Thursday, May 31, 2012

Insight into Bolivia's Media Ownership Laws

Under Morales and through the Bolivian Constitution, Bolivia disallows monopolies and oligopolies. Also, Bolivia's broadcast (radio and television) licenses are divided up in the following format: 1/3 private sector, 1/3 government, and 1/3 social and indigenous groups. In Bolivia, social and indigenous groups have the same political rights as political parties. The purpose of Bolivia's broadcast license laws is to encourage plurality of broadcast media. Alberta for example is the opposite of Bolivia in which oligopolies exist and media ownership concentration is heavily tilted to the private sector, and within the private sector in the case of the daily press and television, there is extreme media ownership concentration. (See the FDA Media Report on Alberta below.)

To learn more about the Bolivia's progressive broadcast laws, the FDA interviewed Mr. Ramiro Orias. The FDA will follow up this interview with an interview a representative from the Bolivian Ministry of Communication.

Mr. Orias, who resides in Bolvia, is a lawyer, Professor of the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the “Universidad Católica Boliviana”, Executive Director of “Fundacion Construir”(BUILD Foundation), and has a Master in International Studies.

Based on Mr. Orias's comments, Bolvia's broadcast model is a work in progress.


FDA: Has Bolivia under Morales become a more democratic country?

Mr. Orias: Tensions between representation and participation, not necessarily contradictory, have meant a change in the quality of democracy. Today, despite temporary deterioration in terms of institutional controls, there is no doubt that both Bolivia's government and the Parliament are more representative and inclusive than ever before, and political participation -measurable in, but not limited to, electoral events - have clearly grown.

FDA: With regard to the Bolivia’s media ownership concentration laws in which broadcast licenses are divided between the private, government, and social and indigenous groups in the following manner:

Privately owned radio and TV usage no more than 33 percent of licenses.
Government radio and TV usage no more than 33 percent licenses.
Social and indigenous groups' usage no more than 33 percent of licenses.

How has this media approach impacted Bolivia’s broadcast news and information?

Mr. Orias: As of today, although there are plans to increase the government radio and television media, there have been no direct actions to revoke licenses or reduce the number of private operators.

FDA: How many private sector groups make up the 33 percent licenses for the privately owned radio and TV?

Mr. Orias: I have no updated information.

FDA: How many social and indigenous groups make up the 33 percent licenses for social and indigenous radio and TV?

Mr. Orias: I have no updated information.

FDA: Does the Bolivian government fund social and indigenous radio and television? If not, how can social and indigenous groups afford to own broadcast licenses and radio and television stations?

Mr. Orias: Yes, there are public plans to support the development of official community radio stations.

FDA: Are the radio and television technology and infrastructure shared amongst the private, government, and social and indigenous sectors? If it is shared, what are the processes for determining airtime between the sectors?

Mr. Orias: Regarding technology there is no balance. Official and private media have greater access, while the community and social groups are more precarious due to shortcomings and economic limitations.

FDA: With the Morales government predominantly indigenous, how is bias to the government avoided by guaranteeing 33 percent of licenses to social and indigenous groups? What percentage of the broadcast licenses is for non- indigenous social groups?

Mr. Orias: The official and the community media have no government restrictions for official propaganda, which is indeed extensive and permanent, primarily on public television.

FDA: How can the Morales government make its division and allocation of broadcast licenses fairer?

Mr. Orias: Developing a more open, transparent and competitive regulation.

FDA Media Study on the 2012 Alberta Election

Different Perspective on Venezuela

Dr. Maria Paez Victor provides insight into the ground reality of Venezuela, and she backs it up with facts. Her perspective is in contrast to the perspective of most Western mass media which has demonized Chavez in retaliation to him nationalizing Venezuelan oil and supporting socialist public policy. The FDA has interviewed Dr. Victor on FDA's World Democracy Discussion on itunes. (See link below to her podcast interview: Media, Democracy, Venezuela (October 2011).)

Bringing Mozart to the Masses: Venezuela's Music Revolution By Maria Paez Victor

As a sociologist, I often roamed the dirt tracks of the poor sections of my hometown Caracas, and it seemed to me that from the open windows, I would always hear someone singing or strumming the Venezuelan four-string guitar, el cuatro, or see some fellow unselfconsciously walking by whistling or singing. Later on, reading the memoirs of an English officer of Simón Bolívar’s British Legion that fought for the Venezuelan Independence Revolution, I was struck by his observation that at the bivouacs after the day’s march, as the men sat around the campfires, they created music. “Most of the natives are musicians and singers,”1 he wrote.

Today, 200 years later, the officer’s observation is solidly backed by the achievements of the extraordinary Venezuelan music program, El Sistema, which today has 300 centers, 310,000 students, and 500 orchestras in the country. Its hallmark is the excellence of its musicians, foremost of whom is Gustavo Dudamel, undoubtedly the world’s most exciting classical music conductor.

El Sistema is a remarkable music and antipoverty program that was created in 1975 by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, who was determined to improve social justice through the balm of music. He started out with only 11 young musicians who shared his vision to give the poor and marginalized access to music education. Over 70 percent of the students in El Sistema come from poor families.

A typical student in El Sistema comes from a barrio, a very poor neighborhood. He or she attends a nucleus after school, taught by an older student of El Sistema at no charge on an instrument supplied for free. There are groups for preschoolers, school-age children, and teenagers. Participants learn how to play an instrument and how to perform in an orchestra. The child’s family is important to the success of El Sistema and is considered part of the program. Children progress through the program to higher standards, including the National Simón Bolívar Orchestra, which plays all over the world. (Go to to see a video of the orchestra’s performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.)

In 1975 oil-rich Venezuela was a goose that laid golden eggs for the upper classes. From 1935–1998, this petroleum-rich country had a poverty level of 60 percent, with almost one-third of the population suffering from extreme poverty.3 The majority of the people were thus excluded from the benefits of oil riches; that exclusion was economic, political, and also cultural. The arts were seen as the reserve of only the wealthy, with the poor excluded from museums, galleries, theaters, and music performances. Classical music was especially seen as the purview of the privileged.

Maestro Abreu struggled for the necessary backing from successive governments, never obtaining from them the recognition and funds that his program deserved. It is a wonder, however, that even under those circumstances, his program and musicians survived.

That all changed with the election of President Hugo Chávez.

Today there is a happy convergence between the values of El Sistema and those of the Chávez government, including the antipoverty programs Chávez inspired. In 13 years, they have reduced poverty to 27.8 percent and extreme poverty to 7.3 percent, an astounding achievement for any developing country.6 El Sistema now receives 90 percent of its funding from the Venezuelan government. The opposition to President Chávez has bitterly attacked El Sistema because of this government support, even though the positive results of the program are beyond question.

Maestro Abreu organized his program into a series of centers, onuclei, in different localities. Music was not taught as a “training session” but as a way of life. Young people were made to feel they had joined a sort of family that would support and encourage them to reach higher standards. Abreu believes in the young people and says, “Culture for the poor cannot be poor culture.”9 Children learn to work as a team and to have self-discipline. Egotistic individualism is not encouraged, but creativity and personal development are.

The heart of the music program is acceptance and support: the child who wants to join is accepted unconditionally without any filtering or auditions. The instruments that are provided are not kept in the school, but entrusted to the child to take home and care for. One ten-year-old boy admitted that he had to have his cello right next to his bed in his humble bedroom because he could not sleep without it.10

El Sistema also includes choirs, and one choir in particular has stunned the musical world: it is composed of children who are deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled. They participate with their hands, wearing white gloves, as they signal the words of the songs. World-famous opera singer Placido Domingo was so moved watching this choir for the first time that tears rolled down his cheeks.

Abreu believes that “the most holy of human rights is the right to art.” His student, Gustavo Dudamel, former conductor of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, now conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He is now disseminating the idea that music is a human right in the world of classical music, where he is a major player. Dudamel is also promoting El Sistema in Los Angeles.

In an orchestra, as in a family, fellow students are supporters, not rivals. The idea of music as an inherent human right constitutes a cultural revolution that may very well save the future of classical music itself.

El Sistema has renewed music education by bringing in the talents and enthusiasm of those who had been excluded. It has brought a fresh wind to the musty halls where elites had wanted to keep classical music prisoner. And it all started in Venezuela, where revolution is a very good thing.

