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Posts tagged ‘elections’

The Politics of Money

Dear Friends Across the U.S.

The flood of corporate and special interest money pouring into our elections is corrupting American democracy to the breaking point, but we have a powerful opportunity to begin to take our democracy back if we act in the next 48 hours.

Since the Supreme Court’s radical 2010 Citizens United ruling gutted most legal limits on what billionaires and corporations can spend on influencing our elections, so-called “SuperPACs” have raised more than $300 million from a tiny group of super wealthy donors. With this money, Big Oil can block efforts to fight climate change, Wall Street can block fair taxation and defense lobbyists can rev up the war machine — even when the public is opposed. The threat to good government is existential — yet the candidates are barely talking about it. We can change that by making sure big money in politics and the need for a Constitutional Amendment to fix the problem is a central topic in the first presidential debate.

PBS’s Jim Lehrer will moderate the debate — and his staff told Avaaz that if we petition for him to ask a question on this issue, they’ll present it to him this Friday, along with how many people signed. So let’s build a massive call — sign below and share with everyone you know:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/us_election_debate_i_full_us_list/?bMPbqab&v=18232

Just one man, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has already vowed to spend more than $100 million dollars supporting Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Adelson is a savvy investor — a new analysis shows he stands to win back more than $2 billion in tax breaks if Romney ends up in the White House. But the problem affects both parties. The system is broken and most Americans know it: in poll after poll, a supermajority of Americans of all political persuasions say they want common sense limits put on what the super-rich can spend on our elections.

Centuries ago, America’s founders designed a way for us to put this genie back in the bottle, a way for us to amend what’s broken: by reversing the Supreme Court decisions that created this mess with a Constitutional Amendment. Some argue that an amendment is too hard to achieve, but organizing for an Amendment is a powerful tool in itself which forces candidates to stake out a position on this issue for voters to judge and can serve as leverage for other reforms like transparency and public financing, which are also needed. That’s why calls for an Amendment are gaining steam – several versions have already been introduced in Congress and President Obama recently offered support for the idea.

Jim Lehrer is no dummy: he knows that few issues are more worthy of debate than big money and corruption in government. But the campaigns will be pushing for softball questions, so it’s our job to remind Lehrer that the purpose of these debates is to force candidates to address the issues that matter to us, on the record and unscripted. Sign now and forward this to others:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/us_election_debate_i_full_us_list/?bMPbqab&v=18232

Around the world Avaaz members have come together by the millions to challenge government corruption and pay to play politics. With our fragile democracy in the US now at risk of being taken over completely by the 1%, it’s time to fight back. That’s why we’re launching Elections not Auctions, an Avaaz project to stem the flow of unlimited money into our democracy. They have the money, but we have the power.

With hope and determination and fighting spirit,

Ian, Joseph, Morgan, Dalia, David and the entire Avaaz team

Death Sentence for Programming

Dear Gabriel,

Iranians just held parliamentary elections. But many bloggers, students, journalists, filmmakers and other activists couldn’t exercise their right to vote.

They’ll be in jail.

One prisoner, Canadian resident and web programmer Saeed Malekpour, faces a death sentence and could be executed at any time. What did Saeed do to warrant this harsh sentence, based on charges of “insulting and desecrating Islam”? He wrote a web program that was used — without Saeed’s knowledge — for uploading pornographic images online.

Remind the Iranian authorities that death sentences are the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Demand that Iran commute Saeed Malekpour’s death sentence for “cyber crimes” and give him a fair trial, free from torture and coercion.

Saeed’s case is a harbinger of what is to come as Iran unleashes a frightening new crackdown on freedom of expression. Amnesty’s report released this week, “We are ordered to crush you”: Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran, reveals a widening net of repression in Iran — a net increasingly focused on Internet users and free speech on the web.

Freedom of expression was already on life support in Iran. Now, a “Cyber Army” has been unleashed to impose a total information blackout in the country.

Internet users in Iran increasingly find themselves caught in the crosshairs of this new wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a shadowy group entrusted with cutting off the free flow of information in the country. The “Cyber Army” has also extended its reach abroad, blocking Amnesty’s website in Iran, and carrying out attacks on websites like Twitter and the Voice of America.

Many Iranians are scared into silence. And if anyone dares to fight back and criticize the government publicly, their words will cost them dearly. Harsh sentences like Saeed’s aren’t unheard of, and those imprisoned in Iran often face terrible mistreatment — torture, forced confessions, years of solitary confinement.

