The two ring circus called the American presidential elections - January 2013

Just because the United States does not have its equivalent of the "National Endowment for Democracy", "Radio Liberty" or "Voice of America" constantly bitching and complaining about "corruption", "election fraud" or the lack of "free and fair" elections in the country, it does not mean such things do not exist in the US. I am not referring to the controversial electoral system in the US, which is flawed enough by itself. I am actually talking about the lack of choice Americans are presented with - by design - every four years when they go to the polls.

Allow me to explain.

Watching the presidential elections in the US every four years actually feels like watching a tacky yet dazzling two ring circus. Every four years we see the Republican ring on one side (with its clown), the Democrat ring on the other side (with its clown) and the ringmaster (the nation's financial/political elite) doing his magic (via the nation's television, print and radio media). Needless to say, the enthusiastic audience in this nation-wide circus are the nation's voters.

Anyone could predicted with 100% certainty that the next president of the US would have been either a Democrat or a Republican. There is no other option - by design. Another thing that could be predicted with 100% certainty is that regardless of who won the presidential election, when it comes to serious/core issues there can be no meaningful changes in US policy - unless the nation's elite want it. This is why we see Barack Obama (the Uncle Tom appointed in the White House to pacify the nation's growing anti-war movement and to put a liberal/minority face on US war effort) continuing the same policies of his predecessor. In other words, the US is a duopoly, the rule by two exclusive political parties.

Two political clubs have been given the exclusive rights to administering the empire. The two main political parties in the US are cultivated to serve the empire's elite. Therefore, in the big picture, it does not matter which one of the two sanctioned political parties come up victorious in any of the presidential elections in the US simply because the reigns of power in Washington never really changes hands. The American system is merely one political party away from a conventional dictatorship. The following blog entries are previous commentaries related to this topic of discussion -
Although most Americans these days are too busy waving their Chinese-made American flags to realize it, the entire political system in the US is ultimately rigged. Unlike America's flag waving cattle, I refuse to graze on the White House lawn because my American patriotism is far greater and deeper than of those who are blindly standing behind a bloodthirsty and gluttonous system that has been raping Americans and placing the US on the path of ruin.

In the Soviet Union, there was one political party - the communist party - and this party was divided into many factions. In the US, there are two political parties of one faction - that of its financial elite. Therefore, it could even be argued that the political order in the Soviet Union was somewhat more diverse or more fragmented than the one in the US. Nevertheless, it is fact that political reigns in Washington are completely in the hands of two political players and these two political entities serve their masters in the Federal Reserve; the military industrial complex; the pentagon; the oil industry; the Zionist lobby; Wall Street; and to some extent the pharmaceuticals industry.

Much of what we see Washington engaging in around the world today is in fact highly detrimental to the long-term health and well being of the US. The US today is being run like a multi-national corporation. More alarmingly, with nearly one thousand active military installations and bases in foreign lands, the fighting forces of the US (who's budget is much greater than the military budgets of all the world's nations combined) has been tasked with shedding blood around the world for the sake of preserving the global empire. How much longer can this last?

Democracy (the Western perception of what democracy should be) does not exist in the United States.

To make America's duopoly a little simpler for Armenians to comprehend: Let us imagine that President Serj Sargsyan created a left-leaning political party and his close associate, former president Robert Kocharyan put together a right-leaning political party. Now let's imagine that these two interconnected political parties that only slightly differ in approach to political matters are able to rig the electoral system in Armenia so that they remain the only two players within the political landscape in the country. Let's also imagine that these two political parties get full support from Armenia's financial and military elite. Now let's imagine that these two political parties eventually evolve into a deeply entrenched, powerful duopoly that takes upon itself the exclusive right and responsibility to give the Armenian nation its political leadership for generations to come.

Make any sense?

Well, this is more-or-less what the political system in the US is all about; the main difference being here is that Washington has well over two hundred years head start over Yerevan. Ultimately, the following is what we the sheeple need to keep in mind about the political system that is currently in place in the US:
Elections in the US is basically about two groups of well connected people competing for the empire's control panels. There has not been "free and fair" elections in the US for generations. The system is rigged to be a two party show. Democrats and Republicans are ultimately two sides of the same coin. Every four years the financial/corporate elite in the US decide what shirt the sheeple will wear, and the sheeple are given the "democratic" choice of picking between two colors. The US political system is like a two ring circus managed by a ringmaster that the audience does not get to see. US presidents are appointed to be elected by the sheeple. US presidents are tasked with being the spokesmen or salesmen for special interests running the show behind-the-scenes in the American empire. The US is being run as if it is a multi-national corporation in which the American citizenry is its work force.
As noted above, what makes the duopoly in the United States somewhat unique is that it is heavily influenced (it could even be said fully hijacked) by a number of multi-national mega-corporations, Wall Street firms, major financial institutions, the military industrial complex, British interests, Jewish interests and the privately owned Federal Reserve. Therefore, one can describe the political system in Washington not only as a duopoly but also a corporatocracy and a plutocracy. Having said that, it must also be said top heavy is better for most nations.

Top heavy is better

I do not believe in the silly notion that the ignorant masses are entitled to make serious political decisions through a voting process, nor do I think numerous political parties competing against each other for power is a healthy thing for any nation, especially for poor and/or developing nations. 

Therefore, I do not want to come across as if I'm totally rejecting the idea of an elitist system of government (which is what we have in the West) as an effective form of governance. In fact, in various degrees, much of the civilized world today is in fact made up of elitist governments. A political system with few, well established political players can in fact be very effective if such a system is practiced by a homegrown and nationalistically motivated political and financial elite, and if the citizenry of the aforementioned political system is well conditioned for participation.

Therefore, the main problem I have with the political system in Washington is that is it not the "democracy" it wants the world to think of it as, and the duopoly that the US is in reality is unfortunately not controlled by a homegrown American elite that has the nation's best interests in mind.

The type of democracy prescribed for the developing world by Western officials today (increasingly at the tip of a sharp bayonet) is inherently flawed and destructive in nature. I personally believe in top heavy nationalistic governments where limited forms of democracy and highly regulated forms of capitalism are practiced. I see National Socialism and Constitutional Monarchy as the best forms of government yet devised by man. Such forms of top heavy/authoritarian governments are especially important for peoples without much experience in statehood (i.e. Armenians), and for peoples with certain nonconforming cultural/genetic traits (i.e. Armenians).

Close observation of Armenians and Armenian history reveals that Armenians tend to be by nature: fiercely independent, never satisfied, aggressive, possessive, suspicious, clannish, arrogant, intelligent, crafty and overly ambitious. These unique traits (which lies at the root of Armenian success outside of Armenia) does not allow Armenians to be easily governed (especially when the governing is being done by Armenians) inside Armenia. More importantly, such traits do not encourage sociopolitical stability. Democracy and Armenians therefore do not mix well. Armenians therefore need to be ruled by a top heavy, authoritarian government. Russians likewise need authoritarian governments, but unlike us they seem to understand this. The following is essentially why Russia remains a powerful nation despite immense odds -
Speaking of Russia: They are nationalizing their nation's assets, passing laws to curb foreign influences, clamping down on corruption, promoting patriotism, increasing funds to their military, implementing social care programs and regulating their nation's free market... I'm glad to report that the Russian Federation is fast heading towards National Socialism, although it would never be categorized as such due to the negative connotation the term continues to have thanks to the decades long propaganda against it by the Anglo-American-Zionist-Bolshevik interests. The following article by the New York Times discusses Russia's transformation into a top heavy, well-armed, Russocentric and a regulated free-market democracy. But I would like to once again remind you to read between the lines because the article is written by Western presstitutes and is meant to cast a negative light on Russia and Vladimir Putin -
Russian Lawmakers Aim at Foreign Cars, Films and Schooling in Patriotic Purge:
Mankind is by-nature incapable of efficiently governing itself. Because of man's nature, democracy cannot work. Those who control the levers of government in the Western world fully recognize the inherent flaws found in a democratic system, which explains why Western governments are by design elite based systems with very few political players. This is why I am an advocate of political systems where political parties and corporate entities are tightly regulated and are made to operate under the close supervision of the nation's homegrown political, financial and military elite. Two such successful forms of governments are China and the Russian Federation.

Armenia needs to follow Russia's footsteps

I would like to see Yerevan recognize the severe long-term dangers that come with dealing with the political West. I would like to see Armenia begin moving away from Western institutions and abandon destructive/corrosive Globalist concepts. Western institutions are designed to subjugate or destroy nation-states via powerful sociopolitical, financial and economic levers. Globalism is a form of Bolshevism in disguise and it is being forcefully imposed on the world by Western neo-imperialsits.

As a result of the rise of nations like Russia, China and India, we are today witnessing the birth pangs of a post-Western world. For the first time since 1945 we are beginning to move away from a unipolar, English-language based Western global order and towards an East oriented, multi-polar world.

This historic transition will not be an easy one because the protectors of the status quo, Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and those who feed off of it (e.g. certain European nations, Sunni Islamist monarchies in the Middle East and Turkey) will do all in their power to stop it from happening. In fact, the global turmoil we have been witnessing in recent years is directly linked to the aforementioned effort by the Western alliance to preserve their global hegemony.

Controlling virtually limitless amounts of natural resources and a vast Eurasian landmass that connects Europe to Asia, the Russian state today stands poised to play a very prominent role in the 21st century. Russia will be in the driver's seat in this century. At the very least, I'd like to see Armenia in its passenger seat. Armenians needs to curb their EUrotic fantasies and come to the somber realization that the Western world is expiring.
The future lies in the East. Until we get there, however, Armenia needs to be working diligently towards joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Union. This is absolutely essential for a tiny, remote, impoverished and landlocked nation blockaded by NATO and threatened by Islamists and pan-Turkists.

The new religion

What exactly is "Democracy" anyway, and why is it being forced upon human society in recent decades? Well, I may have just found the answer: The following comments made by author Stephen Kinzer during an NPR interview are quite revealing -
“[The Dulles brothers] were able to succeed [at regime change] in Iran and Guatemala because those were democratic societies, they were open societies. They had free press; there were all kinds of independent organizations; there were professional groups; there were labor unions; there were student groups; there were religious organizations. When you have an open society, it’s very easy for covert operatives to penetrate that society and corrupt it”
Western powers look upon democracy and societal freedoms as a weakness in nations to exploit. This is essentially why Western powers regularly assess the degree of "democracy" found in nations around the world. Nations are rated on their so-called "freedoms". In Western parlance, however, the term “free” simply means under Western occupation; “not free” means politically independent from the West; and “partially free” means not yet fully under Western occupation. Terms like democracy and freedom have been the catchphrases that neo-imperialists in the Western world have used to penetrate nations and manipulate masses around the world. Those well versed in history recognize that this is all very similar to what the Vatican (the old West) did around the world in the name of God and Christianity for well over one thousand years.

Similar to how the Vatican relentlessly pushed its version of Christianity upon "Godless" societies for many centuries, Washington has in similar fashion been pushing its version of a new religion known as Democracy/Globalism upon the political infidels of the world in recent times. We are all expected by the apostles and proselytizers of the cult of Democracy and Globalism to offer sacrifices to their holy doctrine because their god, the almighty Dollar is omnipresent; their only chosen one, the Zionist state of Israel is omnipotent; and if we dare to displease this modern cult, its wrath shall be unleashed upon us.

Incidentally, Washington and the Vatican both offer humanity a better life, one on earth via self-gratification, consumerism and entertainment (i.e. sexual freedoms, shopping and Hollywood) and the other in the hereafter, via the church establishment of course. At the end of the day, however, similar to what religious terms had been in the centuries past, modern catchphrases such as Democracy, Westernization, Freedom, Civil Society and Human Rights are the powerful psychological tools of exploitation and sometimes annihilation.

With regards to Armenia, what I'd like to see is that instead of importing "Westernization" Armenia needs to work on becoming the best that it can be while drawing on influences from the US, Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere. The point being is that Armenia does not need Westernization - Armenia needs Armenianization!

I'd be the first to admit that there is much to love about the United States, the nation, the culture, the people. There is a lot to admire about the libertarian and entrepreneurial spirit of the first European settlers that set the foundations of the nation and later immigrants that built upon it. There is indeed much to be learned from the American experience.

But we must also be intellectually honest with ourselves by realizing that much of America's alluring mystique (things that have drawn masses of people from around the world onto its shores) has in fact been made in Hollywood. American music and films have been the number one factor in drawing the world's attention towards the US. We must also recognize that the great experiment that had been America has been hijacked in recent times.  Let's take a brief, alternative look at America's sociopolitical development:
What was the United States two hundred years ago? A slave plantation run by wealthy land owners.
What was the United States one hundred years ago? A sweatshop run by robber barons.
What is the United States today? A growing plutocracy run by a conglomeration of corrupt multi-national, mega-corporations.
What will become of the Unites States in the Future? If history of great empires can be an indicator, it doesn't look too good. 
The good years for the people of United States were the years between the end of the Second World War and the mid-2000s when the American Dream finally came to an end. When people today swear by the American model, its essentially because of this fifty year period that saw the rise of a large, powerful middle class. 

But from America's founding fathers to the Cowboys, from Rock and Roll to Hollywood, from Lincoln Town Cars to Coca Colas, the "American way" has been very alluring indeed to the human animal. There are many in Armenian society today that would like to see Armenia adopt the American way without even taking a moment to actually think about how America got to where it is today. If Armenians are seeking a system of government and cultural values that helped the US become what it is today, Armenians then should first figure out a way to initiate Armenian officials into international Masonry and allow their leaders to enslave millions of lesser peoples, exterminate tens-of-millions of lesser peoples, get involved in major global wars for plunder, occupy nations around the world... and then wait about two hundred years before some of the accrued wealth trickles down to them.

Never mind that Armenia is not protected by two oceans; never mind that Armenia is tiny and barren and is surrounded by larger more aggressive neighbors; never mind that Armenia will never be a nation of low wage earning, hard working immigrants from around the world; never mind that Armenians are by nature not as warlike or as disciplined as Europeans. The point I'm trying to make here is that the US wasn't born this developed or this "democratic". The US took a very long, hard road to development, prosperity and its current semblance of civil society.  Therefore, what moral right does Washington have in forcefully imposing its "values" on newly emerging nations? 

The one size fits all approach to sociopolitical matters has never been effective. Therefore, Hollywood-struck Armenians should really think twice before they wish things for Armenia. What's more, the American-republic-turned-global-empire is clearly in decline. Does Armenia really need to follow in America's footsteps?

Armenia needs Armenianization. Armenia needs to evolve naturally. Armenia needs to evolve independently and in accordance to its inherent potential, not in accordance with Washington's self-serving wishes.

Having said that, long after the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance ceases to exists, I have no doubt in my mind that Armenia will still be around. In fact, despite all the odds stacked against it (including the twenty years old NATO blockade of the embattled nation), Armenia at 21 years of age is doing much better than any of the developed nations of today when they were 21, including the Zionist state of Israel!

Yet, those who required centuries of exploitation, slavery, ethnic cleansing and wars to finally attain prosperity and a semblance of civil society are expecting Armenia to do so in a few short years - and merely by people power? Nonsense!

The funny thing called Democracy

Who was it gave us the stupid idea that the masses of any given society are capable of deciding who their nation's leaders should be and how their nation should be run? Who gave us the stupid idea that the masses are entitled to a "free and fair" democratic process?
Was this cruel fairytale placed into the empty heads of our sheeple by the world's most corrupt and most blood-drenched criminals of the Western world? Who gave reptiles in Washington the divine right to categorize, label, rate or attack nations based on their self-serving perception or expectation of how government should be practiced in any given nation? How democratic was Washington for the first two hundred years of its existence? Just how democratic is Washington today? 

The terms "oppressive government", "human rights", "corruption", "free and fair elections" and "democracy" have been weaponized and used as a simple yet powerful catchphrase to rally the self-destructive peasantry in targeted nations. As we have seen on numerous occasions around the world, for developing societies the practice of democracy can prove suicidal. Even for developed societies, unsupervised democracy can cause stagnation or instability. In a true democratic system, a shrewd minority, or special interests, will always manage to co-opt the system of government. It's human nature. Two very interesting article titled "Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas" and "Why Ignorance Is Democracy's Bliss" are related to my theory that in a democracy it is in fact a minority that leads and the majority that follows. They can be read towards the bottom of this page.

In the Western world, the practice of democracy is tightly controlled by their deeply entrenched elite. The democratic processes in places like the United States or Great Britain for instance won't be allowed to get outside of their clearly defined parameters. In fact, Switzerland and Iceland may be one of the only nation-states on earth that practice the closest, purest forms of democracy today. We Armenians on the other hand must take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror and recognize that we are not Swiss, we are not Icelanders, nor are we Germans or Japanese. We are Armenians and we Armenians are emotional, jealous, restless, arrogant, stubborn, unruly, fiercely independent, individualistic, clannish, cleaver and ambitious... In other words, we Armenians need serious restraints.

Before the leadership of any developing country is capable to allowing their citizenry to participate in nation's political processes, political system in the country first needs to develop well established national institutions and political parties that are fully subservient to them. Armenia's so-called "political opposition" today as well as the events of March 1, 2008 have clearly demonstrated to us all that Armenia is at least several decades away from being able to practice some forms of democracy without the danger of committing national suicide. In their transitional phases, developing nations need powerful leaders with courage and vision. Having said that, however, I hope to see Russians and Armenians eventually begin moving away from personality based political parties and begin supporting ideology based political movements that operate under the umbrella of deeply rooted national institutions. Until that day arrives, however, people like Russians and Armenians need strongmen in power. Speaking of strong men, Britain's Winston Churchill is said to have once said - 
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter"
What this pudgy war criminal meant with that statement is painfully obvious and it supports my theses that mankind is incapable of governing itself and that the average citizen of any nation is incapable of understanding politics. In societies that are highly developed and well established (e.g. US, Britain, France, Japan) the political process with which the ignorant masses can participate in political decision making can in fact be managed and manipulated to a great degree by the given society's elites via its education system, its system of laws, its entertainment industry and its information media. Therefore, in a strong sense, in the Western world, the democratic process is all about social engineering, public relations and the careful management or psychological conditioning of society through mass propaganda. The following are excellent documentaries that are ultimately related to this topic. Please devote some time and watch them all -
The Power of Nightmares (part 3):
A genuinely educated populace is very undesirable for the leadership of most established democracies with the notable exception of perhaps some Nordic and Germanic nations. More importantly, societies that are essentially just coming out of the middle ages and stepping into modernity (i.e. a vast majority of societies in the world today, including nations such as Russia, China, Iran and Armenia), the imposition of democracy and capitalism as per Western demands and standards will only cause chaos, destruction, bloodshed, economic ruin and cultural decay. In fact, there cant be a better argument against Western forms of democracy and capitalism than the Armenia and Russia of the 1990s... or the Libya and Syria of today.

The destructive characteristics of democracy are the main reasons why the political West has attempted to forcefully impose it upon certain targeted nations but has given some of its oppressive allies a free pass. As it was in the past when imperial powers ruled the world under the banner of this or that religion, the long-term/strategic purpose of bringing democracy (think of it as a modern religion) to undemocratic nations of the world (think of them as political heathens or infidels) is ultimately subjugation and exploitation, and in some cases destruction. Winston Churchill is said to have also made the following  statement -
"Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
All the others that have been tried?

National Socialism in Germany and Italy was working incredibly well, amazingly well before Western and Jewish interests joined hands to destroy it. Had they given any other form of government a chance to develop for this British war criminal to make such a statement? In a certain sense, however, the evil war criminal who unsurprisingly went unpunished for his genocidal crimes was right in his conviction. Besides the fact that the elite in Britain and America lived well within the Western system, democracy, the kind that has been practiced by the Anglo-American world, is in fact the best way a ruling elite can fool its pathetic subjects into thinking that it is partaking in political decision making. This is more-or-less why Churchill preferred democracy. As long as a political system has a well entrenched oligarchy and deeply rooted national institutions, the sheeple of that political system can be allowed to participate in a semblance of democracy. This in turn helps the Western elite in politically pacify the masses.

Nevertheless, despite what a corrupt self-serving war criminal like Winston Churchill believes (or wanted the sheeple to believe), it has also been said that democracy is when two wolves and a sheep vote on what to have for dinner. Democracy is also when a handful clever men attain levers to control the vast majority. Besides which, Britain and the United States of America have never been true democracies. Britain is obviously a "Constitutional Monarchy" and for some time the US tinkered with a limited form of democracy known as "Representative Democracy". They are both now an elite based, oppressive political system and part of what I call the Anglo-American-Zionist global order. 

What we need to understand here is that most of the world's most powerful, the most wealthy and the most progressive nations today got to where they are through oppression, war, plunder and exploitation (of humans and of nature). Other than a handful of Nordic and Germanic nations in Europe that do their best to maintain some form of a democratic process and genuinely try to concern themselves with ecological matters, true democracy has never been practiced by any nation at any time in history. Honest forms of democracy can be safely practiced in nation-states that have racial and cultural homogeneity; a well educated citizenry; a well disciplined populace; deeply entrenched national institutions; and a long political history.

Needless to say, there aren't many nation today with these qualifications.

For nations that are more-or-less just stepping out of the dark ages - i.e. a majority of nations today that are coming out of the old world (nations such as Russia) or out of centuries of occupation (nations such as Armenia) democracy can prove fatal. Rule by the ignorant masses is no way to develop a newly formed nation. Again, this is why the political West has been imposing democracy on certain targeted nations. Undermining nations in such ways is part of their long-term-strategic planning. In other words, having fattened itself for hundreds of years at other people's expense, the Western elite does want any competition in the world now! And what better way to undermine or subjugate your competitors by imposing democracy upon them.

A persuasive argument against democracy and capitalism is made by a venture capitalist named Eric Lee, a Chinese national who had once worked for former presidential candidate Ross Perot in Texas. Please put aside your biases and preconceptions and read his work with an open mind. The spirit of the article encompasses a lot of what I have been stating about the political West and the faulty model of government it has been imposing upon others. I also believe that the most stable and the most efficient forms of governments are top heavy or authoritarian- governments but not necessarily communist governments.

Similar to how we need training or a license to operate machinery, the very complex and potentially volatile machinery that is the nation-state today likewise needs to be operated by qualified individuals who truly appreciate and understands its mechanism and by those who have a serious stake in the systems overall well-being. Generally speaking, those qualified to do this in any given society are the educated, the military and the wealthy.

Waning power

As noted above, the Western world's political and economic model is essentially based on social engineering (via its school curriculum, entertainment industry and controlled news media) and an economic model that is expected to grow perpetually by artificial means (e.g. active promotion of consumerism, printing money to stimulate the economy and waging wars to maintain global hegemony). Needless to say, this system cannot be maintained indefinitely. Although Nazi Germany's defeat in 1945 and the Soviet Union's unexpected collapse in 1991 worked wonders for the Western world, the Western model is unsustainable and will fall apart sooner or later.

Perhaps sooner. 

Because of these inherent flaws of the Western order, Washington's levers of control have been in decline all across the world. This decline is essentially the reason why we have been witnessing the Anglo-American-Zionist order wage war in several strategic areas of the world in recent years to satisfy the needs and expectations of its financial/political elite (i.e. it's powerful 1%), It's basically a race to protect Western global hegemony against rising nations that are causing concern for the Western elite. Despite them having unleashed their massive war machine to protect their global interests, Washington is increasingly finding that it can no longer freely dictate global policy the way it had been for the past few decades. 

The unipolar English-speaking political world we have been living in for the past few decades is gradually giving way to a multipolar political world as newly emerging powers like Russia, China and Iran begin making their global presence felt. The tragic events of September 11, 2001 (carried-out by extreme elements within the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance with the help of their Islamic allies in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) served to trigger the American empire's concerted effort to maintain its global power. This effort (much of it unsuccessful) has made the American empire overstretched and economically stressed and there is no end in sight. 

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

While we still have many idiots among us who think that Washington-led "democracy" movements around the world are the way of the future, we may in fact be witnessing the birth pangs of a post-democratic and a post-Anglo-American world. For the first time since Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, we may be seeing the dawning of a none Anglo-American era. It would therefore be smarter for emerging nations to prepare for this brave new world... instead of foolishly trying to board a sinking ship.  Too much blood has been shed during the past two hundred years directly and indirectly as a result of Anglo-American-Zionist machinations around the world. It's high time for some fundamental changes. Classical European/western culture has been severely attacked and disfigured by these same interests for far too long. Their Globalism has become a serious menace to God, family and country. It's high time we give new comers a chance.  It is time for a multi-polar world. 

I would like to see the Russian Federation and China begin playing even bigger roles on the global stage.

There are signs that people living under Anglo-American-Zionist occupation are gradually coming to the realization that multiculturalism, ultra-liberalism, interracialism, consumerism, corporatism and the rule of the ignorant masses (aka democracy) is not best way forward. We may therefore expect a return of traditional values in Europe within this century. We can also expect proliferation of top heavy representative governments similar to what we have in the Russian Federation today, as well as the spread of Constitutional Monarchies and the resurgence of National Socialism.

The technology-driven awakening of the global masses that once American imperialists such as Zbigniew Brzezinski eagerly sought to harness is beginning to get out-of-control. The internet has become one of their worst obstacles for it is an effective remedy against their social engineering and propaganda. While significant numbers of third worlders and freaks are still under Washington's hypnotic grip, a larger number of people today are gradually waking-up to the harsh realities of an Anglo-American-Zionist dominated world - thanks to information technology.

The internet, as well as Western war crimes in places like Vietnam, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Serbia, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria are helping the awakening process. In the big picture, a well informed global citizenry is the Western alliance's worst nightmare.

Western meddling in Armenia

Armenia is a work in progress. A tiny, poor, remote, embattled, landlocked and blockaded nation in the volatile Caucasus coming out of one thousand years of Turkic/Semitic/Islamic/Bolshevik subjugation is going to have severe sociopolitical matters even under best of circumstances. We must therefore be mature enough to recognize that Armenia's sociopolitical ailments will most probably require several generations to remedy. 

Having said that, however, it also needs to be said that every single bad thing that occurs in Armenia can also be observed occurring even in the finest nations of the Western world. As Armenia evolves as a nation-state, the last thing we Armenians need is Washington's whores making matters worst in the fledgling country by importing Western infections into it.

Therefore, beware of the wolves in sheep's clothing. Beware of their lofty rhetoric. Beware of their seemingly humanitarian agendas. And beware of their impressive resumes. These people are the tools that the rabid empire is using to undermine targeted societies and despite what Armenians think, Armenia has been one of the targets of the Western world for decades. The troubling irony here is that most of Armenia's so-called political activists, rights advocates and NGOs are in one way or another under the influence of an empire that will never recognize the Armenian Genocide and will never see Armenia as a true or worthy ally.

Simply put: Armenia is too small, too poor, too remote, too weak, too landlocked, too pro-Russian and too Iran-friendly for high level officials in the West to take it seriously. Moreover, having serious problems with their regional allies such as Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan does not help Yerevan's standing in the eyes of Washingtonian reptiles either.

The West is seeking unhindered exploitation of energy resources in the Caucasus region as well as the political isolation of the Russian Federation and the destruction of the regime in Tehran. Without a Russian presence in the Caucasus, however, the region in question has the natural propensity/tendency to turn into a Turkic-Islamic cesspool. Therefore, as far as Armenians should be concerned, the formula is rather simple: Russia's presence in the south Caucasus ensures Armenia's presence in the south Caucasus. Russia's presence in the south Caucasus protects Armenia against the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and its Turkic and Islamic friends. Therefore, any individual within Armenian society that criticizes Armenia's close strategic alliance with Moscow or tries to undermine the increasingly close relations between the two capitols is ultimately a traitor to Armenia. 

