Saturday, September 29, 2012

Laissez-faire versus welfare

In this 60 Minutes interview, candidate Mitt Romney is asked which “big idea” he would want his presidency remembered for. He responds with the word “freedom”. He elaborates on this by saying that he specifically wants to restore freedom, so people will be able to realize their dreams. The freedom Romney is referring to is laissez-faire. In a laissez-faire economy, there are minimal safety nets as people either sink or swim. Again this touches on the central differences between Romney and Obama: small government versus big government, earned existence versus entitled existence, sink or swim verses aided swim or regulated swim, and laissez-faire versus welfare.

The question about the "big idea" is asked at 6 minutes into the video.

Question for Readers:

Is laissez-faire capitalism in the best interests of Americans as a whole?

Nation Building and Democracy

Russian President Vladimir Putin
In the article below, Robert Bridge shares Putin's perspective on the western phenomenon of nation building. Putin suggests that western nation building is reckless and centered on self-interest motives, rather than the interests of the country that is subject to nation building. In addition, Putin says that there is no evidence that countries' subject to western nation building are better off. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are some of the countries subject to western nation building. 

Is nation building consistent with the principles of democracy like freedom, equality, and fairness? Nation building is based on internal change through external means and typically by coercion and military aggression in one form or another, and exploitation of marginalized minority groups. In essence, nation building is stronger countries imposing their will on weaker countries, and often times with a moral coating like promoting freedom and/or democracy, or protecting the rights of women and other groups.

Putin blames West for global chaos
By Robert Bridge (for RT)

The Russian leader did not hesitate to name who is responsible for sowing the seeds of disorder that is gripping many parts of the world, including in Syria.

"Our partners just can't stop,” Putin said at a meeting with representatives of one of Russia's regions. “They have already created chaos in many territories, and now they are continuing the same policy in other countries, including Syria."

Commenting on the "Arab Spring" and the ongoing Syrian conflict, he said: "Our position is to help carry out changes for the better in all countries but not to try to force on them – especially by armed force – what we consider to be right.”

It is important to encourage developments from within, Putin stressed.

The Russian leader criticized the militant foreign policy of the West, arguing that Russia’s repeated warnings went unheeded.

"We did warn that prudent action was needed and that it would be wrong to try to achieve anything by force, otherwise chaos would ensue,” he said. “And what do we see today? Chaos prevails.”

Russia is concerned about developments in many regions, including Afghanistan, where heroin production and drug trafficking has hit Russia and Europe. In the Middle East the situation is hardly more inspiring, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad struggling against an armed opposition, which is said to comprise of members of terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The United States, which recently lost its Libyan Ambassador following a wave of anti-American violence, has not managed to avoid the consequences of its behavior. In a growing number of countries, leaders (Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Slobodan Milosevich of Serbia, for example) who fell out of favor with the West have been eliminated one way or another.

The new tendency for ‘regime change,’ however, has not made these countries any safer. Indeed, in many cases the violence and chaos is worse now than it was before Western foreign intervention began.

To support his argument, Putin recommended Western leaders remember the lessons of history so as not to “destroy Carthage again" in their relations with weak countries.

"I would hate to see the events witnessed by mankind many centuries ago repeat themselves now,” he said. “The strong countries are trying to push their rules and their moral code on weak countries, without taking into account the history, traditions and religion of a particular country."

The Russian leader then mentioned what he said was “the first case of ethnic cleansing known to mankind.”

"The Roman Empire not only seized and occupied Carthage, but also destroyed it completely, killed everyone and spilled salt so that nothing could grow there," Putin noted.

Not only should the good things inherited from European culture be remembered, he added.

In his opinion, Russia "has always been advantageously different from other countries due to its formation as a multinational and multi-religious state."

Orthodoxy has always been very tolerant, he noted.

"The super-task is that a representative of each, even the smallest ethnic group, if he lives in this territory and is a citizen of this country, must feel absolutely equal and understand that he and his children can fulfill their most ambitious plans and have no restrictions, no limitations," he said.

The Russian state had never dictated its will on anyone or pushed its rules, he noted.

He stressed that what transpired during the Soviet period in Russian history could not be blamed solely on Russia because the “idea of world revolution was being forced on other territories."

On the whole, "we have always respected all ethnic groups, peoples and religions inside the country and have tried to behave the same way on the international scene," he stressed.

"The preservation of inter-religious peace" is extremely important for Russia, said Putin, who expressed his support in working with other countries to achieve this goal.

Question for Readers

Is nation building consistent with democratic principles?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

US Election: Right Questions Starting to be Asked

Tony Bruni, NY Times Columnist
In the article below, Frank Bruni shifts the focus away from Romney as a candidate. Instead, he looks at the idea of Romney as a symptom of what is wrong with the federal electoral system. He sums up the issue of Romney’s failings: “How did someone so politically maladroit — a cardboard cutout crossed with an Etch A Sketch — get this far?”

This is a very worthy question, but not just in the case of Romney, and not just for the Republicans but for all parties. A systemic failure to produce actual top-notch candidates has ominous implications for everyone involved in the political process.

Culturally, we are taught that only the best people get to the top. Supposedly, they would not have managed to do so unless they possessed all of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required. In other words, these successful people have “paid their dues”. Therefore, who are we to think otherwise?

Bruni counters this argument. He asserts that, in the case of a brutal and merciless political campaign, that there is actually a serious perverse outcome. Specifically, the participants only become more sour as the atmosphere gets more befouled. The idea of realizing the candidate’s purification and endurance through the trial is not really achieved, as we might hope.

Bruni lists several reasons for the “befouled atmosphere”. He mentions gruelling campaign schedules marked by repetition and tedium that only a narcissist could enjoy. Then, there is the non-stop fundraising. There is also never-ending media attention which is only escalating with the help of social media. There is also no more privacy due to omnipresent cameras and smartphones. And there is the daily “vivisection” coming from campaign strategists and pundits about what the candidate should do and say (or what not to do and say).

All of this pressure creates candidates who have to surrender their authentic selves, and even their own joy. The people who would be great candidates may be discouraged from even entering the race in the first place.

The FDA believes that this process as described by Bruni has the potential to threaten the idea of real choice on Election Day. However, political campaigns have never been easy, yet there have been presidents from both parties that certainly stand out in the public memory as “great presidents”. Such presidents include Lincoln, FDR, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. Would these presidents survive the pressures of a modern-day campaign? If not, then there is something definitely wrong with the process that needs to be addressed.

Another issue in the current federal electoral system is the fact that only two presidential candidates have a viable chance of getting elected to the most important position in American. This narrow choice may be linked to the poor quality of the presidential candidates. Viz., broader choice of candidates who have a realistic chance of winning will increase the probability of a quality candidate emerging. Based on its 2012 audit of the US federal electoral system, the FDA identified the American electoral finance and media laws as the sources of the American two-party system, whereby candidates from the large, established Republican and Democrat political parties have an overwhelming and unfair advantage over other candidates in electoral finance and media coverage.

Mitt's Mortification By Frank Bruni (NY Time Columnists)

That bloodied appendage? The one riddled with holes?

It belongs to Mitt Romney, and we now know that his onetime support for gun control was all that was keeping him from shooting himself in the foot.

Throughout this campaign, he has misfired so repeatedly and phantasmagorically that his wounds make those visited upon Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway at the end of “Bonnie and Clyde” look like paper cuts.

But that’s been noted, and there’s a bigger discussion beyond it. How did someone so politically maladroit — a cardboard cutout crossed with an Etch A Sketch — get this far?

We need to remind ourselves that the alternatives were Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann. And we need to ask whether we now have an electoral process so vacuous, vicious and just plain silly that most people in their right minds wouldn’t go anywhere near it.

It chews up candidates and their families, spits them out and cackles with hyperpartisan glee all the while. Yes, those candidates volunteer for it, but still. The process doesn’t necessarily serve some wondrous purpose of culling the herd and toughening the survivors, as the people invested in it — including those of us in the news media — often like to argue. Maybe it just sours them, befouls the atmosphere in which they operate and encourages voters to tune out.

It encourages would-be candidates, watching from the edge of the battlefield, not to step onto it. Mitch Daniels took a pass. So did Jeb Bush. It’s not certain that either of them, in the final analysis, would have been better than Romney. But it’s beyond doubt that the strafing they and their families would have received, along with the compromises they would have been pressured to make, influenced their decisions.

