Friday, November 30, 2012

Evidence of Increasing Public Distrust and Lack of Confidence in Elected Representatives

The international occupy movement symbolizes the disconnect between some citizens and the ruling elites.
Recent surveys, as an example, by the Environics Institute and the AmericasBarometer indicate that western democracy is a troubled system of government.

Some of the survey results:


39 percent of Canadians surveyed place greater faith in citizens taking grassroots actions through protests and other means as the best way to get things done.
45 of Canadians surveys say they still has confidence in politicians to settle issues of competing interests. (65 percent of Canadians do not have confidence in elected officials.) (Hepburn, The Star, November 29, 2012).


Only 17 percent of Canadians trust the Canadian Parliament and only 10 percent of of Canadians trust Canadian political parties (Hepburn, The Star, November 29, 2012).

Additional evidence is the low voter turnout in the recent 2012 U.S. Presidential election, in which 42.5 percent of the American electorate did not vote. More Americans did not vote than vote for Obama. (42.5 percent to 31.47 percent.)

The ongoing public protests in Greece is evidence of a disconnect between Greek elected officials and the Greek public.

The U.S. two-party monopoly of the federal level of government and the United States electoral system's near failing FDA audit score of 54.5 percent are evidences of a troubled U.S. system.

Due to the long gap between elections, rare citizen initiated referendums, and elections the only direct means for public accountability, the election process is critical in determining who forms government, and thereby who controls public policy. In all western countries, the majority of elected officials determine their own elections laws within constraints of their countries' constitutions. This reality is a clear conflict of interest, and likely contributes to the perpetuation of the status quo. Any significant democratic change must start with election processes by making them fair and equitable for all registered parties (and non-parties as in the case of countries like Bolivia).

The public distrust and lack of confidence in elected officials may stem from the fact that western governments are likely beholden to international financial institutions:

Who Should Serve Democracy?

In a December 5th podcast, the FDA will be exploring the causes of public powerlessness in politics and sources of public empowerment in politics.

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

British Hacking Report Raises Questions about Freedom of the Press

Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corporation, who is at the center of the British phone hacking scandal and who is well-known for claiming that he (through his media influence) got Tony Blair elected.  (Photo source: Bloomberg News)
The British hacking report on its media industry raises more questions than answers. Also,  it is unclear how effective an independent press regulator would be, considering that it is formed by the press industry. The press industry forms its own regulator.

Interestingly, it is unclear what regulation there would be of the press during election periods, considering the evidence of cross influence between politicians and government and the press.

How can the British press be considered a guardian of democracy when it is working closely with the government and its agendas, and is funded largely by corporations?

How the British press or any other western press be considered free? Most press is beholden to its corporate advertisers and government in order to maintain advertisement revenue and access to timely government information. Within the private press, the staff are beholden to their ownership ideology and agendas.

The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) support regulation of media during election periods in order to ensure broad and balanced coverage. The FDA proposes ownership concentration laws like in Norway and France, voluntary Code of Conduct during election periods, and/or daily caps on mass media coverage. The intent of this regulation is to ensure that the electorate has the information to make the most informed decision on Election Day.

In the United States at the federal election of government, as an example, there is minimal regulation of the public and private media during election periods. Consequently, it is a free-for-all, in which Republicans and Democrats monoloplize the election coverage through the corporate media. Shortly, the FDA will be publishing a media study on the 2012 U.S. Presidential election which will show among other things a significant correlation between the mass media election coverage and the election outcome.

Press Freedom does not Necessarily Equate to Democracy

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director


British Press Needs New Regulator, Report Says

LONDON — The leader of a major inquiry into the standards of British newspapers triggered by the phone hacking scandal offered an excoriating critique of the press as a whole on Thursday, saying it displayed “significant and reckless disregard for accuracy,” and urged the press to form an independent regulator to be underpinned by law.

The report singled out Rupert Murdoch’s defunct tabloid The News of the World for sharp criticism.

“Too many stories in too many newspapers were the subject of complaints from too many people with too little in the way of titles taking responsibility, or considering the consequences for the individuals involved,” the head of the inquiry, Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson, said in a 46-page summary of the findings in his long-awaited, 1,987-page report published in four volumes.

“The ball moves back into the politicians’ court,” Sir Brian said, referring to what form new and tighter regulations should take. “They must now decide who guards the guardians.”

The report was published after some 337 witnesses testified in person in 9 months of hearings that sought to unravel the close ties between politicians, the press and the police, reaching into what were depicted as an opaque web of links and cross-links within the British elite as well as a catalog of murky and sometimes unlawful practices within the newspaper industry.

“This inquiry has been the most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen,” Sir Brian said after the report was made public.

But in a first reaction, Prime Minister David Cameron resisted the report’s recommendation that a new form of press regulation should be underpinned by laws, telling lawmakers that they “should be wary” of “crossing the Rubicon” by enacting legislation with the potential to limit free speech and free expression.

Mr. Cameron’s remarks drew immediate criticism from the leader of the Labour opposition, Ed Miliband, who said Sir Brian’s proposals should be accepted in their entirety.

Mr. Cameron ordered the Leveson Inquiry in July, 2011, as the phone hacking scandal at The News of the World blossomed into broad public revulsion with reports that the newspaper had ordered the interception of voice mail messages left on the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a British teenager who was abducted in 2002 and later found murdered. Sir Brian said there had been a “failure of management and compliance” at the 168-year-old News of the World, which Mr. Murdoch closed in July, 2011, accusing it of a “general lack of respect for individual privacy and dignity.”

“It was said that The News of the World had lost its way in relation to phone hacking,” the summary said. “Its casual attitude to privacy and the lip service it paid to consent demonstrated a far more general loss of direction.”

Speaking after the report was published, Sir Brian said that while the British press held a “privileged and powerful place in our society,” its “responsibilities have simply been ignored.”

“A free press in a democracy holds power to account. But, with a few honorable exceptions, the U.K. press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.”

“The press needs to establish a new regulatory body which is truly independent of industry leaders and of government and politicians,” he said. “Guaranteed independence, long-term stability and genuine benefits for the industry cannot be realized without legislation,” he said, adding: “This is not and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterized as statutory regulation of the press.”

In the body of the exhaustive report, reprising at length the testimony of many of the witnesses who spoke at the hearings, the document discusses press culture and ethics; explores the press’s attitude toward the subjects of its stories; and discusses the cozy relationship between the press and the police, and the press and politicians.

The report devotes an entire section to The News of the World. Using a number of case studies that came from the testimony of witnesses, it described a newsroom under immense pressure to bring in stories exclusively and quickly, full of journalists with cavalier and sometimes cruel attitudes toward the privacy and feelings of the people they were covering. Sir Brian said that reporters regularly obtained information.

Concluding the section on the ethical practices and culture of the news media, Sir Brian said he recognized that “most of what the press does is good journalism free from the sort of vices I have had to address at length.” But still, he says, “it is essential that the need for a fresh start in press regulation is fully embraced and a new regime thereafter implemented.”

