Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Will US Drone attacks now come under closer scrutiny?

December 13th, 2014 at 2:27 pm by Lindsay Addie

 

Mural in Sanna, Yemen - (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Mural in Sanna, Yemen – (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

With the furore over the CIA interrogation techniques during the George W Bush administration still ongoing attention is starting to shift to using US Drones to attack and kill terrorists.

Lauren Fox from the National Journal discusses the various arguments.

As Republicans prepare to take leadership over the Senate Intelligence Committee, the panel’s oversight work will shift from spending considerable resources to ensure the release of the backwards-looking torture report to a committee that incoming Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said will deliver oversight in “real time.”

“We are not going to be looking back at a decade trying to dredge up things,” Burr said about his future on the committee, just before Feinstein released her report.

Members of Congress are divided over whether the president’s highly secretive drone-strikes program needs more congressional scrutiny. Some criticize the program’s legal rationale, while others have concerns about killing combatants who may have valuable information.

One issue is that a dead terrorist suspect isn’t as good an information source as a live one.

Details about how drones are used to kill terrorists remain unknown, a fact leaders on Capitol Hill harbor concerns about. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is in line to be the next Senate Foreign Relations chairman, said it’s an area ripe for oversight.

“I have always wondered why there isn’t more concerns about how that is carried out, but I don’t think anyone would want to do that as retribution,” for the torture report’s release, Corker said. “I think people genuinely want our country to be secure, but at the same time it is pretty amazing that those kinds of decisions are made amongst such a small group of people.”

The Obama administration strongly defends the drone program. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for more information to made available by the CIA.

“We could be going down the same road all over again, but with killing instead of torturing,” says Chris Anders, senior legal counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The kinds of people that were involved in the horrors of this torture report are still around. It is hard to believe they have become better managers or more careful about remaining within the law in subsequent years.”

Fighting terrorism is always a messy business and there is a fine line between what is morally acceptable and the steps needed to actually defeat the perpetrators of terrorist acts.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released detailed data of US drone strikes between 2004 and May 2014. This article and the spreadsheet can be found here.

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The Newsroom

December 12th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aaron Sorkin’s much-panned The Newsroom has had a fraught relationship with critics, mostly because of the tendency of the HBO drama’s many insufferable characters to repeatedly, condescendingly explain what journalism really is.

It’s a low-rated show, but the kind that certain devotees (many of them in the media) hate-watch so they can tweet their thoughts.

Season 2 of The Newsroom wasn’t too bad, but Season 1 was almost insufferable. It was ultra-preachy and was so politically skewed it wasn’t funny. Sorkin got it perfect with the West Wing – that may have been about a Democratic President, but they captured arguments on issues well. But The Newsroom was often just a platform to make one side of politics look unprincipled and stupid.

Season 2 did get better, and wasn’t bad. I’ll watch Season 3, but don’t have high hopes.

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US federal goverment spending bill details

December 11th, 2014 at 2:05 pm by Lindsay Addie

The bill will be voted on in the next day or so. If it doesn’t pass there is the risk of another US government shutdown. The Washington Post outlines what is in the bill. Their list is quite long but here are some of the more interesting parts. Unless indicated the spending provisions run until September 2015.

ABORTION: The bill once again bans using federal funding to perform most abortions; blocks the use of local and federal funding for abortions in the District of Columbia; and blocks the use of federal dollars for abortions for federal prisoners.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: The law is still funded, but there’s no new money for it. There’s also no new ACA-related funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the two agencies most responsible for implementing the law. The bill also would cut the budget of the Independent Payment Advisory Board — what Republicans have called “the death panel” — by $10 million.
No extra funding is no surprise whilst the one of the GOP pet hates the IPAB gets its funding cut.
AFGHANISTAN: Congress withholds funding for the Afghan government “until certain conditions are met,” including implementing the bilateral security agreement reached with the United States.
The Afghan government hardly excels in its level of competency. Not sure why the Americans even give the idea of providing financial assistance any serious thought. They are going to continue giving money to Egypt ($US1.3 billion) with provisos.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: The agency gets $8.1 billion, down $60 million from the last fiscal year. The agency’s budget has been slashed by $2.2 billion, or 21 percent, since fiscal 2010, according to GOP aides. The cuts mean that EPA will have to reduce its staffing to the lowest levels since 1989.
This was predictable, the EPA is another of the Republicans pet hates.
DODD-FRANK: Democrats agreed to make some of the biggest changes yet to the 2010 financial regulatory reforms. In a deal sought by Republicans, the bill would reverse Dodd-Frank requirements that banks “push out” some of derivatives trading into separate entities not backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations. But in exchange, Democrats say they secured more money for the enforcement budgets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Probably a win-win for both parties in the Congress. The banks have been lobbying heavily for changes to the Act since its inception. The GOP may well attempt to amend Dodd-Frank in the new Congress.
IMMIGRATION: The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees most immigration policy, until February [2015].
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: One of the GOP’s favorite targets will see its budget slashed by $345.6 million. The nation’s tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.
Again no surprises here either. The Republicans are still fuming about the Obama executive order and having a go at IRS funding was always going to be included.
Both parties have made some gains in terms of their respective agendas though it looks like GOP have possibly done better in getting what they want.
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US Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques

December 10th, 2014 at 11:18 am by Lindsay Addie

As expected the release of the US Senate report on interrogation techniques used by the CIA has caused a political firestorm.

The actual report can be found here.

I’ve decided to cite two sources, one the Washington Post the other the Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post article gives a long overview of the report and provides comments from various sources. This is their initial description of the report:

An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” and that agency employees subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration” and other painful procedures that were never approved.

So what was the White House response to the report (from the Washington Post)?

In a statement from the White House, Obama said the Senate report “documents a troubling program” and “reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.” Obama praised the CIA’s work to degrade al-Qaeda over the past 13 years, but said its interrogation program “did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners.”

Part of the CIA response (from the Washington Post):

“The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” CIA Director John Brennan, who was a senior officer at the agency when it set up the secret prisons, said in a written statement. The program “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”

The Wall Street Journal op-ed agrees with the CIA and also the minority report released by Republicans who are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

First, its claim that the CIA’s interrogation program was ineffective in producing intelligence that helped us disrupt, capture, or kill terrorists is just not accurate. The program was invaluable in three critical ways:

It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, thereby removing them from the battlefield.

It led to the disruption of terrorist plots and prevented mass casualty attacks, saving American and Allied lives.

It added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization and therefore informed our approaches on how best to attack, thwart and degrade it.

This is a highly emotive issue that will continue to divide opinions sharply. On one hand some will claim that Feinstein is just being open about the truth, whilst others will say its all just playing politics.

 

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Endgames for the lame duck US Congress

December 9th, 2014 at 11:37 am by Lindsay Addie

The lame duck session for the US Congress is reaching its conclusion with emphasis on keeping the Federal Government funded and averting another shutdown. Ed O’Keefe from the Washington Post reports.

Negotiators were racing the clock Monday to release a more than $1 trillion spending package to keep the federal government open through the end of the fiscal year, capping the least productive congressional session in modern American history.

House and Senate leaders were reviewing the final details of the massive bill on Monday afternoon with the goal of posting the text by midnight so that the Republican-controlled House can vote as early as Wednesday morning. Failure to do so might delay plans to approve the legislation by Thursday night when current funds expire.

The bill will include funding levels for everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the fight against Ebola to securing U.S. embassies around the world. The omnibus legislation would fund most of the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.

So what are the chances of the spending package surviving the bickering and partisan politics?

Republicans and Democrats are waiting to see what, if any, policy “riders” might be tucked into the spending bill. Pro-abortion rights lawmakers warned that some conservatives were trying to add language allowing individuals and corporations to use a “conscience clause” to deny abortion coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act. Others Democrats raised concerns that GOP lawmakers might try to block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana possession as District residents voted to do last month. Another group is concerned about big spending cuts at the EPA or for government-funded medical research.

House Speaker John Boehner is confident that the bill will pass but the bill supporters will have to keep enough of the ideologues onside for the bill to become law. But Nancy Pelosi the House Minority Leader is apparently taking a hands off approach and isn’t encouraging her colleagues to take action one way or the other. In short she’s playing politics, this is disappointing. Does she want a shutdown so the GOP looks bad in the eyes of the voters?

Filibuster rules in the Senate are also a hot topic with Republicans after the Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations. Well after all their tub thumping and chest beating some in the GOP are having a change of heart.

 Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the rules change a “power grab” and vowed to restore the old rules, but has since backed off that statement.

Other Republican senators who once railed against changing the rules said they might now support keeping them.

“I’ve kind of gradually come to the conclusion, keep the rule the way it is. Frankly, even with the old rule, the vast majority of presidential nominees went through,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the longest serving GOP senator, said last week.

This all sounds hypocritical. As soon as the boots on the other foot the Republicans sell out on their principals.

