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Expat wanderer

How Monsanto Tricked California Voters

What I love about this article is that although the proposition did not pass this time, journalists are writing about the lies and misrepresentations made, and the issue will come up again and again until it passes. Big money calls the tune in a lot of places, but idealists can be pesky and persistent, and in the long run, persistence can outplay big money.

As for me, I follow the great advice “shop the perimeter,” looking for the least processed food. We also have a wonderful store in Pensacola, Everman’s, where you can buy local and organic foods. It is a treasure.

Did Monsanto Trick California Voters?

Posted: 11/08/2012 10:25 am
California could have been the first state in the nation to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered foods. We would have joined more than 60 countries where consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically modified. But the prospect of Proposition 37 terrified the junk food and pesticide companies that want to keep us in the dark about what we eat.

The “No on 37″ campaign spent $46 million burying the state’s voters in an avalanche of misleading ads and outright falsehoods. Their efforts defeated the proposition, 53 percent to 47 percent.

But Monsanto and their peeps didn’t just spend $46 million promoting their opinion. They also lied and got away with it. Check out these examples:

1) They illegally included the FDA logo in a “No on 37″ mailing to state residents, and made up a quote from the FDA, which the FDA refuted. The FDA did not and cannot express an opinion on ballot initiatives.

2) They used the Stanford logo in TV ads and mailers, when the University also did not take a stand on the issue. And they said that Henry I. Miller, their hired gun, is a professor at Stanford when in reality, he works for the Hoover Institution — which rents office space on the campus.

3) They paid a PR firm with expertise in fighting recycling legislation (on behalf of the soda pop industry) to generate a misleading “study” that was designed to show the proposition raising food prices by hundreds of dollars per state resident per year. This despite independent economic analysis concluding that it would not raise prices in any meaningful way, and that in Europe, mandated labeling was not linked to an increase in food prices. (Do you really believe the pesticide and junk food companies would spend $46 million trying to save you money?)

4) They said there have never been any documented ill-effects from GMO consumption. But many allege that 37 direct human deaths and 1,500 disabilities linked to a toxic batch of the supplement Tryptophanwere caused by a genetically engineered strain of bacteria used in production. And there are numerous reports of livestock that have died as a result of grazing on GMO cotton. There could be far more widespread ill-effects, but without labeling, it’s nearly impossible to find out conclusively.

5) They said Prop 37 was full of exemptions for special interests. But in reality, the exemptions were modeled after those adopted throughout the European Union and every other country that calls for labeling. For instance, livestock that are fed GMO grains don’t have to be labeled genetically engineered unless the animal, itself, is genetically engineered. That’s not a special interest exemption — it’s basic science.

What’s Next For The Food Movement?
In the last decade, the movement for healthy, sustainable food has been growing exponentially, with consumption of organic foods growing from $8 billion in 2000 to $31 billion in 2011. We’ve seen an equally dramatic rise in the number of farmer’s markets and CSAs. Still, it’s a big jump to move from 4 percent market share, to changing national food policy. Tobacco was found to be harmful to health in 1950, and it took nearly half a century to meaningfully change laws.

The food movement is growing fast, but as a political force, it’s still in its infancy. Big agribusiness still controls the purse strings in Congress, and runs the show at the FDA. At least for now.

An ABC News poll found that 93 percent of Americans want to know if their food is genetically engineered. Even after a narrow loss against a heavily financed and deeply entrenched food industry, the rapidly growing food movement may be just getting started.

“The arc of history is long,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us, “but it bends towards justice.” As we’ve seen time and time again, when enough people demand it, eventually, change does come.

Ocean Robbins is founder and co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) of the 60,000 member Food Revolution Network, an initiative to help you heal your body, and your world… with food.

November 11, 2012 Posted by | Lies, Living Conditions, Safety, Shopping, Technical Issue | , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Elected President

I awoke this morning to a new world. This isn’t a political blog; I will not often discuss political events other than how they impact on lives. My family was die-hard Republican until my father retired. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, it all changed – his domestic policies hit retirees hard. My father was a man who, when we tried to give him ideas how he could pay less in taxes, looked at us and said “Why would I want to pay less in taxes? I served our great country, they paid my salary and now they give me retirement and health care. Why would I want to pay less in taxes.” God rest his soul. But he started voting Democrat – and said Republican policies only helped the very rich, and hurt the middle-class.

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I never thought I would see the day a black man would be elected President in the United States. John McCain is a decent man, he would have made a fine president, and he gave one of the most graceful speeches acknowledging his election loss I have ever heard. May God richly bless him. Obama’s win is very exciting – a new day in our country.