  1. Vowell, RL. Campaigns and Cruises 40 (Longman & Co., London, 1831).
  2. Eichler, J. The necessary cultural revolution. Boston Globe (May 1, 2010).
  3. Social Indicators, National Institute of Statistics (INE). Reported in Venezuelan News Agency (November 5, 2011).
  4. Venezuela International. Reading: Fundamental axis of Venezuelan cultural policy [online] (September 14, 2011).
  5. Fisher, N. Venezuela’s cultural revolution. The New York Times (October 18, 2010).
  6. Social Indicators, National Institute of Statistics. Venezuela reduces poverty from 70% to 23%. [online] (October 3, 2010).
  7. Wakin, DJ. Venerated high priest and humble servant of music education. The New York Times (March 1, 2011).
  8. See also a review of the opposition views on Maestro Abreu in EncontrArte [online].
  9. Eichler, J. You’re part of something bigger: Venezuela’s El Sistema in the USA. Boston Globe (July 22, 2010) [online].
  10. To Play and To Fight (Tocar y Luchar). Directed by Alberto Arvelo. Los Angeles, CA: Cinevolve Studios, 2006.
Dr. Victor Interview: Media, Democracy, and Venezuela (October, 2011) 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Federal Conservatives Interfere Once Again in Collective Bargaining

After weakening the collective bargaining process for the Canadian postal workers and Air Canada employees, the Canadian federal government in the gist of the Conservative Party of Canada takes an ideological aim at the Canadian Pacific Railway employees with the threat of back to work legislation if the two sides cannot agree. Clearly, the Conservative Party of Canada is unfit to represent Canada at the federal level of government, because of partisanship and its narrow ideological outlook. Canadian corporations know that the federal government is on their side, instead of the government being neutral, and therefore, this in of itself undermines bargaining processes, because corporations just have to wait long enough for back to work legislation. The losers are employees, who lose benefits and receive lower wages than otherwise in a fair bargaining process.

The irony about the federal conservatives is that Harper is very unqualified to be overseeing national labour issues, because he has only worked for 2 1/2 years in his life: as a computer programmer in the tar sands and a reporter. He is a professional politician with his origins in the Alberta Reform Party, which was a far right libertarian movement (before being united with the Progressive Conservative Party). Not surprisingly, Conservative MPs supported the Wildrose Alliance Party in the recent Alberta Election.   

CP Rail union, Tories battle over collective bargaining
by Laura Payton, CBC News 

The federal Conservatives are defending their plan to force striking Canadian Pacific Railway employees back to work as a way to keep the economy on track, while the union representing 4,800 workers says their collective bargaining rights are under attack.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, flanked by four other cabinet ministers, on Monday made her case based on a need to keep the trains running so other businesses can keep their products moving.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis argued there's between $30 million to $50 million a day in lost
productivity and expenses because of the work stoppage.

"Canada’s manufacturing sector is an extensive web of interconnected companies that allows for just-in-time delivery of components and finished products. A disruption in the supply network would affect every company in the chain," he said.

The railway is Canada's backbone and links the country with major U.S. industrial centres, Raitt said in a speech to the House of Commons, and the work stoppage is affecting Canada's reputation.

"We're only one link in a long supply chain. What happens here affects inbound and outbound traffic," she said. "We cannot afford to be that weak link."

Raitt said she wants to see CP trains rolling on Thursday, or earlier if the two sides get back to the table. The back-to-work legislation would send the union members back to their jobs, extend the current agreement until the two sides reach a new one, and provide for arbitration to find a deal within 90 days of the government appointing an arbitrator.

With pensions one of the major issues to be resolved, Raitt was asked whether her legislation showed she was on the side of shareholders.

"That’s absolutely ridiculous. I work for the Canadian public and the national economy," she said.

Collective bargaining 'under attack'

The union, which represents more than 4,800 Canadian Pacific workers, says management isn't bargaining with striking workers because the federal government announced it would bring in back-to-work legislation.

The union spoke to the media as the government introduced a motion to limit debate on the legislation in the House of Commons just after noon in Ottawa. The legislation itself was introduced just after 3 p.m. ET.

Doug Finnson, the union's chief negotiator, says it's only because the government said it would act that CP management isn't at the table.

"Collective bargaining in this country is under attack, certainly," he said.

"As long as the government intervenes in collective bargaining, and in my opinion, unfairly favours the employer, the employers are going to simply line up, every one of them … knowing that the government's going to intervene, suspend collective bargaining artificially, and get into this return-to-work legislation, which from what I understand in the past two experiences, has significantly favoured the employer," Finnson said, referring to legislation that forced Canada Post and Air Canada workers back to work.

In the case of Canada Post, management had locked out workers after 11 days of rolling strikes. The legislation imposed a final offer selection process to resolve the dispute.

Raitt said the government isn't to blame if the union and management at CP couldn't reach a deal. The two sides have an obligation to reach a deal, she said.

"It may seem to be very nice and easy to come to Parliament. [Management] are not going to get the legislation they expect or they want in either case, and secondly, it doesn’t help them in their business plan moving forward," Raitt told Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power Politics.

"The overall message to employers is: don’t come to the government for legislation. We don’t want to do this. We don’t want to have to intervene at all, and yet when the national economy ends up being affected, we have no choice but to intervene."

Pensions a major issue

The Teamsters union says pensions are one of the major sticking points in the talks. That's ironic, Finnson said, because two of the biggest shareholders in CP are the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and the Canada Pension Plan, which are pension funds.

"Isn't that a little ironic that the workers at CP Rail are being asked to give up the value of their pension plan, and indirectly it's going to benefit two other pension plans in Canada?" Finnson said.

If it passes, the union won't disobey the law, Finnson said, which doesn't seem to have some of the measures that other back-to-work bills have contained.

The union has to take a closer look at the measures, he said.

A statement by CP says it will co-operate with any decision of Parliament.

"Once the legislative process unfolds, our company will shift our attention to fully preparing for a timely and disciplined ramp-up in operations with a view to achieve full production levels as soon as possible for the benefit of all our customers," Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for CP, said.

'Takes a lot more pressure' off employer

Opposition MPs said earlier in the day that the Conservative government took away any incentive for CP management to bargain when it announced it would introduce back-to-work legislation if talks didn't yield an agreement.

Raitt made the announcement last Wednesday, less than 12 hours after the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference started the strike and while the parties were still negotiating.

Talks broke off Sunday between the rail company and the union representing 4,800 striking locomotive engineers and conductors.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash, a former union negotiator, says announcing the government is prepared to intervene makes resolving the strike through negotiations much more difficult.

"If I'm the employer, I'm thinking it takes a lot more pressure off of me to not have to negotiate a settlement," Nash said.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair met with the union Monday morning in his office.

Management in labour disputes perceives arbitration will be to its advantage, Liberal House leader Marc Garneau said.

"This government sends that signal constantly to the private sector. We saw what they did with Canada Post, we saw what they did with Air Canada, and it's the approach of the government that is hostile to negotiations with the unions."

The government is moving to limit debate on the motion, providing two hours of debate in the House, plus an hour for study at committee of the whole, where all MPs can ask questions, followed by 30 minutes for the final reading in the House. Under the motion, the bill would trump all other business in front of the House, and only cabinet ministers would be allowed to propose votes during the debate.

MPs will vote on the motion to apply time allocation Tuesday night. The government could bring the back-to-work legislation forward for debate and voting after 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, with the final vote to be held when it concludes.

Canada Paying Latin Press to Hide the Reality of Mining

Canadian federal government (Conservative Party of Canada) uses Canadian tax dollars to influence Latin American journalists about the Canadian mining industry. Mining Watch Canada says it is an attempt by the Canadian government to shape foreign perspectives of the Canadian mining industry, instead of addressing the poor standards of the Canadian mining industry. Similar to the Canadian federal government's denial of Global Warming, the federal government is in denial or ignores the actions or non-actions, internationally and nationally, of the Canadian mining industry in terms of the environment and human rights. Interestingly, the Canadian government allowed the Canadian mining industry to operate in Burma while the West had sanctions on the country.

Canada paying Latin press to hide the reality of mining

In March 2012, Canadian taxpayers paid pay eleven journalists from eight Latin American countries to attend the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s 2012 conference (PDAC), including paid visits to mine sites in Quebec. Instead of managing the real-life problems associated with mining in the countries they operate in, they consider it cheaper to manage the message around mining. The examples of these real-life problems are plenty. A snapshot of just a few of them:

  • Osisko Mining’s exploration project in the province of La Rioja, Argentina, faced a blockade due to concerns over water supplies. It was only lifted a month later, when the company guaranteed it would first ‘obtain local support’.

  • In Honduras, mine-affected communities and environmental and indigenous organizations are protesting a proposed mining law that Honduran authorities are promoting at PDAC this week, also with support from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.

  • Ecuadorian organizations kick off a big march on the national capital on March 8, starting from the south of the country where communities and their representatives have demonstrated against a Canadian mining project.

  • “Government and industry representatives are sure to give these journalists a glowing picture of Canada’s disingenous Corporate Social Responsibility framework for mining overseas, while trying to demonstrate that mining is developing without a hitch here at home,” remarks Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. Question is: will the journalists tell the real story behind these projects or write what the ones funding their trip will like to read? They sure have plenty of opportunities to see the problems related to mining in Canada.