In the current system of self-regulation by a body called the Press Complaints Commission, newspapers effectively regulate themselves. The report urged the creation of a new independent regulatory body with powers to fine offending newspapers up to $1.6 million, made up of people who are not serving editors and should not be either lawmakers or figures from the government.

In the report, the judge wrote that his inquiry panel heard from a variety of witnesses who gave examples of how the press had hacked into their phones, followed them, intruded on their privacy, illegally obtained information like their phone numbers and medical records, and made up stories about them.

The treatment of private individuals who became public figures, like the parents of Madeleine McCann, a toddler who disappeared while on a family vacation in Portugal, and Milly Dowler indicates a “a press indifferent to individual privacy and casual in its approach to truth, even when the stories were potentially extremely damaging for the individuals named.”

But he balanced those remarks by saying that the problems described by witnesses at the inquiry were not systemic, but “afflict only a section of the press, and even then not for the majority of the time.”

Summarizing the evidence the panel heard at the inquiry, the judge described evidence of “cultural indifference within parts of the press to individual privacy and dignity.”

He continued: “The broad theme encompasses evidence that parts of the press have used unethical and or unlawful means to access private information, including phone hacking, e-mail hacking, theft and covert surveillance. It also encompasses evidence that newspapers have published obviously confidential information without any public interest in doing so, have harassed subjects of their stories and their families, have been insensitive in investigating and reporting death and tragedy, and have failed to have regard to the high level of protection appropriate to children.”

The publication of the report was closely watched for what it would say about the seemingly intimate relationship between British government figures and the owners of newspapers, particularly Mr. Murdoch, who testified in person at the Leveson inquiry along with his son James.

Sir Brian said the “overwhelming evidence is that relations between politicians and the press on a day-to-day basis are in robust good health and performing the vital public interest functions of a free press in a vigorous democracy.”

But, he went on to say that in other respects, “politicians have conducted themselves in relation to the press in ways that have not served the public interest,” had risked “becoming vulnerable to influences which are neither known about nor transparent” and had spent too much time cultivating the press to the detriment of their “public duties.”

Speaking after the publication of the report, he said senior politicians have accepted that the relationship with the press had been too close. “I agree,” he said.

As the inquiry unfolded, some analysts suggested that Mr. Cameron sought to win the editorial support of Mr. Murdoch’s newspapers in return for favorable treatment. But, the report said, “the evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favors.” Referring to the relationship between the police and the press, Sir Brian declared: “I have not seen any evidence to suggest that corruption by the press is a widespread problem in relation to the police.”

Much attention was devoted during the months of testimony to text messages, phone calls and social plans made between Prime Minister Cameron and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation.

The Leveson inquiry ran in parallel with police investigations and parliamentary hearings into related issues.

Ms. Brooks, along with Andy Coulson, a former editor of The News of the World and Mr. Cameron’s former spokesman, are among several people facing criminal charges relating to phone hacking and corruption of public officials which they are both challenging in court.

The report also cited testimony relating to the thwarted effort by News Corporation last year to assume full control of Britain’s main satellite broadcaster, BSkyB, by buying the shares that it did not already own. It said there was “no credible evidence of actual bias” on the part of government minister, Jeremy Hunt, who oversaw the bid.

Question for Readers:

What will propell elected politicians to regulate the public and private media during election periods, when to do so likely impacts, negatively, their election chances?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Canadian Mining Tax and Legal Haven: Dr. Alain Deneault Interview

Alain Deneault, lecturer at the Unversiry of Quebec and author on the Canadian mining tax and legal haven
In this podcast, Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Executive Director, interviews Dr. Alain Deneault, lecturer at the University of Quebec in Montreal and author on the Canadian Mining Industry. Alain talks about the Canadian mining tax and legal haven in way that will change most persons view of Canada. He elucidates this secret Canadian haven that centers on Canadian mining industry profit, globally, regardless of the human rights, environmental, and democratic consequences. Alain provides details in Africa and Latin America, and frames the Canadian mining industry in a global context. This podcast is part three in a series on the Canadian mining industry and related international trade issues. Previously, the FDA interviewed Canadian researcher Dr. Asad Ismi and Mr. Don Davies, Canadian federal opposition international trade critic. For non-mainstream, insightful, and provocative discussion from people working in the field of international politics, listen in or download the FDA podcasts.

This podcast and any other FDA podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the FDA. The FDA supports broad and diverse speech.

Dr. Alain Deneault Interview


Related podcasts:

Don Davies Interview

Asad Ismi Interview


Alberta PC Party Isolated

Map of Canada; Alberta is the second most western province. Alberta is infamous for the tar sands which depending on one's view is one of the largest and most advanced modern industrial projects or the project in the world which has done (and continues to do) the most devastating harm to the environment.
Echoing the recommendations of the Foundation for Democratic Advancement, the Wildrose Alliance Party at a recent party convention is now saying that corporations and labour unions should be banned from making contributions. Also, caps on contributions should be reduced in non-election years to $5,000 and $10,000 in election years. The FDA supports lower caps which are reflective of Alberta's per capita income of $35,250 (Statistics Canada, 2011): $7,000 in election years and $4,000 in non-election years. (Quebec as an example caps contributions at $1,000.)

The Alberta Liberals now support a cap on contributions at $1,100 and ban on corporations and labour unions from making contributions. (The Alberta Liberals copied federal legislation on these issues.)

In 2012, the Alberta NDP campaigned on a ban corporations and labour unions from making contributions, lower caps on contributions and campaign expenditure limits.

Both the Alberta Liberals and Wildrose ignore campaign expenditure limits and proportional representation.

All Alberta political parties ignore regulation of the media during the campaign period.

In 2008 and 2012, the Alberta PC Party had no democracy reform platform.

In 2008, the Wildrose campaigned on proportional representation, and in 2012, the Wildrose dropped proportional representation from its platform.

With the PC Party having a majority of the Alberta Legislature, there is no way to pass legislation on lower caps on contributions and a ban on corporations and labour unions without the support of the PC Party. The PC Party has shown no interest in making significant reforms to the provincial electoral system, as Premier Redford said recently that there is nothing wrong with the system. It will be interesting to see if the Wildrose Party campaigns on a ban on contributions from corporations and labour unions and lower contribution caps in the next provincial election.

In March of 2012, executive summaries of the FDA's Report on Alberta's Electoral System were mailed to the leaders of all Alberta parties. Upon request, a hard copy of the report was mailed to the Alberta Liberta party.

The FDA recommendations on the Alberta Electoral System:

The FDA believes that the Alberta provincial electoral system requires significant reform from bordering a failed state. The FDA outlines below what it thinks are necessary reforms that need to take place:

Electoral Finance:

1) The caps on contributions to parties need to be reduced from $15,000 in non-election years to about $4,000 and from $30,000 in election years to about $7,000 in election years.

(FDA calculations are from the electoral finance audit section under Caps on Contributions to Candidates and Parties based on Alberta per capita income levels and income inequality data. Canada at the federal level has a $1,000 cap on contributions to candidates, and France has a €4,600 Euro cap (about $6,200 CAD) cap during the campaign period and €7,500 Euro cap (about $10,100 CAD) during non-election periods (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Reports on Canada and France, 2011).)