The entertainment of the week will probably be Dr Jonathan Gruber’s appearance before  a House panel answering questions on his comments about the implementation of Obamacare. So the end is nigh for what O’Keefe considers to be the most unproductive congressional session in modern US history. No wonder the voters are cynical about goings on in Washington DC.

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US politics cartoons of the week: 8 December 2014

December 8th, 2014 at 4:12 pm by Lindsay Addie

Two this week, one making fun of each side of the political spectrum.

The first one questions the sanity of those in the GOP who want to shutdown the US federal government again.

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© Andy Marlette, found at Real Clear Politics

 

The second is about the huge increase in public debt since 2008 featuring an oblivious Barack Obama.

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© Gary Varvel, found at Real Clear Politics

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Congress Declares War on Obama. The end of his Presidency?

December 7th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

Obama1

The gum-chewing celebrity stand-in for President is under serious threat as, in breaking news 5/12 NZ time (Associated Press and Fox), the US Congress – the real power behind the ‘throne’ – has just voted down Obama’s Executive Order immigration initiative to vote amnesty to five million illegal immigrants. (Incidentally, Obama won his second term by about five million votes; so this might be viewed by some as a cynical Democrat ‘buy-up’ of an electoral buffer [ten million people] against the other side, a bit like the electoral implications of Sir Robert Muldoon’s universal superannuation initiative, that it could be argued significantly expanded the National party voter base).

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Capitol Hill (or “The Hill”) that houses the US Senate (right) and the House of Representatives (“the House”) (left) sometimes also referred to (confusingly) as “the Congress.”

The bicameral US Congress (House of Representatives & Senate) is the real power in America, among several checks and balances.  They vote the money and a president must have their support to go to war (remember all that pressure from Churchill to Roosevelt to enter WWII, and Roosevelt needing to navigate Congressional sentiment and feeling and using them as his effective UK filibuster?).

Presidents Reagan and Bush both used Executive Orders, but to enact already passed laws; Lincoln used the rare power under emergency in time of civil war.  Obama has used it simply to circumvent the democratic process in America to get what he wants, a policy he cannot get sufficient votes for in the House. Obama has ‘made law’ on the hoof without reference to, indeed in the face of direct opposition from, the democratically elected political representatives.  He has done this by appealing to some ‘higher morality’ for the ‘righteousness’ of his party political and factional ideology, the pathological arrogance of a lot of Left political thinking. That is an anti-democratic outrage.

Back in Democracy-land (Govt of the People by the People) the elected House voted 219-197 to declare Obama’s immigration actions “null and void and without legal effect.”   Obama himself described his own potential action as “unlawful” before doing it. 22 times he said that but he’s weasel-worded a 180 degree ‘switch-a-rooney’ to now say it’s ok; brought in his lawyers. So, government by selective lawyers. At first the ‘constitutional professor’ (Obama) said it would be illegal and unconstitutional to take the action he now has, but has since ‘learned’ how wider the powers of the President actually are.  Gee, how convenient. Government by research and autocracy. No wonder he’s attracting the epithets “Emperor” and “King.”

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So, this is no longer about Immigration, but the Constitution and Democracy.  Like gun laws, you don’t fight Americans on C and D.  Obama will lose and his ‘presidency’ may unravel. But it gets more serious than that, because this stand-off is potentially tied to the Budget.  The Constitutional debt ceiling (already historically lifted by Obama amidst acrimonious factional debate and stonewalling) expires on 11 Dec. 2014. Current government funding will expire. The House will be disinclined to give the President his way.  It could potentially be a bleak Christmas for government workers.

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Moreover, 17 States led by Texas have voted independently to sue the President over the Constitutional legalities of what he is doing (see the States list at the bottom of this post).  That is serious disunity in the Union.  Remember, the breakup of the Union and civil war occurred previously over political policy disagreements (slavery, property rights, State autonomy vs Federal authority, transference, among other complex issues).

A severe issue is the political mismanagement of this.  Obama seems oblivious to the budgetary and political consequences of his immigration autocracy, and that implications would inevitably flow like falling dominoes for contravening the Constitution and slapping Congress in the face. Did he not understand that of course the majority Republican House would want to leverage the Budget issues against his unprecedented contempt over immigration policy?  Wakeup Mr President; do you not understand how politics works?

The 113th Senate must also pass this House “null and void” bill (and may not); the White House has already said it will veto the House bill (to block the immigration initiative).  So, this is war.

The difficulty for many Republicans, is the backwash against them if they stonewall the government flow of money, as it hits many Americans in the pocket (government workers).  So, short-term pain for long-term Constitutional and Democracy principal and politics? It’s a risk. Some Repub.s want to delay the Immigration fight until 2015 (when there will be both a Republican House and Republican Senate majority).  Makes sense.

[Note: Despite the recent 2014 mid-term elections during the 113th Congress which gave the Republicans a majority in both wings of Congress, the 114th Congress does not ‘meet’ in Washington DC until 3 January 2015. Until then, the 113th Congress continues, a bit like our Parliaments, until they are sworn in. (Recall the constitutional crisis over currency devaluation between the outgoing Muldoon administration and the incoming Lange 4th Labour government? [the 40th-41st NZ parliaments]).

My pick is the House bill will not get Senate support, but it will sound a warning to the Obama presidency that will galvanise the 17 States pursuing legal suits against him over the Constitution.  Then in early 2015, the Republicans will rally and engage their President in an almighty Constitutional scrap (Senate & House) over their system of government. It will be a challenge for the 2016 presidential runners, and surely, will play trump cards to the Republican nominees, presenting hustings themes of the highest order to American minds (Constitution, Democracy, Federal Power, Monarchy vs Presidents,  etc. You can hear the booming stump speeches already). Hillary Clinton, if selected, will be drowned out in the greater debate.

The federal lawsuit against President Obama, includes: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

~ John Stringer.

 

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Rollling Stone and the University of Virginia rape case

December 6th, 2014 at 3:01 pm by Lindsay Addie

Allegations published in Rolling Stone magazine that a pack rape occurred on campus have started to fall apart. This has left the magazine having to backtrack.

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence. 

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

It is very hard not to reach the conclusion that the original story was poorly researched bearing in mind the very serious nature of the allegations. It also appears that fair and balanced reporting didn’t occur. Rolling Stone should have made an effort to cover the alleged perpetrators side of the story.

If they haven’t done so already Rolling Stone may need to lawyer up very soon.

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Is President Obama the worst President since WW 2 – part 1?

December 6th, 2014 at 4:00 am by kiwi in america

The inestimable Professor Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia has produced a most fascinating graph comparing the combined electoral fortunes in Senate, House, Gubernatorial and State Legislature elections for the party of each President since World War Two. After two disastrous mid term elections (2010 and 2014), President Obama is on track to post the worst results of any President since WW 2.

http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/what-a-drag/

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“Some presidents did fairly well by their parties, relatively speaking. Truman’s nearly eight years in office came at the end of an extraordinarily long period of Democratic control (1932-1952), yet his losses — while serious — were modest compared to many of his successors.

Eisenhower left the GOP in much worse shape when he left office in 1961, with a net loss of 14 governors, 12 senators, 48 House members, and a whopping 843 state legislators. Republicans wouldn’t recover much of this ground until Reagan.

Kennedy’s Democrats were in solid shape in all categories during his brief tenure, but despite a landslide with lengthy coattails for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Democrats had suffered major erosion in federal and state positions by 1968, notably losing 15 net governorships and 437 state legislative seats.

The Nixon-Ford years, capped by the Watergate scandal and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, left an overall record that mimicked Eisenhower’s in some ways, though the GOP was left at an even lower ebb once Ford exited the White House in 1977. The shell-shocked Republicans were at rock bottom in the number of governorships, House seats, state legislative seats, and state legislative chambers.

Of all modern presidents, Reagan could boast the best record. In fact, he is the only president to achieve a gain in any category — a slight net addition of six Republican state legislators from 1980 to 1988. (There are almost 7,400 state legislators, so this is a very modest advance, but a unique one all the same.) Still, Reagan left the GOP in a substantially weaker minority status in both the U.S. Senate and House.

Democrats were delirious when Bill Clinton restored them to power in 1992, a euphoria that lasted until his unpopularity pushed both houses of Congress to Republican control two years later. Despite a marginal improvement in Democratic fortunes during the rest of Clinton’s administration, the party registered a net loss of 11 governorships, seven Senate seats, 45 House seats, 524 state legislative berths, and 18 state legislative chambers.

George W. Bush’s long-term losses were more modest. Nonetheless, with Bush’s sharp drop in job approval because of his handling of the Iraq War and Katrina (plus GOP congressional scandals), Democrats regained full control of Congress in 2006, and in 2008 secured outright majorities in 60 of the states’ 98 legislative chambers (excluding Nebraska’s nonpartisan unicameral body).