    On Tuesday, members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI First Nation) were at PDAC to demonstrate against the failure of the Ontario provincial government to ensure that mining exploration company God’s Lake Resources respects their right to free, prior, and informed consent.

    Osisko Mining’s open-pit gold operation in Malartic, Quebec, which visiting journalists might tour, has led to discontent among community members who claim the company betrayed its promises to ensure that they would face no major problems during the mine’s construction. Noise, dust, plummeting housing values, and a disappointing relocation process have led citizens to protest.

    “The government-sponsored tour is unlikely to acknowledge conflicts that have arisen that are important to understanding the difficulties that aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada face in having their rights respected and community health protected,” adds Mr. Hart. Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the Tsilhqot’in People are having to re-engage in a review process of an already-rejected proposal for an open pit gold and copper project, and where the proponent recently launched a lawsuit against an environmental group critical of its project. So let us get this straight: either your opinion is not asked and the project goes on regardless of what you think. Either your opinion is asked but when you give the wrong answer you will be asked again, or sued. One can only hope that the paid journalists visiting Canada’s mines will unearth the ugly truth about mining, concluding that what is needed most is environmental justice for their people.

    Saturday, May 26, 2012

    European Debt Crisis Solution: Austerity and Growth

    This article by FDA blogger Rupinder touches broadly on Europe's debt crisis and the French election of Hollande. The bio link (below) on Hollande is pragmatic and perhaps negative. The May 2012 Camp Declaration of balancing austerity with [publicly initiated] growth [or spending] is not a new concept, and it demonstrates how limited current Western thought is when dealing with macroeconomic issues. The reality of Europe is that it cannot afford its social programs and government expenditures because it has lost global competitiveness. So the Germans are correct that austerity is necessary to balance expenditure with revenue. Of course, there will be economic contraction, but that stems from lost productivity. The balance of austerity with growth is simply a short-term measure to buy more time, while in the meantime Europe will sink in further debt or somehow become more competitive, and thereby increase revenue.

    European Debt Crisis Solution: Austerity and Growth

    The victory of Mr. Franois Hollande in France and the failed attempts to form a new government in Greece after the May 12 2012 elections were both heralds of the people’s demand for a change in approaching and dealing with the European sovereign debt crisis. People’s support for social-democratic parties in these two countries could be seen as an indicator of the unrest caused by the German insistence on increasing austerity measures in the form of government spending cuts and tax increases.

    Germany got one half of the equation right by insisting on austerity measures: Europe could not put any more on their credit card, and spending needed to be curbed. Where the German solution fell short was in accounting for how the lack of confidence in these economies and the inability of these economies to spend would then turn away investors.

    The instability of these economies would further make big businesses work on their own profits—or even survival—by laying off more people and slowing down production. As demand would dwindle in the face of job losses, so would supply, and the big businesses would need even fewer people to do the work that needed to be done. Thus, austerity measures alone would lead to a downward spiral for economic growth.

    The May 18–19 G8 meeting at Camp David may have led to a softening in the German position on austerity in the face of demands by France, UK, Italy, and the US to include capital spending and investment to promote growth in these broken economies. The solution, as many European leaders and President Obama insist, lies in working with both austerity and growth measures. This position is stated in the White House press release of the Camp David Declaration:

    6. We agree that all of our governments need to take actions to boost confidence and nurture recovery including reforms to raise productivity, growth and demand within a sustainable, credible and non-inflationary macroeconomic framework. We commit to fiscal responsibility and, in this context, we support sound and sustainable fiscal consolidation policies that take into account countries’ evolving economic conditions and underpin confidence and economic recovery.

    7. To raise productivity and growth potential in our economies, we support structural reforms, and investments in education and in modern infrastructure, as appropriate. Investment initiatives can be financed using a range of mechanisms, including leveraging the private sector. Sound financial measures, to which we are committed, should build stronger systems over time while not choking off near-term credit growth. We commit to promote investment to underpin demand, including support for small businesses and public-private partnerships.

    (May 2012 Camp David Declarations)

    Friday, May 25, 2012

    Big Money Politics and Wisconsin

    In a new report, the Center for Media and Democracy exposes the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)'s influence on the Wisconsin governor and Legislature. The issue at stake is lobbyists like ALEC influencing Wisconsin politicians through political contributions in order to get public policy and laws which favor ALEC's corporate members. In addition, ALEC is listed as an American charity, so how can it be promoting partisan agendas and still be a charity? Further, should elected officials be allowed to receive contributions with quid pro quo and dependency implications?

    The main findings from the Report on ALEC as identified by the Center for Media and Democracy are:

  • 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin's 2011-2012 legislative session;
  • 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, and two were vetoed;
  • More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;
  • More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period for his state campaign account;
  • At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and
  • At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC "scholarship fund" (complete "scholarship" information is not available).

  • ALEC describes itself as the largest "independent member association of state legislators" in the country, but over 98 percent of its nearly $7 million in annual revenue comes from corporations and sources other than legislative dues, which are $50 a year. Representatives from America's largest corporations, including Koch Industries, Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Reynolds, and Altria/Phillip Morris fund ALEC and sit on its private sector governing board.

    Report on the American Legislative Exchange Council Influence on Wisconsin Elected Officials and Public Policy

    Types of Political Corruption 

    Thursday, May 24, 2012

    Garvey Goes Head-to-Head with Breakenridge

    In this radio interview on the Rob Breakenridge Show on QR770 (based out of Calgary), Stephen Garvey FDA Executive Director goes head-to-head with Rob Breakenridge in regard to the FDA's Media Report on the 2012 Alberta Election. This discussion is heated and touches on a number of important issues.

    To listen to the interview, click on the link below for the QR770 audio vault, and then go to May 22nd at 9 p.m. The interview begins around 9:09 p.m.

    QR770 Audit Vault

    FDA Media Study on the 2012 Alberta Election

    2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Venezuela

    2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Bolivia

    Carter Institute Election Report on the 2007 Venezuelan Referendum

    Bolivia Recognized for Excellence in Human Development Policies

    Freedom House which Mr. Breakenridge references in the interview, calls itself independent; yet in 2007 for example, Freedom House received 70% of its funds from US government sources such as the USAID and the US State Department:

    Information on Freedom House 

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    FDA Media Study of the 2012 Alberta Provincial Election

    Alberta PC and Wildrose Parties Receive Lion's Share of Media Coverage During 2012 Provincial Election

    The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party (PC's) and the Wildrose Alliance Party received almost twice the coverage than the other seven registered parties during the last two weeks of the 2012 Alberta provincial election. The Foundation for Democratic Advancement, a non-partisan organization that advances fair and transparent democratic processes, found that the Alberta PC's and the Wildrose received 65.2 per cent of the total media exposure compared to only 34.8 percent for the seven other registered parties. Five of these seven parties had 4.1 per cent of total exposure. The data was collected from two major corporations for each medium (print, radio, television).

    Key points gleaned from the study:

  • The Alberta PC's and Alberta Wildrose Parties received a combined 62 per cent of the print coverage as compared to the other political parties.
  • The PC party alone received 41 per cent of the radio coverage during the election period comprising almost half the news stories during that period.
  • The Alberta PC's and Alberta Wildrose Parties received a combined 64 per cent of the television coverage as compared to the other political parties comprising more than half of the news stories during that period.
  • The FDA has found that a clear positive correlation exists between the amount of media exposure and the election results for each party.

  • FDA Media Study of the 2012 Alberta Provincial Election

    FDA Media Study Advisory

    880 News Interview on the FDA Media Report

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    Wrzesnewskyj Verse Opitz Ontario Supreme Court Decision

    Judge Lederer did not address wrongdoing by voters who may have voted without being qualified to do so or who voted more than once. Thanks to Mr. Wrzesnewskyj's persistence and willingness to file a civil law suit, the Etobicoke election result would not have been found null and void.

    Conclusion from Judge Lederer J.'s decision:

    [153] Based on this analysis the following votes are set aside.

    On account of failure of registration:

    At Poll 426.........26
    At Poll 31...........15
    At Poll 174.........1
    At Poll 89...........10

    On account of failure of vouching:

    At Poll 21..........8
    At Poll 30..........4
    At Poll 174.........8
    At Poll 502.........7

    [ 154] This exceeds the plurality of 26. I declare the election null and void as contemplated under s. 531(2) of the Canada Elections Act.

    [155] As for what was referred to earlier as the conundrum, it should be evident that in deciding these applications, the court walks a thin line in search of a delicate balance.

    [156] On the one hand, people who are qualified to do so should be allowed to vote and to have their votes count. True clerical errors, such as recording the number of ballots cast in the place reserved for the number who were vouched for, do not matter. Some oversights, such as a failure to check off the means by which a voter identified himself or herself, can be accepted, when considered in context of the overall requirements to register. There are irregularities, such as voting in the wrong polling division which, in the absence of any suggestion of double voting,
    should not impact the result. These should not cause a qualified voter to be disenfranchised.