2) Contributions from corporations/unions and third party electoral spending to candidates, parties, and constituency associations should not be allowed.

(FDA believes that the 'will of the people', the basis for democracy, is exclusively about citizens; corporations/unions are not citizens in terms of the democratic concept of 'one person, one vote'; corporations/unions are not people. Also, by removing corporations/unions from electoral finance, would help prevent wealthy elements in society from having disproportionate impact on electoral discourse. In the following countries, for example, corporations/unions cannot make electoral contributions: Canada and France at the federal levels of government (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Reports on Canada and France, 2011).)

3) Expenditure limits need to be placed on candidate and party campaign expenditures. The number of candidates running, size of electoral divisions, and financial capabilities of candidates, parties, and constituency associations should determine the limits. The expenditure limits need to be reasonably attainable by all registered candidates, parties, and constituency associations.

(The Canadian federal electoral system has expenditure limits. FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Canada (2011). However, expenditure limits are a mute point if they still produce significant inequity in electoral expenditures. Canada has no measures such as public subsidies based on the financial need of all registered parties that would ensure fair and equitable campaign expenditures. In addition, Canadian established federal parties are favored through public subsidies based on the number of seats won. A party with large popular support and no seats won will receive no public subsidies. In France, there are candidate expenditure limits, and if candidates attain at least 5 percent of the popular vote in their constituency, it receives back 50 percent of their campaign expenditures. Also, there are public subsidies available for new political parties (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on France, 2011).)

4) Public subsidies need to be available to small and new parties based on reasonable popular support and to larger parties based on reasonable popular support and need.

(France has public subsidies for new political parties based on level of contributions and electoral official support. Also, public subsidies are available to parties that receive at least 1 percent of the popular vote, and campaign expenditures for candidates are refunded by 50 percent if at least 5 percent of the popular vote is attained (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on France, 2011).)

Media Political Content:

5) Media needs to be required to publish and broadcast impartial and balanced electoral coverage during the campaign period, in order to help ensure balanced electoral discourse and foster an informed electorate.

(Venezuela has constitutional and legislative requirements that the media's electoral content must be fair and balanced (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Venezuela, 2011).)

6) Media needs to be required to publish and broadcast pluralistic and balanced political coverage outside of the campaign period, in order to encourage balanced political discourse and produce an informed electorate.

(Venezuela has constitutional and legislative requirements that the media's electoral content must be fair and balanced (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Venezuela, 2011).)

7) Effective media ownership concentration laws need to be applied to all sectors of the Alberta media, in order to encourage a pluralistic media.

(France, Norway, and Bolivia for example have media ownership concentration laws. Bolivia requires that media ownership concentration conform to the following ratio: 1/3 private, 1/3 government, 1/3 social and indigenous groups and Bolivia has constitutional laws prohibiting monopolies and oligopolies (FDA Global Electoral Audit Reports on France, Norway, and Bolivia, 2011).)

Candidates and Parties:

8) The media needs to be required to charge equal electoral advertisement rates to all registered candidates and parties.

(The US federal electoral system requires that candidate and parties have equal access to media for electoral advertisement and equal cost of electoral advertisements (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on the USA, 2011).)

9) An open list proportional based system should determine winners of electoral districts. This system allows for representation of the popular vote as opposed to the first-past-the-post system. (Strong popular support represents a proportionally represented government, whereby the party in power deserves majority control of an Assembly.)

(Norway and Sweden have an open list, Sainte-Laguë’s modified method proportional based electoral systems (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Reports on Norway and Sweden, 2011).)

10) Government process reform should require the winning party and its cabinet base the passage of legislation on at least 50 percent of popular support (in terms of elected officials’ actual voter support) in the previous election, rather than legislative dominance (FDA reform initiative, 2012).

11) In order for the people of Alberta to remove corrupt political representatives and have a direct say in government policy, policy referendum and recall legislation needs to be established.

(Bolivia provides a model for these referendum processes: popular initiative referendum for issues such autonomous regions, constitutional reform, international treaties etc., and revocation candidate/party mandate referendum (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Bolivia, 2011).)


12) A comprehensive inquiry needs to be implemented which identifies minorities in Alberta and the extent to which their views are represented in the Alberta Legislature. If the Alberta Legislature does not represent some minorities, the system should take measures to ensure their representation including guaranteed seats in the Assembly.

(New Zealand has guaranteed parliamentary seats for the Maori population; Norway has a separate parliament for the Sami population; Syria has guaranteed parliamentary seats based on gender and occupation; and Iraq has guaranteed seats for women and religious minorities (FDA Global Electoral Fairness Reports on New Zealand, Norway, Syria, and Iraq, 2011).)

The FDA believes that these reforms if implemented will help return Alberta to the people of Alberta, and allow Albertans to realize their individual and collective potential through freedom, fairness, and equal opportunity for all.

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

2012 FDA Report on the Alberta Electoral System

PC Party's Tabled Reforms

Alberta Bill Fails to Clarify Rules on Single Large Political Donations

Question for Readers:

Will the Alberta PC Party succumb to the pressure to legislate a fair and equatable electoral system?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Egypt's Power Struggle Intensifies

Popularly elected Egyptian President President Mohammed Morsi
After being praised internationally for his role in brokering the recent truce between Israel and Palestine, popularly elected Egyptian President Morsi decreed new presidential powers which gave him the authority to create, temporarily, any law or decree to "protect the revolution", take necessary steps to stop "threats to the revolution," and make himself immune from judiciary oversight. In addition, President Morsi removed Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general first appointed by Mubarak, and who has been accused of not adequately prosecuting Mubarak regime officials.

With just the fall of Hosni Mubarak through the 2011/2012 popular Egyptian uprising, Egypt was still left with pro-Mubarak officials in the government, including the military and judiciary. Consequently, with the election of a majority of the Muslim Brotherhood to the parliament's lower house and the election of President Morsi, a natural, inevitable conflict has emerged. The Egyptian judiciary comprised of many Mubarak appointments and with affiliations to Mubarak dissolved the elected lower house of parliament and are considering to disband the assembly writing of the new constitution. President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood party, Freedom and Justice, believe that the judiciary is trying to erode the elected institutions and dissolve the constitutional assembly (parliament's upper house).

The Egyptian revolution was blunted by the mere removal of Hosni Mubarak, and rather than a removal of the whole dictatorial regime.

It appears that President Morsi had no choice than to confront the judiciary directly rather than let the country continue to stagnate. The Egyptian judiciary has a very poor track record as it stood by relatively silent during the 30 year Mubarak dictatorship in which Egypt functioned with 0 percent electoral fairness (2011 FDA Audit) and significant human rights abuses. Obviously, the separation of government bodies is essential to a healthy functioning society, but by the same token a corrupt judiciary is likely just as harmful as no separation of powers.

Considering the circumstances, Egyptians will have to give their President the benefit of doubt that the new presidential decrees are temporary and necessary to progress the country.

