Saturday, March 31, 2012

Evidence of Quebec on the Forefront of Canadian Democracy

In the FDA's recent electoral finance audit of Canada's 10 provinces, Quebec ranks and scores the highest with an outstanding score of 100 percent (out of 100 percent), while Alberta scores the lowest with a failing score of 47.7 percent.

The FDA audit scores for the fairness electoral finance laws are as follows:

1. Quebec (100 percent)
2. Manitoba (85.1 percent)
3. Nova Scotia (77.4 percent)
4. New Brunswick (72.1 percent)
5. Ontario (66.3 percent)
6. Newfoundland and Labrador (51.3 percent)
7. British Columbia (49.1 percent)
8. Saskatchewan (49 percent)
9. Prince Edward Island (48.4 percent)
10. Alberta (47.7 percent)

The FDA audit entails detailed audit and analysis of the 10 provinces' electoral finance legislation. The main sections of the audit are electoral finance transparency, contributions to candidates and parties, caps on contributions to candidate and parties, campaign expenditure including caps, third party expenditure caps, and legislative process for enforcement of electoral finance laws.

The FDA audit report on the 10 provinces will be released shortly.

The FDA audit does not cover acts of corruption which any system is susceptible to due to inherent and unavoidable systematic imperfection (or the human factor). However, Quebec has addressed this aspect by being the first political entity in Canada to create a permanent anti-corruption squad and which is staffed by 189 persons. (The squad is modeled after the New York City's Department of Investigation. The Quebec squad has an annual budget of $31.5 million and is led by a commissioner who reports to Quebec's security minister.)

Interestingly, in the 2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit, France scores the highest with a 91.75 percent score.

Site of Quebec's Anti-Corruption Unit (in French)

New York Department of Investigation

Quebec Corruption Raids Target Municipal Level of Government

February 29, 2012: Saint Constant's City Hall raided by police: 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Americans Struggle with Basic Democratic Concepts

This article by Kevin Baker is an example of America's struggle with basic democratic concepts like freedom, fairness, and equality. The trajectory of American democracy since the Civil War is on freedom alone. Early in American history that was fine as there was plenty of wealth and opportunity for most persons (as long as you weren't enslaved). But now in the later development of America democracy and economy, excessive freedom at the expense of fairness and equality has led to a plutocratic state and systematic corruption through collusion of elected officials and lobbyists representing minority corporate interests.

Can Americans peacefully redirect the nation? Time will tell. Though as long as the American political establishment is benefiting from the status quo nothing short of a revolution will give Americans new life and opportunity.

As a side note, this article's shortcoming is that it focuses solely on the Republicans as the party taking advantage of the Citizens United ruling. The Democrats have their corporate supporters as well and super PACs, and in the 2008 Obama had more than double the campaign funds than McCain: $800 million to $333 million. America's democracy failings transcend party politics.

March 24, 2012

From the NY Times:

The Outsourced Party

By Kevin Baker

Who speaks for the Republican party? The answer is that everyone does — and therefore, no one does.

Much air time and many trees have been wasted trying to explain the division, rancor and lethargy that have beset the Republican nominating campaign, now into its second year and threatening to run all the way to the party’s national convention in late August. But it’s no great mystery. Republicans have fallen prey to one of the favorite tactics of just the sort of heedless, improvident, twenty-first century capitalism they revere. Their party has been outsourced.

For decades, Republicans have recruited outside groups and individuals to amplify their party’s message and its influence. This is a legitimate democratic tactic that they have carried off brilliantly, helping to shift the political spectrum in the United States significantly to the right.
When Republicans came to believe in the 1960s that they were up against a “liberal biased” media that would never give them a fair shake, they began the long march to build their own, alternative information establishment. As chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Mark Fowler, led the fight to abolish the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987, further empowering what was already a legion of right-wing talk radio programs.

In 1949, drawing on a long history of court decisions; on public hearings; and on legislation mandating “equal time” for political candidates, the F.C.C. ruled that holders of radio and television broadcast licenses must “devote a reasonable percentage of their broadcast time to the presentation of news and programs devoted to the consideration and discussion of public issues of interest in the community,” and that this must include “different attitudes and viewpoints concerning these vital and often controversial issues.”

The Supreme Court repeatedly upheld the F.C.C.’s power to make such a rule — but never gave it the power of law. In 1986, a pair of Ronald Reagan’s judicial appointees on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, ruled that the Fairness Doctrine was not “a binding statutory obligation.”

Armed with this verdict, Fowler, who insisted on viewing television, in particular, as not a finite and supremely influential broadcast medium but “just another appliance — it’s a toaster with pictures,” persuaded his fellow commissioners to abolish the Fairness Doctrine. Furious Democrats in Congress passed legislation to codify the doctrine into law in 1987 and 1991, but these attempts were vetoed by Reagan and George Bush, respectively; Democrats have gone on trying to make the Fairness Doctrine law to this day, but have always been stymied by adamant Republican opposition.

Right-wing radio was dominant on the airwaves before the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. But now it had the field of public discourse virtually all to itself. It provided conservatives with a direct outreach to the public, free of any intercession by the “elites” Newt Gingrich is still denouncing in this season’s debates. Right-leaning media networks such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network and especially Clear Channel Communications soon became major media conglomerates, with no obligation to broadcast any conflicting views.

The biggest media coup of all for the Republican party, though, was the advent of nakedly partisan Fox News, created by Roger Ailes, former media advisor to the Nixon, Reagan and George Bush administrations. It was Ailes who thereby managed to throw the entire weight of Rupert Murdoch’s worldwide media empire behind the party — and it was Ailes, reportedly, who kept it on the conservative straight-and-narrow when Mr. Murdoch toyed with the idea of putting the empire behind Barack Obama, the new Democrat, in 2008, much as it had backed Tony Blair’s New Labour for a time in Great Britain. Instead, thanks to Ailes, conservative politicians and advocates saw both their ideas amplified and their wallets fattened by a dizzying array of Murdoch television shows, books and newspapers.

But it wasn’t just in the media where the Republican party proved ingenious in outsourcing its rhetoric and shifting the national dialogue. In 1971, during Richard M. Nixon’s first term in office, Lewis F. Powell Jr., a Republican corporate lawyer from Virginia, summoned the resources of the business community to the cause with his famous memorandum to the National Chamber of Commerce, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.”

Powell wanted “American business” to fight back everywhere it could against what he saw as the many enemies of free enterprise. Tactics would include demanding “equal time” on the nation’s college campuses and — ironically enough — on the nation’s airwaves, by appealing to the fairness standards of the F.C.C. Yet more importantly, Powell’s memorandum inspired the founding of the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and other conservative think tanks. Wealthy businessmen and other individuals from Richard Mellon Scaife to the Koch brothers stepped up, pouring millions of dollars into right-wing magazines, books and political campaigns.

Powell won himself an appointment to the Supreme Court — and the nation’s capital won itself a major new industry. It may seem as if lobbyists in Washington have always been more numerous than locusts, but in fact when Powell wrote his memo just over 40 years ago, there were at most only a few hundred. Today, there are tens of thousands — leaders of a multi-billion dollar industry in its own right, and one mostly interested in “freeing” business from regulation and taxes.

The Republican effort to rally every conceivable outside entity to the party’s cause was wildly successful. Again and again over the years, conservative policy institutes have armed the party’s candidates with intellectual arguments, while the conservative media barrage has blasted way through to high office for even the most lackluster Republican nominees.

Yet increasingly this meant that the Republican Party was outsourcing both body and soul. Both what the party believed in and its ability to do the heavy lifting necessary to win elections was handed over to outside interests — outside interests that did not necessarily share the party’s goals or have any stake in ameliorating its tactics.

