EGYPTS OPPORTUNITIES:ARE POLITICAL PARTIES AND ELECTIONS NECESSARY TO DEMOCRACY ?

It seems to be taken for granted that Egypt’s next step in forming a people’s government  is to form parties and hold elections.   Deep inside me something unexpectedly recoils  at the idea of forming parties and something even deeper  begins to question whether elections  are the most effective strategy for  creating a democratic government that is truly accountable to the will, needs and interests of the people governed. The powerfully dignified, powerfully moving revolution of the Egyptian people confounded the world and caught all the diplomatic and political experts  off guard.  The Egyptians needed no party, no leadership, to state their complaints with eloquence, to state their demands with clarity and determination.

They didn’t gather in unity over any political ideals or any vision of a new constitution or a new democracy.  They gathered in unity that the conditions of their daily lives were intolerable:  educated people working two or three menial jobs for a pittance and spending 80% of their meager incomes on food.  The world answers “well done, you’ve toppled that greedy Mubarak, now to get what you want, copy us, form a new  government like ours..start by forming parties and holding an election”  We democracies of the western world  have done it that way in the past 300 years.  But is our model of parties and elections even right for us in a modern world.

 ARE POLITICAL PARTIES NECESSARY IN MODERN DEMOCRACIES?

 Keith Sutherland argues persuasively that simple two party systems are incapable of reflecting   the fragmentation, diversity and pluralism of modern society. In response to the concurrent voter apathy and confusion, the distinctions between parties has blurred as each rushes to  claim ground in the center . A People’s Parliament by Keith Sutherlandhttp://www.imprint.co.uk/books/9781845401085.html. What Sutherland calls the “hollowing out” of politics is apparent in the performance of the American legislative system in the past decade, and especially in the past three years. The battle for party power and control has overshadowed consideration of the conditions and challenges of the American people. The stated singular priority of the new Republican majority is to regain the presidency in 2012. In America  among the 40% of the electorate who vote, those who share the values of Green Party and Independent candidates are afraid that a vote for these candidates is a vote for the opposition.  Forming more parties may not be the only answer or even the best answer for us.   Creating parties may not be a good idea for the Egyptians. 

ARE ELECTIONS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY OF CREATING A TRUY REPRESENTATIVE BODY?

We take it for granted that “free and fair” elections are the hallmark, the core, of any democracy.  At first blush it may sound extremist and radical to even seriously consider a democracy without elections.  But there are compelling alternatives which may provide more effective representation of a pluralistic and diverse modern society.  The sages have said from ancient of days “there can be no unity without diversity”.  The more accurately the legislative body reflects and contains this diversity, the more likely its focus and its deliberations will legislate to the “common ground”, to the unity of the core, fundamental values that express any people as a nation. Modern wise man, Tom Atlee, writes and speaks with the fluency of truth about the wisdom and insight that emerges when a deliberative body contains the diversity of the whole .”If Egypt’s 21st century revolutionaries want their revolution to turn the world, they will make this supposed weakness — their inclusive diversity — into the greatest strength of their emergent democracy. They will cherish, develop and institutionalize their cross-section diversity AS a political platform AND AS the principle underlying their new forms of democratic leadership.. (http://tom-atlee.posterous.com/will-egypt-revolutionize-democracy-itself)  .

 A True Citizens Legislature:  An Alternative To Elections

Clearly any modern large scale democracy requires that individual citizens transfer their voting rights to a surrogate body who will deliberate on their behalf and create laws for their benefit and protection. Direct participation on every  issue just isn’t feasible. After deliberating with wisdom and knowledge, our founding fathers, at that moment in time, decided that elections were the best method of creating that surrogate body..the body to stand in the stead of all Americans when deliberating and enacting laws.

But is it necessary that this surrogate  body be an elected body ? Many serious thinkers and historians are
looking to the merits of a “draft legislature” similar to what was once used to draft for the armed forces and is still used for jury selection.  Also called “sortition”, It hasn’t been tried as a method of transfer of  rights to the surrogate body since Solon created  the first democratic government  in 600BC. His version of the legislative body.  The”Council of 400″  ,  was drawn  by  lot, 100 members each from the four Greek states  The function of the “Council of the 400” was to vet  all laws before they were submitted for popular vote ( Solon wrote the constitution and all the laws..I gather.) Without promoting  Solon’s government design as a model, many voices, including Atlee’s and Sutherlands,  are suggesting we consider  “sortition” over elections via parties” for the creation of new democracies and the correction of our own.
( Keith Sutherland’s “the Citizen’s Parliament(http://www.imprint.co.uk/books/9781845401085.html ,Atlee OP cit,iSolorn.org ).

