In Ethiopia, US State Dept. has baffling view on democracy

According to the U.S. State Department, Ethiopia is a violently totalitarian single-party state. Also according to the U.S. State Department, Ethiopia is a great democracy.

Huh?

For example, during a recent visit to Ethiopia, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as a vibrant and progressive democracy.
[…]
In its latest Ethiopia report, for example, the State Department identified significant human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of speech, Stalinist-style show trials, and crackdowns on free press, opposition leaders, activists and critical journalists. The report and others by human rights groups reveal a consistent and widespread pattern of abuse, including torture, arbitrary killings, restrictions on freedom of association, interference in freedom of religion and the politicized use of the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation.
[…]
[Mass surveillance] and many other instruments of control enabled the EPRDF to win 99.6 percent of the votes in the 2010 elections, losing only two of the 547 seats in the federal Parliament and one seat out of the 1,900 in the regional assemblies. Five years of intimidation and harassment of the opposition and war against free press means that Sunday’s voting will be anything but fair and free.

 
Even more puzzling, as the country waits to see if other parties will win even two seats in the national parliament in Sunday’s elections, is the State Department’s odd assessment of trendlines in the country’s pseudo-democracy:

Speaking during a press briefing in Addis Ababa in April, Ms Sherman said: “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election it gets better and better.”
[…]
In 2005, 174 opposition politicians won seats in the 547-seat parliament, but many did not take them up after pronouncing the vote rigged.

In the 2010 polls, Girma Seifu, of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was the sole opponent to win, while the ruling EPRDF garnered 99.6% of all parliamentary seats. An independent candidate was also elected.

 
By definition, based on the past two elections, it has been getting worse. Perhaps it will be better this coming election, now that the country’s longtime dictator has passed away in the intervening time since the last election, but at the moment there’s no way to know that. And all signs don’t point to that at as a likely outcome.

May 20, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 128

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Big Ideas for Reforming American Governance (and Economics): The Baja wage subsidy experiment, Expanding the House of Representatives. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: May 19th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Should governments subsidize the difference between the minimum wage and a livable wage?
– Should the U.S. House be expanded to make districts smaller? What would happen if the there were 3,000 U.S. Representatives representing 106,000 people each?

Episode 128 (48 min):
AFD 128
(If you are unable to stream it in your browser on this page, try one of the subscription links below.)

Related Links/Stats

AFD: “Mexican state of Baja California to test government wage support”
Democracy Journal: House of Representatives ratios, 2008
London School of Economics: UK House of Commons ratios, 2011

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Are trade deal worker & eco protections actually enforced?

Not if history is any indication according to a detailed new report from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office:

On Monday, Warren fired back, showing that Obama simply has not effectively enforced existing labor standards in prior trade pacts. According to the report, a host of abuses, from child labor to the outright murder of union organizers, have continued under Obama’s watch with minimal pushback from the administration.

“The United States does not enforce the labor protections in its trade agreements,” the report reads, citing analyses from the Government Accountability Office, the State Department and the Department of Labor.

 

Ancient Syrian city safe from ISIS for now

Two days later, on May 20, 2015, the Army made a hasty retreat and the city fell to ISIS.

State and opposition media both confirm that the Syrian Army has pushed back and blocked an approaching ISIS offensive on the ancient city of Palmyra (pictured below).

The international community was very concerned that the city’s antiquities would be dynamited as ISIS has done in many other areas. The counter-offensive was likely undertaken more over strategic concerns about Palmyra’s position relative to other key regime-held cities than over concern for the heritage sites, however.

The regime and FSA, in western Syria, have both systematically shelled and destroyed at least five of six UNESCO world heritage sites in Syria when they became battlefields. Palmyra is one of the six sites and has been subject to looting and some moderate battle damage.

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

Mexican state of Baja Calif. to test government wage support

While far from an ideal solution, Mexico’s federal government is planning to experiment in the state of Baja California with an unprecedented program to subsidize the difference between private wages and livable incomes for some farm workers.

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If signed on June 4, this plan negotiated by the state and federal government — in an effort to prevent current labor disputes, strikes, and blockades from boiling over into wider disorder or violence — would be in lieu of setting a much higher minimum wage and attempting to compel the private industry to pay that full amount (probably to keep the companies from just moving the jobs to another state with a lower prevailing wage).

The downside of the plan (I’m guessing) is that it’s likely some companies will try to lower their wages (illegally or otherwise) to pay even less at prevailing effective wage levels, but the government says it will negotiate with the industry to come to some sort of solution so that the existence of subsidies isn’t abused. (They’ll also raise the minimum wage somewhat — just not all the way to the 200 pesos/day target. The remaining difference will then be subsidized.)

Another criticism will likely be that this is essentially a taxpayer-funded gift to the large Mexican agribusiness corporations whose representatives and allies dominate the state’s government. But more on that later.