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I called our son and talked with him – barely believing Obama could have carried Florida. I told him how moving it is to me to see a black man elected (no, I am not black, but you know me, I hate prejudice) and he said “Mom, he is SMART, too.” I couldn’t have been prouder of him than at that moment.

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And this is today’s Psalm. I have to share it with you – it seems such a brilliant omen:

Psalm 72

Of Solomon.
1Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

5May he live* while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

8May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9May his foes* bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
10May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
11May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.

12For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

15Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
16May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
17May his name endure for ever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;*
may they pronounce him happy.

18Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.Amen and Amen.

20The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

November 5, 2008 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues | | 15 Comments

Will Obama Win?

The polls have shown Obama pulling ahead and with a high probability of winning for several weeks now – but polls can be flawed. This piece, from The Wall Street Journal examines the pitfalls of the statistical measurements:

Are the Polls Accurate?
Reading them right is more art than science.

Can we trust the polls this year? That’s a question many people have been asking as we approach the end of this long, long presidential campaign. As a recovering pollster and continuing poll consumer, my answer is yes — with qualifications.

Martin Kozlowski
To start with, political polling is inherently imperfect. Academic pollsters say that to get a really random sample, you should go back to a designated respondent in a specific household time and again until you get a response. But political pollsters who must report results overnight have to take the respondents they can reach. So they weight the results of respondents in different groups to get a sample that approximates the whole population they’re sampling.

Another problem is the increasing number of cell phone-only households. Gallup and Pew have polled such households, and found their candidate preferences aren’t much different from those with landlines; and some pollsters have included cell-phone numbers in their samples. A third problem is that an increasing number of Americans refuse to be polled. We can’t know for sure if they’re different in some pertinent respects from those who are willing to answer questions.

Professional pollsters are seriously concerned about these issues. But this year especially, many who ask if we can trust the polls are usually concerned about something else: Can we trust the poll when one of the presidential candidates is black?

It is commonly said that the polls in the 1982 California and the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial races overstated the margin for the black Democrats who were running — Tom Bradley and Douglas Wilder. The theory to account for this is that some poll respondents in each case were unwilling to say they were voting for the white Republican.

Further Reading

Tom Bradley Didn’t Lose Because of Race – Voters rejected his liberal policies.
By Sal Russo 10/20/2008

It’s not clear that race was the issue. Recently pollster Lance Tarrance and political consultant Sal Russo, who worked for Bradley’s opponent George Deukmejian, have written (Mr. Tarrance in RealClearPolitics.com, and Mr. Russo on this page) that their polls got the election right and that public pollsters failed to take into account a successful Republican absentee voter drive. Blair Levin, a Democrat who worked for Bradley, has argued in the same vein in the New York Times. In Virginia, Douglas Wilder was running around 50% in the polls and his Republican opponent Marshall Coleman was well behind; yet Mr. Wilder won with 50.1% of the vote.

These may have been cases of the common phenomenon of the better-known candidate getting about the same percentage from voters as he did in polls, and the lesser-known candidate doing better with voters than he had in the polls. Some significant percentage of voters will pull the lever for the Republican (or the Democratic) candidate even if they didn’t know his name or much about him when they entered the voting booth. In any case, Harvard researcher Daniel Hopkins, after examining dozens of races involving black candidates, reported this year, at a meeting of the Society of Political Methodology, that he’d found no examples of the “Bradley Effect” since 1996.

And what about Barack Obama? In most of the presidential primaries, Sen. Obama received about the same percentage of the votes as he had in the most recent polls. The one notable exception was in New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton’s tearful moment seems to have changed many votes in the last days.

Yet there was a curious anomaly: In most primaries Mr. Obama tended to receive higher percentages in exit polls than he did from the voters. What accounts for this discrepancy?

While there is no definitive answer, it’s worth noting that only about half of Americans approached to take the exit poll agree to do so (compared to 90% in Mexico and Russia). Thus it seems likely that Obama voters — more enthusiastic about their candidate than Clinton voters by most measures (like strength of support in poll questions) — were more willing to fill out the exit poll forms and drop them in the box.

What this suggests is that Mr. Obama will win about the same percentage of votes as he gets in the last rounds of polling before the election. That’s not bad news for his campaign, as the polls stand now. The realclearpolitics.com average of recent national polls, as I write, shows Mr. Obama leading John McCain by 50% to 45%.