This has become suddenly and painfully evident this year. Party leaders may not have liked Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting attacks on a Georgetown law student — calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating that insurance companies provide affordable birth control — but what does he care?

If the Republicans lose the election, it will most likely mean all the more angry conservatives tuning in and driving up the ratings for Rush and his fellow radio ranters. Limbaugh is now facing a challenge from outraged liberals and others urging his sponsors to drop his show. But the most that the usually garrulous Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney would allow himself to say was that “it’s not the language I would have used.” Rick Santorum averred that Rush was “being absurd,” but implied that was O.K. — “an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business than I am.”

But of course, he’s not. Rush Limbaugh is in the very same business that Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are in — and guess who’s in charge? It’s not the radio calamity howlers who take their cues from the party leaders now, but the other way around.

This campaign season we’ve seen all the major Republican candidates for president adopt the bombastic, apocalyptic rhetoric of talk radio, insisting that we will “lose America” if they aren’t elected, and filling their speeches and debates with ugly personal insults, directed at each other and at President Obama. The results are in the poll numbers. Unlike the sharp but generally civil 2008 primary fight between Obama and Hillary Clinton, which galvanized the Democratic base, the Republican struggle this year has been steadily driving down the party’s appeal and driving up the candidates’ negative ratings.

Poll numbers for Republicans in Congress have taken a nosedive, too, as the party’s intransigence on Capitol Hill has allowed President Obama to appear reasonable by contrast. But what does that matter to the thousands of lobbyists who bring in more and more of the money for congressional campaigns? Sure, a Republican victory might afford them more closed-door sessions on rewriting federal regulations. But Democratic victories will serve their purpose just as well, making clear to the money men who send them to Washington that they are more needed than ever to resist “job-killing regulations.”

Meanwhile, Fox News has become a special impediment to Republican order — largely thanks to its own success. All the enticements of the Murdoch empire have produced a generation of reality show pols, at least as interested in landing their own TV series as winning office. Two of the most popular Republican candidates for president going into the race, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, both declined to run rather than jeopardize their shows. Newt Gingrich turned much of his campaign into book tours for himself and his wife. Ask yourself which was most likely: that Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann really thought they could be elected president or that they were looking to improve their “brand.”

And after decades of trying to undo federal campaign-finance laws, Republicans at last succeeded — only to watch the party’s wealthy sponsors diversify their interests from think tanks to super PACs. Why bother with all the time and expense of hiring a bunch of intellectuals to occupy some expensive piece of Washington real estate and hammer out policy positions — when you can go out and make a straight cash exchange for a candidate?

Even as Rick Santorum was pleading that sometimes you have to “take one for the team” in the last Republican debate, his candidacy was being kept alive largely by money from a single donor, Foster Friess, the conservative Christian multimillionaire with the Batman villain name. Gingrich has his own sponsors, the casino billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, hawkish supporters of Israel. Does what these individuals care about most fit in with the Republican party’s election strategy? So what?

It’s not that these individual donors believe in things — conservative Christian stands on abortion, unmitigated support for Israel and so on — that are so different from what much of the party’s base believes in. But political campaigns, especially national campaigns in America, are all about nuance and finesse — about just how you say something and when and where you say it. Presidential candidates need to elide certain issues at times, either things they know that they cannot do, but are loath to tell their base; or things that they intend to try, but cannot tell the rest of the electorate until they have gained power and built up the necessary public support; or things that they have no idea how they will handle until certain events play out and force their hand.

The question of whether or not the United States or Israel should attack Iran to suppress its nuclear program is a good example of this last sort of issue. Just what Iran’s capabilities are of developing nuclear weapons, what its intentions are once it should have them, how successful any attack on them can be and what the consequences of such an attack might be are just some of the immensely complicated questions surrounding this debate.

Yet such complexities don’t seem to matter much to the ravenously egotistical Gingrich, so long as they don’t much matter to his sponsor. Money, it’s true, has always played a critical role in American politics. But in the past, presidential nominees did more than simply try to raise money. They tried to build consensus within their party. Fringe candidates like Gingrich and Santorum were generally eliminated from the start by their past defeats or by their extremist views — college is evil — but if they weren’t, our political system gave them the chance to take their arguments to the people in relatively small, manageable states and see if they caught on.

Now, none of that really matters so much. Forced to resign as speaker of the House by your own party? Handed the worst electoral defeat in your own state that anyone can remember? Way behind in the delegate count? In some circumstances, it might be good that even though you’ve failed previously you can still go out and make your case to the people. But now you can even fail at that, as well. It doesn’t matter. Just one billionaire can keep you on the campaign trail!

Thanks to their inventiveness, Republicans have stumbled into the brave new world of American politics. From primaries to photo ops, from direct mail to voter suppression laws, the Republican party has almost always been the real innovator in electoral politics, usually leaving their slower brother, the Democrats, in the dust for at least a campaign season or two.

Now they’ve achieved the political equivalent of shuttering that foul old steel mill and shipping the hard work off for others to do while they dabble in these fascinating new derivatives. Now their candidates and their ideas are seen as so many junk bonds, and they don’t seem to have the wherewithal to make the party over from within.

The Republican party has been moving to the right for half-a-century now and generally carrying the country with it. But in the past, even under the right’s greatest hero, Ronald Reagan, this movement came in fits and starts, as Republican candidates and officeholders had to accommodate themselves to real-world situations and the qualms of their constituents. This is the chastening role that elections are supposed to play. Participating in a democracy means more than simply insisting, over and over again, in as loud and arrogant a voice as possible, in as many venues as your money will allow, what it is that you want. It means listening, it means convincing, it means compromising — all those things that political parties and their leaders used to be fairly good at.

At long last, Republicans seem to be finally coalescing around Mitt Romney’s candidacy, and he could still win the presidency if the economy slumps again. But the longer-term problem will remain: how to maintain a coherent, mass political party when so many individuals are empowered as never before to redirect it to their own, personal ends.

Kevin Baker is the author of the “City of Fire” series of historical novels, “Dreamland,” “Paradise Alley” and “Strivers Row.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Corruption and Campaign Finance Law

This article titled "The Concept of Corruption in Campaign Finance Law" by Thomas Burke discusses the concept of corruption in relation to US campaign finance law. Burke argues that corruption will lose meaning if it is applied too broadly to campaign finance, for example by associating corruption with electoral finance inequality. The FDA acknowledges Burke's point, but at the same time, severe campaign finance inequality present in the American and Russian federal electoral systems, for instance, may stem from systematic corruption.

Introduction to "The Concept of Corruption in Campaign Finance Law":

"In Buckley vs. Valeo[2], the Supreme Court put the concept of corruption at the center of campaign finance law. The Court held that only society's interest in preventing "corruption and the appearance of corruption" outweighed the limits on free expression created by limits on campaign contributions and expenditures. Other goals, such as equalizing the influence of citizens over elections, limiting the influence of money in electoral politics, or creating more competitive elections, were rejected as insufficiently compelling to justify regulating political speech. The Court's focus on corruption has been reiterated in a series of cases following Buckley which have decided whether local laws and various provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act violate the First Amendment.[3] Barring a major shift in this area of law, corruption is the criterion by which the constitutionality of further reforms in campaign finance regulation will be measured.

The Court's emphasis on "corruption and the appearance of corruption" has stimulated criticism on several fronts. From the left, the Court is criticized for not giving credence to other interests in campaign finance regulation.[4] From the right comes the criticism that the Court has been inconsistent in its application of the corruption standard.[5] Others find the problem in the term "corruption" itself. Frank Sorauf argues that while the phrase "has a ring that most Americans will like . . .its apparent clarity is deceptive and its origin is at best clouded."[6] Yet whatever its flaws, politicians, activists, judges and even picky academics are constantly drawn to employing the concept of corruption in their claims about the campaign finance system. I hope in this article to give some sense of both the possibilities and the limits of understanding campaign finance as an issue of corruption.

