Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Should We Abolish Sex Descrimination from Sport?

At the start of 2009 Caster Semenya was virtually unknown. Now, she is one of the most famous athletes in the world, not only due to great running, but also her identity. After her victory in the World Championships, Semenya was forced to take ‘gender tests’, which after being leaked revealed that she is intersex. This has created a huge debate over the rights on intersex people and has led many to ask the question ‘what is the use of the sex binary in sport?’

The justifications for the sex binary in sport range from the idea that women cannot deal with the aggressiveness of men in competition to that sex discrimination is no different than ‘weight classes’ due to inherently different abilities that women have compared to men[1]. Sex discrimination is justified through the idea of ‘fairness in competition’.

However, this is extremely problematic. Firstly, it leaves out people such as Caster Semenya, who don’t fit into the set sex binary. Semenya, and other intersex people, expose the myth that there are only two biological sexes. There is actually significant diversity among humans in sex definers such as genitals, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. The rigid male/female sex binary does not fit the reality of sex and gender diversity. This leaves intersex athletes with the options of either giving up competition or undergoing intrusive medical procedures to ‘correct’ the issue. Second to this, sex discrimination in sport perpetuates the image of men as being ‘more athletic’, ‘stronger’, ‘faster’ and better in a whole range of ways than women. This greatly enhances the societal image of women as being ‘the weaker sex’.

But isn’t this true? Aren’t females in general not as strong as males and therefore not able to compete as well in sports?  There are two problems with this idea. First, even though testosterone does advance muscular growth (and only when work is involved), its levels differ naturally within all people, leaving many with different physiques than what is expected from a member of their sex. A general separation based on a sex binary, therefore ignores many of the physical differences that exist within all sexes (something that separation based on factors such as weight or height would not do).

Second to this, even if males are in general ‘stronger’ than females, this does not mean that they are more athletic. Strength should be just one element in the definition of skill in sporting competition, something that current sporting competition forgets. Too much emphasis is now placed on strength in sport (e.g. the increasing role of a strong serves in tennis), perpetuating the image of females as being ‘less athletic’ by focusing athleticism around a predominately male attribute.

The stereotype of the weaker ‘sex’ is a prevalent and destructive one. To remove it we must remove sex discrimination in sport and allow people of all sexes to compete freely using an array of skills as the tester of athleticism. We can no longer accept the image of women as being the ‘weaker, less athletic sex’ or an imaginary binary determining what athleticism is. Removing sex separation and discrimination in sport would be more inclusive for intersex athletes, and address sexist attitudes to women. If we really want to create ‘fairer competition’ we must stop assuming someone isn’t good enough because they don’t have a pair of testicles and focus on people’s actual skills instead.


[1] Tannsjo, T (2000) Against Sexual Discrimination in Sports in Tannsjo, T & Tamburrini, C (eds.) (2000) Values in Sport. E & FN Spon, London

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | Leave a comment

Progress on US Climate Bill

There has been further progress on the US Climate Bill in the past week with the US House of Representatives passing the cap and trade bill with a vote of 219 – 212. The vote, providing a major victory for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will now see the bill, which mandates for 17% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% cuts by 2050 (based on 2005 levels), sent to the US Senate ready for debate after the July recess. Here is faces an uncertain future, with doubts over a number of controversial issues within the text of the bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will be substantially changed in the Senate. The question remains however as to how much this will occur and what effect this will have on any future passage of the legislation. Overall there are a few sticking points that continue to provide problems for legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Costs:

The continued argument being pushed by opponents to the climate bill is that it will substantially increase costs of energy to consumers in a difficult economic time (ignoring that the bill will not come into effect until 2012). The problem here is not the large number of Republicans who are arguing this (as they are largely outnumbered in both houses of Congress), but rather the few more conservative Democrats who are concerned over this issue. A number of these Democrats voted against the bill in the House; the question is whether the Senate leadership will be able to provide enough incentives to win these Democrats over in the Senate, where their support is much more needed.