However, it is Barack Obama who holds the modern record for overall losses, at least through 2014. President Obama has presided over two devastating midterms for his party. From 2008 to the present, Democrats in the Obama era have racked up net forfeitures of 11 governorships, 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 913 state legislative seats, and 30 state legislative chambers. In the latter three categories, Obama has doubled (or more) the average two-term presidential loss from Truman through Bush.”

 

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Chris Christie’s presidential credentials

December 5th, 2014 at 11:17 am by Lindsay Addie

Chris Christie has been touted as a potential strong contender for the presidency in the 2016 US elections for quite a while now. He has significant gubernatorial experience in New Jersey which could be important as having such high level executive experience in the US can be seen as a critical factor by the voters. Now New Jersey isn’t normally a GOP leaning state so Christie has had to work with Democrats, potentially a good marketing pitch with the voters in a currently bitterly partisan Washington DC.

Jennifer Rubin in her Right Turn blog at the Washington Post has assessed his chances.

Christie says of the Keystone XL pipeline, “Our leaders’ comments on this topic should not be marked by parochialism, but by principles.  And the principles should be enhancing the economic competitiveness of North America, treating allies with respect and fair consideration, and creating jobs, growth and opportunity for all.  Approving Keystone would actually drive down the price of oil and help consumers in all North American countries. It should be done today.  It is supported by majorities in both the House and the Senate.” Nothing flashy or new there. And that is telling.

If Christie is interested in running he will need to be prepared to talk about much more difficult and controversial matters. There is a danger here for him that he falls into the Hillary Clinton trap — relying on who he is rather than on what he wants to do for the country.

Rubin’s point is very valid, Christie has got to be more definite on his positions on key issues. So what are these issues?

Would he break the sequester limits to fund defense?
What sort of entitlement reform would he support? Would he raise the cap on earnings?
What is his game plan for defeating the Islamic State?
Does he have an Obamacare alternative?
On taxes, is he of the pro-growth only (i.e. lowering rates) school of reform or is he interested in pursuing middle-class tax relief with an expanded tax credit?
How strenuously does Christie want to fight Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and the rest of the Obama domestic policy residue?

Now of course these are policy issues that apply to all the GOP candidates but Christie will have to eventually start talking in specifics on these key issues. Rubin goes on to comment on why Christie wants to be the President and points out it is probably going to be a crowded field on the GOP side. So there are concerns that still remain.

So far most MSM coverage about Christie have focused on him personally — his demeanor and the bridge scandal. Conservative activists meanwhile worry he is too liberal. The bigger concern for his supporters should be that he does not as yet have a rationale for his presidency. When he is “on” he is one of the most compelling and amusing politicians on the national stage. His refusal to spout points and his delight in taking on liberal power brokers (teachers’ unions) are endearing. He needs to tell voters it is not all about him, but about what he can do for them.

He has to show he has the depth of knowledge and experience to be the next President of the United States.

And about that temperament issue: Even if voters are confident he did not mislead the public on the bridge scandal and do not think he is a “bully,” Christie needs to be aware that the public is not so much angry as exhausted and despondent. They don’t think government works and they are tired of everyone yelling at each other. Voters want calm, competence and conviviality from elected leaders.

Personally I’m not currently convinced he’s the right candidate for the presidency. Also many in the GOP won’t forget easily how he praised Obama during the 2012 election campaign. It is also yet to be seen if he can pull the conservative Republicans along with him were he to be the nominee. McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 had the same problem.

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Dotcom will help Hillary get elected!

December 3rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom says he will be “Hillary’s worst nightmare” as he revealed plans for a US version of the Internet Party.

Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US where he is wanted on piracy charges took to Twitter today to announce the new political movement.

“The Internet Party is coming to the United States in 2015. Stay tuned for our celebrity founders from the music, film and Internet industry,” Dotcom posted.

Well the major impact of the Internet Party and Dotcom on the NZ election was to get the man he hates, John Key, re-elected Prime Minister with an increased number of MPs. So on that basis, Dotcom campaigning against Hillary Clinton, should secure her the presidency.

Minutes later he clarified that his role in the party would be limited.

“The Internet Party US will be well funded and run by American citizens. I will help with Public Relations ;-)”.

I think he should do a speaking tour in the US, to help them.

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US politics cartoon of the week: 1.12.14

December 1st, 2014 at 8:51 pm by Lindsay Addie

This one features John Kerry the US Secretary of State and the endless talks with Iran over their nuclear program.

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Cartoon by Lisa Benson. Found at Real Clear Politics.

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US Supreme Court to hear internet freedom of speech case

December 1st, 2014 at 11:45 am by Lindsay Addie

SCOTUS is going to be hearing Elonis v U.S. This case will require the justices to define what the limits of freedom of speech are when using the internet in the USA.

The Wall Street Journal explains the details of the case in question.

The court said it would consider an appeal from a Pennsylvania man convicted of making threats on Facebook against his estranged wife, law enforcement and local elementary schools.

After his wife obtained a protection-from-abuse order, defendant Anthony Elonis took to Facebook and wrote on his page, “Fold up your PFA and put it in your pocket Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?”

In another post, Mr. Elonis wrote, “Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.” And after an FBI agent visited his residence, Mr. Elonis said that law-enforcement officers should bring an explosives expert on their next visit, “Cause little did y’all know, I was strapped wit’ a bomb.”

Note that under US Federal law companies such as Facebook aren’t liable for comments posted by users. Facebook according to the Wall Street Journal though is naturally following the case closely.

However, in its published “community standards,” Facebook says that “we remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.”

At the very least the statements posted on Facebook by Elonis were extremely foolish. SCOTUS is expected to rule on the case in June 2015.

[UPDATE 12.59pm] There is additional reporting on the background of the case here that gives also gives background about the issue of what is known as a ‘true threat’.

The last time the high court scrutinized the “true threat” doctrine was in 2003, when it found that a Virginia law banning cross burning was unconstitutional because a “true threat” requires the speaker to communicate an intent to commit violence. (Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter.) In that case, the court defined true threats as “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

So the key question may well be for SCOTUS is what is the relationship between a ‘true threat’ and modern technology (ie. the internet)?

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US mid-term elections poll data and 2016 presidential election

November 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Lindsay Addie

Exit poll data

Chris Cillizza over at the Washington Post has been crunching the nationwide exit poll data post the 2014 midterm elections. He’s come up with nine numbers that were important in the mid-terms. The underlying issues may also influence what happens in the 2016 presidential race.

Four. That’s the margin by which Democrats beat Republicans among women nationwide in the vote for the House. That’s a significant decline from President Obama’s winning margins among women (11 in 2012, 13 in 2008), though it’s an improvement from the 2010 midterms, when Democrats lost the women’s vote by a point. Still, the massive focus of Democratic candidates across the country on the Republican Party’s supposed “war on women” clearly didn’t persuade large numbers of female voters to abandon the GOP.

The GOP picked candidates such as Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate race to appeal more to women voters. But if Hillary Clinton is the nominee this is a tough demographic for the Republicans. The ‘war on women’ is go nowhere issue now though, its been done to death.

Sixty-two. That’s the percentage of the vote for Democrats among those who said they “never” attend any sort of religious services; Republicans won just 36 percent among that group. Compare that with the 18-point edge Republicans enjoyed over Democrats among those who go to some sort of religious service weekly and you see that one’s religiosity continues to be among the most reliable predictors of how they will vote.

No surprises here with a clear divide on how Democrats and Republicans vote.

Fifty-four.  A majority of Americans who went to the polls Nov. 4 believe that the “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals,” while just 41 percent think “the government should do more to solve problems.”

This is a big change from early in the Obama presidency. Republicans will be licking their lips looking ahead of the 2016 election. But can they find a presidential nominee savvy enough to sell this to the voters?

Seventy-eight. How people feel about their government is this number, which represents the percentage of people who say you can only “sometimes” (60 percent) or “never” (18 percent) trust Washington “to do what is right.” That’s stunning. The number is partly attributable to a Republican-flavored electorate and the natural suspicion among many within the GOP of the federal government — particularly when it’s run by a Democratic president.  

This is consistent with the previous statistic.

Forty-eight. That’s the percentage of people who said same-sex marriage should be legal in their state, the same number that said it should be illegal.

Same-sex marriage may well be an influence on some races state-by-state in 2016.

Seventy-five. Three-quarters of the 2014 electorate was white (and they voted for Republicans by 22 points) on Nov. 4. That might seem like great news for Republicans. It’s not. Whites made up 77 percent of the 2010 electorate — and the decline in whites as a percentage of the overall electorate is happening in presidential cycles, too.

The Democrats and Republicans will want to do better with this demographic in 2016.

Thirty-eight. The percentage of the white vote that Democratic candidates won nationwide. That’s the same percentage Democrats got among white voters in the 2010 midterms and virtually equal to the 39 percent Obama won in the 2012 election. That’s a trend — and a downward one for Democrats.

