Helping Our Peninsula's Environment

 

The Four Legs of Democracy
(How to measure Democracy)

(c) Copyright 1996-2011 David Dilworth

Our Planet has no genuine governmental Democracy as of 2011.

Some places, such as California, come close 
but we still await - the real thing.

Democracy is defined as "the Consent of the Governed." It means shared power or shared governance. It can not reasonably be called consent when the most important political decisions made by government officials vary grossly from the will of the voters and the public good. 

Democracy is war without guns. Prior to the time of Napoleon if you had more than half the armed soldiers, you almost always won the battles and the wars. 

We now have a far less bloody way of solving major political power disputes. If you have more than half the votes, you (should) win elections. This modern trend is notably less messy both physically and emotionally. 

The continuum of power sharing has dictatorship on one end (no power shared) and at the other end is - the required voter approval of all policy and priorities of lawmaking, law application and law enforcement. 

Real democracy occurs when the decisions actually reflect the will of the majority of those affected, while protecting the rights of all minorities; when there is no Political Gap between the will of the people and the actions of the culture. 

A Republic without an initiative process is not a Democracy. A Republic removes direct power over lawmaking and enforcement from the public and employs "elected" officials to make governmental decisions. The elected are almost always those with no other leadership qualifications than being the "lesser of two evils" who can raise the most campaign money.There is no federal initiative process in the United States and twenty seven (27) of the 50 US states do not have an initiative process.

Real democracy, like a table, is supported by vital four legs. The four essential legs are court enforced freedom of speech and of publication; allowing everyone to vote, an easy way for citizens to put issues on the public agenda - generally known as an initiative process, and severing money from governmental decisions.

Facade or rhetorical democracy ("Democrafacade?") is when one of these critical legs is missing, is skipped, or when one or more of the legs is short or weak. As we will examine, just as there are tricky battle maneuvers, elections and other vital democracy components can have loopholes that make the appearance of democracy a dangerous facade. 
 

The Four Elements of Democracy:

Speech/Agenda/Votes (SAV)

(Free Speech, Agenda Setting, Everyone Votes, and Money and Governmental Decisions are Severed)

The structure of the four elements.

1) Free Speech and Media Fully Enforced by Courts

Even today in 2003, people are regularly murdered in some countries for merely speaking or writing criticism of their governments (e.g. Nigeria's Ken Saro Wiwa in 1995). Murder of citizens protesting government abuse is so common that Amnesty International (AI) has a policy of not conducting a campaign from within a country where AI is trying to stop the human rights violations (even in the U.S.!) 

Without Free Speech and freedom of all media to publish information highly critical of government, which some might call repugnant or even false information, there can be no other freedoms or rights. How can anyone ever become informed if free speech and criticism is prohibited or even merely discouraged. For those who mistakenly believe United States citizens are fully informed by the press you might visit the Project Censored web site at California's Sonoma State University.

a. Assertion of Free Speech

How many Countries protect free speech in their constitutions? I have only found a few - the United States, Germany, Japan, Spain. 

England, Canada, and Switzerland do not even pretend to protect free speech. Germany's protection has significant exceptions.  Consider England's "Official Secrets Act" which is regularly used to halt any speech the government finds offensive.

However, the United States Constitution fails the free speech test in three major ways. 

1) It allows people to sign away their right to free speech when entering a contract - such as getting a job where workers do not have a right to free speech on corporate property. An unalienable right to free speech will not allow an employer to take away your rights to free speech.

2) Unlike California's constitution, the U.S. constitution does not allow you to sue government or a business for restricting your free speech; it only allows a suit to defend your free speech if your are charged with lawbreaking. California's are called self-executing rights. You can use them to sue government or a business for restricting your free speech or any other right in California's Constitution.