Free Permits:

The second big sticking point continues to be the handing out of permits for free. The bill mandates that 85% of the permits under the cap and trade system will be given out for free, with the funds raised by the auction of the 15% to be distributed to lower income earners to offset increase costs created by the bill (this is up from the 53% of permits that were going to be given out when I last posted on this bill). This large number of free permits was largely put in place to please the interests of Democratic members of Congress based in energy intensive states (i.e. the ‘rustbelt’ of the US). However, this is causing problems within the Democratic caucus, with many (including many conservative pundits) arguing that this not only doesn’t make economic sense, but also takes away a large amount of money that can be used to offset costs for consumers and/or to be placed into investment in renewable energy. It is almost certain that this clause in the bill will be changed in the Senate, with the big question being how much and whether this will cause serious problems for further passage in the House.

Use of Offsets and Nuclear Power: Other problems related to the bill include the use of offsets and nuclear power as a means for the reduction of emissions. It is now clear that if the Democrats want to see this bill passed they will to some level be forced to embrace nuclear power as a greenhouse free option. This of course is causing major problems within the Democratic caucus, with many opposing any nuclear option within the climate bill. Second, there is a large amount of criticism over the use of offsets within the climate bill as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions, with critics arguing that offsets do not equate genuine reductions.

Where to From Here

The future of the climate bill is very much unknown. It is certain that the bill will be changed in the Senate, with it possibly being strengthened in some ways (through an increase in the percentage of permits being sold) and weakened in others (with possibly more concessions to specific interest groups). However, it is unknown as to whether these changes will gather the support required to pass the Senate and block any attempt at a filibuster. Second to this, it is unknown as to whether the bill will then be able to re-pass the House if changes made in the Senate put off House members.

What I am certain of however is that there will be a bill eventually. With the Environmental Protection Agency recently winning a battle that allows them to determine Greenhouse gasses as ‘dangerous emissions’ and therefore being given the right to regulate these emissions, legislators will soon realise that emissions are going to be regulated whether they like it or not. It is therefore certain that pushes to have legislation on the issue will increase as legislators decide that they would prefer to regulate emissions on their own terms rather than letting the EPA do it for them. The question is therefore, how good can this legislation be and when will it be passed. Most indicators show that it probably will occur this year (with Democratic members of Congress not wanting to embarrass Obama in his first year), but whether this will be a good bill this time is not certain. Only time can really tell as to whether this will be the case, leaving this as an issue both to continue campaigning around and to continue watching.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Climate Bill An Okay Start

As US legislators debate the content of the biggest climate bill ever introduced into the US congress, debate is raging as to whether this bill will deliver the action required to curb US Greenhouse emissions. Whilst we are not going to know exactly what the bill will look like if and when it passes the US House or Representatives and Senate, probably by the end of this year, we can make some major guesses based on the drafts that are now being discussed in the committees of Congress. These drafts give a picture of something that although may not be perfect is quite dramatic and will see a real shift in the energy policies of the United States. The question still remains however; will this bill provide what is needed for the US to take real action on climate change?

The Bill

There are really three key issues regarding the effectiveness of such a climate bill; the reduction target, the renewable energy target and how much the bill forces polluters to pay for their pollution. Here is how the bill looks regarding these three issues:

Reduction Target: The bill proposes the introduction of a massive cap and trade scheme in the United States, which has the current aim of cutting Greenhouse emissions by 17% by 2020 (based on 2005 levels) and 83% by 2050. The target for 2020 was originally a 20% cut, but this has been watered down due to concerns from some Democrats in the House.

Renewable Energy Target: The bill would also require energy companies to source 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020, a cut from the original proposal of 25% by 2025.

The price polluters must pay: Whilst the original bill proposed the sale/auction of all pollution permits it looks almost certain that changes intended to gain the support of key Democratic Senators from the greenhouse intensive rustbelt states (i.e. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania) will see at least some of the permits given out for free to greenhouse polluters. For example, Business Green reports that drafts available would see 35% of permits given to the energy industry, 15% to heavy industrial firms and 3% to auto makers, leaving the other 47% to be sold.  At the moment I cannot find any sort of discussion regarding how much these permits would originally be priced at, which is another key point regarding the bill.