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

FDA Media Advisory on Egypt

Egypt's Presidential Election Exposing Political Power Struggle

Question for Readers:

Do you think President Mori's recent presidential decrees were necessary measures to break the deadlock with the pro-Mubarak Egyptian judiciary?


Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi's decree blasted by judges

Courts across two provinces announce strike, but Muslim Brotherhood calls for mass protest in Cairo on Tuesday to show support for president

South China Morning Post (November 24, 2012)

Egyptian judges yesterday slammed a decree by President Mohammed Mursi granting him sweeping powers as "an unprecedented attack" on the judiciary, while courts across two provinces announced a strike.

At the same time, Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood called for a mass demonstration in Cairo on Tuesday to show support for the president, who is facing a storm of protest for issuing the decree.

The Brotherhood also called for shows of support in squares across Egypt after early evening prayers today.

Parties opposed to the decree have urged a protest on Tuesday in Cairo, though in a different square from the one where the Brotherhood called on its supporters to gather.

Meanwhile, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced "the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira". The Alexandria judges "will accept nothing less than the cancellation" of Mursi's decree, which violates the principle of separation of power, chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.

In Cairo, a general assembly of judges was holding emergency talks to decide on a response to the presidential decree.

The constitutional declaration is "an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings," the Supreme Judicial Council said after an emergency meeting.

Mursi's declaration, which acts as a temporary charter, allows him to issue any law or decree "to protect the revolution" that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, with no decision or law subject to challenge in court.

In Cairo, a statement by about 20 "independent judges" said that while some of the decisions taken by the president were a response to popular demands, they were issued "at the expense of freedom and democracy".

Mursi's assumption of sweeping powers is seen as a blow to the pro-democracy movement that ousted Mubarak, but his backers say his move will cut back a turbulent and seemingly endless transition to democracy.

In the space of 24 hours last week Mursi was praised internationally for brokering a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and slammed at home as a "new pharaoh" who had seized dictatorial powers.

Mursi was sworn into office in July after a narrow poll victory that was a triumph not only for democracy but also for the long-banned Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement. However, the Islamists, including ultraconservative Salafis who oppose the president, and their enemies are now deadlocked, so the decision to impose a solution on old-regime judges is likely to cause more trouble.

Abdallah Homouda, of Egypt's leading independent newspaper, al-Masry al-Youm, said: "There is an issue about the balance of power between the Brotherhood and the nationalists and liberals, who appear unable to unify themselves. The fear is, that will leave the Brotherhood in a dominant position."

Commentator Elijah Zarwan said: "Mursi inherited a country with a great number of very serious problems that nobody could address in months, or very possibly in years. He came to power at a time when Egypt and the region were in crisis.

"His handling of some of these issues, including the war in Gaza, was effective and even surprisingly adroit. In other cases he has made mistakes. His handling of the judiciary has probably been his biggest. It is very difficult to see how he can climb down."

Egypt reformist warns of turmoil from Morsi decree

CAIRO (AP) — Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei
warned Saturday of increasing turmoil that could potentially lead to the military stepping in unless the Islamist president rescinds his new, near absolute powers, as the country's long fragmented opposition sought to unite and rally new protests.

Egypt's liberal and secular forces — long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties to power — are seeking to rally themselves in response to the decrees issued this week by President Mohammed Morsi. The president granted himself sweeping powers to "protect the revolution" and made himself immune to judicial oversight.

The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi's edicts, pushed back Saturday. The country's highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decrees an "unprecedented assault." Courts in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria announced a work suspension until the decrees are lifted.

Outside the high court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi, chanting, "Leave! Leave!" echoing the slogan used against former leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.

The edicts issued Wednesday have galvanized anger brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood — which has dominated elections the past year — and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring real reform or address Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.

Oppositon groups have called for new nationwide rallies Tuesday — and the Muslim Brotherhood has called for rallies supporting Morsi the same day, setting the stage for new violence.

Morsi supporters counter that the edicts were necessary to prevent the courts, which already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, from further holding up moves to stability by disbanding the assembly writing the new constitution, as judges were considering doing. Like parliament was, the assembly is dominated by Islamists. Morsi accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals and barred the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly or parliament's upper house.

In an interview with a handful of journalists, including The Associated Press, Nobel Peace laureate ElBaradei raised alarm over the impact of Morsi's rulings, saying he had become "a new pharaoh."

"There is a good deal of anger, chaos, confusion. Violence is spreading to many places and state authority is starting to erode slowly," he said. "We hope that we can manage to do a smooth transition without plunging the country into a cycle of violence. But I don't see this happening without Mr. Morsi rescinding all of this."

Speaking of Egypt's powerful military, ElBaradei said, "I am sure they are as worried as everyone else. You cannot exclude that the army will intervene to restore law and order" if the situation gets out of hand.

But anti-Morsi factions are chronically divided, with revolutionary youth activists, new liberal political parties that have struggled to build a public base and figures from the Mubarak era, all of whom distrust each other. The judiciary is also an uncomfortable cause for some to back, since it includes many Mubarak appointees who even Morsi opponents criticize as too tied to the old regime.

Opponents say the edicts gave Morsi near dictatorial powers, neutering the judiciary when he already holds both executive and legislative powers. One of his most controversial edicts gave him the right to take any steps to stop "threats to the revolution," vague wording that activists say harkens back to Mubarak-era emergency laws.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests on Friday, sparking clashes between anti-and pro-Morsi crowds in several cities that left more than 200 people wounded.

On Saturday, new clashed broke out in the southern city of Assiut. Morsi opponents and members of the Muslim Brotherhood swung sticks and threw stones at each other outside the offices of the Brotherhood's political party, leaving at least seven injured.

ElBaradei and a six other prominent liberal leaders have announced the formation of a National Salvation Front aimed at rallying all non-Islamist groups together to force Morsi to rescind his edicts.

The National Salvation Front leadership includes several who ran against Morsi in this year's presidential race — Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished a close third, former foreign minister Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. ElBaradei says the group is also pushing for the creation of a new constitutional assembly and a unity government.

ElBaradei said it would be a long process to persuade Morsi that he "cannot get away with murder."

"There is no middle ground, no dialogue before he rescinds this declaration. There is no room for dialogue until then."

The grouping seems to represent a newly assertive political foray by ElBaradei, the former chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. ElBaradei returned to Egypt in the year before Mubarak's fall, speaking out against his rule, and was influential with many of the youth groups that launched the anti-Mubarak revolution.

But since Mubarak's fall, he has been criticized by some as too Westernized, elite and Hamlet-ish, reluctant to fully assert himself as an opposition leader.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice political party, once headed by Morsi, said Saturday in a statement that the president's decision protects the revolution against former regime figures who have tried to erode elected institutions and were threatening to dissolve the constitutional assembly.

The Brotherhood warned in another statement that there were forces trying to overthrow the elected president in order to return to power. It said Morsi has a mandate to lead, having defeated one of Mubarak's former prime ministers this summer in a closely contested election.

Morsi's edicts also removed Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general first appointed by Mubarak, who many Egyptians accused of not prosecuting former regime figures strongly enough.