Iran cannot be allowed to violate human rights with impunity, online or offline. Saeed Malekpour must not be executed for his alleged crimes. As Iranians head to the ballot box, cast your “vote” today by taking action for freedom of expression in Iran.

Sincerely,

Elise Auerbach
Iran Country Specialist
Amnesty International USA

Tunisia’s Revolution

From Nation of Change by Mary Elizabeth King
15 December 2011

One Year On, The Roots of Success for Tunisia’s Revolution

The news has been filled with contention over Egypt’s November elections, but far less attention is being paid to the voting in Tunisia—also recently liberated from the rule of a dictator. More than 100 political parties participated. Tunisia’s October balloting was designed to elect members of the 217-member assembly that will deliberate and draft a new constitution and form a parliament. On the scene as an international observer, former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter noted, “It appears that everybody wants a good election—the politicians, the military (who are not political), the powerful trade unions, the police, the people—and everything is being done with compromise to make this happen.” Many in the Arab countries now view these elections as a prototype, and they prominently displayed the characteristics celebrated in modern political thought. Clean elections, of course, do not occur spontaneously. So how did this happen?

Tunisia’s uprising has been in the making since at least 2008, when protests began in the mining basin of Gafsa. The country’s hounded civil society was able to unite nearly the entire society in pressing for fair elections. Mohamed Bouazizi—the unemployed fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire in the central town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, triggering their nonviolent revolution—was not the first aggrieved Tunisian to commit suicide by fire. Two other young people, one in coastal Monastir, on March 3, 2010, and the other in Metlaoui to the southwest, on November 20, 2010, had self-immolated themselves. French journalist Olivier Piot writes that as early as 1998 the burns unit of a major Tunis hospital did a study showing that an estimated 15.1 percent of its admissions were “suicide by fire.” The study’s authors considered these acts “extraordinarily” violent but viewed them as “a response by our country’s youth to another type of violence.” (I am indebted to Piot for sharing with me his book and English-translated article on the revolution.)

With 40 percent of the population under 25, unemployed college graduates were the first to activate themselves after Bouazizi’s death. Their efforts galvanized towns such as Thala, Sbeitla, Sidi Bouzid, Regueb, Douz and Kairouan—located in the neglected interior, as opposed to the coastal areas that had been endowed with monies to support tourism and development. With little hope for employment and no delusions, they led the revolt.

Indignation then turned into social upheaval and spread throughout the central and western regions. A 31-year old man self-immolated himself in Metlaoui on January 5, the day that 5,000 attended the interment of Bouazizi. In this mining town of 50,000, the local branch of the main union, the Tunisian General Union of Labor, well knew that 40 percent of the active population was unemployed and 75 percent of employees had been laid off in the previous 25 years. As Metlaoui heated up, the neighboring towns of Kasserine and Thala did too. Workers and Tunisia’s educated young were now in alliance. The parents and grandparents of the young soon joined them.

Early in the Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, political activists began watching the extent of his clan’s corruption. As the family took over national enterprises during its 1995–2005 privatization schemes, their corruption became common knowledge. Beside unemployment, ending a culture of endemic, systemic corruption and impunity became a priority for Tunisians.

After a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, young online organizers set up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. Organizers in Egypt and Tunisia began exchanging views over Facebook. According to Piot, one in three Tunisians use the Internet. Egyptians were persuaded that Tunisians faced a more severe police state than their own because of Tunisia’s strict controls on blogging and press freedoms, but they perceived Tunisian labor unions as more powerful and independent. To Egyptians, Tunisia’s revolt was more “modern” and politically mature, because its discourse was that of educated, literate classes, who spoke the language of human rights, liberty, citizenship and democracy.

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Police repression against young demonstrators from poor areas swelled and recoiled, causing a second detonation on January 7 and 8, 2011. Tunisians burst with simmering resentment against the 150,000-strong police forces, long recognized for their arrogance, corruption and contemptuous behavior.

During Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, Tunisia’s civil-society organizations suffered severe, stifling repression. Yet they now emerged as politically important with their large networks of associations, radio stations, musical bands, clubs and human rights groups. Some claimed an apolitical identity, including Amnesty International. Others expressly came into being to oppose the Habib Bourguiba regime (1956‒1987), and then that of Ben Ali. Among these is the Tunisian League for Human Rights; founded in 1976, it is the oldest advocacy group of its kind in the Arab world.