The Reaction

There is no doubt that there are people who are disappointed with how the bill is going at the moment. The watering down of the original targets related to emissions reductions and renewable energy targets as well as the fact that many of the permits will be given out for free has many people complaining, some who argue that the bill is now worthless. For example, Greenpeace claims:

“A piece of legislation that started out as a real opportunity for the US to combat climate change has been co-opted by special interests and now threatens to do more harm than good.”

Whilst I believe Greenpeace has succumbed to using a little too much hyperbole, their arguments are fair. Whilst the cuttings of the targets could be considered to be minor (given that the reduction target has only dropped 3%) the fact that permits are now going to be given out for free is a serious concern. Giving out free permits not only takes money away from possible investment to create a ‘green economy’ but also has been proven to be a policy disaster in a range of ways (see the European experience, where the existence of free permits dramatically dropped the price of carbon, making greenhouse reductions extremely difficult).

However, on the other side of the coin one needs to ask whether these sorts of compromises were ones that we should have expected from the US climate deal and if so, can we deal with them? I think there is no doubt that this bill was going to be watered down. In its original form this bill was extremely ambitious, which is great. However, even with the control of the Democrats in both houses of Congress there was always going to be problems, especially from those Democratic Senators from the ‘rustbelt’ area. It seems like these changes will allay the fears of these Senators and will probably ensure the passage of the bill.

So, do these changes compromise the bill and will they stop the it having any effect? Whilst the cuts in the bills targets are extremely disappointing, I don’t believe they create the biggest problem for these bills. Cuts of 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 are quite impressive coming from a US Congress that has historically been dominated by climate sceptics and even though 17% by 2020 is not enough, the bill importantly improves on this by 2050, which is a key date. However, the bigger problem lies in the giving out of free permits. It is very likely that this will cause problems for the bill in the future and it does divert a large amount of money (at current estimates $40 billion) from possible investment in green industries.

I am not sure if I am convinced, however, that this will make the climate bill as useless as Greenpeace claims. It is an unfortunate reality of the US political system (unlike Australia, the EU and other industrialised countries) that having a climate bill with such targets and with such a large amount of money being poured into it is a huge achievement and whilst this bill is definitely not perfect, has been compromised to some extent and should be better we must be happy that it is most likely going to be passed. The US environment movement should and will need to continue to fight for changes in the bill once it is passed (as has occurred in the EU) but it must also be happy with the fact that the country that used to lag behind the rest of the world is now probably going to leapfrog a number of countries (i.e. Australia) when it comes to climate action. This is not the perfect start but it is probably better than I would have expected, which is nice for a change.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , | 4 Comments

California Supreme Court Upholds Prop 8.

In news today from California, the California Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Proposition 8, therefore ensuring that same-sex marriage stays illegal in California until at least November 2010. The ruling came after a court battle that saw opponents of proposition 8 argue that the proposition was illegal as the measure revised the states equal protection clause of the constitution to such an extent that it should have been counted as revision to the constitution, which would have required legislation to be passed in the California State House of Representatives. The court made a 6-1 ruling arguing that it was not their duty to overrule the ‘will of the people’ in this situation. At the same time however, the court made a 7-0 ruling stating that all same-sex marriages completed during the time it was legal in California will stay legally married.

This ruling sets up an interesting battle in California for 2010. There is no doubt now that the gay rights movement will now take its campaign back to the ballot box in 2010 with a proposition to overrule Proposition 8. With the extremely close victory for Proposition 8 and what is considered to be a changing tide in the United States towards a more open mindedness about same-sex rights, this will set up an interesting battle and one that could see the gay rights movement have its first win at the ballot box.

In the long run this could be more beneficial for the gay rights movement. If they had won today there was a good chance that there would be a backlash within the community who saw this as ‘activist judges’ who were overruling the will of the people. However, if they manage to pull over enough people to claim a victory in 2010 it will be claimed to be proof that the tide is shifting in the United States towards a society more willing to accept same sex marriage. This could create a situation where politicians could begin to feel even more comfortable in supporting same-sex rights, therefore promoting further action in the future. 

Whilst this ruling will ensure that same-sex couples will continue to suffer now, this vote could have a silver lining that will see stronger action in the future.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

A Nuclear Free World Starts with An End to the Hypocrisy

News today that North Korea has tested a nuclear device just north of Pyongyang has sent shivers down the spine of many around the world. The test was confirmed earlier today as a nuclear test from the North Korean Government who stated that it was part of its ‘nuclear deterrent policy’. It was quickly condemned by leaders from around the world, with US President Barack Obama calling it a “blatant violation of international law”. 

