Tag Archives: Transparency

Who the NRA Really Speaks For

Gun Control and Sociocracy

Photograph of Assault RiflesA shocking opinion piece appeared in the New York Times today, Who the NRA Really Speaks For, by Alan Berlow who writes on gun control and death penalty issues for The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, New York Times Magazine, and other major publications. Perhaps you are better informed but I’m not a close reader of gun control laws and this piece set me back a bit.

Berlow explains how ineffective gun laws are and how the NRA protects gun traffickers

How could gun control be so bad? And what would fix it? Or even improve it and curb the lobbying force of the?

And how does this connect with Sociocracy?

One word: transparency.

Transparency in Gun Control

Secrecy is the first precondition to abuse. In order to abuse the public trust or a child, the abuser first ensures secrecy. Criminals use subterfuge, false reporting, blackmail, promises, and threats to hide their crimes. And that is what the National Rifle Association (NRA) has supported by lobbying to keep the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and to limit its budget.

Readers have asked why I listed the characteristics of Sociocracy as transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability. Why not inclusiveness first, or accountability first? Initially I listed them alphabetically as the order easiest to remember: accountability, inclusiveness, and transparency. But transparency is necessary to  inclusiveness and accountability. Inclusiveness isn’t compatible with secrecy. Neither is accountability. If you have transparency, inclusiveness and accountability can be established.

The NRA has not only lobbied against gun control but aided gun trafficking by lobbying against transparency. The stand against gun control is a stand that protects not the legal rights of gun owners as the NRA claims but the criminal actions of gun traffickers.

No Records, No Transparency, No Enforcement

Before the age of computers, and today’s vast digital records and instantaneous data reporting, FBI Director Herbert Hoover tracked his enemies list with handwritten and typed index cards. He was able to keep better tabs on crime than the ATF is able to track gun sales, particularly sales of military-grade submachine guns and assault rifles.

There are no centralized or  digital records of gun sales.

To repeat, in an age when Safeway knows exactly how many cans of Del Monte Sweet Peas in 8.5, 15, and 29 oz cans it has sold in the last fifteen minutes, the ATF has not a clue how many guns white supremacy groups have purchased in the last year. Nor how many submachine guns your teenaged neighbor has in his closet.

The ATF knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the ATF crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the NRA, prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records.

Gun dealers are not even required to keep inventory lists.

Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the ATF. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books.

Imagine for a moment  60,000 gun dealers across the 3,805,927 square miles of the United States? And mounds of paper records in all those places. If the Washington DC police force with 3,800 officers can’t control guns in the 68.3 square miles of Washington DC, how can the ATF control the entire United States with even fewer? The ATF is actually smaller that the DC police force, and the same size it was 40 years ago. And with alcohol, tobacco, and explosives under their jurisdiction, not all those agents are focused on gun control.

Perpetuating Ineffectiveness

According to Berlow, the NRA publicly loathes the ATF but lobbies hard to keep it because it doesn’t have a chance of being effective.

Since the NRA seems to loathe the ATF, one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the NRA prefers the hobbled ATF  just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of ATF operations to any other agency.

Firearms dealers subject to ATF regulation generally are inspected by  agents no more than once every five years. (Berlow, 2013)

The ATF is also under the Department of the Treasury which is designed for enforcing tax collections, not saving lives. It is concerned with prosecution, not prevention.

In a sociocratic government would it be better? It could be, but I doubt it. While it would take time to implement the standards of transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability, eventually there would at least be the aim of a more effective government.

For extra credit:

A list of Weapons Used In the US Armed Forces

An Overview of Gun Laws by Nation

For more on this topic, see the 2013 article by Alan Berlow published by the Center for Public Integrity, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists“Current gun debate may not help beleaguered ATF: Agency crippled by weak laws, paltry budgets and Congressional restrictions”. Accessed 7 October 2015.

Transparency International

How can people participate in decision-making if they don’t have access to information? Can those denied both education and knowledge  of governance in any form be held responsible when they elect corrupt leaders?

Transparency is fundamental to accountability and an inclusive society.

Reading an article in the New York Times this morning on the lives of two women in Angola, Two Women, Opposite Fortunes, I discovered Transparency International. Transparency International was started in 1993 by Peter Eigen, a former director of the Word Bank programs in East Africa, Its purpose is to expose corruption in government and to reverse the practice of accepting government corruption as inevitable.

It is an accepted fact that if you want to do business with many governments, you have to pay bribes. In order to help provide medical care to the poor, you have to look the other way when most of the funds go into the pocket of the rich—even in a catastrophic emergency like the earthquake in Haiti.

