Talking Politics With Teens

It can be challenging to discuss politics across generations without someone melting down (usually you) or tuning out (usually them), but it’s not impossible. Here are six traits of adults with the power to engage teens and inspire them to activism.

Be teachable. A conversation isn’t about one person sharing knowledge and information with another. That’s better known as a lecture (or so I’ve been told). Listen to teens, allowing them and others to inform your opinions.

Be honorable. It’s okay to take issue with a candidate’s positions, but disparaging his or her character is a definite turnoff to teens and twenty-somethings. To everyone, in fact.

Be flexible. Your candidate isn’t Jesus. Teens appreciate hearing how we disagree with the person we support. Give them the grace to do the same, and don’t take differing opinions personally. Endorsing your candidate’s opponent doesn’t mean a young person is repudiating your authority. Although it might.

Be controversial. Surprise and provoke them once in a while by saying something radical, starting with “I totally disagree with _____” or “I 100% agree that ____.”

Be passionate. Caring deeply about an election is contagious. Young people who watch us thinking deeply and talking freely about our opinions will be more likely to do the same. And they’ll be more likely to vote now and in the future if they remember us faithfully trekking to the ballot box during primaries and elections.

Be web-savvy. More and more, teens are influenced by the viral power of the web. Through sites like YouTube, MTV Think, MySpace, and Facebook, they’re inviting each other to join causes and catching fire about the issues.

But web-surfing’s not just for teens, especially not this election. Geeks are jamming the web with tools to inform all of us about the candidates and their positions. Five websites in particular can help even the most undecided voter make a choice.

Expert Voter: Provides a handy-dandy one page matrix of clips with the candidates sharing views on Iraq, immigration, energy, nuclear proliferation, healthcare, education, social security, taxes, and campaign reform.

Fact Check: Monitors the truth of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.

Match-O-Matic: Developed by ABC and USA Today, this interactive site quizzes you on your views to see how you match up on the hot issues with the candidates.

Ask Your Lawmaker: Users submit questions and vote on them, and then journalists track down lawmakers in Congress and on the campaign trail to get those questions answered.

Vote Smart: Volunteer citizens provide biographical information, voting records, issue positions, interest group ratings, public statements, and campaign finance information so you can find out who your candidates are really representing.

These are nonpartisan resources, and user-friendly for teens and adults alike. Why not send your teen a link or two to show off your cyber skills, as well as to demonstrate your desire to make informed decisions? Despite their technology addictions, teens are still open to adults who listen, care, can admit when they’re wrong, and aren’t afraid to take a stand.

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Campaign Time Again

Politicians are everywhere once more. They’re on television, radio, billboards, the Internet and on the streets going around the country promoting their team and themselves. Their staff are busy printing out and distributing leaflets, calendars and posters to be pasted on designated spots. The scenario? What else but politicians including non-politicians vying for a government post campaigning for the upcoming May 2007 elections in the Philippines.

With less than three months to go before the May 14 general elections, the country is abuzz. Political candidates wanting to retain or have a seat in the Senate, House of Representatives and the local government units are all over town airing out their planned agenda should they win. The candidates range from the seniors to the younger ones, from the celebrities to the ordinary people. They are classified into three categories the genuine opposition, the team unity (pro-administration) and the independents. The Philippines, perhaps, is one country that has many celebrities serving in the government. Although this has been frowned upon over the years, the actors and actresses eyeing to get into politics remain undaunted.

Campaign and election time is just like celebrating a festival. Candidates come up with their respective events like concerts and gatherings that involve celebrities to attract a greater number of spectators. It is also at this time when these people from showbiz from the actors, singers and dancers reap more income as they join political sorties in the cities and rural areas either with the opposition group or pro-administration or even both. Some of them also get to star in the radio and TV commercials of candidates.