The first part of the article briefly considers the concept of corruption and the ways in which academic commentators have explored it. The second part analyzes how "corruption" has been employed in a series of Supreme Court cases beginning with Buckley. Finally the third part defends what I call the "monetary influence" standard of corruption as the most appropriate one to use in controversies over campaign finance. This defense turns out to be a rather complex enterprise; it requires a turn back to the foundations of representative democracy. Any adequate standard of corruption, I argue, must be grounded in a convincing theory of representation."

The Concept of Corruption in Campaign Finance Law

Types of Corruption

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Evidence of Media Bias Early in Alberta Provincial Election

In case Albertans are not informed, there are NINE registered political parties competing in the 2012 Alberta Provincial Election. The 2012 registered Alberta political parties are:

Alberta Liberal Party
Alberta New Democratic Party
Alberta Party
Alberta Social Credit Party
Communist Party--Alberta
Evergreen Party of Alberta
Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta
Separation Party of Alberta
Wildrose Alliance Party

The unelected Premier Redford called the election on March 26, 2012. Two days into the election, the Calgary Herald publishes a front page article with photographs showcasing only five of the nine Alberta political parties. The article is based on a survey by the Leger Group which the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal sponsored. There is no evidence that the survey included the four other political parties, and the article makes zero reference to these four political parties.

In the FDA's opinion, this is a common example of major media bias, whereby political parties are removed from the electoral discourse by biased, partisan major media (while elected officials and Canadian courts look away as if nothing happened). The most blatant example is from the 2011 Canadian federal election, in which a private media consortium allowed leaders from only four registered federal political parties out of 19 registered political parties in the two national debates. The irony as stated in the Canadian Supreme Court Case, Harper, on page 89 is that:

"the primary purpose of [limits on freedom of expression] is to promote political expression by ensuring an equal dissemination of points of view and thereby truly respecting democratic traditions." 

The FDA believes that the private major media in Canada can not be trusted with ensuring equal dissemination of points of view, due to its partisanship and profit motive. The FDA supports at least media ownership concentration laws like in France and Norway, which prevents an oligopoly of media ownership in television, radio, and the press like in Canada, and promotes plurality of media content.

Example: Alberta Election Media Bias

Media and Canadian Democracy

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Repercussions of the Citizens United Ruling

In this March 26, 2012 editorial, the NY Times states the obvious that unlimited third party spending by individuals and corporations in the form of super PACs will likely allow the wealthy segments of American society to have more influence on electoral discourse than less wealthy segments. (Extreme free speech through unlimited electoral monies drowns out the free speech of others--plutocratic state?) The more interesting issues and questions is the competence and honesty of the US Supreme Court judges who voted in favor of Citizens United, and whether or not the executive branch of the US government should be allowed to appoint Supreme Court judges (just like in Canada in which the Prime Minister appoints theses judges)? Are some or most of the US Supreme Court judges an extension of the systematic corruption in the United States? Another issue is that Americans seem to be thinking that the US federal electoral system was somehow democratic before the Citizens United ruling in 2010. Have they overlooked the legislated two party system (rather than plurality party system), massive unregulated influence of lobbyists on members of the Senate and Congress, no (private) campaign expenditure limits, high electoral contribution limits, no media ownership concentration laws or equivalent etc.? The Citizens United ruling (unlimited third party expenditure) only makes the US federal electoral system even more undemocratic. In May the FDA will publish its 2012 electoral fairness audit of the US federal electoral system.

Here is the NY Times editorial:

"The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United in 2010 was shaped by an extreme view of the First Amendment: money equals speech, and independent spending by wealthy organizations and individuals poses no problem to the political system. The court cavalierly dismissed worries that those with big bank accounts — and big megaphones — have an unfair advantage in exerting political power. It simply asserted that “the people have the ultimate influence over elected officials” — as if campaigns were not in the business of influencing and manipulating voters.

The flood of money unleashed this election season is a direct consequence of this naïve, damaging view, which has allowed wealthy organizations and individuals to drown out other voices in the campaign. The decision created a controlling precedent for other legal decisions that made so-called super PACs the primary vehicles for unlimited spending from wealthy organizations and individuals. In theory, they operate independently of candidates. In reality, candidates are outsourcing their attack ads to PACs, so financing a PAC is equivalent to financing a campaign.

In v. Federal Election Commission, the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia ruled that as a result of Citizens United, contributions by individuals to advocacy groups called 527s could not be limited. The Federal Election Commission further confirmed in 2010 that an “independent” political committee can accept unlimited contributions for unlimited spending from just about any kind of group or individual.

Both the SpeechNow case and the F.E.C. ruling relied on the rationale for unlimited spending enunciated in Citizens United. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the majority opinion, narrowed the court’s definition of political corruption to mean quid pro quo corruption, or bribery. Independent spending, he wrote, does “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” and “influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt.”

This narrow focus on bribery is intellectually dishonest. The corrupting influence of money is not limited to bribery — the broader problem is the ability of moneyed interests to put into office those who support their political agendas or financial interests.

The Roberts court did great damage by abandoning the idea that corporate treasuries can have “corrosive and distorting effects” on the political process if “used to influence unfairly election outcomes” in ways that create “the appearance of corruption in the political arena” — crucial language in a 1999 Supreme Court case that upheld limits on independent spending by corporations and was overturned by Citizens United.

In Citizens United, Justice Kennedy cited James Madison in The Federalist in noting that “factions” in American democracy can be “checked” by ensuring that all of them can speak freely and “by entrusting the people to judge what is true and what is false.” But when outside spending is unlimited, and political speech depends heavily on access to costly technology and ads, the wealthy can distort this fundamental element of democracy by drowning out those who lack financial resources.

Voters are left to judge well-financed spin, rather than truth and falsehood. Super PACs demonstrate that almost daily. Until 2010, the court wisely held that these effects were a form of corruption in politics."

When other voices are drowned out

2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the US Federal Electoral System

Alberta Pressure Politics

Anyone new to Alberta will likely overhear or be told that Alberta is "conservative land."

I find this ideology imposed on Albertans both existing residents and newcomers offensive. It bespeaks of authoritarianism and even fascism. Alberta is part of Canada and governed partly by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of expression and belief within extremes.

I am non-partisan, and I will not be pressured or bullied into a certain ideology, nor will I leave Alberta because I do not fit the conservative image. As a Canadian citizen I have every right to be here as much as any other citizen. I encourage Albertans to stand up for what is really in their minds and hearts, rather than being told what they are and believe.

Alberta is a free land.

Stephen Garvey
FDA Executive Director 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Election Propaganda Showcased

L.B. Johnson's infamous fear advertisement:

Rick Santorum's propaganda video against Obama:

Propaganda video against Obama by unknown source (Republican super PAC?):

Obama's campaign song based on "change" which never materialized:

A song dedicated to Obama based on a false reality of "change":

Shortly after the 2008 US federal election, Ralph Nader called Obama the biggest fraud of the 21st Century. In the FDA electoral audit of the 2008 US presidential candidates, the FDA measured Obama and his policies as mediocre with an overall unsatisfactory score of 55.6 percent.

2008 FDA Electoral Audit of the US Presidential Candidates

Alberta Election Called: Date Set for Monday April 23

Unelected Alberta Premier Redford announced the start of the 2012 Alberta Election. Albertans will go to the polls on April 23rd.

On Thursday, April 12th, the FDA will host a public form on Alberta democracy reform and the democracy reform policies of the competing parties. Place and time of the forum will be announced shortly.