    [157] On the other hand, there are requirements of the process which are fundamental. We need to be assured that those who vote are qualified to do so. We need to be confident that those who receive a ballot have been identified as persons who are an the official list of electors or who have registered. If we give up these foundations of our electoral system, we are risking a loss of confidence in our elections and in our government.

    [158] If this case can be summarized, in a single observation, it would be that it cannot be good
    enough to accept that individuals who voted were qualified to do so by registration, in the absence of the registration certificates, in the absence of the poll books recording anyone who registered by vouching and in the absence of the names from the final list of electors. Our system requires more.

    [ 1 ~ 9] The fact of this application demonstrates that our electoral process has the necessary checks and that they can work even where the plurality is as small as 26 votes and the number of impugned ballots is 79. There are places in the world that would wonder that such a result was possible. This is not to say we should be content. This is just one of so many areas where our society is changing more quickly than the ability of our systems to keep up. I repeat an observation made at the outset. This election was conducted by responsible public officials and well-intentioned individuals, who were motivated by nothing less than a desire to do the job properly. What this case represents is an opportunity to learn and for the process to evolve in order to guard against the particular problems that appeared in this case.

     Wrzesnewskyj Verse Opitz Ontario Supreme Court Decision 

    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    Canadian Democracy Wins a Battle

    FDA Blogger Rupinder writes:

    Although the 2011 Canadian federal election that has been blighted with allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and processual irregularities, finally there is a heartening victory for democracy in Canada.

    Justice Thomas Lederer has declared the results of the May 02, 2011 election in the riding of Etobicoke Centre void because of irregularities in the election process. Former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj challenged the election results after losing the race by 26 votes to Conservative MP Ted Opitz.

    In his 40-page decision, Justice Lederer presented the case as a “true conundrum” at the heart of which lies Canadians’ faith in the electoral process—while irregularities in the electoral process would shake that trust, so would the justice system putting aside the results of an election too easily.

    After an analysis of 181 disputed ballots from 10 polling stations, Justice Lederer put aside 52 votes on account of failure of registration and 27 votes on account of failure of vouching.

    Because 79 votes were put aside and because the winning margin was 26 votes, the election was declared void. This decision would lead to a by-election in Etobicoke Centre; however, if the judgment were appealed, then the case would appear in the Supreme Court.

    Etobicoke Election Result Overturned

    Canadian Federal Robocall Scandal

    Canadian Human Rights and Democracy Agency Closed

    C-38 Erodes Canadian Democratic Processes

    Nature Journal Criticizes Canadian Federal Government

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Etobicoke Federal Election Result Overturned Due to Irregularities by Election Canada

    Former Liberal MP Wrzesnewskyj convinced a Toronto Judge of sufficient evidence to overturn the 2011 federal election result for the Etobicoke constituency, in which Conservative candidate Optiz won. Now there will be a byelection to determine who represents the constituency. Elections Canada was at fault for overturning the result due to irregularities in its administration of the vote count in the constituency. It is unclear whether or not the issue with Elections Canada is incompetence or corruption. Insufficient funding is ruled out as an issue. In addition, there were voters who voted more than once. It is unclear if they were associated with a federal political party.

    From CBCNews,

    Toronto riding's election result tossed by judge

    Conservative MP Ted Opitz's 2011 federal election win last year in Etobicoke Centre was declared null and void today in a challenge by former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

    Opitz won the May 2011 election by 26 votes, but Wrzesnewskyj challenged the results over voting irregularities. The case required more than 26 votes be thrown out for it to be declared void.
    Conservative Party spokesman Fred Delorey said they're disappointed with the court decision after 52,000 people in Etobicoke Centre "followed the rules, cast their ballots and today had their democratic decision thrown into doubt."

    "The judge has found problems with the way that Elections Canada ran the election in this riding," he said in an emailed statement.

    "As the judge took care to point out in the decision, Ted Opitz and the Conservative campaign team followed the rules.

    Wrzesnewskyj told CBC News that the riding needs a by-election to restore democracy.
    "Something broke in the last federal election," he said. "It's a terrible thought not to know whether or not someone who is in the House of Commons, voting on laws by which we govern ourselves, whether those individuals are actually an expression of the will of the people."

    He and the Conservatives seem to agree there's a need for more training for the volunteers and temporary workers the election agency takes on in advance of voting day.

    "Elections Canada has to have the resources to properly train their officials, to make sure that people who vote are — it's as basic as making sure that they actually are Canadian citizens."
    Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae wrote a celebratory message on Twitter.

    "Borys wins ! And now for round 2...," he tweeted.

    Justice Thomas Lederer set aside 79 ballots in his decision Friday in Toronto. Opitz has eight days to appeal. If he does, the case would be heard as soon as possible by the Supreme Court of Canada.
    Wrzesnewskyj's lawyer had argued up to 181 ballots were in dispute.

    The voting irregularities included some people who weren't on the list but cast ballots after being vouched for by others at the polling station, some people without the proper paperwork completed, and others in which voters cast ballots when they were registered at other polling stations or didn't live in the riding.
    Lederer said the core of the case was about the "confidence that Canadians must have in our electoral process."

    "If that confidence is diminished, it follows that our interest in, and respect for, government will be similarly diminished. It surely follows that if people who are not qualified to vote were permitted to do so, or if there is a concern that people may have been permitted to vote more than once, confidence in our electoral process will fade."

    Lederer noted that it seemed the election was conducted by responsible public officials and well-intentioned individuals who were motivated by nothing less than a desire to do the job properly.

    But it can't be good enough to accept some people voted by registration and without registration certificates, without poll books recording who vouched for whom, and without having their names on the final list of voters.

    "Our system requires more," Lederer wrote in the 40-page decision.

    Elections Canada wouldn't comment on the decision in case there's an appeal.

    Under a court order, Wrzesnewskyj's lawyers were able to examine the ballots at 10 polling divisions, as well as poll books and electors' lists at Elections Canada's office in Ottawa.

    The test to declare the election invalid, and trigger a byelection (after any appeals are exhausted), was a finding that more than 26 ballots, the losing margin, should not have been counted.

    Particularly outstanding is what went on in Polling Division 31, located in a church in Etobicoke. Eighty-six people voted by registration certificate on May 2, meaning they showed up without a voter identification card. Wrzesnewsky's lawyers claim that 68 of those voters actually lived in another polling division and should never have been allowed to vote at polling station 31. Lederer threw out 15 ballots in that polling division.

    Two of those voters gave addresses outside the riding and their ballots should be discarded, the lawyers claim. And 32 voters were already on the electors' list in that polling division or others nearby, suggesting it's possible they voted twice.

    In another polling division in the riding, five voters who voted by registration certificate are listed as being crossed off the electors' list in another polling division, indicating they most likely did vote twice.

    In one polling division, both the deputy returning officer and the polling clerk vouched for more than one voter who showed up without ID, something that, as Elections Canada employees, they should have known was illegal. Lederer threw out the four votes for which they vouched.

    Plutocracy and Nation Failure

    This article by Thomas L. Friedman from the NY Times examines why nations fail, and Friedman with reference to the "Why Nations Fail" argues that plutocracy and authoritarianism are at the center of nation failure. The article fails to touch adequately on the United State's political shortcomings such as corruption at the core of the US Congress and Senate via lobbyists, which turn influence public policy in favor of minority interests. Also, Acemoglu's and Robinson's argument against China is unconvincing, because the authoritarian bent of the ruling communist party may be a check on Chinese free enterprise and vise versa; whereas in the United States free enterprise (albeit in a plutocratic state) controls government. 

    Why Nations Fail

    I’M reading a fascinating new book called “Why Nations Fail.” The more you read it, the more you appreciate what a fool’s errand we’re on in Afghanistan and how much we need to totally revamp our whole foreign a strategy. But most intriguing are the warning flares the authors put up about both America and China.

    Co-authored by the M.I.T. economist Daron Acemoglu and the Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson, “Why Nations Fail” argues that the key differentiator between countries is “institutions.” Nations thrive when they develop “inclusive” political and economic institutions, and they fail when those institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of only a few.

    “Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few,” they write.

    “Inclusive economic institutions, are in turn supported by, and support, inclusive political institutions,” which “distribute political power widely in a pluralistic manner and are able to achieve some amount of political centralization so as to establish law and order, the foundations of secure property rights, and an inclusive market economy.” Conversely, extractive political institutions that concentrate power in the hands of a few reinforce extractive economic institutions to hold power.

    Acemoglu explained in an interview that their core point is that countries thrive when they build political and economic institutions that “unleash,” empower and protect the full potential of each citizen to innovate, invest and develop. Compare how well Eastern Europe has done since the fall of communism with post-Soviet states like Georgia or Uzbekistan, or Israel versus the Arab states, or Kurdistan versus the rest of Iraq. It’s all in the institutions.

