By Jutta Wolf

BERLIN (IDN) - Strategies to support and protect civil society to engage in the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were the centerpiece of discussions at a conference in Berlin.

Jeffery Huffines, UN Representative of CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, questioned the extent of civil society engagement in preparation of the first set of voluntary national reviews to be presented at the High-level Political Forum (HPLF) on Sustainable Development July 11-20. He stressed the 2030 Agenda’s participation rights should be used to open up spaces for civil society at the regional and national levels. 

HPLF is UN’s central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 26, 2015.

- Photo: 2020

Californians for Equal Rights and Prop 16

Viewpoint by Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Ritesh Tandon

Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. is an ex-diplomat and Ritesh Tandon is the Republican Party candidate for the US Congress from California’s 17th District. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of IDN-InDepth News.

CALIFORNIA (IDN) – On September 19, a huge fleet of cars drove down the streets of California to spread the message to vote NO on Prop 16 among the local constituents.

The event endorsed by Californians For Equal Rights (CFER) and planned by a team of local volunteers reminded one of an old adage that the road to hell is usually paved with good intentions.

In democracies, sometimes political claims of good intentions can jeopardise the very promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, which the US constitution guarantees.

Discrimination in any form is bad and an affront to human dignity. One recalls the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. – “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

If only the supporters of Proposition 16 could realise the damage their support to an unworthy legislation shall cause not only to California but would also set a very wrong precedent in the US. It shall permanently damage the very fabric that binds the American society.

Proposition 16, if passed, would repeal 1996’s Proposition 209, which banned the government and public institutions (like schools) from discriminating or giving preferential treatment based on sex, race, ethnicity or nationality. Prop 209 effectively banned actions deemed discriminatory in the state of California.

Any progressive and liberal society should be very careful of what Bertrand Russell terms as “Collective Fear” in his classic work Unpopular Essays. Collective fear stimulates herd instinct and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.

Therefore, one is very flabbergasted when one finds out that Proposition 16 is supported by a broad coalition. This includes the US Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Ro Khanna and San Diego Assembly member Shirley Weber who authored the legislation to get Proposition 16 on the ballot.

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard while talking about women’s suffrage had mentioned- Good intentions will not be enough to achieve the profound wave of change required. It takes much more than poorly planned propositions like number 16 that endanger the very concept of equality before law.

Equality before the law is one of the basic principles of liberalism. It guarantees that no individual or group of individuals be privileged or discriminated against by the government.

Legal egalitarianism entails the principle that each independent human being must be treated equally by the law (Principle of Isonomy) and that all are subject to the same laws of justice (Due Process).

Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) clearly states: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law“. Therefore, everyone must be treated equally under the law regardless of race, gender, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other characteristics, without privilege, discrimination or bias.

The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. Can California allow a proposition like Number 16 that supports discrimination? The answer is NO.

Democracies should be extremely wary of policies that promise the moon. One of the great mistakes which people make is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.

An ‘Employment Bill’ or an ‘Affordable Care Act’ does not mean that more jobs or affordable care will be the result. Usually these policy measures don’t result in what they claim and many times the result is adverse. Noted economist Milton Friedman had warned- Judge public policies by their results, not their intentions.

A good example is what is called the “gender equality paradox.” It was found that Scandinavian countries which are lauded for their high levels of gender equality, such as Finland, Norway and Sweden have fewer Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates.

Interestingly the researchers used data on 475,000 teenagers across 67 countries or regions for the study. In many situations the outcomes were very tragic.

Thomas Sowell has discussed the issue in detail in his 1990 work Preferential Policies: An International Perspective. He examined the government-sanctioned preferential treatment policies toward government-designated groups of India, South Africa, Israel, the United States, and other nations and noted that affirmative action creates academic failure and resentment. 

In Malaysia, a majority economy dominated by an outside minority (the Chinese), political preferences for Malaysians benefited “at most 5 percent” of Malays.”

In 2019, it was noted that affirmative action in the US hasn’t done its job as the African American and Hispanic representation at elite universities is actually lower than it was 35 years ago.

While it can be argued that “equality of opportunity” is a desirable societal ambition where all members of society are eligible to compete on equal terms, equity or “equality” of outcome is an altogether different game.

The track record of the failure of such policies that have the mantra of Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity (DIE) is so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade noting that equality of rights does not mean equality of results.

One can have all the equal treatment in the world on a Cricket pitch yet will not become another Don Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar.

So can one let Proposition 16 compromise and destroy the very idea of a meritocracy and instead puts race as the dominant factor in California. In any liberal society, the best people for the position should be put there, regardless of race; and there is no disagreement about it.

The US is known for its exceptionalism. It is the world’s oldest democracy. Its strengths and international reputation is built up over many decades. The US is highly connected to global flows of trade, investment, capital and people.

Why is Silicon Valley only in the US and nowhere else in the world answers it all? Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean civil servant, career diplomat and an academic mentions, Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty as the secret of Singapore’s success. Surprisingly these values are essentially American and are adopted by Singapore.

At this crucial juncture when the global economy is jolted to the core by COVID-19, the US cannot afford replacing what worked with what sounds good. Can one let the US to be like another Britain, Belgium, France, Germany or Sweden? The answer is a straightforward NO.

In his book Democracy: A Case Study, Harvard professor David Moss observes that intense political conflict, mediated by shared ideals, has always been within the American system and is profoundly American. However, the main problem is: Not all conflict is productive.

The US has recently seen many modes of political conflict where the parties resort to disruptive and sometimes violent tactics as a strategic choice toward some political end. This cannot be allowed in democracy.

One cannot let democracy compromise democracy in the US by making Proposition 16 a divisive tool aiding to societal conflicts. Democracy in the US has to work to enlarge the pie for all so that everyone can gain, benefit and better their lives.

Legislations can be a very tricky affair for democracies. The Boston Tea Party is an iconic event of American history which was the result of the Tea Act of May 10, 1773 that re-introduced Townshend Acts’ taxation of the British on imported tea in the US.

Formation of Muslim League in India in 1906 and granting of separate electorate for Muslims in 1909 by the British through Indian Councils Act 1909 aka Morley-Minto Reforms resulted in partition of India in 1947 and creation of Pakistan. Concomitant was tremendous bloodshed and violence started by the Mohamed Ali Jinnah’s call of “Direct Action Day”.

More recently, the BREXIT experience tells about the immense cost the UK had to bear for its dalliance with the EU. The EU received £8 billion a year net from the British membership, an £80 billion a year trade surplus and unlimited access to the fish stocks.

And Britain in return got Guy Verhofstadt’s federal wisdom and economic migrants as a result of Merkelisation of Europe.

People cannot be a mere pawn in the great game of democracy and have to recognize what values are under threat in their world increasingly defined by diverging interests.

California cannot be a victim of the “righteousness fallacy” rampant in modern politics and a key driver of democratic socialism anymore. It has suffered enough tyranny because of the fallacies of good intentions.

Any conscientious American citizen cannot allow Proposition 16 to succeed as it compromises not only the very notion of meritocracy but also that all people are equal under the laws of the United States of America and should be treated accordingly.

The people of California have to coalesce around shared values that are worth defending, and sternly refuse to tread on the road to ruin that Proposition 16 promises.

Let it be known: For Americans, America comes first. There is an imperative need for a consensus around value frameworks, and for coalitions and partnerships to support the process to Make America Great Again. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 October 2020]

Photo: Manish Uprety F.R.A.S., an ex-diplomat, and Ritesh Tandon, the Republican Party candidate for the US Congress from California’s 17th District.

IDN is Flagship Agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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