Transparency in Government

Transparency International develops a wide range of resources for understanding and resting corruption:

  • Tools including business principles for countering bribery, a business integrity toolkit, corruption fighters toolkit and integrity pacts.
  • Research on corruption, including a Corruption Perceptions Index, national assessments, anti corruption helpdesk, and a Bribe Payers Index.
  • Numerous publications, programs, and other activities

On the Index of Corruptions Perceptions Index of 2014, the United States ranks 17th with Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, and Norway perceived to be the least corrupt.

The Extent of Mind Boggling Corruption

It’s hard to understand how bad corruption is many countries. We are talking about corruption on the scale of billions of dollars, not a free trip to the Azores to study international progress in farming. Or the gift of a new mink coat. Or paying for your daughter’s wedding. Or the free cup of coffee offered to police officers.

With a Corruption Perceptions Index score of 19 with the lowest score being 100, Angola is an example of one of the most corrupt nations in the world. When the International Monetary Fund first studied Angola’s financial records for 2007-2010, $32 billion dollars was missing. Most of the $58 million allocated to renovate one hospital just vanished.

Angola’s life expectancy and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Income inequality in a country rich in diamond mines, oil, and other lucrative resources is extreme. After the decades long civil war ended in 2002, Angola adopted a nominally democratic government but lineages of kings still exist in some areas. The power is controlled by the president. According to an article in Forbes, the president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is worth $3 billion in a country where 70% of the people live on $2 a day.

The Effects of Corruption

The effects of corruption run deep. For diamonds sold on the world market to create billionaires, the poor suffer deep deprivation. A very small percentage goes to education, healthcare, or economic development for the bottom 70%.

The majority does not rule in all democracies.

Only 54% of Angolan women are literate; 83% of men. In 1995, only 61% of children are even enrolled in school and many rural areas had no school buildings or teachers. Those children uneducated in 1995 are now adults. Democratic ideals expect them to determine how their country will  be governed.

How?

Sociocracy would be a start.

Recommended:

Movie poster for Living on One DollarLiving on $1 a Day. A 53-minute documentary in which four college students live for two months on $1 a day in rural Guatemala. This award-winning film has been called “A Must Watch” by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

The depth of such deprivation goes even beyond daily food. And daily food in some households is not sufficient to maintain normal activity. Available on Netflix and often shown my non-profit groups combating world hunger, economic development, and micro economies.

Guatemala is 115 on the Perceived Corruption Index with a score of 37 out of a perfect low corruption score of 100.

Whole Planet Foundation Review

The Living on One website

There is also a book (that I haven’t read) by the award-winning photographer Renée C. Byer and Thomas A. Nazario, founder and president of The Forgotten International.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

One of the ways the methods used in sociocracy that speeds up decision-making is going directly to objections instead of or before discussing the advantages of a proposal. The perceived advantages of a decision should be stated in the proposal or its presentation. The presenters will probably recount the issues and options they considered. There is usually no need to repeat the discussion that has taken place in previous meetings or to hear arguments in favor again.

The Process for Making a Decision Effectively

Prequel: Discuss or request comments from everyone who will be affected by the decision. A formal discussion in a  meeting of the circle may be preferable, but is not necessary if there are other ways to collect information and multiple viewpoints.

1. Present the proposal.

2. Answer clarifying questions.

Questions should be clean questions with no embedded messages. If there is an embedded message, don’t discuss it. Answer as if it had been a clean question or defer it for rounds.

4. Do a quick reaction round.

Responses of 1-2 words will indicate if there are concerns or objections that seem serious or unresolvable. Is the proposal ready for consent or should it be referred back to the proposal writers?

5. Ask for concerns and objections in detail.

(a) Refer these back to proposal writer(s) or
(b) Begin consent rounds to resolve them.

Asking for detailed concerns and objections should usually be done in a round but if there are only a few this can done more effectively by asking each person individually.

6. Consent rounds.

Several rounds may be needed to reach consent. The early rounds will suggest resolutions and later rounds to clarify remaining objections.

The decisive question is: “Do you have objections that will influence your ability to support this decision?”

Clarifications

Addressing concerns and resolving objections is a group process, not the duty of the facilitator. The facilitator decides how to proceed but this decision is subject to objections.

The facilitator participates as an equal, including in rounds.

The goal is consent to a decision that everyone can support in day-to-day operations.