Whilst this test is a scary reminder of what the North Korean Government can and may be willing to do in the future, it should also serve as a reminder of the great hypocrisies of the nuclear powers of the world. At the same time this test was completed and its condemnations occurred a total of 8 other countries (The US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, Pakistan and India) continue to posses large stocks of nuclear weapons with none of these countries having formal plans for disarmament (even though Barack Obama has declared it to be a goal).

This post is not designed to condone North Korea’s nuclear test (under the guise of ‘if the US can have them, why can’t North Korea) and in fact I strongly condemn and hope the world does everything it can to stop this nuclear program in its tracks, but is rather here to argue that to stop further nuclear proliferation from nations such as North Korea we must see an end to the hypocrisy of the world’s nuclear powers and the beginning of nuclear disarmament by these powers. 

The logic behind the need for nuclear disarmament is simple. First, there is the obvious threat that nuclear powers pose to the world; a threat that is terrifying when one thinks about it. Nuclear weapons are without doubt the most awful inventions of human kind and an invention that the people of the world should be able to live without. Second to this however, is the mere fact that the continued ownership of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear powers creates a negative feedback, in which more states desire to own nuclear weapons. In other words if state A owns a nuclear weapon and state B, which does not own a nuclear  weapon perceives state A to be a threat, then state B is likely to attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon. When state B obtains this nuclear weapon, it is then likely that state A will boost its stocks to ‘out-muscle’ state B creating a continued cycle. On top of this, if state C perceives state B to be a threat it is likely that state C would desire to become a nuclear power and therefore create a new cycle. It is this sort of situation that originally saw the development of the vast nuclear stocks held by the then USSR and the United States and is seeing the creation of arms races in the Middle East (between Iran and Israel) and Southern Asia (between India and Pakistan) and in this situation the only way to end the nuclear cycle is for state A to act to disarm its nuclear weapons and therefore remove the original threat.

However, there would be people who would disagree with such an analysis and would bring up the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The MAD theory states that if two states hold nuclear weapons, neither would ever dare to deploy a weapon as they would be assured destruction by the weapons of their foe. It is this reasoning that it is theorised stopped the possibility of nuclear war between the US and USSR during the cold war. However, with the end of the Cold War this theory has become defunct. Why? Because with the end of the Cold War we saw an end to a struggle between two large nations that held nearly all of the world’s nuclear weapons and the opening of the nuclear stage to many more countries, some of whom do not have a threat posed to them by other nuclear powers. For example, if Israel determined to drop a nuclear weapon on Iran sometime in the future, which nation would dare to use a nuclear weapon against Israel (given that Iran has no proven nuclear capabilities just yet)? Unlike the US and the USSR in the Cold War, Israel does not have the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

The threat of nuclear weapons is still real and still extremely terrifying and it is about time that the world’s nuclear powers gave up on the hypocrisy and began to take action on disarming their nuclear weapons and ridding the world of human’s most atrocious invention. I congratulate Barack Obama for his call to begin action to start nuclear disarmament and hope it is followed with some serious concrete actions during his term as President. 

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , , | Leave a comment

Will A Double Dissolution Make a Better Climate Deal?

With the Australian Government yesterday announcing a range of changes to its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, including delaying the scheme for one year, setting a fixed price (a bargain of $10) for each tonne of carbon for the first year and increasing the possible reductions target to 25% if there is a strong deal in Copenhagen, the questions now on everybody’s lips are (a) will the Senate pass the legislation and (b) if not will the Government use this issue to force a double dissolution?

In this post I am going to briefly have a look at these two questions, making the conclusion that a double dissolution is very possible and am then going to have a look at what I think a double dissolution may do to the climate legislation in the future and my hopes for a stronger deal. Firstly however, I would like to state that I write this piece under the belief that there are serious problems with the Governments CPRS. Whether it be the extremely low target (only 5% committed), the very low initial price of carbon (which makes reducing carbon emissions very difficult) or the fact that permits will be given out for free (which experience from Europe has shown creates huge problems with the eventual pricing of carbon and therefore the reduction efforts) this scheme is fundamentally flawed and in my opinion requires a complete revamp. However, this post is not about that, but is about how I see the scheme may progress in the future and the possibilities that are available to make this scheme stronger.