    The lesson of history, the authors argue, is that you can’t get your economics right if you don’t get your politics right, which is why they don’t buy the notion that China has found the magic formula for combining political control and economic growth.

    “Our analysis,” says Acemoglu, “is that China is experiencing growth under extractive institutions — under the authoritarian grip of the Communist Party, which has been able to monopolize power and mobilize resources at a scale that has allowed for a burst of economic growth starting from a very low base,” but it’s not sustainable because it doesn’t foster the degree of “creative destruction” that is so vital for innovation and higher incomes.

    “Sustained economic growth requires innovation,” the authors write, “and innovation cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics.”

    “Unless China makes the transition to an economy based on creative destruction, its growth will not last,” argues Acemoglu. But can you imagine a 20-year-old college dropout in China being allowed to start a company that challenges a whole sector of state-owned Chinese companies funded by state-owned banks? he asks.

    The post-9/11 view that what ailed the Arab world and Afghanistan was a lack of democracy was not wrong, said Acemoglu. What was wrong was thinking that we could easily export it. Democratic change, to be sustainable, has to emerge from grassroots movements, “but that does not mean there is nothing we can do,” he adds.

    For instance, we should be transitioning away from military aid to regimes like Egypt and focusing instead on enabling more sectors of that society to have a say in politics. Right now, I’d argue, our foreign aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan is really a ransom we pay their elites not to engage in bad behavior. We need to turn it into bait.

    Acemoglu suggests that instead of giving Cairo another $1.3 billion in military aid that only reinforces part of the elite, we should insist that Egypt establish a committee representing all sectors of its society that would tell us which institutions — schools, hospitals — they want foreign aid to go to, and have to develop appropriate proposals.

    If we’re going to give money, “let’s use it to force them to open up the table and to strengthen the grass-roots,” says Acemoglu.

    We can only be a force multiplier. Where you have grass-roots movements that want to build inclusive institutions, we can enhance them. But we can’t create or substitute for them. Worse, in Afghanistan and many Arab states, our policies have often discouraged grass-roots from emerging by our siding with convenient strongmen. So there’s nothing to multiply. If you multiply zero by 100, you still get zero.

    And America? Acemoglu worries that our huge growth in economic inequality is undermining the inclusiveness of America’s institutions, too. “The real problem is that economic inequality, when it becomes this large, translates into political inequality.” When one person can write a check to finance your whole campaign, how inclusive will you be as an elected official to listen to competing voices?

    Plutocracy and Political Inequality

    Bill Moyers on US Plutocracy

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    Proposal for Campaign Finance Reform of New York State's Laws

    This proposal by Andrew Cuomo touches on some important aspects of campaign finance reform: public subsidies, all candidates access to debates, limit soft money through loopholes, reduce campaign expenditure limits to reasonable level, improve transparency of electoral finances, tighten loop holes for corporate contributions, increase penalties for violation of election law, ban fund raising during the operation of the Legislature, and ban use of personal funds in campaigns.

    In addition, the FDA recommends a ban corporations and trade unions from making contributions and third party spending, and set contribution and expenditure limits at levels reasonably attainable by all candidates.

    Proposed Solution on Campaign Finance

    Campaign Finance
    Proposal: Campaign Platform: Reform New York State's Campaign Finance Laws
    Source of Proposal: Andrew Cuomo
    Summary of Proposal:

    We must restore honor and integrity to government, with tough new ethics standards, expanded disclosure requirements, independent investigators to root out and punish corruption, and an overhaul of campaign finance laws. We must remove legislative redistricting from partisan elected politicians and place it in the hands of an independent commission that works only for the people. And we must hold a constitutional convention -- A People’s Convention – to rewrite the Constitution and make these changes immediately because we cannot wait any longer for the state legislature to act.

    Reform New York State’s Campaign Finance Laws

    In order to restore trust and accountability in government, we must reform the very foundation of democracy — the ballot box.  Therefore, we must change our antiquated campaign finance laws. Our current laws amplify the voices of wealthy individuals and special interests and entrench incumbents at the public’s expense.

    Individuals can now contribute up to $55,900 to candidates for statewide office. Corporations that are barred from donating one penny to federal candidates may donate directly to state candidates and use subsidiaries and LLCs to avoid New York’s limits. Unlike federal law, New York allows unlimited “soft money” contributions to party “housekeeping” accounts by individuals and corporations, and leaves unrestricted transfers between PACs and parties and candidates.  In addition, unlike New York City’s campaign public financing system that has expanded the diversity of candidates and enhanced the voices of small donors, New York fails to provide voluntary public financing of any kind. Moreover, elected officials can use campaign funds for personal expenses that are unrelated to their campaign costs.

    In short, the State’s campaign finance laws fail to prevent the dominance of wealthy contributors and special interests in our government and force our representatives to be more concerned with how their contributors will react to a particular policy than with whether that policy is the right thing to do.

    Therefore, as Governor, Andrew Cuomo will work to fundamentally reform our system of financing elections that achieves three core goals: transparency, integrity, and participation. Such a system must include public funding of elections. Coupled with redistricting reform (discussed below) this will truly yield meaningful improvement of our system. However, until such fundamental reforms are in place, the alternative is to lower contribution limits, close loopholes in the campaign finance law and allow for more enforcement of New York’s campaign finance law.

    Institute a Voluntary System of Public Funding of Election Campaigns

    Fundamental campaign finance reform must include a system of public funding of elections. Like New York City, New York State needs a system of public campaign financing to allow limits on campaign spending and to increase participation by qualified candidates who lack the means or connections to raise significant campaign funds. Candidates should also be required to agree to participate in debates in order to receive public financing.

    Limit Soft Money

    We must take necessary steps to achieve transparency by limiting soft money donations. Unlike federal law, New York State allows donations of an unlimited amount to party “housekeeping” accounts. The housekeeping loophole allows individuals and corporations to contribute unlimited funds to a political party. Political parties’ housekeeping accounts should no longer be exempted from contribution limits and, as discussed below, those limits should be lowered significantly.

    Reduce Sky-High Campaign Contribution Limits

    Individuals in New York are permitted to contribute up to $94,200 annually to political parties and a total of $55,900 to the primary and general election campaigns of statewide candidates, $15,500 to state senate candidates, and $7,600 to assembly candidates. New York must limit the amount that candidates can raise in primary and general elections. Together, with a system of public financing, these reforms will dramatically expand the talent pool for our elected offices, increase competition, and reduce the impact of particular donors on an elected representative’s policy agenda.

    Close Corporate Subsidiary and LLC Loopholes

    We must close loopholes that make meaningful campaign finance reform difficult. To that end, donations from corporate subsidiaries and related limited liability companies should be counted as donations from the affiliated parent company so that the limit for corporations of $5,000 per year is meaningful.

    Tighten Inadequate Reporting Requirements

    Contributors in New York should be required to reveal their occupations and the names of their employers, like they are required to do under federal law.

    Restrict Fundraisers during Legislative Session and Prohibit Personal Use of Campaign Funds

    Albany-area fundraisers and lobbyist campaign contributions should be restricted during the legislative session and timely disclosure of contributions made during session required.

    Moreover, campaign contributions should not be used for personal expenditures. New York’s vague prohibition on the use of campaign funds for personal expenditures has resulted in their use for such noncampaign related expenses as country club memberships, purchases of television sets and personal wardrobe items. Permissible and nonpermissible uses of campaign funds must be clarified, and non-campaign related, personal uses of any kind prohibited and enforced.

    Improve Enforcement of Campaign Finance laws

    The New York State Board of Elections (“Board”) is limited by law in its ability to investigate and punish election law scofflaws. The Board’s Campaign Finance Unit is a bottleneck for all potential civil or criminal enforcement proceedings because it must review and refer a potential violation to the Board’s Enforcement Counsel Unit or to the district attorney’s office prior to any action being taken. In turn, the three-person Enforcement Counsel Unit can bring a court proceeding, but it has neither sufficient resources nor any requirement that it do so even in cases where a violation has been shown. Moreover, the civil penalties for violations of campaign finance laws are minimal or, in many cases, non-existent.

    Accordingly, reforms must include (1) granting the Attorney General full concurrent jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute civil and criminal violations of the laws; (2) authorizing the Enforcement Counsel Unit to act without referral from the Campaign Finance Unit and prohibiting the Board itself from overruling the Enforcement Counsel Unit’s decision whether to investigate an alleged violation; (3) requiring the Board of Elections to publish the names and entities found to have violated campaign finance laws, as the New York City Campaign Finance Board is required to do; and (4) significantly increasing the penalties for violations of campaign finance laws across the board.