To what bliss can the person who chooses to run look forward? Relentless tedium, for starters. A candidate typically repeats the same 10 to 25 minutes of remarks at least three times a day in at least two time zones a week for at least 10 months on end, if you count the primaries. To embrace that, he or she has to be a narcissist, an automaton, an ideologue or an idealist of the very highest order. And I don’t think the idealists are exactly overrepresented these days.

A candidate must be craven about asking for money and do it round the clock, because at this point so much of it is required that for all Romney’s sterling connections and platinum panhandling, he’s still apparently coming up short. That may be the scariest story of the season.

Due to the differences between a primary and general-election campaign, a candidate must be willing to waffle, and if he or she gets too accustomed to that, it can lead to moments as mortifying as one on the most recent “60 Minutes.”

Scott Pelley, pressing Romney on which tax loopholes he’d close: “The devil’s in the details.”

Romney, refusing to provide any: “The devil’s in the details. The angel is in the policy.”

The hell has no end. The 140-character limit of Twitter, the acceleration of the news cycle and the proliferation of proudly biased newscasts have intensified the patrol for gaffes, heightened the hunger for tiffs and tidbits, ratcheted up the invasiveness.

Over recent days I stumbled upon a headline about Romney’s “enlarged prostate” and, separately, a tasteless examination of the contracts that one of his sons had with a gestational surrogate.

There was also chatter about the orange hue of either his tan or his makeup, though I admit to my own ignoble fascination with this. Halloween’s on the horizon. Is Romney pandering for the pumpkin vote?

The zone of privacy around a candidate has vanished, thanks to prying smartphones — poised, yes, to capture important tells, but poised as well to document meaningless ones.

From strategists and pundits comes a daily vivisection: smirk less, laugh more, fewer neckties, tighter pants. Bit by inevitable bit, a candidate surrenders all spontaneity, along with some of his or her authentic self and a certain measure of joy.

President Obama was also on “60 Minutes,” and what I saw as he answered questions about his record wasn’t the audacity of hope. It was the annoyance of being put through these paces and being second-guessed.

Romney’s bleeding has plenty to do with his intrinsic shortcomings and his shortsightedness: how does a man who has harbored presidential ambitions almost since he was a zygote create a paper trail of offshore accounts and tax returns like his?

But I wonder if we’re not seeing the worst possible version of him, and if it isn’t the ugly flower of the process itself. I wonder, too, what the politicians mulling 2016 make of it, and whether, God help us, we’ll be looking at an even worse crop of candidates then.

Question for Readers:

Do you think having only two American presidential candidates to choose from (and who have realistic chance of winning) is in the best interests of all Americans?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don Davies Interview: Canada-Colombia Free Trade and Human Rights Implications

Don Davies, Member of the Canadian Parliament and opposition international trade critic
In this podcast, Mr. Stephen Garvey, FDA Executive Director, interviews Mr. Don Davies, member of the Canadian Parliament, lawyer, and opposition international trade critic. Mr. Davies speaks directly and sincerely about the impact of the 2011 Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement on Colombian human rights. In addition, Mr. Davies shares his perspective on the motives of the Canadian Conservative Harper government regarding relations with Colombia and international trade. Mr. Davies challenges the Canadian Conservative government's neo-conservative trade approach with a multilateral trade approach which protects the environment, improves human rights, and is mutually beneficial for all trading countries.

This podcast and any other FDA podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the FDA. The FDA supports broad and diverse speech.

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. In addition, the Canada's international trade minister, Mr. Edward Fast and the Canadian Fair Trade Association have ignored the FDA's requests for interviews.

Don Davies Interview


Monday, September 24, 2012

Conflicting Narratives on Venezuela: What Media Do You Trust?

CNE: Venezuelan National Electoral Council (Image source: Embassy of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Washington, D.C., U.S.A.)
With the Venezuelan Presidential Election approaching (Election Day set for October 7), there have been conflicting narratives circulating in the western corporate media and online. Which narrative do you believe? Do you think the media should have the right to knowingly publish false information or present opinion as facts or select facts that conform to their agenda while ignore facts that do not?

1. Narrative:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says Venezuela has the "best [electoral system] in the world".


Former US President Carter: Venezuelan Electoral System “Best in the World”
By Ewan Robertson Mérida, 21st September 2012

Former US President Jimmy Carter has declared that Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world.

Speaking at an annual event last week in Atlanta for his Carter Centre foundation, the politician-turned philanthropist stated, “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Venezuela has developed a fully automated touch-screen voting system, which now uses thumbprint recognition technology and prints off a receipt to confirm voters’ choices.

In the context of the Carter Centre’s work monitoring electoral processes around the globe, Carter also disclosed his opinion that in the US “we have one of the worst election processes in the world, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money,” he said referring to lack of controls over private campaign donations...."

Narrative Analyzed:

It is unclear to the FDA why Jimmy Carter would make this statement without backing it up with proof. Based on 92 elections his organization has monitored does not objectively mean Venezuela has the best electoral system. In addition, just because Venezuela has a fully automated system does not make Venezuela's system the best system in the world. The count of votes, whether manually or automatically, is only one aspect of an electoral system.

Based on the FDA's 30 country electoral process audit, Venezuela came second to France. Both systems were highly democratic, innovative, and progressive. FDA's Venezuela Report
FDA's France Report

Further, Jimmy Carter's statement that America's federal electoral system is one of the worse simply does not stand to reason. For example, Middle Eastern and African electoral systems, such as in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, and Yemen, make the American electoral system look satisfactory. FDA's Iran Report

2. Narrative:

This article in the Huffington Post (which has been recycled in many other corporate media), takes the narrative that Chavez's campaign has more campaign funds than Caprilles' campaign, and that Chavez has more media access.

Venezuela Elections 2012: Chavez Has Money Edge In Presidential Race
By EVA VERGARA 08/23/12 07:57 AM ET

"CARACAS, Venezuela -- Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles typically runs his presidential campaign by jogging through Venezuela's small towns, reaching out to supporters with both hands and climbing aboard the back of a flatbed truck to speak to hundreds of people.

By contrast, President Hugo Chavez brings large sound trucks, a production team and a fleet of buses that carry supporters and government employees to plazas to cheer him on by the thousands.

A little more than a month ahead of Venezuela's Oct. 7 election, Chavez enjoys clear advantages over his challenger in campaign funding and media access. While neither campaign has revealed how much it's spending, Capriles says he is in a "David vs. Goliath" contest, facing a well-financed incumbent backed by an even richer government.

"We're fighting against two checkbooks. There's no way to compete economically speaking," said Rafael Guzman, who is in charge of finances for the opposition coalition. He accused the government of using money from the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, and a separate development fund, Fonden, to support Chavez's campaign and bankroll projects aimed at boosting his support.

Chavez's allies say Capriles is being backed by business tycoons including fugitive bankers who have fled the country and oppose the president. Chavez's camp hasn't provided details of those accusations.

The law does not limit individual campaign contributions, though Guzman says the Capriles campaign caps donations it receives at a maximum of 2,000 bolivars ($465), even though people can make many such donations. He said all have come from individuals, none from companies.

"We aren't receiving anything from businesses," Guzman said...."

So far, Capriles' campaign doesn't look like it's rolling in wealth. It has even taken to holding raffles, fundraising dinners and weekend street fairs selling used clothes and donated food.
Judith Beltran recently browsed through stands selling landscape paintings, handbags, underwear and used baby clothes at Caracas' Petare slum, holding a bagful of clothes she'd just purchased.

"I came because they're selling everything cheap and also to help out Capriles," she said.

Meanwhile, Chavez's face smiles down from innumerable billboards and signs festooned on lampposts throughout Caracas and other cities, far more than Capriles' campaign has managed.

There's no spending limit on such advertising, but the law limits campaigns to just three minutes of paid TV ads a day, and Capriles' backers say there's no clear line between Chavez's campaign ads and the much more frequent government promotional spots showing the president doling out apartments to the needy.
The law doesn't prevent Chavez from using his power as president to take over programming on all of the country's TV channels and radio stations for his speeches, something he does regularly.

Chavez and his allies say he's merely governing, not wielding any campaign edge that could be considered unfair.

"Hugo Chavez's advantage (is) in his power of communicating with his people," his campaign manager, Jorge Rodriguez, said last month.

