Lessons for the UK; The Canadian Election and Voting Systems

On May 2nd Canada held a Federal election, contested primarily by the governing Conservatives, the opposition Liberals and the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. The election was called because the ruling Conservative Party suffered a motion of no-confidence, subsequent to the electoral commission found that the Conservative Party had contravened the Elections Act five years prior. The Conservatives promised to re-introduce warrant-less Internet surveillance legislation along with a bundle of crime-related bills emphasising punishment, in contrast with preventative measures suggested by the opposition. The Conservatives promised to purchase no less than 65 F-35 attack jet fighters, whereas the NDP preferred a more defensive naval orientation. The Conservatives claimed that they were economically responsible, successfully steering the country through the financial crisis. The Liberals countered this, claiming that they had left the country with a $13 billion surplus which was now in deficit. The Conservatives wanted to cut company tax down to 15%; the NDP wanted to increase it by 1.5% and double the pension plan.

During the election the Conservatives expressed fears that there would be a left-wing coalition between the Liberals, the NDP, Le Bloc and the Greens. Prior to the poll, there was an enormous swing to the New Democratic Party, but most of this came from the Liberals and Le Bloc. This was replicated on polling day; the Conservatives, with a mere 39.62% (+1.96%) of the vote, have achieved a majority government with 167 seats (+24). The progressive vote was split between the New Democratic Party (30.63%, +12.44%, 102 seats, +66 seats), the Liberals (18.91%, -7.36%, 34 seats, -43), Bloc Quebecois (6.04%. -3.94%, 4 seats, -43) and the Greens (3.91%, -2.87%, 1 seat, +1).

This is the second election is succession won by the Conservatives with the range of left-leaning opposition parties achieving around 60% of the vote each time. This is absolutely maddening for the majority of Canadians who, once again, have to put up with a government that the majority does not support and will implement policies that they are opposed to. The reason for this alienating outcome is quite simple; Canada, like the United Kingdom, uses a first-past-the-post electoral system, which ultimately means for each seat (or "riding") that victory is given not to the majority, but to the biggest minority regardless of preferences or proportionality, a fact quickly pointed out by Fair Vote Canada.

Of course, many Canadians have some understanding of this. Not surprisingly, the NDP has strongly argued for mixed-member proportional representation. The Conservatives are certainly aware of the popular desire for electoral reform, but will not support any method that creates large ridings (which basically means opposing MMP) whereas the Liberal Party has consistently taken no position. When taken to referendum however, a single-transferable vote proposal received majority support but failed to reach the required 60% support in British Columbia in 2005, and MMP options failed to receive even a majority in Prince Edward Island, also in 2005, and Ontorio in 2007. Notably in the latter case those most of those who were aware of the issue were going to support the case for change, but over half the population were not.

How beautiful is freedom

كيف جميلة هي الحرية

Since December 2010 there has been revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, a pending change of government in Yemen, a civil war in Libya, and an insurgency in Syria, along with significant protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. Yet there is a disturbing distrust among some towards what has become known as The Arab Spring (although it is not limited to Arabs), a mistrust that can only be characterised as a racism towards Arabs and a bigotry towards Muslims. With the benefits of liberal democracy, some are questioning the motives of the revolutionary protesters suggesting that they will institute governments as despotic as those that currently exist, or that they will seek to establish theocratic dictatorships.

On one level such attitudes are the result of an apparent inability to consider life from the perspective of a person living in such countries. For decades these countries have been ruled by absolute monarchs, dictatorships, or regimes with only a pretence of democracy, all of which have engaged in gross violations of basic human rights. At the same time there has been economic development in the Arab world; living standards have improved (especially in those countries with exploitable natural resources), as has education levels. Yet the people remain poor, with the price of staple food increasing along with a long-standing high Gini coefficient in the region. Technology and demographics have played their role as well, the region having a relatively high youth population and with increased knowledge of government corruption and nepotism identified through avenues such as the Wikileaks diplomatic cables.

It is extraordinary to think that anything else could have happened; a young population, educated in the ways of the contemporary world, aware of the wealth of their countries, aware of the lack of democracy and civil rights, aware of the degree of corruption and painfully aware of the level of economic insecurity. When one considers the arab as being a normal flesh-and-blood human being, with the same existential desires as any other member of the species, why is it all surprising to witness these revolts? Is it surprising to see the importance of Internet technologies in these uprisings? If these basic human conditions are insufficient surely then the empirical evidence should serve; rather than taking the path of repression, successful revolts have achieved not insignificant improvements in civil and democratic rights, and none have taken the path of religious fundamentalism.

