Jun
19

How to Rig an Election

"The greatest political paradox of our time is this: there are more elections than ever before, and yet the world is becoming less democratic" (p. 1). This paradox is explained in How to Rig an Election (2018) by Cheeseman and Klaas (published by Yale). In sum: "How is it possible that the flourishing of elections has coincided with a decade of democratic decline? The answer is that dictators, despots and counterfeit democrats have figured out how to rig elections and get away with it." (p. 3) The book is an excellent read for undergraduate students, it is clear and accessible. The chapters cover gerrymandering (Ch 1), vote buying (Ch 2), repression (Ch 3), hacking the election (Ch 4), stuffing the ballot box (Ch 5), playing the international community (Ch 6). Each chapter provides a range of examples of each issue, from a set of countries the authors have more experience with (which are global in nature). The focus of the book is on contexts where democracy does not have deep roots (they say the emphasis of cases is more on how to "strengthen or build democracy, rather than rescue or defend it").

The chapter on hacking the election is fascinating in that it sheds light on new directions of rigging, particularly the use of technology. The authors state that there is "a clear risk that we are heading towards a future, previously imagined only in science fiction movies, in which our actions and beliefs are recorded and manipulated at a level of detail that was hitherto unthinkable. And whether we like it or not, such methods are being increasingly deployed in an ever-larger number of elections, with important consequences. When elections are decided by small margins, big data can be decisive." (p. 148)

Conclusion? "In the twenty-first century, elections will be rigged with strategies both old and new, because autocrats have learnt a simple but sad truth: it is easier to stay in power by rigging elections than by not holding them at all. For that reason, we must learn an even more uncomfortable truth: right now, those who rig elections are outfoxing not only their own people but also the international community. Unless we learn how to identify these strategies and address them, then election quality will continue to decline. Over time, this is likely to call the basic legitimacy of democracy into question, as people grow frustrated with elections that fail to usher in change." (p. 239) 

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Mar
09

Democracy Project

Starting in 2001 Teodros Kiros began writing articles in Ethiopian newspapers, as a way to engage with the public about democracy and democratization. The articles continued until 2004, and are gathered in his book "Philosophical Essays" (2011). The series of articles are short interventions, and are largely an introduction to Euro-Western thinkers, or a sort of Euro-Western political science 101 (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Madison, Kant, Hagel, Marx, de Tocqueville, Rawls). Given that this is the same author who brought to life Zara Yacob for a broader audience, it is surprising that little to no engagement with Ethiopian ideas takes place, nor strands of thought beyond the Euro-Western canon. However, that seems to be a purposeful selection for this book, as the author has another book, Ethiopian Discourse, also published in 2011, that collects writing explicitly engaging with Ethiopian thought and experience (to be reviewed in a future post). This is an interesting collection of writing during a particular moment in Ethiopian political history - however, other than a reference for historians interested in the early 2000s (or a general primer on Euro-Western political philosophy), it is unclear who the intended audience is. 

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Jan
28

Democracy in Chains

Nearly on a weekly basis during the Trump years we heard pundits proclaim something along the lines of "who saw it coming?!" While the specifics were not predictable, the trend was clear. One of those for whom the writing was on the wall was historian and public policy expert Nancy MacLean, who published Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, in 2017. The book is contested, not surprisingly given its claims and highly political nature. For readers, approaching any book as being biased (by its topic, framing, research questions, etc) and engaging it critically is important. A few notes:

"In his first big gift to Buchanan's program, Charles Koch signaled his desire for the work he funded to be conducted behind the backs of the majority. "Since we are greatly outnumbered," Koch conceded to the assembled team, the movement could not win simply by persuasion. Instead, the cause's insiders had to use their knowledge of "the rules of the game"—that game being how modern democratic governance works—"to create winning strategies." A brilliant engineer with three degrees from MIT, Koch warned, "The failure to use our superior technology ensures failure." Translation: the American people would not support their plans, so to win they had to work behind the scenes, using a covert strategy instead of open declaration of what they really wanted." (p. xxii)

"The goal of the cause, Buchanan announced to his associates, should no longer be to influence who makes the rules, to vest hopes in one party or candidate. The focus must shift from who rules to changing the rules." (p. xxvii)

"Their cause, they say, is liberty. But by that they mean the insulation of private property rights from the reach of government, and the takeover of what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands, and much more) by corporations, a system that would radically reduce the freedom of the many. In a nutshell, they aim to hollow out democratic resistance. And by its own lights, the cause is nearing success." (p. xxx)

"...back in the county where Barbara Rose Johns first organized for fair treatment, and where officials continued to insist that they would abandon public education entirely rather than submit to "dictation" by federal courts, the Board of Supervisors voted a few weeks later to close the schools. That September, they padlocked every public school and opened new private schools for the white children while leaving some eighteen hundred black children with no formal education whatsoever. "It's the nation's first county," reported the Wall Street Journal, "to go completely out of the public school business." Local black youth remained schoolless from 1959 to 1964, when a federal court intervened to stop the abuse." (p. 72)