Rodriguez on Wednesday also denied that Chavez has an edge in airtime, saying much of the coverage by private TV channels and radio stations favors Capriles.

In a recent televised appearance for the opening of a state-run supermarket, Chavez tried to differentiate his roles as president and candidate. "I'm complying with an obligation to inform the public," he said.

"I am going to say what I'm going to say very carefully. It shouldn't be interpreted as campaigning," Chavez said. Chavez then responded to criticism by Capriles and other adversaries that he is giving away Venezuela's oil wealth through preferential deals with allies.

Chavez's socialist party, for its part, insists it uses no public funds and gets its money from supporters. It held a raffle last week with prizes that included a new car, motorcycles and appliances. Some Chavez opponents called for electoral officials to investigate that raffle, saying public employees had reported that they were forced to buy tickets.

Venezuelan election law requires candidates to provide detailed monthly financial reports to electoral officials, but the National Electoral Council generally doesn't publicly release financial figures during the campaign.
Neither the Chavez nor Capriles campaign revealed how much money they've raised when asked in writing by The Associated Press. Chavez's campaign didn't respond to requests for comment, and officials in Capriles' campaign said it was unable to provide a figure...."

Narrative Analyzed:

As stated in the article, neither Chavez nor Caprilles have publicly disclosed their campaign finances. So no one knows who has more campaign funds, except for the National Electoral Council which tracks campaign finances.

In Venezuela, there are limits ad times for candidates and parties. From the 2012 FDA Venezuela Report (soon to be published):

Print ads are limited to half a page per day per candidate in national newspapers and broadcast ads are limited to 3 minutes per day (Venezuelan Embassy Washington, 2012). Radio ads are limited to 4 minutes per day (Ray Walser, 2012).

There are no limits on ads through billboards, posters, and flyers. The article criticizes Chavez for apparently having more billboards.

The campaign media in Venezuela is strictly regulated for "complete and balanced" coverage, and public and private media are disallowed from creating their own election propaganda:

Publications, radio stations,television stations and other official media may not be used by any political party for their propaganda (Election Law, Article 35).

The State disallows public and private media from making their own election propaganda aimed at encouraging or persuading the electorate to vote a particular candidate or party or against particular candidate or party (Election Law, Article 79).

Public and private media election coverage will be complete and balanced without distorting the reality of the campaign. The media must observe “rigorous” balance in terms of space and time devoted to information on candidates and parties (Election Law, Article 81)

Although the article paints Caprilles as a grassroots person, he is well connected to political organizations in the United States and may be funded by these organizations and using these organizations as sources of political ideas. Caprilles' Party Platform Shows Foreign Connection 

In addition, Caprilles has been connected to electoral finance wrongdoing, in which he dismissed one of his campaigners: Caprilles Ousts Lawmaker for Taking Bribes

3. Narrative:

This article by Ray Walser in The Heritage Foundation narrates that Venezuela is run by an autocratic socialist ruler who is eroding Venezuelan democracy, and that America must do something to stop Chavez and help the Venezuelans who oppose him. In addition, Walser argues that Chavez's 2012 campaign platform is based on pulverizing any remnants of the bourgeois state and making Bolivarian socialism irreversible.

The Chávez Plan to Steal Venezuela's Presidential Election: What Obama Should Do
By Ray Walser Ph.D.

Excerpts from the article:

The Bolivarian Revolution: Key Features of Chavismo

  • Personality-centered; power increasingly concentrated in executive’s hands.
  • Reduced horizontal accountability (diminished checks and balances); power is unitary in an increasingly politicized, polarized state.
  • Power/influence/wealth of state freely used to build a permanent majority under a dominant “revolutionary” party.
  • Control, restriction, and sanction of media without formal censorship.
  • “Autocratic legalism” that allows selective sanctioning and punishment of opponents.
  • Restriction of opposition nongovernmental organizations and civil society; elimination of foreign support and funding.
  • Speaking on behalf of poor while building dependent client base.
  • Anti-imperialism (compulsive anti-Americanism) that leads to supporting tyranny under the banner of building a multipolar world order.

In the 2012 campaign platform, Chávez promises to root out the vestiges of capitalism, “completely pulverize the bourgeois state,” and move beyond a “point of no return” to make Venezuela’s transition to socialism irreversible....

Spending His Way to Victory. Central to the Chávez regime has been turning the nation’s oil earnings into social programs (misiones bolivarianas) that deliver free health care, free education, free or low-cost housing, and subsidized food for millions. Chávez has accelerated social spending in advance of the elections. In March, the government lifted Venezuela’s national debt ceiling while increasing the budget by 45 percent. Last year, Venezuela reportedly issued more sovereign debt than any other Latin American nation, raising $15 billion on international capital markets. In brief, chavismo is engaged in “incumbency protection on steroids.”

Chávez has used patronage power to award jobs, contracts, and subsidies to partisans and pals. Government workers now make up 20 percent of the nation’s labor force. Government workers report that they are required to contribute to the Chávez campaign by selling raffle tickets, donating a day’s salary, attending political rallies, or campaigning door-to-door. The head of the nation’s oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), has made it clear that he expects all 115,000 employees to vote for Chávez. Key opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo concluded that Chávez wants to “purchase a dictatorship.”

Monopolizing and Manipulating the Media. The Chávez regime increasingly restricts the independence and freedom of the press. The onslaught against a free press began in May 2007 when the government refused to renew the license for the nation’s oldest commercial network, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). It continued when Chávez targeted Globovision, a prominent news channel. The government hounded its owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, into exile and fined the station a ruinous $2 million for reporting on deadly prison riots in 2011. Other media outlets have suffered fines or have been unable to renew their operating licenses. Chavismo forces competitive voices off the airwaves by imposing costly “legal” penalties rather than through censorship and shutdowns.

Venezuela’s Law of Social Responsibility for media forbids transmitting news that might “cause anxiety in the public or disturb public order” or that “incites or promotes hatred or intolerance.” The equally vague Organic Law of Telecommunications grants the government the power to suspend or revoke broadcasting concessions when “convenient for the interests of the nation, or if public order and security demands it.” Journalists can also be hauled into court for violating insult laws (desacato), which penalize citizens for criticizing public officials.

Electoral rules limit air time for presidential candidates: three minutes for television, four for radio. Yet independent monitoring shows that pro-government, pro-Chávez publicity has averaged more than one hour per day since July 1. Similarly, Chávez exploits a public-service requirement for private broadcasters to broadcast pro-government messages and employs the right to demand national air time (cadenas)...."

Narrative Analyzed: 

The Election Law does not prevent the Venezuelan President from conducting his professional duty during an election, including speeches on all the country’s TV channels and radio stations (Eva Vargara, 2012).

If Chavez is abusing this professional duty to keep the public informed, then there is nothing stopping the Venezuelan electorate from using that reality in deciding who they vote for.

Venezuela has a democratic process of government:

The Venezuelan government has four main independent branches of government: National Executive, National Assembly, judiciary, and Citizen Power (represented by an ombudsmen office). The National Executive lead by the President and Vice-President is in charge of running the country; the National Assembly is the authority of national legislation; the judiciary led by the Supreme Court is authority on the Constitution and enforcing law, and the Ombudsman Office is in charge of protecting the people’s interests and rights (Venezuela Constitution, Articles 72-74, 225-283, 347-350). In addition, Venezuelan allows for referendum's initiated by the electorate.

Venezuelan people have the power to submit referendum bills to the National Assembly if the people in favor of the bill represent at least twenty-five percent of the electors registered. In addition, treaties, conventions or agreements that could compromise national sovereignty or transfer power to supranational bodies, may be submitted to a referendum on the initiative of the President of the Republic in Council of Ministers, by the vote of two-thirds or the members of the Assembly, or fifteen percent of the voters registered and entered in the civil and voter registration Venezuelan Constitution, Article 73).

Venezuelan people have to power to submit referendum to wholly or partially repeal existing laws if the people in favor of the referendum have support from at least 10 percent of the registered electors(Venezuelan Constitution, Article 74).

Venezuela's Law on Social Responsibility is for hate speech and speech encouraging violence and social chaos etc. The Law has no impact on political speech or election discourse.