Thirty-six. That’s the percentage of the Hispanic vote that Republicans won Nov. 4, an improvement on the 34 percent they won in 2010 and a major step up from the 27 percent that Mitt Romney took in 2012. It was the strongest showing for Republicans among Hispanic voters since Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in the 2004 election.

The Democrats will be a bit concerned how well they relating to the white vote. The Hispanic vote is an interesting one with the immigration debate currently going on. If the GOP want to continue to make ground with this important demographic they will need to frame their policy options carefully and not alienate the Hispanic voters.

Fifty-three. A majority of voters who identified as “moderates” (four in every 10 voters) cast ballots for Democrats. Republicans got 45 percent of the moderate vote. That’s a good reminder that a) “moderate” does not equal “independent” (Republicans won “independents” by 12 points) and b) this election was not decided by “the middle.” It was decided by the Republican base or, put another way, the no-show of the Democratic base.

It is a no-brainer getting moderates and independents motivated to vote. Republicans got the vote out better than Democrats in 2014. The other key demographic not mentioned here are the millennials, this was covered in a previous post.

Quinnipiac presidential election poll

Quinnipiac conducted a poll that assumes Hillary Clinton is the nominee for the Democrats and matched her up against possible GOP contenders.

Romney 45 (%) – Clinton 44.

Clinton 43 – Christie 42

Clinton 46 – Paul 41

Clinton 46 – Huckabee 41

Clinton 46 – Jeb Bush 41

Clinton 46 – Ryan 42

Clinton 48 – Cruz 37.

It is very early days so these numbers will change.

 

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The rioting in Ferguson Missouri

November 26th, 2014 at 9:24 am by Lindsay Addie

As expected rioting and looting broke out after the Grand Jury decision on the Michael Brown shooting was announced.

The Washington Post has posted a series of  graphics that according to them is the correct sequence of events that led to Brown being fatally shot.

The grand jury documents are here.

Juan Williams from Fox News has written an opinion piece in which he asks.

Where is the black leadership now that a grand jury has decided not to indict the police officer that killed Michael Brown?

Where is Al Sharpton? He advertises himself as a spokesman for the best interests of black America. But he is absent.

Where is Jesse Jackson, another popular media personality who says he speaks for black America? He’s missing in action, too.

Perhaps its cynical to think it but I’m not sure that Sharpton is a voice of reason. Williams goes on to comment on how Brown’s family have handled themselves post the Grand Jury announcement.

Incredibly, the best leadership on the scene has come from the family of the murdered teen.

Michael Brown’s family issued a statement right after the prosecutor announced that the grand jury was not going to indict the officer. They said they are “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”

They then spoke about the need for “positive change…[the] need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.” They specifically called for requiring the police to wear body cameras and then they added “please keep your protests peaceful.”

“Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction – Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference,” their statement read.

[CORRECTION] At least the family are acting with dignity  This isn’t accurate as although a statement as cited was released Michael Brown’s stepfather was recorded on video inciting the crowd to “burn this bitch down”.

As for the looters and rioters it looks like some level of pre-planning has gone into their actions. It doesn’t look like one of those ‘spontaneous demonstrations’ that we sometimes hear about.

[Update] Here is the video footage of Michael Brown robbing the convenience store prior to the altercation with the police officer.

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President Obama’s immigration policy

November 22nd, 2014 at 8:24 am by Lindsay Addie

Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday of amnesty for 4.7 million out of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants was widely expected. David Gergen a former presidential advisor has analysed the issue over at CNN.

It isn’t the underlying policy that is troubling. Just the opposite. We have known for years that we would never deport some 11 million people from our midst. Many have become hard-working, productive members of our society, and Congress, working with the White House, should long ago have provided them a safe pathway out of the shadows.

In that sense, this policy is good. One wonders indeed why the President, having decided to take the plunge, didn’t go further and build a pathway to fuller benefits such as health care for those who establish a solid record of work and good behaviour.

Nor is it even the questionable legality that disturbs. On many occasions during our history, presidents have tested the boundaries of their constitutional power through executive orders: Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, his Emancipation Proclamation, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Works Progress Administration, FDR’s awful internment of Japanese-Americans, and Harry Truman’s integration of the armed forces were all accomplished through controversial executive orders.

Recent polls agree with Gergen, the public like the thrust of the policy but disagree with using an executive order.

Even so, President Obama’s executive order on immigration seems to move us into uncharted, dangerous waters. It is one thing for a president like Lincoln or FDR to act unilaterally in national emergencies. In nearly all the big examples of the past — like the Emancipation Proclamation — they were also acting as commander-in-chief. As the one foremost responsible for protecting the nation’s existence, a president as commander-in-chief has long been recognized as having inherent powers that stretch well beyond those of normal governance.

Agreed. It is hard to argue that immigration in 2014 in the USA is an ‘emergency’ on the scale of the abolition of slavery.

The Obama administration is citing examples of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr issuing executive orders on immigration but there is an important difference.

The White House has repeatedly pointed to immigration-related executive orders issued by past presidents, notably Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to support the legality of President Obama’s order and to palliate its partisan sting.

Both the executive orders cited, however, can be distinguished from the case at hand. Reagan granted amnesty to 100,000 undocumented immigrants to close a loophole in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in 1986.

Bush’s order, which granted amnesty to at most 1.5 million people (although the actual number who benefited is likely much smaller), also attempted to clean up a piece of legislation.

So whilst his predecessors issued executive orders in relation to an existing directive from Congress (the 1986 immigration legislation) Obama has issued his own directive which is different. Gergen then addresses issues of governance and the Constitution.

One can argue whether this executive order is legal, but it certainly violates the spirit of the founders. They intentionally focused Article One of the Constitution on the Congress and Article Two on the president. That is because the Congress is the body charged with passing laws and the president is the person charged with faithfully carrying them out.

In effect, the Congress was originally seen as the pre-eminent branch and the president more of a clerk. The president’s power grew enormously in the 20th century but even so, the Constitution still envisions Congress and the president as co-equal branches of government — or as the scholar Richard Neustadt observed, co-equal branches sharing power.

The end result is going to be even more distrust between Democrats and Republicans in Washington DC. If Obama had have waited 6 months to give Congress a chance to act it could have led to a bi-partisan solution. The arguments that have broken out regarding why neither side didn’t pass legislation in the House when it had the chance (Democrats between 2008-10 and the GOP post 2010) is just a pointless debate about the past and does neither side no credit. Both parties must share the blame.

The best hope is that the new Congress does address this issue with a bipartisan bill that the President will eventually sign. That will require the GOP to show some constructive cohesive leadership, something they’ve struggled with up till now.

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How Obamacare really works

November 17th, 2014 at 8:40 pm by Lindsay Addie

A funny and clever explanation about how Obamacare works by Lisa Benson. Not meant to be taken literally!

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Copyright: Lisa Benson, Washington Post Writers Group 2014. Found at Real Clear Politics.

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The jury is still out on quantitative easing

November 16th, 2014 at 9:46 am by Lindsay Addie

With the 2014 mid-term election campaign in full swing in October the US Federal Reserve’s decision to ease back on its bond buying program (quantitative easing) didn’t receive the coverage it deserved by the media. So what is ‘quantitative easing (QE) and why is it used? The Economist explains:

When the crisis [GFC] struck, big central banks like the Fed and the Bank of England slashed their overnight interest-rates to boost the economy. But even cutting the rate as far as it could go, to almost zero, failed to spark recovery. Central banks therefore began experimenting with other tools to encourage banks to pump money into the economy. One of them was QE.

To carry out QE central banks create money by buying securities, such as government bonds, from banks, with electronic cash that did not exist before. The new money swells the size of bank reserves in the economy by the quantity of assets purchased—hence “quantitative” easing. Like lowering interest rates, QE is supposed to stimulate the economy by encouraging banks to make more loans. The idea is that banks take the new money and buy assets to replace the ones they have sold to the central bank. That raises stock prices and lowers interest rates, which in turn boosts investment.

So how has QE worked in practice? This is strongly debated by economists with the Wall Journal having canvassed economists for their views on QE. Meanwhile Robert Samuelson over at Real Clear Politics is arguing why more research is necessary.

Take the “event studies.” They observe interest rates only during the first hours or days after a Fed bond-buying announcement. Over longer periods, interest rates may reverse course. On his blog, economist James Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego, says that rates on 10-year Treasury bonds actually rose during periods of Fed bond buying — the opposite of the goal. Whatever the Fed’s influence, he writes, it was overwhelmed by “developments beyond [its] control.”

Likewise, economic models may exaggerate the tendency of lower interest rates and higher stock prices to increase spending. Maybe the financial crisis has made people more cautious. The models may be outdated.

Some of the potential pitfalls of QE are discussed here in analysis by ECR Research. The Economist shares similar concerns.

