Opposition says Cambodian election was death of democracy
By SOPHENG CHEANG and JERRY HARMER
Monday, July 30
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The ruling party of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen congratulated itself Monday on its election victory, while the opposition party unable to contest the polls said they marked the death of democracy in the Southeast Asian country, making its government and any dealings with it illegitimate.
Sok Eysan, the spokesman for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, described Sunday’s vote on a public message sent over the Telegram chat application as a “brilliant victory” and said the country would move forward “under the umbrella of peace and political stability.”
Although 20 parties contested the election, the only one with the popularity and organization to mount a real challenge, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was dissolved last year by the Supreme Court in a ruling generally seen as political and ensuring that Hun Sen would extend his 33 years in power by another five-year term.
The opposition CNRP, in a statement issued Monday by some of its former leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, said that following the “sham election … what was left of a democracy in name only has been replaced with an outright dictatorship.”
The statement predicted that in reaction to the polls, foreign countries would apply punitive sanctions that would cripple the economy.
Declaring Hun Sen’s government illegitimate, it warned “governments and businesses across the world that the agreements, deals and accords signed as of today by Cambodia’s de facto regime will have no legal validity and will be revised by the future democratic government of Cambodia.”
Provisional but complete results issued Monday by the state National Election Committee showed Hun Sen’s party winning 4,875,189, or 76.8 percent, of a total 6,349,389 valid ballots cast. Under the election’s system of proportional representation, the party is almost certain to take more than 100 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly.
There were almost 600,000 spoiled ballots, generally interpreted to have been cast as protests by voters who wished to keep their identities secret.
The committee said it would announce full totals on Aug. 11, with the final official count to be released on Aug. 15, along with seat allocations in the assembly and the names of the new lawmakers.
The disbanded CNRP’s former leaders had urged people not to vote in what was dubbed a “clean finger” campaign because those who cast ballots had to dip a finger in indelible ink, a practice meant to thwart multiple voting.
But its campaign fizzled, if the official turnout tallies are accurate. According to the National Election Committee, more than 6.8 million registered voters, or 82.2 percent, cast ballots.
Criticism of the election as unfree and unfair came from Western governments and other groups.
The United States said it regretted the “flawed elections” and would consider its response, including expanding visa restrictions that were announced in December.
A statement from the White House press secretary’s office said the U.S. was disappointed in the government’s decision to disenfranchise voters, citing the exclusion of the principal opposition party, the jailing and banning of its officials, and threats to punish nonvoters.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement that Hun Sen’s moves to eliminate his political opponents had reversed more than 25 years of progress toward democracy in Cambodia.
“Australia is concerned the election took place in an environment where not all political parties, civil society organizations and media could operate freely,” Bishop said. She added that Australia will continue to urge the Cambodian government to take steps to allow free and open political debate without violence and intimidation.
A veteran Indonesian politician and lawyer who has championed human rights said the Cambodian election was a “sign of danger” for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that could set back democracy across the region.
Former Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, who currently heads the U.N. Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar investigating abuses by security forces in Rakhine state, said Indonesia as one of the world’s largest democracies must “seriously address” the Cambodian situation.
He told a news conference held by the disbanded CNRP in Jakarta that “I think we’re looking at a possible domino effect of what is happening in Cambodia across ASEAN as a whole if this is not addressed.”
Associated Press writers Grant Peck in Bangkok and Stephen Wright in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
MY CONVERSION ON THE ROAD TO “DAMASCUS”
by Kary Love
I read a Good Book and now I believe In God.
Though my grandmother wanted me to be a preacher, I was educated as a scientist and along the way, any inclination I had towards believing in god became more and more reduced. Science kept pushing back the bounds of the unknown, as I studied it, and as I realized the power of science to reveal “mysteries” I found myself in agreement with science and opposed to “superstition” or religious explanations, especially where it required faith in miracles that violated the laws of nature.
I finally got to the point where I admitted, maybe there was room for god, but it was limited to before the Big Bang, as science seemed dominant everywhere else. When I got into debates about this with others, I would say: “I just don’t see any evidence of god. Wars, injustice, the bestial behavior of nations and of men, where is this good and just god in the world?”