3) Because so very few corporations now own most TV, radio, magazines, bookstores and newspapers, and because the U.S. Supreme Court has falsely given corporations the right to free speech - corporations drown out the public's speech and refuse to publish information which undermines their power and dissenting opinions. 

b. Court Enforcement 

Free Speech is not real if the Courts refuse to uphold it. China claims to have free speech, but their courts uniformly fail to enforce it. In 2005 China leads the world in jailing journalists (34 in December. By comparison the US is jailing 5 journalists - without charges). In China political dissenters are regularly tortured, some disappear and there is official censorship of reporting on those missing and killed. 

c. Speech Infringement Deterrence

Beyond enforcement, there should be real penalties or substantive deterrence for those who interfere with free speech or free media. It is the difference between a shield and a sword. The US Constitution only protects free speech, but provides no penalties or deterrence for those who prevent it. 

Far stronger are the California Constitution and US Civil Rights laws which allow penalties for those who interfere with your free speech.  

2) Citizen Agenda Setting

a. Assertion of Citizen Agenda Setting

Very few governments allow people to act when politicians won't. The United States does not yet have a process to allow citizens to vote on federal laws or put laws up for a vote. (Its even worse than that. In 2002 - 2006 the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and wholly refused to allow any Democrat written legislation to be voted on by Congress!) However there is an NGO, an organization called Direct Democracy working to allow citizen legislation to be voted on nationally.

On the other hand, Oregon and California and twenty one other states specifically allow citizens to put laws up for a vote and allow voters to overturn laws passed by legislators. A majority, 27, of the 50 United States, do not allow it at all. 

b. Reasonably Available to Citizens

While California makes Initiatives and Referendums available at the state and local levels, and while many issues do get to the ballot - the large number of signatures and the short deadlines make it too difficult and expensive for citizens to do so. At the same time it is too easy for non-citizens (corporations) to hire people to put an issues on the ballot. 

c. Court Enforcement

Will the Courts enforce a citizen's demand a law be put up for a popular vote? More than a few Courts refuse to uphold initiative and referendum laws. 

d. Only voters can overturn voter made laws.

Of the 27 states with an Initiative process, only in California is it safe from hostile legislators. When voters make a law in California, elected officials cannot rescind or weaken it. Voter created law can only be overturned by the voters themselves. In areas without this protection, public officials often overturn citizen-made laws in a matter of days - or hours.

3) Everyone votes - 

Fair, Open Election and Ballot Counting.

You can examine a commitment to allowing everyone to vote by studying how minorities are treated as voters. 

Although Pitcairn Island "let" women vote in 1837, the first country to allow women to vote was New Zealand in 1893. Women did not get to vote in the U.S. until 1920. It was illegal for Martha Washington, Betsy Ross and Mary Lincoln to vote. As recently as 1960, black people in the Southern U.S. were frequently threatened with murder and sometimes shot if they went to a voting place or if they tried to register to vote. 

Some countries still don't allow people to vote if they are of the "wrong" color, race, religion, social status (wrong side of the tracks) or if they can't afford to pay a voting fee. Switzerland still has a political party purely dedicated to keeping women from voting in national elections. The US Civil Rights Commission examined Florida's 2000 Presidential ballots and found 53 percent of invalidated votes were cast by black voters. Only 12 percent of the electorate is black. They found a black citizen was 10 times as likely to have a vote rejected as a white voter. Unfortunately, Florida was not an aberration. A U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner found Florida to be typical of conditions across the U.S. (See www.gregpalast.com)

a. Ballots counted in public.

Voting is worthless if you cannot watch the ballot counting. Opening and counting ballots in secret is an easy way to change election results. As recently as 1980, newspaper reporters were prohibited from video taping vote counting in Florida (Votescam, by James and Kenneth Collier). Startlingly, the national Sierra Club prohibits anyone - even candidates, from observing their ballot opening and counting.  Ballots must have an accountable paper trail that can be examined in public - for free.  In some areas ballots are placed in a locked glass box so everyone can see the box is empty (not stuffed with bogus votes) when balloting begins.

b. Citizen's votes must be secret and cost nothing.