Studies suggest that it did raise economic activity a bit. But some worry that the flood of cash has encouraged reckless financial behaviour and directed a firehose of money to emerging economies that cannot manage the cash. Others fear that when central banks sell the assets they have accumulated, interest rates will soar, choking off the recovery. Last spring, when the Fed first mooted the idea of tapering, interest rates around the world jumped and markets wobbled. Still others doubt that central banks have the capacity to keep inflation in check if the money they have created begins circulating more rapidly. Central bankers have been more cautious in using QE than they would have been in cutting interest rates, which could partly explain some countries’ slow recoveries.

The challenge for economists is to increase their knowledge of QE by developing more advanced modelling and measurement systems enabling QE to be further refined. As it stands not enough is known about its inner workings and how it influences economies.

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Pew’s eight political types

November 13th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Pew has divided up US voters into eight types. You can do their quiz to see which type you are. The types are:

  • Solid Liberals -
  • Faith and Family Left
  • Next Generation Left
  • Hard-Pressed Skeptics
  • Young Outsiders
  • Business Conservatives
  • Steadfast Conservatives
  • Bystanders

When it comes to the mid-terms, the groups most likely to vote are the Business Conservatives, Steadfast Conservatives and Solid Liberals. Hence Republicans are likely to do better as the first two groups vote Republican 88% and the last one is 88% Democrat.

I’m classified as a business conservative:

Business Conservatives generally are traditional small-government Republicans. Overwhelming percentages think that government is almost always wasteful and it does too much better left to businesses and individuals. Business Conservatives differ from Steadfast Conservatives in their positive attitudes toward business and in their strong support for Wall Street in particular. Most think that immigrants strengthen the country and take a positive view of U.S. global involvement. As a group, they are less socially conservative than Steadfast Conservatives.

Would be interesting to be able to divide NZ into political types. You need a lot of data to be able to do it well.

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Updated US election results

November 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Republicans have a confirmed seven seat pick up to give them 52 seats and are well placed to get Alaska and Louisiana also. If they do it will be the best mid-term gain for the Republicans since 1958.

In Alaska the Republican candidate is 8,000 votes ahead with 50,000 to be counted.

There is a run off in Louisiana but they have a system where there are no primaries so there were multiple Republican candidates. The Democratic candidate got 42%, and the next two candidates were Republicans on 41% and 14% so I expect a win there also.

In the House the Republicans so far have a net gain of 12 seats with seven undecided. They have a chance of a pick up in five of those seats and if they get just one of them, it will be their largest majority if the House since 1928. That gives you an idea of how huge a victory this turned out to be.

 

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The loose lips of Dr Gruber

November 13th, 2014 at 10:38 am by Lindsay Addie

Doctor Jonathan Gruber an economist who was one of Obamacare’s architects has been outed for making controversial remarks about the planning and writing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Washington Post reports:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO [Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes,” he said during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in October, 2013. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Gruber’s comments were part of a broader public conversation between him and economist Mark Pauly on the economics of health care reform. Gruber was responding to a remark by Pauly about financing transparency in the law and the politics surrounding the ACA’s individual mandate. The political process, he said, striking a critical tone, resulted in inefficiencies in the law which should be corrected.

“In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which explicitly said that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed,” he said. “You can’t do it politically, you just literally cannot do it. It’s not only transparent financing but also transparent spending.”

These remarks are frankly stupid and ill-conceived and have fired up Republicans even more to repeal the ACA. Also to openly admit that there was an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the non-partisan CBO is a particularly odd and damaging admission.

With King vs Burwell also due to be heard by SCOTUS in early 2015 the ACA is going to continue to be critically analysed by both the media and political opponents.

The Washington Post is also reporting on what the GOP will do next in light of Dr Gruber’s remarks.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is slated to become chairman of the powerful Senate budget committee, also threw his support behind possible hearings. In a furious gaggle with reporters, Sessions said Gruber’s comments could make dealings with the White House more difficult, days after Republican leaders said they would seek areas of common ground.

“The strategy was to hide the truth from the American people,” Sessions said. “I’m not into this post-modern world where you can say whatever you want to in order to achieve your agenda. That is a threat to the American republic… This is far deeper and more significant than the fact that he just spoke.”

Other Senate Republicans expressed similar discomfort with Gruber, but warned conservatives to not get their hopes up about repealing the health-care law while President Obama remains in office, underscoring the tonal difference between the more rabble-rousing House GOP and the new and more even-tempered Republican Senate majority.

Heading into a party luncheon on Wednesday, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the health care law “is going to still be there regardless because we don’t have the votes” to undo it.

So yet again there is a split between the conservatives and the moderates in the Republican Party on what is the best strategy to try to get rid the ACA.

[UPDATE 14-11-14 • 10.30am]

Jake Tapper over at CNN is reporting that a fourth video with Dr Gruber talking about the ACA as emerged, he also reports on this response  from Josh Earnest, President Obama’s Press Secretary.

Asked about Gruber’s comments from a 2013 University of Pennsylvania panel in which the economist said “a lack of transparency was a huge political advantage for the President…” in selling the bill to the American people, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “the process associated with writing and passing and implementing the Affordable Care Act has been extraordinarily transparent.”

Earnest insisted “it is Republicans who have been less than forthright and transparent about what their proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act would do in terms of the choices that are available to middle-class families. I know there is at least one very prominent Republican who campaigned for reelection saying that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, but yet keep in place the Affordable Care Act marketplace that has operated very successfully in his state.”

Asked about Gruber’s reference to the “stupidity of the American voter,” Earnest said, “I disagree vigorously with that assessment.”

Earnest’s comments about Republicans are a valid criticism, they’re trying to have it both ways by not actually stating what their alternatives are.

Also Bloomberg are reporting Nancy Pelosi’s comments at a press conference that she doesn’t know who Gruber is despite evidence that appears to disprove her assertions.

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Scott Walker and the White House in 2016

November 12th, 2014 at 9:49 am by Lindsay Addie

Previously I assessed the chances of Jeb Bush if he runs for the presidency. This post assesses another front runner on the GOP side.

Scott Walker again thwarted and frustrated his foes the Democrats and the big unions in the Wisconsin Gubernatorial race last week. As has been widely reported in the US media this is his third win in 4 years. The Weekly Standard analyses his performance as Governor and ponders what if he makes a run for the White House in 2016.

Some of Walker’s opponents have tried to console themselves with the belief that he triumphed simply because Republicans win low-turnout midterm elections, while Democrats win high-turnout presidential elections. “President Obama went into Milwaukee” and “did all he could do,” a distraught MSNBC host Ed Schultz said on election night. “He went to the base. This was a base election. He just apparently didn’t get out enough people.”

But in reality, the election didn’t come down to turnout. Walker could have survived 100 percent turnout in the liberal bastions of Milwaukee County and Dane County (which includes Madison, the capital and home to the state’s flagship university). Burke could have netted the same number of votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties as President Obama, but if everything else had stayed the same, Walker still would have won.

Walker’s victory was broad-based. Independents backed him by 10 points, and the racial composition of 2014 voters (88 percent white and 6 percent black) wasn’t that different from the electorate that showed up for the 2012 presidential contest (86 percent white, 7 percent black), when Obama won the state by 7 points.

Having broad-based appeal is clearly important in a presidential campaign. Furthermore being able to win in purple state is also an considerable achievement but he would need to spread his strong ground game nationwide.

Whether Walker can translate his middle-class appeal into a successful presidential campaign remains to be seen. He’ll be able to run for the Republican nomination as someone who can be trusted to govern as conservatively as possible, but no further than what’s possible. Walker was the only governor in a blue or purple state, besides Maine’s Paul LePage, who opposed Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. But Walker never took on any kamikaze missions, and he criticized the 2013 government shutdown. His pragmatism, as well as education reforms that included ending teacher tenure and expanding school choice, could help him appeal to moderate Republicans.

Walker will, of course, face plenty of challenges if he seeks the nomination. In a crowded field of impressive speakers, Walker will have to overcome the perception that he lacks charisma. He will also need to do more than simply point to his record in Wisconsin—he must develop a serious national economic agenda and show that despite his lack of experience in world affairs he has a clear foreign policy.

In Walker’s favour he can argue that he is battle hardened  and has executive experience at the Gubernatorial level which is vital. But being able to transform himself into a national political figure is another ballgame altogether and foreign policy is currently inordinately complex and difficult to manage as both George W. Bush and Barack Obama both found out.

Next week: Hillary Clinton.

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Obama backs net neutrality

November 12th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

US President Barack Obama has embraced a radical change in how the government treats Internet service, coming down on the side of consumer activists who fear slower download speeds and higher costs but angering Republicans and the nation’s cable giants who say the plan would kill jobs.

Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to more heavily regulate Internet providers and treat broadband much as it would any other public utility. He said the FCC should explicitly prohibit Internet providers like Verizon and AT&T from charging data hogs like Netflix extra to move their content more quickly. The announcement sent cable stocks tumbling.

The FCC, an independent regulatory body led by political appointees, is nearing a decision on whether broadband providers should be allowed to cut deals with the content providers but is stumbling over the legal complexities.

