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FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – FAMILIAR PLACES September 30, 2005

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The land out the back is been dug up, an excuse for Sasha and myself to check it out. Taffy visited the vet, and we took some pictures to mark the occasion – as you do. Taffy is now into “gentle exercise”, going further down the street. Since Taffy is going down the street, Sasha might as well come along.


Back at a familiar lookout. Posted by Picasa


Down among the excavations. Posted by Picasa


An overview. Posted by Picasa


A view from the other side. Posted by Picasa


After visiting the Vet. Posted by Picasa


Taffy walking closer. Posted by Picasa


“It is great to be out.” Posted by Picasa


Taffy close up. Posted by Picasa


Taffy and Sasha getting out again. Posted by Picasa

MANAGING DISSENT September 29, 2005

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Tony Blair promised to stare down his critics at the British Labor Party Conference.

What he should have said was that he would be employing stage management to prevent alternative views been expressed.

Mr Wolfgang, a labor party member of long standing, and delegate to the conference, as reported by The Guardian, was escorted out of the hall for calling out “nonsense” as the Foreign Secretary attempted to justify the Iraq War on the basis of progress in the development of democracy. Blair and others believe appearance will pass for what is real, and is what you make it.

The really interesting event was the Mr Wolfgang was refused re-entry back into the conference on the basis of the anti-terrorist laws. At 82, he fits the profile exactly. Just to note that anti-terrorist laws can be used for purposes other than what they purportedly are designed for, and in this case to support a top-down authoritarian management style, antithetical to the full and free expression of basic democratic rights.

Andrew Grice, Political Editor for The Independent, has further observations:

Yesterday’s over-reaction by conference stewards was symbolic of the intolerant approach adopted under Mr Blair, who himself faced hecklers over Iraq last year. But the desire to keep images of disunity off the television screens backfired spectacularly, when the heavy-handed actions of stewards featured prominently on news bulletins.

There is another downside to the “command and control” approach ingrained in New Labour. The party has little influence over government policy and was never consulted over controversial policies such as university top-up fees and foundation hospitals.

So it is no wonder that Labour membership has halved from 400,000 to 200,000 in the past five years. Some senior Labour figures now wonder what kind of party Mr Blair will leave behind when he stands down.

Blair is doubtless confirmed in his political approach when with 35.2% of the votes cast his party can be returned to government. The top-down approach to public policy together with a winner take all single member constituency voting system serves to squander social capital.

Members of political parties are perhaps not typical of the population at large, but political parties might have advantages by attracting wide ranges of party members. Still, I would guess, the membership of the duopoly parties is declining in the US reflecting the declining numbers who vote for Congress, about 40%, which in the circumstances is heroic in the context of winner take all and redistricting. Still just sometimes one of the major parties is defeated to be replaced by the other.

30/09/2005 - Walter Wolfgang puts his side of the story in The Independent. Blair, he says, is a tory. Still the plain reality of electoral politics is that to govern the Labor Party had to win and retain those seats centred and around and including London, which they were not winning before Blair was leader.

01/10/2005 – From the Party viewpoint this is a Public Relations problem. Banning boiled sweets means that the party, or someone, cannot trust it’s member, and suspects they might be terrorists. This terrorist inspired lunacy is not long to affect us as well. Why bother with democracy, when with 35.2% of the votes a party can be elected to government. Public relations are substance in this theatre of the absurd.

02/10/2005 - The absurdity of not having a debate at the Labor Party Conference was mentioned by former member Colin MacCabe in his resignation letter sent to Blair and published in The Observer. Like I have said a squandering of social and democratic capital in the interest of authoritarian top-down management.

SOMETHING AFOOT September 29, 2005

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Lowest Artic ice levels in 100 years (via ABC TV) Posted by Picasa
As noted previously, the shrinking of the Artic icecap is a strong indication that climate change seems now to be occurring outside the expected normal range of variability. Greenhouse gases are a possible cause. If so, it seems these changes and their multiple implications will continue. ABC News carries a report of these developments with the opinions of concerned scientists.