Redford announces start of the 2012 Alberta Provincial election

Evidence of Wildrose Being Canceled Out by the PC Party

In this Edmonton Journal article by Trish Audette and Lucas Timmons, there is evidence that the Wildrose Party is being canceled out by the PC Party in terms of large contributions. Yet ironically, the Wildrose Party has the single largest donors from 2004 to 2010 from the Thorsteinson family. The Wildrose claims that it has the highest contributions in terms of small contributions, but the FDA has no evidence to prove that. Interestingly, the large corporate contributors play a hedging game, which may be an indication of political corruption in terms of buying influence over Alberta provincial legislation. (The same hedging occurs at the Alberta municipal level of government.) The FDA believes that corporations and trade unions should be disallowed from making electoral contributions as is the case in Manitoba and Nova Scotia for examples. Democracy should only be about the people.

Shortly, the FDA will be releasing an electoral fairness audit report on Canada's 10 provinces.

Just 31 donors switch to Wildrose from Tories; New party gained $75,000

While recent polls suggest the Wildrose is closely tailing the Progressive Conservatives going into a spring election, an Edmonton Journal analysis of political donations shows that by 2010 the fledgling right-wing party hadn't managed to over a majority of big-spending Tory donors.

Between 2004 and 2010, only 31 donors switched allegiance from the Progressive Conservatives to the Wildrose, taking nearly $75,000 with them between 2008 and 2010. Up to 2009, those donors had contributed nearly $112,000 to the Progressive Conservatives.

But Wildrose senate candidate and former executive director Vitor Marciano said the analysis, based on financial records filed with Elections Alberta, only takes into consideration donors who contributed at least $375 to political parties. The province's disclosure laws don't require names of donors who contribute less than that to be made public.

We massively outraised (the Tories) in the small donation category. And that's where overwhelming numbers of people who used to be (Progressive Conservative) supporters are now in Wildrose," Marciano said. The large donors, they tend to make their donations sometimes a little strategically, so I'm not surprised they haven't completely switched over."

Donors who hedged their bets by donating to both conservative parties in 2010 contributed a total $84,000, 52 per cent of which went to the governing party and 48 per cent to the Wildrose.

For a number of years, Wildrose funding - or Alberta Alliance donations - came from a smaller cross-section of individuals, reflecting the party's roots as what Marciano called a "small protest party." Marciano said that changed when Danielle Smith took over as leader in 2009.

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said after then-premier Ed Stelmach's review and realignment of oil royalties in 2008, some observers expected financial support for the governing party to drop.

There was concern that funding for the (Progressive Conservatives) was going to dry up because of unhappiness by some of the oil and gas entities with the royalty review," the MacEwan University professor said.

"The government went out of its way to make some changes in that regime and I don't think that they suffered too much in terms of political contributions."

The largest loss for the Progressive Conservatives was Nexen Inc., a Calgary-based oil and gas company. Nexen donated $59,850 to the Tories between 2004 and 2009, and $41,850 to the Alberta Liberals during the same period. In 2010, the company gave $2,200 to the Wildrose and nothing to the PCs or Liberals.

Asked about the 31 donors who switched parties, Progressive Conservative campaign strategist Stephen Carter said, "I don't think that's too bad."

"People give for all kinds of different reasons. The key is to make sure that you're representing their points of view," Carter said.

"I'm a believer that there should be lots of political parties with lots of different points of view, and they should be well-funded by people who care."


Top 10 individual donors to Alberta's political parties, 2004-2010
- Randy Thorsteinson: $92,000 (Wildrose)
- Carl Thorsteinson: $90,000 (Wildrose)
- Kathleen Thorsteinson: $90,000 (Wildrose)
- Jackie Flanagan: $85,900 ($70,900 to the Alberta Liberals; $15,000 to the Alberta Party)
- Stanley A. Milner: $73,250 (Progressive Conservatives)
- Audrey Luft: $65,925 (Progressive Conservatives)
- Kathleen Gayle Thorsteinson: $60,000 (Wildrose)
- Edward Mcfeely: $55,000 (Wildrose)
- Irving Kipnes: $46,550 (Progressive Conservatives)
- David Swann: $41,485 (Alberta Liberals)
Top 10 corporate donors to Alberta's political parties, 2004-2010
- EnCana Corp.: $201,710 ($106,710 to the Progressive Conservatives; $50,000 to the Wildrose; $45,000 to the Alberta Liberals)
- TransCanada PipeLines Ltd.: $134,370 ($115,470 to the Progressive Conservatives; $18,900 to the Alberta Liberals)
- Suncor Energy Inc.: $124,768 ($81,780 to the Progressive Conservatives; $42,988 to the Alberta Liberals)
- Enbridge Pipelines Inc.: $115,600 ($82,400 to the Progressive Conservatives; $33,200 to the Alberta Liberals)
- Nexen Inc.: $103,900 ($59,850 to the Progressive Conservatives; $41,850 to the Alberta Liberals; $2,200 to the Wildrose)
- Penn West Petroleum Ltd.: $99,950 ($92,950 to the Progressive Conservatives; $7,000 to the Alberta Liberals)
- Big Rock Brewery Ltd.: $91,700 (Progressive Conservatives)
- Dow Chemical Canada Inc.: $90,500 ($79,850 to the Progressive Conservatives; $10,650 to the Alberta Liberals)
- Cascadia Motivation: $90,000 (Wildrose)
- Imperial Oil Ltd.: $85,000 ($58,500 to the Progressive Conservatives; $26,500 to the Alberta Liberals)
Compiled by Lucas Timmons. Source: Elections Alberta

2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Alberta

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Proposed US Competitive Election Act for Congress a joke?

In this video and summary statement, the proposed US Competitive Election Act by Congressman Rob Woodall is outlined. The Act proposes that each election cycle candidates for Congress start with zero funds, with no carry over from the previous election cycle. In addition, self-contributions which exceed $100,000 are publicly disclosed within a 24 hour period. Also, each time expenditures exceed $50,000 during the election period, they must be disclosed, and any subsequent expenditures must be disclosed within a 24 hour period. The intent of this legislation is limit electoral influence of wealthy candidates and create timely financial transparency.

The proposal does not include an expenditure limit on self-contributions. The proposal does not include a limit on contributions to candidates, or third party expenditures. The proposal does not include public subsidy measures to help ensure a reasonably equal playing field. The proposal does not include a campaign expenditure limit.  

Is this proposal a joke? Is Woodall an indication of the incompetence of elected officials who propose and write US legislation? Or is Woodall working within a very restrictive environment? Why name the legislation "competitive"?

Propose US Competitive Election Act

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Entrenchment of the US Status Quo

This article by Adam Cylmer, reflects upon the 1976 Republican Convention in relation to the 2012 Republican Convention. Unintentionally, the articles shows broadly that federal politics in the United States has not changed; what has changed simply are the faces and names. The legislated two party structure remains, as does the narrow electoral choice Americans are offered every four years. Don't Americans crave, desire, want, dream of more electoral choice? Narrow, limited, restricted choice is so inconsistent with the so-called free market, where there is almost endless choice depending on the goods and services.

The FDA is working on a 2012 electoral fairness audit of the US federal electoral system. This is an updated report (using matrices) of its 2011 report on the US federal electoral system. The FDA will show the systematic corruption, and recommend concrete, core reforms which among other things allow for broader electoral choice. What could be more consistent with America? Or is there something we don't know?

Republican Convention of 1976

Reagan's speech from the 1976 Republican Convention; note, the emphasis on freedom and free market. What have they brought Americans? The FDA believes that freedom alone likely leads to a plutocratic state, and the free market if left unregulated will be individualistic and self-serving.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Art at last AWAKENS!