 I for one hope to see a broader discussion of how a Citizen’s Legsilature would work.  I am attracted to Sololn’s model:  vetting for a separate  law making body, vetting both what issues and problems laws will address and vetting the laws produced. This  is vaguely similar to what Keith Sutherland proposes in The Citizen’s Parliament ( op cit, see above)  Such a system might create sufficient transparency to break the stranglehold of interest groups and private interests. .

A Citizen’s Legsilature might refocus  and redirect all the time, energy and resources drained from the citizenry by our national party elections process.  Pre-draft caucuses on issues might evolve a time of collective reflection at the local level on how existing laws are working and on any critical gas in our legal framework.  The entire electorate might become available for Co-Intelligence as Tom Atlee would say.  Those drafted would go to take their place in the legislature informed by this pre-draft deliberative process at the local level.

Are The Checks And Balances of Our System Adequate Protection Against  The Tyranny of Plutonomy

The most compelling reason to re-evaluate the viability of the American model of democracy is its apparent inability to resist control and manipulation by the plutonomy. In America  the top 1 % of the population owns and controls 40% of the wealth..more than the entire amount owned by the bottom 95% of the population..  That 1%, not elected or appointed by anyone,  have more access to our elected officials than we do and have greater influence in shaping the policies that create the laws of our surrogate body.  That is essentially what constitutes a plutonomy.  And plutonomy is not nation based. It is global.  To thrive it requires the tolerance of the  electorate..the populace and “freindly” governments.  The tolerance of the elctrorate exists as long as the electorate believes in the possibility of upward mobility and even wealth.  In America, the UK and Canada that tolerance for plutonomic tyranny also makes it  possiblefor a facilitating legal structure  to emerge , as it has here in the U.S. There is much reason to question whether the checks and balances the founding fathers  built into our own  system of government  are an adequate protection against the further diminishment of the many by the very few. Whether it is even possible using only the existing framework  of our own American democracy to take control back from the plutonomy.  We have our our first ammendment rights.. a principal intended check.. but public opinion seems to be no longer effective  in realizing a governance in the public interest.  There is a sense that it would take something as dramatic as the demonstrations in Egypt to force a meaningful dismantling of the elaborate web of protections and supports for the plutonomy ..to make credit and loans flow again..to get hundreds of thousands out from under the tyranny of usurious mortaages and credit cards.  A sense that we may  have  still have a right to speak but no one who govrens  is listening.

In framing our government, the system of checks and balances only addressed  the usurpation of power and control amongst the governing, an internal tyranny.  It didn’t imagine and hasn’t been effective for the past fifteen years in providing checks and balances against control of the governing and the governed by external private tyrannies..the 1% of who own and control 40% of America’s  wealth. 

The conditions at the heart of the complaint of the Egyptian people who flooded that square before the world aren’t just  a product of the corrupt Mubarak  government. These conditions  are the extreme of conditions  manifesting throughout the world and here in America as more and more wealth, power and control are focused in the hands of fewer and fewer people.  They are the extreme result of the global plutonomy.  The condition of the Egyptians—a well educated population who believed in the possibility of a better life  and who are living in poverty, working two or three menial jobs for a pittance and spending 80% of their income for food –is the condition with power enough not just to topple a Mubarak but to launch a global backlash capable of breaking the plutonomy.

This is acknowledged in the brilliantly insightful September 2005 Citibank memo  to top investors made famous by Michael Moore.   societies allow plutonomy,…because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense this is the embodiment of the ’American dream’. But if voters feel they cannot participate, they are more likely to divide up the wealth pie, rather than aspire to being truly rich. Could the plutonomies die because the dream is dead, because enough of societ
y does not believe they can participate? The answer is of course yes (http
://www.scribd.com/doc/6674234/Citigroup-Oct-16-2005-Plutonomy-Report-Part-1 )

The power of social backlash inherent in the witness of the Egyptian people, the power in the realization of what is going on can and will break the grip of the global plutonomy.  But only if we also can undo the supports for plutonomy already in place in democratic governments around the world and build systems which are more effective in repelling attempted intrusion in the future.  Given what has happened in America in the past 13 years it seems very questionable that our existing framework contains all the tools we need to excise our existing supports for the plutonomy in our own framework of laws and policies.. 