“We are stunned the president would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and calling for extreme” regulation, said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the primary lobbying arm of the cable industry, which supplies much of the nation’s Internet access.

This “tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results,” Powell added.

Netflix swung behind Obama, posting to its Facebook page that “consumers should pick winners and losers on the Internet, not broadband gatekeepers.”

“Net neutrality” is the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t block, slow or manipulate data moving across its networks. As long as content isn’t against the law, such as child pornography or pirated music, a file or video posted on one site will load generally at the same speed as a similarly sized file or video on another site.

This will be interesting to see how it resolves. I back the principle that ISPs should not deliver some content to customers slower, unless the content host pays a surcharge.  But the Government should only intervene if there is a serious problem that the market doesn’t solve. The best solution is to have a competitive access market, so that if an access provider tries to charge more to speed up content, customers go elsewhere.

 

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What now for Obamacare?

November 9th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

Introduction

With the Republicans having completed a convincing victory in the 2014 mid-term elections and most importantly taking control of the Senate. This is keeping a lot of attention on Obamacare. Whilst the GOP want to use their power in the Congress to at least water down Obamacare the president naturally wants to make this a part of his legacy. This article looks at the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Please note there has been no attempt to deal with the fiscal implications on the US Federal Government’s spending and deficits. There are numerous projections available from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the General Accountability Office (GAO) and many others. It is an extremely complex topic that is fiercely debated by supporters and opponents of the PPACA. It will be covered in separate post in the near future.

About the PPACA

First before discussing the PPACA further it is helpful to understand some key facts about the legislation.

Overview of Provisions

  • Guaranteed issue prohibits insurers from denying coverage to individuals due to pre-existing conditions. In addition insurers are required to offer the same premium price to all applicants of the same age and geographical location without regard to gender or most pre-existing conditions (excluding tobacco use).
  • The PPACA establishes minimum standards for health insurance policies.
  • Under the individual mandate all individuals not covered by an employer sponsored health plan, Medicaid, Medicare or other public insurance programs are required to secure an approved private-insurance policy or pay a penalty, unless the applicable individual has a financial hardship or is a member of a recognized religious sect exempted by the Internal Revenue Service. The law includes subsidies to help people with low incomes comply with the mandate.
  • Health insurance exchanges are portals for individuals and small businesses in every state to compare policies and buy insurance (with a government subsidy if eligible). The next enrollment period is scheduled to be November 15, 2014–February 15, 2015.
  • Low-income subsidies are available for individuals and families whose incomes are between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. They receive federal subsidies on a sliding scale if they purchase insurance via an exchange.
  • Medicaid (health care for low income families and individuals) has been expanded to include individuals and families with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level, including adults without disabilities and without dependent children.
  • The Medicare (health insurance for Americans 65 and over) payment system has been reformed with the intent of promoting greater efficiency in the healthcare delivery system by restructuring Medicare reimbursements from fee-for-service to bundled payments.
  • The employer mandate applies to businesses which employ 50 or more people but who do not offer health insurance to their full-time employees. These businesses will have to pay a tax penalty if the government has subsidized a full-time employee’s healthcare through tax deductions or other means. The Internal Revenue Service delayed enforcement of this provision for one year in July 2013.

Twenty one new taxes

The PPACA created twenty one new taxes. Here are some of them.

  1. Individual mandate
  2. Employer mandate
  3. Medical device manufacturers tax
  4. Indoor tanning services tax
  5. Excise tax on charitable hospitals which fail to comply with the requirements of the PPACA
  6. Tax on brand name drugs
  7. Tax on health insurers

There are also targeted tax credits available. The full list of new taxes introduced under the PPACA is here.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)

This 15 member board is responsible for achieving savings in Medicare whilst maintaining coverage and quality.

Legal Challenges

There have been many attempts in US courts to derail Obamacare. The most well known being the 2012 case heard by The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) which ruled on the legality of the legislation. The Obama administration won by a narrow 5-4 majority.

King vs Burwell

SCOTUS has taken on this important case. At the heart of this latest legal challenge to Obamacare is whether or not the Federal Government has the right to distribute insurance tax credits in certain states. The case will be heard early in 2015 with a ruling in June. For a more detailed legalistic description of the case go here.

The Wall Street Journal in its reporting on this story explains what has happened in the courts previous to SCOTUS getting involved in King vs Burwell and alleges that Harry Reid broke Senate filibuster rules to appoint liberal judges one of the courts that ruled on the case in July 2014.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government, though the opinion said it was a close call. A 2-1 panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled the other way, only to have the decision vacated by the entire D.C. Circuit, which voted to hear the case en banc in the coming months.

Mr. Reid broke Senate filibuster rules to add three liberals to the D.C. Circuit with the expectation that the en banc court would favor the Administration. At a July 22 press conference, Mr. Reid boasted about his filibuster play and proclaimed that, “It seems clear to me that that decision will be overturned.” Then there would be no splits between the circuit courts, and the Supreme Court would be less likely to take the case.

Greg Sargent writing in the Washington Post makes some pertinent points about where the GOP would stand if SCOTUS finds against the Obama administration.

As the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt explains it, a SCOTUS ruling gutting the subsidies could easily be rendered “moot” in one of two ways: Either Congress fixes the law, or governors in those states set up state exchanges to keep the subsidies flowing to their constituents. “A simple fix from either Congress or Republican governors would allow people to keep their benefits,” Levitt says.

The prospect of so many of each of these governors’ constituents losing insurance would theoretically put pressure on them to make things right. The same might be the case for GOP lawmakers in Congress. One possibility might be that the two parties use this as an occasion to enter into negotiations over the law’s future, in which Republicans try to leverage the need for the fix to get other changes to it they want — which could be dicey for the law but perhaps not too much of a threat to it.

Of course, these lawmakers would also face intense pressure from the right not to fix it. And for all I know, they might let the law’s subsidies disappear for millions. How bloody minded are the Republicans willing to be?

If the case is lost by the Obama administration it will be fascinating to observe how the GOP in Congress deals with millions of people who face being disadvantaged financially.

Possible deconstruction of Obamacare by Republicans

This is certainly a pet topic with Republicans post the mid-term elections. So how will the GOP potentially attempt to attack Obamacare?

Repeal – Pass a bill through the House and Senate repealing the PPACA lock stock and barrel. This will be symbolic gesture because only as Barack Obama will veto a repeal bill.

Scrap the Medical Devices Tax –  A 2.3% tax on devices the manufacturers say are threatening their competitiveness. There is a real chance the Republicans can get enough Democrats in Congress to support them and have a majority.

The thirty hour rule – Republicans strongly oppose this section of the ACA which has defines a full working week as 30 hours instead of 40 hours. Plenty of powerful industry lobby groups are gearing up in Washington DC to support the GOP on this one.

IPAB – It’s close to a sure thing that the Republicans will try and scrap this board of bureaucrats. There are also Democrats who aren’t totally convinced of the IPAB’s worth. So a majority may exist in the Congress.

Repeal the Individual Mandate – Getting rid of this would certainly make a dent in Obamacare. Possibly some Democrats may support this.

The Employer Mandate – This is very interesting possibility for the GOP as it is unpopular with business owners. This provision is directly tied to the thirty hour rule. If it isn’t possible to repeal there could well be room for GOP leaders and the Obama administration to talk turkey about modifying it.

Remember the presidential veto, so the GOP will have to somehow find a way to force Barack Obama’s hand. The Republicans can use the budget reconciliation process to aid their cause.

Because Republicans lack the 60 seats needed to beat a Democratic filibuster, McConnell can’t force a vote on a simple, straightforward repeal bill. But he has said several times he would use the budget reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes, to pass anti-Obamacare measures. Reconciliation probably can’t be used to pass a clean, repeal-it-all proposal—and Obama would veto it if it did—but by pushing the measure, Republicans incumbents inoculate themselves against charges that they let the party’s least-favorite law stand, as well as fulfill campaign promises.

Comment

If the Republicans want to make any changes to Obamacare they’re going to have to figure out how to get enough leverage to force Barack Obama to go along with them. They will also need to achieve a unity purpose in their own ranks, something that they don’t currently have, this was covered in a previous post. The prize of the presidency looms and the GOP needs to be constructive and not in the words of Charles Krauthammer be the “party of no”. Having solid and sound alternatives to improve the US healthcare system will be imperative if they’re are to convince the voters to support them. The weakness is so far they haven’t achieved this.

For the Democrats a useful strategy would be to go along with reasonable change to make it more workable in practice so make it more difficult for the Republicans to make a case for repeal the law at a later date. It needs to be added that a full repeal is probably going to require the Republicans to hold the presidency and both houses of Congress post the 2016 election. The longer the PPACA remains in force the more confident Barack Obama will be that in his mind it is cemented in as a key part of his legacy. To achieve this he may need to be flexible and agree to well thought out modifications to the PPACA.

