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Enriching the Elite: A Failure of Democracy

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]t is a conceit of democracy that opposing parties, after months of trying to convince the public the other would be a disaster for the country, should after the election cooperate for the good of the whole.

In fact, with rare exception, what happens was postulated by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto over a century ago. Power is contested between competing elites, each wooing the general public, and to the winner the spoils, distributing enough crumbs to maintain an orderly society.

The last U.S. president was a multi-millionaire. His party’s 2016 candidate, Hillary Clinton, was even wealthier, contesting of course a billionaire rival. A majority of U.S. congressmen are millionaires and the median net worth of Senators is $2.7 million.

Since the election of Donald Trump, the stock market has been booming. He promises huge tax cuts for corporations and Wall Street is salivating. This is all nothing new. Tax cuts for corporations is supposed to increase their retained profits allowing them a chance to invest more and create jobs. It has all been tried before. Asset holders get richer and income and asset inequality rises. The corporations of course continue to invest where shareholder gains are maximized.

In the past decades since Ronald Reagan, when the trickle-down theory (often accompanied by a loosening of financial regulations) has been applied, there has been a Savings and Loan institutions disaster — checks on their behavior were loosened — followed by an identical scenario for large commercial banks in 2008.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Gini coefficient, measuring income inequality, is near the bottom among developed countries, and is even worse than India. As could be expected, Scandinavian countries score well.

The courts have reversed the Trump anti-immigration order and deregulation is going to require Congressional approval; governing is turning out to be not quite the same as running a business.

What’s more, when bombast hits reality, Mr. Trump reverses policy. Following a brief flirtation with Taiwan and the questioning of a ‘one-China’ policy, the new news is that the President affirmed his support for a ‘one-China’ in a telephone conversation with Mr. Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.

Bombast also turned to whimper with the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. No more talk about the Japanese getting a free ride on the defense of their country and the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Mr. Trump promised to defend Japan and its territories without reservation.

The truth of the matter is great powers are not in the charity business. Their actions are motivated by self-interest. The U.S. needs alliances with Japan, South Korea, Philippines to meet the rising power of China, a country also capable of projecting power globally. There is a good reason for the hub-and-spoke plan used in the east as opposed to a unified alliance, NATO, in the west. The countries involved in the east differ enormously in their economic development from the advanced industrial democracy in Japan to a third world Philippines.

As a postscript on the rule of elite consider the recent ‘demonetization’ — a misleading term — in India. Supposedly designed to flush out black (untaxed) money, it withdrew the five hundred and thousand rupee notes causing economic chaos and hardship for the poor, who do not have bank accounts. Required to exchange the money for new notes, the latter had to choose between standing in long lines at banks or working to feed themselves. Of course, it pushed the middle classes towards banks and credit cards, a huge bonus for the providers. In the end, about Rs 15 trillion out of the Rs 15.4 trillion removed from circulation was retrieved. Wherever the black money was hidden — possibly in gold and real estate — it was not in currency. Another pointless sock-in-the-eye to the poor in the world’s largest democracy.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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Back to an Authoritarian Past? Elections in Baja California

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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On the 2nd of June2019 Mexico held local elections that proved to be a successful referendum on the incumbent president’s popularity. These elections were the first ones after his inauguration on December 1st, 2018. Despite a declining economy and increasing levels of violence, his ruling party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), gained major wins and further extended his influence across 6 states: The governorships in Baja California and Puebla; Tijuana’s Mayor’s seat; and legislative majorities in the local congresses of Baja California and Quintana Roo.

Baja California has become key in recent weeks in the process of democratisation in the country. After 30 years of being the ruling party in the state, the National Action Party (PAN), was defeated by MORENA. Conditions are set in Baja California are set for an intense post electoral process with serious consequences for the incumbent administration, and for the prospects of democracy in Mexico: On Monday 8th of July, the local Congress approved an extension to the current term of the governor from 2 to 5 years.