All is not smooth-sailing for these political bets as they are also barraged with protests from various sectors. For instance, supporters of electoral reform have started a campaign to monitor the role of money in the coming polls. The Money and Politics Working Group is bent on tracking the expenses of candidates for all their activities around the country. The group says transparency in campaign finance is a big step in promoting trust in the electoral system. Elections in the Philippines is said to be among the most expensive with expenditures on each vote 14 times greater than those spent in the United States, according to an IFES study. All political bets are required by law to file a full, true and itemized statement of campaign contributions and expenditures with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) within a month after the elections. Sponsors also need to provide Comelec with a detailed account of their contributions.

Meanwhile, an environmental group Ecowaste Coalition is calling for the use of recycled paper for campaign materials to save trees and protect the watersheds, forests and ecosystems. The group revealed that one ton of recycled paper can already save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil and seven thousand gallons of water. To achieve this, the coalition calls on candidates not to use buntings, balloons, confetti, tarpaulin, Styrofoam and other plastics as they are harmful to the environment. The group likewise pushes for a waste free elections to prevent the piling up of campaign trash all over the country.

Amid all this, the ordinary citizens hope for one thing — that those running for the elections will make true their promises for the good of the majority and not for personal gain if they become victorious this May.

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Control Spending To Ensure Fair Elections

