Monday, December 29, 2014

Democracy and Technology

The oft-repeated explanation of democracy - (of the people, for the people, by the people) highlights the significance of "people" in the concept and practice of democracy. And who are people? General human beings! In democracy, power is supposed to be vested in people. And there comes the dichotomy. Democracy is all about general people who hold power. When they hold power, socially speaking, they should be responsible in exercising the power. Responsibility has to have in it elements like accountability, awareness wisdom and freedom of choice. If that be so, are all people involved in democratic process (like the voting, election etc.) responsible enough to hold the power (even of voting)?

A democratic theorist may bank on people's voting power as democratic power. It sounds good and is good to fantasize too. But when people apply their voting power, no one questions the factors like their responsibility towards the choice that they are making. Their choice or decision may be influenced, conditioned, bribed, threatened, biased, by proxy or out of a sick mind. Choices or decisions made under such circumstances may, in reality, render the process of democracy undemocratic!

Unless people are aware, informed and uninfluenced, the processes of decision-making, choosing, selecting, electing etc. will turn out to be farce in democracy. So, for the success of any democratic process, people need to make informed choices. The choices also have to be coming out of an aware mind. This is where technology, as it is available today and even beyond, can play a major role in ensuring greater credibility of democratic processes.

To begin with, today's need for a person to be at a particular place (like in the voting booth which may be far from her / his place of living) to exercise democratic choices can be eliminated. Ensuring bio-metric identification (like through scanned fingerprints and retinal imprint) of the individual at a remote place is very much possible, using technologies like that of cellular phones, scanners etc. Through the same, simple choices like "yes" or "no" can be communicated to any distant democratic choice processing center.

Television debates and video conferencing can be used for people's debates and consequent opinion formation at various centers and those opinions being gathered and processed centrally can eliminate the politically and personally motivated decision-making by people's representatives in the legislative bodies concerned. This will also ensure that the opinions of better informed and aware people are available for collective decision-making, as the debates / discussions are available for assessment of their quality even at a later stage.

Technology can ensure gathering people's choices on important matters instantly. With this, the need for depending directly on the politics, motives whims and fancies of the elected representatives on democratic decision-making can largely be eliminated.

Politics is often dirty. Political motives are often harmful to peoples' interests. In most democracies, politics is also corrupt, one way or the other. With this, use of technology directly in the democratic processes is unlikely to find support from the few power-wielding representatives of people who have to adopt it into the system. This may be the reason for many obvious advantages of technology being not available in many democratic nations world over. But the inherent strengths of technology itself will force them to embrace it, sooner or later. By Vijay Nambiar

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pitfalls of Democracy

All democracies have certain structural defects, which are related to the nature of democracy. Although all forms of government have defects, supporters of democracy are often reluctant to concede that it is less than perfect, which in turn may hinder its reform.

Probably the most quoted criticism of democracy is the fear that it will become a 'tyranny of the majority.' It can apply in both direct democracy and representative democracy. 'Tyranny of the majority' implies that a government reflecting the majority view can take action that oppresses a particular minority. It might decide that a certain minority (religion, political belief, etc.) should be criminalized (either directly or indirectly). This undermines the idea of democracy as an empowerment of the electorate as a whole.

Democracy necessarily assumes a sense of shared values in the demos (otherwise political legitimacy will fail). In other words, it assumes that the demos is in fact a unit. For historical reasons, many states lack the cultural and ethnic unity of the ideal nation-state. There may be sharp ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural divisions. In fact, some groups may be actively hostile to each other. A democracy, which by definition allows mass participation in decision-making, by definition, also allows the use of the political process against the 'enemy', which is especially visible in established democracies, in the form of anti-immigrant populism.

Another persistent critique of democracy is the claim that it encourages the elected representatives to change the law without necessity, and in particular to pour forth a flood of new laws. This is seen as pernicious in several ways. New laws constrict the scope of what were private liberties. Changing laws make it impossible for a willing non-specialist to remain law-abiding. A legal system where any ordinary citizen can expect to be breaking some law in ignorance most of the time is an invitation for law-enforcement to misuse power. This continual complication of the law is also seen by some as contrary to the simple and eternal natural law- bringing the whole legal system into disrepute.

Democracies have also been criticized for slowness and complexity in their decision-making. Modern liberal democracies, by definition, allow for regular changes of government. That has led to a common criticism of their short-term focus. In four or five years the government will face a new election, and it must think of how it will win that election. That would encourage a preference for policies that will bring short-term benefits to the electorate (or to self-interested politicians) before the next election, rather than unpopular policy with longer term benefits.

The cost of political campaigning in representative democracies may mean that the system favors the rich, who are only a very small minority of the voters. It may encourage candidates to make deals with wealthy supporters, offering favorable legislation if the candidate is elected.