Here is an issue that should be at the top of the agenda for all the Earth’s people and for all their governments. Other matters must be of lesser significance.

Kevin Drum, at Washington Monthly, has more with a categorical assertion that greenhouse gas is an underlying cause and shows the trend in the data.

Medical doctors are trained scientists so they should be qualified to comment on the patient Gaia. Michael Crichton is a global warming denier, and has written a novel, State of Fear:

“a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat story about its hero’s struggle against those who are trying to dupe the world into thinking global warming is a real problem.”

The question as implied by Brad Delong and his commentators is whether he is qualified to appear before a congressional committee as an expert, or as a junk scientist. As I have learnt from writing here, contrarian and contradictory opinions may often inform arguments, so the real question is who else appeared. The data on the changes to the polar caps, and evidence such as the change in ocean salination, is I expect decisive.

Jamie Wilson, for The Guardian, reports on Michael Crichton’s appearance before the Senate committee. It appears as if Brad Delong is pretty much up to speed as to what this is about.

30/09/2005Tim Lambert, at Deltoid, actually watched the Senate Committee meeting, and its seem some are malaria prevention deniers. But as we all know, smoking does not cause cancer, or is associated with those diseases in any way.

FEMALE MALLARD DUCK September 29, 2005

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Female Mallard Duck (Wikipedia) Posted by Picasa

The actual duckpond, more accurately dam, has no ducks, so it must be possible for at least one duck, via Wikipedia, to visit, and make this virtual site more visually interesting.

MASS, ENERGY AND THE SPEED OF LIGHT September 28, 2005

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A day late I know – but that’s time for you.

I knew Albert Einstein published his famous equation in 1905, but Kevin Drum, at Washington Monthly knew that this event occurred yesterday. Hey, given the relativity involved here it might have been today our time. Kevin also has the paper, translated in English.

Einstein, much like Newton, seemed to have solved the problems working for the most part on his own. Once one person figures out how to do something, others can follow. Problems such as injustice and the environmental crisis facing the globe, imperilling we are told life on earth, requires collective problem solving, and so is somehat intractable, if not impossible, and so we delay, and by delaying the problems become more serious.

Al is not unknown to the search engines. There is, for example, the dog school of mathematics explaining special relativity for sixth graders – whoever they are.

MIXED MEMBER PROPORTIONAL September 27, 2005

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Voting systems, in particular the winner take all, simple plurality system, can give the appearance of democracy with none, or at least very little, of the reality.

Since voting for the House of Representatives in Australia is based on constituencies, at least preferential voting established an absolute majority as for the threshold to be elected, which does not apply for the same name chamber in the US. It is interesting to observe that about 8% of seats in the US are contested for their House of Reps, and in only about 7% of seats in Australia do preferences need to be distributed. While these figures are not entirely reliable, and despite the differences in process, for example there is nothing like redistricting in Australia, they point to problems inherent in representation based on electoral divisions or districts.

Here is an example of an electorate, formally described as a division, in which preferences were required to be distributed. To get an absolute majority, the elected Labor candidate relied on Green preferences. In this instance, the ALP would apparently have won on a winner takes all basis, still with that system there would not have been the same level of parties involved, knowing that they do not act as spoilers and the votes are not lost. For the media elections are mostly a two party contest, if not a two person contest. Alan, at Southerly Buster, is the direct source, and has further comments on MMP.

Another answer as we have seen recently demonstrated in operation is Mixed Member Proportional system. This system, as the system operates in NZ, retains the electorates or districts with voters, and these are determined on a winner take all basis. Electors also vote for the party lists, and in NZ these are the party votes. Parties that do not attract a 5% threshold are eliminated. The total number of seats for each party is set as a proportion of the total party votes that have achieved the threshold. For example, Labor in 2002 won 45 electoral seats and a party vote of 43.3% which gave it 52% of the 120 seat House of Reps with 7 party seats.