Again the very clearly written and insightful analysis in the Citibank memo (op cit above) posits the essential role of governments in sustaining and facilitating the plutonomy. “..key tenets for the creation of plutonomy…( are). capitalist-friendly governments and tax regimes,  globalization that re-arranges global supply chains with mobile well-capitalized elites and immigrants, .. the rule of law, and  patent protection.”   In other words, they need the support and cooperation of goverments world wide to have a vibrant plutonomy.  Things like bank regulations that prohibit speculation, usury and misrepresentation, environmental protections, worker rights statutes, immigration laws, child labor laws are all impediments to the plutonomy.  The plutonomy needs government partners who are willing to undo or non enforce these restrictions on free commerce, governments who are willing to not enact such restrictions.

Is there any question that the party process and the elections process are a large and fertile growing field for the deeply penetrating roots of plutonomy?  How many of of our elected officials turn up to serve day one completely free of prior obligations to the plutonomy.?

In America our democracy has allowed , and is still suffering the consequences of, a series of laws and” reforms”  that are a utopia for the plutonomy. The arguments leading up to repeal of Glass-Stegall and financial  deregulation at the end of Clinton’s term in office were advanced on the arguement that they were necessary to allowing American companies to compete more effectively in the global economy. At least that’s what I heard as a member of the New York State Banking Board from 1986 to 1997 .Over that entire period the banking members of the board, all CEO’s of major American banks, at the Board table with me  more than anything wanted a repeal of Glass Stegall…It came up at every single meeting one way or another.  In the last 5 years of my term they were itching to get into the derivatives market and already were  through book keeping methods that were referred to reassuringly  by.each of the  superintendents of banking during my term.

 Perhaps Egypt can build a new democracy that  has more effective checks and balances against outside private interests.   Pausing now  as a world  community of seriously flawed  democracies  to provide moral support  to Egypt   maybe we can  learn  something for ourselves that may restore the balance of power in our own governments.  Perhaps not if we just cling without review to the notion that parties and elections are a first and necessary part of forming a new democracy. In other words I am asking whether parties, even multiple parties, and  a system of party based elections is inherently vulnerable to usurpation and control by private welathy interests?

 

 Sortition Not A Magic Shield:Preserving Connection to the People

 

The many insightful thinkers who are looking to the role  of  “sortition” both in building new democracies and healing broken ones have all acknowledged or confronted one way or another that bodies appointed at random are no less vulnerable than elected bodies to a kind of broken communication with the populace that ocurrs in the process of transfer of rights to the surrogate.body. There is a missing piece, preventing that gulf from ocurring, Iin our democracy that  will not be cured simply by using sortition instead of election via parties.  Egypt has a chance to build that missing piece in from the beginning and perhaps we have an opportunity to add it to our broken democracy to improve the performance of the existing framework of party election based democracies.

 

 That “sortition” is not immune from this gulf between itself and the populace. is apparent in the Canadian experience with Citizen Assemblies created by draft to accomplish election reform..  Their recommendations became a direct citizens referendum requiring a 60% approval to pass.  .P Snider..Isolon President and clear thinker addresses that in some detail in his working paper…. (iSolon.org If Men Were Angels…. Should the Checks & Balances System Include Electoral Reform Juries?* By J.H. Snider, President iSolon.org September 5, 2009)).  The  Canadian experience with sorition in modern democracy suggests that the process of deliberation itself , the deep immersion in an issue, in and of itself creates a gulf between direct participants in that process and those who were not participants.  Tom Atlee says lots every day on the wisdom that can and does emerge through what he calls co-intelligence..a good faith deliberation in the service of others where each voice is heard and valued respectfully. (http://www.co-intelligence.org).   Deeply focused collective attention to any facet of community life, or spirtutal life for that matter leaves us in a different place.