This included many debates on the issue with people I had as clients in cases involving their peaceful protests against weapons of mass murder. These were thoughtful, people of faith, whom were themselves some of the best evidence for the existence of a just god. They not only talked the talk, they walked the walk. Mostly, they did the “perp walk” as the US Government prosecuted them unmercifully for trying to stop nuclear holocaust (often denying them trial by jury in process apparently fearing that if a jury heard all the evidence, they would acquit). But they were people of whom I often said, were Jesus to return to earth, he would hang around with them, because they lived in accord with his example and teaching, helping the poor and sick, feeding the hungry and visiting the imprisoned (sometimes, like Jesus, they were the imprisoned). As former Attorney General Ramsey Clark is reported to have said, having acted as an expert witness for the Defense on treaties and laws prohibiting nuclear weapons, “Our jails are filling up with Saints!”
As I saw more and more people living the teachings of Jesus going into US jails, I regarded this as more evidence that a just, loving god did not exist. Surely, a just god would not allow the law to be an instrument of injustice? The ultimate lawgiver, if one existed, would not tolerate the perversion of law into injustice. No, the more I experienced the world, the more I came to conclude, god does not exist.
Well, I was wrong. I just finished a Good Book and now I believe in god. The evidence is overwhelming. I just didn’t know about it, because my government kept it secret for years. But all the evidence is in the Good Book. Not that “Good Book”, the Bible. Rather, it was “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” by Eric Schlosser, published a few years ago (2013)but riveting in its relevance today. This book tells the story of America’s nuclear weapons and the miraculous fact we have not murdered ourselves, despite seemingly having been trying to do so over and over and over again. It turns out America has repeatedly dropped nuclear bombs on itself, had nuclear accidents that could have incinerated the “Homeland” and spread nukes around the world with similar episodes overseas! By some miracle, none of the nukes detonated. Yet, anyway.
In addition to a thriller like account of the “Damascus” Arkansas Titan ICBM silo accident (which almost got rid of Arkansas in 1980 while Bill Clinton was governor—the Titan was America’s most powerful nuke at the time), Schlosser interweaves the history of America’s “Strangelove” affair with nukes and the haphazard development of these criminal weapons while revealing a haphazard approach to “safety.”
For example, Schlosser tells the story of Bill Stevens, the head of the nuclear safety department at Sandia Nuclear Weapons lab, who got access to secret reports describing at least 1,200 nuclear weapons involved in “significant” incidents and accidents between 1950 and March 1968. During the same years, the official Department of Defense (War) and “Atomic Energy Department” (AED) reports described only 13 “Broken Arrows,” Pentagon Speak for an accident that causes the “unauthorized launch or jettison of a weapon, a fire, an explosion, a release of radioactivity, or a full-scale detonation” of a nuclear weapon.
Schlosser recounts how Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was bedeviled by the reports of accidents involving nukes in a secret memo summarizing his views put together following the Cuban Missile Crises and the potential for errors that involved said:
[Mr. McNamara] went on to describe the crashes of US aircraft, one in North Carolina and one in Texas, where, by the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted. [He] concluded that despite our best efforts the possibility of an accidental nuclear explosion still existed.
By 1968, Mr. McNamara, selected by President Kennedy for his cool, detached manner, was prone to bouts of sobbing in his office at the Pentagon. What a workman’s comp case that could have been!.
Schlosser tells how, on January 25, 1991, General George Lee Butler became head of SAC. The Cold War had ended and Gen Butler decided to look at the entire US nuclear targeting plan. He found that bridges and roads in the middle of nowhere in Russia were targeted with multiple warheads; hundreds of nukes would hit Moscow; there were in fact thousands of ground zeros. Following his review of the entire plan, Gen Butler later recalled, “I came to fully appreciate the truth…we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”
Schlosser tells the story of many of the “accidents,” revealing how everything that could go wrong, did go wrong: radios not working, communications down, doors locking, radiation suits not working, control panels reading bizarrely, in a potentially tragic comedy of errors. These accidents are compelling accounts of what military grunts call “FUBAR” (bleeped Up Beyond All Recognition). It would be funny, and I actually laughed out loud while reading some of the screw-ups, until the fear of what the outcome could have been shivered up and down my spine. Schlosser also tells the story of real heroes, risking and losing their lives to courageously prevent accidents spinning out of control. You may owe your life to some of these guys. And that of your kids and grandkids. Military justice, like military intelligence, often falls short of the ideal, some even name them both oxymorons.