There would appear to be no problem in having a similar system in Australia, when electorates are considered, but the party seats would cause the problem. The preferential system could be retained for the electorate vote. However, there is a constitutional problem, that does not exist in NZ, and short of a successful referendum to break the nexus of the Senate having half the seats of the House of Reps. Senate representation might be increased, complicated by the different numbers in the States and Territories, and the provision that MMP has when parties win electorate seats but fail to obtain the threshold to provide for overhang seats.

There is no movement for the application of PR in the Australian House of Representatives. Constitutional change, not helped by the loss of the Republic referendum, is so difficult as worth consideration. By contrast the Americans could have MMP for their House of Representatives, on the basis that there are no constitutional restraints, and they could use preferential voting, instant run off voting, for Presidential and Mayoral elections. Of course, to do so, they would have to be very brave and embrace democracy, but they did that courageously 200 years ago, and can perhaps do it again. One day America may be a democracy again. We might live in hope.

Meanwhile we will be transfixed by constitutional rigor mortis, since Australian voters will only act on the basis of pragmatism without fear. Democracy is scary – a fact that should be kept in mind when preaching to others, such as the Middle East.

10/10/2005 – I was looking for figures on Preferential Voting (otherwise Alternative Vote) to indicate how often votes are distributed and whether the outcomes were changed. According to this list, this number varies with each election.

BILL OF RIGHTS September 26, 2005

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Today in The Sydney Morning Herald, James Allan, a Canadian, who is Garrick Professor of Law at Queensland University, argues against an entrenched bill of rights, as latterly Canada and New Zealand now have in place.

He contends:

The case against bills of rights in a successful liberal democracy comes on many fronts but at core it is that these instruments undercut citizens’ participation in social decision-making. They transfer too much power to unelected judges. . .Without a bill of rights in place, these difficult, debatable social policy lines are drawn on the basis of elections, voting and letting the numbers count. With a bill of rights in place the unelected judges decide – though ironically they, too, decide by voting; four justices’ votes beat three. Victory does not go to the judge writing the most moving judgement or the one with the most references to moral philosophy.

One wonders whether Professor Allan is fully aware that elections, if the House of Representatives is considered, are decided by those relatively few marginal electorates, and these contest are decided by the notorious swinging or undecided voters. All the other electorates are pretty much done deals with the representatives decided by the party machine, and the designated representative often arriving by parachute so as to save the locals from themselves. The swinging and undecided voters in the marginals become the key players in elections, carefully subject to focus groups and all the other tactics, appeals and embellishments of the modern election game. The rest of us are mostly irrelevant providing the numbers which gives the pretence a discourse about public policies has taken place.

Start reading about the electoral process, and it is sure to get you going. I wish I could share Professor Allan’s confidence in single electorate “voting and letting the numbers count”.

POLISH ELECTIONS September 25, 2005

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This article from the Independent, notes Poland is holding legislative elections today.
The report observes:

The pro-market Civic Platform had 34 per cent support in a poll published on Friday, ahead of the conservative Law and Justice party on 29 per cent. But an earlier survey gave Law and Justice a slight edge, suggesting Poland could mimic Germany, where voters last weekend got cold feet about pro-market changes at the ballot box. . . If the outcome is very close, the choice over who will be prime minister could be complicated by the fact that Poland also faces presidential elections on 9 October, with a likely run-off vote two weeks later. Warsaw’s mayor Lech Kaczynski, the identical twin brother of the Law and Justice leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is one of two leading candidates in the presidential race.

Poland is the EU’s biggest new member. Geography is history for Poland located between Russia and Germany. Given the possibility of preferential voting, a run off for the Presidency seems unnecessary, although it seems to reflect the French influence.

Elsewhere. Talks continue to decide on the government in Germany. The grand coalition now looks most likely. Still to my mind there is much to be said for this process. It is consistent with the notion of a deliberative parliament, with the political parties very much aware that whatever deal they stitch up must meet the approval of their voters. The Independent has a report. Similarly, in Aotearoa, The New Zealand Herald reports that minor parties are real players in forming the new government and in shaping public policy. Since representation reflects their support, we might reasonably describe the process as democratic.