With all political organizations dubbed the “illegal opposition” in Tunisia, the student movement—avidly organized during the 1970s and 1980s in the General Union of Tunisian Students—had gone underground years earlier. Yet the UGTT’s web of trade unions meant that local leaders were in place. These dispersed power centers, if mobilized, could represent a diverse opposition against the regime.

Ben Ali’s closing of all educational establishments on January 10 finally provoked the UGTT labor unions to react. They gave the go-ahead to locals in Sfax, Kairouan and Tozeur to organize a general strike for January 11 and 12, and in Tunis on January 14. Workers may have sparked the uprising, but as it spread to the middle classes, the nation’s academicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers and shopkeepers became engaged. This reach matched the geographic spread of the protests. Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, Gabès and Bizerte—the largest cities—rose up in turn, especially after the successful January 12 general strike in Sfax.

Professionals, traders, merchants and financiers came on board, many of them allied with the Bourguiba regime and with Ben Ali in his early years. The ranks grew of those who felt embittered about being pushed aside by Ben Ali’s networks, especially the Trabelsi clan of his second wife Leila.

In Sousse, a city favored by tourists, workers from the Farhat Hached hospital organized a massive protest march. They were soon joined by hotel employees. The upheaval expanded to the upper crust as, on January 8, a delegation of business executives from Sousse, Ben Ali’s base, called on the presidential palace in Carthage to ask the president to step down. On January 14, Ben Ali left Tunisia.

Even if subdued, the free-standing civil-society networks with independent leadership provided Tunisia with what Gene Sharp calls the capacity for “corporate resistance and defiance.” As I have previously written, a clear link exists between the cohesion of a nonviolent civic coalition during the years prior to a democratic transition and the depth of its self-governance in the outcome.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Progressive Legislators

From Nation of Change
Published 29 November, 2011
Interview with Robert Jensen

Occupy Congress: Norman Solomon Sees A Role For Progressive Legislators

Conventional politics in the United States focuses on elections, while left activists typically argue that political change comes not from electing better politicians but building movements strong enough to force politicians to accept progressive change.

Norman Solomon has concluded it isn’t either/or. A prominent writer and leader in left movements for decades, Solomon is running for Congress in the hopes of being practical and remaining principled.

“Since I first went to a protest at age 14 in 1966 — a picket line to desegregate an apartment complex — my outlook on electoral politics has gone through a lot of changes,” Solomon said. “First I thought politics was largely about elections, later I thought politics had very little to do with elections, and now I believe that elections are an important part of the mix.”

Solomon argues that when the left has treated elections as irrelevant, the result has been self-marginalization that helps empower the military-industrial complex.

“The view that genuine progressives should leave the electoral field to corporate Democrats and right-wing Republicans no longer makes sense to me. I used to say that having a strong progressive movement was much more important than who was in office, but now I’d say that what we really need is a strong progressive movement AND much better people in office,” he said. “Having John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Jim McGovern, Raul Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey in Congress is important. We need more of those sorts of legislators as part of the political landscape.”

The 60-year-old Solomon had been considering such a strategy, and when Woolsey announced she was not running for re-election in her northern California district, he entered the race with the goal of staying true to his left political views, and winning.

“I’m skeptical about election campaigns that abandon principles, but I’m also skeptical about campaigns that have no hope of winning and that are only for protest or public education,” he said. “There are more effective ways to protest and to educate.”

Solomon said that if elected he would strive to change the relationship between social movements and members of Congress.

“Progressive movements and leaders in Congress should be working in tandem,” he said. “I want to strengthen the Congressional Progressive Caucus and help make it more of a force to be reckoned with.”

Solomon said that a re-invigorated Progressive Caucus could be more effective in fighting for the human right of quality healthcare for all; ending the perpetual war of the warfare state, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism”; pushing back against the power of Wall Street; replacing corporate power with people power.

Solomon is most widely known for his media criticism and activism, through his “Media Beat” weekly column that was nationally syndicated and his work with Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. In 1997 he founded the Institute for Public Accuracy, a national consortium of policy researchers and analysts for which he served as executive director for 13 years.