Hence, we can see that democracy is not without some drawbacks. It of course has some merits for example, political stability, and effective response during wartime, etc. But we have to be aware of drawbacks stated above. By carefully analyzing the demerits and finding solutions we can expect a more perfect democracy. By Mahbub Hasan

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Obamacare Joke Is On Us

A tongue-in-cheek warning is making the rounds: If an email offers you a functioning link to create an account on, it's a scam run by offshore con artists. Nothing on the legitimate website actually functions.

President Obama clearly senses that his signature policy achievement is on the verge of becoming a laughingstock. He responded yesterday, as is his habit, by staging a campaign-style appearance in the Rose Garden, complete with hand-picked ordinary citizens serving as silent witnesses to the Affordable Care Act's merits, while the president declared that "there's no excuse for the problems." (1)

One of those ordinary citizens, expectant mother Karmel Allison, provided a rare unscripted moment when she became woozy as she stood behind the president. Obama, who is much more likeable when he gets out of his near-constant campaign mode, quickly turned to help her as he quipped, "This happens when I talk too long." (2)

There was little else to smile about when the commander-in-chief, stating only the obvious, announced that is too slow, that "there's no excuse for the problems," and that "they are being fixed" by "some of the best IT talent in the country." (1) (That might be part of the problem. In the absence of immigration reform, maybe we should be recruiting the IT talent behind some of those fraudulent offshore websites.) At the same time, the president churlishly admonished Republicans who have opposed this law at every turn to stop "rooting for its failure." (1) He sounded like the manager of a losing ballclub who blames opposing fans for booing his players.

Obama's broad points, however, were perfectly fair - and perfectly irrelevant. Eventually, the federal website that provides an individual insurance market for 36 states will be fixed, after a fashion. Consumers will, someday, be able to go online, compare their insurance options, obtain a price that reflects any government subsidies for which they qualify, and sign up.

But it is going to take more than just speeding up the site before that can happen. Though the federal Health and Human Services department has imposed a virtual news blackout on the website's performance, word is leaking out from insurance companies that only a trickle of customers gets through, and that many of those who make it through the maze are being mishandled. Some of the information funneled to insurers is wildly inaccurate, including customers who are reported as having multiple spouses or who have signed up for multiple concurrent insurance policies.

Even after those more serious technical problems are ironed out, we will be left with a law whose fundamental architecture is flawed beyond redemption. The statute gives the sick an ironclad right to obtain insurance they are certain to buy, but healthy people have only a minimally enforced "mandate" to purchase coverage that is inherently overpriced in order to cover those who are already sick. Large employers have already received a one-year reprieve from their own mandate to offer coverage, and many are reducing their full-time headcount anyway, further diminishing the pool of people over whom risk is spread.

It gets worse. Though the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act's basic constitutionality last year, it sided with the roughly half the states that have chosen to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid, which was crucial to the law's goal of providing near-universal coverage. More litigation is underway on the question of whether the law even allows the government to offer, in the 36 states that do not offer their own exchanges, the planned subsidies for coverage for households with income between the poverty level and four times greater. A defeat on that point would mean that Obamacare would require millions of Americans to buy insurance that they simply could not afford, at least if they want to attend to matters such as paying rent or eating. The individual mandate would certainly fall at that point, leaving insurers forced to cover mainly the sick people who would still buy policies - policies whose prices would inevitably spiral upward.

The president faults Republicans for "rooting" for the law to fail. But if Obama and his party wanted GOP buy-in, the time to get it was when legislators were writing the law. It would have been a tedious, messy, uncertain process, and it might not have borne fruit. Yet had Obama asked lawmakers of both parties to help him draft a health care reform plan, he might well have gotten a sound blueprint, just as he did with the Simpson-Bowles plan for deficit reduction. (Obama did not ultimately support that deficit plan, but at least the process demonstrated that compromise is possible on difficult issues when the two parties actually work together.)

Right now neither side is being practical. Obama and other Democrats pretend that fixing Obamacare is just a matter of fixing a website. Republicans want to stop Obamacare by any means necessary - but they have no plan whatsoever for what would happen next. If the Affordable Care Act disappeared, we would still be left with serious issues of affordability and availability.

Most Americans wanted someone to do something about these issues. Somebody - namely Democrats - did. Getting what we wanted, and belatedly discovering that it isn't what we really wanted, is going to be the least funny joke of all.


1) The Washington Post, "Obama on health-care site: 'There's no excuse for the problems, and they are being fixed.'"

2) The New York Daily News, "'This happens when I talk too long:' President Obama helps fainting audience member during long-winded speech"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why Obama Is Not A Communist

A continuing lie from the Right is that Obama is a communist or a totalitarian.

I've lived under Communism, and I can tell these people right now that, if he had been any such thing, they would not be here to say what they are saying.

A Communist, or a totalitarian, would have put these people away in labor camps or had them shot. Instead they are free to spread their lies, using the government-built Internet of all places. And that shows just how far from reality the claims of this kind are.