26/09/2005 - BBC News reports on the election. It appears parties from the right have won an overwhelming majority in the lower house, Sejm, a chamber using PR, whereas the Senate uses “winner take all” constituencies. The BBC has further background here, including the issues, in particular the high level of unemployment. The significant feature in this election was the turnout of 40%. So much for PR guaranteeing a high turnout. This evidence suggests political culture and experience is important to levels of participation independent of the electoral system, and the political culture of countries such as the US and UK reflects social capital not to be taken for granted. Perhaps, given the turnout, there is a case for compulsory voting, so governments will have a mandate to take action?

WASHINGTON MARCH AGAINST IRAQ WAR September 25, 2005

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Within about two hours time there will be a march against the Iraq War in Washington. The number of people involved may, or may not, be important.

The worldwide march held to protest the invasion of Iraq, seemed to me to be a singular failure. Bush, Blair, Howard and others, simply ignored them. They will try to do the same again. Blair has the Labor Party Conference to manage.

Medea Benjamin sets out twelve reasons for marching, via Common Dreams News Center. Still reasons are important, and perhaps more important than numbers of people involved. It seems to me that the attack on natural justice and the Bill of Rights should be added to the list – see previous post.

The Washington Post has a report of the Washington demo, and notes others held in Europe, including London, Madrid and Rome.

02/10/2005
- Writing in the Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel, Jason Miller is not impressed by the news value accorded the demonstration in Washington by the MSM.

UNDERMINING JUSTICE September 25, 2005

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The war on terror is turning into an assault on due process and natural justice.

David Hicks’ incarceration without charge and delayed trial under dubious circumstances, and the complicity and compliance of the Australian Government in this travesty is a leading case. Hicks is the very type of person under normal precepts of juriprudence, as I understand it, who should be given all the protections associated with a fair trial.

I was very struck by this Juan Cole commentary in the context of the case of an Iraqi imprisoned by the Americans:

The severe weakening of the Bill of Rights under the Bush administration is a more fateful policy than the Iraq War or dealing with the hurricanes. The Republic can survive those disasters. The Republic cannot survive if its very foundation, the Constitution, is undermined. Bush has been kicking the pillars out from under it assiduously for nearly 5 years now, and soon nothing will be left but the imperial presidency. Even if Hussein is not a US citizen, it is un-American to hold him forever with no formal charges or trial.

In this context, it is perhaps interesting that an Iraqi judge in Basra is calling for the arrest of the two British undercover agents freed by the use of force.

There is a lack of an analysis and explanation as to why the Bush Administration and the Howard Government are acting in this way. Some take the long term view that during crises abnormal behavior is demonstrated, and when the storm passes the polity will resume it equilibrium position.

ABC News online reports that Queensland Priemer, Peter Beattie has called on the Federal Government to rewrite anti-terrorism laws. Rather than have anti-terrorism laws, we might never have been part of the Iraqi invasion and occupation in the first place.

Think about it. Logically this course could not be giving in to terrorism. Of course, terrorism means those actions of what will be stereotyped as religious extremists who just happen to be Muslim. I conclude that that public discourse in a democracy is more important than to have traduced for base political motivations and machinations, regardless of the expediency afforded for the short term operators.

CAUSE AND EFFECT? September 24, 2005

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Richard Black, the environmental science writer for the BBC News website calls into question whether there is reliable evidence available to link current hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico and global warming.

Anything that raises sea temperatures may change the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. There is thirty-five years of satellite data.


The article observes:

The changing phases of Atlantic hurricane activity are not completely understood; but there appears to be a link to fluctuations in the thermohaline circulation, the global pattern of ocean currents which in western Europe appears as the Gulf Stream.

By causing the sea-surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic to change by even a degree Celsius, these fluctuations can bring major differences to the number of hurricanes generated in a particular year.