Effectiveness, transparency, and accountability are the prime values in this process:

  • What will produce the most effective decision?
  • Does everyone have all the information relevant to this decision
  • Who will be accountable for the outcome of the decision

Rounds may be interspersed with discussion:

  • Rounds establish and maintain equivalence in the room. They keep decision-making balanced by encouraging everyone to participate as equals—the reticent as well as the more expansive.
  • Discussion, free form or dialogue between 2 or more persons, can be helpful to clarify questions or to give information others in the group may not have.

A proposal needs:

  • a person(s) to implement the decision and
  • a method to measure outcomes.

If there is no plan for implementing the decision or means of measuring effectiveness, the decision will probably be meaningless. Not worth the time.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

Moving objections to the beginning of consideration of a proposal instead of considering them at the end of the process moves time and attention to the issues that may not have been considered or that are in opposition to the proposal.

The arguments are then more likely to be presented and examined clearly, not in the context of a back and forth of pros and cons by skilled and unskilled orators. This kind of rhetoric can easily obscure the aim of the proposal and the nature of the objection.

The endpoint of decision-making is an action that works. Consensus decisions, those in which all the objections have been resolved and/or measurements set to test them, work best. They are not always possible but they work best.

On Transparency

Photo of Ricardo SemlerNo one can expect the spirit of involvement and partnership to flourish without an abundance of information available even to the most humble employee. I know all the arguments against a policy of full disclosure. … But the advantages of openness and truthfulness far outweigh the disadvantages. And a company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they aren’t.

Ricardo Semler

 Quotation on one value of transparency is from Maverick (1993, p. 136). Maverick was originally published in Portuguese as Turning the Tables in 1988.

Full Disclosure

No one can expect the spirit of involvement and partnership to flourish without an abundance of information available even to the most humble employee. I know all the arguments against a policy of full disclosure. … But the advantages of openness and truthfulness far outweigh the disadvantages. And a company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they aren’t.

Ricardo Semler in Maverick, 1993, p. 136.

Maverick was originally published in Portuguese as Turning the Tables in 1988.

Values and Sociocracy

Equality

When I first learned about sociocracy in 2002 I believed that its value was equality.* The counter argument was that equality wasn’t a value, it was a practicality. People work more efficiently when they have an equal voice in their work. Sociocracy is value-free. It is an empty tool that when used by any organization increases its productivity. My first reaction to that was to suggest that the word tool, with its meaning of penis in vulgar English, was probably not the best image for a decision-making method and empty penis was not a good. I got blank, rather unbelieving stares. Empty tool as of this writing continues to be used.

I retained equality as a value. In and of itself, it was worth something.

Transparency

Next came transparency, the open sharing information. The more I saw consensus decision-making in action and reevaluated previous organizational decision-making experiences, the more I realized that decision-making in general and consensus specifically, is only effective if each person in the organization has access to all available information. In sociocratic organizations transparency is a practice, like logbooks, variable compensation based on performance, etc. All records, with the exception of proprietary information like recipes, are open to all members of the organization and to customers and clients.

As a practice transparency can be modified as it fits the situation, like a logbook that can be modified to fit the needs of the organization. It exists in the technical realm and is negotiable. As a value transparency is right out in front as a measure of all actions, of all decisions. Am I appropriately sharing or withholding? Am I deceiving others? Withholding information on which I am making a decision from others making the same decision is being deceptive in the same way that ignoring people is an act of violence. Openness, like equality, is worth something. An ethical person is open and truthful.

Action, Decisiveness, Effectiveness, Focus

The third value is one that John Buck raised initially as action. He and CT Butler had been discussing their approaches to consensus and governance. CT had argued for the importance of values and John came back convinced and floated equivalence, action, and transparency. I was delighted, but I didn’t think action fit all organizations or was necessarily a good value. Action for the sake of action is doomed and not what sociocracy advocates. I suggested decisiveness. John objected that it could be confused with judging. I tried effectiveness and before he could respond countered with focus. One of the characteristics of the best organizations is their focus on their aims. John agreed.

Values and Sociocracy

Our current understanding of the values of sociocracy: Equivalence, Focus, and Transparency. We are about to find out whether others agree with us. But one thing that we know is that sociocracy and values are words that can appear in the same sentence.

*On the equality vs. equivalent debate: by definition equality and equivalence are synonyms. In mathematics, equivalence is preferred because it emphasizes that two statements can be equal but not the same. In A+B = A+c+x, the two halves are not the same but have the same result. They are equivalent but not equal. Since sociocracy has more to do with the social sciences than with mathematics, I prefer to use equality.

2014 October 1:  Eventually effectiveness won out over focus, and empty tool hasn’t been heard in a while.