    2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Study

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    Biden Addresses Romney's "Politics of Envy"

    Vice-president Biden in this his recent Ohio address takes on the Romney's "politics of envy" by arguing that most Americans aspire and dream for lofty goals: No envy; will to succeed. So how about politics of competition: Americans striving for the same goals and dreams. This now links into the issue of how fair or unfair the competition is.

    FDA Media Study on the 2012 Alberta Provincial Election

    On Tuesday May 22nd, the FDA will release its media study on the 2012 Alberta Provincial Election. The study focuses on major media outlets in the newspaper (and online), radio, and television (and online) sectors.

    Monday, May 14, 2012

    Campaign Finance from a Libertarian Standpoint

    This article by Adam Allouba looks at Quebec Campaign finance law from a libertarian standpoint. The overriding argument is that campaign finance law no matter how advanced cannot effectively deal with corruption. Viz., corrupt persons will find a way around imperfect campaign finance legislation. Therefore, campaign finance law is ineffective, useless.

    The problem with this argument is that the existence of corruption is the very basis for legislation, and that due to the human condition, human corruption is always a possibility. Does the human condition mean that humanity should stop combating corruption as Allouba argues? The FDA says no; that is a defeatist approach which will allow corruption to become systematic like in Alberta and British Columbia. When corruption is systematic, corruption is rarely seen because it is part of the process. When corruption is not systematic through sound electoral finance processes like in Quebec, than corruption is more visible, because the process is working. The libertarian view of less and even no legislation in face of corruption is a backward, defeatist approach which over time will entrench and foster more corruption.

    Allouda is correct that public subsidies for political parties may be counter to popular support, and public subsidies which favor political parties over other political parties are unfair. However, public subsidies are a public policy measure, and if used with moderation can help support political parties including new and small parties. In addition, no regulation of electoral finance will be against popular support by favoring the wealthy segments of society. Also, candidates and parties may get most of their funds from minority sources, and thereby their funds will not represent popular support. Overall, unregulated freedom will lead to a plutocratic state or rule of the rich, just as extreme equality will lead to a communist state or rule of the bureaucrat. The FDA supports a balance between freedom and equality when it comes to democracy.

    Money, Money, Money: The False Hope of Campaign Finance Laws

    The year 2010 has seen a near-constant string of Quebec political scandals, among them a cabinet minister fired for using a private business’s credit card and allegations that judges are appointed based on recommendations from party fundraisers. Most recently, Premier Jean Charest and Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois have traded barbs over whose party is the bigger offender under the province’s campaign finance laws.

    Scandal turned to farce after it was discovered that the Liberals had received the maximum legal donation of $3,000 from various low-ranking employees of big businesses. To Marois, this reeked of thinly-veiled unlawful corporate donations—doubly illegal because it was funnelled through third parties. To symbolize their “purity,” the Parti Québécois caucus donned white scarves. It was a great idea, until it emerged that Marois’ four children were major donors to her 2007 leadership campaign. Three of them (as young students) each gave a generous $3,000. The fourth, while working at a video store, donated a mere $2,600. As the Montreal Gazette put it, Ms. Marois found herself “hoist with her own foulard.”

    Whose side do Quebeckers take? A recent poll showed that they believe the best candidate for premier (by a nine-point margin) is “None of These.” Unsurprisingly, 87% called themselves “discouraged” or “disgusted” by politicians and exactly 0% “strongly agreed” that politicians are honest. Quebeckers seem to think that money is the problem: 61% agree that Liberal fundraisers “impose decisions on the government”—and the PQ’s “purity” notwithstanding, 80% agree that allegations of corruption could happen to any party. But if Quebec has strict campaign finance laws, why are we so disillusioned with money in politics?

    You can take the money out of the politics, but you can’t take the politics out of the money

    Governments in Canada dole out huge sums of money to corporations. The Fraser Institute has calculated that between 1994 and 2007, our federal, provincial and municipal governments spent over $202 billion subsidizing business. In 2007, Quebec alone handed out over $6 billion—more than all other provinces combined. These figures include high-profile expenditures, such as the $15.3-billion auto bailout, and countless smaller grants too insignificant to show up in the headlines.

    Governments also make all sorts of other decisions with major economic implications. For example, they can ban the manufacture or import of a particular chemical. Or allow a uranium mine to open, overruling local objections. Or auction off parts of the electromagnetic spectrum for telecommunications use. Or do none of the above, which is itself a decision. Our political system gives the state vast economic powers that it must constantly choose how and when to wield.

    When government has powers of life and death over businesses, those businesses will fight for those powers to be used to their benefit—any way they can. Quebec law bans corporations from donating to a candidate, but they can promise a politician a job after leaving office. Or hire his relatives. Or create jobs by opening a factory in his district. Or give their employees time off to volunteer for his campaign. Or hire a former public official with the connections and the know-how to get things done. And a motivated entrepreneur will find many more such loopholes. You can try legislating them away—no lobbying your ex-colleagues, no working for a business that you regulated while in office, etc.—but where does it end? Politicians need to work after finishing their terms. They have family members with their own careers. Businesses must build their facilities somewhere. Should we forbid politicians from marrying? Give them (even more) lavish pensions and prevent them from working after leaving office? Outlaw even a polite “hello” by a former politician to his old colleagues? I suppose that we could breed politicians in vats, engineer them to live like hermits and kill them at the end of their terms. Any takers?

    More fundamentally, this is a question of freedom of speech (and political speech, no less, which is crucial to a free society). True, corporations are not real people with rights. But if legal persons can’t spend money on political speech, then Amnesty International can’t use its funds to lobby the government and The Globe and Mail can’t publish anything political. Why not except non-profits and “the media”? Well, first of all, try defining “the media” without drawing arbitrary and easily-flouted lines. Second, such a restriction would still be unfair. Imagine that the government threatens to hit Microsoft with hefty anti-trust fines or to break up the company. Aren’t its shareholders entitled to combat this threat to their property using political means? Some would allow them to do so using their personal funds, but not those of Microsoft. Remember, though, that a corporation only holds its assets on behalf of its creditors and shareholders. In other words, Microsoft’s money is their money—it just happens to be tied up in the business. Since the distinction between their resources and those of Microsoft is a bogus one, this line of reasoning is arbitrary and absurd.

    Quebec’s ban on corporate money, rather than being a healthy contribution to provincial democracy, is better described as an unnecessary, unhelpful, and improper limit on freedom.

    Your money’s no good here

    Another key element of Quebec’s campaign finance legislation is the $3,000 annual contribution limit per person, per party. Even before donning her purity scarf, Pauline Marois proposed lowering this ceiling even further to $500 so as to boost “citizens’ confidence in their political institutions.”

    As we’ve seen, a major problem with legal limits on donations is their enforcement. So why not just apply the law? Sure, but tell me how we get there. Who enforces the law? The Chief Electoral Officer. Who benefits from violations of the law? Politicians. Who appoints the Chief Electoral Officer? Politicians. Every party has good reason to want election officials to look the other way. None has a good reason to want them to bring violations to light.

    So instead of being open and transparent, donations are driven underground. Rather than alleviate the problems that money causes in the political process, a donations ceiling may intensify them. Indeed, an international analysis by economist Thomas Stratmann—whose work argues that campaign finance laws have a positive effect—showed a correlation between tighter electoral spending regulations and corruption. In other words, countries with stricter laws were more corrupt. Correlation is not causation, and perhaps high corruption is what leads to tighter rules. But the finding should give pause to those who believe that laws such as Quebec’s keep politicians honest.

    Campaign funds for all!

    A third plank of Quebec law, to help offset the lost revenue from low donations, is the creation of a compensation fund of $0.50 per registered voter, which parties can tap to reimburse electoral expenses (a party is entitled to the same portion of the fund as its vote share in the last election). The Canadian Parliament recently adopted a similar scheme that is even more generous: any party that wins at least 2% of the popular vote is automatically paid $1.75 per vote received in the last election, not just to reimburse expenses.

    Such schemes are antithetical to free speech, as they force taxpayers to subsidize political activities. Requiring Canadians to give money to political parties regardless of whom they voted for (or if they voted at all) is just as wrong as preventing them from donating money as they please. Is it fair to require NDP supporters to fund the Conservatives, or vice-versa?

    Some argue that the federal scheme gives people more reason to vote, since even if the race is a landslide, each vote means more money for your party. However, a study of the 2004 federal election (the first conducted after the reform) found no effect on turnout, while turnout for the 2008 election was the lowest on record. Indeed, the scheme gives people who don’t agree with giving political parties tax money one more reason to avoid the ballot box.

    Most importantly, subsidies benefit the entrenched parties. Small parties—Marijuana, Communist, Libertarian, etc.—now face opponents who not only have well-known brands and formidable electoral machines, but who can count on a guaranteed stipend from the taxpayer. The lone exception, the Green Party, went from 111 candidates and in 2000 to a full slate of 308 candidates and 4.3% of the vote in 2004. However, they were almost halfway to the 2% threshold before the law changed and had the unique advantage of running under an internationally recognized name. They may be the last new party to enter even the fringes of mainstream politics for a very long time.