The choice of Jaime Bonilla as MORENA’s candidate was a troublesome one. Bonilla was resident of the American state of California until very recently, and a militant of the American Republican Party. The problem lies on the way he was chosen as candidate and his Republican militancy in the United States.  Bonilla’s candidacy was propped up when Andrés Manuel López Obrador travelled to Baja California and agreed to publicly share a photo with the candidate, in a style that mirrored the very old authoritarian practices of the former hegemonic party Institutional Revolutionary Party, (PRI). MORENA’s obstinacy materialised to ensure the extension of the term once he was elected.

A 2014 constitutional reform mandated that the governor of the state of Baja California elected in 2019 would serve a 2-year term. This was done to align the state’s gubernatorial elections with the federal mid-term elections of 2021. MORENA argued that a 2-year term administration would prove to be more expensive and create higher political and economic uncertainty in the state. If such argument is allowed to be used this time, this could set a dangerous precedent to disappear institutions and extend terms of future administrations in order to make public administration more cost-effective. This is not a plausible justification and represents a serious setback.

The extension of the term from 2 to 5 years is a constitutional violation and electorally speaking it represents a throwback to the old monopolistic practices of the PRI. It also represents a violation to what election means in a democracy. Elections make a fundamental contribution to democratic governance. Because direct democracy. Elections enable voters to select leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office. Accountability can be undermined when elected leaders do not care whether they are re-elected or when, for historical or other reasons, one party is so dominant that there is effectively no choice for voters among alternative candidates, parties, or policies. Elections also reinforce the stability and legitimacy of the political community.

More importantly, a country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair. Elections also need to ensure the respect of essential criteria to be considered fair that include impartial electoral frameworks; credible electoral administration; and respect of electoral results.  In the particular case of Baja California, such a reform to extend the term of the governor, should have been discussed, negotiated and ratified in 2017, before the elections of 2018 and 2019 for it to be considered as a legitimate measure. From a constitutional perspective, electoral processes are considered conclusive and each stage is final.

The president has decided to distant himself from the matter and leave this issue in the hand of the judiciary. The president has the attribution to promote an action of unconstitutionality in the Supreme Court of Justice, should he wish to condemn a clear anti-democratic action. Legislators of opposition parties have presented such recourse, and the incumbent Baja California governor has refused to ratify the results. López Obrador’s attempt to distance himself from the decision in Baja California is not an expression of respect and autonomy, it is rather one of consent and complicit that would leave doors open to further unconstitutional actions. 

It is worrying bathat López Obrador washes his hands in a clear trampling of the popular will and the constitutional framework. By not defending effective suffrage, the president is validating the right to extend the term of any administration, by simple legislative whim, in any other governmental administration. All this could mean a setback to Mexico’s democracy. Like the PRI, MORENA is a pragmatic umbrella organisation including all sorts of political actors: there is room for everyone: the left, the right, those with a history of corruption, those who are not corrupt. It is back to the future. MORENA could also take over much of the PRI’s old patronage networks. While the PRI has curbed the power of top unions, MORENA has courted them, and part of MORENA’s ascent is based on the territorial grassroots work that the PRI dominated decades ago, let us hope that MORENA does not decide to also start mirroring the old authoritarian, undemocratic practices that allowed the PRI to remain in power for 71 years.

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Trump: Rebukes and Worries

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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It’s one for the history books, as they say.  On July 16, 2019, Donald Trump was formally rebuked by the House (in a 240 to 187 vote) for his ‘racist’ tweets on four Congresswomen.  The last time the House rebuked a president was William Howard Taft over a 100 years ago. 

So what did Trump do?  He told the four members of Congress to ‘go-back’ to the ‘the crime infested places from which they came’ instead of ‘viciously telling’ us ‘how our government is to be run.

Three of the women were born in the U.S. and Ilhan Omar was a refugee from Somalia.  Not difficult to guess which country was largely responsible for a proxy war in Somalia that overthrew a regime agreed to by warring parties for a rare interlude of peace.  The resulting civil war now continues, and Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are home to more than 2 million Somali refugees.  Others have ventured further, to the EU and the US.

Trump’s assessment of all this is uniquely Trumpian.  He thinks he has won because he has now got Speaker Nancy Pelosi exactly where he wants her for the 2020 election … in the arms of the squad of four, who he positions as radicals.

