The Infrastructure of American Democracy Is Dysfunctional

From The Nation:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/178057/infrastructure-american-democracy-dysfunctional#

John Nichols
on January 22, 2014

President Obama’s second inaugural address touched on the reality that the United States has a dysfunctional election system. Describing the nation’s progress, as well as the ways in which the nation needs to progress, the president declared, “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

Obama drew knowing applause when he spoke that truth in January 2013, as he did in November 2012, when just hours after his re-election the president noted that millions of Americans had “waited in line for a very long time” to vote. Then, in an ad lib that got more attention than his prepared remark, the president added: “By the way we have to fix that.”

On Wednesday, the process of fixing the problem—and of moving America a few more steps toward democracy—accelerated. A little.

The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration that Obama appointed last year released a report that recommends:

1. Modernization of the registration process through continued expansion of online voter registration and expanded state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists.

2. Measures to improve access to the polls through multiple opportunities to vote before the traditional Election Day and the selection of suitable, well-equipped polling place facilities, such as schools.

3. State-of-the-art techniques to assure efficient management of polling places, including tools the Commission is publicizing and recommending for the efficient allocation of polling place resources.

4. Reforms of the standard-setting and certification process for new voting technology to address soon-to-be antiquated voting machines and to encourage innovation and the adoption of widely available off-the-shelf technologies.

These are relatively tepid proposals. But they move in the right direction on several fronts. Making it easier to register and vote is important; modernizing registration procedures and expanding early and absentee voting programs, can help with this. So, too, can the improved allocation of resources and technology to assure that every voter in every state has a roughly equal chance to cast a ballot in a timely, respectful and efficient manner.

So the president was pleased with the report. He received it with much fanfare and described the recommendations as “outstanding.

Obama says that he and his aides will “reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement” the commission’s report.” The president brings to this work a sense of urgency that is appropriate, reminding Americans that “one of the troubling aspects of the work that they did was hearing from local officials indicating that we could have even more problems in the future if we don’t act now.”

Continue reading at: http://www.thenation.com/blog/178057/infrastructure-american-democracy-dysfunctional#

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The Workers’ Scorecard on NAFTA

From Truth Out:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21370-the-workers-scorecard-on-nafta

By David Bacon
Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sold by its promoters as a migration-preventing device that ultimately would produce more and better-paid jobs in all three countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement has displaced jobs and people, weakened unions and ravaged US cities and rural Mexico. But worker solidarity may prove to be its most important product.

In 1986, a provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act created a commission to investigate the causes of Mexican migration to the United States. When it made its report to Congress in 1992, it found, unsurprisingly, that the biggest was poverty. It recommended the negotiation of a free trade agreement, modeled on the one that had been implemented a few years before between the United States and Canada. The commission argued that opening the border to the flow of goods and capital (but not people) would, in the long run, produce jobs and rising income in Mexico, even if, in the short run, it led to some job loss and displacement.

The negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement began within months. When completed, it was sold to the public by its promoters on both sides of the border as a migration-preventing device. During the debate, executives of companies belonging to USA-NAFTA, the agreement’s corporate lobbyist, walked the halls of Congress wearing red, white and blue neckties. They made extravagant claims that US exports to Mexico would account for 100,000 jobs in the agreement’s first year alone.

Some skeptics warned that the agreement would put downward pressure on wages and encourage attacks on unions, because its purpose was to create an environment encouraging investment and free markets. Their warnings were met with another promise – that a parallel labor side agreement would establish a mechanism for protecting workers’ rights.

Twenty years later, workers have a scorecard. The promises of profits from increased investment and freer markets were kept. But the promises of jobs and benefits for working people were not. As the commission predicted, NAFTA did lead to increasing unemployment, displacement and poverty. Workers in all three countries are still living with these devastating consequences, while the predicted long-range benefits never materialized.

US and Canadian Impact

The job loss record in the United States is not hard to document. Legislation passed by Congress when the treaty was approved contained extended unemployment benefits for workers who could show employers had moved their jobs to Mexico, and the US Department of Labor kept track of the claims. When the total passed 500,000, however, President George W. Bush ordered the Department of Labor to stop counting. The statistic was embarrassing to any politician who had supported the agreement.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21370-the-workers-scorecard-on-nafta

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Davos’ Elite Message Deserves ‘Fierce Resistance’ Not Applause

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/01/22-0

Corporations represented at global gathering are cause of crises they claim to want to solve

Jon Queally

As the World Economic Forum kicks off its global summit in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, critics of the annual gathering are eager to show that the well-polished public image of the event should not be allowed to eclipse the nefarious and destructive role played by the many corporate elites that sponsor it.

  Even amid seemingly thoughtful discussions about climate change, economic inequality, water scarcity and other key global issues, what’s important to remember, says Alex Jensen, an expert on globalization and development at the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), is that a critical look at any of these crises shows “the complicity of the very corporations that the WEF represents.”

Beyond its glossy “veneer,” Jensen says, the Davos summit acts as a stage “for multinational corporations, among them human rights abusers, political racketeers, property thieves and international environmental criminals.”

According to Jensen, looking at Davos’ corporate sponsors this year—which include Nestle, Shell, Wal-Mart, Syngenta, and Goldman Sachs—is like looking at a ‘Who’s Who’ list of corporate criminals. He writes:

The corporations represented by the World Economic Forum are the agents principally responsible for destroying the planet, ravaging livelihoods, and literally starving people, all while aggrandizing unprecedented profits into the hands of an ever-tinier super elite. Seen in this light, all the burnished social and environmental concern-speak of the WEF is so much vacuous corporate swagger, the crudest sort of greenwash. Even though these companies actually spend huge amounts of capital and energy fighting environmental regulation and the citizen’s groups who are suffering their abuses, they simultaneously pursue a strategic embrace of environmental discourse and narratives; they accept the existence of the problems while promoting privatized, technocratic strategies for addressing them. These strategies pivot between those that assign responsibility for causing and fixing the problems to individual consumers, and those that position the corporations themselves as crucial players in the common cause of “improving”/”cleaning” the environment – the same one, incidentally, that they destroyed.

Ahead of this year’s summit, the international aid agency Oxfam International released a report slamming “the winner take all” approach now endemic to global capitalism.  According to the report, the wealthy elites exemplified by attendees at Davos have “co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

On Tuesday, Pope Francis followed up on his previous critiques of global capitalism by telling the economic and political elite in Davos that “humanity” should be “served by wealth, not ruled by it.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/01/22-0

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