Money won’t buy you votes

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Campaign finance reformers are worried about the future. They contend that two Supreme Court rulings — the McCutcheon decision in March and the 2010 Citizens United decision — will magnify inequality in U.S. politics.

In both cases, the court majority relaxed constraints on how money can be spent on or donated to political campaigns. By allowing more private money to flow to campaigns, the critics maintain, the court has allowed the rich an unfair advantage in shaping political outcomes and made “one dollar, one vote” (in one formulation) the measure of our corrupted democracy.

This argument misses the mark for at least four reasons.

First, the money spent on federal campaigns is not excessive; quite the contrary. Second, elections — and politics in general — are inherently unequal for many reasons other than money. Third, incumbency is by far the greatest source of this inequality, and the limits on contributions — and thus on most candidates’ spending — that reformers want to retain would only worsen it. Finally, the claim that generous donors and big independent spenders in effect buy federal elections and policies is contradicted by the empirical

Win Tin dies at 84 respected Myanmar opposition leader

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YANGON, Myanmar — Win Tin, one of Myanmar’s most respected opposition leaders who was jailed for nearly two decades by his country’s military rulers, died early Monday. He was 84.

His death, attributed to organ failure, came as Myanmar marked the end of Thingyan, the Buddhist New Year, and five weeks after he was admitted to Yangon’s main hospital on the evening of his 84th birthday.

A former journalist who in 1988 co-founded the National League for Democracy Party with his longtime ally, Aung San Suu Kyi, Win Tin was one of the most prominent leaders of the movement to challenge the military junta that ruled what was then known as Burma. He spent 19 years as a political prisoner, believed to be more than any other in Myanmar.

“He was a major figure for our party and he was so, so admired by our people in Burma,” said Soe Win, another former political prisoner, speaking at party headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital.

Born in 1930 in Yangon, Win Tin had a long career as a journalist that included a 1950s stint with the news

Pistorius, Zuma Is this really the best South Africa can do?

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In South Africa today, as the country celebrates the 20th anniversary of its democracy and prepares for elections, two deeply flawed folk heroes — one venal, the other violent — have commandeered the headlines. The president, Jacob Zuma, was recently found by the Public Protector, an independent constitutional body, to have misappropriated $20 million to upgrade his private home. And Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who awed the world with his speed running on prosthetic legs, is being tried for murder in the killing of his girlfriend.

With Nelson Mandela dead and his African National Congress increasingly troubled, Pistorius and Zuma have, distressingly, become the poster boys for South Africa’s 20 Years of Freedom celebrations.

We South Africans love an underdog, perhaps because of our history, and both Zuma and Pistorius have milked that role. From an Afrikaner Calvinist tradition, Pistorius offers a story of triumph over adversity through God-fearing hard work. Then Zuma, from a poor rural Zulu and working-class township background, presents a narrative of the cunning trickster with little formal education who always finds himself on his feet and takes what he needs with a

Conference WiFi

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Overthrowing democracy in Egypt

Once the dust settles from Egypt’s military coup Wednesday, the main victim won’t be President Mohamed Morsi or the Islamists, who are survivors by nature. The real casualty will be democracy and people’s faith in it. Egyptians will have lost their best chance at being an active part of their country’s governance in more than 5,000 years.

President Obama said he was “deeply concerned” about the coup. But the U.S. should also do some soul-searching; America’s long relationship with Egypt’s military has included funding, training and propagandizing, and many in Egypt can’t help but feel that helped enable the coup.

So much is at stake. Through several rounds of elections, Egyptians young and old showed the world what desire for change and hope looks like as they lined up for hours in the desert heat to cast a ballot and have a say for the first time in the future of their country.

PHOTOS: Massive protest against President Morsi in Egypt

As a journalist, I covered the Arab Spring, thrilled to see young women fashionably dressed in Western clothes voting alongside women in niqab, the head-to-toe covering favored by many pious Muslims. The bawab, or door guard, for my building

Egypt’s rough road to democracy

Mohamed Morsi would probably still be the president of Egypt if he had governed in an inclusive and effective way. It’s possible to recognize that fact and still lament the willingness of the Egyptian military to undo the results of a free and fair election that occurred only a year ago.

Morsi, the preferred candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, was an inept leader who overreached his mandate and presided over a deterioration in the Egyptian economy. He antagonized not only the military — which sees itself as the guarantor of national stability — but also liberal, Christian and secular-minded Egyptians. Two years after crowds massed in cities across the country to demand the ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak, equally vociferous demonstrators turned out to demand that Morsi step down.

But there was a difference. Mubarak was a self-perpetuating tyrant. Morsi came to office as the result of a legitimate vote of his people. His replacement by an acting president chosen by the armed forces — even if it is followed fairly swiftly by new presidential and parliamentary elections — is a defeat for democracy and constitutional government. Morsi’s critics accused the president of betraying the Arab