This important documentary titled "GNARR" by Gaukur Ulfarsson, documents the 2010 Reykjavik mayoral campaign of Icelandic comedian Jon Gnarr and his "The Best Party". The documentary captures a true grassroots movement comprised of artists, musicians, common people unwilling to accept any longer the political status quo in Iceland. In the backdrop, in 2008 Iceland had a profound economic collapse precipitated by the world economic crisis and severely over leveraged Icelandic banks. Icelanders owe six times the country's total GDP. The Icelandic government took over the major banks to prevent a complete collapse of the Icelandic banking industry. In 2010, Iceland held a referendum on whether or not Icelanders should be responsible for the Icelandic debt, principally from the banking industry--about $50,000 per citizen. Icelanders voted no, and now the European Court is deciding on the Icelandic debt.

The population of Iceland is about 320,000.

Interestingly, the Icelandic municipal political system is based on party plurality, rather than just candidate plurality. Jon Gnarr's party, the Best Party, was the most dominant party in the May 29th, 2010 municipal elections with 35 percent of the vote: winning the Reykjavik mayoral position, six councilor seats (out of 15), and formed a majority coalition with the Social Democrats. 

In "GNARR" the concept of "kleptocracy" is mentioned. Kleptocracy ("rule by thieves") is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often without pretense of honest service. This type of government corruption is often achieved by the embezzlement of state funds (Wikipedia, kleptocracy).

"GNARR" summary:

"Before the onset of the worldwide economic recession, the developed world was booming, and bankers and stockbrokers thought the gravy train would never end. Iceland seemed to be a supernova: too rich to fail and totally incorruptible. Yet, in a matter of weeks, their economy went sharply downhill, leaving the country totally bankrupt. Amid this chaos, “The Best Party” was born, a joke conceived by Iceland's most controversial and cynical comedian, Jon Gnarr. Initially intending the political party as a satire of the arrogance and false morality of existing parties, both left and right, he eventually, and entertainingly, became the unlikely mayor of the country’s capital city."

The Best Party's theme song:

Trailers from GNARR: 

More information on Jon Gnarr--seems the NY Times does not get Gnarr's humor, go figure

Gnarr's public support 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Types of Political Corruption

In his recent book Republic, Lost, Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law Professor, discusses four types of political corruption: quid pro quo, venal, dependency, and systematic. These types of corruption are defined as follows:

Quid pro quo: Latin. 'what for what' or 'something for something.' The concept of getting something of value in return for giving something of value. For a contract to be binding, it usually must involve the exchange of something of value (Lectric Law Library).

Quid pro quo corruption example:

The Prime Minister rejects regulating carbon emissions, and the oil and gas sector gives voluntarily the Prime Minister $200,000 in undisclosed cash.

Venal: 1. open to bribery; mercenary. Capable of betraying honor, duty, or scruples for a price; corruptible.

2. Marked by corrupt dealings, especially bribery: a venal administration.

3. Obtainable for a price (Free Dictionary).

Venal corruption example:

The crusading journalist attempted to fight corruption in government by casting light on venal lawmakers and the special interests that whispered in their ears (Merriam-Webster).

Dependency corruption refers to politicians who are dependent on major donors not only to be elected, but to live a lifestyle attendant with being an elected official (Dr. Lawrence Lessig).

Dependency corruption example:

The Member of Parliament, who lives an upper class lifestyle, is attuned to the interests of the lobbyists, while being oblivious to the real concerns of her constituents.

Systematic corruption refers to corruption which is an integrated and essential aspect of the economic, social and political system (Basil Institute of Governance), and corruption in the very processes of economic, social and political systems (Foundation for Democratic Advancement).

Systematic corruption example:

Over the last several decades, the majority of Members of Parliament have passed federal election laws which favor profoundly large, established political parties.

The Congress amended laws so that the gas sector is excluded from the Air and Water Protection Acts, and despite serious health concerns over the gas extraction process.

As may be noted, there is overlap between the four types of corruption.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oil and Venezuela

Through its contacts, the FDA has learned of a planned assassination attempt on Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles. Mr. Capriles has been offered protection by the Venezuelan intelligence service, which he has declined. Apparently, the purpose of the assassination is to discredit President Chavez prior to the upcoming 2012 Venezuelan Presidential election (on October 7), by implicating him in the assassination. If this is true, it bespeaks of a desperate opposition, which shows no limits in attaining political power. Apparently, Mr. Capriles is far behind in the polls. In the alternative, it is possible the Venezuelan government may be creating fear in the people. The FDA has no evidence either way. However, the 2002 attempted Venezuelan coup was based on calculated false information that the Chavez government and its supporters were harming the opposition supporters. We are in the murky waters of a major oil producing country that does not tow the western line. We can see based on recent events that western governments have been self-serving: in Iraq the Bush administration fabricated the grounds for invading Iraq and even lied to the American people; in Afghanistan, the US invaded the country on mere grounds that Bin Laden was housed by the Afghans; in Libya, western governments aided significantly the military take over of Libya when Gaddafi became less cooperative in supplying Libyan oil to western sources....

Here is the information release from the Venezuelan intelligence service: 

Ante informaciones obtenidas en los últimos días por las fuerzas de seguridad venezolanos el presidente Hugo Chávez Frías instruyó ayer lunes a abordar eventuales amenazas contra la vida del candidato presidencial opositor Henrique Capriles.

Tal como lo relató el propio Mandatario vía telefónica al programa Dando y Dando, de Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), “hay por ahí la información de que quieren atentar contra él (Capriles), y no es el Gobierno, pero para nada. Todo lo contrario”.

Ante ese escenario, el director del Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia (Sebin), Miguel Rodríguez, se reunió con un equipo de seguridad de Capriles, gobernador del estado Miranda (que rodea a Caracas).

"Como Estado nosotros estamos obligados a entrarle a esa situación y a darle protección a cualquier venezolano y, sobre todo en este contexto... Lamentablemente aquí no tenemos una oposición seria, lamentablemente el candidato opositor lo que va es palo abajo y andan en un desespero y están recurriendo a la guerra sucia”, señalo el presidente Chávez Frías.

La información sobre el plan homicida ha sido tomada con seriedad por las fuentes de las que provienen: “La hemos hecho del conocimiento del equipo de seguridad del candidato burgués y le hemos ofrecido seguridad”.

Recordó que al salir de prisión en 1994 aceptó, por sugerencia del entonces presidente, el socialcristiano Rafael Caldera, un equipo de seguridad, luego de que la Dirección de los Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevención (Disip, antiguo Sebin) informara sobre supuestos plantes de atentado en su contra.

“Aquí el Gobierno es el primer garante, junto al pueblo, de la seguridad, de la paz del país, de la tranquilidad de los venezolanos y estamos todos los días en la lucha contra cualquier fenómeno, hecho o amenaza que afecte o pueda afectar esa tranquilidad”, expresó al lamentar que desde laboratorios de guerra sucia de la oposición se promuevan campañas que rayan en el delito.

Translation of information release:

Given information obtained recently by Venezuelan security forces President Hugo Chavez on Monday instructed to address any threats against the life of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

As I told the president himself via telephone at Dando y Dando program, Venezolana de Television (VTV), "there is information out there that want to undermine it (Capriles), and not the government, but for nothing. Quite the contrary."

Given this scenario, the director of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin), Miguel Rodriguez, met with a security team Capriles, governor of Miranda state (surrounding Caracas).

"As a state we are forced to dig into this situation and give protection to any Venezuelan and especially in this context ... Unfortunately we do not have serious opposition, the opposition candidate unfortunately so far is stuck down and walk in a desperate manner and are resorting to the dirty war," said President Chavez.

Information about the murder plan was taken seriously by the sources from which they come: "We have made known to the candidate's security team, and we have offered bourgeois security."

He recalled that his release from prison in 1994 accepted the suggestion of then-President Rafael Caldera the social safety equipment, after the Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (DISIP old Sebin) report on cases of indecent plans against him.

"Here the government is the first guarantor, with the people, security, peace of the country, the tranquility of Venezuelans and we are everyday in the fight against any phenomenon, event or threat that affects or could affect the tranquility," he said lamenting that from laboratories dirty war of the opposition campaigns that promote and border on the offense.