Under the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media (2010), electronic media including internet must not transit content which “foment anxiety in the public or disturb public order”, “incite or promote disobedience of the current legal order”, “refuse to recognize the legitimately constituted authority” or “incite or promote hatred or intolerance.” The government broadcasting authority, CONATEL, has the authority to order internet service providers to restrict access which violate the Social Responsibility law (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The FDA researchers note that there are no restrictions on political content and election campaign content.

Under the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media (2010),broadcast media which transmit content which violates the prohibitions against ‘fomenting anxiety” and “promot[ing] disobedience” face fines of 10 percent of their gross income and suspension for up to 72 hours (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The FDA researchers note that there are no restrictions on political content and election campaign content.

Under the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media (2010), broadcast media licenses may be revoked for transmitting content which “advocate, incite or constitute propaganda for war” or “induce homicide” (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The FDA researchers note that there are no restrictions on political content and election campaign content.

Venezuela's media content and election propaganda is closely regulated for fairness and balance:

Public and private media election coverage will be complete and balanced without distorting the reality of the campaign. The media must observe “rigorous” balance in terms of space and time devoted to information on candidates and parties (Election Law, Article 81).

Print ads are limited to half a page per day per candidate in national newspapers and broadcast ads are limited to 3 minutes per day (Venezuelan Embassy Washington, 2012). Radio ads are limited to 4 minutes per day (Ray Walser, 2012).

The National Electoral Council has removed ads from both Caprilles and Chavez's campaigns:

Chavez's platform promotes world peace and harmony:

Chavez's Platform

Question for Readers: 

Do you think media should have the right to knowingly publish false information or present opinion as facts or select facts that conform to their agenda while facts that do not?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Voter Registry, Dead Voters, and Accountability

This Rachel Maddow video provides insight into the North Carolina voter registry, and the issue of dead voters on the registry. However, Maddow tries to make the issue involving the Voter Integrity Project more sensational than it really is, and thereby misses an important point.

Maddow argues that the Voter Integrity Project's claim of 30,000 dead voters on the North Carolina voter registry needlessly wasted North Carolina Election Board's resources when they could have been focused on the upcoming Presidential Election. She showed that the North Carolina Election Board did not find a single person dead from the Voter Integrity Project's list. Maddow then tried to discredit the Voter Integrity Project by stating that they are affiliated with the Tea Party, and that the Voter Integrity Project listed itself as a non-profit, but it was filed as a business in North Carolina. In addition, Maddow said that the Voter Integrity Project originated from the True the Vote organization based out of Houston, Texas, and that there are similar organizations in other states challenging the voter registries and other aspects of the election system.  Further, Maddow suggested implicitly that the Voter Integrity Project may have been motivated by North Carolina being a swing state, in which in 2008, Obama won the state from McCain with only 14,177 more votes. (But due to the Electoral College, the U.S. President is not elected by American voters.)

What Maddow failed to do is explain how Voter Integrity Project came up with the 30,000 list of proposed dead persons.

Also, Maddow failed to observe that the Voter Integrity Project or any other organization has a right to challenge voter registry lists, and that through this challenge process, electors from North Carolina may have more confidence in the electoral process.Organizations like Voter Integrity Project should be encouraged even if their claims do not show errors in the systems, because they are creating accountability. 

Rebuttal from the Voter Integrity Project: 

Voter Integrity Project of NC, a non-partisan group advocating for free and fair elections,  today has taken the unusual step of issuing a formal rebuttal to an article written by Mark Binker and posted on the WRAL website Tuesday, Sep 17.

While we normally ignore or privately correct stories that have minor inaccuracies by news organizations, Mr. Binker’s story created so many false impressions that his work has merited a more public response.

For example, he “discovered” Carolyn Perry, whom VIP-NC researchers believed to be a dead voter. Her story is compelling, so Mr. Binker made her the focus of his narrative that people concerned about voter fraud are somehow bad people. We sincerely apologize for causing any anguish to Ms. Perry and her family. We recognize the error we made in this case, and have revised our procedures accordingly.

Mr. Binker missed the point that the overall data has revealed: the SBoE has been remiss in its “list maintenance” function, as mandated by Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Had the SBoE done their job properly, there would be no need for citizen advocacy on the part of the Voter Integrity Project, or any other similar group. We believe Mr. Binker’s article should have provided details on why such a widespread systemic voter list maintenance failure occurred and what can be done to assure it doesn’t happen again.

Mr. Binker also failed to mention our research method that incorporates a proprietary computer program which searches the 6.4 million-person state voter roll, looking for exact matching of county, first name, last name and age of a known deceased NC resident.

Only two lead researchers in our organization have access to all public data, which is then stripped of any race, gender or party information before it is sent to “citizen auditors” who review the file and either approve or reject each computer match. We used this “blind” method in order to eliminate the chances of personal bias when the auditors review the data. Anyone who would accuse the matching protocol VIP-NC uses of being a tool for partisan or racially based decision-making is simply unacquainted with the facts.

Most alarming to the research team at Voter Integrity Project was Mr. Binker’s misleading reporting of our results and the response to our research from the NC State Board of Elections.

For example, we only formally “challenged” the voting rights of 386 deceased Wake residents and after their own investigation, the Wake BoE agreed to remove 374 of them from the voter rolls. This was a 97% accuracy rate, and the Board agreed to allow more time for validating the remaining 12 voters to be confirmed deceased. At the challenge hearing, we also presented (without any formal challenges) 676 additional deceased voters who had passed away prior to 2008. Ms. Perry was included in this second group.

All told, VIP-NC has now given the Wake County BoE a total of nearly 1100 deceased voters from the 2002-2012 timeframe and at this time; all but 42 have been confirmed to be deceased. That translates to greater than 95% accuracy, yet judging from some of the reader’s comments stemming from Mr. Binker’s misleading treatment of those numbers, many had the impression that we missed 42 out of 148, which would be far, far below our actual matching accuracy rate.

Another aspect of what appears to be an agenda-driven reporting was Mr. Binker’s claim that “some names were already removed through regular list maintenance procedures.”

There are several problems with this statement that will require a careful review.

First, based on existing list maintenance procedures, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services issues a monthly report to the SBOE which then notifies the various county Boards of Election so the names can be removed.  This process, when effective, generally removes deceased voters within 90 days of their date of death. Failing that, a “back-up” procedure which removes deceased voters from the voting roll may take up to five years.

This back-up removal procedure is triggered when any mail from the local BoE is returned undelivered. The fact that many thousands of deceased voters who died in the period of 2002-2007 were still on the voter rolls unequivocally reveals that even the “back-up” list-maintenance procedure is not working very well.

With both the “regular” and the back-up list maintenance procedure, every single one of the 27,561 deceased voters identified by VIP-NC in North Carolina would still be on the voter roll this November, mostly coded as “active” or “inactive” voters.

The reason we pushed for them to be coded as “removed” involves its greater difficulty for identity thieves. One of the little known secrets about North Carolina’s weak election laws is that a “removed” voter has to re-register in order to vote, but an inactive voter can still vote. More to the point, when a voter is classified as “inactive,” anybody can walk into an early voting location and announce the name and address of that inactive voter and cast a vote . . . not on a provisional ballot, but a “regular” ballot that gets counted without question.

Thanks to the dedicated volunteer researchers we have in this organization, it will be harder for anybody to exploit that loophole in NC election law.

Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act requires biennial audits to assure deceased voters have been removed.  It also prohibits “systemic audits’ within 90 days of an upcoming election.

So, why did Veronica DeGraffenreid of the SBOE send out a spreadsheet of deceased voters to all 100 county Boards of Election on August 14, well within the 90 day prohibition period? Did Mr. Binker ask that question? Did he ask why that audit covered the same ten years of data for deceased voters that VIP-NC had obtained from the NC Department of Public Health? Did he ask if it was in response to the work done by those at VIP-NC, or just an unlikely “coincidence”? Did he ask what information the SBoE can produce to show the exact date they initiated this audit? Again, that is an important question because Section 8 of HAVA stipulates that list maintenance programs “not be undertaken within 90 days of a federal election.” In their haste to clean up the voter rolls after they realized the impact of the VIP-NC deceased-voter audit, did Ms. DeGraffenreid actually violate federal law? It appears that Mr. Binker either failed to ask those questions, or upon hearing the responses, chose not to reveal them to his readers, thereby denying them a fully factual account.