Speaking to a gathering of judges cheering support for him at the high court building in Cairo, Mahmoud warned of a "vicious campaign" against state institutions. He also said judicial authorities are looking into the legality of the decision to remove him — setting up a Catch-22 of legitimacy, since under Morsi's decree, the courts cannot overturn any of his decisions.

"I thank you for your support of judicial independence," he told the judges.

"Morsi will have to reverse his decision to avoid the anger of the people," said Ahmed Badrawy, a labor ministry employee protesting at the courthouse. "We do not want to have an Iranian system here," he added, referring to fears that hardcore Islamists may try to turn Egypt into a theocracy.

Several hundred protesters remained in Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday, where a number of tents have been erected in a sit-in following nearly a week of clashes with riot police.

Brian Rohan contributed to this report from Cairo.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Country Focus: Israel

Israeli bombing of neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip on November 21, 2012.
Israel 2013 Election, Resulting Impacts in the Middle East

After eight days of bombardment by Israel on the Gaza strip, the two sides have agreed to a ceasefire. Airstrikes began after Hamas launched rockets which killed six Israelis, a stark contrast to the 160 Palestinian lives lost to the Israeli attacks on the Gaza strip. Nonetheless, the two sides have met in Cairo to discuss the opening of the previously blockaded Gaza strip and to negotiate an end to Hamas led rocket attacks which have occurred in Southern Israel for years. Clearly, the hardline Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has his hands full, leaving him little room to plan for the winter elections scheduled for January 22, 2013.

According to Robert M. Danin in an interview conducted by CNN, President Netanyahu is a national favorite. Little will change in terms of electoral approval of President Netanyahu if Israel was to go forward with a ground operation in Gaza. The Middle Eastern specialist, Danin, contends the only concern for President Netanyahu which would hinder his re-election is if a soldier was kidnapped or held captive. The Palestine issue is at the forefront of this election, and the seven year unshakable incumbent President Netanyahu is not likely to forget that.

President Netanyahu called for an early election date of January 22, suspected to do so after charges of corruption were cleared for Ehud Olmert. Olmert, a former premier and a strong opposition to the ruling government, can now run in a national election. To avoid electoral competition, President Netanyahu chose to speed up the election date, as a means to guarantee his re-election. With the exclusion of Olmert, President Netanyahu’s Likud’s party will likely gain twice the seats than last term. Meaning, the third term of Netanyahu will be smooth sailing, given the absence of a strong opposition party to question his decisions. This raises a number of concerns, for one, the Israeli government given its new found parliamentary freedom can conduct itself how it pleases in the Middle East. What we can expect is that Israel will become more aggressive in the region, especially to contain Iranian power and possibly the Palestinian settlement.

On the home front, critics are frustrated with the free market economic planning of the country, which would place a large strain on local governments. As well, not too recently, the Transparency International Report on Corruption found the Israeli Military Industries blacklisted by India because of misdemeanour on the part of the director general on a state run Ordnance Factory Board. And in December 2011, Israel fell to the lowest ranking yet, on the Corruption Index: a ranking based on bribery, public sector kickbacks and the misuse of public funding. (In 2010 Israel ranked 6.1 out of 10, and 2011, Israel ranked 5.8 out of 10).This, however, has not hindered the likelihood of President Netanyahu’s Likud Party’s majority rule.

Mansharn Toor, FDA Researcher and Blogger

Question to Readers:

What effect if any, will the January Elections in Israel have on the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine in Cairo?

CNN Interview of Danin

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Corporations and Money Defining Features of American Democracy

Jesse Ventura discusses American democracy and his plans for running as a presidential candidate in the 2016 presidential election. The interview is underscored by the promotion of his new book. Ventura makes an interesting point that American democracy is undermined by the prevailing views that corporations are the same as citizens and money is the same as free speech. Reform of these two concepts, currently embedded in the U.S. Constitution, would require constitutional amendments. It is unclear how this would ever occur when the Republicans and Democrats control political power in the United States, and the current political process, created by the Democrats and Republicans, ensures that there are no viable third-parties.

In addition, it is unclear how Ventura or anyone else could successfully run as independent presidential candidates under the current electoral system. Even if Ventura got on the ballot in all 50 American states, he would still lack the resources and media exposure, ground games etc. of the Republicans and Democrats (in which the Romney and Obama campaigns raised over one billion each not including Super PACs). The four national presidential debates are determined by media corporations and the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), so it unclear how Ventura or any other independent candidate could get into those debates. Current American legislation states clearly that there is no legal requirement that the presidential debates include more than two candidates, and the media has no legal requirement for equal airtime and equal opportunities when it comes to debates:

From the 2012 FDA Audit Report on the United States:

Broadcast stations must provide equal airtime and equal opportunities to all registered federal candidates. The only exception to equal airtime and equal opportunities is during bona fide news programming, such as the appearance of a candidate on bona fide newscast, interview, documentary, or on the spot news event (including debates, political conventions and related incidental activities) (The Media Bureau, 2008 and U.S. Code, Title 47, Article 315).

Any corporation or labor organization may donate funds to support a debate conducted by a nonprofit organization. The debate must not support or oppose any candidate or party, be sponsored by a broadcaster, newspaper, magazine, other circulation periodical publication, and include at least two candidates who meet face to face, does not promote one candidate over the other. In a primary election, organizations staging a debate may restrict candidates to those seeking nomination of one party, and in a general election may not use nomination of a particular party as the sole criterion for debate participants. Staging organizations must use preestablished objective criteria to determine participants (Code of Federal Regulations, Section 114.4(f)).

In 2008, Nader will all his popularity received a mere 0.5 percent of the popular vote, and in 2012, all third-party presidential candidates combined received a mere 1.65 percent of the popular vote (without considering non-voters).

The FDA supports a ban on corporations and trade unions from making political contributions and third-party expenditures, and the FDA supports caps on contributions which are reflective of per capita income levels, and campaign expenditure limits which are reasonably attainable by all registered candidates and parties.

The 2012 FDA audit report on the United States measured systematic bias to special and minority interests over the interests of the American electorate:

FDA Media Advisory on the American Electoral System

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Question to Readers:

What will it take to progress American democracy from a two-party system to a competitive multi-party system?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alberta Political Power Trumps the Interests of Albertans

Alberta Legislature building in Edmonton
On November 20th, 2012, the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) tabled new election laws called the Election Accountability Amendment Act. Ironically, Redford the PC Party leader and premier of Alberta is on record saying that there is nothing wrong with Alberta's election laws. However, in amidst of the public disclosure of Darly Katz and his family and associates $430,000 political contributions close to the end of the 2012 Alberta Election (and the fact that Katz has two multi-million projects before the Alberta government), the PC Party felt it was necessary to make some amendments to Alberta election law.

The Election Accountability Amendment Act proposes the following reforms:

1. Reveal publicly the names of person who are convicted of making illegal electoral contributions over a three year period. However, this provision is not retroactive.

