited mobility or other disabilities. The checklist includes ensuring that handicapped parking, as well as wheelchair ramps are provided at all locations, amongst other provisions (The U.S. Department of Justice, ADA Checklist for Polling Places, 2012).

The Electoral Assistance Commission has committed $7,000,000 to research and development initiatives to support the research of technological advances in voting technology. The Commission looks to continually improve upon voting practices, so that it can meet the challenge of increased accessibility for all voters (The Electoral Assistance Commission, 2010 and 2012).

U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

FDA Research Findings:

Active-service members of the Armed Forces, Merchant Marine, Public Health Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and their family members, as well as citizens living outside of the US for school, work or other reasons are allowed to absentee vote. These citizens are permitted to register and vote both online and by mail in a manner consistent with their home state’s legislation. Further, for members of the Armed Forces, the opportunity exists to vote at a satellite polling station located within a US state or territory. They must however, change their permanent address to that location (The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, 1986; Federal Voting Assistance Program).

Those American citizens living in US territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands or the American Samoa are not eligible to vote in a presidential election unless they have official residency (domicile) within the United States or District of Columbia (and vote by absentee ballot or travel to their State to vote). Political parties may authorize citizens within these territories to select a delegate to represent their area during the presidential primaries (The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, 1986; Federal Voting Assistance Program).

(Foundation for Democratic Advancement, FDA Audit of the American Federal Electoral System, 2012)

Americans should note that the Democrats claim to embrace the right to vote and voters have a say in who America's leaders are. Yet the Democrats ignore reform of the outdated Electoral College. Presently, Americans do not elect their President or Vice-President; a small group of electors selected by the state legislatures determine the President and Vice-President, and regardless of the popular vote. Why are the Democrats not supporting reform of this outdated, undemocratic institution?   

The 2008 Democratic Party's democracy reform platform (below) includes "make every vote count", mitigate the power of special interests and be less beholden to special interests, support campaign finance reform including public financing of campaigns, support voting rights, and make every vote count. However, Congressional elections are determined by first-past-the-post (so that not every vote counts), and the U.S. President and Vice-President as mentioned are determined by the Electoral College rather than the American people. Therefore, clearly not every American vote counts. The Obama Administration has done nothing to change these electoral processes.

In addition, as of August, 2012, House Speaker David Ralston, Republican-Blue Ridge, will propose next year a full ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. This would be a positive step forward to lessen the influence of lobbyists. Presently, lobbyists spend about $1.6 million a year in gifts on congressional politicians. (Lobbyist Gift Ban) The Office of Government Ethics now has restrictions on the gifts federal employees receive, and thereby reduces the influence lobbyists have on the federal government. However, there is no legislation which bans lobbyists from contributing to federal candidates' campaigns, nor is there legislation which bans lobbyists from contributing unlimited funds to Super PACs.

Further, there is no evidence that the Obama Administration has done anything to reform U.S. campaign finance. In fact, due to the Citizens United ruling, which the Democrats and Republicans benefit from, U.S. campaign finance has taken a significant step back. Independent political committees (Super PACs) can receive unlimited contributions. Presently, there are no expenditure limits on privately funded U.S. presidential candidates, and congressional candidates. There is no limit on the personal funds used by congressional candidates in their campaigns. The individual contribution limit of $46,200 to candidates/candidate committees is not reflective of America's per capita personal income of $41,663 (Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 2011).

The Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (2012), which the Republicans and Democrats passed, creates greater transparency of expenditures by federal government agencies. But the Act does not prevent lobbyists from influencing significantly government policy and law.

From the Democratic Party's twelve issues:

Open Government

For Democrats, changing politics in Washington means ensuring that government is open, transparent, and responsive to the needs of the people. President Obama has implemented the most sweeping ethics and transparency requirements in history, building on steps taken by Democrats to limit the influence of special interests and ensure that government is accountable to the people.

Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. We are committed to creating the most open, transparent, and accountable government in history. In the past few years, Democrats have taken steps to:

  • Bring unprecedented accountability to federal spending;
  • Rein in the influence of lobbyists in Washington;
  • Shut down the "revolving door" that allowed lobbyists to move freely from government to special interests and back;
  • Open more lines of communication with the American public; and
  • Increase cooperation across all levels of government, as well as with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.

Voting Rights

Democrats have a long and proud history of fighting for voting rights that continues to this day. One of the most important rights of American citizens is the right to vote—the right to have a say in who our leaders are and how our government should work. But the path to full voting rights for all American citizens was long and often challenging, and for far too many people, obstacles to voting remain even today.

The expansion of voting rights did not happen overnight; it was the product of a continued struggle by many people over many years. To this day, many voters still face difficulties at the polls, from registering to casting a ballot to having their votes counted. Those particularly vulnerable are minority, young, elderly, poor, and disabled voters, as well as military members and veterans. And in many parts of the country, voters are underserved by a lack of polling places, outdated voting machines, and unnecessarily complicated laws.