The most recent scientific analysis shows that 100 nukes of the size currently in the US arsenal would be sufficient to kill not only all America’s enemies, but due to blow back of the radioactive poisons, the nuclear winter resulting from the dust and debris following the mushroom clouds and atmospheric contamination, the starvation from food production decline, and the other wonders of the nuclear age, would result in the deaths of most Americans. Given we are still here, and the history of close calls, I concluded on the road to understanding the “Damascus” disaster, that only a loving god, watching out for drunkards and fools, can account for the many unexplained “miracles” that have occurred along the way. As has been said, man has killed god, fortunately god is more merciful. Let us pray.
Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters, including some desperado nuns, in court for decades and will on occasion use blunt force satire or actual legal arguments to make a point.
Opinion: In Helsinki, Trump Puts Himself First and America Last
By Yuvaraj Sivalingam
Regardless of what President Trump said — or meant to say — when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the United States is now weaker.
The political firestorm has featured prominent members from both parties sharply criticizing the president for his failure to hold Russia accountable for its malicious behavior and choosing the word of the Russian president over that of U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Republican senator John McCain described President Trump’s performance “disgraceful,” and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called it a “serious mistake.” On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the president’s statements “shameful,” and former Defense Secretary Ash Carter said it was like “watching the destruction of a cathedral.”
Even members of the Trump administration are contradicting the president’s repeated attempts to cast doubt over Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the prospects of future Russian meddling. For instance, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats reiterated the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections and recently stated that Russia is continuing efforts to interfere in America’s democratic processes. Additionally, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated the president actually agrees with Coats.
Beyond the politics, the real world implications of Trump’s meeting with Putin and remarks in Helsinki are stark: The U.S. intelligence community’s already demanding job became even more challenging — which weakens the United States’ ability to ensure our national security.
First, sources are going to be more difficult to cultivate. Much of what we know about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, including the level of Putin’s involvement, comes from human sources. Such sources agree to work with U.S. intelligence agencies for a number of reasons, but among the most prominent is what we stand for: democracy, freedom and the rule of law. If the United States is perceived to be warming to autocrats, ridiculing democratic allies, and failing to stand up to international rules and norms, then sources will be less likely to risk their lives to work with American intelligence officers.
Second, our allies are growing increasingly wary. The United States often shares intelligence with key allies — and has received key pieces of intelligence from close allies.
However, if America’s allies perceive the United States to have different interests than them, or working at cross-purposes, then they may be less likely and willing to share key intelligence with the United States.
Given Trump’s antagonistic comments toward traditional allies like Canada and Germany — in addition to his statement that the European Union is a “foe,” only to greet Putin warmly days later — it is unsurprising that the leaders of many American allies are now reassessing how they engage the United States. And that reassessment may lead to decreased intelligence cooperation.
Third, Trump is undermining our diplomatic corps. Reports suggest Trump had been considering a “deal” that would allow Russian officials to interrogate American citizens, including diplomats. Such an arrangement is unprecedented and outrageous. All Americans deserve the full protection of the U.S. government — the notion that the U.S. government would even consider allowing a foreign power, particularly an adversarial one, to question Americans is chilling.
The only apparent gain from the meeting appears to be one Trump fashions for himself. Trump believes that any suggestion of Russian interference delegitimizes his presidency. If Russia interfered in the 2016 election, then his election victory is tainted — and Trump is unwilling to allow that possibility to go unchallenged. In Helsinki, Trump emphasized, “I beat Hillary Clinton easily,” and in the ensuing days, he repeatedly stated, “There was no collusion.”
To refuse to accept the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies and hang American diplomats out to dry because it may tarnish an election victory is a blatant case of placing selfish political ends over the national security interests of the United States. In the absence of the president placing America’s national security first, Congress must act — by reaffirming the intelligence community’s findings, protecting our diplomats, and working to secure our elections.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Yuvaraj Sivalingam is a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Let’s Tax the Rich
By Lawrence Wittner
Whatever happened to the notion that rich people should pay their fair share of the cost for their country’s public programs?
Progressive income taxes―designed to fund government services and facilities—go back centuries, and are based on the idea that taxes should be levied most heavily on people with the ability to pay them. In the United States, the federal government introduced its first income tax in 1861, to cover the costs of the Civil War. Although new federal income tax legislation in the 1890s was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the resulting public controversy led, in 1913, to passage of the sixteenth amendment to the Constitution, firmly establishing the legality of an income tax.
