What Nelson Mandela's life tells us about the legitimacy of "democratic nations"

This morning, as I listened to the BBC World Service on Mandela, I found myself pondering what it meant that he was South Africa's "first democratically elected leader."

This is undoubtedly true. The apartheid regime held elections regularly, but only white people were given the vote. The systematic, arbitrary denial of the franchise to a large fraction of the population makes those elections "undemocratic" and their leaders illegitimate. I think that this is indisputable. Read the rest

Open Debate launches: MA Democratic primary candidates will answer your questions

Adam Green writes, "What once was a dream of Lawrence Lessig, Aaron Swartz, Jimmy Wales, Craig Newmark, and a coalition of cutting-edge progressive and conservative activists in the Open Debate Coalition is now becoming a reality. The first Open Debate is being announced today by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. In the upcoming Massachusetts special election for Congress, all 5 Democratic candidates have agreed to a primary debate this coming Saturday in which they will answer questions submitted and voted on by the public. Anyone can participate at http://OpenDebateQuestions.com" Read the rest

That story about a woman whose vote was a tie-breaker? Totally a Popeye cartoon.

That story about a wife's tie-breaking vote? The plot of a Popeye cartoon from 1956.

Clay Shirky at TED: "How the Internet will (one day) transform government"

Clay Shirky's TED talk, "How the Internet will (one day) transform government," is a smart, fast, funny look at how the Internet lowers the cost of doing things together. Given that the core task of government and industry is the coordination of collective effort, this lowering cost means big changes.

The open-source world has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services like GitHub -- so why can’t governments? In this rousing talk Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet, to be not just transparent but also to draw on the knowledge of all their citizens.

Clay Shirky argues that the history of the modern world could be rendered as the history of ways of arguing, where changes in media change what sort of arguments are possible -- with deep social and political implications.

Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government

(via O'Reilly Radar) Read the rest

Savage beatings for pro-democracy, anti-Putin protesters in Russia

Russian democracy: protest Putin stealing your election, get the living shit beaten out of you by thugs. Meet the new boss, (literally) the same as the old boss. Check out the related videos at the end. There's hundreds of these clips.

06.05.2012 Марш миллионов. Москва. Беспорядки.

(via Reddit) Read the rest

White House required by law to oppose marijuana legalization

The White House recently responded to a petition on marijuana legalization with a statement that amounted to "go away and don't bother us, pot will turn you into a depraved junkie." Turns out that the legislation that established America's drug czar requires the office-holder to oppose all drug legalization efforts. Read the rest

Prince Charles exercises a secret veto over a wide swath of UK legislation

UK government ministers have been secretly offering Prince Charles a veto over proposed legislation since 2005, under a little-known law that gives the prince the right to silently kill or amend legislation if it might negatively affect his interests. The legislation the prince was consulted upon includes bills on the Olympics, road safety and gambling. No one knows the full extent of these consultations, nor what changes the prince made to the legislation before it went to Parliament. Among the prince's assets are the Duchy of Cornwall, worth £700m, and he received £18m/year in income.

When I took my "Life in the UK" test before becoming a permanent resident, I was struck by the incoherence of the section on the UK's "unwritten constitution," which, to my Canadian eyes, seemed to suggest that the UK didn't really have a constitution, just a mismash of badly articulated principles that have to be tediously litigated and contested every time they collide. Now that I'm a British citizen, it becomes clearer and clearer that this is, indeed, the case.

MPs and peers called for the immediate publication of details about the application of the prince's powers which have fuelled concern over his alleged meddling in British politics. "If princes and paupers are to live as equals in a modern Britain, anyone who enjoys exceptional influence or veto should exercise it with complete transparency," said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall. "The duchy asserts that it is merely a private estate. Most people will be astonished to learn that it appears to have effective powers of veto over the government."

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