 

  We have all experienced that..Those of us committed to public service, to truth, equality and justice.  Unless we have brought others in our lives along during the process of our deliberations through our blog, our facebooks, our conversations “outside the circle’, it isn’t all that easy to reconnect with the big circle. We often seem to be speaking about strange ideas in a strange language that is difficult for people to readily connect with.

 

Speaking only for myself, and with some remorse,now tha tI  live on an island and am not earning my living as an advocate,  I must say I often find a I prefer the company and support of those who have been part of the deliberative processes I choose to undertake.  The Canadian Assembly experience speaks  to a  truth that must be addressed in any effort to build a new modern democracy or to fix our broken ones. The focused attention necessary to legislate wisely and as sparingly as possible requires an investment of intellectual and spiritual energy that most people can’t  carve out of their  daily  lives. There’s no way around the transfer of rights to a surrgoate body. But the longer and deeper the deliberation the harder it may be to cross the gulf and reconnect with the people whose interests and needs were addressed in the deliberation..

 

So working towards this presence in the ground of my being that reacted intuitively to the premise that parties and elections are necessary to a vibrant democracy , I  have to say what speaks feels more and more true.. neither elections nor parties guarantee a healthy vibrant truly representative democracy..There is a growing conviction that there needs to be a better ongoing connection  to the public.. a way for the public to initiate  and force a national vote on any referendum.. a way to require the surrogate body to deliberate and report out on such a referendum in a timely fashion.. a way to take the vote back via public referendum , a way to stay connected to the public served throughout the process.

 

 

Electronic Democracy

 

As  a life long public administrator witnessing to,  particpating in, and dealing with the results of our American legislative process for more than three decades I have come to believe that any need for regulation or law is a failure  in the community of the governed to conduct its private affairs with due regard for the saftey and well being of the whole.  The better the governed govern themselves the smaller the need for government.  The logical extension of that is that  is that the more opportuniy the governed have to  deleberate on what restrictions, limitation and supports are truly needed, the leaner and more effective government would be.

 

Tholerus & Palme have proposedhave an insightful discussion of keeping the citizenry in the deliberative  loop and propose a  system for doing just that, “electronic democracy”.  http://people.dsv.su.se/~jpalme/society/representant/the-representant-system.html By Torgny Tholerus and Jacob Palme May 2003, Revised December 2005 )

The idea that is most intriguing to me in the Tholerus/Palme discussion is that we need a mechanism to take our vote back on issues we feel strongly about ( through the electronic democracy ) and have a citizens’ referendum..

 

I think there also needs  to be greater opportuniy  for citizens to be part of the legislative process.. The Canadian Assemblies show us that referenda may not be well received or well understood unless the elctorate has somehow been kept in the loop.  I have been advocating “legbook” , a sort of legislative Facebook,  a way for any citizen to go on line and at the state, federa  lor local level  readily identify any actions before the legislature in any area of interest..eg a lobsterman should be able  to immediately identify  all pending legislation that would affect  the lobster fishery.  That should all be in plain english.   Any citizen should be easily able to directly contact by email or snail  mail the sponsor of any bill before the legislature.  All bills should have, through the ‘legbook” or Tholerus and Palme’s “electronic democracy” a required 30 day call for public comment.  Any citizen via a skype system should be able to listen to and tetsify at any public hearing without leaving home.    We can’t be involved in every legislative but the level of alienation,  frustration and confusion Keith Sutherland refers to might at least be eased if we were able to engage on issues of greatest importance to each of us.

 

The important thing is that the people’s quiet dignified  revolt in Egypt has pompted a lot of co-intelligence about the viability of the established democracies in modern society and a lot of good thinking on what a modern democracy should like to deal effectively  with the global plutonomy..to accurately reflect and realize the power of a diverse and pluralistic modern culture.  That thinking has to be brought out of our “e-think tanks” directly to the people of Egypt and to the American public through media ordinary Americans listen to and read.

