The demise of democracy: Part 1 (USA)

For the past half century, democracy has been the political ideology. The cold war saw a concerted effort to promote democracy, led by the USA. Since then, more and more countries have moved towards some form of democracy as the specter of communism was beat back. The idea of everyone’s opinion being considered in an equal and fair manner, without prejudice, captured the imagination of millions around the world. The recent spate of political upheaval in Arab stats, dubbed the Arab Spring, was heralded as the dawning of true democracy in the Middle East. But reality presents a far more murky picture, one where democracy’s success and future are both called into question. Here’s an examination of where democracy stands across the world.


One of the biggest proponents of democracy, the US itself has found its political system mired in partisan deadlock in recent times. Ever since Newt Gingrich’s political blockade against Bill Clinton, both Republicans and Democrats have used their time as the opposition to do just that – opposing virtually everything that comes their way. The filibuster has been used endlessly in the Senate, and often for entirely trivial matters. Most recently, the House of Representatives has become the new place of gridlock with dozens of bills stuck in committees and a sizable collection of party-line votes.

The long list of unapproved nominations to various government positions is another case in point. Both Bush and Obama have had difficulty getting nominees approved. Many commentators have rued the over politicization of judicial appointments. It’s not that nominees are outright rejected (ignoring the question of competence or capacity), a vast number of them are simply never voted on. It is telling that mistrust in the US political system is at new heights. Disapproval of Congress, supposedly the US home of democratic representation, is at an all time high with nearly 80%# disapproving of Congress’s work.

Ideologically, more and more voters class themselves as independents; but ironically, the number of independent senators and representatives is dwindling, both in terms of ideology and party affiliation. Indeed, the emergency of the Tea Party has pushed the Republican party further to the right, unseating many moderates in the process.

While one could legitimately argue that this is all just a part of the democratic process, one can’t but help question whether democracy remains the undisputed king of all political systems.

Next time: The West (Europe)

Bipartisan Sex Scandals

In the US, Republicans and Democrats regularly claim to be bipartisan and blame the other side for a lack of progress. Sadly, it is hard to find many examples of true bipartisanship, but if you were ever to find one, sex scandals by elected officials must surely be one of them.

Democrats had Congressman David Wu (Oregon) resign for a reported ‘unwanted sexual encounter’ with an 18 year old girl. Earlier, there was Antony Weiner for his ‘I’m not sure the photos are of my underwear and crotch’ episode. Bill Clinton and John Edward also automatically come to mind.

But Republicans have had their fair share of scandals. Congressman Christopher Lee (New York) sent shirt-less photos of himself on Craigslist while Governor Mark Stamford (South Carolina) disappeared for lengthy ‘hikes’ before they caused him to resign.

It’s a sad sign of the US Political System when one of the only true instances of bipartisanship is the number of sex scandals on both sides of the aisle.

Joe Mason for President

I wrote last week about the need for Obama to grow a back-bone. I then stumbled upon an interesting blog called ‘Vote Third Party’ which features a number of pointed videos and articles regarding both sides of the political debate.

One in particular was brought to my attention by The Atlantic. A very pointed critique of Obama’s positions and repeated compromises. Whether this is a serious campaign remains to be seen, but some of the points brought up by the video echo many of the thoughts that Democrats will no doubt have.

Obama, get a backbone

A lot of news has been coming out of the US, as always. One thing that did catch my eye was the following tweet which has made its rounds in the news cycle:

OK, so maybe it was intended as a joke. But I think it makes a serious point about the way Obama is running his admistration. The term compromise DOES NOT mean GIVE REPUBLICANS ALL THEY WANT, which is sadly exactly what Obama is doing 90% of the team.

I respect his insistence on trying to negociate and his pragmatism in decision making, but when the other side is clearly unwilling to give any leway, sometimes Obama just needs to stop folding at every turn. There are times perhaps when he has to play grown-up and fold in the best interest of the country, thinking debt celing here (although the S&P’s downgrade really didn’t do that much damage), but he doesn’t need to do that on every issue.

Time and time again, the polls have shown clearly that if anyone is going to pick-up the blame, it’s going to be Republicans. So why give-up on ending the Bush tax-cuts, or refusing a debt solution that doesn’t definatively include tax increases.

Being grown-up and looking beyond petty politics isn’t a problem, but sometimes when he’s right, Obama needs to grow a backbown and stand firm.