Information on Capriles

Plot to kill Capriles

Dr. Maria Paez Victor Interview on Venezuelan Democracy

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Dark Side of American, Canadian, Western (Un)Democratic Processes

This important documentary by Josh Fox focuses on the gas boom in the United States from 2005 onward, in which public health and environmental protection are overshadowed by mega profits in the oil and gas sectors including by the Canadian oil and gas company Encana Corporation. The documentary exposes US federal environmental legislation altered for the benefit of the oil and gas sector, silencing of the US Environmental Protection Agency and its scientists, censorship by major media, and an uninformed public. (Interestingly, there are online rebuffs of this documentary, similar to the rebuffs of global warming by scientists paid by the oil and gas sector.) This documentary is only one example of the failings of western democracies, in which minority interests supersede the interests of people as a whole. In connecting the dots after watching this documentary, the FDA asks viewers, for example, to consider the following recent posts about so-called Canadian democracy.

Similar to what is documented in "Gasland," Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada (federal level of government) have been muzzling Canadian scientists about the global warming phenomenon:

Nature Journal Criticizes Canadian Censorship

The true nature of Canadian federal democracy is anything but democratic (and this is without even considering the role of lobbyists):

Core of the Canadian Political System

Here we see Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada spinning themselves as promoters of democracy while being investigated for the robo-call scandal involving over 31,000 electoral complaints:

Double Speak

These are only some dots.... 

Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Around Corner?

Democracy and Indicators of Well-being

This interesting video by Hans Rosling demonstrates that democracy does not have a monopoly on achieving high standards of well-being, such as life expectancy and income levels. A problem with the video and analysis is that it relies on data on democracy from the American University, in which throughout the twentieth century, for example, the USA receives 100 percent scores. These scores reflect bias and deficiency in the methodological approach of the American University. In 2011, the FDA scored the US federal electoral system with a failing 30 percent score due to an overemphasis on freedom through electoral finance and media laws. So based on FDA global democracy scores, there is even less correlation between democracy and high standards of well-being. Although as Rosling states that freedom, fairness, equality ect. are well-being (social) indicators as well. The danger is to focus solely on freedom as an indicator of democracy, because freedom alone likely leads to a plutocratic state.

2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the USA

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Empty side of US politics?

In this video, Mitt Romney's soundbites are showcased. Does anyone really care about how much money Mitt Romney makes? As long as it is done legally, does it really matter? What does matter? Are Americans deprived of reasonable electoral choice at the federal level?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grassroots Democracy in the USA?

In this promotional and somewhat biased video, a US democracy movement is showcased based on the concept of "clean elections" whereby state candidates adopt voluntarily a "clean" electoral finance campaign. Interestingly, instead of fair electoral finance legislation, Americans are forced to adopt their own standard of electoral finance legislation, and thereby bypassing the political process in the USA. This activist approach is partly the result of the US Supreme Court decision against Citizens United, in which money is equated with freedom of speech. The limitation of this Supreme Court decision is that it overemphasizes political freedom at the expense of political equality and fairness.

The FDA supports the "clean campaign" movement as a starting place. However, the word "clean" is very general and limited. A clean election is defined by:

1. Collect a set number of small contributions in their district.

2. Agree to voluntary spending limit.

3. No campaign contributions from private donors.

4. No contributions from candidates own monies.

There are no restrictions on corporate and union contributions, and there is no cap on contributions nor are there measures for complete transparency of electoral finances. Also, it is unclear how candidates who conduct a clean campaign are monitored for adherence. Yet, the spending limit is very positive depending on its level. Another important point, is that electoral finance is only one part of elections. The major media for example plays a significant role in determining the electoral discourse.

In Canada at the provincial level, Nova Scotia has very progressive, fair electoral finance laws which go far beyond the clean election guidelines above, while Alberta is extremely deficient in its electoral finance laws. On March 30th, the FDA will publish a report on the electoral finance legislation of Canada's 10 provinces.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Sherman and McDonald Expose Linkage between PC Party and Significant Money Interests

In this article by Kelly Cryderman, Liberal MLAs Sherman and McDonald question the PC government on high donations in the recent PC leadership candidate race. One company donated $100,000 to three of the candidates, the Southern Family donated $128,000 to various candidates, and candidate Horner received a donation of $35,000, for examples, in violation of the PC Party's rules on leadership donations. (The PC Party cap on donations is set at $30,000.)

The important issue at stake here is that the PC Party is not adhering to its own leadership contest rules. Does that mean it is not adhering to the provincial rules as well? And doesn't significant donations compromise the ability of politicians to make decisions in the best interests of all Albertans?

In the 2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Alberta, the FDA measured severe unfairness in the area of electoral finance. The FDA auditors measured the $30,000 cap on contributions to political parties as high, in which only 23.6% of Albertans can afford, not including corporations and unions. In addition, there is no campaign expenditure limit, which contributes to an unequal playing field for candidates and parties.

The FDA is conducting an electoral finance audit of all 10 provinces. The FDA report which will include a ranking of the 10 provinces, will be released on March 30th.

PC Party and Money Interests

Financial statements of the PC Party's leadership candidates

2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Alberta

Canadian Federal System Clearly Undemocratic

In this statement on Canadian democracy, the United North America organization (UNA) presents strong evidence of the undemocratic and even dictatorial underpinnings of the Canadian federal system. The main undemocratic feature is the unilateral power of the Prime Minister, as outlined in the UNA statement:
  1. To appoint the Governor General of Canada (through whom the PM technically exercises most of his/her powers, some of which are listed below);
  2. To appoint Senators to the Canadian Senate;
  3. To appoint Supreme Court justices and other federal justices;
  4. To appoint all members of the Cabinet;
  5. To appoint the entire board of the Bank of Canada;
  6. To appoint the heads of the military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other government agencies;
  7. To appoint CEO's and Chairs of crown corporations such as CBC;
  8. To dissolve Parliament and choose the time of the next federal election (within a 5 year limit);
  9. To run for re-election indefinitely (no term limits);
  10. To remove Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling party's caucus;
  11. To deny any MP the right to participate in parliamentary debate or run for re-election;
  12. To dismiss individuals or groups of representatives from serving in Parliament;
  13. To ratify treaties; and
  14. To declare war.
The Prime Minister's powers are enhanced by a majority government. However, through the first-past-the-post system, a minority party can get a majority of the Canadian Parliament, as the Conservative Party of Canada did in 2011 with only 39.6% of the vote and 24.3% of the overall vote, and yet 54% of the seats in the Canadian Parliament. As noted by United North America, although there is discussion and debate in the Canadian Parliament, this aspect has time limits and comes down to a vote. With strict party discipline, the voice of federal MPs is nullified, and a majority party dominates the Parliament. This governance structure is reinforced by the fact that the majority of the MPs determine the Canadian federal election laws. These laws are shown to be self-serving by favoring significantly large, established political parties over small and new political parties and favoring major media over a pluralistic media (see the FDA Report on Canada). In addition, there are very few checks and balances on a Canadian majority government, except for mass public protest, intervention by the Canadian Supreme Court which the Prime Minister appoints, public law suits, and a public vote every four years or so.) As mentioned, the FDA believes that the public vote is canceled out by the self-serving and unfair nature of the federal electoral system. 

In regards to the US federal system, United North America overlooks that the US federal system is based on a defacto legislated two party system through extreme freedom in electoral finance and media laws, and resulting electoral inequality and unfairness. The US two party system cements the status quo in the USA, and in the process undermines American democracy.

Both the Canadian and US federal systems are undemocratic. To claim that they are democratic because of regular free and fair elections every four years or so, ignores many other factors (discussed above) which comprise democracy. What good is a fair count of votes when voters are uninformed and have narrow electoral choice? What good is a pluralistic party system, when large, established parties are significantly favored?