In conclusion, the following thoughts need to be branded within hearts-and-minds of all Armenians -
  • Who gave Washington the right to judge nations? What right does the political West have to rate, label or categorize any nation? What right does the West have to impose its system upon others? Who says the West is the standard all the rest have to follow? Why do tyrannical nation that are allied to the West get a free pass while those who are not politically aligned to it cannot do anything right? Why do we care what politically motivated Western organizations have to say about Armenia's "ranking" in anything?
  • Was the Western world born this developed, this progressive or this wealthy, or did it have to travel a very long, bumpy path to get to where it is today? The Western world, including the US, took hundreds years to reach where it is today. In fact, the Western world is where it is today due to numerous wars of plunder, grand theft, genocide and human exploitation.
  • A little over century ago America's robber barons (e.g. Carnegies, Rockefellers, Morgans, Goulds, Vanderbilts, Speyers, Du Ponts, Warburgs, etc.) used their immense fortunes to buy into the American political system, forever blurring the line between politics and business. These oligarchs used their powerful influences to impact the making of political legislation. The political system in the US was manipulated by America's oligarchs to serve their businesses and to preserve their immense wealth. Although it has been in a decline in recent years, the American middle class essentially grew as a result of feeding on the crumbs that were falling off the lavish banquet tables of the nation's super wealthy.
  • The Western world has severe forms of corruption. It can be argued that Western corruption is by-far the most egregious, albeit more nuanced and/or sophisticated. The main difference between corruption in the West and corruption in a place like Armenia is that corruption in the developed West is strictly reserved for the political/financial elite, whereas in an underdeveloped nation like Armenia all layers of society can engage in it. Moreover, Armenia is a tiny country, therefore any form of wrong doing can immediately be seen or felt by all. Through legislation, the practice of corruption in the Western world has evolved to become fully institutionalized. Therefore, in the West, institutionalized corruption is not for the common folk. Institutionalized corruption in the US, for instance, is reserved for the American empire's elites (e.g. military industrial complex, Zionist/Jewish groups, pentagon, oil industry, Federal Reserve, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals industry, etc).
  • Similar to what imperial powers did in the past with religion the very notion of democracy and human-rights today have been weaponized by Washington. As a matter of fact, everything today is becoming weaponized by Washington. Money is weaponized. Religion is weaponized. Atheism is weaponized. Energy is weaponized. Food is weaponized. Scientific research is weaponized. Narcotics is weaponized. Gay rights is weaponized. Feminism is weaponized. Sexual perversions are weaponized. The news is weaponized. Entertainment is weaponized. Humanitarian aid is weaponized. The English language is weaponized. Globalism is weaponized. Anything and everything that can in anyway be used against a targeted nation for a political and/or economic purpose is systematically becoming weaponized by Washington.
  • Democracy for an adolescent nation like Armenia can prove fatal. As the events of early 2008 clearly revealed, Armenians are not yet politically mature enough to be given the responsibility of electing their leadership. We have seen the destruction democracy has visited upon undeveloped or underdeveloped nations throughout the world. The destructive nature of democracy on underdeveloped nations may be why some nations on Washington's black list are being prescribed a very heavy dose of it these days. A nation like Armenia, just coming out of under a thousand years or Asiatic/Islamic/Bolshevik rule simply cannot have the proper national institutions or the collective mindset with which to flirt with a dangerous and potentially destructive political process.
  • For the foreseeable future Armenia will need a Russian style top heavy democracy... or simply, a benevolent dictator.
Links and articles found below are provided to the reader for additional perspectives on the duopolistic corprotocracy that has been plaguing the United States and the world for decades.

January, 2013 
(articles amended in 2016)

Two-Party Dictatorship: US choosing lesser evil? (RT video report)
US elections, rigged and computer codes:

Ron Paul 100% proof of Maine Election fraud!:

Stealing a U.S. election? Nothing's easier!

Could computers fail on election day?
Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich-Presidential War Powers/Federal Reserve:
Judge Napolitano. How to get fired in under 5 mins:
Oliver Stone: Obama a wolf in sheep's clothing (RT interview):
Weapons of Mass Distraction (RT video report):


The Fake Election: 10 Arguments The Republicans Aren’t Making

Even authoritarian systems require legitimacy to retain the support of the governed, and the new authoritarian America is no exception. Since 2004, the brilliant public journalism advocate Jay Rosen has been asking, what is the point of a political convention? No news is made, yet over 15,000 journalists show up, ostensibly to cover the pomp. But everyone knows that coverage isn’t so much the point; these conventions trade shows for the political class, where party insiders, journalists, politicians, celebrities, corporate types, and lobbyists mingle to organize political hierarchies. The public is simply irrelevant, a mass of jeering and cheering message imbibers or apathetic and cynical former citizens, people who are unseen behind their TV screens. The only fresh elements are protesters, and they are met by a police state, lest they disrupt the insider deal-making.

In fact, elections, over the past few years, have become mechanisms for sustaining the legitimacy of this political class, not contests designed to be won by either side. Neither side would ever admit to not trying to win, at least publicly. Privately, political consultants will count their winnings happily after each election, regardless of the outcome. So the way to see the lack of competitiveness now is to examine the moves that both parties are not making.

The Republicans have a clear strategy to win, which they are not using. Obama is liked but unpopular, seen as a pseudo-honest lightweight who can’t govern, even as the GOP are considered more competent but downright evil. In politics, you have to get more votes than the other guy; you don’t have to prove you’re an angel. You can even change the voting universe, rather than persuading people of your merits. And indeed, a small but significant minority of Obama voters don’t really want to vote for Obama, they are unenthusiastic but feel they have to pick the lesser evil.  They can be pushed into apathy. So the Republicans’ best strategy would be to dampen enthusiasm for Obama among these voters, while pulling a few weak Obama voters over to their side with a populist campaign. Would it be dishonest for Republicans to promise populist policies they have no intention of following through on? Sure! Has that ever stopped them before? Of course not! Remember George W. Bush and compassionate conservatism? Now that was some artful lying. The Republicans were really trying to win that time. This time, not so much.

If the Republicans were interested in winning, you’d see a very different campaign. Here are ten ironclad arguments you’d see. These are arguments the Republicans could make, but aren’t.

1) The Tax Cheat Administration – When the Obama campaign brought out Bain and tax avoidance, the GOP would have gone after health care czar Tom Daschle ‘s tax cheating and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner tax problems. Daschle didn’t pay over $120,000 of taxes, and had to withdraw from consideration for the cabinet. Yet Obama still used him as a health care czar, even as he was on the payroll of big law firms. And Geithner’s problems were worse. As Neil Barofsky noted in Bailout, Geithner’s tax problems weren’t simple mistakes, they were more ominous than that, and revealed someone willing to cheat to keep a few more bucks. Geithner hadn’t been paying his full amount of taxes for several years. This was discovered, and he paid back taxes. But at first, he only paid back taxes for the years the statute of limitations hadn’t expire, keeping his tax cheat winnings for prior years. Only when prodded by the administration did he make up the full amount.

2) Obama Doesn’t Keep His Promises to You – During the 2008 primary, Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA. He didn’t. Obama also promised to raise the minimum wage, and index it to inflation. He didn’t. The NAFTA promise is especially powerful, because anti-NAFTA sentiment cuts across party lines, and Obama pretty clearly was lying in 2008 when it emerged that his campaign economist Austan Goolsbee had assured the Canadians that Obama did not intend to honor his campaign promises.

3) Obama Administration, Brought to You By Wall Street – The Obama administration has very few high level Treasury officials who don’t have significant experience in large too big to fail banks. His chief of staff Bill Daley came from JP Morgan, an Jack Lew came from Citigroup. The revolving door argument is a natural television advertisement. The Republicans even cut an ad to portray Obama this way, but never put any real dollars behind it.

4) Obama Administration’s Handling of the Foreclosure Crisis – The Obama administration said that its main housing program would help 4 million homeowners. It came nowhere close. Recently, we’ve learned that the entire premise of the administration’s housing efforts was based on helping the banks, or “foaming the runway”, as Geithner put it, rather than stopping foreclosures. This is directly at odds from what the administration presented to the public. This is particularly significant in certain swing states, like Florida, Nevada, and Ohio. The Republicans could simply make this a broken promise argument, and again, the ad writes itself.

5) Inequality Skyrocketing Under Obama – Growth of inequality is higher under Obama than under Bush. This is because Obama reflated financial assets and not housing assets, and has compounded that by legalizing fraud among elite financial actors. The lack of prosecution angle isn’t just an ad that writes itself, it was an Academy Award winning documentary (Inside Job).

6) Obama Administration Is Corrupt – The examples here are numerous. There was the secret deal with pharma to spend money on elections if pharma got certain multi-billion dollar concessions in Obamacare. There’s the pay to play revolving door, such as Peter Orszag going to Citigroup after running OMB. In the first chapter of Bailout, Herb Allison essentially offered a bribe to Neil Barofsky if he’d go easier on Treasury around TARP. This is corruption. It’s not hard to prove.

7) Obama Pushing Offshoring of American Jobs – The massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, or NAFTA on steroids, is a global secret deal to subordinate American sovereignty to international tribunals of private corporate lawyers and offshoring whatever jobs are left in America. I’m not kidding. It’s that bad. And it’s being negotiated right now.

8) Subversion of the Rule of Law - This is everything from refusing to prosecuting Wall Street bankers to having a kill list to destroy real estate law through the mortgage settlement. Any number of eminent lawyers or thinkers could, or has, made this point.

9) Suppression of Dissent - The administration’s DHS collaborated with local and state law enforcement to get rid of Occupy encampments.

10) Endless war – Obama’s national security apparatus has been keeping us in Afghanistan, at higher troop levels, than Bush did.

These arguments, if put into widespread play, could keep voters at home, or even shift some groups away from Obama.  And because of outside SuperPACs, none of these arguments have to be made by Romney himself, there are a host of groups that could make them. Though you might think it would be appallingly hypocritical if the Republicans made these arguments, when has that ever stopped them before? It isn’t honesty and integrity preventing the GOP from going there. Or if it is, then one would have to concede that the Republicans are running a principled campaign, on plutocracy. More likely, the answer is that winning the race isn’t as important as ensuring that the political class is protected from democracy.

The Republicans don’t want to discuss tax cheating, offshoring, corruption, inequality, dissent, the rule of law, endless war, or Wall Street criminality. They’d rather lose. It’s not that they want to lose in 2012, it’s just that they aren’t going to go after every vote. It’s the same reason no one talks about how Romney is a flip-flopper anymore, or points out that Romney is the architect of Obamacare, or was a moderate Republican governor in Massachusetts. Those arguments are worse for the political class, and better for the public. And that is how elections operate in authoritarian America. The secondary goal is to win the election, the primary goal is to keep the public out of the deal-making.

Two sides of same coin? US presidential debate underwhelms

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney met in their first presidential debate on Wednesday, exchanging the same arguments and accusations they had before. The tepid debate stressed the lack of choice the Americans are facing, analysts say. ­The debate centered on domestic issues, as both candidates basically repeated their election platforms and slogans while discussing jobs, the economy, and healthcare.

The Romney camp was thrilled with their performance, as liberals blasted Obama for being underwhelming. Romney's campaign spokesman claimed that Governor Romney had won so clearly that “if this was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it." Obama analysts, for their part, while lamenting the missed opportunity to essentially stop the Romney campaign cold, also pointed out that Obama did not leave any weak spots to be attacked.

However, many Americans may well be confused as to what exactly the differences are between the two candidates, as the overlap of ideas between America’s two dominant political parties has reached a fever-pitch in recent elections cycles.

Obama and Romney have sparred publicly over one of the keystones of the 44th president’s administration: universal healthcare, or as it now more commonly known, “Obamacare”. Romney has stated time and again that he will repeal “Obamacare”, and that the centerpiece of the plan, “the individual mandate” that requires every American to purchase health care or suffer increasing tax penalties, places an unfair burden on the middle class.

“Obamacare is on my list,” Romney quipped in last night’s debate, as he reeled off a list of programs he wanted to cut. “When you look at Obamacare, the congressional budget office has said that it will cost $2,500 a year more than traditional insurance. So it’s adding to cost…It’s expensive. Expensive things hurt families.”

But voters get confused when they are reminded that the idea of the individual mandate has already been used – by Romney himself.

“The irony is, we’ve seen this model work very well – in Massachusetts,” Obama shot back, defending his plan. “Governor Romney did a good thing working with democrats in the state to set up what is essentially an identical model, and as a consequence, people are covered there, it hasn’t destroyed jobs, and we have a system where we can start bringing down costs as opposed to leaving millions of people out in the cold.”

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney introduced the Massachusetts Health Reform Law in 2006. “Romneycare” in many ways served as the de facto model for Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and required all Massachusetts residents to buy health insurance coverage or face escalating tax penalties. That is, the mandate that Romney now calls unconstitutional was, in fact, championed by Romney himself six years ago.

That Obama adopted a Republican idea might reasonably anger many on the left. That the individual mandate is viewed by those on the right as the scourge of socialism proves how short American attention spans are and how broken the political system may actually be. When talking about reducing the deficit and creating jobs in America, both candidates, overtly or otherwise, took aim at China, as if both understood the need to look tough against the world economic giant.

In order to cut spending and reduce the deficit, Romney said “I will eliminate all programs by this test: is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to keep borrowing money from China to pay for it.”

Obama seemed to say the same thing moments later, alluding to jobs being shipped overseas. “Part of the way to do that [reduce the deficit] is to not give tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas,” he said. “Right now you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas. I think most Americans would say that doesn’t make sense.”

“You said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas? Look, I’ve been in business for 25 years; I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Romney retorted minutes later. “Maybe I need to get a new accountant, but the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case,” as if to imply the strange idea that transferring factory jobs to countries with cheaper labor would in no way affect a company’s bottom line.

And there are other examples that have left voters scratching their heads, trying to figure out who’s on the left and who’s on the right.

In 2008, Republican Senator and former POW John McCain regularly lambasted then-Democratic contender and presidential hopeful Obama for being weak on national defense. But from the death of Osama Bin Laden to the ever-expanding drone war and NDAA, Obama has proven to be on par with several hawkish Republicans when it comes to keeping the country safe.  Obama even presided over a massive troop surge in Afghanistan while simultaneously executing an exit-strategy in Iraq. 

Liberal commentator Rachel Maddow said on her eponymous show last month that there is a “responsible debate to be had here over the longest war in American history."  With some 70 per cent of Americans saying the US should immediately withdraw Afghanistan, Maddow has a point, but there is no longer a party representing it.

Right, left, or center?

Perennial outsider and long-suffering third-party political candidate Ralph Nader has consistently argued that the current two-party system in America effectively presents the one agenda, providing no alternative for Americans.  From single-payer healthcare to a living wage, renegotiating NAFTA to imperialism, poverty and special tax breaks for corporations, Nader says the major beliefs of America remain chronically unrepresented by America’s political system.

“That’s the conundrum. A minority party fostering a majority agenda. The reason is that the two-party duopoly has every conceivable way to exclude and depress and harass a third party. Whether it’s ballot access. Whether it’s harassing petitioners on the street. Whether it’s excluding them from debates. Whether it’s not polling them. And with a two-party, winner-take-all electoral system, it’s easy to enforce all those. Unlike multi-party Western countries where you have proportional representation, the voters [in America] know that if you get 10 per cent of the vote, you don’t get anything. Whereas in Germany, you get 10 per cent of the parliament. So [German] voters say, ‘Let’s just vote for the least worst,’” he told Time Magazine in June.

Author and historian Gerald Horne believes that none of the sides is a perfect choice as the American voters are short on alternatives.“What happens in the United States is that all the candidates of the left, such as the Green Party, are barred from this kind of presidential debate,” he told RT. 

While the United States spends enormous amount of funds on “building democracy abroad, the candidates should focus on building democracy at home,” Horne argues. “These kinds of debates basically exclude the critiques of the present dilemmas and problems that the US people face, for example rising poverty, rising unemployment et cetera.”

Both sides in the debate raised the issue of China in connection with America’s economic problems. “They don’t want to point the finger at themselves,” Horne says. While many US cities are trying to attract Chinese investment, both Obama and Romney are basically bashing China, he argues. “We all know that that’s just song and dance, that after the election they will both be knocking on China’s door.”

Election 2012

What’s particularly nervy — galling, really — about the idea that the US ought to be spreading our democratic system across the globe is the fact that we don’t have anything close to democracy in this country. Nor do we have what the Founders intended to create: a republic, where the power of the state is limited by the Constitution. This is underscored every time Americans go to the polls, where they are confronted with “choices” determined by lawmakers whose chief interest in life is getting reelected with as little opposition as possible. These guardians of the polity have made it virtually impossible for so-called third parties — i.e. parties not controlled by corporate interests and foreign lobbyists — to even get on the ballot.

And if you don’t like this state of affairs, and take action, the State will smack you right in the face. Take the case of Richard Winger, the third party expert and political analyst, editor of Ballot Access News, who, together with other interested parties, sued the state of California so that all candidates would have an equal right to show their party label on the ballot. With the passage of an “open primary” law, which effectively abolished third parties, California’s third party candidates couldn’t even identify themselves on the ballot. The lawsuit failed, however, and the judge ruled that the plaintiffs had to pay the court costs of the big corporate moneybags who had sponsored the “open primary” legislation to being with. Winger and his fellow third partiers got a bill for $243,279.50.

Isn’t “democracy” wonderful?

Well, no, it isn’t, not the current American version, which merely serves to legitimize — in a “legal” sense, at any rate — what is in reality an oligarchy. As this election season dramatized once again, the differences between the two state-subsidized state-privileged “parties” is chiefly rhetorical: this came through loud and clear during the Obama/Romney foreign policy “debate,” but it’s true on domestic issues as well. The bipartisan consensus is clear: maintain the Welfare-Warfare State pretty much as it has existed since the New Deal, with allowances made for trimming around the edges here and there. No matter who wins this election, the victor will have to impose a program of “austerity,” i.e. burdening the lower and middle classes with new taxes and program cuts, while granting new opportunities for corruption and cronyism to the political class and the oligarchs, foreign as well as domestic.

Libertarians are not small-‘d’ democrats: we don’t believe in the efficacy or legitimacy of the system — but we don’t (or shouldn’t) disdain it. For this is the one concession an otherwise authoritarian-minded political class must make in order to continue their system of “legalized” thievery and mass murder. They must ask, if only symbolically, for the consent of the governed — what Ayn Rand called “the sanction of the victim.”

But we don’t have to be victims: we can utilize this chink in the armor of the State to drive a stake through its rotten heart — because any and all weapons in the battle for liberty must be in our arsenal. Yet we also should have no illusions: everyone saw how the GOP leadership, in league with the Romneyites, stole a good half of Ron Paul’s delegates to the national convention. It was such a brazen display of thievery that the Republican governor of Maine — where arguably the most egregious rip-off took place — refused to attend the Tampa coronation.

And it isn’t just about the Paulians. Every dissident tendency in the country has been silenced by repressive ballot access laws which give the oligarchic parties ample “legal” ammunition to keep outsiders off the ballot. Previously, Democratic party lawyers practically followed Ralph Nader around the country as he tried to attain ballot status, suing to keep him off as soon as he qualified and all too often succeeding. The Republicans targeted Gary Johnson in the same way this year. A more disgusting display of “legal” repression” has never even occurred in such bastions of “democratic” authoritarianism as Belarus and Putin’s Russia. Indeed, it is easier for a political party to attain national ballot status in Russia today than it is for the Libertarian party or the Green party to get on the ballot in, say, Pennsylvania.

Congressional districts are so gerrymandered into shapes which give the incumbent a job for life that we might as well make the office appointive, or even hereditary. That way, the American political class can confer on itself all the titled magnificence and glitz of its model and progenitor: the British aristocracy. In the face of a steady assault of election spending legislation attempting to limit contributions, and requiring all kinds of “disclosure” — conceivably subjecting donors to official retribution — the near invincibility of incumbency is a fact of American political life in much of the country.

The War Party has two wings: the Democrats and the Republicans. All others are outsiders, whose ability to storm the gates is “legally” restricted by a nearly impassable series of bureaucratic obstacles designed to keep them out while still maintaining the “democratic” illusion, i.e. the phony two-party system, which is in reality a single entity. It is a delicate operation, in the course of which the political class must walk a fine line between repression and allowing some degree of free expression. This year how that line is drawn, and who draws it, is going to make a big difference — and perhaps a decisive one.

There’s nothing like an election to show up the essential fraudulence of the democratic system, particularly how it’s practiced in America. Nothing makes this point clearer than the Republican voter suppression campaign, which is designed to keep African-Americans, Latinos, and others from voting. Aside from the ugly racial implications of this deplorable effort, one can kind of see the Republicans’ point: after all, with a candidate so widely and intensely disliked, even by his own supporters, what else can they try? Asking people for all kinds of identification at the polls, and putting partisan zealots on guard asking people to identify themselves, is straight out hooliganism. Did you think the Romneyites were above that?

As I write, we don’t know who will win this presidential election, but I made my prediction long ago and I’m sticking to it. I even half-seriously averred that, by nominating a complete nonentity, the Republicans were deliberately throwing the election. Romney’s candidacy postponed the ideological blood feud that’s going to break out when he goes down to a well-earned defeat, but the Karl Rove/Fox News grand poobahs of the GOP can’t delay it indefinitely. Just add the Ron Paul vote to the Republican column, the day after the President declares victory, and see what you come up with. Most of Paul’s voters stayed home on election day, or else voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian standard-bearer this time around.

And that, I predict, will make all the difference.

When the President spoke of voting as “revenge” the other day, the wimpish girlish Republicans immediately started up a chorus of whining — one reason why they’re such losers, and why they deserve to lose. Yet I was heartened to hear Obama say it, not only because revenge is such a major (albeit unacknowledged) factor in politics, but because it’s particularly appropriate this election year, and even more so from my own ideological perspective. Because what we’ll see, this Election Day, might justifiably be called Ron Paul’s revenge, and, as Ralph Cramden would put it:“How sweet it is!”

Okay, I’m posting this on Election Day, before the results are in: tune in here for an update after we know who won, and by how much, to see me either exult in the sheer accuracy of my prophecy, or else eat crow.

Update: It’s 8:13 pm PST, and the President has been reelected. Once again, the neocons have dragged the GOP down to defeat. Netanyahu placed his bet on the wrong horse. In spite of soaring unemployment, a collapsing economy, and widespread disenchantment with the incumbent, the Republicans still managed to lose.


Conservatives will claim it’s because Romney stood for nothing — and that’s true in terms of domestic policy. He reversed himself on every major domestic issue, from health care to abortion and tax policy. But on foreign policy he did stand for something: a huge increase in the military budget in spite of our looming bankruptcy, unconditional support for Israel on each and every issue, and war with Iran. This was the main dividing line between the Ron Paulians and the Romneyites, and the main reason why no endorsement from Paul (the elder) was forthcoming. Given the closeness of the election in several key states, particularly Ohio — the state that put the President over the top — support from Paul’s voters would have made the difference. Ron got over 113,000 votes there in the GOP primary.

And that made all the difference.


100 Ways Republicans Are Just Like Democrats: Here’s a look at the broader similarities between the Democratic and Republican parties:

1. A large number of Democrats and Republicans signed the National Defense Authorization Act for the year 2012, which critics say allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens on U.S. soil without due process. President Obama pledged to veto the NDAA, but went back on his word and signed it into law with the indefinite detention provision included. Mitt Romney says that he would do the same.

2. Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly favor Keynesian economics rather than other schools of economic thought such as the Austrian School of economics.

3. The Bush-era Patriot Act, which allows for warrantless wiretapping, was passed with bipartisan support and recently extended by policymakers of both parties. Romney has voiced his support for the controversial legislation. Obama supported it as a senator and signed the extension into law as president.

4. Both the Republican and Democratic administrations have attempted to justify the use of extrajudicial targeted killing, the killing of people without trial or substantive due process, including American citizens. The use of these tactics increased under President Obama and has received praise from members of both parties. There was strong bipartisan support for the Obama Administration’s extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi and his 16 year old son without trial, which received praise from Republican Party members and was strongly supported by Mitt Romney.

5. The Democratic and Republican parties both generally support the vastly-growing use of unmanned aerial combat drones in the Middle East:
  • The use of unmanned drones to patrol foreign skies, which have been responsible for many civilian and child deaths, began under President Bush and drone use has drastically increased and expanded under President Obama. There has been little to no partisan opposition to these tactics and while the GOP platform advocates for increased drone use, the Democratic platform doesn’t mention their use at all.
  • Drone warfare in Pakistan started under Bush, has been significantly escalated by Obama, and Romney has indicated that he will continue using drones in Pakistan if elected. Both parties also support the continued drone warfare being used in Libya, which Romney has stated he would likely continue.
  • In Yemen, the Obama Administration has continued the fighting that the Bush Administration initiated, which Obama has done with the use of secretive drone warfare and by recently sending troops back.
6. Both parties will also allow drones to patrol the skies of the United States. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which calls for the use of up to 30,000 drones in U.S. airspace, passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

7. The Federal Reserve is allowed by both parties to continue to operate as an “independent government agency,” whose monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the president nor any other elected member of the executive or legislative branch. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was appointed by George W. Bush and re-appointed by Obama. Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on whether he would reappoint Bernanke, stating in 2010 that he would reappoint him, but stating recently that he would not reappoint Bernanke for a third term. Bernanke was reappointed for his second term in 2010 after a bipartisan vote of 70-30. However, the Audit the Fed bill has also received strong bipartisan support.

8. In an apparent direct conflict of interest, 130 Republican and Democratic congressional members have invested in company stocks while making legislative decisions that impact those same companies.

9. Initial versions of the Federal Reserve Act were drafted by Republican Senator Nelson Aldrich and the final version was drafted y Democratic Congressman Carter Glass of Virginia, which then went to receive strong bipartisan support in Congress.

10. Both Republican and Democrats have allowed the Federal Reserve to inject trillions of dollars into the economy through their quantitative easing programs. While many Republicans including Romney have said they are against the third round of quantitative easing, neither party has or is likely to introduce bills aimed at regulating or halting quantitative easing altogether.

11. Republicans and Democrats love earmarks so much that even the bipartisan earmark moratorium, while greatly cutting back on earmarks, couldn’t stop the pork from being slipped into bills. Approved earmarks in 2010 totaled over $15 billion and the amount of requested earmarks in 2011 exceeded $129 billion. Citizens Against Government Waste reports that $3.3 billion has been approved for 2012.

12. Both parties and their national, congressional and senatorial committees have spent more than one billion dollars on their 2012 campaigns.

13. The Democratic and Republican convention committees each received $17,689,800 from the U.S. Treasury for their conventions in 2012 and an additional $600,000 to cover the cost of inflation. This is paid for through a voluntary check off on federal income tax forms.

14. Both parties are largely backed by the same corporate contributors and interest groups. Congressional members also receive contributions from many of the same interest groups. Both parties are heavily lobbied by corporate America — to the tune of $3.3 billion in 2011 and $1.68 billion thus far in 2012.

15. The majority of both parties agreed that Wall Street should receive bailouts. The TARP bailout was signed into law by George W. Bush and initially drafted by Bush-appointed Secretary of Treasury– and Republican– Henry Paulson. Obama supported TARP as a senator and the bailout went on to receive overwhelming support from Democrats in the House. TARP also received largely bipartisan support in the Senate.
16. The same Wall Street TARP recipients who were top contributors to the Democratic presidential campaign in 2008 are now the top contributors backing the Republican presidential campaign in 2012. In 2008, Republican John McCain was backed by the same companies, although his campaign received less than the Obama campaign.