Where to from here?

The basic lay of the land for the CPRS looks somewhat like this. In an upcoming sitting session (probably around midyear) the ALP look likely to introduce the legislation behind the CPRS into Parliament. The legislation will easily pass the House of Representatives, but looks almost certain to fail in the Senate. The problems here are that the Greens are pushing for a much stronger and more aggressive scheme, the Coalition is still looking to weaken it and the two independents are both opposing it (I think they both want the scheme weakened). In a nut shell, apart from the ALP there is no one who supports the scheme, meaning it is in big trouble.  

The only way I perceive that it could pass in the next sitting session would be if the ALP managed to cut a deal with the Liberals (as to cut a deal with the minor parties would mean dealing with people who both want a stronger scheme and people who want a weaker scheme, creating inherent problems). However, I cannot see this happening. This is because both the ALP and the Liberal Party have become extremely stubborn on this issue since it was introduced in December, meaning a back down now by either would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

A Double Dissolution Then?

It seems logical therefore to state that this legislation will fail in the Senate and with this comes the possibility of a double dissolution. I agree with Bob Brown in saying that I think the Rudd Government would be quite happy to use this legislation as a double dissolution trigger for the following reasons:

  • They know that the wider community wants at least some form of action on climate change, even with the global financial crisis.
  • They know that the Liberal Party still have a very unformulated and unpopular policy on climate change, which would make it very difficult for them to fight an election on the issue.
  • They would be more than happy to create a situation where it can push out the two independents from having any role in the future Senate.

However, with these positives comes the strong evidence (as shown with WA, NT and QLD in the pass year) that the voting public tend not to like early elections and are more than happy to punish a Government for going to the polls early, an issue that may push the ALP away from going to a double dissolution.

 What Would this Mean for the Legislation?

The good thing about the possibility of a double dissolution is that the most likely outcome it will bring will be the possibility of a stronger CPRS. The reasons for this are pretty simple. Firstly, if a double dissolution occurs I do not see any possibility of a Coalition victory (given their still extremely low polling all around the country), giving the ALP the mandate to continue to push the legislation. Second, are the important changes this will bring to the Senate. As predicted by Ben Raue, the likely results of a double dissolution would be the Greens taking full control of the balance of power of the Senate (with 8-9) seats, allowing them to create a majority with the ALP.  For the CPRS this creates three possibilities:

  1. The Government presents the legislation again in its current form and the Liberal Party accepts it based on the idea of it being the mandate of the ALP to pass it as it is.
  2. The Government presents the legislation again, but the Liberals stay determined to vote against it, forcing the Government to cut a deal with the Greens.
  3. Deciding that they want to see the Coalition continue to vote against any climate action the Government cuts an early deal with the Greens to strengthen the deal and introduces new legislation that the Coalition opposes.

Although this still provides the opportunity for the current legislation to be passed as is, this option at least gives a greater opportunity for a stronger CPRS, something that I think is almost impossible in the current Senate. However, this does not only have to come with a double dissolution. Most predictions will tell you that they same sort of shape for the Senate will occur even if it is just a regular half Senate vote, meaning that this sort of situation could also occur if the Government decides against using the CPRS as a double dissolution trigger.  

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fighting for Paid Parental Leave

In developing news in Australia, the Greens are to introduce legislation into the Senate to set up a Government funded paid parental leave. In an e-mail to supporters, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote:

Women in United Kingdom and Japan have it. Women in Estonia, Sweden, Canada and France have it. But women in Australia still don’t have access to a government-funded paid parental leave scheme. 

We’re closer than ever to getting a paid parental leave scheme. Eighty-two percent of Australians support it. The Productivity Commission says it will be good for women, good for babies and good for the economy. Even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ on paid parental leave, but he still hasn’t made a commitment. 

Today I announced that the Greens are taking action on this important issue. I will be introducing a Bill for a government-funded, 26-week paid parental leave scheme – and we need your support to make it law. 