Exactly how radical are they?  They want a living minimum wage, healthcare for all — something other developed countries already have — a decent shot at education, and they are strongly against Trump’s policies on the southern order.  Finally, they want Palestinians to get a fair deal.

Steny Hoyer (aged 80) the Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi (aged 79), the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, both with distinguished decades’ long careers, starting together coincidentally as staffers in the office of Senator Daniel Brewster (Democrat, Maryland), have weathered difficult battles on critical issues as well as the rough and tumble of politics for many a year.

To them the squad of four appear as upstarts with a brashness and energy that have captured the attention of mainstream news, and had a heretofore unseen impact on social media.  They seem unwilling to compromise, and speak as equals despite a half-century age difference and a vast power gap in the House itself. 

Not for them the lure of key committee appointments or other such carrots for a successful Congressional career.  They are out and out idealists with a platform publicized positively thanks to left-wing websites and social media, and which can not be ignored by the mainstream outlets.  The world has changed; no, these four have turned it upside down.

Trump himself has other worries.  There is the case against Roger Stone his long-time ally, friend and attorney, who was back in court for disobeying the judge’s gag order.  As the case goes forward, we will be back to the 2016 election, the Russian connection, and other efforts to smear Hillary Clinton.  Will the calls for impeachment finally find a receptive ear in Nancy Pelosi?

Then there is Iran.  Trump’s idea of a better deal is always to walk away from the present one.  No matter if its a treaty or an international agreement.  Ayatollah Ali Khamanei is not having any of it.  People in this country are unaware that most such clerics, in addition to Islamic studies, are experts in jurisprudence and philosophy, are well-read, well-informed, and above all have to be highly intelligent to have been selected for this career path.  The Ayatollah wants relief from sanctions first.

Trump’s new envoy to Iran, Senator Rand Paul is a libertarian like his father, and both are anti-war with a particular aversion for America’s misadventures abroad.  So there is hope.

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Just What Is An American?

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The greatest mistake any leader, or moneyed powerful individual, or even masses of people (all 3 of which tend to have the loudest voices) is to culturally appropriate unto themselves, just exactly what it means to be an American, based on their own selfish notion of what it means.

The fact remains that the ideal of Americanism is a concept – a truly growing, organic, ever changing, and ever expanding idea that is enshrined within its founding documents and laws.

For example, the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, US Constitution, Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Rights Amendment, among scores of other acts of legislation, point to an ever growing ongoing journey to forge a new nation, just like ancient Rome did, united by a common destiny, and drawn from different experiences, cultures, cuisines, religions, ethnicities, races, nationalities, and world views.

So when President Trump on July 15, 2019 told four minority female congresswomen in sum and substance to “go back to there they came from” if they “didn’t like America,” he trampled over their own views, ideals, and experiences as Americans.

Quite simply his statement was an appropriation of what it means to be an American, from the point of view of a German/ Irish American senior citizen male, to a group of Latin/ Somali/ Palestinian/ African-American younger females.

Perhaps President Trump should re-visit his own people’s racial history, wherein the Irish were systematically excluded by the previously arrived and established Anglican Protestants, or even with the Germans in America who were actually interred in camps during the periods of World War I & World War II.

The German-American Experience

During World War II, the legal basis for this detention was under Presidential Proclamation 2526, made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the authority of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

With the U.S. entry into World War I, German nationals were automatically classified as “enemy aliens.”

Two of the four main World War I-era internment camps were located in Hot Springs, N.C. and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer wrote that “All aliens interned by the government are regarded as enemies, and their property is treated accordingly.”                                              

The Irish-American Experience

In 1836, young Benjamin Disraeli wrote: “The Irish hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.”

Nineteenth-century Protestant American “Nativist” discrimination against Irish Catholics reached a peak in the mid-1850s when the Know-Nothing Movement tried to oust Catholics from public office.

Much of the opposition came from Irish Protestants, as in the 1831 riots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After 1860, many Irish sang songs about “NINA signs” reading Help wanted – no Irish need apply.

The 1862 song “No Irish Need Apply” was inspired by NINA signs in London.

Alongside “No Irish Need Apply” signs, in the post-World War II years, signs saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” or similar anti-Irish sentiment began to appear as well.

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