Sources

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PDF)

Wikipedia article on the PPACA

Seven provisions of Obamacare

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Differences between New Zealand and US politics

November 9th, 2014 at 10:57 am by kiwi in america

With David still gone and travelling and with the US elections fresh, I am posting a comparison between the US and New Zealand political systems that answer many of the questions I get from puzzled kiwis about the marvelously complex American political system

Head of State

USA

The President is the Head of State.

New Zealand

The nominal Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the 2nd of the United Kingdom [EDIT – I have disrespected the Queen by not giving her her full title – Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith – thanks Lindsay]  who administers her official duties through Her appointed representative in NZ known as the Governor General. The Governor General’s post is an appointed position for a set term usually of five years and the appointment is made by the Prime Minister of the day. The office of GG is a largely ceremonial as is the Queen’s modern role. The Head of State in the Westminster Parliamentary system officially opens Parliament, reads the Speech from the Throne (given to him or her by the PM) and signs all Acts of Parliament into law (known as the Royal Assent).

Executive

The Executive is the Government or those individuals who collectively are called the Cabinet and who head the key government departments. The most senior leader of the Government and thus the leader of the country is the Prime Minister or the President.

New Zealand

The Cabinet in NZ comes out of the Legislature or Parliament. They are the senior members of the party that has sufficient members in the Parliament to form a government. In National Party governments, the Cabinet members are chosen by the Prime Minister whilst Labour governments their Cabinets are elected by the caucus and the portfolios are allocated by the PM. The Prime Minister is the leader of the governing party in Parliament – in National’s case elected by the caucus and in Labour’s case elected by a combining votes from the caucus (40%), the party membership (40%) and the affiliated trade unions (20%). NZ Cabinet Ministers are located in one building known as the Beehive and meet regularly as a Cabinet on Monday mornings.

USA

The Executive in the US is entirely separate from the Legislature. The President is elected by the popular vote of the people at Presidential elections via the Electoral College. The composition of the Electoral College comprises of electors from each state representing the total number Congressmen and Senators from that State. In almost all cases, the candidate for President that wins a simple plurality of votes from that State garners the Electors from that State (exceptions are Nebraska and Maine who allocate electoral votes proportionately). Once elected the President appoints his or her Cabinet but each appointment must be confirmed by the Senate. Cabinet appointees tend to be current or former senior politicians from the President’s own party or prominent people from business, academia or other areas of public service. US Cabinet members offices are in their respective Departmental head office buildings and meetings of the President’s full Cabinet are rare; the President usually preferring one on one briefings with each Cabinet member who are known by the title Secretary (the Foreign Minister equivalent is called the Secretary of State).

Legislature

USA

The US operates a bi-cameral legislature comprising of the lower house called the House of Representatives and the upper house called the Senate. Up until 1913, the size of the House of Representatives grew based on the population growth of each 10 year (decennial) US census. Since 1913 the size of the House of Representatives was capped at 435 members and has not grown in size since. However the relative strengths of each state’s congressional delegation is adjusted after each Census based on what percentage of the overall population that state comprises thus high growth states in the south and west will be allocated new Congressional districts at the expense of states mostly in the east and mid-west whose population is either stagnant or shrinking and they lose Congressional Districts. The Districts are numbered such as Illinois 5th and the representatives are called Congressmen or women. The Senate is comprised of two Senate seats per state regardless of the size of the state so 100 seats.

New Zealand

NZ has a unicameral legislature comprising of just the House of Representatives. Our Upper House (the Legislative Council) was abolished in 1951. Representatives are called Members of Parliament or MPs and comprise of those elected from districts called electorates and those chosen from party lists. The total size of Parliament is determined by the relevant section of the Electoral Act as is currently set at 120 total MPs. The mix between electorate and list MPs is determined by calculating the number of electorates after each 5 yearly census by taking the population of the South Island and dividing it by 16 to determine the new electorate quota. This quota is them applied to the North Island to determine if population growth warrants new electorates. If a census adds 2 new electorates then the number of MPs elected directly from electorates increases by 2 and the number elected from party lists declines by 2. NZ uses a proportional voting system called MMP or Mixed Member Proportional. Voters have two votes: a Party vote to determine who they want to be the government and an Electorate vote to determine who they want as their local MP. The party lists are used to top from MPs elected from electorates to ensure that a particular party’s total number of MPs reflects the percentage of the Party vote that party got. A party must garner 5% of the total Party vote to get members elected unless they managed to win a single electorate seat in which case no threshold applies. If however a party wins more electorate seats than its Party vote percentage would allocate, then those MPs will be added to the total of 120 MPs. This is called an overhang and has happened in a few elections with the Maori Party.

Judiciary

New Zealand

Judges in New Zealand are appointed by the Minister of Justice on recommendation from the Solicitor-General [EDIT – by the Governor General on the advice of the Attorney-General hat tip AG]. Generally speaking District and High Court judge appointments are for no set term and for the judge’s usual working life. NZ judges interpret laws passed by Parliament but cannot make policy. Whilst Parliament is the supreme lawmaking body of the land as it has the sole right to pass legislation, it cannot interfere with any court’s decision unless it chooses to pass legislation on the matter. Judges are never subject to a popular vote.

USA

All Judges for the 11 Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal and the US Supreme Court are appointed by the President but must be confirmed by a majority of Senators but subject to filibuster or an attempt to stall proceedings unless it can be broken by a vote of 60 opposing Senator although part way through the most recent Congress, the Democrat majority changed the Senate rules suspending the filibuster for judicial appointments. Supreme Court appointments are for an unlimited term with resignation at the discretion of the appointed judge or upon their death in office. All State, County and City level judges are appointed by the Governor of the state and are subject to the popular vote each election cycle and a judge that might have a reputation for being too soft on criminals in a conservative area may find him or herself removed from office.

Checks and balances

USA

The US Constitutions created the three arms of government as separate but equal each with the power to check the other. The President checks the Legislature via the ability to veto bills passed by Congress. The Legislature checks the Executive through being the only arm that can initiate legislation, the Senate confirmation process of the Presidential appointments and through the ability with a 2/3rds majority in both Houses to override the veto. Presidential checks on the Judiciary lie in his/her ability to change the ideological composition of the court by appointments. The Judiciary checks the power of both the Executive and the Legislature with its ability to declare legislation or executive orders unconstitutional. The Legislature checks the Judiciary through the confirmation process of judges. Other crucial roles are separated – the President is the Commander in Chief of the military but only Congress has the power to declare war. The President can negotiate international treaties and accords but they must be ratified by the Senate.

New Zealand

NZ has fewer formal checks built into the system and does not have a Constitution that separates the powers of the government in any formal sense and because the Executive comes out of the Legislature. The Legislature exerts limited checks on the power of the Executive. The biggest check is public opinion and the caucus of the governing party who can initiate a vote against the party leader (although in the case of Labour it would be subject to their wider party leader election process). The Judiciary has the power strike down legislation passed by Parliament although such instances tend to be more about interpretation of laws. Because Parliament is sovereign in its law making ability, it can pass laws to clarify matters that the Courts may have ruled on.

The Bureaucracy

New Zealand

NZ has an independent and non-political civil service. Civil servants at all levels are required to be politically neutral and serve the government of the day. Permanent heads of government departments, whilst reporting to their relevant Minister, are appointed by the State Services Commission in a process that the government of the day cannot interfere with. A change of government in New Zealand results in minimal disruption to the day to running of the bureaucracy.

USA

The US bureaucracy is much more politicized. The top three tiers of management of any Department of the Executive are all political appointees who are appointed by the President in consultation with his/her appointed Cabinet Secretary for that Department. These appointees are the eyes and ears of the Administration throughout the bureaucracy and are considered one of the major spoils of winning the White House. When there is a change of Administration, there are usually over 3,000 political appointments that have to be made throughout the Federal Government with a number of first tier management and sensitive legal positions requiring Senate confirmation. A change of Administration has a huge impact on the Federal bureaucracy with many decisions shelved until appointments can be made and key ones confirmed – a process often taking several months. It is the main reason why the new President is not sworn in until usually near the end of January following his/her election in early November.

States

New Zealand

NZ has had no second tier regional government like states or provinces since the abolition of the provinces in 1876. The next tier of government after the national government is city and regional councils.

USA

The US has 50 states that have unique status amongst nations that have states or provinces. The Constitution enumerates specific powers that the President and the Federal government have – anything outside these specific roles is the preserve of the States. The States preceded the Federal government with the whole notion of American nationhood being founded on it being a Federation of existing States (the 13 original colonies). The Constitution makes provision for the addition of new states the last two being added (Hawaii and Alaska) in 1960. Each State has its own Constitution, its own legislatures, its own Executive (headed by the Governor) and hierarchy of courts that are a microcosm of the Federal system. Each state’s laws can be very different and the Supreme Court often rules on disputes of jurisdiction between State and Federal governments. This is no more apparent than in the vastly differing electoral laws from State to State. Just a few will suffice: some states have lieutenant governors, some don’t – some have only joint tickets whilst others elect the lieutenant governor separately (and can be from an opposing party). Some states require special (by) elections for vacated Federal Congress seats (House or Senate) within specified time frame of the seat being vacated, others grant the sitting Governor the right to appoint an interim Congressman or Senator. Some states are actually called Commonwealths (Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky) and not all call their lower chamber the House or the upper chamber the Senate. Some states term limit their elected officials, others do not. Each state decides which Executive offices are elected and which are appointed.