We hope there are honest, unbiased journalists who will ask the SBOE such probing questions and fairly report them. Additionally, they might ask the SBOE some other pointed questions:
1) How many deceased voters did they find in their August 14 audit?
2) Before that, when was the last SBoE audit undertaken?
3) What was the time period covered in their last audit?
4) How many deceased voters did they find at that time?
5) When was the last time the NC Board of Elections did a ten-year audit? (One long-time county BoE employee told us that she had never seen a ten-year audit, ever!)
6) When was the last time they conducted any systemic audit less than 90 days before a Presidential election?
7) What process improvements does the Board plan to undertake as a result of their audits.

While we appreciate Mr. Binker’s examination of the difficulties that citizen groups face in undertaking such an enormous task as we have recently completed, we deeply resent the implication of racism that was conjured up for his story in order to criticize the honest efforts of dozens of researchers who devoted hundreds of hours in pursuit of a cleaner voter roll; something that benefits ALL North Carolinians — regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, or party affiliation.  Having no data or quotes from us to support his erroneous opinion, he simply let Ms. Perry make the inference for him . . . and for some, it no-doubt worked.

We hope a thoughtful public will appreciate that efforts to remove ineligible voters from our rolls is in everyone’s interest, and that failure to do so can have devastating consequences.  If there is anything, anything at all, about the work of VIP-NC which is racist or partisan, we challenge WRAL and Mr. Binker in particular, to bring it forward. Failure to do so will prove such innuendo is baseless and calls into question the objectivity of both Mr. Binker and his employer, WRAL.

We will soon be opening a detailed FAQ section on our website ( to address Mr. Binker’s (and any other legitimate questions) directed toward us and sincerely hope that a thoughtful public will see beyond the half-truths and the out-and-out distortions put forth by Mr. Binker and WRAL.

Our ultimate goal is for the public to understand the hard work of the dedicated volunteers who make up the Voter Integrity Project in their proper context: Fellow citizens working for free and fair elections for every lawful voter . . . because every time a vote is stolen, somebody else’s legitimate vote has been disenfranchised.

Question for Readers:

Do you support the Voter Integrity Project's right to make claims about the electoral process?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why is Charlie Hebdo Not Being Charged for Hate Speech?

Cover of French Magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a wheelchair while being pushed by an Orthodox Jew
French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, exercising its freedom of expression published caricatures of Prophet Mohammed naked, and with an Orthodox Jew pushing Prophet Mohammed in a wheelchair. In consideration of the violent reaction to the recent anti-Mohammed video and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Libya, what was Charlie Hebdo thinking? Apparently, the French Government tried to stop the publication, and has now closed 20 embassies to mitigate any violent reaction to the publication.

Has freedom of expression gone too far?

Shouldn't Charlie Hebdo be charged for promoting hatred, at least in knowing that its publication would cause hatred?

French Law prohibits Holocaust denial, but has no provisions for comments deemed blasphemous under Islam.

However, France has hate speech laws: these laws "protect individuals and groups from being defamed or insulted because they belong or do not belong, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex, or a sexual orientation, or because they have a handicap. The laws forbid any communication which is intended to incite discrimination against, hatred of, or harm to, anyone because of his belonging or not belonging, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex, or a sexual orientation, or because he has a handicap." France Hate Speech Laws

Why show disrespect for another person's beliefs, and if those beliefs are not indirectly or directly a threat to you?

In an optimal democracy, freedom is reigned in to allow all citizens to have a voice, and to prevent economically and politically powerful individuals and groups from dominating.


From Reuters:

The French government, which had urged the magazine not to print the images, said it was temporarily shutting down premises including embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.

Riot police were deployed to protect the Paris offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo after it hit the news stands with a cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing the turbaned figure of Mohammad in a wheelchair.

On the inside pages, several caricatures of the Prophet showed him naked. One, entitled "Mohammad: a star is born", depicted a bearded figure crouching over to display his buttocks and genitals.

Initial reaction from Muslim countries was critical.

"Of course it will anger people further. It will raise tensions that were already dangerously high," said Sheikh Nabil Rahim, a leading Salafist cleric in Lebanon.

"We will try to keep things managed and peaceful, but these things easily get out of hand. I fear there could more targeting of foreigners, and this is why I wish they would not persist with these provocations."

In Egypt, Essam Erian, acting head of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Reuters: "We reject and condemn the French cartoons that dishonor the Prophet and we condemn any action that defames the sacred according to people's beliefs."...

Charlie Hebdo has a long reputation for being provocative. Its Paris offices were firebombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Mohammad, and Charbonnier has been under police guard ever since.

Speaking outside his offices in an eastern neighborhood with many residents of North African origin, Charbonnier said he had not received any threats over the latest cartoons. In a message on its Twitter account, Charlie Hebdo said its website had been hacked, but referred readers to a blog it also uses.

The French Muslim Council, the main body representing Muslims in France, accused Charlie Hebdo of firing up anti-Muslim sentiment at a sensitive time.

"The CFCM is profoundly worried by this irresponsible act, which in such a fraught climate risks further exacerbating tensions and sparking damaging reactions," it said.

French Magazine Runs Cartoons That Mock Muhammad

PARIS — Calling itself a defender of free speech and a denouncer of religious backwardness, a French satirical newspaper on Wednesday published several crude caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, images viewed as a provocation by many Muslims and condemned by the French government as irresponsible at a time of violence and unrest across the Islamic world.

In South Asia and the Middle East, protests continued Wednesday over an amateur video, titled “The Innocence of Muslims” and produced in the United States, which also disparages the prophet. Given that context, the French government had urged the weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, to reconsider printing the illustrations, some of which depict Muhammad naked and in pornographic poses.

The newspaper refused; after Charlie Hebdo arrived at newsstands on Wednesday, the government announced that French embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools in about 20 countries would be closed Friday as a precautionary measure. Security will be raised at embassies and consulates, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, though no specific threats against French targets have been identified.

Accustomed to denunciations by the government, Muslims and almost every other religious or political group in France, Charlie Hebdo stood by its editorial choice. “We’re a newspaper that respects French law,” said Gérard Biard, the editor in chief. “Now, if there’s a law that is different in Kabul or Riyadh, we’re not going to bother ourselves with respecting it.”

The caricatures are meant to satirize the video and the violence it has stirred, he said, and to denounce that violence as absurd.

“What are we supposed to do when there’s news like this?” Mr. Biard asked. “Are we supposed to not do that news?”

French officials acknowledged the newspaper’s right to publish as it pleased, within the limits of the law, but deplored its choice to print images that might be reasonably expected to cause violence.

“In the present context, given this absurd video that has been aired, strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries,” Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, told France Info radio. “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

In a statement, the French Council of the Muslim Faith warned that the cartoons risked “exacerbating tensions,” but urged French Muslims “not to cede to provocation” and to express their grievances via the courts. An appeal for calm will be read during Friday Prayer in several hundred mosques across the country, the rector of Paris’s Grand Mosque announced.

The Arab League denounced the illustrations, as did the White House. “We don’t question the right of something like this to be published,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it.”

In Egypt, where protesters last week attacked the American Embassy, the Muslim Brotherhood said the cartoons were blasphemous and hurtful, and called upon the French judiciary to condemn the newspaper. Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman, noted that French law prohibited Holocaust denial. Similar provisions might be made for comments deemed blasphemous under Islam, he suggested.

“If anyone doubts the Holocaust happened, they are imprisoned,” Mr. Ghozlan told Reuters. “It is not fair or logical” that the same not be the case for those who insult Islam, he said.

There were no reports of protests over the caricatures on Wednesday, but demonstrations against “The Innocence of Muslims” continued across the globe. In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, protesting lawyers broke into the heavily guarded diplomatic enclave, shouting anti-American slogans. Protesters rallied in Peshawar and Lahore as well.

In an apparent bid to control the momentum of the protests, the Pakistani government declared next Friday a national holiday in honor of Muhammad, and encouraged peaceful protest. The government has already banned YouTube, where the video first surfaced.

Hundreds reportedly protested in Sri Lanka, where effigies of President Obama were burned, and in Afghanistan, where a suicide bomber killed 14 people on Tuesday, apparently in retaliation for the film. In Lebanon, where the Shiite group Hezbollah has called for protests against the film, thousands marched in the city of Tyre on Wednesday, chanting anti-American slogans.

In France, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the government would block a series of protests planned in several cities for Saturday in response to the video. “There is no reason for us to let a conflict that doesn’t concern France come into our country,” Mr. Ayrault told RTL radio.