Other natural climate cycles such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation may also play a role.

Whether, hurricanes reach the US coast on the presence of a upper atmosphere high pressure region, the sub tropical ridge. In its absence hurricanes are able to turn north.

Given we are dealing with a multifaceted system, I would guess, it is probably still advisable not to be pumping greenhouse gases at the current rate.

HURRICANES AS HARBINGERS September 23, 2005

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First came Katrina, with devastating consequence, albeit indirect. Now there is Rita. What do they signify?

Jeremy Rifken, writing in The Guardian, declares the answer:

And, as more and more people begin to wonder what’s happening to the weather, it seems that all of official Washington is holding its breath, lest the dirty little secret gets out: that Katrina and Rita are the entropy bill for increasing CO2 emissions and global warming. The scientists have been warning us about this for years. They said to keep our eyes on the Caribbean, where the dramatic effects of climate change are first likely to show up in the form of more severe and even catastrophic hurricanes.

But then scientists have been warning about the link between smoking and cancer, and people keep on smoking. Still we might expect governments to be more rational, responsible and better informed. If global warming can be confirmed, or even strongly suspected, there is no alternative by to change to a non-carbon economy.

The potential and present effects are not merely over there, they are here as well, as The Sydney Morning Herald reminded us this morning.

24/09/2004Tim Flannery takes an extreme view. Mankind is, he says, on the edge of an abyss. Do nothing and the collapse of civilization is invitable. Hello! Is anybody listening?
25/09/2005The Minneapolis Star Tribune, via Common Dreams News Center, observes that climate scientists are agreed on the implications of the melting of the ice caps, notes this process is well underway, and concludes that action in terms of reducing greenhouse gases should be taken.
28/09/2005 - Metereologist William Kinnimonth is critical of Tim Flannery in The Sydney Morning Herald. He says:

Climate is a complex system for exchange and transport of energy, to balance the excess solar radiation of the tropics and the deficit over polar regions. Existing computer models are not able to adequately replicate these essential energy processes, raising serious doubt over their ability to predict future climate.
Our future is one where we will have to adapt to a naturally changing climate. It is a delusion that dangerous climate events are new and will be averted by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Australia suffered for nearly a decade as prolonged drought affected eastern parts leading up to and following Federation. The record daytime temperatures in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney occurred during a heatwave in January 1939. Our climate is naturally variable and the extremes have always been dangerous.

It is presumably not a delusion that the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere exceed anything experienced in human history. No mention of the melting ice caps.

BLOGS AND DOGS September 23, 2005

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The comrades over at Western Sydney Caucus raise an eyebrow at Malcolm including his dogs on his blog. I say good on him. It is a start. Sometimes dogs do not bark, and sometimes dogs are of interest to “dog folk”.

It is a self evident truth, given party discipline, comrades, that no major party politician could not have a genuine blog, because a blog requires personal opinion and thought, and the endless repetition of the party line is as boring as you know what.

Senator Andrew Bartlett is doing a good job leading the way for other politicians to follow. I look forward, comrades, to the day when all our elected representatives, including the Lord Mayor, have blogs, and we have a decidedly more deliberative parliament able to hold the executive accountable.

These are dreams comrades. Dreams. In the meantime, I will settle for dog blogs.

FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – SEPARATE WAYS September 23, 2005

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Taffy’s broken leg is it is hoped mending, but he cannot yet be taken out as before. Sasha can be, except the mine land at the back of the house is being reclaimed, probably to make it suitable for housing, so we have had to discover new paths. As it happens these turn out to be more aerobically challenging – at least for me.