If Mr. Obama gets the votes of any perceptible number of undecideds (or if any perceptible number of them don’t vote) he’ll win a popular vote majority, something only one Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter, has done in the last 40 years.

In state polls, Mr. Obama is currently getting 50% or more in the realclearpolitics.com averages in states with 286 electoral votes, including four carried by George W. Bush — Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Virginia. He leads, with less than 50%, in five more Bush ’04 states with 78 electoral votes — Florida, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. It’s certainly plausible, given the current state of opinion, that he would carry several if not all of them.

Of course, the balance of opinion could change, as it has several times in this campaign, and as it has in the past. Harry Truman was trailing Thomas E. Dewey by 5% in the last Gallup poll in 1948, conducted between Oct. 15 and 25 — the same margin by which Mr. Obama seems to be leading now. But on Nov. 2, 18 days after Gallup’s first interviews and eight days after its last, Truman ended up winning 50% to 45%. Gallup may well have gotten it right when in the field; opinion could just have changed.

We have no way of knowing, since George Gallup was just about the only public pollster back then, and he decided on the basis of his experience in the three preceding presidential elections that there was no point in testing opinion in the last week. Now we have a rich body of polling data, of varying reliability, available.

And we will have the exit poll, the partial results of which will be released to the media clients of the Edison/Mitofsky consortium at 5 p.m. on Election Day. These clients should, I believe, use the numbers cautiously for the following reasons.

First, the exit polls in the recent presidential elections have tended to show the Democrats doing better than they actually did, partly because of interviewer error. The late Warren Mitofsky, in his study of the 2004 exit poll, found that the largest errors came in precincts where the interviewers were female graduate students.

Second, the exit polls in almost all the primaries this year showed Mr. Obama doing better than he actually did. The same respondent bias — the greater willingness of Obama voters to be polled — which apparently occurred on primary days could also occur in the exit poll on Election Day, and in the phone polls of early and absentee voters that Edison/Mitofsky will conduct to supplement it.

The exit poll gives us, and future political scientists, a treasure trove of information about the voting behavior of subgroups of the electorate, and also some useful insight into the reasons why people voted as they did. And the current plethora of polls gives us a rich lode of information on what voters are thinking at each stage of the campaign. But political polls are imperfect instruments. Reading them right is less a science than an art. We can trust the polls, with qualifications. We will have a chance to verify as the election returns come in.

Mr. Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is co-author of “The Almanac of American Politics 2008″ (National Journal Group). From 1974 to 1981 he was a vice president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, a polling firm.

October 22, 2008 Posted by | News, Social Issues, Statistics, Technical Issue | , | 3 Comments

Who Will Tell the People?

This was the #5 e-mailed article from this week’s New York Times. It is a hard-hitting warning to Americans in an election year, and it has some analogies to election time in Kuwait.

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: May 4, 2008
Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore … have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues | | 4 Comments

NYT: In Democracy Kuwait Trusts, but Not Much

The New York Times had a full length article on the upcoming Kuwait election yesterday:

KUWAIT — In a vast, high-ceilinged tent, Ali al-Rashed sounded an anguished note as he delivered the first speech of his campaign for Parliament.

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” he said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

In a region where autocracy is the rule, Kuwait is a remarkable exception, with a powerful and truculent elected Parliament that sets the emir’s salary and is the nation’s sole source of legislation. Women gained the right to vote and run for office two years ago, and a popular movement won further electoral changes.

Despite those gains, Kuwait has been overshadowed by its dynamic neighbors — Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar — where economies are booming under absolute monarchies. Efforts to overhaul Kuwait’s sclerotic welfare state have stalled in its fractious and divided Parliament, and scandals led the emir to dissolve the chamber last month for the second time in less than two years, forcing new elections.

All this has left many Kuwaitis deeply disenchanted with their 50-member elected legislature. The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north — once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model — have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

“People say democracy is just slowing us down, and that we’d be better off if we were more like Dubai,” said Waleed al-Sager, 24, who is advising his father’s campaign for Parliament.

Like many Kuwaitis, Mr. Sager quickly distanced himself from that view. But as the May 17 parliamentary elections approach, with near-constant coverage in a dozen new newspapers and on satellite television stations, candidates refer again and again to a “halat ihbaat” — state of frustration. His father, Mohammed al-Sager, a longtime member of Parliament, delivered his own opening campaign speech shortly after Mr. Rashed two weeks ago, and spent much of it urgently reminding his listeners of the need for an elected assembly.