The FDA disagrees with the United North America's argument that the democratic failings of the Canadian federal system means Canadian provinces should join the US federal system. This argument overlooks that both systems are troubled, and that a troubled system does not mean people should give up their independence. Canadians need to reform the Canadian federal system, so that it is only about the Canadian people as a whole, rather than a minority political establishment.

The FDA believes that major reform of the Canadian federal system starts with disallowing members of parliament from determining the rules of their own election game. A non-partisan elected citizen group comprised of the regions of Canada should create the Canadian federal election laws. This reform is critical, because it will allow new voices to enter the Canadian Parliament, and hopefully through their voices lead to more change in favor of Canadians as a whole. (For more reforms see the FDA Report on Canada.)

United North American Organization on Democracy 

2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the USA

2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Canada

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Voting Rights Under Threat in Texas?

In this article by Charlie Savage, Texas minority rights are under threat by a pending Texas election law requiring photo identification to vote. The intent of the legislation, which was blocked by the federal justice department, is to prevent ineligible voters from casting ballots, while on the flip side, many Texan Hispanics do not have photo identification, and therefore they could be disenfranchised by the law. Between 600,000 and 800,000 Texans do not have voter identification. The article does not make clear whether or not ineligible voting is an issue in Texas, or is this voter identification law an attempt by state Republicans to strengthen their popularity through voter exclusion.

Justice Department Blocks Texas' Photo ID Law

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Democratic Capitalism an Oxymoron?

In this somewhat provocative editorial, Thomas Freedman summaries the main thoughts of David Rothkopf on the grand state of America. Rothkopf argues that American political discourse should focus on what type of capitalism should be implemented, rather than focus on ideological differences and surface issues. He characterizes America as "democratic capitalism". Democratic capitalism? Democracy has to do with the people and their interests, and capitalism is about the individual and his/her interests. So how can democracy and capitalism be united without significant compromises on either side? Or as Orlando Hawkins writes:
"If democracy is about the people, in which everyone is deemed to be equals, and capitalism is about the individual, then it would be pretty tough to have a system that will fulfill both needs......"

It seems Rothkopf and Freedman ignore or overlook this fundamental philosophical dilemma.

Since capitalism and democracy are not compatible, should capitalism trump democracy or should democracy trump capitalism? This is the real issue that needs to be determined. Currently, in North American society for example, democracy is a mere shell around capitalism. The American and Canadian electoral systems favor large, established parties and significant money interests over the collective interests of the people. Freedom is enshrined because of its compatibility with both democracy and capitalism, while fairness and equality are sidelined. Excessive freedom likely leads to plutocracy or the rule of the rich. A purely capitalist society would be a pure plutocracy.

Democracy must be united with an economic system that is compatible with the collective interests of the people. Socialism is premised on the economic and social interests of the collective.

Democratic socialism appears to be a logical way forward if there is serious interest in democracy. Another way would be capitalist democracy, with emphasis on democracy or rule of the people. Capitalism and individual freedoms would be reasonably compromised in the interests of upholding democracy. There would be no compromise of fundamental democratic principles.

Thoughts on the compatibility of capitalism and democracy

Capitalism 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Burma (Myanmar) Democracy Reform and April 1st By-Elections

In this FDA podcast, Mr. Stephen Garvey FDA founder and executive director interviews two Burmese political refugees on democracy reform in Burma and the upcoming Burmese April 1st by-elections. The Burmese political refugees are Mr. Nang Suan (Zosuan) who participated in the 1988 Burmese student uprisings and who fled to India, and is a member of the Zomi National Congress, and Mr. Ghin Shoute who fled Burma in 1998, worked for the UN High Commission for (Burmese) Refugees in New Dehli, and who is a member of the Zomi International Network. The podcast focuses on the upcoming April 1st by-elections and the prospects for real democracy reform in Burma. Mr. Suan and Mr. Shoute shed light on the circumstances surrounding noble prize winner Suu Kyi and the challenges facing Burmese democracy. The views in this podcast do not necessarily represent the views of the FDA. For non-mainstream, insightful, and provocative discussion from people working in the field of international politics, listen in or download.

Burma Democracy Reform

Monday, March 12, 2012

US Constitution Threatened By Partisan Politics?

In this editorial by J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, he argues that US constitutional non-partisan prudence is necessary, rather than partisan constitutional agendas pursued by both Republicans and Democrats. Wilkinson III argues that all American interests need to be taken into account when looking at the US Constitution. This is a reasonable and obvious argument as any constitution should reflect the people of a country as a whole rather than special or minority interests. This editorial may reflect the struggle America faces as it tries to revive or even reinvent itself. Yet it may be argued that the US Constitution is significantly out of date, and needs a major overhaul. However, even with a major overhaul, the Constitution should reflect all Americans as a whole. So Wilkinson III's point still stands.

Cry the Beloved Constitution

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Burma Democracy Reform Pressure A Means Not An End

The FDA has been suspicious of western governments significant interest in Burma democracy reform. Rarely do western governments do something unless it is in their self-interest. What is behind all this rhetorical democracy buzz by western governments? Could it be a genuine interest in promoting democracy, or is there something else?

Unfortunately, the FDA believes that Burma democracy reform pressure from western governments is simply a means to get access to the country's resources (and to compete with Asian counterparts) and if possible control the country through a structure of democracy which lacks substance, like in Afghanistan.

According to Michael Sheridan in his article "Rush for Burma's Hidden Treasure", "Burma is rich in oil, gas, timber, gems, minerals and agriculture, and its 60m population, long locked out of Asia’s consumer prosperity, offers a potential market the size of Thailand or Vietnam."

The Network Myanmar says, "sanctions imposed by America and the European Union have shut out every heavyweight multinational, leaving the commercial field open to competitors from China, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea. Japanese trading houses and companies are “zooming in on Myanmar [Burma] as a land of opportunity”, the Nikkei news service reported in Tokyo last week, listing nine companies already engaged there. Meanwhile, British companies with a strong presence in Asia, including Standard Chartered, BP, Prudential and HSBC, are reduced to waiting on the sidelines, wary of a public and political backlash if they are seen to be rewarding the generals who still dominate Burma behind the scenes."

So it follows that western governments are anxious for Burma democracy reforms to open the floodgates for their heavyweight multinational companies. In addition, through the support of opposition leader, Suu Kyi, western governments will have a political inroad into the country and a symbolic justification for doing business with Burma. Any sign of democracy reform in Burma as evidenced by the April 1st by-elections will open the western economic floodgates. Western election observer reports will likely claim that free and fair elections occurred, just as they did in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently.

This article sums up fairly accurately what is going on with Burma:

Premature rush for Myanmar riches By Brian McCartan

"The rapid pace of reforms in Myanmar is raising speculation about when, not if, United States- and European Union-imposed economic sanctions will be lifted. While Myanmar's various untapped markets are generating immense interest from foreign investors, until more economic and financial reforms are implemented actual capital inflows will likely be mitigated.

While part of President Thein Sein's wider reform drive, economic reforms are also being fueled by a crisis in the domestic financial system, dissatisfaction with China's growing economic influence and recognition that Western sanctions have greatly inhibited the economy. Another spur is the need to comply with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community regulations scheduled to take effect in 2015.

As the US and European Union (EU) make concessions in response to Thein Sein's reform signals, it seems increasingly likely that all economic and financial sanctions could be rolled back later this year. Those prospects will improve if Naypyidaw can show that by-elections scheduled for April 1, the first to be contested by pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party since 1990, are free and fair.