17. Both parties are private, non-profit corporations and are in no way an official part of the United States government. Furthermore, neither party is mentioned in the Constitution nor is there mention of a two-party system, and a few of our founding fathers expressed concerns regarding the emergence of a rival two-party system.
18. As Glenn Greenwald points out in an article for The Guardian, Republicans and Democrats discuss certain general issues during debates while ignoring other more controversial issues that they may agree on, hoping to convince the public that there is a huge difference of choice.

19. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to believe that voting for a third party is equivalent to throwing away your vote while in reality, if everyone voted their conscience and avoided voting for the “lesser of two evils,” which 46 percent of those polled said they would be doing this election, the two-party stranglehold may actually be broken.

20. The Democratic and Republican parties have both sued third parties to prevent them from appearing on the ballot in key states.

21. Both the Democratic and Republican parties exclude third parties from the presidential debates. In 1987, the Democratic and Republican parties founded the nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates to regulate the presidential debates, which excludes third party candidates from participating in the only nationally televised presidential debates.

22. The Democratic and Republican parties have both been sued for conspiring to exclude third parties from the quadrennial presidential debates.

23. Both also both believe that taxpayers should provide funding to other countries around the world. The bipartisan Commission on Appropriations approved $40.1 billion in foreign aid for the 2013 year.
24. Both party platforms mention Israel, confirm Jerusalem as being the capital city, and both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidate have pledged their allegiance to Israel.

25. The Democratic and Republican parties both agree that a two-state solution should be pursued between Israel and Palestine.

26. No one other than a Democrat or Republican has been elected president in the last 160 years.

27. Lawmakers from both parties in Congress and the executive branch have been responsible for all foreign interventions since 1853, keeping America in a near perpetual state of war. They are also responsible for the assistance and direct involvement of the U.S. in at least 31 instances of covert foreign regime change since the beginning of the Cold War.

28. There is cross-administration support of preemptive cyber attacks. The Obama Administration has continued the Stuxnet cyber attacks against Iran which were started under the Bush Administration.

29. Sanctions against Iran began under Carter and have received strong bipartisan support from every administration since, continuing under the Obama Administration.

30. Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to place even more sanctions on Iran, which harm innocent Iranian civilians, hoping to prevent Iran from developing nukes.  The fact that eight other countries already have nukes is usually ignored.

31. The Democratic and Republican parties both agree that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a top priority. Obama and Romney also both agree that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is a top US security priority.

32. At least 360 former Democratic and Republican congresspeople have left office and accepted jobs as lobbyists for corporations or special interest groups who then attempt to influence the same federal government they once worked for. As many as 5,400 congressional staffers have done the same in the past 10 years alone. Referred to as the  “revolving door,” members of both parties routinely move between influential private sector positions and policy-making positions in the executive or legislative branches.

33. Republicans and Democrats can agree that the economic stimulus package helped the economy. Romney has stated that he believes an economic stimulus package was necessary and many Republicans have spoke of the success of the Democratic economic stimulus package. Think Progress reports that over half of the opposing GOP — 110 members from the House and Senate — returned to their home states to either claim credit for popular stimulus programs or to tout its success.

34. The large scale domestic spying program currently underway by the NSA, AT&T, Verizon and others, named Stellar Wind, was approved by Bush and has been continued under the Obama Administration. There now exist massive domestic spy centers which are designed to collect every single communication made in the U.S., including e-mails, phone conversations, financial transactions, and internet activity. These have been conveniently ignored by the majority of both parties.
35. Both Republicans and Democrats stay relatively quiet about and generally support U.S. reliance on fiat moneyfractional reserve lending and our debt based monetary policy. Both platforms are void of any mention of monetary policy reform.

36. The Democratic and Republican parties largely support continuing the War on Terror in which Bush Administration policies have been continued and expanded by the Obama Administration. A poll found that 72 percent of those polled want troops home from Afghanistan now — not in 2014, and a Rasmussen Reports poll found that 59 percent of Americans polled want troops removed from Afghanistan either immediately or within a year.

37. Neither party has constitutionally declared war since World War II. This election cycle, both the Democratic and Republican parties have also chosen presidential candidates who believe that the president has the power to go to war without congressional approval. Like the Bush Administration’s unconstitutional war in Iraq, the Obama Administration is responsible for an unconstitutional war in Libya. A Romney Administration will consider sending more troops to Libya. Also like George H.W. BushClinton, and George W. Bush, The Obama Administration has sent troops to Somalia. As demonstrated in the third presidential debate, despite who wins the election, foreign policies will likely remain the same.

38. There was strong bipartisan support in the Senate and House for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, however congress never officially declared war.

39. Both parties believe that the U.S. should be intervening in Syria. The Obama Administration began arming the Free Syrian Army rebels, who are joined by Al-Qaeda factions, and Romney has stated that he supports and will continue arming the rebels in the proxy war with Iran and Russia.

40. The Bush Administration’s use of torture through extraordinary rendition, which is when prisoners are sent from CIA black sites to other countries where “information extraction” will be attempted, began after Clinton signed PDD 39 and has continued under the Obama Administration. By failing to speak out or attempting to change these practices, Republicans and Democrats both allow for “enhanced interrogation techniques” — such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, hypothermia and stress positions, among others–  to be used to extract information from suspects. The Obama Administration even granted final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers.

41. Both parties use gerrymandering to gain a political advantage through more favorable district boundaries.

42. Despite the increase in use of illicit drugs in the U.S.,  a rising drug war death toll in Mexico, and the highest public support for marijuana legalization ever, both parties generally avoid speaking about ending the War on Drugs or legalizing marijuana in lieu of a more effective approach. Since the beginning of prohibition in 1937, no administration has attempted to legalize marijuana.  Even though there is more scientific evidence than ever indicating the benefits of marijuana, every administration has kept marijuana regulated under Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act. A Schedule I classification places marijuana in a stricter regulatory category than cocaine, labels it as having no medicinal benefit, and prohibits doctors from prescribing it. Hemp production, which would provide many environmental and economic benefits, continues to remain outlawed and ignored as well.

43. Both parties rigged aspects of their 2012 conventions by using teleprompters with pre-loaded and predetermined vote outcomes, and then ignored overwhelming delegate dissent during voice votes.

44. Both parties generally ignore the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate per capital in the world with over half imprisoned for nonviolent drug use, and neither platform offers solutions to this problem.

45. It’s common for Republicans and Democrats to pander to various demographics, attempting to win them over.

46. The Bush Administration’s Guantanamo Bay has remained open under Obama and although he did sign an executive order calling for the closing, the Senate, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort, blocked the federal funding to ship the prisoners to Illinois. Obama then signed the federal fund-blocking bill into law when he could have vetoed. The Obama Administration has also imposed new arbitrary rules for the prisoners and Romney has said that he would like to see it double in size.

47. Both parties rely heavily on marketing operations that use brand logos, names, messaging and colors to “sell” their candidate.

48. Under the Bush Administration, not one Senate member voted against the bill that founded the Transportation Security Administration and the House displayed overwhelming support as well. Obama supports the TSA and Romney claims he will make a few improvements but the TSA will remain.

49. A bill designed to ensure that the internet remains open and minimally regulated received strong bipartisan support in the House. On the other hand, there has been bipartisan support for bills such as SOPA and PIPA, which critics such as Google, Wikipedia, and Facebook say would allow severe internet regulation, censorship and provide the president with an “internet kill switch.”

50. Both platforms agree that “clean coal” is an essential resource for U.S. energy requirements. Romney and Obama both advocate for the use of clean coal as a way of furthering America’s energy independence.

51. Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the 16 trillion national debt and are largely responsible for the 58 trillion in total U.S. debt.

52. Both parties have failed to propose a plan for the immediate balancing of the budget. Romney and Obama both propose federal budget plans that would add trillions to the national debt.

53. Neither party plans on cutting defense spending, which is currently larger than the combined defense spending of the next 13 countries.
54. According to Gallup, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have record low approval ratings of only 10 percent and according to another poll, 81 percent of those polled have trust in the government “only some of the time or never.”

55. Both the Democratic and Republican platforms mention God and both parties are theistic in nature.

56. There is strong bipartisan support for increased gun control measures. Both Romney and Obama are also supporters of increasing gun control.

57. Republicans and Democrats allow the U.S. to maintain military bases in over 120 countries. A Rasmussen Reports poll found that 51 percent of Americans polled want all troops withdrawn from Western Europe.

58. The Bush-Clinton NAFTA free trade agreement was passed in a bipartisan effort. Obama has not only failed to renegotiate NAFTA, but is now pushing for more NAFTA style deals. Romney has stated that he will be a champion of free trade.

59. The U.S. Cuba trade embargo has been largely bipartisan and neither a Republican nor Democratic administration is likely to lift the embargo.

60. There was strong bipartisan agreement that the NFL lockout should end.

61. Both the Republican and Democratic platform agree that the death penalty should remain in place, which Obama and Romney also support.
62. Although 62 percent of Americans polled said they want to get rid of electoral college in favor of a more direct approach to democracy, neither the Republican or Democratic Party present this as an option.

63. As Jon Stewart points out, the last eight presidents have gone on television and pledged to move America toward an energy-independent future. In 2012, both party platforms as well as both Romney and Obama pledge to bring America into a new era of energy independence.

64. Voter fraud paranoia is largely bipartisan. Voters belonging to both parties are paranoid that the opposing party may be involved in voter fraud.

65. Political campaign advertisements from both parties have long focused on attacking the other candidate in often misleading ways. Gary Johnson takes a different approach to campaign ads, deciding to not mention his opponent by name.

66. Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allows corporations and special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money, in secret, on political campaigning.

67. Yet both the Republican and Democratic parties continue to heavily rely on the same super PAC funded campaign strategies permitted by the Citizens United ruling.

68. Both Democratic and Republican parties are exploiting loopholes that allow members of Congress and presidential candidates to assist super PACs in their fundraising efforts.

69. Among those polled, there is strong bipartisan support for Obama’s Keystone Pipeline project, and the bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support. Romney has indicated that he supports this project as well.

70. The Democratic and Republican parties refuse to ban contributions from corporations and interest groups, whereas the Green Party runs on a platform of refusing to accept corporate donations.

71. The two-party system continues to operate largely due to laws and regulations created by the two parties, which severely limit and regulate the ability of third party candidates to gain traction and ballot access.

72. There has been bipartisan congressional support of filibuster reform.

73. Neither the Democratic or Republican Party are willing to address the 130,000  plus Iraqi and Afghan civilian deaths that have happened as a result of the bipartisan Global War on Terror.

74. Republicans and Democrats are both responsible for the gutting of the welfare system.

75. Presidential signing statements have been a significant source of controversy, but have been employed heavily by every administration since Reagan.

76. Line item vetoes have been supported by presidents and candidats of both parties: Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney. Bills designed to allow line item vetoes have also received bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

77. Both Republicans and Democrats are concerned about the public’s knowledge of their use of drones and the use of cyber weapons against Iran.

78. In the 2012 presidential race, both the Democratic and Republican campaigns have decided to not spend taxpayer money on their campaigns.

79. Both parties act as if the other party is the worst thing that has ever happened to America.

80. A new farm bill, which will finance dozens of price support and crop insurance programs for farmers and food assistance for low-income families, received strong bipartisan support in the Senate.

81. Among those polled, there is strong bipartisan agreement that conservatism is patriotic.

82. Federal term limits, which many say would be a huge step towards ending corruption in Washington, have been repeatedly rejected through bipartisan votes. In a poll conducted by, 51 percent of those polled said they would support a one-term limit for members of the House and Senate.

83. Both parties largely believe that the government has the power and right to take private property for public use, and sometimes private use, through eminent domain laws.

84. Both parties are responsible for continually growing the size of the federal government.

85. Multimillion dollar no-bid contracts are awarded to companies by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

86. Instead of encouraging an open press, Republicans and Democrats demonize the leak publishing organization known as WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange, who are responsible for leaking information that has reportedly damaged U.S reputation. The U.S. military recently classified WikiLeaks as an enemy of the state, the same legal category that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are placed in.

87. Medicaid and Social Security were initially passed with strong support from both parties.

88. Republicans and Democrats often claim that their administrations are transparent, but there is plenty of evidence indicating otherwise.
89. The Bush Administration invoked a state of national emergency following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the Obama Administration extended the state of emergency, which allows for revocation of the right to habeas corpus.

90. Since the 1992 presidential debates — which was the only year to include a Democratic, Republican and a third party candidate — the Republican and Democratic candidates have refused to participate in presidential debates that include third parties. Obama and Romney campaigns both received invitations to the Free and Equal debates as well as the IVN online debate, but neither candidate responded.

91. Both parties are reportedly routinely involved in voter fraud.

92. The United States Intelligence Community, which consists of at least sixteen various agencies, has grown out of control and has been left largely unchecked by either party, with some reports indicating that no one knows how much money is spent.

93. Both the Democratic and Republican parties routinely pander to the middle class as they blame their opponents for hurting the middle class, and both platforms advocate for middle class tax cuts. However, multiple studies have demonstrated that the United States has more income inequality than most other developed nations, with the poverty rate at 15 percent and the middle class suffering from almost a 40 percent wealth loss between 2007 and 2010. The top one percent, which most of our lawmakers belong to, has seen increased earnings up to 275 percent in the past 35 years with the top one percent now controlling 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.

94. The Republican and Democratic parties and candidate fail to adequately address the issue of peak oil, which is when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction has been reached and the rate of production begins to decline.
95. Both parties refuse to accept responsibility for the credit downgrade and neither was successful at stopping the downgrade. When S&P decided to downgrade the United States from an AAA credit rating to an AA+ rating, they stated that the blame lies with Congress and policymakers from both parties, dating back to 2001 and the Bush Administration.

96. Thanks to our Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the United States is one of only two countries in the world that permits pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers. The pharmaceutical lobby is routinely the top lobbying industry, spending a total of $124,441,774 on lobbying in 2012 alone. Obama and Romney each received over one million dollars. In 2009, nearly three dozen former congressmen worked as lobbyists for a pharmaceutical or health product company.

97. Republicans and Democrats agree that the government needs more money.

98. This Gallup poll suggests that many Americans — 46 percent of those polled — believe that a third party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties are not doing an adequate job of representing the people.

99. There is bipartisan agreement that the Social Security payroll tax break should be allowed to expire, which would raise taxes on 163 million Americans regardless of who wins the election.

100. Presidential nominees for both parties are selected through a very complicated and expensive process which involves state caucuses and primaries that happen over the course of many months.

5 ways Obama is just like George W. Bush

On President Barack Obama’s second full day in the Oval Office in 2009, he signed important executive orders that signaled a clear break with the excesses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” Obama decreed that the Guantanamo Bay prison camp would be closed in a year and that the United States would no longer perpetrate torture. No longer would men, some of them innocent, languish without charges in what has been described as an American gulag by Amnesty International. No longer would men be subjected to brutal interrogation tactics that clearly amounted to torture, like water boarding.

The orders would “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism,” said Obama.

Fast-forward to today. Guantanamo remains open, warrantless wiretapping continues, and drone strikes have accelerated, leading to the deaths of innocent civilians and a burst in support for anti-American forces in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Instead of breaking with the Bush era, Obama has codified and permanently institutionalized the “war on terror” framework that has characterized American foreign policy since the September 11, 2001 attacks. And they have done all of this largely in secret, refusing to open up about how drone strikes are decided on. So while torture has been thrown out of the American playbook, other black marks remain. Obama has done everything but restore “core constitutional values” to how the U.S. conducts itself around the world.

Perhaps the most potent symbol of Obama’s willingness to institutionalize Bush-era frameworks for dealing with terrorism is his January 2013 appointment of John Brennan as new Central Intelligence Agency director. Brennan was a key supporter of many Bush-favored tactics used by the CIA, including torture and extraordinary rendition. When Obama first contemplated appointing Brennan in his first term to the post he’s been appointed to now, the outcry was swift and Brennan pulled out from consideration. Now, the reaction has been meek—a symbol of how Bush-era military and intelligence tactics have become normalized to the extent that nobody bats an eye when a man with a sordid record at the CIA is appointed to head up the entire agency.

Obama has kept the U.S. on a permanent war footing with no end in sight through a variety of methods. Here are five ways the Obama administration has institutionalized the never-ending war on terror.

1. Drones

The image of the gray, pilotless aircraft flying through the sky to eventually rain hellfire down will be indelibly tied to Obama. His administration has made drone strikes in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan the weapon of choice when it comes to dealing with suspected militants. You have to look at the numbers of drone strikes under the Bush and Obama administrations to truly appreciate how Obama has taken this Bush tool and increased its use exponentially.

The first drone strike in U.S. history occurred in 2002, when a CIA-operated drone fired on three men in Afghanistan. The drone strikes have since migrated over to battlefields away from U.S.-declared wars. In Pakistan, the Bush administration carried out a total of 52 strikes, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which closely tracks drone strikes. That led to the deaths of an estimated 438 people, including 182 civilians and 112 children. But the Obama administration has ordered at least 300 drone strikes in Pakistan—and Obama’s second term has yet to begun. Those strikes have killed about 2,152 people, including 290 civilians, of whom 64 were children.

The drone strikes also have a devastating impact beyond the deaths reported. As a New York University/Stanford University study on drone strikes stated, the constant buzzing of drones in the sky “terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”

Instead of looking forward to how this permanent drone war might end, the Obama administration has decided to institutionalize the process. In October 2012, the Washington Post revealed that the administration had undertaken a two-year long strategy to institutionalize what has become known as the “kill list,” or the list of suspected terrorists the Obama administration unilaterally decides to kill by drone strikes. The administration calls it the “disposition matrix,” which refers to the different plans the administration has to “dispose” of suspected militants. The Post described the “matrix” as part of “the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”

2. Warrantless Wiretapping

One of the enduring scandals of the George W. Bush years was that administration’s practice of wiretapping American citizens with no warrant in order to spy on suspected terrorists. TheNew York Times, which broke the story in 2005, reported that “months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.” The move raised concerns that the Bush administration was crossing constitutional limits on wiretapping Americans.

But the outcry from those concerned with civil liberties has largely been muted in the Obama era. In late December 2012, President Obama signed an extension of a law that allows the U.S. to “eavesdrop on communications and review email without following an open and public warrant process,” as NPR summed it up. The law was an extension of the 2008 law that legalized the Bush administration’s wiretapping of American citizens.

As national security blogger Marcy Wheeler notes in a recent piece for the Nation, the president’s signature on the new bill on wiretapping means that the U.S. “has nearly unrestrained authority to eavesdrop on those who communicate with people outside the country. The government doesn’t even need to show that these foreign targets are terrorists or that the conversations center around a plot. This means any international communication may be subject to wiretapping.”

3. Proxy Detentions

Under the Bush administration, the process of “extraordinary rendition” involved abducting people accused of terrorism and shipping them off to another country where they were interrogated and tortured. The Obama administration has continued to use foreign countries to detain and interrogate suspects, but the details of how they do it are changed from the Bush era. Still, the overall practice of using other security forces to do your dirty work remains in place.

The Washington Postreported on January 1 that “the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” While the Post used the term “rendition,” the more accurate term would be “proxy detention,” as Mother Jones pointed out.

The most recent iterations of the practice of using other countries to detain suspects the U.S. wants to interrogate have been in countries like Dijibouti and Nigeria. The Post reported on one December 2011 case in which an man from Eritrea “revealed that he had been questioned in a Ni­ger­ian jail by what a U.S. interrogator described as a ‘dirty’ team of American agents who ignored the suspect’s right to remain silent or have a lawyer, according to court proceedings.”

Other cases have been publicized by Mother Jones. The magazine reported on the case of Yonas Fikre, a Muslim-American from Oregon who was detained in the United Arab Emirates. There, Fikre and his lawyers claim, he was beaten and held in stress positions. He claims there was cooperation between the FBI and UAE security forces. So the FBI was using the UAE forces to detain people the U.S. wanted to interrogate.

4. Guantanamo

Although the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay camp is hardly the sole fault of President Obama, it does symbolize the abject failure to reject the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism. While it’s important to note that the Republican Party has blocked Obama’s desire to close Guantanamo, he has not expended political capital on closing the prison and has signed bills that restrict his ability to do so. The most recent bill concerning Guantanamo Bay crossed his desk at the beginning of the year.

Despite threatening to veto the bill because it restricted the executive branch’s authority, Obama signed it, and curtailed his own ability to move ahead on closing the infamous camp, where people have languished without charge for years on end. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, where the Guantanamo provisions are included, restricts “the transfer of detainees into the United States for any purpose, including trials in federal court. It also requires the defense secretary to meet rigorous conditions before any detainee can be returned to his own country or resettled in a third country,” according to theWashington Post.

Human rights activists blasted the move. “Indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo is illegal, unsustainable and against U.S. national security interests, and it needs to end,” Human Rights Watch’s Andrea Prasow told the Post. “The administration should not continue to just blame Congress. President Obama should follow through on his earlier commitments and make the effort to overcome the transfer restrictions.”

5. Indefinite Detention

This issue, over all the others, says loud and clear that the Obama administration is preparing for an endless war on terror. Domestically, indefinite detention reared its ugly head back in December 2011, when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, a defense funding bill. Included in the bill was a provision allowing for indefinite military detention without charge or trial. Despite concerns raised by civil liberties activists, Obama signed the bill into law, although an executive signing statement vowed that the president would “not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”

That has not allayed the concerns of civil liberties groups. The American Civil Liberties Union states: “The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president — and all future presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield….Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again.”

While no American citizens have been detained under the law yet, indefinite detention has been a hallmark of the war in Afghanistan. Thousands of detainees have remained in Bagram Air Field, including non-Afghan detainees. Picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, they have been held for years without charge or trial. “Since 2002, the U.S. government has detained indefinitely thousands of people there in harsh conditions and without charge, without access to lawyers, without access to courts, and without a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention,” the ACLU notes.

So as the Obama administration fills out its cabinet posts and prepares for another four years, the permanent war on terror will stay with us. From drones to proxy detentions to indefinite detention, the constitutional lawyer in the Oval Office has institutionalized and expanded some of the worst hallmarks of the lawless Bush era.Alex Kane is a staff reporter at Mondoweiss and the World editor at AlterNet. His work has also appeared in The Daily Beast, the Electronic Intifada, Extra! and Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

Barack Obama and the New Plantation

The ‘masters’ of this present-day New Plantation are the corporate elite and their minions; the field slaves are the ordinary people.The insidious role of many so-called ‘mulattos’ on slave plantations in the U.S., Haiti, and elsewhere was to contain, control, and neutralize the field slaves for the benefit of the plantation administrators and ‘masters.’ They were more articulate, and better fed and clothed than the plantation field slaves. Their loyalty was to the plantation masters, not the slaves.

Today however, there is a New Plantation, and everyday ordinary Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow people, in varying degrees, are all on this 21st century plantation. The ‘masters’ and plantation administrators of this present-day New Plantation are the avaricious corporate elite and their unprincipled minions, and the field slaves are the ordinary people of all colors.

This is the fiendish genius on the part of the U.S. corporate masters having selected Barack Obama to head the U.S. Empire, which is a role that he demonstratively savors and has carried out against ordinary people in this nation (and around the world) with an insidiously devastating effectiveness.

In less than four years the articulate Barack Obama has, in the name of “hope,” “change,” and progress, 1) destroyed the single-payer universal health care option, 2) in contravention of U.S. and international law - launched many thousands of murderous predator-drone missiles against the people of the sovereign nations of Libya (North Africa), Somalia (East Africa), Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, 3) taken political subterfuge and non-transparency in government to new lows, 4) signed into law the draconian NDAA indefinite-detention provision, and 5) assumed unconstitutional and dictatorial powers with his own bloody ‘Kill List’ etc.
Barack Obama has ushered into being a New Plantation in the U.S.

Indeed, Barack Obama has ushered into being a New Plantation in the U.S. - complete with his own network of non-critically thinking “sheeple,” who excuse his every act of murder abroad, destruction of civil liberties inside the U.S., and his de facto collaboration with corporate hegemony and economic austerity against the everyday people of this nation and world. This 21st century New Plantation in ‘America’ represents a terrible mockery of the historical and contemporary struggle and numerous sacrifices that so many ordinary people of all colors have made.

Barack Obama’s (U.S. corporate/military) New Plantation has psychologically and economically neutralized and re-enslaved an overwhelming amount of people in this nation, including a large portion of Black America.We everyday people of all colors are slaves on this New Plantation, and will remain so, unless and until we recognize our own enslavement and act to free ourselves and each other. In the words of Harriet Tubman: “I freed a thousand slaves - I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

Third Party debates: Ending the foreign policy monologue

Many watching US President Barack Obama debate Republican nominee Mitt Romney on foreign policy issues were taken aback (or some even pleased, I suppose) - each candidate functioned as an echo chamber for the other.

The encounter may very well go down in history as the "me too debate."  If a viewer had little, or indeed any, knowledge of American foreign policy, then he or she probably would have come to the conclusion that the country's relationship with the world was just fine and "American exceptionalism" stands on a solid moral foundation.

Both candidates appeared satisfied with their performance too – both could claim to be the winner in the debate. The fact is both candidates lost, the American people lost and the world continues to be threatened by America's unbridled power, from drones to starting wars of choice. But it doesn't have to be this way. This is why America's voters should tune-in to the Third Party debate which will be televised by RT America in Washington on November 5.

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson will face-off Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Neither are experts in foreign policy, but this does not matter. What does matter is the refreshing fact that Johnson and Stein can speak openly without the fear of what special vested interests and lobbies demand for support and money. Expect to hear what some Americans say amongst themselves, but hardly ever hear or read in mainstream media. Many voters are tired of war, bloated government budgets, expensive (and essentially useless) nation-building in foreign countries (after these same countries are destroyed by the Pentagon and other actors never held to account).

The Gary Johnson and Jill Stein debate is an important public service in a country that claims to be the beacon of free speech and political pluralism. Mainstream media long ago failed the American people – not to speak of the countless millions around the world who have fallen victim to a foreign policy that is rarely seriously debated in the US. This Third Party debate is a small step toward reclaiming a more open and democratic conversation about foreign policy among Americans.

The following is a short list of issues I believe need to be debated by voters and candidates of all parties:

* Presidential war powers
* The legality of using drones
* Foreign military aid to tyrants and dictatorships around the world
* Radically re-casting or completely shutting down the "war on drugs"
* Ending uncritical support of Israel and its illegal colonization of Palestinian lands
* Honestly engaging Iran through diplomacy
* Significantly scaling back or completely dismantling NATO
* Turning to the United Nations to resolve conflicts, not start them
* Stopping the export of "democracy" through the use of force
* Treating Russia as an equal partner to resolve conflicts

There is nothing particularly radical or even original about calling for debate on these issues. They are discussed all the time by scholars, activists, and foreign policy experts. Sadly, they are purposefully denied a place in mainstream politics and media. It is time to take back the foreign policy debate. Those who control it today do not have the interests of the voters (or the world) in mind.


Hacking Voting Machines: Easier Than Ever Imagined

Millions of Americans are already waiting for hours outside of polling places to vote for the next president of the United States. All of that might not matter though, as some security pros say the entire election can be rigged all too easily. In one example, it wouldn’t take much more than ten dollars’ worth of parts from any RadioShack store to steal and manipulate votes. It’s called a man-in-the-middle attack and the computer program that logs the results on electronic voting machines isn’t even compromised.

“It’s a classic attack on security devices,” Roger Johnston tells Popular Science. “You implant a microprocessor or some other electronic device into the voting machine, and that lets you control the voting and turn cheating on and off. We’re basically interfering with transmitting the voter’s intent.”

According to the magazine, anyone from a high-school student to an octogenarian could corrupt the voting process. Johnston is the head of the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory and has done it himself, even on camera. It wouldn’t be hard for others, he says, and some fear that that could easily be the case on Election Day. And with many prediction polls estimating a close contest between President Barack Obama and Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney this year, it wouldn’t take much to render the entire contest corrupted.