Election dates/terms

USA

Elections in the US (apart from special or by elections) are always held on the first Tuesday in November and each elected office has a set term. The Presidential term is four years with a term limit of two terms. Each Federal Senate term is for six years with staggered terms so that a third of the Senate members are up for re-election each election cycle. Federal House of Representative terms are for two years. Governors’ terms are for four years. State upper and lower chamber terms are determined by each state but most have two year terms for both. Elections held outside Presidential elections are called mid-term elections. There are no snap elections. The President or a Governor cannot decide when to go to the people – the terms and elections dates are constitutionally mandated.

New Zealand

The normal term of a NZ Parliament is three years and a General Election must be called no later than three years after the last General Election however the Prime Minister of the day at any time can instruct the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and issue writs for a new General Election. There are no legal restrictions to this power proscribed in the Electoral Act however in practice so-called snap elections are usually only called in unusual circumstances. Vacancies (either by death, resignation or conviction of a crime carrying a 2 year or longer sentence of an MP) are handled differently depending on whether the MP was a List or Electorate MP. A List MP vacancy is filled by the relevant party appointing the next person on their party list and that person is sworn in as an MP by the Speaker in the next sitting day of Parliament. Any Electorate MP vacancy six months before a General Election is usually left vacant until the election by convention between the governing party of the day and the Opposition. Any other Electorate MP vacancy is filled by a by-election in that seat fought on the same boundaries as the last General Election with the date of the by-election decided by the Prime Minister.

Electoral boundaries

New Zealand

Boundaries of NZ electorates are re-drawn after each 5 yearly census when the total number of new North Island electorates is determined after applying the so-called South Island quota. A tolerance is set at plus or minus five percent above/below the quota as the outer limit of the population of each new electorate. Any electorate above or below the quota will have to have its boundary redrawn. A body called the Representation Commission redraws the boundaries to incorporate the additional electorate(s) required by population growth arising from the census determination and the same time keeping all new electorates inside the tolerance band. The Representation Commission comprises senior civil servants convened by the Surveyor-General, the Government Statistician, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Chairperson of Local Government Commission and each major political party can appoint a non-voting observer. The Commission takes into account communities of interest when redrawing boundaries. Interim boundaries are released for consultation and submission and parties can suggest minor changes around community of interest grounds that don’t breach the population tolerance.

USA

All district boundaries for the US House and State upper and lower houses are drawn by the States. Almost all states this is done by the partisan legislatures on a simple majority vote while a handful have semi-autonomous bodies somewhat akin to our Representation Commission. As each party in power at the State level seeks to gain the best electoral advantage for their party, it results in a few bizarre shaped electorates that have had boundaries drawn around communities that vote more for the party in power re-drawing the boundaries – so called gerrymandering. The party in control of state legislatures during the ten yearly post-census re-districting process can have a propound impact in some states on their chances of winning House seats.

Campaign financing

USA

Campaign financing in the US is strictly regulated by the Federal Elections Commission or FEC and all donations made by individuals or corporations to candidates must be publicly disclosed. There is a $2,600 individual donation limit per election (primary and general elections are considered separate elections) per candidate and a $32,000 limit on what individuals/corporations can donate to a party per year. There are no limits as to the amounts people or organizations can donate to PACs (Political Action Committees). While PACs are limited to donating $10,000 to individual candidates per election importantly there are no limits on other expenditures such as generic attack ads that don’t promote a particular party or candidate. Candidates for President once nominated by their respective parties can opt for Federal funds for their party’s convention costs ($18 million) and after their party’s convention, for General Election funds capped at $91 million. Candidates can choose to opt out as Obama did in 2008 and 2012 and Romney did in 2012.

New Zealand

Individuals or entities donations to parties over $15,000 must be disclosed by the party and an aggregate of donations over a 12 month period totaling $30,000 must also be disclosed. Individuals or entities can make undisclosed donations to a limit of $50,000 to the Electoral Commission and advise the Commission as to which party it is to go to. The donation limit for individuals donating to a candidate is $1,500 and candidates are restricted to expenditure of $25,700 for a General Election. There is a spending cap of $50,000 on groups or individuals arguing for a positon in Citizens Initiated Referenda. Third party groups seeking to be involved in electioneering with advertising/prompting parties or candidates spending more than $12,500 in advertising must register as a Promoter with the Electoral Commission and show the Promoter’s name and address in advertising material. There is a cap of $308,000 of expenditure by registered Promoters during what is called the regulated period (begins 90 days before the election),

Primaries

New Zealand

The only primary elections held in New Zealand are those held by the Labour Party since its 2012 Constitutional change allowing party members and unions to join with the caucus in deciding a new leader. There is no restriction on the number of candidates that can stand in an electorate seat meaning few candidates except in safe seats win over 50% of the vote.

USA

Primaries in the US are designed for General Election match ups to be a two horse race ensuring the winner gets a plurality of votes. Because the two major parties are such large board ‘churches’ encompassing conservative and liberal wings, there is intense competition within a party to win the right to be the candidate in the general election. Candidates for office compete against each other for the right to be the party’s nominee and this applies not just for President but for all levels of government from Congress down to county and city races. For races where one party has historically dominated, it is common for the opposing party to only ever have one candidate thus not requiring a primary. At the Presidential level, each state’s primary election process is used to allocate delegates for candidates at the party’s national nominating convention. Some states’ parties award these on a winner takes all basis (the Republican preference) while others allocate delegates proportionately (the Democrat preference – it was how Obama beat Clinton). There are three main ways this is done and each state decides which method is used:

Primary-a secret ballot is conducted on a date chosen by the state party (and approved by the national party) amongst approved participants. Primary voting takes place at the same polling places as general elections and is overseen by neutral county election officials. The winner is by simple plurality. Primaries can be open (any registered voter can participate), partially closed (only registered party members and independents can participate) or closed (only registered party members can vote).

Caucus-this method is only used in Presidential primaries and is only open to people registered to vote for the party holding the caucus. Caucuses are held in an evening from 630pm onwards usually at school halls in designated locations across the state. Each candidate has an advocate at each hall and promotes his/her candidate. After a few short speeches, the candidate representatives take a corner and caucus goers gather to the corner of their preferred candidate. Wooing of voters can go on for hours. The votes for each candidate are tallied and aggregated at the state level.

Jungle primary-no separate pre-general election primary is held and all candidates for all parties stand in the General Election and the two highest voting candidates (regardless of party) face off a few weeks after the general election in what is called a run-off election.

Ballot initiatives/Referenda

USA

Referenda are a frequent part of US elections. These are only held at the state, county and city level and not the federal level. Most are citizens initiated (usually requiring only 5% of registered voters certified by election officials in the jurisdiction) and others are tax or bond related as required by State law to raise sales and other taxes and to authorize the issuing of debt bonds for municipalities, state owned utilities and school districts to raise money for specified projects. Some states the results of referenda are binding on the state legislature who must then pass a law reflecting the sentiment of the passed ballot initiative and it must be signed into law by the Governor. BCIR as they are called enable the general populace of a state to ensure that popular laws vetoed by the governor of a party opposite to that controlling the state legislature can still get such measures passed into law. It is not uncommon to have upwards of 20 ballot initiatives for EACH general election.

New Zealand

NZ has CIR which is triggered when 10% of registered voters, certified by the Clerk of the House, vote to have a particular issue put on the ballot. The government of the day decides the timing of the referendum with most scheduled at the same time as a general election. As a matter of course, the results of a referendum are not binding on the government and indeed NZ governments have a tradition of ignoring the results of CIR. Other referenda are government initiated and revolve around an issue that a political party promised to put to the people. These can be indicative (as in the case of the proportional representation referendum of 1992) designed to see the people’s best choice of a range of options or binding (in the case of the MMP vs FPP referendum of 1993 that saw NZ change to MMP) where two options only are put to the vote with the government of the day committing to pass the results of the referendum into law.

Recalls

New Zealand

There is no recall provision in NZ.

USA

Various states offer voters at the state, county and city level (either Governor or lower/upper chamber) and concerning local judges the ability to challenge the result of the last election by forcing a special election seeking to oust a particular politician or judge. Recall elections arise over controversial issues that have so inflamed local voters that they are able to get sufficient voters in that jurisdiction to petition to hold a fresh election for that race only. A recall election needs to have a challenger for voters to choose from between them and the incumbent. Recall petitions can be filed by a challenger within the incumbent’s own party or opposing party. If the challenger wins the recall election then they replace the incumbent.

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