 

 

 

 

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About lindsaynewlandbowker

Bowker Associates, Science & Research In The Public Interest, is an independent non profit providing self initiated pro bono analysis on key issues with a potential for massive adverse environmental impact . Bowker Associates has been an internationally recognized and cited voice in analysis of the Samarco failure, its consequence, and the possibilties for recovery. In 2015 Bowker Associates collaborated with globally respected geophysicist David M. Chambers to recompile global authoritative accounts of significant TSF failures in recorded history and to analyze these data in the context of gloal mining economics 1910-2010 ( Risk, Economics and Public Liability of TSF Failures, Bowker/Chambers July 2015) In 2014 Bowker Associates commissioned globally respected geophysicist and hydrogeologist Dr. David Chambers to undertake two technical works: (1) development of technical go no go criteria for vetting mine applications tp://lindsaynewlandbowker.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/a-new-statutory-regulatory-framework-for-responble-sulfide-mining-should-this-mine-be-built/ and (2) a case study of Maine's Bald Mountain, an un mined low grade high risk VMS deposit demonstrating the efficacy and accuracy of two risk assessment tools in vetting mine proposals https://lindsaynewlandbowker.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/mountain-x-would-you-issue-a-permit-to-this-mine/ In Maine, Bowker Associates has deeply engaged and been a public voice in the Searsport DCP LPG Tank, The Cianbro proposal for a Private East West Toll Road, JD Irvings rolling pipeline of Bakken crude to its plant in St. John and review of Phase II plans at The Callahan Superfund site in Brooksville, Maine, and Maine's revisitation of mining in statute and regulation... Our only “client”: is always “the pubic interest”. Our model is to focus on only one or two issues at a time so that we have a substantive command of the relevant field as our foundation for ongoing engagement. Our core work is in envirommental risk management, science and technology as well as bringing any available “best practices” models to the fore. The legal and regulatory history/best models are also a major thrust of our work in building and evaluating public policy. Director/Principal Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM is a recognized expert in Environmental Risk Management., Heavy Construction Risk Management and Marine and Transit Risks and has more than 3 decades of engagement in buiding public policy. Appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to New York State Banking Board (served 1986-1996); President New York Chapter Chartered Property and Casualty Insurers; Environmental Committee, Risk and Insurance Management Society; Director, Convenor/Co-Chair Bermuda Market Briefing "From Captive to Cats" Hamilton Bermuda. Published Articles of Significance The Risk Economics and Public Liability of Tailings Facility Failures, co-authored with David M. Chambers, July 2015 Beyond. Polarization: Superfund Reform in Perspective, Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control (Jan. 24, 1997). Lead Hazards and Abatement Technologies in Construction: A Risk Management Approach CPCU Journal 1997 Employee Leasing: Liability in Limbo Risk Management June 1 1997 Environmental Audit Privilege and the Public interest Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control, April 1997 Asbestos:Holes In Abatement Policies Need To Be Plugged, Lloyd’s Environmental Risk International, May 1993 Editor Published Letters Evironmental Risk Management Beware of Facile Policies Like Fetal Protection Business Insurance 1995(?) High Court Review May Increase Sale of Bank Annuities Business Insurances August 8, 1995 Professional Profiles Protecting the Big Apple’s Core Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Control December 1996 Major Career Highlights First rigorous analysis showing Relationship Between declining ore grades and TSF Failures of increasing consequence ( July 2015) FIrst Documentation that Gentrification Has Same Impacts as Unassisted Displacement from Urban Renewal Sites Direted Court Ordered EIS of FHA Mortgage Scandal Created Nation's First Homeownership Program for Low Income People (SHIP) Created Earliest Geographic Information Systems Using Defense Technology Developed By IBM Designed and Conducted Parallel Census Count to Show Systematic undercount in minority neighborhoods Documented Bias in ISO Territory Rating Plans for Private Passenger Auto Insurance Using ISO's own Rating Techniques Demonstrated Inherent Bias in Mortgage Policies of Banks With Inner City Branches Demonstrated that NY Telephones Plan for Area Code Split To accommodate anticipated cell phone demand was not efficient and would exhaust in 5 years ( which it did) Undertook First Systematic Evaluation of Child Protective Services Caseload Using Multi Variate Analyic Techniques Developed Child Protective Caseload Management and Tracking System (CANTS) and directed implementation in 4 client states including Illinois, Florida and New York Created and Ran Office of Risk Management for NYC DEP the Nations largest Water & Sewer Authority . Designed, Created and Administered Nation's First Owner Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP)for High Risk Tunneling Education Masters NYU Graduate School of Public Administration BSC New School For Social Research Maine Public Schools Deering High School
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