On the website for Argonne, Johnston says Americans believe too often that election officials assume — incorrectly — that it takes a computer genius capable of a nation-state cyberassault or a frazzled, Hollywood-designed hacker to turn an electronic voting machine on its head. And while that route is once that can be taken too, it isn’t the only way to ruin an election. Insider threats from election officials or anyone with access to a voting machine could easily alter contests, and monitors aren’t necessarily on the look-out for that kind of unauthorized access.

“And a lot of our election judges are little old ladies who are retired, and God bless them, they’re what makes the elections work, but they’re not necessarily a fabulous workforce for detecting subtle security attacks,”

Johnston tells Popular Science. In the example of hijacking the computer transmission with a few bucks’ worth of electronics, it wouldn’t require much more than walking into a polling place and entering a booth with the right knowhow and intent, and most machines can be access without even requiring a two-dollar lockpick and a tiny tension bar.

“No one signs for the machines when they show up. No one’s responsible for watching them. Seals on them aren’t much different from the anti-tamper packaging found on food and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Think about tampering with a food or drug product: You think that’s challenging?” he asks.

Johnston has recorded himself demonstrating how a logic analyzer, an Allen wrench and a screwdriver is all it takes to change votes to register for one candidate instead of another by using a man-in-the-middle attack. Although it hasn’t been verified yet, a video posted to YouTube early on November 6 from an account registered to “Centralpavote” shows what is reported to be a similar machine showing signs typical of exactly that kind of abuse —not in a test setting, though, but only hours before the polls close for real [VIDEO].

This Election Day, the touchscreen Diebold Accuvote-TSX will be used by more than 26 million voters in 20 states, while the push-button Sequoia AVC machine will be deployed to four states for use by almost 9 million voters. Johnston says purchasing a $10 logic analyzer from RadioShack is easily enough to snoop and see who any voter intends on electing, and from there those digital transmissions can be hijacked and told to mean something else. For experts, though, there are even other ways to wreak havoc on the polls.

Johnston says the machines don’t transmit data with encryption, so anyone with a basic understanding of digital communications can figure out how a user votes if they’ve accessed the machine with one of those logic analyzers. Sequoia — the company responsible for making a good share of America’s electronic voting machines — do encrypt the results of each vote, though. Well, kind of.

Andrew W. Appel of Princeton, NY bought a few used AVC Advantage voting machine made by Sequoia off an online auction site for only $82 just a couple of years ago. Once they arrived, he accessed the machine’s innards and says it was easy to start to see how things worked.

“I was surprised at how simple it was for me to access the ROM memory chips containing the firmware that controls the vote-counting,” Appel writes on his personal website. Despite claims from Sequoia that the machine wasn’t easily hackable, Appel says, “The AVC Advantage can be easily manipulated to throw an election because the chips which control the vote-counting are not soldered on to the circuit board of the DRE. This means the vote-counting firmware can be removed and replace with fraudulent firmware.”

In another study carried out at The University of Iowa in 2003, Douglas W Jones from the school’s Department of Computer Science found that any voting machine purchased second-hand — like even those Diebold machines deployed across a good chunk of America — can also be hacked with ease.

“It appeared that the security keys for the encryption used by the I-mark software were hard-coded into the voting application,” he found when examining a Diebold Accuvote TS. “As things stood, their system relied on security through obscurity, so they must take measures to assure that their code remains obscure and that no copy of their code ever leaks out into public. I told them that the moment one of their machines goes to the landfill or is otherwise disposed of, someone might extract their encryption key and all of their security claims would become meaningless.”

According to Jones, even claims made by voting machine companies that their devices are secure are just that — mere accusations hard for the layperson to verify without first learning a few things about electronics, encryption or just how to disassemble the front panel from an electronic voting machine. Viruses can also be sent to machines, malwares can corrupt code and nothing sure by pristine, 100 percent out-of-the-box sterility can assure voters that they aren’t casting ballots on a tampered machine.

“We've all used ATMs, and most everyone (except my quasi-Luddite self) has something such as an iPod. Now, have you ever, anytime, anywhere, had one of these electronic devices switch data input on you?” asks Selwyn Duke of American Thinking in a recent article. “So how is it that in our high-tech universe of flawlessly functioning electronic gadgets, voting machines are the only ones prone to human-like ‘error’? If there's an explanation other than human meddling, again, I'd truly like to hear it.”

Given the post-election discussion on fraud, intimidation, chads and corrupted computerized tally machines that have come with seemingly every political contest in recent years, explanations — valid or not — are expected to be rampant following this week’s vote. If history is any indication, though, don’t expect these things to work themselves out before 2016.


Voting machine password hacks as easy as 'abcde', details Virginia state report

avs winvote

Touchscreen voting machines used in numerous elections between 2002 and 2014 used “abcde” and “admin” as passwords and could easily have been hacked from the parking lot outside the polling place, according to a state report. The AVS WinVote machines, used in three presidential elections in Virginia, “would get an F-minus” in security, according to a computer scientist at tech research group SRI International who had pushed for a formal inquiry by the state of Virginia for close to a decade.

In a damning study published Tuesday, the Virginia Information Technology Agency and outside contractor Pro V&V found numerous flaws in the system, which had also been used in Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Jeremy Epstein, of the Menlo Park, California, nonprofit SRI International, served on a Virginia state legislative commission investigating the voting machines in 2008. He has been trying to get them decertified ever since. Anyone within a half mile could have modified every vote, undetected, Epstein said in a blog post. “I got to question a guy by the name of Brit Williams, who’d certified them, and I said, ‘How did you do a penetration test?’” Epstein told the Guardian, “and he said, ‘I don’t know how to do something like that’.”

Reached by phone, Williams, who has since retired, said he did not recall the incident and referred the Guardian to former colleagues at Kennesaw State University who have taken over the certification duties he used to perform for Virginia and other states. “You could have broken into one of these with a very small amount of technical assistance,” Epstein said. “I could teach you how to do it over the phone. It might require an administrator password, but that’s okay, the password is ‘admin’.” Bypassing the encrypted WEP wireless system also proved easy. The password turned out to be “ABCDE”, according to the state’s security assessment – and getting the password “would take a few minutes and after that you don’t need any tools at all”, said Epstein.

The commission that stripped the machines of certification also found that the version of Windows operating on each of them had not been updated since at least 2004, that it was possible to “create and execute malicious code” on the WINVote and that “the level of sophistication to execute such an attack is low”. The WINVote machine, manufactured by Advanced Voting Solutions, a now-defunct Texas company, has been under siege by Epstein and others for years; the units have been used in at least two dozen elections across the state. Mississippi and Pennsylvania stopped using them several years ago. Epstein said it is likely no one will ever know whether or not they were tampered with.

“There are no logs kept in the systems,” Epstein said. “I’ve examined them.” In order to determine anything about the machines’ histories, in fact, a very high level of technical sophistication would be required, on a level with the FBI looking at images of deleted files on a suspect’s hard drive. “Bottom line is that if no Virginia elections were ever hacked (and we have no way of knowing if it happened), it’s because no one with even a modicum of skill tried,” Epstein wrote on his blog.


Voting either Democrat or Republican is waste of vote – Scott Olsen

Both the main US parties are working for the same system and taking money from the same people, so choosing between them makes no sense, war vet and Occupy Wall Street icon Scott Olsen told RT. He added that now OWS is changing its strategies it may not be quite as visible, but he believes the future will be a successful one for Occupy.

RT: You are one of dozens of war veterans who have returned their medals to NATO generals here in Chicago, throwing the medals into the direction where NATO leaders were meeting. What is the reason for this? Do you feel betrayed?

Scott Olsen: I really do. And betrayal is the biggest fact here I think. We have all joined the military for our own reasons. But we joined to help other people, to be part of something bigger than ourselves and to defend our country. And when we went over to Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever our service was, we saw that it just was not true and we are destroying people’s lives. We are not doing good work in Iraq or Afghanistan and that’s why I don’t want these medals. Because they represent something that is not important to me, it is meaningless to me. I am not proud of being part of the system that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. That is not something to be proud of and that is not something to get an award for.

RT: Your injuries at Occupy Oakland clashes with police got people talking about the fact that veterans sometimes really do get injured at home after being injured abroad. Do you think that’s the case?

SO: I don’t think there are more veterans getting hurt here. But there are a lot of veterans getting hurt by the system, in a sense that they come back to a broken system, a system that they feel disconnected from. And that is why we have eighteen veterans a day committing suicide, that’s why we have so many homeless veterans. It is the system hurting veterans.

RT: Why do you think it is that when billions of dollars are being spent on US warfare, as we speak, we are seeing a staggering number of homeless and jobless veterans here in the United States?

SO: Because people are making money out of these wars. They are getting money from our government to buy their toys, to buy their equipment and to fund these wars. That’s how they make their riches. There is always money for war but we never have money for schools.

RT: Do you think the authorities, who recruit soldiers such as yourself to do their bidding for them abroad, are essentially lying to get people to join the military about the reasons behind the wars the US is involved with?

SO: For military recruiters they at least mislead people. They may not lie to you, but they will mislead you, not give you the whole story. That’s why it is so important if you think of joining the military to talk to as many veterans as you can find and get as many points of view as you can.

RT: What do you think the majority of those veterans will say?

SO: I think the majority would recommend against joining. It is a life-changing thing and I wouldn’t take my joining back because it made me who I am, but I would not recommend anyone else to make this mistake.

RT: It is going to be a year in September since the Occupy Wall Street movement kick-started. What stage is the movement at now? What should we be expecting next?

SO: It is not as big now as it should be. It could always be bigger and louder. We are changing to other strategies that may not be quite as visible, working on creating worker-managed businesses that are really going to take the money away from money-borrowing to the corporate system. That is going to be really successful for the future of Occupy.

RT: Some critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement are trying to undermine the substance of what it is all about by saying that it is almost a year on and no unified strong single message. What do you say to those people?

SO: Any time there is a large number of people demanding change and someone feels threatened they are going to attack in any way and every way. We do have a message. Everybody who comes here has their own message. But it is very common, we are working and we are not getting what we really deserve. We are working our asses off. We work more than most other countries in the world. And our salaries have not grown in years, our corporations are making billions every day and our retirement pensions are being cut, our schools are being cut.

RT: One of the things the Occupy Wall Street movement is demanding is the accountability for bankers and CEOs on Wall Street. Do you think it is naïve to expect this several years after the economic crisis? Why still demand this?

SO: I don’t really know if we are going to get the real changes we are looking for just by asking. It has to be forced change. Banks will always find a way to screw us over. They will always find a way to maximize their profits and they maximize their profits without actually doing any work. So by taking that money they take it from somebody else.

RT: Presidential elections in the US are just around the corner and four years after Barack Obama was elected critics are now saying that there is no difference between Democrats or Republicans as they are two sides of the same coin. Are you expecting any kind of change to take place after the elections regardless of which of the parties wins?

SO: Not particularly. Most likely people are either going to vote for Democrats or Republicans and I think both those are wrong choices. They are both working for the same system, they are both taking money from the same people, from the same banks and you can see in their policy that they are rewarding their donors. Voting for the continuing of this policy is not going to change anything at all.

RT: So considering both Democrats and Republicans essentially bring the same thing to the table, what is the alternative? What could be the other option for the United States?

SO: That’s a good question. You can vote for the third party that may not win. You may count voting for the third party as a waste of vote, but I think voting for a Democrat or a Republican is a waste of vote. You are shooting yourself in the foot if you are voting for either of those.

RT: When the Occupy Wall Street movement first started, the mainstream media were trying hard to undermine the protesters. They were saying that it is a bunch of dirty hippies and later trying to say they have no message. There was constant criticism and they could not take the movement seriously. Almost a year on since it has started how do you assess the way the mainstream media has been covering what the movement is all about?

SO: They have covered it more than I was expecting them to. I didn’t expect much of them. And that’s why we come out here and we build our own media that we need. We build websites and do web live stream events for everybody to know and to find out what they are missing out. But it is a shame that the everyday American is not going to see those things. The American who turns on the six o’clock news, they don’t hear about these things, just like they don’t hear about the wars we are still in. Most Americans probably do not really know that we are at war. They aren’t affected by these things.


7 Ways Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same

Cats vs. dogs. Coke vs. Pepsi. Democrats vs. Republicans. These are the great divisions of life. But what if one of those rivalries isn’t actually much of a division at all? Don’t worry, I’m not trying to reignite the cola wars of the 90s. (Besides, we all know Coke is the clear winner: Do you order a Jack and Pepsi?) No, I’m talking about Democrats and Republicans—or rather, the out-of-date and out-of-step establishments of both parties. For libertarians, saying both parties are the same is a common theme. Democrat and Republican partisans dismiss such critiques as cynical or unserious, but there’s a real case to be made if we look at the cold, hard facts.

Here are 7 big reasons there’s no difference between establishment Democrats and Republicans:

1. Both support endless war. It’s been more than a decade since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and America’s entanglements are far from over. Though Bush is remembered as the consummate hawk, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has used his time in office to start or maintain additional wars in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Now, he wants to add Syria to the list. My generation can barely remember peace—and there’s no end in sight for a foreign policy with devastating human and financial costs.

2. Both engage in out-of-control spending. Yes, deficit spending has accelerated under Barack Obama. But you know what? There was also a massive acceleration under Bush. The fact is, debt is a bipartisan problem, and neither party is innocent. With $17 trillion of debt (and rapidly counting) as the consequence of decades of bipartisan irresponsibility, the time has passed for pointing fingers and dubbing a slightly slower rate of spending growth a “historic cut.”

3. Both ignore our most basic rights. CNN recently asked “When can a government kill its own people?” but for President Obama and some old guard GOP leaders like Sen. John McCain, that question has already been answered: Pretty much whenever it’s convenient. In fact, the U.S. government has already assassinated a 16-year-old American citizen by drone strike, killing a boy who was neither accused nor suspected of any crime.
4. Both have no respect for the rule of law. Obama swept into office promising a new attention to the rule of law after years of (correct) complaints that Bush often ignored it. “I take the Constitution very seriously,” he maintained to a nation weary for lawfulness. Bush and his GOP Congress were rightly critiqued for rampantly flouting the Constitution, especially the 4th and 5th Amendments (rights to privacy and a fair trial). But as Gitmo remains open, the NDAA makes indefinite detention a possibility for any American, and the list of NSA abuses reaches absurd proportions, Obama’s campaign promise is overdue for a death certificate.

5. Both are bought and paid for by big business. You know what’s the best original idea in politics today? Making politicians wear suits like NASCAR drivers, which display their biggest corporate sponsors. Democrats and Republicans alike would be plastered with logos. So is it any wonder that many of these same businesses get massive favors from the government at taxpayers’ expense? DC spends upwards of $100 billion on corporate welfare annually, not to mention huge one-off expenditures like the bailouts.

6. Both care most about their own power. President Obama recently joked, “That’s the good thing about being president, I can do whatever I want.” And while he was just kidding around, his humor was in line with the bipartisan presidential mindset. In the recent State of the Union address, the President announced his intention to continue expanding the power of the Executive at Congress’ expense. Republicans were duly upset at this power grab, but historically GOP Presidents have actually averaged slightly more executive orders than Democrats have.

7. Both have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty. Finally, take a look at the big picture:

Our government is reading our emails and monitoring our calls. It gropes us at the airport, wants to keep track of our cars, and plans to subject us to random security sweeps at concerts and train stations. We can’t decide for ourselves what to consume, whether to buy insurance, or who to marry. All our income until mid-April goes directly to the government. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and minorities are subject to unfair, disproportionate punishment. Is this really the land of the free? In 2014, it’s very difficult to answer that question in the affirmative. But it’s easy to see that partisanship isn’t the answer—and neither is bipartisan big government. As America moves toward a new, liberty-friendly policy consensus, let’s toss this outdated left vs. right rivalry and focus on the real fight: Washington vs. us.


Both Republicans and Democrats have forsaken our country and left it a shell of its former self

Taxes are too high. Taxes are too low. Healthcare is too expensive. Healthcare is too poor. Drugs should be legal. Drugs should be illegal. Pro-choice, pro-life, you can probably see where this is going. There are a lot of questions that citizens have about society and its laws and an equal amount of opinions, and the government seeks to answer them all. There must be something wrong with the system though, for every decision made seems to have an equal share of praise and loathe.

Every so often the power shifts in Washington and the agenda of those in power is pursued vigorously for a few years. As soon as the people are fed up with that scheme another one is voted in to office. Inevitably this "new" party of hope and change doesn’t amount to much either and again, the people will re-elect the notions of the first party. We play a game of political chess where those who have their temporary power put as much of their ideals into affect as possible, until the next comes in and changes it. On and on we go without ever truly going anywhere.

Republicans and Democrats swear up and down that they completely oppose each other, based on principle, on creed, on anything they can disagree on. They claim to be the antithesis of the other, but neither of the parties really separates itself in policy. We’ve become so accustomed to having these as the only power brokers in Washington; we don’t consider that these parties are really just two subsets of the same party, two sides of the same coin, the Federalists.

When viewing the small picture we lose sight that although the parties disagree on how to implement big government they absolutely believe in an enormous, all-powerful government and only disagree on how it should be implemented. The question is never raised of why the income tax still exists; only how much it should be. Neither asks why we’ve maintained a war on drugs for decades, which has only led to greater drug problems and interventionism in other nations. They only argue about which substances should be legal or not. Remember that alcohol was legal until prohibition, then illegal for a time, then legalized again. Again, the federal government only asks which drugs should be legal, not if they should be making those decisions at all.

Now this ideal of an all-powerful federal government may not apply to true Republicans, as that party would denounce such efforts to expand federal control, but the platform of the current "Republican" party as it has been for several decades and as we know it today, is very much attached to the idea of expansive control and as such they belong to the same Federalist party.

The federal government attempts to make its business as many decisions as possible. Why? Quite simply it doesn’t believe that the decisions it makes should be made by citizens, the very people who are most affected by them. This should strike people as a gross injustice and a hypocritical gesture. The very organization which is the pinnacle of inefficiency and poor decision-making is making your personal decisions.

The Republicans and Democrats both preach that the government is the sole entity in place to run an effective market, to implement changes for "the common good", to make the tough decisions. This strikes me as being counter-intuitive. Anyone who’s ever been employed by local, state, or federal government knows the inefficiency and bureaucracy of it. The red tape, the legal jargon, the blanket regulations and poor decision-making process. In fact, I would argue that citizens are the only entity that should make those tough decisions. It is the citizens who are most affected by policy; therefore, shouldn’t they have a more concerned interest to make the best decisions possible for themselves?

There is a reason why so many government tasks are outsourced to the private sector, because government simply doesn’t handle business very well. This is not to say that there aren’t intelligent people in those positions, merely that the government is bogged down in regulation which prevents it from implementing policy in a timely and effective manner. Generally speaking, the federal government has stepped out of its lane and cannot quickly or easily recover from costly mistakes. Again, I bring up the point of inefficiency and bureaucracy.

In order to further this point I will provide a short list of some of the policies and departments put into affect that have had far reaching negative consequences for the tax payer and individual liberty. Keep in mind that a policy is much harder to repeal than it is to implement. Those placed in power tend to stay in power; the same is true for policy no matter how bad it may be. Here are a few:

The Federal Reserve, the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the income tax, social security, gun control, the Patriot Act, welfare, and the war on drugs. These are but a few examples. I will not burden the reader with an overwhelming account of all poor policies in the U.S.

All of these programs were intended to be for "the common good" and that seems to be a recurring theme in the U.S. They have all strayed very far from their original intentions though. Not because of you or me, because those "watchdogs" we put in charge of monitoring them have allowed them to become an enormous presence and burden on taxpayers. Regardless of their intentions they have become overbearing and unsustainable.

Some will cry out that these programs and policies aren’t bad, that they are pleasant or even needed. Some will shrug their shoulders and continue not caring, but some will have a lingering suspicion that maybe something is wrong. I will tell you that there absolutely is something wrong. How can it be possible that a politician in Washington knows what is best for a farmer in Idaho, a mechanic in Michigan, a stay-at-home Mom in Tennessee, or even another politician in Washington?

Blanket policies rarely have the desired effect or support of the public. This is because America is not simply one big nation that shares all the same beliefs. We know that there are regions in America with differing values, beliefs, cultures, and ideals. The Northeast and the Southeast, the Midwest and the Southwest, the West Coast and rural America, all these regions share a unifying theme (America), but vary greatly in beliefs.

The U.S. is one of the largest countries in the world in terms of sheer land mass and population. America covers more area than the entire continent of Europe. Anyone with a passing familiarity of Europe knows that each country is unique, with its own ideals and code of ethics, values and beliefs. This is because of segmentation. Like-minded people tend to stay together, thus allowing for differences in beliefs, attitudes, and cultures. This is one of the facts that made America so great. There are so many cultures and regions, yet all live under one national roof. This doesn’t dictate that all will agree on everything, and that’s fine, we don’t have to agree on everything as long as we co-exist peacefully.

So how can we maintain a unified America and still live in a land of differing beliefs? I’ve devised a simple, implementable plan that would give voice to all, that would allow one to maintain his or her beliefs without encroaching on the beliefs of another, a plan that would breed economic prosperity while promoting individual liberties and freedom. Sounds too good to be true, I know, but I assure you it is very simple. Even better, it only takes two words to describe and one of them is "the". The other is "constitution", put them together and you have "The Constitution".

Whoa, calm down, I know that’s a completely radical idea that would never work in today’s age, in fact it’s almost blasphemous. The Federalists would have nothing to do with it. It’s clearly a broken system and was intended for a time long before ours. You see, we’re enlightened now and know that silly notions like individual responsibility, hard work, and choice are a thing of the past. Let’s not harbor ideas that clearly are outdated, instead let’s continue to promote the ideals of ultimate government control, for they are the only capable means of living your life.

Again, the few of you who were skeptical earlier are even more skeptical now. You’re right to be. As we’ve clearly seen, the path that we have allowed our government to dictate to us for the past hundred years has all led to a socialist nation incapable of protecting liberty and freedom, the very essence of America. We have suffered countless atrocities to our freedoms in the name of "national security". We have become a nation of beggars looking for handouts, and have become dependent on the Federalists to make all our tough decisions. Decisions once held in contemplation by ordinary citizens are no longer discussed at even the state level.

The Constitution is very clear in its definitions of federal power. It grants the federal government very little unifying power and gives control almost entirely to individual states. There’s that idea again, you know the one about regions and differing beliefs. The founders knew that there would be different beliefs and ideals in many regions, we call them states. The decision was made to give power to the states for the express purpose of preventing the federal government from encroaching on cultural (state) beliefs. Article 10 of the Constitution declares;

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

For those unfamiliar with the language and grammar of the day, this simply means that power not given (delegated) to the federal government, and not prohibited by the Constitution, is given to the state to decide. Remember, the purpose of the Constitution is not to deny freedom to citizens; it is to deny power to the government. Think about that, the individuals who founded America purposely limited the role of government in order to allow the people to govern themselves at a local level.

Under this light, individuals have infinite rights, and the federal government is very limited in its rights. In fact the sole responsibility of the federal government, according to this doctrine that we pretend to respect, is to protect our freedoms, not impose their will upon us.

What this means for states is that they have the right to declare their own laws, independent of the federal government. States can choose on their own merit whether or not citizens may or may not do this or that, so long as the state doesn’t violate any rights set forth in the Constitution.

We have obviously strayed very far from this mentality. Why? Is it more convenient to allow the government to encroach upon our liberties in exchange for making those tough decisions? Are all the taxes, legislation, and regulations worth losing our freedoms over in order to avoid the headache of maintaining a working republic? Some would say yes, again the Federalists have spoken. Allow the federal government to make all the tough decisions that we as citizens don’t want to think about, and in exchange all we have to do is give up endless amounts of money and freedom.

I reject this notion. Giving power back to the states, which they rightfully possess, would allow groups of citizens (states, regions) to live and enjoy life as they see fit, so long as they do not violate another’s rights in the process. This may sound like some sort of utopian society, but we followed that creed for far longer than we have lived with our current iron-fist society. Of course these Federalist detractors would denounce that and declare that people are either too lazy, too stupid, or incapable or leading their lives in a respectable manner. You’ll never hear it proclaimed in that manner, we just have to look at their actions in order to understand it.

The federal government very rarely gives up the power that it has gained; more often than not it tries to amplify its power to become the supreme ruler. Again we must look at the Constitution; it very clearly and plainly gives most powers to the individual states.

The founders knew first-hand, the pains of government oppression and restricted liberties, more than any of us can claim today. We mustn’t deceive ourselves with the idea that they lived in a simple age, without understanding of social progressivism. They absolutely understood it completely and utterly. A simple understanding of the pre-revolutionary period and the revolution itself will clearly illustrate this, but that is for another article.

Following the Constitution is inconvenient at times, it can be a burden and it was always acknowledged that it would be. The founders knew that we as citizens would have to be informed and involved if we were to truly govern ourselves. They knew that the premises would require constant vigilance to uphold. They knew that despite the struggles of maintaining the freedoms outlined in the Constitution, there was no substitute for self-governance, that ultimate freedom can only be sustained by strict adherence to it. No matter how small a violation it may seem, any unconstitutional act is a harbinger of corruption and restriction, even when these acts are for "the common good". They also knew that the ultimate threat to this doctrine would be from within, that it would be the citizens’ lack of interest and complacency that would destroy it, and destroyed it we have.

Merely uttering the words of the Constitution elicits grumbling responses, yet this is not because of its policies, it is because it has become misunderstood and regarded as inapplicable to this time. A little research and reflection would result in most citizens proclaiming it to be the greatest written work, that it is the only logical and sustainable source of freedom. So how did we get to where we are now? We have allowed our self-governing ways to be hijacked by a small group who believe they know what is best for you and me. They convinced us that their intentions were only for "the common good", that these violations were only temporary and in the name of "national security", that America would crumble if the program they were preaching wasn’t implemented. The usurpations of our freedoms and liberties continue with no sign of slowing.

However, it is not too late. Fortunately, the Constitution has been designed in such a manner that it is much easier to begin adhering to it even after disregarding it for so many years, than it would be to try to start from scratch.

What is required now is dedication to the principles of this, the greatest governmental doctrine ever created. It will surely require citizens to stand up and proclaim that this is a nation of Americans, not politicians, and that we will govern ourselves as we see fit. Most people can agree with this proposition as long as they know that their voice really is heard, that their beliefs are important and taken into account.

We must immediately begin taking power from the federal hands and putting it in those of the states. Perhaps the state you or I live in will not make the decision we were hoping for, but isn’t that better than the federal government making that same decision for all Americans? After all, it is relatively easy to move to another state if you disagree with its stance, it is very difficult to move to another country.

We can argue and bicker all we want within our states about abortion, gay marriage, taxes, welfare, etc. Let us not allow the federal government to impose their decision on all states, if we make the wrong decision then it has only been for the citizens of a single state, not all citizens in America.

The debate of Republican vs. Democrat is age-old. I propose that it doesn’t even matter anymore. The debate should be Federalist vs. not. To be honest most Americans are not Federalists, despite the positions of their party. They have simply been left behind by a small group of politicians who think they know what is best for us and desire ultimate control. Let us realize that in order to order to sustain true freedom and liberty we must make do with these petty differences. Once we accept this fact we can move forward and begin to live our own lives again.

We must re-learn to exercise our right to petition the government like our forefathers did. We must realize again that we the people are responsible for making those tough decisions and governing ourselves. We must place pressure on politicians when they forsake us by restricting our liberty. We must take action to end this allowance of government control over our lives.

As Natan Sharansky, the great Soviet dissident once said in regards to the Soviet empire; "Even the smallest spark of freedom could set their entire totalitarian world ablaze." 