The Land of Ire

The Irish General Elections have witnessed a remarkable 15% swing to left-wing parties (9.3%, +16 to 36 seats for Labour, 3.0%, +9 setas to 13 for Sinn Fein, 2.6%, +5 seats to the United Left Alliance) but a complete wipe-out of the Greens (down 2.9%, loss of all six seats). The opposition centre-right/traditionalist party, Fine Gael also gained 19 seats and a swing of 8.8%. The previously governing conservative-populist Fianna Fail lost a remarkable 24.2% of the vote, more than 50% of its vote, and 59 seats, the worst result in the party's eighty-five year history. In all probability there will be a new governing coalition between Fine Gael and Labour in the 166 seat lower house (Dáil Éireann).

The election results are being widely interpreted as punishment of the Fianna Fail party (and the Greens, who were in coalition) for economic mismanagement. Ireland's two largest banks (Allied Irish Bank) and the Bank of Ireland were each bailed out for €3.5 billion. The smaller Anglo Irish bank was nationalised when the government determined that a bailout would not save the bank after it had conducted circular hidden loans. The EBS Building Society was also nationalised. These bailouts contributed to the Irish debt levels and the worst recession on record, requiring a EU bailout of some a €85 billion. Needless to say, the cost of such speculation and economic collapse is borne once again by ordinary people who have responded in anger at the ballot box.

The following quote directly from Wikipedia explains the cause of the problems:

Morgan Kelly, a professor of economics at University College Dublin, was particularly concerned about the real estate bubble which was reaching its climax in the summer of 2006. He noted that a fifth of Irish workers were in the construction industry and that the average price of a home in Dublin had increased 500% from 1994 to 2006. He published a news article in the Irish Times, asserting that Irish real estate prices could possibly fall 40 - 50%. His second article was rejected by the Irish Independent and lingered unpublished at The Sunday Business Post until the Irish Times agreed to run it in September 2007. Kelly predicted the collapse of Irish banks, which had fueled the rapid rise of real estate by increasingly lowering their lending standards and relying on foreign cash infusions.

Libyan Action: Write to Your Libyan Ambassador and Encourage Them To Resign

PLEASE DISTRIBUTE WIDELY

Libya was ruled by the Ottomans for three hundred and fifty years, then ruled by the Italians for fifty. At least a 1/3 of the local population were killed in resisting Italian rule and colonists reached up to 20% of the population. In 1951 independence was achieved, under the rule of a King Idris and a progressive constitution. However Libya underwent a military coup in 1969 and has been under control of Muammar al-Gaddafi since. Political parties were banned in 1972. Trade unions do not exist (although professional associations are integrated within the governmental system). There is no right to strike. After the coup, oil reserves (currently making up 58% of the GDP in revenue) were nationalised and collectivised.

Following the examples of Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Libya have risen to overthrow this ailing dictatorship. The response has been swift and brutal, with over 500 estimated deaths. On 18 February demonstrators took control over most of Benghazi, the second largest city of Libya, with some military and police units defecting, with subsequent protests in the capital Tripoli and Al Bayda. A number of Libyan diplomats have resigned in protest and others claim that they no longer supporting the Gaddafi regime. Saif El Islam, Gaddafi's second son, has threatened the protestors warning: "We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet. We will not lose Libya. We will not let Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and BBC trick us."

Radical Peace: An Interview With Prof. William T. Hathaway

Peace flag

William T. Hathaway is a US Special Forces combat veteran turned peace activist. He has just published his fourth book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, which presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in North America, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany.

RADICAL PEACE has aroused controversy in the USA because of its positive portrayal of illegal resistance to war: helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military vehicles, and sabotaging defense contractors. Conservative critic Joanne Eddington described it as, "Loathesome ... further evidence that the hatred of America is reaching hysterical dimensions." On the other side of the political spectrum, Noam Chomsky described it as, "A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message."

Hathaway wrote the following introduction for ISOCRACY about the book, and afterwards we interviewed him.

More Than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now... Edited by Mark Davis and Miriam Lyons

The Centre for Policy Development, an Australian based progressive policy think-tank, has produced its first hard copy book ‘More Than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now’. It’ also available for free pdf download at their website ( www.cpd.org.au ). The book is a collaboration by policy analysts and public figures from a diverse range of backgrounds with the unifying thread of promoting progressive, practical and solution-focused policy to Australia’s social, sustainability and economic problems. The book goes beyond the usual criticisms of current policy blunders and political incompetence to actually provide constructive criticism and viable solutions to the often complex dilemmas our country is facing and will face in the coming years.