"Buchanan's experiences at UCLA left a far deeper legacy, one that ultimately explains why, in our time, governors and state legislators under the influence of the capitalist radical right have been moving aggressively to transform public higher education in states where they are in control. After 2010, as the Koch-funded project moved forward in the states, its representatives sought to slash their states' public university budgets while simultaneously raising tuition, ending need-based scholarships, limiting or curtailing tenure protections, reducing faculty governance, and undermining support for the liberal arts curriculum (particularly those parts of it most known for dissent)." (p. 103)

"In the view of the libertarian economist [Buchanan], Jesus was mistaken. Conscripting the Good Samaritan story, Buchanan made his case that "modern man [had] 'gone soft'": he lacked the "strategic courage" needed to restore the market to its proper ordering. By this logic, what seemed to be the ethical thing to do—help someone in need—was not, after all, the correct thing to do, because the assistance would encourage the recipient to "exploit" the giver rather than to solve his own problems." (p. 143)

"...it was Buchanan who guided Pinochet's team in how to arrange things so that even when the country finally returned to representative institutions, its capitalist class would be all but permanently entrenched in power. The first stage was the imposition of radical structural transformation influenced by Buchanan's ideas; the second stage, to lock the transformation in place, was the kind of constitutional revolution Buchanan had come to advocate. Whereas the US Constitution famously enshrined "checks and balances" to prevent majorities from abusing their power over minorities, this one, a Chilean critic later complained, bound democracy with "locks and bolts"." (p. 155)

"Many liberals then and since have tended to miss this strategic use of privatization to enchain democracy, at worst seeing the proposals as coming simply from dogma that preferred the private sector to the public. Those driving the train know otherwise. Privatization was a key element of the crab walk to the final, albeit gradual, revolution—the ends justify-the-means approach that allowed for using disingenuous claims to take terrain that would make the ultimate project possible." (p. 182) 

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Sep
26

The Green Book - Gaddafi

The former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explained his political philosophy in The Green Book. The Green Book is a short work (the English translation is 92 pages) presented in short chapters on a wide range of topics, organized into three parts. The first part is a critique of Western forms of democracy and a proposal for democracy rooted in people's self governance. The second part is about socialism and the third part about the social relations in society. A copy is available here. Some notes from the book:

"Parliaments are the backbone of that conventional democracy prevailing in the world today. Parliament is a misrepresentation of the people, and parliamentary systems are a false solution to the problem of democracy. A parliament is originally founded to represent the people, but this in itself is undemocratic as democracy means the authority of the people and not an authority acting on their behalf." (p. 10)

"Under such systems, the people are the victims whose votes are vied for by exploitative competing factions who dupe the people into political circuses that are outwardly noisy and frantic, but inwardly powerless and irrelevant." (p. 11)

"The existence of many parties intensifies the struggle for power, and this results in the neglect of any achievements for the people and of any socially beneficial plans. Such actions are presented as a justification to undermine the position of the ruling party so that an opposing party can replace it. The parties very seldom resort to arms in their struggle but, rather, denounce and denigrate the actions of each other. This is a battle which is inevitably waged at the expense of the higher, vital interests of the society." (p. 14)

"...society alone supervises itself. It is dictatorial for any individual or group to claim the right of the supervision of the laws of the society, which is, democratically, the responsibility of the society as a whole. This can be arrived at through the democratic instrument of government that results from the organization of the society itself into Basic Popular Conferences, and through the government of these people through People's Committees..." (p. 29)

"In a socialist society, it should not be in the form of wages from any source or charity from any one. In this society, there are no wage-earners, but only partners. One's income is a private matter and should either be managed privately to meet one's needs or be a share from a production process of which one is an essential component. It should not be a wage in return for production." (p. 44)

"The new socialist society is but a dialectical outcome of the unjust relationships prevailing in the world today. The new socialist society will introduce the natural solution - privately-owned property to satisfy one's needs without exploitation, and collective property in which the producers are partners replacing private enterprise, which is based on the production of others without recognizing their right to a just share of the product." (p. 51)

"The possibility of a socialist revolution starts by producers taking over their share of the production. Consequently, the aims of the producers' strikes will change from demanding increases in wages to controlling their share in production." (p. 53)

"Freedom means that every human being gets proper education which qualifies him or her for the work which suits him or her. Dictatorship means that human beings are taught that which is not suitable for them, and are forced to do unsuitable work." (p. 82)

"Education, or learning, is not necessarily that routinized curriculum and those classified subjects in textbooks which youths are forced to learn during specified hours while sitting in rows of desks. This type of education now prevailing all over the world is directed against human freedom. State-controlled education, which governments boast of whenever they are able to force it on their youths, is a method of suppressing freedom. It is a compulsory obliteration of a human being's talent, as well as a coercive directing of a human being's choices. It is an act of dictatorship destructive of freedom because it deprives people of their free choice, creativity and brilliance. To force a human being to learn according to a set curriculum is a dictatorial act. To impose certain subjects upon people is also a dictatorial act." (p. 85)

"This does not mean that schools are to be closed and that people should turn their backs on education, as it may seem to superficial readers. On the contrary, it means. that society should provide all types of education, giving people the chance to choose freely any subjects they wish to learn. This requires a sufficient number of schools for all types of education." (p. 85-86) 

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