This announcement comes after a long campaign from the union and women’s’ movement to have paid parental leave written into law and is important as it will force the Government to show its hand on whether or not it supports a Government funded paid parental leave. After the election the Rudd Government seemed almost certain that it would adopt a paid parental leave scheme, but after it was not put into the May budget in 2008 and with statements that have seen the Government wavering in its support (apparently due to the Global Financial Crisis), it is now unclear as to whether we will see paid parental leave introduced in 2009.

Why should we be fighting for paid parental leave?

Paid parental leave is an essential component to any industrial relations scheme that has any desire to see the gap between the earnings and opportunities between women and men be bridged. Reports now show that women in Australia potentially earn 1 million dollars less over their lifetime than men. Whilst these figures are due to a mix of reasons (including the continued sexism within the workforce) the issue of childbearing and the sexism that continues to result from this issue is still a major problem. By introducing a paid parental scheme the Government goes someway to reducing this problem. It gives women better opportunities within the workforce and ensures that having a child does not stop women from being able to continue along their desired career path.

The Importance of it being Paid Parental Leave

One of the most important factors of this legislation (and the proposals that I suspect will eventually come from Labor) is that it moves away from paid maternity leave and discusses paid parental leave. Whilst we are never going to change the fact that women will be the ones who are required to be the child bearers, society is now finally questioning the idea that women should be sole person who is responsible for raising a child. By discussing this as paid parental leave rather than paid maternity leave and by giving men the opportunity to access this service to raise children we ensure that we do not revert back wholly to a situation where women are seen as the only ones who should be responsible for raising a child. This creates a fairer system where the parents have the opportunity to discuss and decide on their own how responsibilities should be split, rather than being told that it is the woman’s job to raise the child.

Second to this, introducing paid paternal leave over paid maternal leave creates a fair system for those who don’t fit into the heteronormative ideals of how families should work. By introducing paid paternal leave over paid maternal leave we ensure that those LGBTI couples who have children and those who adopt children are all given the opportunity to ensure that they can be at home to look after their children in their early stages, whilst not being punished in the workforce. 

It is great to see that we are now seeing more and more action on this issue in Australia and I look forward to this legislation or something similar becoming law in the near future. I call on the Government to adopt this legislation in the next budget and take the next step in ensuring that discrimination within the workforce for women and parents is finally put to an end. 

 

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | , , | Leave a comment

Obama Coming Closer to Going Further into Interrogations

After a long time rejecting the idea, President of the United States, Barack Obama is now opening up to the idea of having a probe into the Bush administration tactics during the war on terror, focused especially around interrogation methods and torture.

It is good to see that Obama is now opening up to this idea. A full investigation, with the possibility of prosecutions to follow (as Obama has now admitted could occur), will ensure that the United States is given a real opportunity to find out about the horrors of the Bush Administration and properly move on from them. As discussed earlier, the US will not be able to properly move on from these past disgraces and ensure that they don’t occur again until adequate recognition and punishment of those who perpetrated them by society occurs. I hope this talk leads to future action and provides a real opportunity for the US to move away from being a nature that accepts torture.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , | 2 Comments

Prosecutions Must Follow the Release of the Torture Memos

Yesterday, President of the United States, Barack Obama released the well known ‘torture memos’  of the Bush Administration which outlined the torture methods that were deemed as suitable for use by the CIA in interrogations of suspected terrorists. The memos outlined a number of methods, including water boarding, leaving someone in a dark room with an insect, leaving someone in cramped conditions and sleep deprivation as some of the acceptable methods for interrogation. 

I fully congratulate President Obama for releasing these memos and ensuring no parts of them were blacked out when they were released. However I strongly agree with Keith Olbermann in his discussion over the need for prosecutions to follow the release of these documents (which President Obama has refused to allow). Without prosecuting those who authorised and participated in these actions Obama has taken the easy road out and has left the door open for these sorts of actions to occur in the future; something that must be avoided at all costs. To create a progressive future one not only needs to acknowledge the shameful actions of the past, but also allow for a society to create a form of ‘justice’ for those who suffered in those actions and it is only through initiating prosecutions that at least some form of justice can be attained. 