It starts as a small unified voice and quickly becomes a fevered following. In time this gives way to a massive movement that can change lives, governments, and entire nations. Our time has come; we have lived with the oppression and restriction of our liberties far too long. It is time to set our totalitarian world ablaze, so that one day we may flip the coin and see another side of it.


Ron Paul: Chuck Hagel and John Brennan Will Carry Out Obama’s Foreign Policy

President Obama announced his choices for key national security posts this past week, and there has been both celebration and gnashing of teeth in Washington and around the country. There is widespread belief that either or both of these nominees will have an immediate and profound effect on US policy. However, this belief is really just a mistaken over-emphasis on personnel over policy. We should not forget that cabinet secretaries serve the president, and not the other way around.

Many who object to our continued foreign policy of endless war and empire overseas feel encouraged by Obama’s choice of Senator Hagel to head the Defense Department. Hagel has shown some admirable willingness to advise caution overseas. He is seen as unenthusiastic over the prospects of a US war on Iran, which is certainly to be welcomed. But let us not forget that he did vote for the war against Iraq, he has expressed support for multi-lateral sanctions on Iran, and last year he wrote in the Washington Post that, on Iran, he supports “keeping all options on the table, including the use of military force.”

Nevertheless because he does represent a more moderate voice in foreign policy than the neo-conservatives can tolerate, they are dragging his name through the mud. In choosing Hagel, then, we can hope the president is signaling that he will pursue a less aggressive foreign policy in his second term. But we cannot count on it.

At the same time, the president has chosen John Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency director — a man who is considered the author of Obama’s destructive drone warfare policy, and who as such has been in charge of the president’s secret “kill list” that has already claimed the lives of three American citizens. He claimed in 2011 that there were no collateral deaths from the US drone attacks on Pakistan, which is simply not believable. We also should not forget that as then-CIA director George Tenet’s right hand man during the Bush presidency, Brennan was certainly involved in the manufactured intelligence and lies that led the US to attack Iraq.

The real problem is in placing too much emphasis on the person the president hires to carry out his foreign and defense policy, as it ignores that policy itself. If the president has decided to continue or even expand US military action overseas through more covert warfare and use of special operations forces, which seems to be the case, it will matter little who he chooses to carry out those policies. If the president decides to continue to provide support to rebels in Syria who have dubious ties to Islamic extremists, to continue to meddle in the internal affairs of countless countries overseas, to continue to refuse to even talk with Iran without preconditions, and so on, we will not see a return to foreign policy sanity no matter who occupies what position in the president’s cabinet.

So we should be optimistic that the president may see the wisdom in pursuing a foreign policy that is truly in our national interest, but we should always keep an eye on the policies over the personnel.


Exposed! How the Billionaires Class Is Destroying Democracy

Out of the guts of the internet, we find an endless stream of misattributed quotes and made-up stories that end up in chain emails that you eventually receive from your loopy uncle in Texas who's trying to justify right-wing economics or anti-Obama conspiracy theories. It's just one of the headaches of the Internet Age. But, there's one quote in particular that's always attributed to an obscure Scottish historian, Sir Alexander Frasier Tytler (as if that gave it great credibility), and it seemed to both make sense and prophecy the end of the American Republic.

Tytler was supposed to have said: "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship." Tyltler goes on to talk about the process by which democracies fail as a result of this "voter selfishness."

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years," he was rumored to have said. "These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again to bondage."

Now, here's the reality: Tytler never said any of these words. They can all be tracked back to right-wing American businessmen in the early decades of the twentieth century. And why would right-wing businessmen say such things? Because, in actual point of fact, the thing that corrupts democracies is not "the voters" demanding "free stuff" (to paraphrase Romney), but, instead, its businessmen buying off politicians. It's not the powerless who corrupt democracies, as that viral right-wing quote would suggest; it's the powerful who corrupt democracies. And money is the source of that power.

Yes, over the last hundred years, average American people have voted themselves benefits like Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. But at the same time, they've also supported tax increases to pay for all of these things. Remember, the Social Security tax only applies to the first $113,000 of wages - earned income. People like Paris Hilton and Mitt Romney, when they get all their money from capital gains, dividends, and carried interest, don't pay a penny of Social Security taxes on their millions of income. And the average top CEO in America, with an income of $13.7 million a year, over a million a month, only pays Social Security taxes on his first few days of income every year - every other day is Social Security tax-free. Quite literally, as Leona Helmsley famously said, only the "little people" pay such taxes. The safety net program for working class people is exclusively paid for by working class people.

On the other hand, when the Billionaire Class extracts benefits from the government for themselves, the generally don't pay higher taxes. The billions in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, trillions in bailouts and bonuses for Wall Street banksters, and hundreds of billions for war profiteers are always accompanied by demands for more tax cuts at the top.

And, truth be told, billionaires aren't even receiving these benefits by voting for them. Instead, they always get them through the simple process of buying politicians. For example, Sheldon Adelson spent $150 million in the last election. That's more than any American spent in any election in American history. And he spent all that money to give himself the "benefits" of derailing an Obama Justice Department investigation into his casino in China and to get his taxes cut even further.

Billionaires also corrupt democracy to get their benefits through billionaire-funded think tanks, like the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council that writes legislation to benefit Corporate America, and then has Republicans state lawmakers introduce and pass laws in state after state, across the nation. But despite this very clear reality of who is demanding largesse from our government, it's still working people and average voters who are targeted by right-wingers and their viral emails as the selfish "takers." That's the reason why the Business Roundtable is saying the best way to fix insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare is to raise the retirement age to 70 and voucherize Medicare.

Of course, the average CEO for an S&P 500 company doesn't need Social Security. But they know that by raising the retirement age, they're shielding themselves from any tax increases that may come with raising that payroll tax cap, so even billionaires pay into Social Security, which will quickly and easily make that insurance program solvent forever. America's fiscal problems have nothing to do with voters. In fact, the Billionaire Class is trying to make it harder and harder for people to vote by pushing for voter suppression ID laws and restrictions on early voting.

America's fiscal problems are a direct result of the Billionaire Class working behind the scenes of our democracy and syphoning off massive amounts of wealth for themselves while paying lower taxes than they've paid in a half-century. As Senator Bernie Sanders points out, a quarter of all profitable corporations in America pay zero federal taxes. And Mitt Romney and Paris Hilton's income tax rates top out at 20 percent.

Tytler didn't really say those words that the Billionaire Class think-tanks and email shills attribute to him. But, had he said them, he probably would have something more along the lines of this: "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the billionaires discover that they can steal for themselves largess of the public treasury through buying politicians. From that time on the billionaires will always buy candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."

If we are concerned about the future of our American democratic republic, the way to preserve it isn't to protect it from greedy Social Security recipients by pushing the retirement age back to 70. It's to get money out of government, thus neutering the political power of the Billionaire Class. And that means reversing two core doctrines that the US Supreme Court has created out of thin air (at the request of big business and billionaires): that corporations are people, and that money is speech. The best way to do that is through a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people, and money is property and not speech.


The Lies Of Democracy and the Language Of Deceit

In an increasingly media-driven age, language is everything and is often used by officialdom to tyrannise meaning. With the deaths of millions on its hands since 1945, the US has become the world’s number one terror state. By the 1980s, former CIA man John Stockwell had put the figure at six million. As a recent article has indicated, from mass bombing in Southeast Asia to employing death squads in South America, the US military and the CIA have been directly and indirectly responsible for an updated figure of an estimated ten million deaths (1). But it’s not called mass murder these days. Ironically, the US has hijacked the word ‘terror’ to justify its brand of tyranny through a war on terror.

You can also add to that ten million, countless others whose lives have been sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit, which did not rely on the military to bomb peoples and countries into submission, but on a certain policy. It’s not browbeating. It’s structural adjustment.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have taken their own lives over the past decade and a half largely as a result of US agribusiness manipulating global commodity prices courtesy of policies enacted on its behalf by the US government or due to the corporate monopoly, or frontier technology, of terminator seeds that also landed farmers in debt which was just too much for them to bear (2).

The plight of Indian farmers is not unique. How many lives have been cut short across the world because of the inherent structural violence or silent killing of the everyday seemingly benign functioning of predatory capitalism? The built-in inequalities of the system have effectively stolen years from people’s lives, the health from their bodies, the livelihoods from their hands, the water from their taps and food from their plates. From the UK to Africa, the subjugated classes – the now often discarded economic fodder, the cannon fodder during times of war or the returning heroes to be thrown overboard by the system on coming home, the people who are to be manipulated and exploited at will via bogus notions of nationalism or the national interest – have had their lives cut short or stripped bare of opportunities due to the hardships imposed by the iron fist of capitalism (3).

The appropriation of wealth through a system that funnels it from bottom to top via a process of accumulation by dispossession (4) is celebrated as growth, prosperity, and freedom of choice, despite evidence that, from Greece to Spain, the reality for the majority has been increasing poverty, the stripping away of choice and misery. You wouldn’t know much about this if you just used the mainstream media for information, though. Sure, you may have been told to tighten your belt because we are all in it together and must make some sacrifices in these difficult economic times.

And just for good measure, as much of the country (any country) is thrown onto the scraphead because it is surplus to requirements now that their jobs have been outsourced abroad, we simply must attack Mali, Syria, Libya, Iran (the list goes on) because not to do so would let the evil-doers take over the world. And then where would we be without such high-minded notions? It’s not resource plunder. It’s humanitarianism.

Well, we would be precisely where we are right now because the evil-doers are already in control and waging war not only on the people of those countries just mentioned, but on the people within their own countries too via the tools of surveillance, the penal system, the comotosing effects of spymaster imported illegal drugs or the infotainment industry and the barrage of legislation that is serving to strip away civil liberties. The game is up, the dominant Western economy (the US) is broken beyond repair (5). Imperialism and militarism won’t save it, but dissent won’t be allowed.

And as private bankers entrap us all even further via their licence to print and loan currencies to national governments then also loan them the interest on it that spirals out of hand so it can never be paid back (6), they are able to line their pockets even further by buying up national assets on the cheap from the countries they bankrupted in the first place. It’s not racketeering. It’s austerity.
“And now they’re coming for your social security. They want your retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all sooner or later because they own this place.” Gorge Carlin, writer, critic and comedian.
And where is the mainstream media in all of this? Where are those journalists whose claim to respectability is their rigid professionalism, their accountability, their objectivity? If you can call professionalism, accountability and objectivity being in the pocket of and not wishing to offend advertising interests, officialdom, lobbyists or corporate think tanks then they are paragons of absolute virtue!

Peddling their high salaried lies, they have failed and continue to fail the public. By shining their dim ‘investigative’ light on ‘parliamentary procedures’, personalities, the rubber stamping of policies and the inane machinations of party politics, they merely serve to maintain and perpetuate the status quo and keep the public in the dark as to the unaccountable self-serving power broking and unity of interests that enable Big Oil, Big Banking, Big Pharma, Big Agra and the rest of them to keep bleeding us all dry.

Looking back to the BBC’s reporting of the NATO bombing of Libya provides quite revealing insight into the mainstream media. The coverage was disgracefully one-sided. Is the public to pay for a ‘public service’ broadcaster in order to be misled and for it to secure our compliance for illegal state-corporate policies? There was little analysis of ‘mission’ drift’ or of where the insurgents where getting their arms from despite a UN-sanctioned arms embargo. Much less of NATO’s moral right to bomb a path into Tripoli. No talk there of what University of Johannesburg professor Chris Landsberg said was NATO’s violation of international law or of the 200 prominent African figures who accused western nations of subverting international law.

On the other hand, though, what we are served courtesy of the mainstream media each time Britain decides to wage war is a tasty dish of nationalistic sentiment and the old colonial mentality of ‘our boys’ going out ‘there’ to help civilise the barbarians.

But that’s the role of the media: to help reinforce and reproduce the material conditions of an exploitative and divisive social system on a daily basis. It’s called having a compliant, toothless media. It’s liberal democracy. That’s the role not only of the media, but the education system and the political system too.

And that’s why former British PM was some years ago told by his financial masters to sell of what was laughingly regarded as ‘the nation’s gold’ at a knock down price on behalf of bankers’ (not the nation’s) interests without being held up to genuine public scrutiny. Some say that was the first ‘bail out’ (7). That’s why taxpayers’ money, unbeknown to most of the taxpayers, is being used unaccountably and undemocratically to help prop up banks and to topple various countries and bring death and destruction to thousands via ‘covert ops’. Covert – hidden from the public who remain blissfully unaware of where their hard earned dollars, pounds or euros are actually going.

That’s why the state-corporate fraudsters, murderers and liars who wrap themselves in the language of freedom and democracy have been getting away with it for so long. Sadly, that’s why they continue to do so.


Why Ignorance Is Democracy's Bliss

The Iowa caucuses marked the official beginning of the presidential election cycle. For the next 10 months or so, the American public will endure polls, pundits, canned stump speeches and negative ads—the media circus that passes for 21st-century democracy. Despite this flood of coverage, one troubling feature of our elections will go largely unmentioned: The typical American voter is uninformed about political basics. Consider these facts:

• The vast majority of voters can't name their congressman or a single congressional candidate.
• 45% of adults don't know that each state elects two senators.
• 40% of Americans can't name the vice president.
• 63% can't name the chief justice of the U.S.

This isn't a recent phenomenon. In 1964, at the height of the Cold War, only 38% of Americans knew that the Soviet Union wasn't part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In December 1994, a month after the Republican takeover of Congress, 57% of Americans had never heard of Newt Gingrich. As Winston Churchill once said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Yet despite this, voting remains the best way to elect leaders. Churchill, as usual, said it best: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Why are democracies so vibrant even when composed of uninformed citizens? According to a new study led by the ecologist Iain Couzin at Princeton, this collective ignorance is an essential feature of democratic governments, not a bug. His research suggests that voters with weak political preferences help to prevent clusters of extremists from dominating the political process. Their apathy keeps us safe.

To show this, Dr. Couzin experimented on a rather unlikely set of subjects: fish. Many different species, such as schooling fish and flocking birds, survive by forming a consensus, making collective decisions without splintering apart. To do so, these creatures are constantly forced to conduct their own improvised elections.

The scientists trained a large group of golden shiners, a small freshwater fish used as bait, to associate the arrival of food with a blue target. They then trained a smaller group to associate food with a yellow target, a color naturally preferred by the fish. Not surprisingly, when all the trained golden shiners were put in one aquarium, most of them swam toward the yellow dot; the stronger desires of the minority, fueled by the shiners' natural preference, persuaded the majority to follow along.

But when scientists introduced a group of fish without any color training, yellow suddenly lost its appeal. All of a sudden, the fish began following the preferences of the majority, swimming toward the blue target. "A strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice," the scientists concluded. "But the presence of uninformed individuals spontaneously inhibits this process, returning control to the numerical majority."

Of course, many political scientists have criticized this extrapolation from golden shiners to democratic government, noting that not all independent voters are ignorant—some are simply moderate—and that a minority doesn't always represent an extreme view.

Nevertheless, this research helps to explain the importance of indifference in a partisan age. If every voter was well-informed and highly opinionated, then the most passionate minority would dominate decision-making. There would be no democratic consensus—just clusters of stubborn fanatics, attempting to out-shout the other side. Hitler's rise is the ultimate parable here: Though the Nazi party failed to receive a majority of the votes in the 1933 German election, it was able to quickly intimidate the opposition and pass tyrannical laws.

So the next time a poll reveals the ignorance of the voting public, remember those fish. It's the people who don't know very much who make democracy possible.


Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas

File:Protector of the sheep.jpg

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

In this visualization, we see the tipping point where minority opinion (shown in red) quickly becomes majority opinion. Over time, the minority opinion grows. Once the minority opinion reached 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green). (Credit: SCNARC/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. "Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame."

As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. "In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks." The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an article titled "Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities."

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

To reach their conclusion, the scientists developed computer models of various types of social networks. One of the networks had each person connect to every other person in the network. The second model included certain individuals who were connected to a large number of people, making them opinion hubs or leaders. The final model gave every person in the model roughly the same number of connections. The initial state of each of the models was a sea of traditional-view holders. Each of these individuals held a view, but were also, importantly, open minded to other views.

Once the networks were built, the scientists then "sprinkled" in some true believers throughout each of the networks. These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.

"In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models," said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models "talked" to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener's belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.

"As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change," Sreenivasan said. "People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further. If the true believers just influenced their neighbors, that wouldn't change anything within the larger system, as we saw with percentages less than 10."

The research has broad implications for understanding how opinion spreads. "There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion," said Associate Professor of Physics and co-author of the paper Gyorgy Korniss. "Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to move before a hurricane or spread new information on the prevention of disease in a rural village."

The researchers are now looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples. They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing viewpoints. An example of this polarization would be Democrat versus Republican. The research was funded by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) through SCNARC, part of the Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance (NS-CTA), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The research is part of a much larger body of work taking place under SCNARC at Rensselaer. The center joins researchers from a broad spectrum of fields -- including sociology, physics, computer science, and engineering -- in exploring social cognitive networks. The center studies the fundamentals of network structures and how those structures are altered by technology. The goal of the center is to develop a deeper understanding of networks and a firm scientific basis for the newly arising field of network science.


Scientists say America is too dumb for democracy to thrive

They know what's best for the country

The United States may be a republic, but it’s democracy that Americans cherish. After all, that’s why we got into Iraq, right? To take out a dictator and spread democracy. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” “One person, one vote.” We are an egalitarian society that treasures the mandate of its citizenry. But more than a decade’s worth research suggests that the citizenry is too dumb to pick the best leaders. Work by Cornell University psychologist David Dunning and then-colleague Justin Kruger found that “incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas,” according to a report by Life’s Little Mysteries on the blog LiveScience.

“Very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries.

What’s worse is that with incompetence comes the illusion of superiority. Let’s say a politician comes up with an ingenious plan that would ensure universal health care while decreasing health care costs. According to Dunning-Kruger, no matter how much information is provided, the unsophisticated would 1) be incapable of recognizing the wisdom of such a plan; 2) assume they know better; and 3) have no idea of the extent of their inadequacy. In other words, stupid people are too stupid to know how stupid they are. If this seems elitist to you, you are probably not alone. Maybe we should only let Ph.D.’s, Mensa members and Jeopardy! champions vote? At least require a passing an IQ test before you get to cast a ballot?

The scientists do say that the incompetent can be trained to improve, but only if they acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, which would seem to be a catch-22 since they are too ignorant to do so on their own. Life’s Little Mysteries said that Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, ran a computer simulation of a democratic election based on Dunning and Kruger’s theories: “In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters’ own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.”

It would appear then that democracy dooms us to mediocrity and misinformed choices. Not exactly encouraging news for the next round of California’s ballot initiatives.


The Decline of Democracy: Greece displays the post-liberal variety, Egypt the pre-liberal one. Both are rotten

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Everyone knows who said this, and everyone thinks it's true. But is it, really?

After last weekend I've begun to have my doubts. In Egypt, the ruling military junta reacted to the apparent victory of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi by stripping the presidential office of its powers. That came just days after Egypt's top court dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament, which had been freely elected only a few months ago. How arbitrary. What an affront to the Egyptian people. Now let's hope it works.

Then there's Greece, which also had an election over the weekend. The Greeks are supposed to have made the "responsible" choice in the person of Antonis Samaras, the Amherst- and Harvard-educated leader of the center-right New Democracy party. Responsible in this case means trying to stay in the euro zone by again renegotiating the terms of a bailout that Greeks cannot possibly repay and will not likely honor.

Yet the more depressing fact about the election is that Mr. Samaras didn't even get 30% of the vote. The rest was divided among the radical-left Syriza (27%), the socialist Pasok (12.3%), the anti-German Independent Greeks (7.5%), the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (7%), the center-left Democratic Left (6.2%) and, finally, the good old Communist Party (4.5%).

In other words, the Greeks gave a solid 46% of their vote to parties that are evil, crazy or both, even while erring on the side of "sanity" with parties that are merely foolish and discredited. Imagine that in 1980 Jimmy Carter had eked out a slim victory over a Gus Hall-Lyndon LaRouche ticket, and you have the American equivalent to what just happened in Greece.

Should anyone be surprised that democracy is having such a hard time in the land of Pericles? Probably not—and not just because Greece is also the land of Alcibiades. Despite its storied past, modern Greek democracy, like much of modern European democracy, is of a post-liberal variety. Post-liberalism seeks to replace the classical liberalism of individual liberty, limited government, property rights and democratic sovereignty with a new liberalism that favors social rights, social goods, intrusive government and transnational law.

In practice, post-liberalism is a giant wealth redistribution scheme. It bankrupted Greece and will soon bankrupt the rest of Europe. What happens to bankrupt democracies? Think Weimar Germany, Perón's Argentina, and, more recently, Yeltsin's Russia.Now take Egypt. There, instead of post-liberal democracy, you have the energetic stirrings of pre-liberal democracy.

What is pre-liberal democracy? It is democracy shorn of the values Westerners typically associate it with: free speech, religious liberty, social tolerance, equality between the sexes and so on. Not only in Egypt, but in Tunisia, Turkey and Gaza, popular majorities have made a democratic choice for parties that put faith before freedom and substituted the word of God for the rule of law.

Apologists for this sort of democracy argue that it still beats the alternatives, not just the coarse authoritarianism typified by Hosni Mubarak but also the progressive-autocratic model that used to prevail in Turkey. They also argue that democracy has a way of taming ideologically extreme political leaders by tethering them to the needs and wishes of the people, just as a talented cowboy will rope and halter an unruly horse.
But there's a problem with this analogy: In pre-liberal societies, it is the people who are the horse and the leaders who do the roping, not the other way around. An Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood will respect democratic procedure only to the extent that it does not infringe on the Brotherhood's overarching goals: "Restoring Islam in its all-encompassing conception; subjugating people to God; instituting the religion of God; the Islamization of life," according to Khairat Al Shater, the Brotherhood's de facto leader.

That's the kind of democracy we can soon expect from Egypt unless the military somehow gets the upper hand politically. Don't bet on it. If post-liberal democracy is unsustainable ("They always run out of other people's money," as Margaret Thatcher quipped), pre-liberal democracy is irresistible. The objections of an aged and ambivalent junta will not long stand in the way of millions of Egyptians demanding their right to choose unfreedom freely.

The good news is that Egyptians may have a wider conception of freedom in 30 years or so, about the same amount of time it took Khomeinism to lose the masses in Iran. In 30 years, too, the Greeks may have a better appreciation of the notion of responsibility, both personal and political. As for what remains of the liberal democratic world, maybe the weekend elections will be a reminder of another famous political maxim: "A republic—if you can keep it."


When Democracy Weakens

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only. While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters. The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.

In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people “have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.” Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it. The corporate and financial elites threw astounding sums of money into campaign contributions and high-priced lobbyists and think tanks and media buys and anything else they could think of. They wined and dined powerful leaders of both parties. They flew them on private jets and wooed them with golf outings and lavish vacations and gave them high-paying jobs as lobbyists the moment they left the government. All that money was well spent. The investments paid off big time.

As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”: “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”

As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough, the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are listening when the corporate money speaks.

When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35 billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.

As Jane Mayer pointed out in her celebrated New Yorker article, “The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation.” (A good hard look at their air-pollution record would make you sick.)

It’s a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem. Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we get you anything else, gentlemen?

The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away. I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.” I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.


Trump and Political Circuses Are Nothing New
Roman politicians whipped up crowds, warned about ‘outsiders’ and insulted their rivals.

Ancient Romans would find the drama of American primary elections eerily familiar. Like us, the Romans treated politics as theater, attending speeches and rallies where political figures worked the crowd. They held popular elections and supported charismatic leaders who thrived on celebrity. When Cicero ran for consul around 63 B.C., his brother Quintus wrote a fascinating manual of political advice. Quintus urged Cicero to be available night and day to citizens who needed his services, to look alert and interested when voters spoke, and to make them believe he cared. It was the beginning of a romance, when followers come to believe that what leaders do, they do for them.

But before aspiring officeholders can be seen as worthy of public affection, they first must be seen. Reality-TV star Donald Trump is a modern-day master at capturing public notice, but he is no trailblazer. Those seeking power have always found ways to achieve celebrity. Romans vying for office bleached their togas a brilliant white, making them stand out. Candidates also surrounded themselves with throngs of supporters to attract maximum attention. The “social media” campaigns of Julius Caesar and Augustus featured flattering portraits displayed in public places. After being elected, they stamped their profiles on coins to further enhance their celebrity.

Star power fueled narcissism then as it does now. Julius Caesar was a deft schmoozer, adept at working the crowd. Affable and adored by soldiers, he was the kind of guy you could drink the famed Falernian wine with. But his narcissism undermined him. Caesar became hated for his arrogance, and dozens of Roman senators joined the conspiracy to assassinate him.

Winning political arguments has always required style, not just substance. And nobody in the age of the Republic was better at style than Cato the Censor. As the Senate debated around 149 B.C. what action to take against its old foe Carthage, Cato produced a cluster of grapes from the folds of his toga. He declared, no doubt falsely, that they had been picked in Carthage the same day. His dramatic performance worked. Though Carthage hadn’t posed a serious threat for over half a century, Cato energized his compatriots’ fears of its resurgence, silenced critics and shaped a docile following. Rome declared war and finally destroyed Carthage in 146 B.C.

Charismatic leaders are good actors. Whether facing constituents, competitors or enemies, they present themselves as dominant and fit. When Gaius Popilius Laenas first encountered the Seleucid King Antiochus IV in 168 B.C., he used a stick to draw a circle in the sand around the king. He ordered him not to cross it until he agreed to do Rome’s bidding. Intimidated by the brazen act, the king acquiesced. Roman leaders knew that anger stunts contemplation. Opponents excoriated one another with vitriolic insults. Cicero accused Mark Antony of having been a male prostitute in his youth and of frequenting brothels later in life. Such slurs, difficult to disprove, distracted attention from Antony’s achievements and Cicero’s flaws.

Shared feelings and actions have always been used by charismatic leaders to bring people together in common cause. At Julius Caesar’s funeral Mark Antony whipped mourners into a collective frenzy by revealing the dead man’s lacerated body. Today the synchronous chants of “Bernie!” and “Hillary!” or the contagious booing and applauding at the Republican debates help transform individuals into easy-to-lead collectives. Overstating the threat posed by “outsiders” also reinforces the common identity of the “insiders.” Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, suggested around 33 B.C. that his rival, Mark Antony, had become the plaything of the enemy’s most famous seductress, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Octavian warned that if Antony came to power, then a foreigner would become Rome’s queen. Now Mr. Trump professes concern that the Canadian-born Ted Cruz could become president.

As the politically savvy Quintus understood, voters are romanced more by appearance than reality. Roman leaders knew that politics is theater, and much depends on the power of the script and the stardom and charisma of the  performer. In this sense, political figures through the ages are cut from the same bleached cloth.
Mr. Garland is a classics professor, and Ms. Keating a psychology professor, at Colgate University.

Super PACs a disaster for democracy

The Citizens United ruling that gave rise to super PACs was one of the worst in Supreme Court history, Fred Wertheimer says.

In 1907, Congress banned corporate contributions to federal candidates in the wake of the robber baron-era scandals. In 1947, the ban was formally applied to corporate expenditures and extended to cover labor unions. In 1974, Congress enacted limits on individual contributions to federal candidates and political committees in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case declared the corporate expenditure ban unconstitutional, holding that independent expenditures could not be constitutionally limited in federal elections, and implicitly that corporations could give unlimited amounts to other groups to spend, as long as the expenditures were made independently from the supported candidate. Subsequently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the SpeechNow case held that the limits on individual contributions to groups that made independent expenditures were unconstitutional.

Thus was born the super PAC.