We are making progress, but we won't stop working to promote a system of elections that is accessible, open, and fair—a system that ensures that every eligible person can cast a vote and that every lawfully cast vote is counted.


In 2008, the Obama and the Democratic Party had the following democracy reform platform:

IV. Renewing American Democracy

Americans of every political stripe are hungry for a new kind of government. We want a government that favors common sense over ideology, honesty over spin, that worries less about losing the next election and more about winning the battles we owe to the next generation.

The over 30,000 Americans who attended 1645 local platform hearings demonstrated their commitment to reasserting government of, by, and for the people. So too did the millions of Americans who turned out in primaries and caucuses, and the record-breaking number of Americans abroad who participated – including men and the women who serve in our military. Democrats want to continue the momentum of the election. Only by doing so can we bring the change necessary to restore the promise of America.

The government we create will open up democracy to the people and protect our civil liberties. We'll invite the service and participation of American citizens, and use the tools of government and technology to lead us into a new era of connectedness, teamwork, and progress. A Barack Obama Administration will make it clear to the special interests that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over, because the American people are not the problem in the 21st Ccentury—they are the solution. We'll make every vote count, because in America, everyone's voice matters in the political process.

Open, Accountable, and Ethical Government

In Barack Obama's Administration, we will open up the doors of democracy. We will use technology to make government more transparent, accountable, and inclusive. Rather than obstruct people's use of the Freedom of Information Act, we will require that agencies conduct significant business in public and release all relevant information unless an agency reasonably foresees harm to a protected interest.

We will lift the veil of secret deals in Washington by publishing searchable, online information about federal grants, contracts, earmarks, loans, and lobbyist contacts with government officials. We will make government data available online and will have an online video archive of significant agency meetings. We will put all non-emergency bills that Congress has passed online for five days, to allow the American public to review and comment on them before they are signed into law. We will require Cabinet officials to have periodic national online town hall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies.

Implementing our Party's agenda will require running competent, innovative, and efficient public agencies at all levels of government with the resources necessary to get results. We will develop a comprehensive management agenda to prevent operational breakdowns in government and ensure that government provides the level of service that the American people deserve. Because we understand that good government depends on good people, we will work to rebuild and reengage our federal workforce and encourage state and local governments to do the same. We will make government a more attractive place to work. Our hiring will be based only on qualification and experience, and not on ideology or party affiliation. We will pay for our new spending, eliminate waste in government programs, demand, and measure results, and stop funding programs that don't work. We will not privatize public services for the sake of privatizing. We will use carefully crafted guidelines when determining whether to contract out any government service and whether a function is "inherently governmental." We will provide improved accountability, oversight, and management in the contracting process to protect the public.

We are committed to a participatory government. We will use the most current technology available to improve the quality of government decision-making and make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists. We will enhance the flow of information between citizens and government—in both directions—by involving the public in the work of government agencies. We will not simply solicit opinions, but will also use new technology to tap into the vast expertise of the American citizenry, for the benefit of government and our democracy.

Americans want real reform that will help them pay their medical bills and put the country on the path to energy independence. They are tired of lobbyists standing in their way. So we'll end the abuse of no-bid contracts by requiring nearly all contract orders over $25,000 to be competitively awarded and tell the drug companies and the oil companies and the insurance industry that, while they may get a seat at the table in Washington, they don't get to buy every chair. We will institute a gift ban so that no lobbyist can curry favor with the Administration. We will close the revolving door that has allowed people to use their position in the Administration as a stepping-stone to further their lobbying careers. We support campaign finance reform to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests, including public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time. We will have the wisdom to put the public interest above special interests. As a national party, we will not take any contributions from Political Action Committees during this election.

Voting Rights

Voting rights are fundamental rights because they are protective of all other rights. We will work to fully protect and enforce the fundamental Constitutional right of every American vote—to ensure that the Constitution's promise is fully realized. We will fully fund the Help America Vote Act and work to fulfill the promise of election reform, including fighting to end long lines at voting booths and ensuring that all registration materials, voting materials, polling places, and voting machines are truly accessible to seniors, Americans with disabilities, and citizens with limited English proficiency. We will call for a national standard for voting that includes voter-verified paper ballots. We will ensure that absentee ballots are accessible and accurately counted. We will vigorously enforce our voting rights laws instead of making them tools of partisan political agendas; we oppose laws that require identification in order to vote or register to vote, which create discriminatory barriers to the right to vote and disenfranchise many eligible voters; and we oppose tactics which purge eligible voters from voter rolls. We are committed to passing the Count Every Vote Act. Finally, we will enact legislation that establishes harsh penalties for those who engage in voter intimidation and creates a process for providing accurate information to misinformed voters so they can cast their votes in time. 

(Source: The American Presidency Project, Political Party Platforms, 2008 Democratic Party Platform, August 25, 2008)