Another stolen election? Growing corruption and electoral malpractice are weakening faith in democracy.
Corruption is everywhere. According to Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perception Index report, about two-thirds of countries in the world have very high levels of corruption. Democratic elections are supposed to be a means of granting citizens the voice to penalize corrupt leaders that are benefiting at the expense of the electorate. However, from my experience in my home country, Zimbabwe, and the results in many other developing countries, elections are frequently failing to hold leaders accountable. Elections strengthen dictatorial rule and further corruption by the ruling party under the guise of legitimized support by the voters. The failure to control corruption and lack of transparent administration of elections are a growing threat to democracy.
Allegations of election fraud are a common feature of the electoral cycle for most African elections. International observers swarm a country in an attempt to ensure that the incumbent government administers free and fair elections. However, this monitoring does not seem to be a significant deterrent for election fraud given how frequently opposition leaders call elections into question. Just this past month, the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria were initially postponed, raising concerns of corruption and rigging.
Election fraud manifests itself across the world in different ways. Several African leaders in power have been accused of employing some of the following tactics to maintain power:
The Green New Deal (GND), a resolution sponsored by House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey, proposes a sweeping reform of the nation’s environmental and social policies. Its bold proposals, while popular among voters, have already soured the faces of congressional leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dismissed the proposed deal as “a dream, or whatever they call it,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote on the GND to portray Democrats who support it as naïve and radical. Something these leaders have in common? At roughly 80 years of age, they will never live to see the worst effects of climate change devastate communities across the globe.
In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report last year, the panel noted that failing to keep the world from warming 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, as opposed to a more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees, will impose devastating consequences. The extra 0.5 degrees of warming could expose 10 million more people to risks associated with sea level rise, increase the number of people living under water stress by 50 percent, and put several hundred million more people at the simultaneous risk of poverty and climate change-related harm. Right now, the Climate Action Tracker projects that the world is nowhere close to preventing these devastating effects and is in fact on track to warm a catastrophic 3 degrees Celsius.
At the same time, the United States is grappling with economic inequality and widespread social injustice. It is no secret that wages for everyday Americans are stagnating, while the top 1 percent of earners continue to capture most of the nation’s wealth. No less troubling, racial and gender pay gaps show few signs of budging.
In the face of this troubling evidence that environmental, economic, and social well-being are on a rapid decline, the Green New Deal is a welcome call to action. By addressing both the climate and socio-economic crises in one plan, the resolution encourages us to consider the possibility of complete transformation rather than piecemeal reform. Leaders are reasonable to call its feasibility into question, but dismissing it out of hand is equally short-sighted.
Nicolás Maduro is an illegitimate president. He retained office through a sham election and has abused his powers in the process of creating a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Leaders across the political spectrum in the United States and beyond have recognized Juan Guaidó as the true president of the nation in chaos.
One of the leaders recognizing Guaidó is President Donald Trump. President Trump and his administration have been consistent and forceful on the situation in Venezuela. Even before European countries sided with Guaidó, Vice President Pence delivered a message of support to the Venezuelan people, promising that the United States would stand with them “until Democracy is restored” and their “birthright of Libertad” is reclaimed. The Administration has taken a stand on the right side of history, choosing the oppressed over the autocrat, precious freedom over brutal tyranny.
For an administration that has been resoundingly criticized for a number of foreign policy missteps, Venezuela seems like an exception. The Trump Administration’s course of action has been the correct one. So, how worthy are they of our praise? The answer is complicated, but the reality is clear: if you are only concerned about human rights when it is politically expedient, then you aren’t actually concerned about human rights.
If you were somehow unaware, Ralph Northam, the Governor of Virginia, came under fire this week after the conservative website Big League Politics reported a racist photo being displayed on the Governor’s Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page. The photo, which shows one person in blackface and one person in Ku Klux Klan robes (very presumably Northam and a friend), immediately prompted widespread calls for his resignation nationwide. Almost everyone from the Virginia Democratic and Republican Parties to Donald Trump and several democrats running for president have demanded that Northam step down. But, despite my personal disgust with the photo, my initial reaction was that he shouldn’t resign.
When I saw the photo, the first thing I thought of was a project I did for my AP US History class at the end of my junior year of high school. Two weeks before the exam, our teacher asked my class to prepare a short presentation on an official AP term which we had not yet had the opportunity to cover. For my project, I chose the term “minstrel shows” because, despite not really knowing what they were, I knew that they were somehow connected to African American history. I was (obviously) appalled by my research. And though I had always known that blackface was problematic, I wasn’t able to fully grasp the historical context and significance until I did that project.
Unfortunately, due to a combo of snow days and poor planning by my teacher, I never actually presented my findings to the rest of the class. Instead (and pretty ironically), we spent that hour-long class period that had been allocated for the presentations going over the entirety of African American history since the end of Reconstruction. I am not exaggerating. In a day, we went from the rise of Jim Crow to A. Philip Randolph to Brown v Board of Education to the Black Power movements. And that was the only time we ever discussed such matters in the class.
Ensuring American Competitiveness in a 21st Century Economy: Solar Panel & Washing Machine Tariffs
American solar panel and washing machine manufacturers struggle to compete with imports from China and developing countries. In January of this year, the Trump Administration enacted tariffs on imported solar panels, washing machines, and washing machine parts to protect American industries. These tariffs include a 30 percent tax on imported solar panels in the first year and a gradual decline to 15 percent by the fourth year. The first 1.2 million annual units of washing machines experience a 20 percent tariff and 50 percent thereafter. Washing machine parts have a flat 50 percent tariff. So why enact these tariffs?
The Chinese solar panel industry has dominated the last decade of international trade, expanding from seven percent of global market share in 2005 to 61 percent in 2012. China achieved this by providing tax credits, utilizing a cheap labor advantage, investing as much as $47 billion in infrastructure to overcome barriers to entry, and other subsidies. China became the largest market for solar panels, and US companies like First Solar and Sun Power saw their stock values drop to 13 percent and six percent, respectively, of their former stock values. So we know that American industries struggle to compete as a result of this, but is this the Trump Administration’s only option?
The federal government can impose tariffs and/or quotas, subsidize and invest in its domestic market, or take China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) under a dispute settlement. In fact, the literature shows that the effectiveness of tariffs can be mixed. Blonigen, Liebman, Pierce, & Wilson (2013) found that counter-veiling duties (tariffs) do not appear to change overall market share in a domestic market. Additionally, small steel mills were moderately harmed by tariffs, while large mills did not appear to have any evidence of an effect. These same findings also saw a strong and positive effect for quotas as a form of protecting or strengthening domestic market share. However, research on the reduction of tariffs in 1989-1999 and 1996-2006 showed that increased trade from tariff reduction was fairly small; for every percentage point drop in tariff rates, the probability of import increases only raised by 1.1 percent. These reductions in tariffs only accounted for five percent and 12 percent of the increased imports, respective to the two time periods (Debaere & Mostashari 2010). This means that tariffs must be large, such as 50 percent, to be effective.
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