Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Potemkin Village II

I have to point out today's Los Angeles Times story, "Vernon Fights to Keep Record Private," shows that this "exclusively industrial" city may not be as happy a metropolis as this anonymous Virtualpolitik reader insisted, who was apparently angered by my analysis of the city's website:

The main problem with your point is that the voting constituents of the City of Vernon are all employees of the City. The city owns the housing in order to provide local housing for 24 hour on call employees (i.e. utility or emergency workers). These people have no interest in changing the status quo . . . The only people screaming corruption and change are outsiders - not the business (0% vacancy rate) nor the residents. I don't understand who you think is being hurt by the current structure of the city.

Sure. There are those who would choose not to live in a democracy, given their choice. But without periodic elections, one can not even be sure that this premise even applies in the Vernon case.

Furthermore, as I have argued, institutional websites are about much more than publicity and brand identity. A government home page offers citizens the opportunity to be aware of public business and even for officials to acknowledge their own failures in governance. For example, thanks to the No Fear Act, most websites for federal agencies now publicize statistics about workplace complaints, as you can see from this data on the NSA site or this PowerPoint from the Department of Transportation. This act requires that "Federal agency post quarterly on its public Web site, certain statistical data relating to Federal sector equal employment opportunity complaints filed with such agency." More recently, The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act, which is heading for final passage, would require lawmakers to post all gifts from lobbyists, including meals and travel benefits, on the representative's official website.

To take the City of Vernon's side, one can look at the website of the Royal Court of Nepal to see a similar defense of government without democracy. As a case in point, I found gems like this one among the royal proclamations:

Democracy and progress always complement each other. But, Nepal's bitter experiences over the past few years tend to show that democracy and progress contradict one another. Multiparty democracy was discredited by focusing solely on power politics. Parliament witnessed many aberrations in the name of retaining and ousting governments. . . . So, we appealed to all those who have faith in democracy with the intention of activating, at the earliest, the system of popular representation. We also met a number of times with members of the general public, senior citizens, representatives of the civil society and leaders of political parties in our effort to gauze the popular mandate and try to convince them of the country's requirements and people's aspirations. We reminded them that the only wish of the Nepalese people and friends of Nepal was to bring to an end the ongoing violence and destructive activities and return peace and tranquility to the country without any further delay. In order to conduct the general elections in an environment of peace and security, opportunities were given to leaders of various political parties to constitute the Council of Ministers, with executive power. But the situation did not improve. National politics was plagued by not uniting in running the government but opposing it on being ousted from it. No serious efforts were made to attenuate the real threat posed against democracy by terrorism in the form of a single-party autocracy.

Actually, the King's statement sounds considerably more supportive of elections than the leadership in Vernon does.

Of course, I like the fact that what we usually call "search" on the kingdom's site is translated as "filter." You can also see an extraordinary animation of the diamonds on the crown jewels twinking.



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