Stéphane Charbonnier, the editorial director of Charlie Hebdo, challenged that decision.

“Why should they prohibit these people from expressing themselves?” Mr. Charbonnier asked. “We have the right to express ourselves, they have the right to express themselves, too.”

Police officers were sent Wednesday to guard the offices of Charlie Hebdo, in eastern Paris. The newspaper’s former headquarters were gutted by a firebomb last year after the publication of another issue featuring images of Muhammad. Mr. Biard, the editor in chief, described the newspaper as “atheist” and “democratic,” but also a defender of France’s fervent secularism, known as “laïcité.”

“We’re a newspaper against religions as soon as they enter into the political and public realm,” Mr. Biard said. Religious leaders, and Muslim religious leaders in particular, have manipulated their French followers for political reasons, he asserted.

“You’re not meant to identify yourself through a religion, in any case not in a secular state,” Mr. Biard said.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Waqar Gilani from Lahore, Pakistan.

Question for Readers?

Should Charlies Hebdo be charged for promoting hatred?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What is the Underlying Point of Romney's 47 Percent Comment? Are You Sure You Know?

Ross Douthat of the NY Times (Source: Charlie Rose)

The important underlying point about Mitt Romney's 47 percent comment is that he appears to fundamentally support an earned existence rather than an entitled existence. To focus on the inaccuracy of the 47 percent number misses the point.

Ironically, despite the article by Ross Douthat (below), Romney not Obama has made the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election very transparent in terms of choice: big government versus small government; entitled existence versus earned existence. Interestingly, Michelle Obama in her speech at the DNC articulated her view of the American Dream in which Americans who work hard should be entitled to a decent existence. As the FDA observes, working hard likely only guarantees that one will get fatigued. Michelle Obama's DNC Speech

Do you think the video of Romney's fundraising dinner in May was actually known by Romney, and that this was his way of indirectly getting his message out?

Douthat makes a good point about Obama: "Barack Obama’s remarks in San Francisco in April 2008, when he characterized working class voters who were resistant to his charms as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion” and scapegoat immigrants because the economy has let them down." Apparently, a self-indulging, narrow comment; Romney's comment was simply inaccurate. Ideological Clash and the 47 Percent

Is Romney wrong for stating that “I’ll never convince [my fellow countrymen] that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,”? How can you convince someone to earn their existence if that innate value is not in them? Why condemn Romney for his honesty?

Douthat makes another good implicit point that the U.S. two party system limits electoral choice and ultimately the direction of the country. This limitation is something Americans need to think carefully about, especially in the context of the free market where there is near limitless choice. Why settle for a choice between A or B for the most important position in the United States?

Our Revolting Elites
By ROSS DOUTHAT (Source: NY Times)

Were Mitt Romney’s now-famous comments at a fundraising dinner in May — in which he appeared to write off 47 percent of Americans as self-pitying freeloaders with no self-respect — a window into the elusive “real Romney” and proof that his moderate-seeming façade has always been a sham?

Who could possibly know? Romney has built his career, in business and in politics, on telling people what they want to hear in order to persuade them to let him manage their affairs. This is a man who tried to get to the left of Ted Kennedy in their 1994 Senate race and to the right of Rick Perry in 2012. The idea that he would reveal his true political beliefs to a group of people he’s trying to flatter, cajole and spook into giving him more money may be appealing to his critics, but it isn’t necessarily convincing.

What these comments definitely tell us, though, is what Mitt Romney, master consultant, feels his “clients” in the Republican donor base want to be told about this election and what will inspire them to dig deep and give freely to his cause. Assuming those instincts are correct, his comments help illuminate the way many well-off Americans feel about their less-fortunate fellow countrymen – and it isn’t a pretty thing to see.

As many people have pointed out, Romney’s comments are a right-wing echo to what was previously the most famous leak from a fundraising event: Barack Obama’s remarks in San Francisco in April 2008, when he characterized working class voters who were resistant to his charms as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion” and scapegoat immigrants because the economy has let them down.

In both cases, a presidential candidate was speaking about poorer people to a room full of rich people; in both cases, he was pandering to those rich people’s fearful stereotypes about a way of life that they don’t understand or share.

For rich Republicans, the stereotype is all about the money: They have it, other Americans don’t, and those resentful, entitled others might just have enough votes to wage class warfare and redistribute the donors’ hard-earned millions to the indolent and irresponsible.

For rich Democrats, the stereotype is all about the culture wars: They think they’ve built an enlightened society, liberated from archaic beliefs and antique hang-ups, and yet these Jesus freaks in flyover country are mobilizing to restore the patriarchy.

Both groups of donors seem to be haunted by dystopian scenarios in which the masses rise up and tear down everything the upper class has built. For Republicans, the dystopia is (inevitably) “Atlas Shrugged.” For liberals, it’s one part “Turner Diaries,” one part “Handmaid’s Tale.”

The way Obama and Romney employed these stereotypes are not actually equivalent. Both behind-closed-door comments were profoundly condescending, but only Romney explicitly wrote off the people he’s describing. As Slate’s William Saletan notes, Obama embedded his bitter- clingers characterization in a longer riff about why it’s important for Democrats to keep fighting for blue-collar votes. Romney’s remarks were more dismissive and therefore should prove more politically damaging: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he said, of millions of his fellow countrymen, and left it at that.

But set aside the short-term politics for a moment. What does it say about our culture that the people funding presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle seem to regard their downscale fellow countrymen as a kind of alien race, to be feared and condescended to in equal measure?

What does it say that rich Republicans are unable to entertain the possibility that Americans who depend on government programs during the worst recession in generations might have legitimate economic grievances?

What does it say that rich Democrats can’t fathom why working class Americans might look askance at an elite that’s presided over a long slow social breakdown and often regards their fundamental religious convictions as obstacles to progress?

What does it say that our politicians, in settings where they’re at least pretending to open up and reveal their true perspective, feel comfortable embracing the most self-serving elite stereotypes about ordinary citizens who vote for the other party?

Nothing good, I think. The current American story is one of polarization, with the two major parties sealed into their respective ideological bunkers, and stratification, with an elite that’s more isolated from the common life of the country it rules than at any time in recent history.

Both the right and left have provocative intellectual takes on how this new world came to be: Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and Chris Hayes’s “Twilight of the Elites,” respectively, are this year’s prime examples. But both takes are longer on description than prescription, and neither has much purchase on our politics.

However one tells the story, it’s an increasingly unhappy one. Yet on the evidence of what our leaders and would-be leaders say when we’re not supposed to be listening, there’s nobody in either party who cares enough to do anything to change it.

Question to Readers:

Do you that the American two-party federal electoral system is limiting political choice to the detriment of the country?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ideological Clash Obama and Romney: Victims versus Survivors?

Romney is entitled to his opinion. If he thinks most of Obama's supporters adhere to entitlement, so be it. Obviously, Romney believes that Americans should earn their existence rather than be entitled to it.

Is this an ideological, sociological clash between entitlement (Obama campaign) and earned reward (Romney campaign)? Big government versus small government?

One issue with Romney's 47 percent is that some of that group is comprised of retired Americans. So perhaps Romney should focus on Americans who are not retired and at least legally an adult. Another issue is that many Americans who receive social security have previously paid for this protection through payroll deductions, and therefore they are legally entitled to this protection. Further, war veterans who have been injured whether mentally or physically are entitled to receive social security protection, not to mention survivor benefits if they have been killed. These benefits are paid for with their lives and service to the country. Note, when these persons are on social security, they don't pay income tax because their income is so low.

Also, Romney fails to account for the recent $800 million bailout of U.S. banks and the auto industry. Are these industry sectors victims and adhere to entitlement? What about the relatively lax regulatory laws for the investment industry? Is this victim mentality or entitlement? Perhaps Romney would blame Obama for these bailouts, and yet Bush was planning similar bailouts....

What about an individual who has had very bad luck? Should he or she be blamed for being unable to earn his or her existence? What about an individual with disabilities that impair his ability to earn his existence, or an individual born into very trying social circumstances? Is it realistic and fair to put the onus solely on the individual in an interconnected existence that an individual cannot completely control?