And thus was born the national campaign finance scandals that are unfolding daily in the 2012 elections. Super PACs are federally registered political action committees that raise unlimited contributions from the super rich, corporations, labor unions and other entities and spend these funds to make "independent" expenditures in federal elections. They are an unmitigated disaster for the American people. A recent study by Demos and the U.S. Public Interest Group found that, as Politico reported, "Super PACs raised about $181 million in the last two years -- with roughly half of it coming from fewer than 200 super-rich people." The study also found that 93% of the itemized contributions raised by super PACs came in contributions of $10,000 or more, with more than half of this money coming from just 37 people who each gave $500,000 or more.

Super PACs are a game for millionaires and billionaires. They are a game for corporations and other wealthy interests. Meanwhile, citizens are pushed to the sidelines to watch the corruption of our democracy. In the 2012 presidential election, an even more insidious version of the super PAC was born -- the candidate-specific super PAC. Every significant presidential campaign has had a super PAC -- created and run by close associates of the candidate -- that raises unlimited contributions to spend only to support that presidential candidate. Presidential candidate-specific super PACs are simply vehicles for the presidential candidates and their supporters to circumvent the limits on contributions to candidates enacted to prevent corruption. Most of the super PAC money has been spent on attack ads.

We already have seen Sheldon Adelson and his wife give $10 million to the presidential super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich. One couple! $10 million! The claim that these presidential super PACs are operating "independently" from the presidential candidates, as is required by law, is absurd and has no credibility. Last week, President Barack Obama reversed course and agreed to send Cabinet members, White House staff and campaign officials to speak at and participate in fundraising events for Priorities USA Action, the allegedly "independent" super PAC supporting Obama's re-election. Days later, Mitt Romney's campaign announced that senior Romney campaign aides would do the same and appear and speak at fundraising events for Restore Our Future, Romney's allegedly "independent" super PAC.

Sound independent?

According to the Supreme Court's view, a corporation that spends $30 million to elect a senator will not be able to buy corrupting influence over the senator's positions because the corporation has not "coordinated" its expenditures with the senator. Democracy 21 believes these super PACs are indeed engaging in illegally coordinated activities and is requesting the Justice Department to investigate. Super PACs corrupt our political system in two ways. First, super PACs allow a relatively few super-rich individuals and other wealthy interests to have greatly magnified and undue influence over the results of our elections. Second, super PACs allow the super rich and wealthy interests to buy influence over government decisions, in the event the candidate wins.

The Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that unleashed this is built entirely on a fiction: that "independent" expenditures by corporations cannot have a corrupting influence on federal officeholders. This is fantasy, not reality. Important steps can and must be taken to deal with candidate-specific super PACs within the boundaries of the destructive Citizens United decision. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, has introduced the DISCLOSE 2012 Act to close gaping loopholes in the disclosure laws. It requires super PACs immediately to disclose their donors and campaign expenditures, and requires the PACs' top five donors, and the amounts they gave, to be listed on each of their ads. This legislation is essential to inform citizens about who is providing the money to influence their votes.

In addition, Democracy 21 is preparing legislation to shut down super PACs that are closely tied to the candidate they are supporting. The legislation would treat these super PACs legally as arms of the candidate's campaign and subject to the contribution limits that apply to the candidate. Five Supreme Court justices have done enormous damage to our country with one of the worst decisions in the history of the court. This will not be allowed to stand. Citizens will rise up to demand and achieve fundamental reforms, as we have before when threatened with the systemic corruption of our government and officeholders.


Just 158 families have provided nearly half of the early money for efforts to capture the White House

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy. Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite. Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the United States, immigrating from countries like Cuba, the old Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel. But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too. 

Mostly Backing Republicans

“It’s a lot of families around the country who are self-made who feel like over-regulation puts these burdens on smaller companies,” said Doug Deason, a Dallas investor whose family put $5 million behind Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and now, after Mr. Perry’s exit, is being courted by many of the remaining candidates. “They’ve done well. They want to see other people do well.”

In marshaling their financial resources chiefly behind Republican candidates, the donors are also serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies. Two-thirds of Americans support higher taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, according to a June New York Times/CBS News poll, while six in 10 favor more government intervention to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly seven in 10 favor preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are. Republican candidates have struggled to improve their standing with Hispanic voters, women and African-Americans. But as the campaign unfolds, Republicans are far outpacing Democrats in exploiting the world of “super PACs,” which, unlike candidates’ own campaigns, can raise unlimited sums from any donor, and which have so far amassed the bulk of the money in the election.

The 158 families each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30, according to the most recent available Federal Election Commission filings and other data, while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election -- the vast majority of it supporting Republicans. “The campaign finance system is now a countervailing force to the way the actual voters of the country are evolving and the policies they want,” said Ruy Teixeira, a political and demographic expert at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Like most of the ultrawealthy, the new donor elite is deeply private. Very few of those contacted were willing to speak about their contributions or their political views. Many donations were made from business addresses or post office boxes, or wound through limited liability corporations or trusts, exploiting the new avenues opened up by Citizens United, which gave corporate entities far more leeway to spend money on behalf of candidates. Some contributors, for reasons of privacy or tax planning, are not listed as the owners of the homes where they live, further obscuring the family and social ties that bind them.

But interviews and a review of hundreds of public documents — voter registrations, business records, F.E.C. data and more — reveal a class apart, distant from much of America while geographically, socially and economically intermingling among themselves. Nearly all the neighborhoods where they live would fit within the city limits of New Orleans. But minorities make up less than one-fifth of those neighborhoods’ collective population, and virtually no one is black. Their residents make four and a half times the salary of the average American, and are twice as likely to be college educated.

Most of the families are clustered around just nine cities. Many are neighbors, living near one another in neighborhoods like Bel Air and Brentwood in Los Angeles; River Oaks, a Houston community popular with energy executives; or Indian Creek Village, a private island near Miami that has a private security force and just 35 homes lining an 18-hole golf course. Sometimes, across party lines, they are patrons of the same symphonies, art museums or at-risk youth programs. They are business partners, in-laws and, on occasion, even poker buddies.

Living Near One Another

More than 50 members of these families have made the Forbes 400 list of the country’s top billionaires, marking a scale of wealth against which even a million-dollar political contribution can seem relatively small. The Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, for example, earns about $68.5 million a month after taxes, according to court filings made by his wife in their divorce. He has given a total of $300,000 to groups backing Republican presidential candidates. That is a huge sum on its face, yet is the equivalent of only $21.17 for a typical American household, according to Congressional Budget Office data on after-tax income. The donor families’ wealth reflects, in part, the vast growth of the financial-services sector and the boom in oil and gas, which have helped transform the American economy in recent decades. They are also the beneficiaries of political and economic forces that are driving widening inequality: As the share of national wealth and income going to the middle class has shrunk, these families are among those whose share has grown.

Mainly in Finance and Energy

The accumulation of wealth has been particularly rapid at the elite levels of Wall Street, where financiers who once managed other people’s capital now, increasingly, own it themselves. Since 1979, according to one study, the one-tenth of 1 percent of American taxpayers who work in finance have roughly quintupled their share of the country’s income. Sixty-four of the families made their wealth in finance, the largest single faction among the super-donors of 2016.

But instead of working their way up to the executive suite at Goldman Sachs or Exxon, most of these donors set out on their own, establishing privately held firms controlled individually or with partners. In finance, they started hedge funds, or formed private equity and venture capital firms, benefiting from favorable tax treatment of debt and capital gains, and more recently from a rising stock market and low interest rates. In energy, some were latter-day wildcatters, early to capitalize on the new drilling technologies and high energy prices that made it economical to exploit shale formations in North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Others made fortunes supplying those wildcatters with pipelines, trucks and equipment for “fracking.”

In both energy and finance, their businesses, when successful, could throw off enormous amounts of cash — unlike industries in which wealth might have been tied up in investments. Those without shareholders or boards of directors have had unusual freedom to indulge their political passions. Together, the two industries accounted for well over half of the cash contributed by the top 158 families.

Princeton Study Confirms 'US Is An Oligarchy'
Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. - From a recent study titled Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University
In response to the publication of an academic study that essentially proves the United States is nothing more than an oligarchy, many commentators have quipped sentiments that go something like “so tell me something I don’t know.” While I agree that the conclusion is far from surprising to anyone paying attention, the study is significant for two main reasons.  

First, there is a certain influential segment of the population which has a disposition which requires empirical evidence and academic studies before they will take any theory seriously. Second, some of the conclusions can actually prove quite helpful to activists who want to have a greater impact in changing things. This shouldn’t be particularly difficult since their impact at the moment is next to zero.

What is most incredible to me is that the data under scrutiny in the study was from 1981-2002. One can only imagine how much worse things have gotten since the 2008 financial crisis. The study found that even when 80% of the population favored a particular public policy change, it was only instituted 43% of the time. We saw this first hand with the bankster bailout in 2008, when Americans across the board were opposed to it, but Congress passed TARP anyway (although they had to vote twice).

Even more importantly, several years of supposed “economic recovery” has not changed the public’s perception of the bankster bailouts. For example, a 2012 study showed that only 23% percent of Americans favored the bank bailouts and the disgust was completely bipartisan, as the Huffington Post points out. 

Personally, I think the banker bailouts will go down as one of the most significant turning points in American history. Despite widespread disapproval, Congress passed TARP and it was at that moment that many Americans “woke up” to the fact they are nothing more than economic slaves with no voice. That they are serfs. Even more importantly, once oligarchs saw what they could get away with they kept doubling down and doubling down until we find ourselves in the precarious position we are in today. A society filled with angst and resentment at the fact that the 0.01% have stolen everything.

Another thing that the study noted was that average citizens sometimes got what they wanted, but this is almost always when their preferences overlap with the oligarchs. When this occurs it is entirely coincidental, and in many cases may the result of public opinion being molded by the elite-controlled special interest groups themselves. How pathetic. I read the entire 42 page study and have highlighted what I found to be the key excerpts below. Please share with others and enjoy:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. Until very recently, however, it has been impossible to test the differing predictions of these theories against each other within a single statistical model that permits one to analyze the independent effects of each set of actors upon policy outcomes.
A major challenge to majoritarian pluralist theories, however, is posed by Mancur Olson’s argument that collective action by large, dispersed sets of individuals with individually small but collectively large interests tends to be prevented by the “free rider” problem. Barring special circumstances (selective incentives, byproducts, coercion), individuals who would benefit from collective action may have no incentive to personally form or join an organized group. If everyone thinks this way and lets George do it, the job is not likely to get done. This reasoning suggests that Truman’s “potential groups” may in fact be unlikely to form, even if millions of  peoples’ interests are neglected or harmed by government. Aware of the collective action problem, officials may feel free to ignore much of the population and act against the interests of the average citizen.
As to empirical evidence concerning interest groups, it is well established that organized groups regularly lobby and fraternize with public officials; move through revolving doors between public and private employment; provide self-serving information to officials; draft legislation; and spend a great deal of money on election campaigns. Moreover, in harmony with theories of biased pluralism, the evidence clearly indicates that most U.S. interest groups and lobbyists represent business firms or professionals. Relatively few represent the poor or even the economic interests of ordinary workers, particularly now that the U.S. labor movement has become so weak.
What makes possible an empirical effort of this sort is the existence of a unique data set, compiled over many years by one of us (Gilens) for a different but related purpose: for estimating the influence upon public policy of “affluent” citizens, poor citizens, and those in the middle of the income distribution.
Gilens and a small army of research assistants gathered data on a large, diverse set of policy cases: 1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change.
In any case, the imprecision that results from use of our “affluent” proxy is likely to produce underestimates of the impact of economic elites on policy making. If we find substantial effects upon policy even when using this imperfect measure, therefore, it will be reasonable to infer that the impact upon policy of truly wealthy citizens is still greater.
Some particular U.S. membership organizations – especially the AARP and labor unions– do tend to favor the same policies as average citizens. But other membership groups take stands that are unrelated (pro-life and pro-choice groups) or negatively related (gun owners) to what the average American wants. Some membership groups may reflect the views of corporate backers or their most affluent constituents. Others focus on issues on which the public is fairly evenly divided. Whatever the reasons, all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole. Business-oriented groups do even worse, with a modest negative over-all correlation of -.10.
The estimated impact of average citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level. Clearly the median citizen or “median voter” at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups. The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.
By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy. This does not mean that theories of Economic Elite Domination are wholly upheld, since our results indicate that individual elites must share their policy influence with organized interest groups. Still, economic elites stand out as quite influential – more so than any other set of actors studied here – in the making of U.S. public policy.
The incredible thing here is that they use the 90th percentile to gauge the “economic elite,” when we well know that it is the “oligarchs” themselves and the businesses they run that call all the shots. It would have been interesting if they isolated the impact of the 0.01%.

These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time.
Amidst all of the bad news in this study, there is one conclusion from which we can find a silver lining.

The importance of business groups’ numerical advantage is also revealed when we rescale our measures of business and mass-oriented interest group alignments to reflect the differing number of groups in each of these categories. Using this rescaled measure, a parallel analysis to that in table 4 shows that on a group-for-group basis the average individual business group and the average mass-oriented group appears to be about equally influential. The greater total influence of business groups in our analysis results chiefly from the fact that more of them are generally engaged on each issue (roughly twice as many, on average), not that a single business-oriented group has more clout on average than a single mass based group.
Relatively few mass-based interest groups are active, they do not (in the aggregate) represent the public very well, and they have less collective impact on policy than do business-oriented groups – whose stands tend to be negatively related to the preferences of average citizens. These business groups are far more numerous and active; they spend much more money; and they tend to get their way.
What the paragraphs above demonstrate is that the public has become very, very bad at organizing and that they aren’t even in the same ballpark as the the business groups. While mass-based interest groups will never be able to compete financially, we now live in a world of crowd-funding and a great deal of angst. Thus, there appears to be some low hanging fruit available for the activist community to pick at and become more organized.

Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the preferences of “affluent” citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do. To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield the actual influence.
But sure, keep chanting USA! USA! and keep sending your children to die overseas for no good reason.

Of course our findings speak most directly to the “first face” of power: the ability of actors to shape policy outcomes on contested issues. But they also reflect – to some degree, at least – the “second face” of power: the ability to shape the agenda of issues that policy makers consider. The set of policy alternatives that we analyze is considerably broader than the set discussed seriously by policy makers or brought to a vote in Congress, and our alternatives are (on average) more popular among the general public than among interest groups. Thus the fate of these policies can reflect policy makers’ refusing to consider them rather than considering but rejecting them. (From our data we cannot distinguish between the two.) Our results speak less clearly to the “third face” of power: the ability of elites to shape the public’s preferences. We know that interest groups and policy makers themselves often devote considerable effort to shaping opinion. If they are successful, this might help explain the high correlation we find between elite and mass preferences. But it cannot have greatly inflated our estimate of average citizens’ influence on policy making, which is near zero.
So what’s the conclusion? Well we aren’t a Democracy and we aren’t a Constitutional Republic. As I and many others have noted, we have descended into something far worse, an neo-fedualistic Oligarchy.

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our  findings indicate, the majority does not rule -- at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.
But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect. Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good.
All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative. Leaving aside the difficult issue of divergent interests and motives, we would urge that the superior wisdom of economic elites or organized interest groups should not simply be assumed. It should be put to empirical test. New empirical research will be needed to pin down precisely who knows how much, and what, about which public policies.
Our findings also point toward the need to learn more about exactly which economic elites (the “merely affluent”? the top 1%? the top 0.01%?) have how much impact upon public policy, and to what ends they wield their influence. Similar questions arise about the precise extent of influence of particular sets of organized interest groups. And we need to know more about the policy preferences and the political influence of various actors not considered here, including political party activists, government officials, and other non-economic elites. We hope that our work will encourage further exploration of these issues.
Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
So when Sam Zell or any other oligarch prances around on television saying that the “poor should be more like the rich,” what he’s really saying is you need to sell your soul and attempt to become an oligarch. Otherwise, you’re fucked. This is a truly excellent study and I suggest you read the entire thing here, if you have the time.

Jimmy Carter Is Correct that the U.S. Is No Longer a Democracy

On July 28th, Thom Hartmann interviewed former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and, at the very end of his show (as if this massive question were merely an aftethought), asked him his opinion of the 2010 Citizens United decision and the 2014 McCutcheon decision, both decisions by the five Republican judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. These two historic decisions enable unlimited secret money (including foreign money) now to pour into U.S. political and judicial campaigns. Carter answered:

"It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or being elected president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. Senators and congress members. So, now we've just seen a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over. ... At the present time the incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody that is already in Congress has a great deal more to sell."

He was then cut off by the program, though that statement by Carter should have been the start of the program, not its end. (And the program didn't end with an invitation for him to return to discuss this crucial matter in depth -- something for which he's qualified.) So: was this former president's provocative allegation merely his opinion? Or was it actually lots more than that? It was lots more than that.

Only a single empirical study has actually been done in the social sciences regarding whether the historical record shows that the United States has been, during the survey's period, which in that case was between 1981 and 2002, a democracy (a nation whose leaders represent the public-at-large), or instead an aristocracy (or 'oligarchy') -- a nation in which only the desires of the richest citizens end up being reflected in governmental actions. This study was titled "Testing Theories of American Politics," and it was published by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in the journal Perspectives on Politics, issued by the American Political Science Association in September 2014. I had summarized it earlier, on 14 April 2014, while the article was still awaiting its publication.

The headline of my summary-article was "U.S. Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy Says Scientific Study." I reported: "The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's 'news' media)." I then quoted the authors' own summary: "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

The scientific study closed by saying: "In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule--at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes." A few other tolerably clear sentences managed to make their ways into this well-researched, but, sadly, atrociously written, paper, such as: "The preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the preferences of 'affluent' citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do." In other words, they found: The rich rule the U.S.

Their study investigated specifically "1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change," and then the policy-follow-ups, of whether or not the polled public preferences had been turned into polices, or, alternatively, whether the relevant corporate-lobbied positions had instead become public policy on the given matter, irrespective of what the public had wanted concerning it.

The study period, 1981-2002, covered the wake of the landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which had started the aristocratic assault on American democracy, and which seminal (and bipartisan) pro-aristocratic court decision is described as follows by wikipedia: It "struck down on First Amendment grounds several provisions in the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The most prominent portions of the case struck down limits on spending in campaigns, but upheld the provision limiting the size of individual contributions to campaigns. The Court also narrowed, and then upheld, the Act's disclosure provisions, and struck down (on separation of powers grounds) the make-up of the Federal Election Commission, which as written allowed Congress to directly appoint members of the Commission, an executive agency."

Basically, the Buckley decision, and subsequent (increasingly partisan Republican) Supreme Court decisions, have allowed aristocrats to buy and control politicians.

Already, the major 'news' media were owned and controlled by the aristocracy, and 'freedom of the press' was really just freedom of aristocrats to control the 'news' -- to frame public issues in the ways the owners want. The media managers who are appointed by those owners select, in turn, the editors who, in their turn, hire only reporters who produce the propaganda that's within the acceptable range for the owners, to be 'the news' as the public comes to know it.

But, now, in the post-Buckley-v.-Valeo world, from Reagan on (and the resulting study-period of 1981-2002), aristocrats became almost totally free to buy also the political candidates they wanted. The 'right' candidates, plus the 'right' 'news'-reporting about them, has thus bought the 'right' people to 'represent' the public, in the new American 'democracy,' which Jimmy Carter now aptly calls "subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors."

Carter -- who had entered office in 1977, at the very start of that entire era of transition into an aristocratically controlled United States (and he left office in 1981, just as the study-period was starting) -- expressed his opinion that, in the wake now of the two most extreme pro-aristocratic U.S. Supreme Court decisions ever (which are Citizens United in 2010, and McCutcheon in 2014), American democracy is really only past tense, not present tense at all -- no longer a reality. He is saying, in effect, that, no matter how much the U.S. was a dictatorship by the rich during 1981-2002 (the Gilens-Page study era), it's far worse now.

Apparently, Carter is correct: The New York Times front page on Sunday 2 August 2015 bannered, "Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving," and reported that: "A New York Times analysis of Federal Election Commission reports and Internal Revenue Service records shows that the fund-raising arms race has made most of the presidential hopefuls deeply dependent on a small pool of the richest Americans. The concentration of donors is greatest on the Republican side, according to the Times analysis, where consultants and lawyers have pushed more aggressively to exploit the looser fund-raising rules that have fueled the rise of super PACs. Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs."

The Times study shows that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly advantaged by the recent unleashing of big-corporate money power. All of the evidence suggests that though different aristocrats compete against each other for the biggest chunks of whatever the given nation has to offer, they all compete on the same side against the public, in order to lower the wages of their workers, and to lower the standards for consumers' safety and welfare so as to increase their own profits (transfer their costs and investment-losses onto others); and, so, now, the U.S. is soaring again toward Gilded Age economic inequality, perhaps to surpass the earlier era of unrestrained robber barons. And, the Times study shows: even in the Democratic Party, the mega-donations are going to only the most conservative (pro-corporate, anti-public) Democrats. Grass-roots politics could be vestigial, or even dead, in the new America.

The question has become whether the unrestrained power of the aristocracy is locked in this time even more permanently than it was in that earlier era. Or: will there be yet another FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to restore a democracy that once was? Or: is a president like that any longer even possible in America? As for today's political incumbents: they now have their careers for as long as they want and are willing to do the biddings of their masters. And, then, they retire to become, themselves, new members of the aristocracy, such as the Clintons have done, and such as the Obamas will do. (Of course, the Bushes have been aristocrats since early in the last century.)

Furthermore, the new age of aristocratic control is not merely national but international in scope; so, the global aristocracy have probably found the formula that will keep them in control until they destroy the entire world. What's especially interesting is that, with all of the many tax-exempt, 'non-profit' 'charities,' which aristocrats have established, none of them is warring to defeat the aristocracy itself -- to defeat the aristocrats' system of exploitation of the public. It's the one thing they won't create a 'charity' for; none of them will go to war against the expoitative interests of themselves and of their own exploitative peers. They're all in this together, even though they do compete amongst themselves for dominance, as to which ones of them will lead against the public. And the public seem to accept this modern form of debt-bondage, perhaps because of the 'news' they see, and because of the news they don't see (such as this).


Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the “deep state”

Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the "deep state"

A corrupt network of wealthy elites has hijacked our government, ex-GOP staffer and best-selling author tells Salon

One of the predominant themes of the 2016 presidential campaign thus far — and one that is unlikely to lose significance once the primaries give way to the general election — is the American people’s exasperation with a political system they see as corrupt, self-serving, disingenuous and out of touch. It is not an especially partisan or ideological sentiment; you can just as easily find it among supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders as among fans of Donald Trump. You can even find those who support paragons of the status quo, like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, making similar complaints. It’s about as close to a consensus position as you’re likely to find nowadays in American politics. Yet despite the widespread agreement that something is seriously wrong with democracy in the U.S., there’s much less of a consensus as to what that something is — and, crucially, how to fix it. The answers Bernie Sanders offers, for example, are not exactly the same as those proffered by Donald Trump. Is the problem too much government? Not enough government? Too much immigration? Not enough immigration? Too much taxing and regulating? Not enough taxing and regulating? Our lack of a systemic analysis of the problem is part of the reason why our answers are so diffuse and ill-fitting. And that’s just one of the reasons why “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government,” the new book from ex-longtime GOP staffer turned best-selling author Mike Lofgren, is so valuable. Lofgren puts a name and a shape to a problem that has often been only nebulously defined; and while his conclusions are not exactly uplifting, the logic and sophistication of his argument is hard to resist. Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Lofgren about his book, the deep state and his read on the current sorry state of American government and politics. Our conversation, which also touched on President Obama’s relationship with the deep state, was edited for clarity and length.

How should we think about the deep state? Is it an elite conspiracy? A loosely defined social group? A network of specific institutions? How should we conceive of it?

Well, first of all, it is not a conspiracy. It is something that operates in broad daylight. It is not a conspiratorial cabal. These are simply people who have evolved [into] a kind of position. It is in their best interest to act in this way. And given the fact that people would rather know about Kim Kardashian than what makes up the budget or what the government is doing in Mali or Sudan or other unknown places, this is what you get: a disconnected, self-serving bureaucracy that is … simply evolving to do what it’s doing now. That is, to maintain and enhance its own power.

When do you think the American deep state first started?

Probably, it started in WWII, when we had the Manhattan Project, which was a huge secret project that required tens of thousands of people to be working in complete secrecy — and we actually built enormous cities [for the project’s workers] … and no one knew they existed. You also had the so-called Ultra and Magic secret [operations], the decoding of the Nazi and Japanese codes that required an enormous number of people to be doing absolutely top secret work that they did not reveal to anybody for decades. So, WWII created this kind of infrastructure of the deep state, which increased and consolidated during the Cold War.

What are the key institutions and players within the deep state? 

The key institutions are exactly what people would think they are. The military-industrial complex; the Pentagon and all their contractors (but also, now, our entire homeland security apparatus); the Department of Treasury; the Justice Department; certain courts, like the southern district of Manhattan, and the eastern district of Virginia; the FISA courts. And you got this kind of rump Congress that consists of certain people in the leadership, defense and intelligence committees who kind of know what’s going on. The rest of Congress doesn’t really know or care; they’re too busy looking about the next election.

So that’s the governmental aspect. What about in the private sector?

You’ve got Wall Street. Many of these people — whether it is David Petraeus … or someone like [Bill] Daley, who is the former chief of staff to President Obama … or Hank Paulson, who came from Goldman Sachs to become Treasury Secretary and bailed out Wall Street in 2008; or the people that Obama chose to be Treasury secretary — like Tim Geithner. They all have that Wall Street connection. And the third thing now is Silicon Valley.

Oh? Why is Silicon Valley now so central?

Because they generate so much money that they are rivaling and sometimes surpassing Wall Street. The heads of Google or Apple make more money than the guys running Wall Street. They make more money than Jamie Dimon. So that’s the new source of cash to run the deep state.

Silicon Valley provides a lot of money. But it also has access to an unfathomable amount of information. Which do you think is more valuable to the deep state — the cash or the info?

I think you can’t distinguish the two. There is a tremendous amount of money coming, in terms of lobbying, for Silicon Valley to get what it wants in terms of intellectual property and so forth. At the same time, NSA insiders have told me that they couldn’t even operate without the cooperation of Silicon Valley, because the communication backbones that are set up and operated by Silicon Valley provide the vast majority of information that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are going to exploit — and they can’t do it themselves. They need the willing or unwilling cooperation of Silicon Valley.

But when the Snowden leaks first hit, a lot of Silicon Valley elites implied they didn’t knowingly or willingly work with the government, no?

There was a certain amount of deception there, after the Edward Snowden revelations. They claimed, Oh, well, the NSA made us do all these things! — but not really, because NSA, CIA, and these other intelligence organizations were also involved in giving seed money or subsidies to various Silicon Valley companies to do these things.


Public Trust In The U.S. Government Has Plummeted To Historic Lows
Public Trust In The U.S. Government Has Plumetted


A year ahead of the presidential election, the American public is deeply cynical about government, politics and the nation’s elected leaders in a way that has become quite familiar. Currently, just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century. Only 20% would describe government programs as being well-run. And elected officials are held in such low regard that 55% of the public says “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems. Yet at the same time, most Americans have a lengthy to-do list for this object of their frustration: Majorities want the federal government to have a major role in addressing issues ranging from terrorism and disaster response to education and the environment. And most Americans like the way the federal government handles many of these same issues, though they are broadly critical of its handling of others – especially poverty and immigration.