The progressive income tax―levied, at its inception, only on the wealthiest Americans―was a key demand and political success of the Populist and Progressive reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As might be expected, most of the wealthy regarded it with intense hostility, especially as the substantial costs of World War I sent their tax rates soaring. The development of jobs programs and other public services during the New Deal, capped by the vast costs of World War II and the early Cold War, meant that, by the 1950s, although most Americans paid income taxes at a modest rate, the official tax rate for Americans with the highest incomes stood at about 91 percent.
Of course, the richest Americans didn’t actually pay at that rate, thanks to a variety of deductions, loopholes, and its application to only the highest increment of their income. Even so, like many of the wealthy throughout history, they deeply resented paying a portion of their income to benefit other people―people whom they often regarded as inferior to themselves. Consequently, cutting taxes for the rich became one of their top political priorities.
Facing a strong backlash from the wealthiest Americans, their corporations, and conservative politicians, the federal government began a retreat. In 1964, the top marginal tax rate was reduced to 70 percent, in 1982 to 50 percent, and, in 1988, to 28 percent. Although it was raised somewhat during the Clinton presidency, it was reduced again during the reign of George W. Bush.
The Trump-GOP tax cutof $1.5 trillion in December 2017 provided the latest payoff to the wealthy. It lowered the top tax rate, slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, and doubled exemptions from the federal inheritance tax to $22 million per married couple. Although not all of the tax benefits went to the richest Americans, the vast bulk of them did. An estimated 83 percent of the households among America’s wealthiest one-tenth of one percent will receive a tax break, with an average benefit of $193,380 per year.
Why did Americans support this new raid upon the federal treasury that enriches the nation’s millionaires and billionaires?
Actually, they didn’t. A Gallup poll of April 2017 found that 63 percent of Americans believed that upper income people paid too little in taxes. That same month, the Pew Research Center reported that 60 percent of Americans were bothered “a lot” by the fact that “some wealthy people don’t pay their fair share” of taxes. In October 2017, a Reuters/Ipsos poll discovered that three-quarters of Americans thought that the wealthiest Americans should pay more in taxes. Furthermore, surveys taken at the time by U.S. polling agencies consistently found that public support for the regressive Trump-GOP tax legislation languished in the mid-20s.
A key reason why most Americans favor taxing the rich is the traditional one: the wealthiest have the greatest ability to shoulder the nation’s tax burden. After all, America’s richest one percent now possess nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth―almost twice the wealth held by 90 percent of the public. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine why they need to add anything to the enormous wealth they have already amassed. For example, Charles and David Koch, heirs to a vast fortune and, currently, the leading champions of tax-cutting and other right wing schemes, have a combined net wealth of $120 billion. If they simply stopped raking in additional income and, instead, each spent $1 million per day, they could continue doing that for over 164 years.
Conversely, nearly half of all American households cannot afford the basics of existence like food, housing, and medical care. Why should they be taxed heavily―or at all―to fund public facilities and services that the richest Americans, with their unprecedented wealth, can easily afford to cover?
Another reason to raise taxes on the rich is that it’s good for the economy. Of course, this contradicts the unverified contention of their cheerleaders that such taxation leads to job loss and economic collapse. But, in fact, as even some leading businessmen have pointed out, taxing the rich to fund public programs increases investment, boosts productivity, and creates more and better jobs. Following World War II, when the wealthiest Americans had a 91 percent tax rate and top federal tax rates on stock dividends ran between 70 and 90 percent, America experienced an enormous economic boom. Another surge of rapid economic growth occurred in the late 1990s, following federal tax hikes on wealthy investors. Only after President George W. Bush pushed through sharp cuts in taxes for the wealthy did the American economy slow and, then, collapse in the Great Recession.
Much the same pattern has emerged in the states. In 2012, Kansas slashed its tax rates, while California raised taxes on its wealthiest residents. Five years later, the Kansas economy was on life support, while California was undergoing the strongest economic growth in the nation.
Not surprisingly, states are turning increasingly to enacting a “millionaires tax,”and the Trump-GOP tax cuts for the rich have become a potential political liability for the Republicans in the 2018 congressional elections.
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of Confronting the Bomb(Stanford University Press).