Solomon became more visible in mainstream media through his trip to Iraq with actor Sean Penn on the eve of the U.S. invasion, part of anti-war efforts to prevent that coming catastrophe. Solomon’s 2005 book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, and a companion film drew on his media and political expertise to analyze the war machine. (Full disclosure: I found the book and film so compelling that I brought Solomon to my campus to speak.)

Polls indicate that Solomon is competitive in a Democratic primary that includes a state assemblyman, a county supervisor, and two business people. Penn is supporting Solomon’s campaign, which has also received endorsement from U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Fundraising is always a struggle, especially since he committed to “corporate-free fundraising.”

“By raising more than $250,000 from more than 2,000 different people, we’ve shown that we can raise the needed funds without a single dollar from corporate PACs,” Solomon said. “But we need to raise a lot more, and the month of December will be crucial — end-of-year totals will be seen by many as a self-fulfilling gauge of our capacity to gain enough support to win.”

Solomon believes that citizen frustration with concentrated wealth, and the political dominance that big money buys, is opening up new possibilities for progressive candidates.

Read Complete Article at Nation of Change

Sliver of Hope in Burma

From BBC NEWS ASIA
18 November 2011

Suu Kyi’s NLD democracy party to rejoin Burma politics.

The party of Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has agreed to re-enter the political process and contest parliamentary elections.

On Friday her National League for Democracy said it would register to run in the as yet unscheduled by-elections.

The party boycotted the last polls in November 2010, the first in 20 years.

Meanwhile the US is to send Hillary Clinton to Burma next month, amid what President Barack Obama called “flickers of progress” in the nation.

Mr Obama spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi before deciding to send Mrs Clinton, who will be the first US secretary of state to visit in 50 years.

BBC South East Asia correspondent Rachel Harvey says the developments are being seen as endorsements of the steps taken by the military-backed but civilian-led government towards political reform.
‘Unanimous decision’

The announcement followed a meeting of 100 senior NLD leaders in Rangoon.

“We unanimously decide that the National League for Democracy (NLD) will register according to party registration laws, and we will take part in the coming by-elections,” a party statement said.

It boycotted the previous polls because of election laws that banned Aung San Suu Kyi – a former political prisoner – from running.

But this regulation has since been dropped, and Aung San Suu Kyi said she now wanted the party to contest all 48 seats left vacant in parliament by the appointment of ministers.

A spokesman for the NLD said it was likely that Aung San Suu Kyi would run for office. And the pro-democracy leader herself said she would do what she thought was necessary.

“If I think I should take part in the election, I will. Some people are worried that taking part could harm my dignity. Frankly, if you do politics, you should not be thinking about your dignity,” AFP news agency quoted her as saying.

“I stand for the re-registration of the NLD party. I would like to work effectively towards amending the constitution. So we have to do what we need to do.”

The NLD won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power. Aung San Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest but was freed a year ago by the new government.

Since then it has entered into dialogue with her and freed some – but by no means all – political prisoners.

Aung San Suu Kyi has given a cautious welcome to the moves, but says more progress is needed.

Mr Obama echoed her view in comments at a regional summit in Bali.

Read complete article at BBC NEWS ASIA

Rwanda’s Children

Rwanda has made incredible changes and strides in the last 17 years, since the 1994 genocide. Most people who lived in the country previously, would not recognize the advances now made in education, health care, the environment, reconciliation, security and work. They still have a lot to do and have not always had completely fair open elections, but what the government and people have accomplished after having to start from scratch (in just 16 years) is remarkable. A lot of people don’t realize it is also a beautiful country (landscape and people).

I’ve been to Rwanda twice and worked at an orphanage there called the ROP Center for Street Children, which provides shelter, food, water, education, vocational skills and health care to homeless children. There are now over 100 kids at the center (age 5 to 18). It is run entirely by Rwandans, with a sister organization in America called The Rwandan Orphans Project, which helps raise funds to keep the center going. They pay for the water, food, teachers, nurse, clothes, rent, utilities, transportation and some secondary and college costs for the children.

These children are the future of Rwanda, East Africa, the African continent and thus the world. Please consider making a donation to this non-profit organization, which started out taking in children who had been orphaned from the genocide. 100% of the money raised goes directly to the center in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). The administrative costs by the Rwandan Orphans Project in the US are completely done on a volunteer basis. READ MORE

There is a book I put together from stories the children at the center told me. It is called The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales. All of the royalties from its sale go to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project. TAKE A LOOK

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