Myanmar has seen a number of senior Western diplomats visit the country in recent months, beginning with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit in December. Since then, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe have all made official trips to the traditionally military-run country. The positive rhetoric after their visits and wider praise for Naypyidaw's reform efforts have added momentum to the gathering drive in the West to repeal sanctions.

The EU is considering a US$197 million aid package focused on health, education, agriculture and institutional capacity-building. EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting on January 23 to lift immediately a travel ban it had imposed on certain Myanmar leaders and is considering relaxing other restrictions after the April 1 by-elections.

French Foreign Minister Juppe announced at the end of his official trip that France - independent of the EU - would triple its development aid to Myanmar to about $3.85 million a year. Denmark has announced it will increase its bilateral aid to $17 million in 2012. Australia announced in early January that it would begin relaxing some financial and travel sanctions against government tourism representatives and members of the former ruling junta.

Although Washington has been coy on the sanctions issue, it took a major step towards normalizing diplomatic relations this month when it announced it would soon name an ambassador to Myanmar - only hours after Thein Sein released an estimated 300 political prisoners.

The US downgraded its mission in 1990 after pro-democracy protests were brutally crushed by the military and the ruling junta nullified election results that indicated a clear win for Suu Kyi and NLD-led opposition.

Repealing American sanctions would require an act of congress, something that seemed unlikely just a few months ago. Now there are signs that many of Myanmar's strongest critics in congress are beginning to shift their views towards greater accommodation with Thein Sein's nominally civilian, military-backed regime.

Senator Mitch McConnell recently told senate colleagues that he felt the reforms were real following a two-day trip to the country earlier in the month where he met with government officials and Suu Kyi. McConnell, a long-time opponent of the military regime and a backer of sanctions legislation, said more must be done. Senator John McCain said this month that free and fair by-elections would encourage the relaxation of sanctions.

Many long-time Myanmar observers maintain reservations about the sincerity of Naypyidaw'sMyanmar's military rulers are notorious for reversing seemingly conciliatory gestures to the opposition and then re-arresting political opponents once international attention shifted away from its abuses.

At the same time, economic analysts say investment opportunities abound in Myanmar, especially in the energy, agriculture, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. The tourism industry, too, is expected to see major growth due to the country's historical pagodas, natural beauty and colonial architecture, among other attractions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently referred to Myanmar as the "next economic frontier in Asia" with "high growth potential", following a two-week assessment trip. The IMF is currently working with the government to overhaul its financial system, including a distorted dual exchange rate that has long discouraged foreign investment.

Myanmar occupies a strategic crossroads between the growing economies of India and China and Southeast Asia. A port under construction at Kyaukpyu on Myanmar's west coast is aimed at opening up China's remote southwestern province of Yunnan to trade and investment. It is also part of a project to build a dual oil and gas pipeline from a terminal at the port to southwestern China.

An even larger multi-billion dollar port project at Dawei on the southern coast aims to connect Myanmar with Thailand, the rest of Southeast Asia and southern China. It will offer a potentially faster, cost-saving alternative to the Malacca Strait and Singapore for the transportation of goods and energy. Investment in these port projects will be encouraged through their associated infrastructure development and planned integrated special economic and industrial zones....

While Western business interests look towards Myanmar's vast untapped potential, many Asian companies are moving pre-emptively before Western sanctions are lifted and US and European companies join the competition for contracts and projects.

Thein Sein is now on a three-day trip to Singapore, where on Monday he signed an agreement under which the city-state is offering help in economic planning, urban development and technical and vocational training.

Already a number of US and European firms are known to have quietly sent representatives to explore opportunities should sanctions soon repealed.

Even without legal protections and basic infrastructure, and with a dubious cast of potential business partners, Myanmar is fast becoming Asia's next big thing."

Premature Rush for Myanmar Riches

2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the DRC 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Harper and Conservative Party Double Speak Reaches New Levels

In the amidst of the robo-call scandal including accusations that Elections Canada has been working in a partisan relationship with the federal Conservatives, the Harper government gives honorary citizenship to Aung San Suu Kyi for her help with democracy reforms in Burma. The Canadian government uses Canadian tax dollars to support democracy in places like Burma, and since 1988 it has imposed economic and military sanctions on Burma. No doubt Suu Kyi is well-deserving of her honorary citizenship. But from the Conservative Party of Canada while it is being investigated for election fraud? Also, the Harper government says it is watching Burma closely for election fraud in the upcoming April 1st by-elections. How reliable is the Canadian federal government as an observer of election fraud? Another irony about Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada is that they turn a blind eye to democracy reformists in Canada and make it extremely tough on Canadian democracy organizations in attaining charity status for example. Added to this, as measured in the 2011 FDA electoral fairness report on Canada, Canadian federal democracy received a failing score of 25.75 percent for severe deficiencies in electoral finance, political content of major media, which in turn impacts voter, candidate, and party influence. The Canadian government and Elections Canada has made zero comment on these findings, and the major media in Canada has ignored the findings. These are the main findings:
      1. Canada scored lower in electoral spending than the Tunisian dictatorship under Ben Ali
      2. Canada scored only 23 per cent for equality of political content from the media
      3. Study shows that freedom of expression is restricted by finance laws that favour dominant parties
      4. Study shows that there is severe inequality in the media and favoring of parties that were previously successful
      5. Canada's only passing grade of 60 per cent is in equality of voter say
      FDA Advisory on Canada's Federal Democracy

      2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Canada

      Conservative Party Robo-call Scandal

      Harper Government Hides Behind Aung Kyi


      Friday, March 9, 2012

      Fault Lines in the US Two Party System

      This insightful article argues that there are severe deficiencies in the US two party system, whereby the two parties are not offering Americans viable choices to deal with increasingly urgent domestic issues. Mr. Edsall argues that part of the problem lies in the shortcomings of American capitalism, and an inability to reinvent a nation and reform its political system....

      Is This The End Of Market Democracy? 

      Thursday, March 8, 2012

      Fictional Political Candidates

      This interesting, partisan Bill Maher video of Bernie Sanders (Senator from Vermont) highlights many issues facing the majority of Americans, and raises the concept of fictional candidates. As described by Maher, fictional candidates refers to real political candidates fictionalized, in either negative or positive senses, by political propaganda.
      As a side note, are not Americans sick of the partisan rant of Bill Maher? He comes across as if the Democrats can do no wrong. He is a farce in many senses. Hopefully Americans take what good he offers, and leaves the rest!


      Wednesday, March 7, 2012

      Insight into "gerrymandering"

      This interesting video discusses gerrymandering in the context of the US federal political system. Four types of gerrymandering are identified: racial, incumbency, partisan, and bipartisan. The author says that the US is the only advanced western democracy which allows its politicians to draw their own electoral boundaries. In Alberta, the Legislative Assembly decides, and since the PC Party has dominated the Assembly for 40 years and counting, the PC Party decides within the constraints of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In addition, the 2009/2010 Electoral Boundaries Commission for example was comprised of one judge, two MLA's from the PC Party and two MLA's from opposition parties. In the 2012 FDA electoral fairness report on Alberta, the FDA auditors measured complete fairness for the process of determining Alberta electoral districts. (The FDA auditors believe that the process of determining rural district boundaries is reasonably fair; there are no perfect boundaries; to allow Alberta's significantly greater populated urban areas to dominate the Legislative Assembly would undermine the political voice of rural Albertans. The FDA believes that a balance needs to be attained. See the FDA Alberta report and/or Commission report for more details.) However, the Alberta electoral system may be susceptible to bipartisan gerrymandering. To deal with this, members of all registered parties should be part of the process of drawing electoral boundaries, and even better, an elected non-partisan citizen body should draw them.

      In less advanced democracies, Jordan for example allows its government to draw the electoral districts. In Jordan there is clear evidence of gerrymandering, and even the use of different electoral systems.

      2009/2010 Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission

      2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Alberta

      2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Jordan