2. Fines for breaches of the Alberta election law are increased from $1,000 to a maximum of $10,000 for individuals.

3. The Alberta election law applies to both general elections and party leadership contests.

4. Anonymous contributions are now capped at $250 as opposed to $350.

5. Electoral finances of parties will now be reported quarterly rather than just annually.

Items 1, 4, and 5 deal with transparency. The electoral finances of Alberta parties are already transparent to the public, so the transparency will become more transparent. However, transparency is a neutral element in the process/law, because transparency is only as good as the laws on what is being transparent about.

Item 2 does nothing to address the weak enforcement provisions in Alberta election law. For examples, corporations face fines of only $10,000, and there are no prison sentences for violations of Alberta election law. In contrast, Quebec has fines of over $200,000 for violations of election law and prison sentences of 1 year or more. In the United States at the federal level of government there are 5 year prison sentences for violations of federal election law, and a progressive sentencing process based on a number factors including the severity of the violation.

Item 4 helps reduce electoral finance wrongdoing, but in the FDA's opinion the cap of $250 is still too high. In Quebec the cap on anonymous contributions is zero dollars, and in the United States at the federal level of government, the cap on anonymous contributions is $50.

Overall, the changes to the election law by the PC Party are cosmetic, and do nothing to address severe deficiencies in the law. To put this in context, in 2012 the FDA completed an audit of electoral finance law of Canada's ten provinces, and Alberta received the lowest score of 47.7 percent out of 100 percent. The score measures the fairness of electoral finance law. In another 2012 FDA audit, Alberta's provincial electoral system received an unacceptable passing score of 54 percent (which borders a failed state). In an identical audit, the United States federal electoral system with all its problems received a higher score of 54.5 percent. Redford and the PC Party has ignored both of these reports on Alberta.

The main deficiencies of the Alberta provincial electoral system which the ruling PC Party has failed to address are as followings:

1. Alberta has excessive cap on contributions to political parties in an election year of $30,000 and $15,000 in a non-election year. Using Alberta's per capita income level of $35,250 (Statistics Canada, 2011), the FDA believes a significantly more fair cap would be about 10 percent of the per capita income level, which translates into a cap of 3,500 in election years and $2,000 in non-election years. Quebec with a per capita income level of around $27,000 has a cap on contributions at $1,000. In the United States, individual contributions are capped at $2,500 to candidates and parties.

2. Alberta does not ban corporations and labor unions from making contributions. Both Quebec and the United States at the federal government ban contributions from corporations and trade unions to candidates and parties.

3. Alberta has no expenditure limit on campaigns. Nova Scotia, Canada federally, Quebec, and Manitoba as examples all have campaign expenditure limits.

4. Alberta has an excessive cap on contributions to third-parties. Again the cap of $30,000 to third-parties is not reflective of Alberta's per capita income.

5. Alberta has weak enforcement mechanisms of election law. For example, the maximum fine is $10,000 and there are no prison sentences. What is $10,000 to a corporation or individual worth in the millions and even billions? Quebec and the United States have fines in the one hundred thousand plus range and prison sentences.

6. Alberta has no regulation of the media during the campaign period. Presently, in the daily press there is severe ownership concentration issues with Post Media Corporation owning over 65 percent of the daily press market. Norway and France cap ownership concentration at 30 percent. The remedy to this situation for Alberta is to have ownership concentration laws or a code of media conduct during election which supports broad and balanced campaign coverage of all registered parties.

Overall, Alberta's election deficiences favor special and minority interests.

The PC Party's amendment of Alberta election law represents a political maneuver to appease public discontent. But as illustrated above, the amendments have very little substance and avoid the severe deficiencies in the Alberta election process. Unfortunately, it appears that the PC Party is more interested in hanging onto its political power, rather than doing what is in the interests of all Albertans.

Alberta Bill Fails to Clarify Rules on Single Large Political Donations

For more details of the deficiency of the Alberta electoral system, please see the following reports:

FDA Media Advisory on Canadian Provinces Electoral Finances

2012 FDA Audit Report on the Alberta Electoral System

FDA Media Advisory on the Alberta Media

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Question to Readers:

What will it take for Alberta to correct the severe deficiencies in its electoral process?


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Obama's Phantom 50.8 Percent of the Popular Vote

U.S. voters filling out their ballots during the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election (Photo source: LatinoPost)
According to the latest popular vote figures for the 2012 American presidential election, Obama received 50.8 percent of the popular vote and Romney received 47.6 percent. All other presidential candidates received 1.65 percent combined. Voter turnout was around 57.5 percent (Federal Election Commission).

Based on these figures, it appears that Obama has the support of the majority of Americans. I beg to differ. A more accurate number of popular support is to determine the number of the American electoral who voted for Obama, and the number who did not.

Here is a break down on the voting numbers and what they mean:

Obama received 31.47 percent of the total vote (including non-voters).

Romney received 27.35 percent of the total vote (including non-voters).

All other presidential candidates received 0.16 percent of the total vote (including non-voters).

Obama and Romney combined received 58.82 percent of the total vote compared to 0.16 percent for all other presidential candidates. This measurement supports that the American federal electoral system is dominated by two parties.

68.53 percent of the American electorate did not directly support the re-election of Obama.

More Americans chose not to vote than vote for Obama. 11.03 percent more Americans did not vote than vote for Obama. Based on these numbers the American non-voters should be elected to the U.S. federal presidency.

Obama's mandate for his second term is weak on grounds of having only 31.47 percent of direct electoral support.

Why do non-voters matter? It may be argued that voter turnout reflects the health of an electoral system. In this very close election, in my opinion it is troubling that 42.5 percent of the American electorate were not interested enough to vote. This perspective is supported by the FDA's audit of the American federal system:

FDA Media Advisory on the United States

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Executive Director

Question for Readers:

How much significance should be given to voter turnout numbers in determing election outcomes?


Monday, November 19, 2012

Misinformation on Venezuela--Does Anyone Really Care?

This bar chart captures the increase in popularity of Chavez from 1998 to 2012. Although the popularity of the opposition also increased in 2012 to new highs of 6.5 million.
Still in the aftermath of the Venezuelan Presidential Election on October 7, 2012, the misinformation war continues. The excerpt below from the article "Unbeatable Chavez wins re-election over U.S. funded opponent: Venezuela’s progressive revolution will continue to thrive" by Asad Ismi showcases pro-Chavez misinformation being circulated.

Yes Chavez received 12% more votes than Capriles, and the election turnout of 81% speaks of a highly interested and engaged electorate. However, the fact that 6.5 million of Venezuelans voted for Capriles (compared to 8.2 million for Chavez) and the stark contract in their platforms are evidence of a polarized, divided country.

The claim that the Venezuelan electoral process is excellent as illustrated by the high turnout, and relatively peace and order of the election, overlooks a severe deficiency in the election process: electoral finances are only transparent to the state. This loophole creates the conditions for pro-government parties to pursue corrupt financial practices and leave anti-government parties subject to unjust assessments of their finances including targeting their contributors.

In addition, the media in Venezuela is closely regulated for political content during elections. There are daily time limits on mass media, and therefore, the private media cannot bombard the electorate as stated in the article below.