“Some people have called for a permanent dissolution of Parliament,” he said, his face telecast on an enormous screen to a thick overflow crowd outside the tent. “But everywhere in the world — in Africa, in Palestine, in the old Soviet Union — people have turned to elections to solve their problems, not away from them. Whatever problems we have in our Parliament, we must remember that it is much better than no Parliament at all.”

One source of frustration has been the failure to reform Kuwait’s state-controlled economy. After the 2006 elections, many Kuwaitis were hoping for changes to cumbersome government rules that allow land to be allocated for business projects. Instead, the effort was blocked in Parliament. The slow pace of efforts to privatize the national airline and parts of the oil sector has also caused disappointment.

Many Kuwaitis also complain about government neglect of public hospitals and schools. Problems with the power grid caused brownouts last summer.

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

The current political malaise is especially striking because most Kuwaitis take pride in their nation’s relatively democratic traditions. The ruling Sabah family acquired its position not through conquest, but with an agreement among the coastal traders of the region in the mid-18th century. After Kuwait gained independence from the British in 1961, the emir approved a written Constitution that sharply limited his power in relation to Parliament.

The article is long – you can read the rest HERE.

May 7, 2008 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, News, Political Issues, Social Issues | | 4 Comments

Kuwait Elections: Vote Buying

Front page of the online Arab Times:

They’re buying votes … Do something

KUWAIT CITY : The Ministry of Interior should immediately take the necessary action to curb the widespread vote-buying in some constituencies and prevent incompetent candidates from entering the Parliament, former MPs and 2008 parliamentary election candidates told the Arab Times.

One of the smartest bloggers out there, Touche´, wrote a comment on an earlier election blog entry, and it was SO good, so memorable (this man should be writing and editing for one of the daily English papers and teaching Political Science) on vote buying and how it is implemented that I am going to reprint his comments here to illustrate how the vote buying in Kuwait is accomplished.

Let me indulge you with our rotten political trends.

This is a funny ironic melancholic TRUE story, I have a colleague at work who is “Mutawa” (fresh your old post) who belongs to “Salaf a.k.a. The Islamic Heritage Rejuvenating Society (this is my best translation) and who is has the last name of one of the tribes. Now on the last elections back on 2006 I asked him to whom did you vote, thinking that he must have voted for that group’s candidates, and the shocking news is that he said the week before elections I swore an oath with all the area followers to vote for the Islamic candidates and I quote him “When I went there to vote and tried to vote for the sworn names, the pen would go directly to those candidates who belong to my tribe, I couldn’t do it, so I voted for one of the Islamic candidates and the other vote went to our tribe’s guy”. Now I told him that you’ve sworn on the Quran!! How cold you do that? The answer was simple, “I just couldn’t, it’s in my blood, it’s something beyond your comprehension”

As for your question about votes purchasing, it starts as follows (sorry but I had to put them into steps for clarity purposes:

1. The buyer’s representative (BR) scouts the area for the right voters who are willing to sell their votes for money.

2. BR approaches the voter and persuade him/her and both agree on the price of each vote (female votes are being negotiated with the woman’s brother, father or husband)

3. Once the deal is closed, the voter has to submit his/her national ID to the BR to insure that voter hasn’t closed another deal with another candidate and the documents are held with the BR until elections day (on extreme cases, a trust worthy voter won’t submit the documents and his word is taken as it is considered stronger than oak)

4. All BRs know each other as they are basically residents of the same area and they exchange a list of those voters who sold their votes an cross examine them for duplications to prevent any frauds.

5. Now the interesting tactics, on election day, a candidate may choose not to give the national ID to the voter if the he feels that he has secured his win and thus eliminating any chances of any frauds by voter to shift his votes to opponents.

6. If the candidate needs the vote, the corresponding BR calls up the voter and walks him to the election classroom signaling another same candidate’s BR who sits in that classroom to observe the integrity of the processes, now that guy knows that the voter isn’t a supporter and has been paid based on the signal thus he keeps a hawk eye on him trying to see how many ticks were placed on the voting form and does the tick fits the area on the form where candidate’s name is printed (it’s merely an approximate observation).

P.S.

a. The timing of the purchased votes isn’t random and are chosen specifically by the candidate’s campaign and usually the purchased voted are being herded as sheep in groups either at the early morning or an hour before the closing time.

b. The paid amount is %50 before voting and the remaining %50 when the inside BR sms the voter’s delivery BR that the vote has been verified based on his observation and thus the full payment is due.

c. The vote’s price depends on the nature of the vote itself (solo/dual for the old election ways). Solos are the highest paid and the ones which BRs aim for.

d. Buying votes isn’t to insure number of votes, the key element of the whole process is to target those votes which are considered as opponents insured votes, by keeping those national ID (voting ID for this election) the candidate uses a term called “Votes Burning” where he holds back those IDs and never giving them to voters until election boxes are sealed to eliminate opponents’ insured votes.