    A better way

    If we want to avoid trampling on free speech and forcing people to support parties they may detest, there is an alternative. The reason such a wide range of actors—business, labour, community groups, etc.—are so willing to devote resources to influencing policy is that the stakes are so high. There remains virtually no sphere of human existence that is not drastically affected by the state, even in a purportedly free country such as Canada. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and everyone wants their voice to be heard above all others.

    But what if that pie shrank and the state’s coercive power were wielded more discretely? Rather than devise ever-more complex and restrictive schemes to bring about “complete” democracy (an abstraction that is impossible to define), the state should limit its spending, reduce its role in regulating the economy and generally avoid inserting itself in the private sphere in which individuals conduct their affairs through voluntary cooperation and exchange. If it did so, elected office might simply be a position to be filled, rather than a prize to fight over—since, after all, to the victor go the spoils.

    2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Report

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Americans Continue to Struggle with Freedom and Equality

    This recent editorial in the NY Times argues that US federal electoral public funds need to be increased for both primaries and presidential contests. Point taken. Private money is much more attractive to Republican and Democrat presidential candidates because there are no private expenditures limits; whereas in 2011 for example public monies were capped at 80.45 million USD for presidential contests; Obama raised over 800 million privately in 2008. It seems that the idea from the NY Times to increase the public funding expenditure limit would lead to perpetual increases in public money levels to keep up with private money. Also, higher public money matching for small contributions is a positive step, but still does adequately address the gulf between public and private monies.

    A better idea is to set the same expenditure limit on private and public funds (thereby make private money irrelevant; and continue public money based on a matching principle), reasonable caps on contributions, and disallow corporations and trade unions from making contributions and third party spending, and thereby take the addiction to fund raising out of U.S. federal elections. But of course, Americans (or at least the US Supreme Court) view contributions as free speech, which takes us to the disconnect between freedom and equality.

    An Idea Worth Sharing

    Public financing of presidential elections, the greatest reform to come out of the post-Watergate era, died this year after a long illness. It was 36 years old, and was drowned by big money and starved by the disdain of politicians who should have known better.

    From 1976 until 2008, every major-party presidential candidate took public money for the general election, adhering to spending limits that significantly reduced the influence of money on American elections. Candidates began dropping out of public financing for primaries in 2000, and then in 2008, Barack Obama abandoned the system entirely, preferring to raise more money from small donations, and promising to fix the public program. He has made almost no attempt to fulfill that promise.

    This year will be the first since Richard Nixon’s day that neither major candidate will accept public financing. Both Mitt Romney and President Obama plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, far more than they could get from the public system.

    Public financing could still be resuscitated, but first, someone in power has to care about it. The Republican-led House has voted to kill the system outright. A few House Democrats have proposed a good bill to fix it, but no one in the Senate has picked up the bill. And the two major candidates are too busy grubbing for the unlimited donations that now dominate politics.

    The era of “super PACs” and secret donors has made public financing more urgent. A system that greatly magnified small donations with high matches would give ordinary citizens a shot at competing with corporations, unions and wealthy donors. It would allow candidates to campaign more instead of constantly begging among the rich. And it would give a challenger a chance to be competitive without the help of a super PAC.

    Ronald Reagan could not have challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 without accepting public dollars. The system also made campaigns possible for such diverse candidates as Jimmy Carter (1976), George H. W. Bush (1980), Jesse Jackson (1988) and Pat Buchanan (1992), all of whom had essentially run out of cash against opponents with much more money.

    There is nothing conservative or liberal about public financing, which allows any kind of political voice to be heard above a roar of cash — if lawmakers are willing to spend more. Here are several ways that Congress could revive the system:

    Raise the grant The biggest reason candidates are dropping out of the system is that they can raise much more money outside of it. This year, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama could get $91.2 million each from the Treasury if they participated in the system for the general election, and that is all they could spend. In 2008, Mr. Obama and his party raised about $750 million. He and Mr. Romney both expect to do better than that this year, and that does not include the $200 million or so to be spent by super PACs and other independent groups.

    The grant needs to be doubled or tripled. A House bill proposed by two Democrats, David Price and Chris Van Hollen, would give general-election candidates $50 million, plus up to $150 million more based on a 4-to-1 match of donations of $200 or less. There would be no spending limit, but individual donations would be limited to $500. (Currently, for candidates not participating in the system, donations can go up to $2,500 in the primaries and $2,500 in the general election.)

    The $200 million in the bill may not be attractive enough to candidates. While it would never equal private fund-raising, a grant of $300 million for each party could allow very competitive campaigns, and might appeal to candidates eager to spend less time raising money.

    Increase the primary match Primary candidates now receive a government match of up to $250 for each donation, not nearly enough. None of the candidates this year applied for matching money except for Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana governor, because they would have had to adhere to strict spending limits in return. The Democratic bill would eliminate the spending limits and provide a 4-to-1 match for donations of $200 or less, up to $100 million instead of the current $45 million. It would also start matching money six months before the first primary or caucus, instead of making candidates wait for Jan. 1 as they do now.

    Mr. Obama’s campaign is justly proud of its many small donations, but so far this year, a third of the $350 million he and the party have raised has been collected by bundlers, usually wealthy friends who collect cash from their friends to raise their influence. Higher matches for small donors mean less influence for bundlers.

    Eliminate the checkoff Around 7 percent of taxpayers now check the box on their tax returns allowing money to be used for the presidential system, even though polls show far more people support it. That limits the amount the government can spend to make the system more robust. The checkoff was part of the political compromise that created the system, but taxpayers are not asked if they support wars or farm subsidies, and a program this vital should be no different.

    Asking people to support a program like this every April 15, when they are most annoyed at the government, was never a good idea. With the economy still struggling and deficits still high, giving even more money to politicians may be a hard sell to taxpayers. But it is actually a small price to pay to preserve a democracy in which ordinary citizens are not shouted down by those who have bigger bank accounts.

    2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on the U.S. Federal Electoral System 

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    France Shifts to Left in Presidential Run-off Victory for Hollande

    The FDA believes France has the most optimal, advanced democracy in the world. In the recent Presidential run-off election, Hollande defeated Sarkozy, 51.6% to 48.4% with 81 percent voter turnout. In France, in the first round of voting, a presidential candidate needs at least 50 percent of the vote, otherwise a run-off election occurs between the two top presidential candidates.

    As Steve Erlanger writes, the election result is a rejection of Sarkozy's right wing agenda. Among other things, Hollande pledges to remove French troops from Afghanistan, give Europe a new direction by limiting the debt member countries can take on, raise taxes on French corporations, and balance the French national budget by 2017.

    Hollande Ousts Sarkozy in French Presidential Election

    PARIS — François Hollande defeated President on Sunday, becoming the first Socialist elected president of France since François Mitterrand. Mr. Hollande campaigned on a gentler and more inclusive France, but his victory will also be seen as a challenge to the German-dominated vision of economic austerity as a way out of the euro crisis.

    Mr. Sarkozy became the latest European leader to lose his post amid economic upheaval and the first French incumbent to be rejected since 1981.

    In his five years in office, he propelled France, and himself, into a more central role in world affairs, rejoining the NATO military command and helping drive an international military campaign in Libya. He also proved to be a difficult but crucial ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in their joint effort to master the European debt and currency crisis and save the euro.

    That project, however, received multiple blows on Sunday, when Greek voters sent their own message against austerity. They handed the two main parties, both of which had pledged to follow harsh international bailout terms, significant losses as they streamed to parties on the far left and far right that have opposed budget cuts. In the process, voters cast into question the ability of any party to form a government soon, let alone continue with the austerity program.

    For their part, French voters may not like belt-tightening, but both Mr. Hollande and Mr. Sarkozy had promised to balance the budget in the next five years.

    The balance between reducing the debt and addressing popular anger is proving complicated for Europeans, and Mr. Hollande has said that he intends to give “a new direction to Europe,” demanding that a European Union treaty limiting debt be expanded to include measures to produce economic growth. Domestically, he has promised to raise taxes on big corporations and raise the tax rate to 75 percent for those earning more than one million euros a year.

    Calling his victory “a fresh start,” Mr. Hollande pronounced: “Austerity need not be Europe’s fate.”

    The vote was viewed domestically as a rejection of Mr. Sarkozy and his relentless effort to appeal to the voters of the far-right National Front.

    “I take the measure of the honor that’s been given me and the challenge that awaits me,” Mr. Hollande said before cheering supporters in the central French town of Tulle, which he represents in Parliament.