Like times past: Taffy and Sasha together. Posted by Picasa


Taffy gets out to the grass verge. Posted by Picasa


And now gets down to the corner. Posted by Picasa


Streetscape with Taff. Posted by Picasa


Where have all the horses gone – a long time passing.Posted by Picasa


Sasha on a newly graded road. Posted by Picasa


Sasha on a new gradient. Posted by Picasa


A more aerobically challenging mountain bike path. Posted by Picasa


Time for a rest. Posted by Picasa


“Over here” Posted by Picasa


“It’s all new to me too, Sasha“. Posted by Picasa

RETROSPECTIVE: IRAN v. IRAQ September 22, 2005

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The BBC has a retrospective of the eight year long Iraq-Iran war that nobody was making any attempt to stop. The principals who would invade and occupy Iraq 23 years later with the high moral purpose of deposing Saddam Hussein supported him against Iran, despite the fact, well known to them that he was the initial aggressor.

We are given to believe that diplomacy is an area of politics where national interest is pre-eminent and ethics and morality are mostly, if not always, irrelevant. In these matters, the national interest is never defined, and often thought be coincident with powerful players with the domestic polity.

In this context, an over-rated dramatist might be quoted. Shakespeare observed in Troilus and Cressida, through the character of HectorUlysses:

Strength should be the lord of imbecility . . .
Force should be right; or rather right and wrong -
Between whose endless jar, justice resides -
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, a universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce a universal prey1,
And last eat up himself . . .

So much then, Great Agamemnon, for unilateralism, and anything other than a planetary rule of law, with some thought about a transition to a non-carbon economy to cope with humanities survival and both the recognition and consideration of the fact, as it seems, however unpleasant, of global warming. Now, as you might observe, Great Agamemnon, the hirelings then seem to think they can act with impunity as well – and that was Saddam’s mistake.

Footnote 1 The text has this phase as “an universal wolf”, or “an universal prey”, which may be strictly correct.

EAST AND WEST September 21, 2005

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In Germany, it would seem to the me that the greatest difference is between north and south, suggested by this election map, although recent history would suggest that the transition is between east and west.

Spiegel observes the difference in support for the political parties between the East and the West in the German election.


These results are seen as failure for Angela Merkel, who is from the East. The east is in transition. The protestant north and the catholic south seem stuck in a historical time warp.

CHANGE IS ON THE WAY September 21, 2005

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Listening to Steven Hill, from The Center Voting and Democracy, addressing the the Cambridge Forum, it is easy to get the impression that things are so bad with the American electoral system, the “winner take out district” system, in light for example of the redistricting process, that change is on the way.

Or rather, that it will happen later rather than sooner, but that electoral change will happen. The story of proportional representation in New York City, 1936 – 1947 is summarised here. Fair Vote Minnesota takes up the preferential vote story, otherwise IRV, and the redistricting gerrymander scams.

Still we cannot be complacent. As we know well, it is equally true that elections are won in the marginal seats by the swinging voters. As Steven Hill points out this effectively disenfranchises those that can be taken for granted, or those that a major party knows will never vote for it. Time for Australians as much as Americans to listen to the proportional representation story.

The allocation of representation PR systems does not always just happen. Here is the explanation of how it is done in NZ using the Sainte Laque allocation formula. At Wikipedia there is an explanation of the overhang seats for Germany and NZ.

Strange to reflect that those would promote democracy in Iraq hardly experience it, or do so in a very distorted way, at home. A visitor from another planet, on the evidence immediately apparent would, I suggest, tend to confirm the proposition that America is a plutocracy not a democracy.

22/09/2005 – John Quiggin cross-posted at Crooked Timber - there is a lot more commentary. But more heat less light, in many cases. The raises for me the issue of political change, whether it is top-down or bottom-up. John Howard’s industrial relations reform, actually employment relations engineering for purportedly economic, but under the veil of rhetoric social and class reasons, is an example of top-down change.

Electoral reform requires citizen participation, but the existing system has entrenched institutional interests, historically the political machines in Chicago and New York with bias to certain political actors rather than others, such as women and ethnic minorities, although this situation has shades of gray, but catch 22 the existing system encourages apathy, if not ignorance. The rationale for the top-down method of change is expertise, which is something that the citizen participants should not overlook. It would have been better for Scott Parkin to post his ideas about protest on the internet than be arrested by ASIO, although in doing so he has raised our collective awareness of the dangers in the current climate of the descent into the hell of the police state. Still through the internet we all have access to the Cambridge Forum, and people such as Steven Hill.

