Browsing articles from "February, 2011"
Feb 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Why do we need to share the pain?

What fascinates me most about the way the debate over collective bargaining rights is unfolding in Wisconsin are the GOP’s attempts to pit pampered public sector workers against their struggling private sector counterparts. The argument seems to be that public sector workers need to share the pain. Yet the oddity here is that corporate profits are at an all-time high. Seems to me that we could make the argument that scrooges in management in the private sector ought to be sharing a bit more of the pie with labor. I sense a political logic, rather than an economic one here. Pitting middle class workers in the public sector against those in the private sector is a very effective way of marginalizing the political influence of the middle class.

Feb 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Internet Voting in Estonia

I have a new post over at detailing the upcoming election in Estonia.  It’s a basic rundown of the election that discusses, among other things, Estonia’s innovative Internet voting system.  I think  it’s a fair question to ask if anybody really needs internet voting, and if the potential costs are really worth anything gained.  Regardless of the answer to that, I believe Estonia has done an impressive job of making their system as secure and safe as can be.  Take, for example, their solution to the problem of vote buying.   The privacy of a voting booth, if executed correctly, can destroy much of the potential for vote buying.  This is because it makes it difficult for a vote-buyer to verify how a ballot was actually cast. (Yes there are ways around this, that’s why I said “if executed correctly”).  This protection would be lost with the ability to vote from anywhere at anytime.   Estonia, however, has found a solution to this.

To address this problem, Estonian officials came up with an innovative solution:  an elector can cast as many internet votes as they like in the allotted timeframe, but only the last vote will count.  In addition, an elector may still cast a paper ballot on election day, which will void all previous votes cast through the internet. This setup destroys the incentive for a vote buyer to purchase a vote, as they have no guarantee that the voter cannot simply change it at a later time

I would also add that this goes above and beyond the state of Washington, which votes entirely by mail, and is theoretically subject to the same level of vote buying.

Feb 26, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Social Media & Political Influence

Earlier while catching up on the ongoing protests and current events in Wisconsin, I came on an article in the Guardian which got my gears turning again on the subject of social media.  Increasingly the role of social media in political change has been an area of focus and concern throughout our varied news outlets.  Opinions have been abundant on the subject, particularly in the wake of the wave of political change still crashing through the Middle East.  However the question Dave Karpf’s Guardian article brought to my attention was one that seems a bit less commonly asked these days.

It seems at least fairly well accepted that social media is as valid a tool of organization as any other these days, if not more so.  Further it seems understood that the role of social media is that of a tool rather than a force in and of itself.  Some of the older social and civic organizations around the world have been rather slow about embracing these new tools, often alienating those who rely on them and raising the question of whether or not these organizations still have much worth.  Plenty of the oldest organizations in the nation are suffering an aging membership as they scramble to get a handle on “this internet thing” but Karpf’s article might serve as a quality warning about just how much these traditional organizations remain important in our society. Continue reading »

Feb 22, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Protests in Wisconsin & American Democracy

Generally I do my best to focus my writing on events abroad, and there is certainly no shortage of quality subject matter at the moment as political uprisings and threats of change continue to roll through the Middle East.  Today however I wanted to take time to comment on a domestic issue, the subject of the day is the growing protests in Wisconsin in response to proposed legislation targeting union rights in the state.  These massive protests have taken the spotlight in our news media the last few days and set the stage once again for another fight over America’s economic principles.

Some of my more liberal friends point to the recent protests in Wisconsin as a sign of budding resistance from the non-conservative side of the United States’ citizenry, but I’m not so sure I can leap to that conclusion.  As these protests begin to spread around the country and are increasingly politicized by our news media and representatives, I have to wonder if it’s for the best that the subject of worker’s rights is being taken up as a purely liberal issue.  Politically that’s certainly not a bad thing for the Democratic Party, but in terms of the value to society, I question this subject historically being perceived as a concern solely of America’s “far left”, while the issue of “protecting business interests” is seen as a more bipartisan issue.

American politics in general can be something of a nightmare.  As a nation we can be fiercely polarized on just about any issue, few of which our elected officials seem to care about as much as being re-elected.  Constantly dependable to add fuel to this ever-burning fire, our “more news more immediately” approach to media favors punditry over impartial and informative reporting.  Despite all of this, it’s excellent seeing the American people riled up about just about anything.  I am of the mind that political activity in the United States, regardless of who spawns it, is a social good for all of us.  If nothing else after all, a functional Democracy requires the interest and involvement of its populace.

Feb 21, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

A better way to talk about social media?

Apropos of David’s recent post, I think that Mark Sedra offers a reasonable analysis of the role of social media in Egypt’s and Tunisia’s revolutions:

Facebook and Twitter certainly aren’t solely responsible for the growing wave of revolutionary ferment in the Arab world; pent-up frustrations had been bubbling for some time. But they helped to channel that frustration into action. The first major demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt were organized via Facebook and Twitter, with activist leaders directing followers where to congregate and how to avoid blockades. Those gatherings then snowballed, drawing in citizens from all walks of life.

Short version: Mediums don’t organize, but can help facilitate organization.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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