The book challenges our current government to adopt strategies which go beyond the mere ambition of re-election, and to actually implement policy which affects real change and is progressive enough to break free from the current political climate of pandering to big business while not wanting to upset voters from the middle-class mindset. It challenges Gillard to actually make Labor stand for something, which for those of you who have watched Labor’s performance over the past few years will welcome with open arms. The book doesn’t just target the government, but also emphasizes the role the Australian public has to play in progressing change- “When we stop paying attention to politics we make it easier for politicians to stop paying attention to us”.

The content of the book itself is very easily digestible. Chapters are brief and focus on specific policy areas such as education, human rights, the economy, sustainability, Indigenous issues and strategies for strengthening democracy in Australia. Highlights include a courageously innovate new system for Medicare, addressing social apartheid in our schooling system, and an analysis of the implications for Australia not having a Federal Charter of Human Rights. Also of note is a sobering expose of the current policy toward asylum seekers and the media fed frenzy surrounding ‘boat people’.

Overall this book is a breath of fresh air in what has been a particularly stale period in governmental policy. The main challenge will be for the ideas put forth in the book to be widely disseminated enough to have an impact. Having great ideas is the first step, but getting politicians to adopt these policies and think beyond the framework of the 3 year election term will require some considerable effort...

Wikileaks: The Free and Responsible Search for Truth

A search for truth that is free is one that is not hindered by censorship or by allegiances to all other principles than truth itself. A search for truth that is responsible is one that is committed to unearthing those crimes against humanity that others would prefer were not known. But there are people who do not have such responsibility; their idea of responsibility is to hide the truth if it damages those powers that they worship. For some it is their state, for others their nationality, for others their religion or church, for others their political party, for others to company their work for. In contrast Mahatma Gandhi wrote "truth never damages a cause that is just".

Consider the great lies of the twentieth century.

Consider the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an supposed Jewish plan to take over the world written by the Tsarist Russian secret police. Despite being exposed as a forgery as early as 1921, it was widely used by the Nazi regime who made it compulsory reading for students; a regime that that was directly responsible for the deaths of six million people of Jewish heritage. Even today there are leaders of in Arabic and Muslim countries who regard the Protocols as authentic, and it is referred to in the 1988 charter for Hamas.

Consider the Holodomor, "Death by Hunger", the human-caused famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933. The chief causes were a combination of unrealistic grain quotas, forced collectivisation, livestock acquisition, and the sealing of the country's borders and the finally the declaration that all food was State property. Up until the late 1980s massive denial and suppression of the facts was orchestrated, including the manipulation of official census records, the destruction of birth and death records. Indeed, it was only in 2006 when the Security Service of Ukraine declassified more than 5 thousand pages of Holodomor archives did the full and true extent of this state-caused famine become truly known. Approximately three and a half million people died in the Ukraine and approximately six and a half million throughout the Soviet Union, by sheer starvation or associated diseases such as typhus.

Thoughts on Violent Liberation

The events of September 11th, 2001, can be called the 'impetus' for the pair of wars we have today only by closing our eyes to the realities of the last hundred, even last few thousand years. To try and untangle the muddle would almost certainly leave out enough events to be insulting to one side or the other. The attacks in New York were claimed by their perpetrators as a response to American imperialism and interference in the Middle East, in the form of support for the Israeli state against the Palestinians. American imperialism and interference, in turn, is a response to the Middle East's stranglehold on the world's oil reserves and its willingness to cover for the crimes of Islamic extremists in Israel and elsewhere. The back and forth could be traced all the way to the sacking of Jerusalem, or even the prophet Muhammad's conquering trail through the Arabian penninsula.

The point is that at some point, you have to take an event on its face. A political actor must accept that he is the perpetrator of his own actions, especially when what he undertakes is in the name of those who are long dead and far beyond having their actions 'redeemed.' The attacks on September 11th constitute such a point. It was a raise of the ante, a deliberate act of cruelty intended to change the nature of the game, and it did. It made clear that there were forces that were willing to reach around the globe, to carve 'You are not safe' upon the great American Experiment, and to involve deliberately an American population that, for the most part, long since relinquished control over its political and military machine. Whatever can be said of how much it awakened the population, it has changed the way politicians interact, the way states interact, and the way people interact.

Americans have a love of liberty. They're raised with it from cradle to grave, and only a few - immigrants, brave journalists, long-deployed soldiers, and refugees - know what it is not to have guaranteed basic rights like the ability to speak your mind in public, to demand redress of grievance from the government, to defend yourself against unwarranted government intrusion. There is a general feeling, poo-poohed by liberal intellectuals as 'cultural relativism', that American freedoms should be the way the entire world works. There is a feeling that the guarantees in the American Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution are somehow correct, that they form some cornerstone of personal and political authenticity. To export these freedoms to others seems worth the price to many people, so long as the moral intentions are clear and open.