Our forebears brought with them new ideas about political organization such as the embryonic union movement in England and elsewhere, but at the same time we have always followed what has gone on in the United States. For example, I notice my local government, Wollongong, has a city manager.
(. . . to be developed and continued as a separate post. Time out to think about this – and to deflect the criticism that I spend too much time on these activities, while chaos reigns all around.)
23/09/2005 - Guido does not like PR, given the Italian experience, and prefers single member constituencies with preferential (choice) voting. And Andrew Leigh, at Imagining Australia, considers compulsory voting. I wonder what effect this aspect of the Australian electoral system has on invalid, or more particularly intentionally invalid voting.
24/09/2005Alan at Southerly Buster distinguishes between the constituency votes and the party seat votes in the recent NZ and German elections. The outstanding feature of the Mixed Member Proportional system is that, despite combining “winner take all” with a party list, the proportion of votes is actually reflected in the representation.
25/09/2005Nicholas Gruen, at Troppo, links to the NZ experience, which relates to Steven Hill’s point about the influence of the electoral system on legislative policy and public discourse.

Proportional Representation does not guarantee participation, which reflects the political culture. In Norway voter participation ranged from 69% to 80% with a overall average around 75%. Still almost a quarter of the potential voting population not participating is significant. We do somewhat better with compulsory voting. It strikes me as just crazy to hold national elections on a working weekday, such as the President Polk designated first Tuesday in November. Compulsory voting makes it very easy to vote, since the polling booths are so accessible, as they must be.
27/09/2005 – Ontarians will soon be engaged in the process of reconsidering, even changing, thier electoral system, according to the Toronto Star, which takes an appropriate cynical view to proceedings. After all what electoral system could be better than winner take all simple plurality. The benefits they suggest of a PR system will only be for the minor parties. Implication the big parties will be losers. Their will be confusion and no gains. The would be wise put so little store by wisdom.

THEN THE WIND BLEW September 20, 2005

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Hurricane Katrina may well be one of those turning points in American history.

Breaking through the levees was evidence of physical power. In doing so it also threw aside the curtain of American power and reveal who was pulling the levers. And then, if that was not enough, it showed Americans, not of the right color, and not rich enough, could not escape from the effects of the hurricane.

Janet Pelz in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, via Common Dreams News Centre, wrote:

Hurricane Katrina showed us faces the Republicans never wanted us to see — the elderly, the infirm, the poor. The ones with no car to get them out of the city before the storm hit, the ones unable to pay for hotel rooms until the waters receded. The ones with no health insurance to recover from the ravages of insulin shock, kidney failure or dehydration. The ones lying face down in the cesspool or dying of heatstroke in the Superdome. These are the people the Republicans have been teaching us to disdain, if not hate, since President Reagan decried the moral laxness of the Welfare Mom. And for the past 25 years, they’ve been successful. As long as the poor remained out of sight, they could be described in whatever undeserving light the Republicans chose, and the rest of us would be unwilling to challenge them.

These people are what we are likely to call “no hopers”. I have a great affinity for “no hopers” these days been a bit of a no hoper myself. At first the clever thing was to blame the victims. Now it seems to me the “liberals” seem to have recovered their voice, as evidence of this, and other, commentary in the US media.

The poor have a two fold disenfranchisement in the current US economic model. They have, at best, marginal employment and low income, on the basis, as I understand it, that will make them work harder, be more subservient, and become more economically useless, and now I discover that they are also politically disenfranchised by the winner take all political system. The individualist ideology does not recognize social membership or larger environmental factors, argues an individual is self-sufficient and competent, or otherwise does not matter, a “no hoper”, a drag on society.