Blogger Chirp reports being offered KD 4000 (that’s about $16,000) for her vote. Imagine the temptation! Chirp has character and integrity, and turned it down, but imagine how tempting that might be to a young person who wants education, or a new car, or to pay off debts, or who has a wedding coming up. That’s a LOT of money for just one vote; imagine the deep pockets who can afford to buy that many votes?

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, News, Political Issues, Social Issues | , | 4 Comments

Election Excitement

Coming home from church on Friday, we saw a Ministry of Interior Land Rover at a stoplight, with its lights revolving. That got our attention immediately, because if the lights are flashing, it usually means someone is in a hurry, but this guy was waiting patiently for the light to turn. As we noticed him waiting patiently, we also noticed he had his window open, and . . . he was wearing a balaclava, a face mask worn while skiing to keep your face warm but you can still see and breathe. The temperature was at least in the 80′s, and a ski mask to keep your face warm in Kuwait . . . well, that doesn’t make sense. Maybe if he was using his air conditioning, and it was too strong, and hurt his sinuses, well maybe . . .

Saturday we read this article from the Arab Times, which explained a little about what we were seeing:

Two Kuwaitis, officers hurt in Sabahiya clash; ‘Awazem’ battle securitymen
KUWAIT CITY : Two Kuwaitis and a number of securitymen were injured in a violent clash during which the Awazem tribesmen used sticks and stones against security forces, who were trying to stop them holding a primary in Sabahiya. The fighting took place Friday when about 5,000 securitymen from the Special Forces and Riot Police, supported by vehicles and helicopters, surrounded the Diwaniya of former MP and candidate in the upcoming elections from the fifth constituency, Ghanim Al Mei. The securitymen used tear-gas and rubber bullets to disperse the rioters. No arrests were reported. A similar incident some time back had prompted the then Minister of Interior to recall his forces from the Diwaniya of a former MP.

Sources said a large number of securitymen and CID officers were deployed as backup at a nearby cemetery. Security forces and election candidates are exchanging charges, each pinning the blame for the incident on the other. Former MP and candidate from the fifth constituency Abdullah Rai Al-Fahma in a press statement said, “Tribes are an integral part of the Kuwaiti society. They have the right to consult and choose their representatives to the National Assembly like the political blocs and other political organizations.” The government must stop this repressive measure before things take a serious turn, Al-Fahma added. Some observers and a number of candidates have opined the government is exacerbating the issue intentionally to prolong the election indefinitely by issuing ‘emergency decrees.’

My own country is also in an election year this year, and we have our own very strange ways of doing things. We have things like caucuses, and primary elections and delegates, and conventions to choose our candidates.

It is fascinating for me to watch what is going on in Kuwait and to try to figure out what is going on. Even reading reports in the newspapers, even gleaning from the blogs, it is hard for me to figure out why certain things are significant.

So I am guessing here that the tribes/families are acting as political parties and attempting to narrow the field by voting in secret diwaniyyas (diwaniyyas are spaces built in houses for either males or females to gather for visiting back and forth, but not mixed groups, or only very very rarely. They function like the benches on the town square, where people – mostly men – come and discuss issues, often reaching consensus on how an issue should be approached) for candidates that they can agree are electable. Once all the tribe/families have a chance to vote, they will select a slate of candidates to run in that district. This is my guess, based on what I read and see.

But in the districts, there are more than one family/tribe . . . so how do you agree to vote outside your tribal / familial boundaries? It is hard for me to understand how one tribe can gather enough influence to win. I am guessing that these diwaniyya “primaries” are being so actively discouraged because if one family wins too much, then they distribute favors among their own members, and others go without help? Is this a wasta issue? How do the tribes form alliances to win elections?

I would love to tell you that modern western countries don’t have these problems. It would be a lie. We have our own names for “wasta” and one is a term I can never imagine being used in Kuwait, Pork Barrel Legislation which means it doesn’t make sense from a big-picture point of view, it is legislation passed to benefit a few, and to insure that the elected guy can get elected again.

Will banning by-elections make a difference in the outcome of the election? What is the goal of the diwaniyya elections? How do the females get to vote if it is only men attending? What is the government’s goal in banning the by-elections?

April 13, 2008 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Relationships, Social Issues | | 11 Comments

   

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