The reality of the Venezuelan election is that there is strong evidence that the opposition was supported by illegal foreign funds, and Chavez was supported by illegal public funds (which are only transparent to the state). As a result, Venezuelans are likely caught between two political movements that use illegal means. In my opinion, this reality cannot bode well for Venezuelans as a whole. Yet, it may be argued that most elections come down to the lesser of the evils.

FDA Media Advisory on Venezuela

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director


Excerpt from "Unbeatable Chavez wins re-election over U.S. funded opponent: Venezuela’s progressive revolution will continue to thrive"

.... Chavez won a resounding victory over his right-wing rival, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a representative of the Venezuelan oligarchy. The President won 12% more votes than Capriles, gaining 56% of the total vote against the latter’s 44%. Some 8.2 million Venezuelans voted for Chavez, compared to 6.5 million for Capriles. About 81% of registered voters cast ballots, a record number. Chavez got 551,902 more votes this time than in the last election held in 2006. As Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, the influential U.S. political website, points out, Chavez’s winning margin would be considered a landslide in the U.S., where Obama won by a margin of just 7% more than John McCain in 2008.

Said Cuban President Raul Castro to Chavez, “In the name of the government and people of Cuba, I congratulate you on this historic triumph, which demonstrates the strength of the Bolivarian Revolution and its unquestionable popular support. Your decisive victory assures the continuity of the struggle for the genuine integration of Our America."

Bolivian President Evo Morales called Chávez's victory “monumental” in the fight against imperialism in Latin America. "It is a triumph of the people," he said. "We are in times of the people, not of empires."

For Dr. Maria Paez Victor, a Venezuelan-Canadian sociologist, “Venezuela has shown the world the excellence of its electoral process that unfolded in peace and order, and the keen democratic spirit of its people as more than 80% of voters took part in it.

Considering that 95% of the media in Venezuela are in private hands, that they bombarded TV, radio, and newspapers with anti-Chavez ads, and that the United States had channelled $40 to $50 million to the opposition parties and groups to whom it gave strategic and communicational support, Chavez’s electoral triumph becomes quite amazing. He did not beat an individual or a party, but a powerful foreign conglomerate set against him. He won with 56% of the vote, a 12% advantage over his rival – while in Canada Prime Minister Harper won a majority last year with only 39% of the vote.

“This election will have profound effects in Venezuela, the region, and the world. Chávez is now the socialist leader with the most democratic success in the world. He now has a mandate to further socialize Venezuela to attain more social justice, to continue the efforts for the integration of Latin America, and, most of all, he has shown the world that there is a viable alternative to unbridled capitalism and neoliberal economic orthodoxy.”

Question to Readers:

To offset the influence of foreign monies for opposition parties, do you think Chavez is justified in using public funds to finance his re-election?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Obasanjo Appointment Perceived as Setback for ECOWAS

Former Nigerian President Obasanjo
The West African organization ECOWAS appointed former Nigerian President Obasanjo to assess elections in the peaceful democracy of Ghana. The Economic Community of West African States, made up of 16 countries was prompted by the desire to assist regional economic initiatives. In 2005, ECOWAS expanded its reach beyond the economic front. Missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone had inspired members of ECOWAS to place a regional check upon the democratization ventures within neighbouring states. This translated to ECOWAS’s short list of initiatives which includes the desire to improve health care, human rights, law, and politics. Now ECOWAS is considered a powerful influence within the region, though many still question the qualifications of ECOWAS. Despite its idealist sentiment for some, ECOWAS’s mission to spread fair and fair elections is hindered by the appointment of President Obasanjo.

Former President Obasanjo of Nigeria, known for rigging Nigeria’s 2003 elections, is now in charge of overseeing the legitimacy of Ghana’s 2012 elections. Under President Obasanjo’s rule Nigeria was under the influence of the military elite who were upright and centre in the decision making process. The military elite used its privileges from the oil rich soils of their country to thicken their pockets while manipulating the general public. Politicians under President Obasanjo enjoyed many kickbacks in their growing economy, yet President Obasanjo is now the advisor for anti-corruption campaigns in Africa. However much President Obasanjo alludes to a transparent and free Africa, his example set in Nigeria should disqualify him from his current election observer position.

President Obasanjo’s time in Sierra Leone only reinforces the need for a partisan observer. President Obasanjo was invited to Sierra Leone in 2007 where he endorsed President Koroma. Many watching the political dynamics in Sierra Leone were not surprised by President Obasanjo’s endorsement of Koroma, who is a vital business partner to the former president. If ECOWAS wants to stay true to its statement of intent, then a total reformation of the appointment process is needed.

ECOWAS has a lasting potential within Africa. But powerful nations like Nigeria should not be allowed to command centre stage, simply because of economic success, as has been the history. The path to erasing corrupt leadership and policies must begin within ECOWAS before it is translated in the national level. With the assistance of ECOWAS, West Africa has the potential to get rid of the cyclical corrupt pattern so familiar with post-colonial Africans.

Ms. Mansharn Toor, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Researcher and Blogger

The views in any of the FDA blog posts do not necessarily represent views of the FDA. The FDA supports free and broad speech. The purposes of the FDA blog posts are to encourage discussion about timely and significant democracy related issues, and educate.

Questions for Readers:

What was behind ECOWAS' decision to appoint Obasanjo? How can democracy in general rid itself of its Achilles heel, the influence of special and minority interests?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurricane Sandy--Gives Cause for Reflection

Aerial view of some of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coast (Photo source: Rollins).
In the recent aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Roberto Mendoza González attempts to show the idiocy of the world's current economic course and a more rational course which embraces a broad reality rather than ignoring it. One way forward in dealing with global warming is for the electorate in different countries to not vote for candidates and parties which deny global warming or propose ineffective market mechanisms to deal with global warming. Instead the electorates vote for candidates and parties who support a holistic, bi-centric approach to humanity and the environment, which is based on systematic interdependence.

Climate Change: A Reflection

Some authors internationally renowned suggest that climate change (CC) is probably the most serious global environmental problem facing humanity. Additionally, they argue that the main perpetrators of this environmental phenomenon are Europe and North America, due to their industrialization in the eighteenth century and the impact that this entailed.

Despite increases in global temperatures since 1900 (0.7 ° C) and considering that the nineties was the warmest in history, there are skeptics who argue that the (CC) is not a global emergency. This follows from the analysis by Nigel Lawson, who based on measurements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC for its acronym in English) argues that there has been no increase in global temperatures since 1998. Further, he suggests that there are different sources of variation with respect to climate, such as solar radiation, volcanic activity and even natural cycles of increase or decrease in the Earth's temperature. Finally, none of the high-impact tropical cyclones could be specifically attributed to (CC).

However, there are several considerations that must be contemplated before we assert whether or not the (CC) is the cause of global warming. First of all, it is timely to note that the (CC) is the greenhouse gases which are associated with economic activities. 57% of emissions result from fossil fuels and 30% of deforestation. The economic model that has prevailed in recent centuries, coupled with consumer values ​​that permeate our society, make natural resources commodities (commodity) which have only exchange value and no value per se (or intrinsic value). In large part, this has been the result of an anthropocentric approach that emphasizes human needs without considering the environment around us.