A Communist would have nationalized the banks and the car manufacturing industry. Instead Obama bailed them out. And while that took a lot of outlays up front, the car manufacturing industry is recovering and is now posting strong gains. Obama has saved American capitalism from what would have been a much worse and much greater crisis. And American capitalism owes a lot to this president.

There are in fact totalitarian-minded people in America, and most of them are on the Right. These people claim that they are America and that the rest of America isn't. These people want to force everyone to be the same person and live the same way. These people want to do everything in their power to prevent Obama administration from being successful, then blame whatever problems there are on Obama and then come riding in proclaiming themselves saviors of America. And they think that the American people would be stupid enough to fall for their gag.

The people who howl wolf become not credible when a real wolf appears. And the real wolves are not on the left; they are on the Right. The Tea Party for one is a completely despicable organization. The problems they claim to address, such as the large deficits, started under Bush; but under Bush the Tea Partiers were nowhere to be seen. Obama had an excuse; he had an economy to rescue. Bush however had no such excuses even as he put America, completely unnecessarily, an additional 5 trillion dollars in debt after Clinton had the debt problem solved.

And that makes the Tea Party complete hypocrites.

Why does Obama get labeled with such ugly things by these people? Obviously because he is not one of them; and the thing that the conservative hates the most is to see someone who is not like himself be in a stronger position than is he. Clinton wasn't of them either, and he got maliciously attacked throughout his administration as well, even though by the standards of conservative "money talks BS walks" logic he was the best president that America has had - as by the standard of peace and prosperity. This is not a problem with Obama, and it is not a problem with Clinton. This is a problem with the American Right.

Not enough is being done to confront these people's lies and abuses; and there should be. When unchecked, conmen pull all sorts of tricks on the people. America's primary education system is so weak that many people fall for these conmen.

It's not enough to just reach the educated people. The rest of the population need to hear the truth as well.

By Ilya Shambat

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hyphenated Americans Is Not America the Beautiful

There was a recent controversy because of a coke commercial in the super bowl. The commercial had people sing, "America the Beautiful" in different languages. The idea behind the commercial was that we are a melting pot. People from all different countries come here. The controversy becomes should you have to know English to live in this country? Well, here's the issue. Practically, there is no way we could have a sign in everyone's native language. I believe that we should cater to the majority on this issue, right now the majority is English. This isn't saying that you can't have alternative signs in different languages if it's feasible and practical. This also means that it doesn't always have to be English.

One of the most divisive things we can do as a country is have hyphenated Americans. What we say is, "Yeah we're all the same, but different groups." This sounds very much like a theory they tried in the 1950s... separate but equal. I will never refer to anyone as an African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, or European-American. To be fair, I would love to live in a world where I didn't meet someone born in Nigeria and say, "Oh, you're an African." It would be a better experience to meet someone born in Tokyo and not automatically let Asian stereotypes flood my brain. I hate that some people are considered Americans simply because they are born here. Also, if you embrace the idea of America, I will call you American regardless of what color your skin is.

You see the problem with referring to people by nationality is that they have no choice. No one chose to be born in America. I don't think people should be punished because they were born in Mexico. There is a big push to fortify our borders in this country. Given our current setup I can agree, but only because we have a government that gives things to it's people simply for being born or living in this country. If you are against people coming into this nation because of government handouts then we can agree. If you are against people coming into this nation because they look and talk different than you then we cannot agree.

America should be an idea, not a piece of land. In a perfect world, I wish America was a place where all people who embraced the ideals of freedom could gather regardless of where they were born. I also wish that the people who were born in this country who don't embrace the ideals of taking care of yourself and your family, and living in as free of society as possible could relocate to other parts of the world. There they would find systems in place that would fit their plans for how a people should be governed.

No one is hyphenated. We are all Americans if we embrace the ideas. If I lived in a country that the majority spoke Spanish and I could be free. I would rejoice that I could be free, not that most of the people are speaking Spanish. I would rather fill this country up with immigrants of people that were born in other lands that embraced the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, than live in a place that sealed off it's borders and required working people to give 30-40% of their income to a bloated federal government that promised to solve all problems.

My message to people that didn't like the coke commercial. We need more immigrants. We need more people that appreciate the idea that they aren't forced into a religion. We need more people that can speak their mind and not worry about being jailed for saying the wrong things. We need more people that are asking for an opportunity, not a solution. We need to get rid of people who think they are owed something because they can speak English.

I don't believe in a government helping the world, but I also don't believe in a government giving things to it's people. If you look down upon people because they come to this country to work, and they aren't taking anything from the government, then shame on you. I would rather have 100 illegals come into this country willing to work, than 1 "American" who thinks a job is beneath them. America is an idea, and you should be able to be here if you share the idea, regardless of where you're born. You should also be asked to leave if you don't share the idea, regardless of where you're born.

By Paul Dickens

Popular Posts