Making an individual citizen's choice of vote public can intimidate them from voting their true desire. In extreme cases allowing others to learn how you vote can put your life at risk. 
Charging someone to register or vote called a "Poll tax" can keep poor people from voting. Several southern (U.S.) states had poll taxes until the 1960's. 

c. Judicial System where election complaints are decided fairly.

This should be self-evident. The U.S. Supreme Court 2000 Bush v Gore decision is an example of courts failing to uphold the rule of law. 

d. Meaningful Voting - No "Political Gap"

Votes must make a difference. We have a huge "Political Gap" in the United States. Poll after poll, decade after decade shows a vast majority of the American public wants changes that elected officials refuse to adopt. The issues range from Public Campaign Financing to Universal Health Care to genuine Environmental Protection. 

The reasons for this are legion, but the only important point is all those issues would be law and funded if our votes had meaning.

 e. Only people can vote. Corporations, businesses cannot vote; and land owners have no more vote than others.

 

4) Money and Fear are Severed from Governmental Decisions

a. No one may give money or anything of value to government officials

Bribery occurs when someone gives something of value for a political decision. It could be a gift, a promise of a future job, a job to a relative, a campaign contribution or simply cash.

Examples abound: In 2005 Jack Abramoff admitted bribing Congressmen. Separately, in 2006 California Congressman Duke Cunningham was convicted of receiving millions in bribes.

California fails on this count because while it has limits on gifts - it explicitly allows elected officials to vote and influence a project that exclusively financially benefits a campaign contributor. (Political Reform Act section 82030 b1)

b. No one may threaten a government official

A threat (blackmail or extortion) to an individual can affect their family, their friends and their work. A threat to a government official can affect the lives of millions. Yet very few laws consider a threat to a government official any differently than the same threat to an ordinary citizen.

 

 

Finally, there is one criteria which trumps them all, yet cannot be easily measured - Encouragement or Hostility?

Is your government hostile to public participation or does it encourage the public to participate?

____________

Lets apply these three criteria and compare some well known versions of governance. The lowest score a government can get and call itself a democracy is three.

The US itself and twenty seven (27) U.S. states do not have an initiative process so the maximum points any of them can get is two. Loss of a full point.

While the Supreme Court consistently upholds most free speech, the US Constitution has no provision for real penalties or substantive deterrence for those who interfere with free speech or free media. Further, it allows you to sign away your right to free speech to an employer. These cripple its Free Speech leg by 2/3rds.

The US Supreme Court has refused to abide by laws as shown by their decision in Bush v. Gore in 2000 - that loses 1/4th point. 

Ballots cast for President in many states besides Florida are opened and counted in secret - losing another 1/4th point. 

This leaves the US with a democracy score of only 0.83 out of 3.00
That is less than a third (28 percent) of the bare minimum required by this method of measuring democracy.

By contrast, California has an Initiative process that cannot be overturned by lawmakers, has real penalties or substantive deterrence for those who interfere with free speech or free media, its courts generally abide by the law, and it does have its ballots opened and counted in public. 

However, California ignores all its authority over broadcast and cable media allowing media monopolies to drown out alternative voices. This reduces its score by 1/3 point.

So California gets a 2-2/3 out of 3, or 89% of the minimum required for a democracy.

So now you know what it takes to have a real democracy. Consider taking inventory of your own local or state government or even your membership organization to see how it measures up to the 10 criteria explained here. 

____________

Encouragement vs Hostility
A genuine democracy encourages public participation and improvements to it. An Anti-democracy is hostile to public participation. As an example, the town of Pacific Grove has a policy of refusing to allow inspection of public records. It regularly tries to take action to reduce public comment at Council meetings.

When I learn of a government agency which encourages public participation and improvements to it, I will update this article.

____________

Shared Power means 

Of the People, 
By the People, and 
For the People 

with Consent of the Governed.

____________

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This Page Last Updated Friday, March 17, 2006

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