However, there are alternatives that could change this type of behavior pattern that degrade the environment and threaten our very viability. First of all, we must re-conceptualize our relationship with nature, recognizing that it has limits and that we depend on its available resources. Switching from an anthropocentric model to a bio-centric one where we assume that there is a systemic interdependence would help reduce the devastation and damage that prevails.

In addition, a holistic approach in which we restore ancient worldviews of oneness with the earth, creating a bio-empathy is a sine qua non of a new sustainable approach. What is sought is an ethical code of conduct based on the intrinsic value of nature, to develop an ethos of environmental consciousness that allows the restoration of natural processes of regeneration and carbon uptake.

However, public policy paradigms prioritize economics over other factors. This is very clear in the measures taken to stop or reduce global emissions. It aims to address the market with market mechanisms, which seems somewhat paradoxical, since it would be like attacking fire with a box of matches. One measure that has underpinned global carbon market is that each country has certain amounts of emissions that can be discharged into the environment. It is noteworthy that to exceed the limits of a mechanism of carbon sale, which allows rich countries (high emitters) to acquire shares of emissions of poor countries (small emitters), would make the phenomenon of climate change bleak scenario in the future. If the free market dogma assume that supply and demand and an invisible hand will regulate overall carbon emissions, we are then doomed to watch as the (CC) induced by man become an externality that will not be corrected either by institutions, or the market.

There are two positions or views with respect to (CC).

One is the reform, which suggests that environmental problems can be combated without fundamental changes. Its antipode (UCR), presupposes radical changes in human-nature relations for sustainable social life. It is clear that without substantial changes, natural resources and the viability of future generations will be compromised. Only in the past three decades humanity has consumed a third of global terrestrial resources, 40% of the streams are no longer drinkable, 80% of the forests have been cut down, 75% of fish stocks have been depleted, in the Amazon trees are cut down two thousand trees per minute, and I could continue with the a long list of data. If we are to reverse these statistics it is essential to raise awareness among younger generations, forcing governments to underwrite larger agreements, recognize ourselves as part of nature and not owners of it, accept its limitations and above all create democratic mechanisms to curb the insatiable appetite for profit by large corporations and companies exploiting all resources irrationally.

If climate change is a reality or not is irrelevant. We should adhere to the precautionary principle which states categorically that "the absence of scientific certainty should not be used to postpone the prevention of environmental degradation." What kind of world would you want your children to live in a few years? A collective action effort could reverse the severe damage caused. Onus is on you, me and everyone.

By Roberto Mendoza González
Master in Public Policy and Governance (University of Sheffield) and Foundation for Democratic Advancement Research Associate.

Question for Readers:

How can the status quo and special interests of western governments be overcome, and thereby allow for true innovation and progress in public policy?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012 U.S. Presidential Election Result--What Does It Mean?

2012 U.S. Electoral College results (Source; Latinos Post)
For most persons, the American federal presidential electoral system is confusing.

On the one hand, the American electorate vote for their president, and the result of that voting produces what is called the popular vote.

In 2012, Obama received 50.6 percent of the popular vote and Romney received 47.8 percent. All other presidential candidates received 1.6 percent combined. Voter turnout was 57.5 percent (Federal Election Commission).

On the other hand, the American Electoral College determines who are the president and vice-president. There are electors from the American states, and the number of electors per state corresponds to the number of representatives from the state in the U.S. Congress (Office of the Federal Register).

In addition, each state has a set rules regarding how the electors vote. The District of Colombia and 48 states have a winner-takes-all rule based on the presidential candidate with a majority of the popular vote (in the state) or a plurality of the popular vote (less than 50 percent but more than any other candidate in the state) receiving all the Electoral College votes for the relevant state. 27 states Electoral College are bound by state law to vote according to the popular vote, while 24 states are not (Office of the Federal Register).

Nebraska and Maine allow for a split of Electoral College votes through their systems of proportional allocation of votes (based in Maine on Electoral districts and at-large Electoral votes). There is no winner-takes-all rule (Office of the Federal Register).

Obama's 332 Electoral College votes versus Romney's 206 is reflective of the winner-takes-all rule.

So the 2012 U.S. election came down to the popular vote in each state. If Romney had 3 percent more in overall popular vote or a better distribution of the popular vote in the states, he would have likely won the election.

There is no public transparency of who the Electoral College electors are, and how they individually vote. Also, because of the winner-takes-all rule in the District of Colombia and 48 states, the American electorate is the principal force in determining who the U.S. president and vice-president are. In the history of the U.S. Electoral College, only four times has the Electoral College vote not conformed to the overall popular vote (Office of the Federal Register).

However, the popular vote is not necessarily reflective of the voice of the American electorate from electoral districts. The popular vote is susceptible to corruption from biased media coverage, censorship of third-parties in the national debates and other events, and unfair campaign finance regulations. 

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Executive Director

From the 2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on the United States:

The U.S. President and Vice-President are not selected directly by vote of the people. They are selected by appointed electors from each state as per directions of each legislator: the number of electors from each state corresponds to the whole number of Senators and Representatives, which each State is entitled to in Congress. No federal Senators and Representatives may appoint electors. The electors vote by ballot for two presidential candidates and one of them must not be an inhabitant of the same State as themselves. The person having the greater number of votes will be the President, if such a number is a majority; if there are two majorities with equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives will choose by ballot the President; if no person has a majority, then from the five highest candidates on the list, the House of Representatives will choose the President with the representation from the States having one vote; quorum is two thirds of the States. After determining the President, the person having the greatest number of votes shall be the Vice-President. If two or more candidates have equal votes, then the Senate shall choose by ballot the Vice-President (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1).

The U.S. President and Vice-President are selected by the state electors based on first-past-the-post. The presidential candidate with the most Electoral College votes wins the presidency. The number of state electors each state has is proportional to the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. congress (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1).

The presidential and vice-presidential candidates having the most votes shall be President and Vice-President, as long as the number of votes for each candidate is a majority of the whole number of electors appointed. If no majority exists for the presidential candidates, then the candidates with highest number of votes (not exceeding three) shall choose the President via ballot and based on votes taken by states with each state having one vote. This vote requires a quorum of two-thirds of the states and a majority of the states. If there is no vice-presidential candidate with a majority of the vote, then from the two candidates with highest number of votes, the Senate shall choose. This vote requires a quorum of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators and a majority of the Senate (U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment).

The District of Colombia and 48 states have a winner-takes-all rule for the Electoral College. In these States, whichever candidate receives a majority of the popular vote or a plurality of the popular vote (less than 50 percent but more than any other candidate) receives all of the state’s Electoral votes (Office of the Federal Register, 2012).

Nebraska and Maine allow for a possible split of votes through their system of proportional allocation of votes (based in Maine on Electoral districts and at-large Electoral votes). There is no winner-takes-all rule (Office of the Federal Register, 2012).

Question to Readers:

With the Electoral College tied mostly to the popular vote, what are the most outstanding issues facing the American federal electoral system?