    Mr. Hollande’s victory was narrow but undisputed. With 95 percent of the vote counted, official results showed him with 51.6 percent of the vote while Mr. Sarkozy, of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, had 48.4 percent, The Associated Press said.

    While thanking Mr. Sarkozy for his service to France, Mr. Hollande said: “Too many divisions, too many wounds, too many ruptures, too many cuts have separated our fellow citizens from one another. That’s all finished.”

    After weeks of energetic, and at times bellicose, campaigning, Mr. Sarkozy was gracious in defeat. “François Hollande is the president of the republic, he must be respected,” Mr. Sarkozy said after calling Mr. Hollande to congratulate him. “I want to wish him good luck in the midst of these tests.”

    Speaking earlier to party members, Mr. Sarkozy said that he would not lead the party into June’s legislative elections and that now, “I become a citizen among you.” He urged supporters not to give in to division, though, as he saw those elections as winnable for the party.

    The French and Greek elections were closely watched in European capitals and particularly in Berlin, where Ms. Merkel has led the drive to cure the euro zone debt and banking crisis with deep budget cuts and caps on future spending. She spoke on the telephone with Mr. Hollande on Sunday night, congratulating him on his victory in the election, according to a statement by her spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Mr. Hollande has said for months that his first trip will be to Berlin.

    But Ms. Merkel herself was embroiled in electoral politics on Sunday, suffering setbacks in elections in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, where her party appeared to be losing its hold on the state Parliament. With another election coming May 13 in North Rhine-Westphalia, Ms. Merkel is not viewed as having much room domestically to compromise on the critical issues of inflation and debt limits.

    “How Hollande handles Merkel could make or break his prospects for the next five years,” said François Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “He has favorable circumstances, but she has domestic politics, too,” he said, and she is seen as likely to agree only to symbolic changes in the fiscal pact — not renegotiating it so much as adding clauses about growth to it.

    Mr. Hollande, who may take over as president as early as May 14, will have little time to relax. He must travel to the United States for a meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized countries on May 18-19 and then a NATO summit meeting in Chicago on May 20-21, where he intends to make good on his promise to pull French combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, and where American and NATO officials will try to get him to change his mind.

    Mr. Hollande’s victory will also have important implications for the right in France, with Mr. Sarkozy’s party already split between the prime minister, François Fillon, and the Sarkozy-like party leader, Jean-François Copé. The strong showing of Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who got nearly 18 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, is a serious threat to Mr. Sarkozy’s party. It now must decide whether to make a deal with Ms. Le Pen for assembly seats in the second round of the legislative election; if not, the Union for a Popular Movement could lose up to 100 seats, political experts say.

    Mr. Hollande campaigned on “change” and a more traditional presidency, where he would set the main course of policy but not micromanage day-to-day affairs, as Mr. Sarkozy did.

    For the French, “it is a leap of faith that shows there is a strong will for a different policy course, not just at the national but at the E.U. level as well,” said Paul Vallet, a professor of history and political science at the Paris-based Institut d’Études Politiques.

    The indebted countries of Europe are also hoping that Mr. Hollande can be a champion buying them more time to adjust. “Some countries in Europe are banking on that,” Mr. Vallet said.

    Domestically, Mr. Hollande said he would raise taxes in a drive to balance the budget by 2017. He has vowed to raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers over five years and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for manual workers who started their work as teenagers.

    Voter turnout Sunday was about 81 percent of the 46 million registered voters, down from the 84 percent who participated in the last presidential ballot five years ago — the highest turnout since 1974.

    The French, voting under gray skies with some rain, expressed a sharp desire for change and a better economic future.

    Nicole Hirsch, a 60-year-old retiree in the working-class 20th arrondissement of Paris, said she was voting for Mr. Hollande in the hope that he would “bring the change that France needs.”

    Claire, a 26-year-old engineer in Paris, agreed that change was needed, but still cast her ballot for Mr. Sarkozy. “I would like to believe in the Socialists’ sweet dream, but unfortunately, it is not going to happen,” she said, asking for privacy reasons not to use her last name. “Their program is unclear and not concrete.”

    Pierre Marcus, a 59-year-old civil servant, said his vote for Mr. Hollande was motivated by a hope that a Socialist government would take steps to promote economic growth and soften the blow of the crisis on average citizens. “Five years of Sarkozy dismantled social institutions,” Mr. Marcus said. “I think that Hollande will reverse French politics in terms of employment and social issues.”

    Sebastien Modat, 38, who works in marketing, stopped his jog to get a newspaper. “I found that Hollande had the power to bring people together,” he said. “The right was compelled to take up its traditional topics, creating tension among people.”

    But the main question, he said, “is how we are going to resume growth.” He voted for Mr. Sarkozy five years ago, but on Sunday cast a blank ballot. “I hope there will be a change in mentalities and more consensus.”

    2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on France

    Wednesday, May 9, 2012

    Canadian Federal Government Launching Pad for Ideological Aggression

    Conservative Party of Canada through a majority of the Canadian Parliaments via a first-past-the-post system, attempts to rewrite Canadian federal environmental laws through Bill C-38. This is evidence that the Conservative government is sidetracking democratic processes such as public consultation, by putting environmental law changes in the federal budget.

    From the CBCNews site,

    Eleven environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the David Suzuki Foundation took out newspaper ads Monday to draw attention to proposed changes to environmental law contained in the government's latest budget implementation bill.

    Bill C-38 is more than 400 pages long and makes substantial changes to many Canadian laws, including many that affect the government's stand on the environment:

  • It repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.
  • It sets timelines for environmental assessment hearings and allows Ottawa to hand off assessments to the provinces.
  • It gives the federal cabinet the authority to approve new pipeline projects and set time limits for regulatory reviews.
  • It makes changes to how permits under the Species at Risk Act are authorized.
  • It overhauls the Fisheries Act to focus only on major waterways, not every single body of water.
  • It sets out stiffer fines for industry players who break environmental regulations and laws.

  • On Thursday, the House of Commons votes to impose time allocation on the bill, which limits debate to just seven sitting days.

    The NDP announced on Monday that it would ask for the omnibus budget bill to be split into parts so that it can be properly debated.

    The environmental groups are calling on Canadians to "black out" their websites on June 4 in protest as part of their Black Out, Speak Out campaign.

    The groups behind the campaign say the changes to environmental law in the budget bill will "weaken environmental rules and silence the voices of those who seek to defend them."

    "What we want is the environmental law changes out of the budget. They have no business being in the budget," said John Bennett, executive director for Sierra Club Canada.

    "If the government wants to change environmental law they should put forth an environmental bill, and they should have consultation hearings across the country. But sticking it in the budget is a coward's way of doing it," said Bennett.

    Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said that the government is not trying to avoid public scrutiny by putting the environmental law changes into a budget bill, thereby avoiding specific study of the changes at individual parliamentary committees.

    Protest Movement Against Ideological Aggression and Authoritarianism

    Monday, May 7, 2012

    Concept of Empty Suit

    "Empty suit" is a derogatory term which points to human corruption and ineffectiveness, and at the same time accountability of individuals who mask themselves and their actions (or non-actions) in well tailored cloths. Accountability stems from the stigma of being labeled an empty suit.

    From the Urban Dictionary, "empty suit" is defined as follows:

    Someone puffed up with his own importance but really having little effect on the lives of others. It is often used as an insult to disparage others who really don’t deserve the title. The true empty suit, which conjures up the image of a business suit of clothing without a person, really doesn’t know what he or she is doing. He or she is ineffectual, perhaps a phony, and is about as relevant or helpful as a suit hanging on a rack.

    To call someone an empty suit implies that you think they are a complete waste of time. Editorials on politicians love to use the term empty suit to describe people seeking presidential office. This or that politician is just “an empty suit,” to quote the words of numerous political critics, and is thus undeserving of our attention.

    Some politicians do deserve the title. A senator with a very poor voting record, or failure to attend senate sessions could clearly be called an empty suit because he is not really performing the job for which he was elected. On the other hand, some politicians may advertise themselves as “not just an empty suit” in order to distinguish themselves from their implied empty suit peers.

    Barack Obama is a real empty suit. He's never accomplished anything of importance as a politician, yet he earns the praise of millions of United States citizens.

    Well dressed but shallow or ineffective people, particularly in the context of higher level male corporate employees or executives.

    Example: That dickhead can't decide anything... he is such an empty suit.

    From investopedia, "empty suit" refers to:

    Someone who is high up in a company due to unfair hiring practices, such as nepotism, and doesn't really do anything for the company. It could also refer to someone who makes themselves out to be much more able or important than they really are. Generally, the term is used to describe someone who is not particularly good at their job.

    Empty suits can be found in many large organizations. Incompetent employees who know how to work the system can climb into positions of authority that they really don't deserve or aren't able to maintain effectively. Some consider governmental positions to be commonly filled by empty suits that were appointed for political reasons.