Humans all over the world possess a similar character; no human being, not even one of the leadership caste, can truly prosper in a totalitarian famine-state. Similarly, a life spent in lawless jungle villages, constantly fleeing in terror from roving squads of murderous thugs, losing precious material objects or even family members along the way, has little to recommend it. This is especially true when compared to the very real chance of a life of material wealth, intellectual and cultural indulgence, and personal freedom of movement, assembly, and expression. When we see other human beings in such situations, we are moved. An individual have almost no power to affect even a democratic country's decisions, aside from a single vote in elections that are increasingly meaningless. But when the country mobilizes for a war to root out a man whose stated goal is to rid the world of 'America' (and breathe deep of that particular statement: Here we have a man born of Saudi royalty, whose organization and its sibling organizations have consciously increased the violence in their home territories, whose religious beliefs include the intellectual and social stunting of half the world's population, and whose law stems from a barbaric and Iron-age belief in mob rule and retaliation, calling for the destruction of the only state to guarantee freedom from precisely such things in its foundational documentation) and expands it to include ousting a tyrant whose means of subjugation has included roving political death-squads, deliberate starvation, and crimes against humanity limited only by the lack of larger-scale technology, what's not to like? What human being, especially a morally interested American, would not be in favor of liberation?

Secular Education in State Schools

secular comment

There's a debate on in NSW about religion in state schools. It seems that in NSW, state secular schools are, in practice, not secular. ‘Scripture’ lessons, or Religious Education, are mandated. And there was a talk about it on Radio National. It annoyed infuriated and enraged me. So let me demolish the ‘arguments’ in parts.

Elphinstone's Mistake Again: What Are We Doing In Afghanistan?

As the tenth year of the US-led invasion by the UN-endorsed International Security Assistance Force [1] occupation approaches, debate has began over the continued role of the coalition troops in that country, with increasing concern that the war is unwinnable, the coalition supported government is incurably corrupt and the armed forces of official Afghani government would be incapable of maintenance of any sense of law and order without foreign support [2]. The Taleban, partially religious extremists, partially local partisans, are believed to be winning the ground war and the support of the local population. Despite this honestly bleak assessment the situation, conservative politicians are comitted [3] to a failed policy of military occupation, with at least the nominal claim that they are denying Islamicist terrorists a safe haven for operations, and with the admitted policy of supporting international alliances; almost fifty states have currently committed troops to ISAF, total casulties are at least 100,000 [4], and billions of dollars pledged in aid.

Despite this the existential circumstances in Afghanistan remain dire; the average life expectancy is less than 45 years. Only 28% of the population is literate. GDP per capita is $1,000 USD, with 35% unemployment and an equivalent number living below the poverty line. Tellingly these are not dramatic improvements from 1990 or 2000, and in some cases the metrics are worse (47, 46 years life expectancy, 12 and 31% literacy, GDP per capita $200 and $800, 8% estimated unemployment in 1995) [4]. In 2010 Terrorist attacks, those who systematically use violence against non-combatants for political ends, increased in 2010 (to 7,400 attacks between January and September), among an increasing illegal trade in narcotics, elections with an enormous degree of fraud [6], the retention of the death penalty, arbitrary detention and torture, and serious abuses of basic human rights especially toward women.

With the monthly military cost of $6.7 billion from the US budget alone [7], the continuing defense of a lackey government in Kabul, which faces deep resentment among the Pashtun tribal loyalists, cannot be considered a sustainable proposition. It seems that many recognise this, but few are able to offer truly viable alternatives. The occupation forces have recently spoken about alliances with the Taleban (apparently overstated [8]) and NGOs are asked to seek permission from the same in order to carry out their work [9].

Opponents of the occupation and the Islamic republican government and the fundamentalists of the Taliban, such is common in leftist and libertarian circles, must present this opposition with a viable alternative. Few have genuinely considered a principled and practical position that places human rights and national self-determination with an understanding of the context. The first step in this process is the conversion of the existing military strategy to defeat the Taleban/Al-Qaeda to an economic one. Religious fundamentalism struggles to survive in places of economic prosperity, US-style evangelicism notwithstanding. Unwelcome military occupation generates resentment; providers of infrastructure are more often welcomed. Literacy, health-care, housing, sanitation - all of these are desparately needed by the people in Afghanistan. Improving their lives is the priority, of far greater importance than abstract geostrategic concerns.

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