Romney Calls 47% of Voters Dependent in Leaked Video

WASHINGTON — During a private reception with wealthy donors this year, Mitt Romney described almost half of Americans as “people who pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.” Those voters, he said, would probably support President Obama because they believe they are “victims” who are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

In a brief and hastily called news conference Monday just after 10 p.m., Mr. Romney acknowledged having made the blunt political and cultural assessment, saying it was “not elegantly stated,” but he stood by the substance of the remarks, insisting that he had made similar observations in public without generating controversy.

The video of Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, was made in May, offering a rare glimpse of his personal views. Mr. Romney told reporters that he had been “speaking off the cuff in response to a question” at the fund-raiser, and said he wanted “to help all Americans — all Americans — have a bright, prosperous future.”

Democrats quickly condemned the remarks as insensitive, and Mr. Obama’s campaign accused Mr. Romney of having “disdainfully written off half the nation.”

The video surfaced as the campaign enters its final 50 days and as Mr. Romney sought to restart his campaign with new ads and new messaging, in response to calls in his campaign and from outside for him to be more specific about how his policies would fix the nation’s economy and help the middle class.

Now, the video has raised the possibility that Mr. Romney’s campaign will be sidetracked, with attention focused again on his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, the release of his personal tax returns and his ability to connect with middle-class voters. With its unvarnished language, the video seems to undermine what aides have argued is an enduring attribute that would appeal to independent voters: a sense that Mr. Romney is, at base, an empathetic and caring man.

Snippets of the video of Mr. Romney were posted online Monday afternoon by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, which said it had obtained the recording and had confirmed its authenticity. The magazine said it was concealing the identity of the person who had recorded the video and the location and time of the recording.

The author of the Mother Jones article, David Corn, said on MSNBC that the video was shot on May 17 at the Boca Raton, Fla., home of Marc Leder, a financier, who held a $50,000-a-person fund-raiser for Mr. Romney that night.

In one clip, Mr. Romney describes how his campaign would not try to appeal to “47 percent of the people” who will vote for Mr. Obama “no matter what.” They are, he says, “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”

He says those people “pay no income tax,” and “so our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.” Mr. Romney adds: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The comments were much more stark than Mr. Romney’s usual remarks, though he typically talks in public about supporters of Mr. Obama’s wanting big government to take care of their problems. He often accuses Mr. Obama and his supporters of wanting to bring a European-style socialism to the United States. In the video clips, Mr. Romney says his campaign is concentrating on the “5 to 10 percent in the center” whom he described as “thoughtful” voters.

Mr. Romney addressed the video, somewhat awkwardly, at a fund-raiser Monday night in Costa Mesa, Calif., summoning reporters with a few moments’ notice to walk through the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which was filled with guests sipping drinks at tables elegantly draped in blue cloths.

Mr. Romney said his comments addressed “a question about direction for the country: Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits? Or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?”

Asked whether he delivers different, starker messages to wealthy donors than he does to ordinary voters at campaign rallies, Mr. Romney said he was offering the same message, though he has never used the language in the video at a public event.

But Mr. Romney acknowledged that he wanted to offer donors a candid sense of his strategy, given the role they play in his campaign. “That’s something which fund-raising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in — knowing can you win or not and that’s what this was addressing,” he said.

Mr. Romney, who has been under fire for releasing only two years of his tax returns, was quickly attacked by the Obama campaign. Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, said in a statement Monday evening that it was “shocking” that Mr. Romney would “go behind closed doors” to describe nearly half of the country in such terms.

Late Monday night, Mr. Messina sent out a fund-raising appeal to Mr. Obama’s supporters, saying that someone “who demonstrates such disgust and disdain for half of our fellow Americans” does not deserve to be president.

Mr. Romney is not the first presidential candidate to be caught speaking candidly at a fund-raiser. Four years ago during the Democratic primary campaign, The Huffington Post published Mr. Obama’s remarks at a San Francisco fund-raiser, saying small-town Pennsylvania voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” as a way to explain their frustrations.

The Romney video was unearthed apparently with help from James Carter, a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter, who lists “oppo researcher” on his Twitter bio, told New York Magazine that he had helped find the videos and get them to Mr. Corn. He is credited with “research assistance” on the Mother Jones Web site. Mr. Romney has repeatedly compared Mr. Obama to President Carter, suggesting both were failures.

In an audio clip posted online from the same fund-raiser, apparently by the person who gave the videos to Mother Jones, Mr. Romney is heard joking that he would have an easier time winning the election if his father had been born to Mexican parents.

“My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company,” Mr. Romney says in the audio clip. “But he was born in Mexico, and, uh, had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot at winning this.”

But the most striking part of the video is Mr. Romney’s characterization of nearly half of the country. His assessment of the “47 percent” echoes a line of conservative thinking that is championed by his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. Mr. Ryan has long argued that nearly half of the people in America are either “dependent” or “reliant” on the federal government.

Mr. Romney’s figure of 47 percent comes from the Tax Policy Center, which found that 46.4 percent of households paid no federal income tax in 2011.

But most households did pay payroll taxes. Of the 18.1 percent of households that paid neither income taxes nor payroll taxes, the center found that more than half were elderly and more than a third were not elderly but had income under $20,000. Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the center, wrote in a blog post last summer that about half of those were off the rolls because they had low incomes.

Michael D. Shear reported from Washington and Michael Barbaro from Costa Mesa, Calif. Michael Cooper contributed reporting from New York.

Questions for Readers:

Is there a middle ground between entitlement and earned reward? What is a reasonable and humane safety net for individuals in society?

Venezuelan Opposition Ad Removed

Recently, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (NEC) removed this ad from Venezuelan television airwaves as a precautionary measure as the NEC investigates to determine if the ad violates Venezuelan Election Law. The video is suggestively violent. Also, the Venezuelan Broadcast Law disallows content that encourages violence.

This ad may violate Venezuelan Election Law under Article 75 (8):
Electoral propaganda shall not be permitted if it contains obscenities or derogatory statements/images against agencies and entities of public power, institutions, and public officials and public servants. For example, depending on one's view point, the ad may implicitly suggest that public officials and servants do not care about the well-being of the Venezuelan people.

In addition, the ad may violate the Venezuelan Constitution under Article 2:
Venezuela is a democratic and social state of law and justice, which holds as superior values of its legal system and its performance, life, liberty, justice, equality, solidarity, democracy, social responsibility and overall, the preeminence of human rights, ethics and political pluralism.

The ad may violate the social responsibility provision by encouraging violence and blaming implicitly and unfairly the government for violence.

Question to Readers:

Under Venezuelan Law as described above, do you think this ad should have been removed?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Electoral Choice: Common Assumptions Challenged

In this TED video, Sheena Lyengar makes a presentation about the art of choosing. She focuses on three assumptions and then applies empirical research to see how the assumptions stand to reason and facts.

First assumption: if a choice affects you, then you should be the one that makes the choice.
Second assumption: the more choice results in the best choice.
Third assumption: you must never say no to choice.

Lyengar refutes all three assumptions.

The first assumption is refuted based on evidence that individuals from different cultures make the best choice when they are told what to choose, and in other situations, individuals make the best decision when collaborating with others. 

The second assumption is refuted based on evidence that individuals from different cultures make the best choice with less choice, and in some instance with more choice. For example, individuals in society with less choice have difficulty dealing with numerous choices, and consequently the numerous choice diminishes the quality of choice through confusion etc.

The third assumption is refuted based on evidence that individuals in different cultures response to having choice and not having choice. Individuals who did not have choice (in certain situations) were better off than individuals that did.

However, Lyengar does not draw on any examples from the political sphere. What can be learned from her research and perspective?

At the kernel of democracy, the people decide who governs them; the people have a choice through their votes. Yet, for example, in the United States, Americans have no choice in who are their President and Vice-President; these persons are determined by the Electoral College. Should Americans choose their President and Vice-President? Can a democracy be a democracy when people are told who governs them at the executive level of government?

In some democracies, there are many political parties like in the Netherlands which are competitive. In other democracies like in the United States, there are only two competitive parties. What is the optimum political choice? The FDA believes that a fair and equitable electoral process should encourage political participation, and that whatever political parties are competitive in that playing field so be it. However, if the electoral process is unfair and inequitable, then electoral choice is being reduced by process deficiency rather than the voice of the people.