If I remember correctly, one charge against the people left behind was that they do not vote. That in the general sense would appear to be the case. According to Robert Richie, Douglas Amy, and Frederick McBride in How Proportional Representation Can Empower Minorities and the Poor

Data from the U.S. Census shows a direct correlation between voter turnout and income that is only becoming more pronounced. In the 1996 presidential race, under the current system, voter turnout was only 44% among the 17 million American citizens earning less than $15,000 a year, in stark contrast to the 76% turnout among the 23 million citizens earning more than $75,000.

Some suggest the reason for this behavior may lie in the electoral system. A good source for a range of information about proportional representation can be found here.

As I have learnt to realize stories disappear from the headlines. Yet I think it can be supposed that Katrina, like 9/11, may well change the understanding of the world for many people, and in doing so they have implications beyond the headlines. We will see.

Footnote:
I should mention that I stumbled across these PR sources, from being irritated by the fact that I did not have an adequate explanation for the failure of the Americans to adopt PR or even preferential voting. John Quiggin triggered this dissatisfaction by his post, A Case for Instant Runoff Voting. The Americans adopted PR before us, at the city level, most notably New York, except it with us it stuck, given our constitution and the experience of simple plurality in the Senate prior to 1949.

21/09/2005- Just another article on poverty in America. This time in the LA Times.

AFGHANISTAN ELECTION September 19, 2005

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Women voted in some areas (AP via BBC)
Al Jareeza covered the election, mainly commenting on the facts that 12 million voters turned out and while the election was characterised by murder and violence, the election day was quiet.
The BBC report is more comprehensive, perhaps evidence we are dealing here with a Muslim nation in Central/South Asia. However,the Afghani newspapers are as pleased as punch.


Pashtun voters show id (al Jareeza) Posted by Picasa
John Simpson, the BBC World Editor observes:

It was not perfect, certainly but then nothing has been here for a very long time.And most of the Afghans you speak to, in the streets and teahouses of Kabul and out in the countryside, were delighted that the election went off as well as it did.

Cross our fingers on this, but the fact that people are delighted must be positive. That said, there appears to be some difficulty in actually knowing who to vote for, according to this AFP report.

01/10/2005 – The EU has confirmed, via the ABC News, that voting was less than perfect with instances of intimidation and vote rigging. Results are expected by 22 October. Elections in these cases are ambitious undertakings, and when seen as illegetimate may undermine the democratic process.

GERMAN ELECTION September 19, 2005

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Similarly to the NZ elections there is one point difference between the support the major parties on election night.

Deutsche Welle has an election night ticker.

Here are the results in percent :

Christian Democrats/CSU………………………35.2%
Social Democratic Party………………………….34.3%
Free Democratic Party……………………………..9.8%

Linke/PDP………………………………………………..8.7%
(
Left Party – Successor to GDR Communist Party)
Greens………………………………………………………8.1%
Others……………………………………………………….3.9%

Here are the provisional seat allocation based on election night results:

CDU/CSU……………………………………………225 seats
SDP…………………………………………………….222 seats
FDP…………………………………………………….. 61 seats
Linke/PDS……………………………………………54 seats
Green……………………………………………………51 seats.

Looking at the minor party support, subject to other votes yet to be counted, I would have thought these results would favor the SDU to be the next government. However, with echoes of NZ, the Social Democrats and the Greens have said they will not govern with the Left Party (Linke/PDS). In both cases we might see the ground shift with a negotiated trade-off.

Der Spiegel gives an election night review on the fate of Gerhard Schoeder and Angela Merkel.

20/09/2005 – Minority governments are possible under the MMP system, an intriguing aspect. In Germany it seems the critical issues relate to changes in the labor market and level of unemployment. As Brian Bahnisch points out in comments at John Quiggin that the voters in one voting district of the eastern city of Dresden, currently held by the CDU, may yet prove to be significant because it implies three additional party seats through the overhang process.

The outcome of this election will be significant for another reason., other than “economic reform”. It seems that Germany is intending, following the example of Sweden, to abandon nuclear power plants by 2020, a proposal not supported by the CDU.

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