April 18, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | | 1 Comment

Creating Actual Democracy – The ‘Online Senator’ Model

Following on from my recent post on popular ballots I am now going to discuss the ‘Online Senator’ model of increasing democracy. Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Online Senator model was proposed at the Australian Federal Election of 2007. In this election a party called the ‘Online Senator’ ran in every state (I think) for the Senate. The idea behind the party was that if they were to get elected they would set up an online voting system where the people of Australia could vote on the legislation facing the Senate and the elected Senators would then vote according to which way the online vote went. 

Now, I am not going to use the ‘Online Senator’ as my model for discussion today as I think it carries far too many risks due to the fact that having one or two Senators who would vote in this way would not bring any form of institutionalisation to the process, therefore creating serious risks (including how can we be sure people aren’t voting more than once, how can we know that only Australian citizens are voting, what happens if someone is clever enough to hack the voting system and tamper with the votes etc.) However, I do believe that this idea brings up an interesting question; why can’t we let people vote on all pieces of legislation (and therefore all the issues that directly affect them)? I will split up my discussion into the positives and negatives of the issue at stake.

Positives

There really is only one real positive to allowing people to vote on everything, but it is a big one. The positive is that it creates democracy at a very high level. Through allowing people to vote on everything that comes through a house of parliament they are given direct control over every decision that affects their lives. From here there would be little work to be done to create better democracy (the work that would be required would be to get more people involved in the creation of legislation – more discussion on that later). One would have to argue that this is a good thing.

Negatives

The negatives in this situation however are great and in my opinion could easily outweigh the positives. I think the negatives can be split into two ‘key’ areas (I say key, noting that these are the ones that I think could and would be the ones that are most difficult to overcome); logistics and information.

Logistics:

The logistics of such a program would be extremely difficult and would cause serious problems. The logistical problems of this idea are:

  1. How can we get a large population engaged enough to want and to be able to vote on such complex pieces of legislation on such a regular occurrence?
  2. How would such a system work? Would it be done over the internet and if so what risks are there with such a process and how logistically would it occur? If not by the internet, then how could we do it ensuring everyone who wants is able to have their say?
  3. Where would the ideas for changes come from? Would we still have a parliament who introduces such legislation? Why would someone want to be in such a parliament when they would have no power? Who introduces amendments to legislation and how are they voted on?

The list for these logistical problems could go on and I will not continue. I think the above text provides a good enough description of the problems such a system would face.

Information

The basic problem here is simple, how can we ensure that the voting population is provided with enough, balanced information to make regular decisions on complex policy issues that they may not know much about. Whilst some may say that even politicians don’t have this information and often just vote as their party does (a fair criticism) and others may argue for an optional voting system so people can opt out of voting for issues they don’t know much about, the key problem that what goes before parliament is often extremely complex and of such a nature that a large amount of people would never read it would continue to exist. This is not me saying that ‘people’ are ‘dumb’, whilst politicians are ‘super intelligent experts’ that know everything about all policies, but rather simply acknowledging that people cannot know everything about everything, which in such situations could lead to people making votes that aren’t in their or the communities best interests.

A second information argument is that people, who are unaware of the ‘day-to-day’ workings of a nations budget may be inclined to vote for bad policies that benefit themselves, whilst not thinking of the bottom line of the budget (i.e. people voting for massive tax cuts or spending increases that are untenable). Whilst I agree that this could and probably would occur in some places I think overall it is dangerous to label people as being ‘only self interested’ and would point to examples in the United States where popular ballots that would cut taxes have regularly been voted down.

Overall, I think these negative issues far outweigh the positives of such an idea.  However, I still think discussing such an idea is useful, because it creates a discussion on what I think are the two key issues regarding the creation of a more democratic society; logistics and information. Through discussing such a ‘radical’ idea I think we bring up the problems that we must face if we want to create a more democratic society and allow for discussions to begin on how to solve these problems. In future posts I will start to bring up some ideas of how to solve these issues (the post on popular ballots is one of these) and hopefully create a discussion which finds some more appropriate ‘middle ground’ solutions to the democratic void we have in our society.

Keep an eye out for these posts soon!

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Democracy and the State, Options for a Progressive Future | | Leave a comment