In some elections, there may be no viable choice, and some voters say no to voting because they do not want to support a candidate that does not represent their views/beliefs or they do not want to choose the lesser evil. (Choosing the lesser of the evil still results in evil.) In the case of the U.S. presidential electoral system, Americans as mentioned have no choice in who their President and Vice-President are. Apparently, the American founding fathers distrusted democracy and the voice of the people, but why should Americans trust a small group of Electoral College electors?

Sheena Iyengar: The art of choosing (TED speech transcript):

.... First assumption: if a choice affects you, then you should be the one to make it. This is the only way to ensure that your preferences and interests will be most fully accounted for. It is essential for success. In America, the primary locus of choice is the individual. People must choose for themselves, sometimes sticking to their guns, regardless of what other people want or recommend. It's called "being true to yourself." But do all individuals benefit from taking such an approach to choice? Mark Lepper and I did a series of studies in which we sought the answer to this very question. In one study, which we ran in Japantown, San Francisco, we brought seven- to nine-year-old Anglo- and Asian-American children into the laboratory, and we divided them up into three groups.

The first group came in, and they were greeted by Miss Smith, who showed them six big piles of anagram puzzles. The kids got to choose which pile of anagrams they would like to do, and they even got to choose which marker they would write their answers with. When the second group of children came in, they were brought to the same room, shown the same anagrams, but this time Miss Smith told them which anagrams to do and which markers to write their answers with. Now when the third group came in, they were told that their anagrams and their markers had been chosen by their mothers. (Laughter) In reality, the kids who were told what to do, whether by Miss Smith or their mothers, were actually given the very same activity, which their counterparts in the first group had freely chosen.

With this procedure, we were able to ensure that the kids across the three groups all did the same activity, making it easier for us to compare performance. Such small differences in the way we administered the activity yielded striking differences in how well they performed. Anglo-Americans, they did two and a half times more anagrams when they got to choose them, as compared to when it was chosen for them by Miss Smith or their mothers. It didn't matter who did the choosing, if the task was dictated by another, their performance suffered. In fact, some of the kids were visibly embarrassed when they were told that their mothers had been consulted. One girl named Mary said, "You asked my mother?"
In contrast, Asian-American children performed best when they believed their mothers had made the choice, second best when they chose for themselves, and least well when it had been chosen by Miss Smith. A girl named Natsumi even approached Miss Smith as she was leaving the room and tugged on her skirt and asked, "Could you please tell my mommy I did it just like she said?" The first-generation children were strongly influenced by their immigrant parents' approach to choice. For them, choice was not just a way of defining and asserting their individuality, but a way to create community and harmony by deferring to the choices of people whom they trusted and respected. If they had a concept of being true to one's self, then that self, most likely, [was] composed, not of an individual, but of a collective. Success was just as much about pleasing key figures as it was about satisfying one's own preferences. Or, you could say that the individual's preferences were shaped by the preferences of specific others.

The assumption then that we do best when the individual self chooses only holds when that self is clearly divided from others. When, in contrast, two or more individuals see their choices and their outcomes as intimately connected, then they may amplify one another's success by turning choosing into a collective act. To insist that they choose independently might actually compromise both their performance and their relationships. Yet that is exactly what the American paradigm demands. It leaves little room for interdependence or an acknowledgment of individual fallibility. It requires that everyone treat choice as a private and self-defining act. People that have grown up in such a paradigm might find it motivating, but it is a mistake to assume that everyone thrives under the pressure of choosing alone.

The second assumption which informs the American view of choice goes something like this. The more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice. So bring it on, Walmart, with 100,000 different products, and Amazon, with 27 million books and with -- what is it? -- 15 million date possibilities now. You will surely find the perfect match. Let's test this assumption by heading over to Eastern Europe. Here, I interviewed people who were residents of formerly communist countries, who had all faced the challenge of transitioning to a more democratic and capitalistic society. One of the most interesting revelations came not from an answer to a question, but from a simple gesture of hospitality. When the participants arrived for their interview, I offered them a set of drinks: Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite -- seven, to be exact.

During the very first session, which was run in Russia, one of the participants made a comment that really caught me off guard. "Oh, but it doesn't matter. It's all just soda. That's just one choice." (Murmuring) I was so struck by this comment that from then on, I started to offer all the participants those seven sodas, and I asked them, "How many choices are these?" Again and again, they perceived these seven different sodas, not as seven choices, but as one choice: soda or no soda. When I put out juice and water in addition to these seven sodas, now they perceived it as only three choices -- juice, water and soda. Compare this to the die-hard devotion of many Americans, not just to a particular flavor of soda, but to a particular brand. You know, research shows repeatedly that we can't actually tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Of course, you and I know that Coke is the better choice.

For modern Americans who are exposed to more options and more ads associated with options than anyone else in the world, choice is just as much about who they are as it is about what the product is. Combine this with the assumption that more choices are always better, and you have a group of people for whom every little difference matters and so every choice matters. But for Eastern Europeans, the sudden availability of all these consumer products on the marketplace was a deluge. They were flooded with choice before they could protest that they didn't know how to swim. When asked, "What words and images do you associate with choice?" Grzegorz from Warsaw said, "Ah, for me it is fear. There are some dilemmas you see. I am used to no choice." Bohdan from Kiev said, in response to how he felt about the new consumer marketplace, "It is too much. We do not need everything that is there." A sociologist from the Warsaw Survey Agency explained, "The older generation jumped from nothing to choice all around them. They were never given a chance to learn how to react." And Tomasz, a young Polish man said, "I don't need twenty kinds of chewing gum. I don't mean to say that I want no choice, but many of these choices are quite artificial."....

This brings me to the third, and perhaps most problematic, assumption: "You must never say no to choice." To examine this, let's go back to the U.S. and then hop across the pond to France. Right outside Chicago, a young couple, Susan and Daniel Mitchell, were about to have their first baby. They'd already picked out a name for her, Barbara, after her grandmother. One night, when Susan was seven months pregnant, she started to experience contractions and was rushed to the emergency room. The baby was delivered through a C-section, but Barbara suffered cerebral anoxia, a loss of oxygen to the brain. Unable to breathe on her own, she was put on a ventilator. Two days later, the doctors gave the Mitchells a choice: They could either remove Barbara off the life support, in which case she would die within a matter of hours, or they could keep her on life support, in which case she might still die within a matter of days. If she survived, she would remain in a permanent vegetative state, never able to walk, talk or interact with others. What do they do? What do any parent do?

In a study I conducted with Simona Botti and Kristina Orfali, American and French parents were interviewed. They had all suffered the same tragedy. In all cases, the life support was removed, and the infants had died. But there was a big difference. In France, the doctors decided whether and when the life support would be removed, while in the United States, the final decision rested with the parents. We wondered: does this have an effect on how the parents cope with the loss of their loved one? We found that it did. Even up to a year later, American parents were more likely to express negative emotions, as compared to their French counterparts. French parents were more likely to say things like, "Noah was here for so little time, but he taught us so much. He gave us a new perspective on life."

American parents were more likely to say things like, "What if? What if?" Another parent complained, "I feel as if they purposefully tortured me. How did they get me to do that?" And another parent said, "I feel as if I've played a role in an execution." But when the American parents were asked if they would rather have had the doctors make the decision, they all said, "No." They could not imagine turning that choice over to another, even though having made that choice made them feel trapped, guilty, angry. In a number of cases they were even clinically depressed. These parents could not contemplate giving up the choice, because to do so would have gone contrary to everything they had been taught and everything they had come to believe about the power and purpose of choice.

In her essay, "The White Album," Joan Didion writes, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the idea with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria, which is our actual experience." The story Americans tell, the story upon which the American dream depends, is the story of limitless choice. This narrative promises so much: freedom, happiness, success. It lays the world at your feet and says, "You can have anything, everything." It's a great story, and it's understandable why they would be reluctant to revise it. But when you take a close look, you start to see the holes, and you start to see that the story can be told in many other ways.

Americans have so often tried to disseminate their ideas of choice, believing that they will be, or ought to be, welcomed with open hearts and minds. But the history books and the daily news tell us it doesn't always work out that way. The phantasmagoria, the actual experience that we try to understand and organize through narrative, varies from place to place. No single narrative serves the needs of everyone everywhere. Moreover, Americans themselves could benefit from incorporating new perspectives into their own narrative, which has been driving their choices for so long....

Question for Readers:

Should electoral choice be limited arbitrarily by elected politicians or by the voice of the people through a fair and equitable playing field for political parties?