A new national survey by Pew Research Center, based on more than 6,000 interviews conducted between August 27 and October 4, 2015, finds that public attitudes about government and politics defy easy categorization. The study builds upon previous reports about the government’s role and performance in 2010 and 1998. This report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the survey from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The partisan divide over the size and scope of government remains as wide as ever: Support for smaller government endures as a Republican touchstone. Fully 80% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they prefer a smaller government with fewer services, compared with just 31% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Yet both Republicans and Democrats favor significant government involvement on an array of specific issues. Among the public overall, majorities say the federal government should have a major role in dealing with 12 of 13 issues included in the survey, all except advancing space exploration. There is bipartisan agreement that the federal government should play a major role in dealing with terrorism, natural disasters, food and medicine safety, and roads and infrastructure. And while the presidential campaign has exposed sharp partisan divisions over immigration policy, large majorities of both Republicans (85%) and Democrats (80%) say the government should have a major role in managing the immigration system. But the partisan differences over government’s appropriate role are revealing – with the widest gaps on several issues relating to the social safety net.

Only about a third of Republicans and Republican leaners see a major role for the federal government in helping people get out of poverty (36%) and ensuring access to health care (34%), by far the lowest percentages for any of the 13 issues tested. Fully 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the government should have a major role in helping people out of poverty, and 83% say it should play a major role in ensuring access to health care. Moreover, while majorities of Republicans favor a major government role in ensuring a basic income for people 65 and older (59%), protecting the environment (58%) and ensuring access to high-quality education (55%), much larger shares of Democrats – 80% or more in each case – favor a large government role. However, these differences are a matter of degree. Overwhelming numbers of Republicans and Democrats say the federal government should have either a major or minor role on all 13 issues tested. Relatively few in either party want the government to have no role in these issues, though 20% of Republicans say the government should have no role in ensuring health care.


The Myth of U.S. Democracy and the Reality of U.S. Corporatocracy

Polls show that on the major issues of our time -- the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts and health insurance -- the opinion of We the People has been ignored on a national level for quite some time. While the corporate media repeats the myth that the United States of America is a democracy, Americans, especially Wisonsiners and Ohioans, know that this is a joke.

On March 3, 2011, a Rasmussen Reports poll declared that "Most Wisconsin voters oppose efforts to weaken collective bargaining rights for union workers." This of course didn't stop Wisconsin Governor Walker and the Wisconsin legislature from passing a bill that -- to the delight of America's ruling class -- trashed most collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Similarly in Ohio, legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers is on the verge of being signed into law by Governor Kasich, despite the fact that Public Policy Polling on March 15, 2011 reported that 54 percent of Ohio voters would repeal the law, while 31 percent would keep it.

It is a myth that the United States of America was ever a democracy (most of the famous founder elite such as John Adams equated democracy with mob rule and wanted no part of it). The United States of America was actually created as a republic, in which Americans were supposed to have power through representatives who were supposed to actually represent the American people. The truth today, however, is that the United States is neither a democracy nor a republic. Americans are ruled by a corporatocracy: a partnership of "too-big-to-fail" corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials.

The reality is that Americans, for quite some time, have opposed the U.S. government's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but We the People have zero impact on policy. On March 10-13, 2011, an ABC News/Washington Post poll asked, "All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?"; 64 percent said "not worth fighting" and 31 percent said "worth fighting." A February 11, 2011, CBS poll reported Americans' response to the question, "Do you think the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now, or should the U.S. not be involved in Afghanistan now?"; only 37 percent of Americans said the U.S. "is doing the right thing" and 54 percent said we "should not be involved." When a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll on December 17-19, 2010, posed the question, "Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan?" only 35 percent of Americans favored the war while 63 percent opposed it. For several years, the majority of Americans have also opposed the Iraq war, typified by a 2010 CBS poll which reported that 6 out of 10 Americans view the Iraq war as "a mistake."

The opposition by the majority of Americans to current U.S. wars has remained steady for several years. However, if you watched only the corporate media's coverage of the 2010 election between Democratic and Republican corporate-picked candidates, you might not even know that America was involved in two wars -- two wars that are not only opposed by the majority of Americans but which are also bankrupting America.

How about the 2008 Wall Street bailout? Even when Americans believed the lie that it was only a $700 billion bailout, they opposed it; but their opinion was irrelevant. In September 2008, despite the corporate media's attempts to terrify Americans into believing that an economic doomsday would occur without the bailout, Americans still opposed it. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in September 2008, asked, "Do you think the government should use taxpayers' dollars to rescue ailing private financial firms whose collapse could have adverse effects on the economy and market, or is it not the government's responsibility to bail out private companies with taxpayers' dollars?"; only 31 percent of Americans said we should "use taxpayers" dollars while 55 percent said it is "not government's responsibility." Also in September 2008, both a CBSNews/New York Times poll and a USA Today/Gallup poll showed Americans opposed the bailout. This disapproval of the bailout was before most Americans discovered that the Federal Reserve had loaned far more money to "too-big-to-fail" corporations than Americans had been originally led to believe (The Wall Street Journal reported on December 1, 2010, "The US central bank on Wednesday disclosed details of some $3.3 trillion in loans made to financial firms, companies and foreign central banks during the crisis.")

What about health insurance? Despite the fact that several 2009 polls showed that Americans actually favored a "single-payer" or "Medicare-for-all" health insurance plan, it was not even on the table in the Democrat-Republican 2009-2010 debate over health insurance reform legislation. And polls during this debate showed that an even larger majority of Americans favored the government providing a "public option" to compete with private health insurance plans, but the public option was quickly pushed off the table in the Democratic-Republican debate. A July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking poll asked, "Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all?" In this Kaiser poll, 58 percent of Americans favored a Medicare-for-all universal plan, and only 38 percent opposed it -- and a whopping 77 percent favored "expanding Medicare to cover people between the ages of 55 and 64 who do not have health insurance." A February 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll reported that 59 percent of Americans say the government should provide national health insurance. And a December 2009 Reuters poll reported that, "Just under 60 percent of those surveyed said they would like a public option as part of any final healthcare reform legislation."

In the U.S. corporatocracy, as in most modern tyrannies, there are elections, but the reality is that giant corporations and the wealthy elite rule in a way to satisfy their own self-interest. In elections in a corporatocracy, as is the case in elections in all tyrannies, it's in the interest of the ruling class to maintain the appearance that the people have a say, so more than one candidate is offered up. In the U.S. corporatocracy, it's in the interest of corporations and the wealthy elite that the winning candidate is beholden to them, so they financially support both Democrats and Republicans. It's in the interest of corporations and the wealthy elite that there are only two viable parties--this cuts down on bribery costs. And it's in the interest of these two parties that they are the only parties with a chance of winning.

In the U.S. corporatocracy, corporations and the wealthy elite directly and indirectly finance candidates, who are then indebted to them. It's common for these indebted government officials to appoint to key decision-making roles those friendly to corporations, including executives from these corporations. And it's routine for high-level government officials to be rewarded with high-paying industry positions when they exit government. It's common and routine for former government officials to be given high-paying lobbying jobs so as to use their relationships with current government officials to ensure that corporate interests will be taken care of.

The integration between giant corporations and the U.S. government has gone beyond revolving doors of employment (exemplified by George W. Bush's last Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, who had previously been CEO of Goldman Sachs; and Barack Obama's first chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers who in 2008 received $5.2 million from hedge fund D. E. Shaw). Nowadays, the door need not even revolve in the U.S. corporatocracy; for example, when President Obama earlier in 2011 appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as a key economic advisor, Immelt kept his job as CEO of General Electric.

The United States is not ruled by a single deranged dictator but by an impersonal corporatocracy. Thus, there is no one tyrant that Americans can first hate and then finally overthrow so as to end senseless wars and economic injustices. Revolutions against Qaddafi-type tyrants require enormous physical courage. In the U.S. corporatocracy, the first step in recovering democracy is the psychological courage to face the humiliation that we Americans have neither a democracy nor a republic but are in fact ruled by a partnership of "too-big-to-fail" corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials.


We are Becoming a Plutocracy

Call it Crony Capitalism, or the 1% versus the 99%, or the the tension between Wall Street and Main Street: One of the major themes in America today is how the wealthy use their money and position to influence policy and the idea of success. The accepted notion that our capitalist democratic system is excessively deferential to people with money will be the theme of President Obama’s State of the Union speech this coming week. It is the theme of the Pope’s 2014 message to the world, and was a major topic of conversation in Davos last week. And it is in the looking glass of progressive folk around politics like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, members of the academy as well as the media. And it isn’t going away. Think of it. Fifty years after LBJ called for a war to eradicate poverty, there are 47 million people using food stamps to provide food for their families. The true rate of unemployment, if you add in those no longer looking for a job, is probably 12-13%. And there are millions of families with income around $26,000 a year, which is the cutoff point for being considered in poverty.

By now most Americans who read the press are aware that the top 1% of Americans are pulling away from the 99%. The top 1% grew their incomes by 86.1% since 1933; the top 5%, or 15 million individuals, have seen their incomes rise while everyone else is flat to down. But the real plutocrats are the top 1/10th of 1%: the 350,000 individuals that receive 11.33% of overall income. At the very peak are the 1/100th of 1%: the 35,000 individuals with 5.47% of overall income. This is the amazing cohort at the very peak of our economy, and I believe they, or others who will replace them, are likely to receive these benefits well into the future. I don’t rightly see what countervailing power there is to reduce their take or level it out. They are the individuals with foundations, hedge funds, private equity firms and social media magnates who are the new symbols of financial firepower. They help make Presidents, defeat or pass special legislation, build hospitals, museum wings, endow universities, libraries, music halls and more.

I’d say whatever corruption of the political process is believed to happen is overshadowed by charitable philanthropy and the creation and support of good works NGOs. That’s why I reckon proposals to raise taxes seriously on the 1% are going to fall on deaf ears from the power center of the nation. At most, the capital gains tax might be nudged a bit higher and the deduction for interest on mortgages perhaps capped. But then again, maybe not, due to the very influence of effective lobbyists in this ever-growing pot of money.

In short, we’re bound to always have the Koch brothers and the Sheldon Adelsons who spent more on 2012 elections than the citizens of 12 states taken together. I don’t think you can reverse this trend unless there is another economic and financial disaster that wipes out a good portion of these obscene fortunes held by several of the 1%. (Gates and Buffett and their ilk excluded) Those with the outsize fortunes are bound to have the outsize influence to influence public policy. What does need to be slowed down is the ability of the 1% to mobilize the distribution of even more resources to themselves. For the mobility of the 39% is at stake in the U.S. As Sen. Marco Rubio put it the other day — and he is no lefty, progressive ‘tax the rich’ fellow — “It is the lack of mobility, not just income inequality that should be focused on.” On Tuesday night, we’ll find out if the President has any fresh, innovative, credible programs to achieve that end.


Dark money, gerrymandering, super-majorities, undemocratic actions that leave the plutocrats in charge. It's coming

This is how they'll gut American democracy: Scott Walker and the Kochs want to f**k America as bad as they did Wisconsin

The third week in December brought two startling stories highlighting the ongoing Dixiefication of the Midwest, a key ingredient in how the GOP, with its aging white male demographic base, is nonetheless strategically outmaneuvering the Democratic Party on multiple fronts. They are sharp reminders of how our politics are being reshaped in state legislatures and on the ground—and how inattentive to basics the Democrats have become since the demise of the 50-state strategy.

The story from Wisconsin concerns the secret signing of two laws, which Common Cause of Wisconsin called an “assault on democracy in Wisconsin,” that “sets good government back to the 19th Century,” while Rep. Terese Berceau, a Democrat, earlier called the bills nothing short of “an effort to create a permanent one-party state.” The story out of Michigan is about the sort of dire consequences that can come from such crippling of democracy: specifically, how the state, via the dictatorial rule of an appointed “emergency manager,” actively, horrifically poisoned the young children of Flint with lead, leading the mayor to declare a state of emergency in hopes of getting the state and federal assistance her citizens so desperately need. It wasn’t just the young children, of course, but young children are the ones most heavily impacted, their thinking ability impaired for the rest of their lives. The story from Flint is most shocking and devastating, but it cannot be understood outside of the larger framework, which is why I’ll turn to the Wisconsin story first, where that framework itself is the story, and deal with Flint’s story in a followup.

First, a short note about what I mean by “Dixiefication.” It’s a complex process—economically, a regressive shift toward low-wage, deregulated oligopoly; culturally, an anti-modernist shift toward backwards-looking, fear-infused myth and fantasy obsession; politically, an authoritarian shift toward culture war, demonization, exclusion, and erosion of accountability. It’s been reflected in both states in a variety of ways—for example, both Michigan and Wisconsin have become so-called “right to work” states since 2010—a hallmark anti-labor measure pioneered in the South, which severely weakens both the bargaining power and political influence of unions. But what most clearly situated their Dixiefication in national politics was their key roles in the extreme anti-democratic gerrymandering that helped the GOP keep control of the House in 2012, despite losing the popular vote for House seats by more than half a million votes—which at the same time gave them a stranglehold on state government ever since.

From Union-Busting to Election-Busting

Although other aspects were also present, in Wisconsin its dynamic was centrally driven by its core economic logic, a drive toward a corporate-friendly, low-wage, Deep South-style economy, as described by Ed Kilgore in relationship to Governor Scott Walker’s purported “budget bill” aimed at crippling public employee unions. That bill began the story, which culminated in the recent secret bill signings giving free rein to political corruption in Wisconsin—another common feature of Dixiefication. The budget bill sparked massive protests and a powerful recall movement, which Walker survived with massive outside spending assistance from dark-money groups, which in turn led to a judge-supervised, grand jury-like “John Doe” investigation looking into potentially illegal coordination and campaign contributions between Walker’s campaign with outside dark money groups. The probe was halted last July by a controversial 4-2 decision by the ethically compromised Wisconsin Supreme Court, which effectively gutted Wisconsin campaign finance law. Two of the justices involved had received substantial support from Walker’s backers, but refused to recuse themselves from the case—a further demonstration of Wisconsin’s rapid slide into corruption.

In October, Republicans introduced three bills to consolidate and extend the damage the court had done. The first, passed that month, prohibited John Doe investigations of political corruption. The other two were just signed into law by Walker on Dec. 16, cementing the GOP’s power grab into place. One eviscerates state campaign finance laws, retroactively legalizing everything Walker and his allies did, and allowing virtually unlimited corporate spending. The other gets rid of the state’s highly respected Government Accountability Board—a nonpartisan body composed of six retired judges overseeing elections, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying, considered a model for other states—and replaces it with two partisan-appointed bodies, designed for FEC-like gridlock at best. “The destruction of the eight-year-old, non-partisan Government Accountability Board was based on completely discredited charges, false premises, character assassination and outright falsehoods,” Common Cause of Wisconsin charged, adding:
The entire process under which Assembly Bills 387 and 388 were first unveiled in October, fast-tracked through a single public hearing in Madison only, and then rammed through committees and rushed to the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly and slammed through, before being stalled for a week in the State Senate, has been among the most abusive, disrespectful, secretive and utterly anti-democratic in the history of the Wisconsin Legislature.
The hurried, haphazard process described, although shocking by traditional Wisconsin standards, is a microcosm of “normal politics” in a Dixiefied state, which the two laws were designed to help foster. The campaign finance law doubles the limits on direct contributions to candidates, and allows unlimited donations from individuals to political parties. It also allows corporations to give directly to political parties, for the first time in over 100 years in Wisconsin, and it allows candidates to coordinate with outside dark-money groups. In fact, there’s not much it doesn’t allow. The GAB was established in 2007, with overwhelming bipartisan support following a major corruption scandal. It passed the State Senate 33-0, and passed the Assembly 97-2. “Twelve Republican State Senators who voted to establish the GAB in 2007, voted to destroy it,” Common Cause pointed out. “Nothing changed in the intervening 8 years except the politics. So these 12 State Senators were all for the GAB before they turned against it.” The politics that changed was all about the money. And to really grasp what the new laws will do, it helps to trace that change, starting just after Walker’s election in 2010.

The Role of Money

Even before the union-busting budget bill was taken up, Walker had signed $117 million in tax cuts. When his first two-year budget bill was signed in June 2011, Citizens for Tax Justice reported that cuts to Medicaid and a range of other programs “amount to $2 billion worth of support yanked out from underneath the working poor. Yet, in his frenzy of service cuts, Governor Walker somehow found room for $2.3 billion in tax breaks over the next decade.” The big picture here is straight out of the scenario Kilgore described when, during the initial union-busting battle, he wrote:
Walker also has an economic vision for his state….based on a theory of economic growth that is not only anti-statist but aggressively pro-corporate: relentlessly focused on breaking the backs of unions; slashing worker compensation and benefits; and subsidizing businesses in order to attract capital from elsewhere and avoid its flight to even more benighted locales….. [S]tudents of American economic history will recognize it as the “Moonlight and Magnolias” model of development, which is native to the Deep South.
But even beyond massive tax breaks, there were plenty of very targeted favors for big donors. In 2010, Walker campaigned on a promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, a target he missed by more than 100,000 jobs. As I’ve written about before, his primary job growth mechanism was to replace the state commerce department with a private nonprofit, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, but in 2014 it was reported that, “nearly 60 percent of some $975 million in assistance distributed by WEDC went to firms that had contributed to Walker or the Republican Governor’s Association…. Walker received more than $1 million in direct campaign funds and another $1 million via the RGA from WEDC aid recipients.” This all came in very handy when it came to fighting the recall election. As the Center for Public Integrity reported:
The Wisconsin vote captured national attention, and a flood of out-of-state money. Of the $63.5 million spent, $45 million came from Walker’s campaign and supporters, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision—which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions—and a state law that allowed unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign listed special interest group spending, including $3.7 million from the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, $4 million from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and $9.4 million from the Republican Governors Association’s Right Direction Wisconsin PAC. So, to review: Walker comes in with a reverse Robin Hood agenda, cuts billions in support for the working poor, while giving billions away in tax cuts, plus a lucrative side dish of paybacks to funders through the WEDC, and gets floods of money from out-of-state big money interests to fight off a recall by the citizens of his state. It’s picture-perfect illustration of Dixiefication in action. Neatly connecting that backstory to the laws just signed, a recent analysis by Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy explained how these monied interests and the politicians they fund were motivated to pass the new laws, the better to hide what they’re up to. Regrading the WEDC, Fischer recounted:
In one case, Walker’s administration urged WEDC to give a $500,000 unsecured loan to a company owned by Bill Minahan, who a few months earlier had maxed-out on contributions to Walker’s campaign. The Minahan loan didn’t go through the underwriting required by law, and his company ultimately went bust, with the taxpayer-funded half-million-dollar loan not being repaid. WEDC handed out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the form of bonds, grants, loans, and tax credits to Walker donors, and could only account for 5,680 jobs as of 2014, according to a Center for Media and Democracy analysis.
All this was uncovered by the press “because those donations were disclosed,” Fischer wrote. But the new campaign finance law would keep that secret forever. If politicians and donors know what’s going on, but the media and ordinary voters don’t, that informational imbalance can translate into enormous political power. It’s like a basketball game with one team wearing blindfolds. Fischer went on to cite an example of how this was already working in Wisconsin:
The other centerpiece of Walker’s job creation effort was a rewrite of the state environmental laws to pave the way for a Florida-based mining company, Gogebic Taconite, to build an open-pit iron ore mine in a pristine area of Northern Wisconsin. A year after the proposal became law, documents emerged in the John Doe probe showing that G-Tac’s CEO had secretly donated more than $700,000 to a dark money group associated with Scott Walker’s campaign. The public and press had no knowledge of these contributions as the hotly-contested mining bill was being debated; the secret donations were more than 22 times the amount of disclosed contributions to candidates.
With the chance of normalizing and legalizing such underhanded dealings, it’s not surprising that people oppose what they’re trying to do, while Walker’s donors eagerly support them. Regarding popular opposition, Fischer noted, “Common Cause Wisconsin has counted thousands of calls and messages from Wisconsinites to state senators urging them to reject these bills,” in line with consistent polling showing that voters in both parties want less money in elections and more transparency about where it’s coming from.

On the other side, Fischer noted a small handful of well-funded groups supporting the three laws introduced in October. The only group lobbying to support the bill replacing the GAB was David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which also lobbied for the bill exempting political corruption from John Doe investigations, along with Wisconsin Family Action, “a group that was implicated in the John Doe probe,” Fischer noted. The third bill’s supporters were an instructive bit of a suprise. The avowedly pro-corporate groups stayed out of it, with the forced childbirth group, Wisconsin Right to Life, taking the lead instead. Tellingly, however, their executive director was a former AFP leader. In summary, Fischer wrote, “[These special interest groups], funded by out-of-state billionaires like the Koch brothers, are apparently calling the shots within the Wisconsin legislature, regardless of what voters think.” And with these new laws in place, that will only become more commonplace in the years ahead.

Gerrymandering creates undemocratic situation
One would hope that the crazy behavior shown by some Republicans in the U.S. House would be mitigated with the next election cycle by turning these obstructionists out of office and replacing them with more level headed adults. But don’t hold your breath. The fact is that so many U.S. House districts have been gerrymandered so badly that it is impossible to change the structure of the House without either changing the outlines of the districts or changing the perspective of the voters that keep sending them to Washington.

A casual look at a district map will show you that if you took a twenty five square mile area that contained 10,000 eligible voters, that square has been so gerrymandered that you have only thirty percent of the voters in that square holding all of the power while the other seventy percent have been alienated. It puts a lie to American democracy. It would be as if the entire state of Wyoming were a single district but only Cheyenne and Gillette got to choose who we send to Washington. It is inherently wrong. So that leaves trying to get those few voters that hold all of the power to cast off their dogma and really look at what’s in the best interest of the nation. I hope that one day, before those extremist representatives have so fouled up this country that a Gordian knot would be simpler to unravel, these voters see how they are being manipulated by the entrenched corporate entities that are behind the tea party movement.

Remember the old adage of, `follow the money’. Ask yourself who has been making money under the current health care system? Insurance companies for sure. Medical device manufacturers for another. These are the people opposing the Affordable Care Act and they’ve hoodwinked conservative voters into believing many of their lies while their puppets in Congress make fools of themselves and risk the future of America just to keep the money flowing. No, we won’t see House districts changing anytime soon and we won’t see these corporate tools thrown out of Congress. It’s sad to think that such a small portion of the nation's voters can bring the entire thing down. Such is a republic.

Despite Bernie’s landslide victory, Hillary receives more New Hampshire delegates

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Bernie Sanders. © Carlo Allegri

Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s primary with 60 percent of the vote, but that’s not the end of the story. Because of a peculiarity in the Democratic Party’s nominating system, Clinton will likely receive more delegates from the state. New Hampshire has 24 pledged delegates that are assigned based on the proportion of the popular vote received. Sanders received 60 percent of support in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary, giving him 15 pledged delegates. Hillary Clinton received 38 percent of the votes, putting her pledged delegate count at nine. This seems simple enough, but Democratic National Committee’s method of assigning delegates complicates the matter. There are eight “superdelegates,” party officials that are free to support any candidate they please – even if that support does not align with the wishes of voters. Six of those superdelegates have committed to Clinton, giving her a total of 15 delegates from New Hampshire as of Wednesday afternoon. The two remaining superdelegates have not committed for either candidate yet. Clinton had a razor-thin victory in Iowa followed up by a crushing defeat in New Hampshire, putting her pledged delegated of 32 behind Sanders’s 36. However, Clinton has an imposing lead over Sanders thanks to her 45-to-1 superdelegate advantage. She now has 431 delegates of all types supporting her, while Sanders only has 52, according to CNN. There are 712 superdelegates in the DNC primaries. A Democratic presidential candidate needs 2,383 delegates of any type out of the 4,763 total to win the nomination.

Rigged Election: Hillary secretly STOLE New Hampshire

It’s the headline on every newspaper and website around the country: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won a resounding victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in yesterday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary. But there’s another story the media has been much slower to pick up on. Because despite his 22-point victory, Sanders didn’t walk away with the most New Hampshire delegates. Clinton did. And party insiders have been secretly working for months to rig the delegate count in Clinton’s favor, no matter what the voters of New Hampshire decided. Voters handed Sanders a blowout win yesterday. He received 60 percent of the votes, compared to 38 percent for Clinton. But that only assured Sanders a majority of New Hampshire’s pledged delegates, 13 to Clinton’s 9. But he still came up two short in the total count, because six New Hampshire superdelegates — party insiders from each state who can support any candidate of their choice — pledged their loyalty to Clinton.

In other words, despite losing by 22 points in votes, Clinton still managed to win the total delegate count in New Hampshire, 15-13. And it’s these delegates who decide who the Democratic presidential nominee will be, not majority vote. This story isn’t limited to the Granite State either. All across the country, Clinton holds a massive lead in the overall delegate count due to the overwhelming support from these Democratic superdelegates.

Before a single voter had showed up at a caucus or a booth, Clinton had amassed 392 delegates to her side. The magic number to clinch the nomination is 2,382. So with this guaranteed insider support, the Clinton campaign’s tie in Iowa and crushing defeat in New Hampshire matter little — she’s still at 431 total delegates, 18% of the way to the party nomination and over eight times Sanders’ delegate count. Ironically, exit polling in New Hampshire showed that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders won the support of about 9 in 10 voters who thought honesty was important. Should Clinton continue to have her way, such opinions — and the votes that they sway — may not matter much at all. Thanks to years of insider work, Clinton is set to repeat her quiet New Hampshire victory again and again in 2016.

Super-duper-delegates: 'Undemocratic system used by Democratic Party'

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrive on stage before of the start of the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidates debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 11, 2016. © Jim Young

Any grassroots candidate in the Democratic Party like Sanders could be run out by the use of the undemocratic superdelegates system which favors the party elite and Congress people, says Patrick Henningsen from 21st Century Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary on February, 9 but due to peculiarities in the Democratic National Committee’s method of assigning delegates Hillary Clinton received the same number of delegates as Sanders. "The difference between the Democrat and Republican primaries is that in a DP primaries there are no winner takes all states. They are all proportional. So, the delegates will be divided proportionally. Each candidate has to be very aggressive in their delegate strategy. And there is a number of superdelegates as well that could decide this election - maybe for the first time since superdelegates have come on the scene in the US electoral system on the Democratic side. They could decide this election more than any other election in the past. It could even go: Bernie Sanders could win the popular vote and Hillary Clinton could win the delegate count based on superdelegates. If we look the AP early polls showed that superdelegates, 98 percent of them in early polling say they would vote for Hillary Clinton, no matter what at the convention, as opposed to two percent for Sanders. I mean, that could swing a ‘neck & neck’ election, come convention time", Patrick Henningsen told RT.

"In total I think for the Democratic Party there are 700 superdelegates, there are a number there pre-pledged to Hillary Clinton absolutely. But there are also a number of undecided as well. The problem with this and the big criticism about the superdelegates system is that it is highly undemocratic. So, this is basically something that came in as a result of George McGovern election in 1968; the McGovern commission that came out of that came up with this plan which allow people to think as outsiders. So, anybody like a grassroots candidate in the Democratic Party like Sanders could be absolutely run out by the use of the superdelegates system. It is undemocratic, it favors the party elite, high party office holders within the Democratic hierarchy, but also Congress people who get one superdelegate…one vote in real terms is equal to 10,000 average American voters in a Democratic primary if you map it out mathematically. It is ironic that the Democratic Party would have such an undemocratic system factored into their sort of party politics. Clearly, the Democratic Party elite are backing Hillary because she is coming into this with her own power base which she has accumulated over two decades. And also through her time in the Senate and through past campaigns, and her husband, former president Bill Clinton," he said.

The undemocratic Electoral College

"The world's greatest democracy?" does a great job of skewering the myth that the U.S. electoral process is anything close to truly fair or democratic, and calling out John McCain's absurd claims about ACORN trying to "fix" the election for Barack Obama. A closer look at the Electoral College, particularly with regards to the 2000 election, illustrates how it functions to limit democracy. The Electoral College, which decides who is president of the United States, consists of 538 winnable votes: one for each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, one for each of the 100 senators, as well as three for the District of Columbia.