Hong Kong attempts sham elections

A lot of people confuse Hong Kong’s political system with that of China’s, assuming that Hong Kong is just another reclusive, facebook-less, Chinese city. Indeed, we like to think of ourselves as otherwise, but at the current rate, Hong Kong might just well turn into just another undemocratic Chinese city. I’m referring to of course, the HK Government’s new plans to scrap Legislative Council by-elections and replace them with some odd system whereby the next-best-placed candidate in the original elections would automatically be offered empty seats, thereby doing away with the need to hold by-elections.

The Government hasn’t even attempted to think of an illogical excuse for this move, happily admitting that such a move is in response to the so called ‘de-facto referendum’ triggered in January last year after five Civic Party and League of Social Democrats lawmakers resigned. At the time, most other main political parties did not put up candidates, and all five were voted back into office. The turnout was just 17.1 per cent and the government said the by-election, which cost HK$126 million, had been unnecessary, thus warranting it’s newest proposal.

Time to Calm Down

The unfortunate shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a piece of news that has been dominating the headlines for some time now, has sadly been manipulated by both sides of the political divide to it’s own advantage. It is sad and disappointing that in a time of political crisis such as this, politicians and legislators have chosen to exaggerate and snipe at each other rather than taking a more cool-headed approach to the issue.

Democrats certainly came out swinging, mixing their condolences for Ms. Gifford’s family with blame for Republicans, the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. Republican’s and the political right certainly do use incendiary language and imagery of guns much more than Democrats do. But it is simply absurd to claim that Republicans alone were the cause of the shooting.
Much has been said about Sarah Palin’s map targeting certain congressional districts. Sarah Palin’s aides have tried to deflect the attention by claiming that they were “never ever, ever intended to be gun sights”, something that is blatantly not true given that Palin herself referred to the cross-hairs as a “bull’s-eye”. Regardless of whether the cross-hairs were or werent’ gun-sights is beside the point. It is simply absurd to claim that the map or the cross-hairs themselves were implicitly calling for violence against the relevant Congressional districts. If this assumption were true, then surely there would have been far more violent attacks.

On the other end of the spectrum, Tea Party group shave tried to blame ‘Leftist’ for the shooting. The Tea Part Nation founder Judson Phillips said in an article that the shooter was “a leftist lunatic”. He called on the Tea Party movement to “push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words,”. Again, an entirely unfounded assertion that seems even less believable than those made against Sarah Palin. If he was indeed a ‘liberal lunatic’, why attack one of the few elected democrats in a largely red state? Surely an attack against a republican would have been more in line with his supposedly ‘leftist’ ideology?

At the end of the day, neither side is right. Such an unfortunate event should not been the time for more political sniping. The New York Times reported the following.

Hong Kong’s Democratic Development

[tweetmeme source=”@paullaucm” only_single=false]Regardless how you look at it, the passage of the two bills in Legco on the 23rd and 25th of June 2010 are a step forward. It isn’t really the step we wanted, nor was it as clear as could possibility be, but it was Beijing who gave up more than Hong Kong. As we look back on those crucial votes, more people will be elected by the population, 40 of the 70 new seats.

Despite the other pan-democrats insistence, cancer has not affected anyone and the democratic party still aims for the same ultimate goal; that was even admitted by the government. The only object they gave in the end was that it would ‘rationalize functional constituencies’.

I don’t understand how their argument about a ‘super legislator’ would be less likely to give up their seat. If the democrats are correct, isn’t the fact that they were elected by a super large number of people make it all the more important that they vote to abolish FCs in line with their voters demands? Most Hong Kong people, the vast majority, clearly see FC’s in their current form as untenable. Just because they don’t allow it to prevent them from moving forward on other areas doesn’t mean they’ve given up fighting.

For the pan-democrats and especially the Social League of Democrats, what you voted down was a ‘COMPROMISE’; a “middle way between two extremes”. Welcome to fundamental 101 Politics : Compromise.

From The Economist :

AFTER five years of stalemate, a compromise between Hong Kong’s democrats and Chinese officials has paved the way for the approval of fiercely debated political reforms by the territory’s legislature. This spares the local government potential embarrassment. It will allow a majority of legislators to be elected by popular vote for the first time in Hong Kong’s history. For China, too, these will be uncharted waters.