In general, of course, this new plan is fairly strange to our eyes, because the government here (also) typically doesn’t have a direct role in subsidizing general wages, since paying workers is a role we assign entirely to the actual employers, and the government just sets the legal floor. In theory. As The Atlantic points out, that’s not actually really accurate in practice in the United States; we just obscure it better than doing direct wage subsidies:

Having the government step in to fill the gap between reality’s wages and livable wages might seem foreign to Americans, but the U.S. government in a sense already does this—just less directly. A recent study from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center found that nearly three-quarters of people participating in government programs such as Medicaid and food stamps are in families headed by workers. The authors, calling this a “hidden [cost] of low-wage work in America,” estimated that through these programs, taxpayers provide these families with about $150 billion in public support. Additionally, programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit essentially subsidize the wages of workers whose income is below a certain level.

Shouldn’t companies be making up this difference instead of taxpayers? That’s how some state legislatures feel. Starting next year, California will publicly name any company that has more than 100 employees on Medicaid. And in Connecticut, state legislators are considering a bill that would require large employers to pay a penalty for each worker on their rolls earning less than $15 an hour.

 
And of course those various hidden costs to the government don’t even get into the actual blatant government subsidies in the U.S. for various agricultural production like dairy and corn to maintain certain production and price levels. Or the various massive tax incentives doled out to attract companies to specific states or communities (ideally only if they create a specific number of jobs, which is then essentially a wage support program in disguise).

But the Mexico experiment gets to the bigger questions: Whose job is it to ensure a livable wage in a globalized economy? And how is that goal best achieved, regardless of “moral” responsibility?

We may not instinctively like the idea of the government writing a check to make up the difference when private industry tries to tighten the screws on its workers in a loose labor market that favors employers, but what we like and how to realistically get the necessary goal accomplished may be two increasingly different answers in the 21st century.
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India’s Remit

The following text is adapted from a quiz I produced for The Globalist Research Center.

Remittances are cash payments that foreign workers transfer to their families or others back in their country of origin.

India received a total of $70 billion in remittances in 2013 from its overseas workers, according to the World Bank. While this amount represents just 3.7% of the country’s GDP, India is the largest recipient country of remittances worldwide when measured by the total amount of transfers.

An estimated 14.2 million Indians were living or working abroad as of 2013 – a greater number than any other country’s emigrant population.

The world’s largest source-country for remittances is the United States, whose $123 billion in 2013 accounted for a fifth of the global total of $577 billion. Almost three-quarters of that — $418 billion — flowed to developing countries.

Remittances from the United States in 2013 exceeded those of the next four countries combined: Saudi Arabia ($42 billion), United Arab Emirates ($28 billion), United Kingdom ($24 billion) and Russia ($23 billion).

Altogether, developing economies received $418 billion in remittances in 2013. By comparison, the amount of official development assistance (or foreign aid) from the OECD countries to the developing world totaled just $134.8 billion in 2013. That’s equal to just a third of remittance flows to developing nations.

It has become easier than ever, with the ubiquity of mobile technologies in the developing world, to send remittances fast and cheaply, even to those without access to banking. Remittances will therefore continue to be a crucial anti-poverty and development tool across the world.

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Burundi coup fails; mutineers surrender

The attempted military coup in Burundi this week, which sought to halt the president’s unconstitutional bid for a third term and to end the violent police crackdowns on protesters, has failed decisively, after a day of heavy fighting in the capital. The putsch lasted about two days before fizzling.

Several coup leaders have been arrested and the ringleader (who may or may not have been among those arrested already) publicly admitted failure:

Gen Niyombare, who launched the coup attempt on Wednesday, told the AFP agency: “I hope they won’t kill us.”
[…]
“We have decided to surrender,” Gen Niyombare told AFP. He added that troops loyal to the president were approaching him.

 
A co-conspirator had admitted defeat earlier and acknowledged that the army is overwhelmingly standing by the president:

General Cyrille Ndayirukiye told the AFP news agency that most in the military wanted to keep the current government in power.
[…]
“Personally, I recognise that our movement has failed,” he said, according to AFP. “We were faced with an overpowering military determination to support the system in power,” he added.

 
The loyalist faction’s leadership was jubilant and explained how they had persuaded a majority of the army not to join the coup:

Army chief of staff Gen Prime Niyongabo [who remained loyal to the president] told the BBC’s Maud Jullien the number of soldiers backing the coup had fallen.

“On Wednesday evening we gave them the chance to rejoin the army to avoid a bloodbath. But they [likely a smaller faction] tried to attack the radio station today (Thursday) – the army repelled the attack.

“We are in control of all strategic points in the country. Burundi is a democratic nation. The army does not interfere in politics. We are obliged to follow the constitution.”

 
To their credit, the loyalists are using the words “democratic” and “constitution” a lot, while emphasizing non-interference, in explaining their opposition to the coup. But of course it’s worth remembering that the president isn’t following the constitution either.

Still, I suppose political neutrality is a better impulse than coup. But it might not be an enlightened decision so much as a result of careful planning since the end of the civil war that resulted in the restructuring of Burundi’s armed forces to make the army’s kaleidoscope of factions so internally jumbled that allegiances either lie with no one or with the political system, but not with specific leaders (whether military or civilian). If one person attempts to stage a mutiny or rebellion, it is difficult to rally significant forces quickly to the mutineers’ cause: Read more

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