Despite legal limits on such spending and heavy penalties if
caught cheating, it has not been possible to eradicate the malaise that
afflicts our electoral system which often gets distorted under the influence
of extravagant spending. The call for electoral reform given from time to
time to impart transparency to the process and to ensure that deserving
candidates do not get edged out by criminal elements and wily politicians
who have mastered the technique of concealment, has fallen mostly on deaf
ears. Suggestions to control extravagant spending have not received serious
consideration by political parties, all of whom are equally guilty of
breaching campaign funding ceilings. All of them agree in principle, but
when it comes to implementation, they betray nervousness.
One is not sure whether Mr. Quresi is going to succeed in curbing the
menace, but he shows seriousness in tackling the situation. His observers
are going to monitor campaign expenditure and take sue moto notice of
violations, if brought to their notice, through spot verification. They will
even take notice of media complaints or exposures of lavish spending,
instead of waiting for rival candidates to file complaints after the
elections to get the rivals disqualified. Since the observers will be armed
with powers to take immediate action, they can even disqualify a candidate
from contesting. The outcome of the new initiative will be known only after
the Assembly elections in April are over, but it is worth giving a try.
Any new measure to tackle the menace of huge campaign expenditure, in which
black money plays a part, is indeed welcome, but one must keep one’s fingers
crossed whether parties will cooperate in enforcing the ceilings, because
there are the likes of Yedyurappa and Narendra Modi who are competent enough
to circumvent the law considering the unlimited funding by rich mine owners
and corporate houses at their disposal, which has distorted the electoral
process in their states. The role of black money or even white in the case
of rich tax-paying candidates is an accepted fact and those spending it have
devised ingenious ways of concealing it in order to avoid detection and
evade punishment. It is also a fact that muscle and money-power have helped
fill our legislatures, including the Lok Sabha, with candidates with
criminal histories and those against whom cases are still pending in courts.
Many deserving candidates, who cannot match their rivals spending get edged
out.
Yet, it is an accepted fact that it is not possible for an honest candidate
to do justice to campaigning within the ceiling imposed by the Election
Commission because competition has become intense as almost all contests are
multi-cornered. The maximum expenditure is involved on the day of polling
when every candidate has to ensure that his voters turn up at the booths and
they are facilitated in casting their vote. The cost of campaigning in far
flung areas entails heavy transport expenses and the army of campaigners
employed to contact voters not do it for free. Meetings by rich candidates
become extra vaganza with the involment of bollywood actors and popular
singers, who also do it for a fee accepted under the table. Black money
circulates in devious ways and goes largely undetected, with candidates
taking the plea that those campaigning for him are volunteers and are not to
be paid. Heavy spending thus gives some candidates an edge, aside from
vote-bank mobilization on caste or creed basis.
The Election Commission has been forced to take the inflation factor into
account and raise the limit of expenditure, which excludes the expenditure
incurred by political parties, which is not counted. The candidates also
receive funding from well-to-do Indian dispora, which also comes under
various guises and is not openly declared. Though the limit has now been
raised from Rs. 25 lakh to Rs 40 lack for Lok Sabha elections, the actual
permissible ceiling is much higher considering the contribution of the
political parties. Those who opposed higher permissible limits often argued
that the use of money power should be curbed and that it will not be
possible for candidates with meager resources to participate in the
democratic exercise which, in turn will distort democracy and diminish its
participatory content. The truth is that the really poor find it difficult
to contest even now unless he is popular enough and can mobilize the
services of genuine volunteers to see him through. But such instances are
rare. By and large money power plays a great role in elections, however
freely and fairly conducted.
A suggestions has been made by Congress MP Manish Tiwari that the Election
Commission should circulate a consultation paper on campaign financing, hold
open discussions with people across the social and economic spectrum, meet
representatives of political parties and then arrive at a ceiling on
election expenditure, which must be reviewed after every Lok Sabha election.
He has also suggested removing the ceiling on corporate funding of poll
expenses of parties above the 5 per cent profit cap under the Companies Act.
But care should be taken that such enhanced contribution does not come
through money laundering. He also wants the Government to establish an
independent campaign finance trust to be chaired by a former president of
India, consisting of a former vice-president and fomer chief justice of
India as its trustees. This trust would receive all corporate funding, which
would then be given directly to political parties registered with the
Election Commission.
While the first suggestion is worthy of consideration, the second is
impractical for various reasons. It is true that if corporate contributions
are made in an anonymous manner, the element of coercion is reduced. But,
the point is why should corporate houses fund elections in the first place?
They do so selectively in order to back a political party or candidates who
support private enterprise and are interested in its growth in order to
increase national production and usher in prosperity. They will consider it
a sacrilege if the money contributed by them goes to finance communists or
other anti-corporate Left outfits or candidates. Apart from contributing to
the parties, some corporate houses also finance the election spending of
individual candidates who are in tune with their economic philosophy and
will look after the interests of private enterprise. Therefore, this
suggestion should be left at that because the corporate are unlikely to
accept it, unless forced by law to do so, which cannot happen under our
Constitution.
State funding of elections stands on a different footing because from a
corpus that may be created, a mechanism can be devised to make contributions
to political parting in proportion to the votes secured by them in
elections. This proposal has been handing fire for decades but neither has
the government accepted it, nor there is a consensus among parties over its
feasibility. State funding would presume that the expenditure incurred on
elections by parties will be met entirely out of state funds, which will
automatically eliminate contributions by corporates or others which makes
the campaigns extravagant. Such a limit is unacceptable to the parties on
the face of it and they would not mind state funding, along with freedom to
raise money from other sources. With government contribution added to such
expenditure, it will make the whole electoral exercise more costly then
ever. Though several suggestions as regards state funding have been made,
including contribution to parties, or direct cash transfer to the winner on
the basis of votes polled by him, none has been found acceptable.
Clearly, the present system suits all the parties because they can conduct
high-profile poll campaigns with funds derived from diverse sources without
getting caught. The bulk of the corporate funding for individual candidates
and, partly also parties, is in cash for which there is no account and which
certainly is black money on which tax has been evaded. It is very amusing to
watch members of parliament cry hoarse over the government’s failure to curb
the menace of black money. While themselves accepting cash contributions for
poll expenses.
It has been estimated that thousands of crores of rupees in black money
get circulated in the economy during parliamentary elections and smaller
amounts during the Assembly elections where the constituencies are smaller.
Thus, the will to sincerely deal with the menace and cleanse our electoral
system of the influence of black money is lacking, even though politicians
enter into arguments and sermonize frequently on its evils and the need to
eradicate it.
The election law, particularly relating to campaign financing and preventing
entry of criminals into legislatures needs to be reviewed sooner the later.
The parties owe it to the electorate to join hands in increasing the
transparency, fairness and quality of our democracy and prevent further
deterioration.

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