Except for Nebraska and Maine, each state awards its votes by "winner take all," so that a candidate who wins a state 48 percent to 47 percent, for example, would get all of that state's electoral votes. The 47 percent who voted for the other candidate are effectively disenfranchised, as their votes will not impact the final outcome. As Schulte points out, the Electoral College ensures that popular votes from smaller (more rural, more white) states are overrepresented, since each state gets at least three electors regardless of population. Even more troubling about the Electoral College system is that relatively arbitrary factors can decisively impact the outcome of a presidential election.

Consider the 2000 election. In their 2003 article, "Outcomes of Presidential Elections and the House Size," Cal State Northridge mathematicians Michael G. Neubauer and Joel Zeitlin show how, in a race that is close in terms of the popular vote, the outcome can depend on the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Proponents of "lesser-evilism" who would like to lay at the feet of Ralph Nader responsibility for George W. Bush's "win" in 2000 have overlooked the true culprits: the members of Congress who, in 1911, picked 435 for the new number of House seats.

In general, the larger the size of the House of Representatives, the closer the Electoral College outcome gets to an accurate reflection of the popular vote, since additional House seats would be awarded to the states with the greatest ratio of population to number of House seats, which offsets somewhat the advantage that small states get from the awarding of votes based on Senate seats.

In the 2000 presidential election, despite the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans and various other fraud, Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore. However, because of the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College (and with a little help from both the Supreme Court and Gore's spineless complicity), Bush won a majority in the Electoral College and became president.

Analysis by Neubauer and Zeitlin shows that Bush would have won for any House with 490 seats or less. However, the 491st and 492nd seat would have been apportioned to New York and Pennsylvania, respectively, both of which Gore won, putting Gore in the lead in the EC. So if the size of the House had been set at 492 instead of 435 in 1911, or if it had been increased to 492 at some point over the last 89 odd years to reflect population gains, Gore would have been president.

Even more absurdly, based on current apportionment methods for House seats, "for House sizes between 492 and 596, the winner goes back and forth many times without much rhyme or reason. For those 105 different House sizes, the election ends in a tie 23 times, Gore wins 29 times, and Bush wins 53 times." Since Gore won the popular vote, for House sizes of 598 and above, Gore wins every time. All else remaining the same, the outcome of the 2000 election hinged upon an arbitrary decision made in 1911 by people who were all dead at the time of the 2000 election. It appears that the fabric of even the most formal mechanism of democracy in the United States was shoddy long before ACORN even came into being.

The Anti-Democratic Electoral College

America was once a world leader in democracy, with innovations like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. While the early republic had major flaws, our nation was nonetheless an innovator in democracy at a time when monarchies ruled. Since that time, many nations have adopted the American principles of separation of powers in government but they have avoided many of the idiosyncrasies in the American system. Most modern democracies avoid our single-seat winner take-all-elections, using some form of proportional representation instead. No modern democracy has adopted the American system that denies citizens in their national capital the right to have a voting representative in Congress. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the fact that no other country uses our anti-democratic Electoral College.

Often when I discuss the Electoral College with Americans who don't spend much time thinking about politics, they suggest, "it's been working for hundreds of years, so whatever problems it has are probably not so bad." This reflects a basic pattern in American society where we want the latest technology for our computers, televisions and cell phones but we complacently trudge along using archaic voting technology while ignoring the improvements that have occurred since the late 1700s. Defenders of the status quo start to perk up when I mention that the Electoral College makes it possible to capture the presidency by winning only eleven states and disregarding the rest of the country or that four times the presidential candidate that won the popular vote lost the election. When I remind them that no country uses the Electoral College model for electing a leader, they start wondering what aspects of the Electoral College are most problematic.

That is when I emphasize that, by design, the Electoral College fundamentally undermines the basic principle of one citizen-one vote mentioning democratic lowlights such as: (1) States with smaller populations have far more representatives per population than states with larger populations. For example, residents of the three least-populated states -- Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota -- have one congressional representative for every 200,000 people, while those in the three states with the highest population -- California, Texas, and New York -- have only one congressional member for every 670,000 people. This representational inequality clearly gives citizens from small population states a much stronger voice per citizen than those residing in large states when it comes to electing the president (see graph).


(2) Forty-eight states allocate all of their Electors to one candidate (Maine and Nebraska use proportional representation). This state-level decision of how to allocate Electors produces the issue of swing-state distortion, where citizens in states that are relatively evenly split between the two parties have far more influence in selecting the president than citizens in states where a majority are clearly voting for one party. Moreover, citizens are often discouraged to vote in presidential elections if they know that the allocation of all of their state's electors is a foregone conclusion. Campaign activity exemplifies the implications of this all-or-nothing allocation issue and its egregious undermining of the principle of one citizen-one vote. Candidates rarely invest campaign funds in states that aren't "in play" -- i.e., states whose electoral votes are considered to be already won or lost based on large margins of victory in previous elections and on current polling. For example, in the 2008 presidential election, the campaign of then-candidate Barack Obama spent nearly $40 million on advertising in Pennsylvania, a swing state with twenty-one electoral votes, and about $25,000 in Illinois, with an equivalent number of electors. The Obama strategists knew that there was no reason to spend any time courting voters in his home state, Illinois, since he would clearly win the majority of Illinois's popular votes and all twenty-one of its electoral votes. Republican and third-party supporters in Illinois had no chance of having their voices heard and citizens living in Illinois were being told very clearly that they are much less important than those living in Pennsylvania.

(3) "Faithless" Electors: After all of the undermining of one citizen-one vote that we described above, there is still the issue that the Elector doesn't actually have to vote for whom they pledged. For example, in 2000, D.C. elector Barbara Lett-Simmons abstained rather than vote for Al Gore as she had pledged. Her feeble protest resulted in silencing the voices of thousands of D.C. residents.

Few Americans would contend today that if we were designing a system to elect a president from scratch, the Electoral College would be the optimal solution. Using the popular vote would be the most obvious choice and a majority of Americans support this change. it would be easy to implement since the popular vote is already counted and some variant of preferential voting could be introduced so that third-parties can have a stronger voice.

Yet, inertia is a powerful force and so I don't anticipate America discarding this system anytime soon. Until the time comes when America drops the Electoral College or there is sufficient support for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, all states should mirror the practice of Maine and Nebraska of allocating their electoral votes based on proportional representation. This corrects the current all-or-nothing system used in forty-eight of the fifty states and its resulting overweighting or underweighting of votes based on whether or not you live in a swing state. More importantly, it will force candidates to take the votes of every American seriously, not just that small percentage living in swing states. Unfortunately, self-interest often trumps what is most fair or appropriate. Consequently, it is unlikely that many other states will follow Maine and Nebraska's lead since proportional allocation diminishes the power of the majority party in the state and opens the opportunity for third parties to have a stronger voice (an action that leadership in both the Democratic and Republican parties wouldn't want).

How Money Corrupts American Politics

Money cannot always buy election results; weak candidates often lose even when they outspend their opponents. Nor is outright bribery very common; elected officeholders rarely sell specific votes directly Yet the perfectly legal flood of money that pervades American politics has fundamentally corrupting effects. The effects of money are manifold, subtle, and hard to pin down, but a number of pathways of influence can be laid out. Most are based on judgments about the best available evidence, short of irrefutable proof. But on certain key points the quantitative evidence is fairly conclusive. Political scientist Gary Jacobson and other scholars have pinned down how monetary advantages affect chances of winning congressional elections Large amounts of money are virtually essential if a candidate is to have any serious chance of winning. Inability to raise big money leads to losing general elections, losing party nominations, or giving up even before getting started. Thus the need to raise money acts as a filter, tending to eliminate public officials who hold certain points of view – even points of view that are popular with most Americans.

The need for money tends to filter out centrist candidates. Most congressional districts are gerrymandered to ensure a big advantage for one party or the other, so that election outcomes are actually decided in low-salience, low-turnout, one-party primary elections. Primaries are usually dominated by ideological party activists and money givers, who tend to hold extreme views and to reject all but the purest partisan candidates. This contributes to party polarization and legislative gridlock in Congress.

The need for money filters out candidates on the economic left. Democratic as well as Republican candidates have to raise big money, most of which comes from economically successful entrepreneurs and professionals who tend to hold rather conservative views on taxes, social welfare spending, and economic regulation. As a result, few candidates whose views are not broadly acceptable to the affluent are nominated or elected.

The quest for money tilts candidates' priorities and policy stands. Countless hours spent grubbing for money from affluent contributors changes candidates' priorities and sense of constituent needs. As they speak with potential donors, candidates hear repeatedly about resentment of progressive taxes and "wasteful" social spending. Special tax breaks for corporations and hedge fund managers start to sound reasonable.

Affluent citizens get extra influence by turning out to vote, working in campaigns, and contacting officials. Campaign contributions are not the only way in which affluent people get involved in politics; these same people tend to be active in other ways too, underscoring their importance to candidates.

Money can tip the outcome of close elections. Money spent on media, organizing, and turnout tends to increase vote totals, giving a significant advantage to candidates favored by money givers.

Money buys access to officials. When big contributors contact officials they tend to get attention. Their economic resources enable them to get a hearing, to offer help with information and expertise – even to draft bills. Research shows that these processes boost the influence of the affluent on the policy topics and ideas officeholders consider, biasing the public agenda toward the concerns of the affluent.

The quest for re-election money affects officials' priorities and policy stands. From the moment they win office, candidates look ahead to the money they must raise for reelection, and this is bound to steal time from official duties and slant their attention toward constituents who are substantial donors.

In sum, the net effects of money in politics include distraction from the public business, exacerbation of polarization and gridlock, and distortion of policy making in wasteful, inefficient, and anti-democratic directions. These are not trivial costs to American democracy, and their impact raises the obvious question: what can be done? There is little immediate prospect for a Supreme Court decision or Constitutional amendment to reduce the impact of money on politics. But the effects of big private money could be greatly diluted through public funding – for example, by letting all citizens contribute with "democracy vouchers" (as legal expert Larry Lessig has proposed) or instituting some other system of matching small contributions. To make something like this happen – over the likely resistance of wealthy big contributors – would require a broad, bipartisan social movement. Citizens of various ideological persuasions would have to join together, much as Americans once did in broad reform movements during the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century.

Benjamin Page is the Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University. Click here to learn more about Ben's research and advocacy.


The Age of Authoritarian Democracy

The world is currently being shaken by tectonic changes almost too numerous to count: the ongoing economic crisis is accelerating the degradation of international governance and supranational institutions, and both are occurring alongside a massive shift of economic and political power to Asia. Less than a quarter-century after U.S. political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama declared "the end of history," we seem to have arrived at the dawn of a new age of social and geopolitical upheaval.

Dramatically, the Arab world has been swept by a revolutionary spring, though one that is rapidly becoming a chilly winter. Indeed, for the most part, the new regimes are combining the old authoritarianism with Islamism, resulting in further social stagnation, resentment and instability. Even more remarkable, however, are the social — and antisocial — grassroots demonstrations that are mushrooming in affluent Western societies. These protests have two major causes.

First, social inequality has grown unabated in the West over the last quarter-century, owing in part to the disappearance of the Soviet Union and, with it, the threat of expansionist communism. The specter of revolution had forced Western elites to use the power of the state to redistribute wealth and nurture the growth of loyal middle classes. But when communism collapsed in its Eurasian heartland, the West's rich, believing that they had nothing more to fear, pressed to roll back the welfare state, causing inequality to rise rapidly. This was tolerable as long as the overall pie was expanding, but the global financial crisis in 2008 ended that.

Second, over the past 15 years, hundreds of millions of jobs shifted to Asia, which offered inexpensive and often highly skilled labor. The West, euphoric from its victory over communism and its seemingly unstoppable economic growth, failed to implement necessary structural reforms, although Germany and Sweden were rare exceptions. Instead, Western prosperity relied increasingly on debt.

But the economic crisis has made it impossible to maintain a good life on borrowed money. Americans and Europeans are beginning to understand that neither they, nor their children, can assume that they will become wealthier over time. Governments now face the difficult task of implementing reforms that will hit the majority of voters hardest. In the meantime, the minority that has benefited financially over the past two decades is unlikely to give up its advantages without a fight.

All of this can only weaken Western democracy's allure in countries like Russia, where, unlike in the West or to a large extent the Arab world, those who are organizing the massive demonstrations against the government belong to the economic elite. Theirs is a movement of political reform, demanding more freedom and government accountability. It is not a social protest — at least not yet.

A few years ago, it was fashionable to worry about the challenge that authoritarian-style capitalism — for example, in China, Singapore, Malaysia or Russia — presented to Western democratic capitalism. Today, the problem is not only economic.

Western capitalism's model of a society based on near-universal affluence and liberal democracy looks increasingly ineffective when compared to the competition. Authoritarian countries' middle classes may push their leaders toward greater democracy, as in Russia, but Western democracies will also likely become more authoritarian.

Indeed, measured against today's standards, former French President Charles de Gaulle, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower were comparatively authoritarian leaders. The West will have to readopt such an approach or risk losing out globally as its ultraright and ultraleft political forces consolidate their positions and its middle classes begin to dissolve.

We must find ways to prevent the political polarization that gave rise to totalitarian systems — communist and fascist — in the 20th century. Fortunately, this is possible. Communism and fascism were born and took root in societies demoralized by war, which is why all steps should be taken now to prevent the outbreak of war.

This is becoming particularly relevant today, as the smell of war hangs over Iran. Israel, which is facing a surge of hostile sentiment among its neighbors in the wake of their "democratic" upheavals, is not the only interested party. Many people in the advanced countries, and even some in Russia, look increasingly supportive of a war with Iran, despite — or perhaps owing to — the need to address the ongoing global economic crisis and failure of international governance.

At the same time, huge opportunities beckon in times of far-reaching change. Billions of people in Asia have extricated themselves from poverty. New markets and spheres for applying one's intellect, education and talents are appearing constantly. The world's power centers are beginning to counterbalance one another, undermining hegemonic ambitions and heralding a creative instability based on genuine multipolarity, with people gaining greater freedom to define their fate in the global arena.

Paradoxically, today's global changes and challenges offer the potential for both peaceful coexistence and violent conflict. Whether fortunately or not, it is up to us — alone — to determine which future it will be.


Why China’s Political Model Is Superior

File:Shanghai - Nanjing Road.jpeg

THIS week the Obama administration is playing host to Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and heir apparent. The world’s most powerful electoral democracy and its largest one-party state are meeting at a time of political transition for both. Many have characterized the competition between these two giants as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. But this is false. America and China view their political systems in fundamentally different ways: whereas America sees democratic government as an end in itself, China sees its current form of government, or any political system for that matter, merely as a means to achieving larger national ends. 

In the history of human governance, spanning thousands of years, there have been two major experiments in democracy. The first was Athens, which lasted a century and a half; the second is the modern West. If one defines democracy as one citizen one vote, American democracy is only 92 years old. In practice it is only 47 years old, if one begins counting after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — far more ephemeral than all but a handful of China’s dynasties. Why, then, do so many boldly claim they have discovered the ideal political system for all mankind and that its success is forever assured?

 The answer lies in the source of the current democratic experiment. It began with the European Enlightenment. Two fundamental ideas were at its core: the individual is rational, and the individual is endowed with inalienable rights. These two beliefs formed the basis of a secular faith in modernity, of which the ultimate political manifestation is democracy. In its early days, democratic ideas in political governance facilitated the industrial revolution and ushered in a period of unprecedented economic prosperity and military power in the Western world. 

Yet at the very beginning, some of those who led this drive were aware of the fatal flaw embedded in this experiment and sought to contain it. The American Federalists made it clear they were establishing a republic, not a democracy, and designed myriad means to constrain the popular will. But as in any religion, faith would prove stronger than rules. The political franchise expanded, resulting in a greater number of people participating in more and more decisions. As they say in America, “California is the future.” And the future means endless referendums, paralysis and insolvency. 

In Athens, ever-increasing popular participation in politics led to rule by demagogy. And in today’s America, money is now the great enabler of demagogy. As the Nobel-winning economist A. Michael Spence has put it, America has gone from “one propertied man, one vote; to one man, one vote; to one person, one vote; trending to one dollar, one vote.” By any measure, the United States is a constitutional republic in name only. Elected representatives have no minds of their own and respond only to the whims of public opinion as they seek re-election; special interests manipulate the people into voting for ever-lower taxes and higher government spending, sometimes even supporting self-destructive wars.

The West’s current competition with China is therefore not a face-off between democracy and authoritarianism, but rather the clash of two fundamentally different political outlooks. The modern West sees democracy and human rights as the pinnacle of human development. It is a belief premised on an absolute faith.

China is on a different path. Its leaders are prepared to allow greater popular participation in political decisions if and when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to the country’s national interests, as they have done in the past 10 years. However, China’s leaders would not hesitate to curtail those freedoms if the conditions and the needs of the nation changed. The 1980s were a time of expanding popular participation in the country’s politics that helped loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.

That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that violent event, but the alternatives would have been far worse. The resulting stability ushered in a generation of growth and prosperity that propelled China’s economy to its position as the second largest in the world. The fundamental difference between Washington’s view and Beijing’s is whether political rights are considered God-given and therefore absolute or whether they should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.

The West seems incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift. In this sense, America today is similar to the old Soviet Union, which also viewed its political system as the ultimate end. History does not bode well for the American way. Indeed, faith-based ideological hubris may soon drive democracy over the cliff.

Eric X. Li is a venture capitalist


Armenia: What Could Democracy Be?

Some older readers may recall a statement by one of the self-described “Velvet Revolutionaries” in Eastern Europe a quarter of a century ago, to the effect that there is no such thing as proletarian democracy or bourgeois democracy; rather, he said, there is just DEMOCRACY, plain and simple.  Unfortunately, my internet searches have not succeeded in locating the exact quote, but it went like that. Back then one heard many such statements.  By 1990, Yerevantsi’s were fed up with high-handed bosses who called themselves communists and claimed to rule in the name of some higher form of democracy.  They were fed up with one-party rule, and they wanted responsive, representative leaders.

Democracy—and, of course, Free Markets--were catchwords inscribed on the hearts of protest leaders in Yerevan.  At the same time, the protest leaders insisted that the people of Soviet Armenia should not participate in the Union-wide March 17, 1991 referendum on whether to keep their confederation and reform it.  Armenia abstained from the referendum, but voting took place in nine of the fifteen Soviet republics, and by the end of the process 76% of voters in those republics—an absolute majority of eligible voters in the Soviet Union--opted to retain and reform the union.

As we know, the August 18 coup, followed by Boris Yeltsin’s counter-coup, scuttled the democratic decision. When Yeltsin dismantled the Soviet Union in defiance of the expressed democratic will of the referendum, he did so in the name of democracy.

Democracy-talk served as a powerful ideological bulldozer to destroy the last remnants of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  But in the years since then, surveys and studies have described a U-turn in public opinion.  As a Pew Global Attitudes report released in December 2011 stated, “Enthusiasm for democracy and capitalism has waned considerably over the past 20 years, and most believe the changes that have taken place since 1991 have had a negative impact on public morality, law and order, and standards of living.” 

In case after case, as we know, the inflated hopes have shriveled, and the former Captive Nations have ended up with capitalist bosses even more imperious than their Soviet predecessors--and far less constructive. Two Czech writers recently described the aftermath of their “Velvet Revolution” in terms that Armenians will recognize: 

After 25 years, Czech society finds itself in crisis, yet the rest of the world seems not to know about it. Few listen to the concerns of ordinary people. In 1989, most of them believed that victory belonged to all. However, the narrative of the Velvet Revolution serves today to maintain the truth of a very narrow class of people who have made a new cult. The elites claim that there has never been a better time than now and never will be. It makes sense for them to say so. But we do not believe it. 

(Lukas Rychetshy and Jaroslav Fiala, “Czech’s Look Back on 1989, a Revolution Betrayed,” originally published in A2 Cultural Bi-Weekly, November 17, 2014.) 

If citizens of the Czech Republic or the Republic of Armenia have lost enthusiasm for democracy, this is because their thought-trainers in the West have succeeded in neatly identifying democracy with capitalism. If you succeed in convincing recently impoverished Armenians that there is just democracy plain and simple, and that it must come with capitalism, then a large number of them will conclude that it is not something worth wishing for. 

The resulting demoralization works to the benefit of the rulers, since it leads those whom they rule to dial back their expectations about democracy “plain and simple.”  Demoralized people are easier to rule. But what if another sort of democracy were possible?  

Definitions of Democracy Differ 

The word democracy is certainly more ambiguous than the Velvet Revolutionaries and their admirers in Yerevan had assumed.  It does not come pre-packaged with its own definite meaning, and it does not name one and only one political setup. Consider, for example, the common conception of democracy as majority rule.  We know that this definition does not stand up to the record:  where, across the panorama of democratic regimes today does the majority rule?  Actually, it is fortunate for minorities that majority rule has been so rare. 

In Azerbaijan and Armenia twenty-five years ago, self-described democratic movements had no problem evicting Armenian and Azeri minorities from their homes in these respective countries. These examples illustrate the familiar view that democracy, conceived ONLY as rule by the majority, opens the door to the abuse of minorities, whether national, ethnic, or otherwise. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines democracy as “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity […] have the right to take part or vote.”  When we consider the cases of, say, ancient Athens, the American South, and the apartheid Republic of South Africa, we encounter the technical but crucial question:  what constitutes a “person”? Native birth, skin color, and ownership of property have loomed large when it comes to citizenship and the franchise. Gender, too:  the United States of America, that self-designated global custodian of democracy, had been in existence for 144 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to its constitution, extending voting rights to women.  By contrast, Article 22 of the first Soviet Constitution had established the right of women to vote two years earlier, right after the October Revolution.  

If democracy is the rule of the many, then what are we to make of the constitutional “checks and balances” in the most powerful states today?  The framers of the U.S. Constitution, a document that was widely admired as a prototype of other constitutions, were profoundly opposed to majority rule, to the detriment of “the minority of the opulent,” as James Madison, “the father of the American constitution,” put it.  To this day, democracy in the United States of America is not EVEN the rule of the majority.  

American-style democracy has lost much of its glitter these days.  Judging from the proposals to reform Armenia’s constitution along parliamentary lines, our compatriots today are more likely to look to Europe for their democratic models than to the United States.

The Appeal of Western Democracy  

What Armenians admire most about liberal democracies in the West are such things as their alleged emphases on limited government, “rule of law,” civil liberties, individual rights, due process, and accountability, as well as their smoothly functioning judiciaries, the right of appeal, and so on. But let us not forget that, with few exceptions, these features of the most admired political systems and political cultures in the West have, with few exceptions, been wrenched by force from resistant capitalist rulers, thanks to pressure from below:  the abolition of child labor, the right of workers to bargain collectively, the eight-hour work day, universal suffrage, consumer safety legislation, civil rights gains, safeguards for individual liberties, social security, and one thousand other achievements—none of these were the concessions of soft-hearted rulers; rather, they were the results of stubborn popular resistance to those rulers. 

In country after country, thousands of people lost their lives in these struggles.  When this resistance has been sustained, it has typically developed in the direction of greater self-organization by workers, farmers, former slaves, women, and civil rights advocates.  But as soon as the pressure from below has ebbed, the achievements have disappeared, one after the other.  

Democracy for Whom?  

We have seen that there is no such thing as democracy plain and simple.  But who defines democracy?  It seems that this, too, is a stake of political struggle, of class struggle. We have witnessed what happens when organized resistance recedes in countries like the United States of America, as wages have slipped, the super-rich have become enormously richer, personal freedoms have eroded, and state agencies have subverted democratic rights and the last vestiges of privacy.  And we have seen what has happened in countries like Armenia when workers are stripped of every last remnant of institutional power.  No number of constitutional provisions or checks and balances can safeguard the achievements of liberal democracy without organized vigilance from below.  

Here, at long last, we have a lesson that regular folks in Armenia can profitably learn from the West:  if one day Armenia is to obtain the kind of democracy that will redound to the benefit of most of its citizens, then the least advantaged of them will have to come together, organize themselves independently, and fight for the democratic and civil rights they claim.  And after that, they will have to fight to defend and extend those rights.  

There are reasons to believe that if we reach far enough, this goal is not beyond our grasp.  For one thing, the numbers are there:  In Armenia, households headed by wage earners, the unemployed, the underemployed, the self-employed, small farmers, and people on fixed income make up a large majority demographic.  If small business owners join this alliance, then we have a potential constituency for a very broadly based democracy.  

The big capitalists that have been ruling Armenia for the past twenty-five years have diminished the population, dispossessed and impoverished the majority, debased the security and status of women, depleted large swaths of the forests and water, and otherwise despoiled the country.

Unfortunately, this ruling class is not likely to give up state power unless it is forced to do so.  To challenge it will require organizing along working-class lines.  To this end, Armenia needs militant unions and a party of labor that is willing and able to defend the rights of minorities while fighting for a democracy of the working class majority.

Markar Melkonian is a philosophy instructor and an author.  His books include Richard Rorty’s Politics:  Liberalism at the End of the American Century (1999), Marxism: A Post-Cold War Primer (Westview Press, 1996), and My Brother’s Road (2005).

What Could Democracy Be?

Part II of III:  Democracy and the Dangers of Demoralization (Part I)

Adults in Yerevan these days seem to have doubts about the word democracy. In view of the record, this is not surprising.  But the doubt comes with its own dangers, including the danger of masking a very different sort of democracy from the sort that exists in Armenia. The doubt has been a while coming, and it was born in part by confusion.  A focus-group survey conducted fifteen years ago by a Washington-based foundation concluded that, “Democracy is a hard concept to understand in Armenia today. It means many things to many different people.” (Thomas Carson and Gevork Pogosian, “Public Attitudes toward Political Life,” International Foundation for Election Systems, August, 2000, p. 21)

Participants in the survey described democracy variously as “conducting free elections,” “protection of rights and freedoms” of citizens, and even state provision of “equal financial conditions for everyone.”  No wonder, then, that it has been so hard to understand what Armenians have meant by “democracy.” 

Democracy-Talk Has Lost Its “Wow-Power”

According to the survey report, a majority of the target population had by then come to associate democracy with “bad economic conditions, unemployment, and lower standards of living.”  After noting low voter turnout, the authors wrote that, “The main reason many do not participate in elections is the belief that their vote does not count.”   “As proof of this claim,” they wrote, “participants pointed to the unexpected (and popularly rejected) results of the 1996 and 1998 Presidential elections” in Armenia.  (Carson and Pogosian, p. 3) 

The career of the first President of the Third Republic of Armenia shadowed that of Russia’s first post-Soviet President, Boris Yeltsin, and both account for the waning fortunes of democracy-talk in Armenia. After the grotesque 1996 presidential election in Russia and the contested reelection that same year of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, democracy-talk lost its “wow-power”, just as the 1998 devaluation of the Ruble flopped a wet blanket on the Free Market fever. And so it was that the counterrevolutionary figureheads who captured power in Moscow and Yerevan in 1991 relinquished their respective offices in 1998, without much in the way of public regret. By that time, though, the damage had been done.  David Satter, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal, described the consequences of the victory of Democracy in Russia: 

Between 1992 and 1994, the rise in the death rate in Russia was so dramatic that Western demographers did not believe the figures. The toll from murder, suicide, heart attacks and accidents gave Russia the death rate of a country at war; Western and Russian demographers now agree that between 1992 and 2000, the number of “surplus deaths” in Russia–deaths that cannot be explained on the basis of previous trends–was between five and six million persons. (; accessed April 8, 2015)

Within roughly the same range of years the average life expectancy of a Russian male fell from 65 to 57.5 years.  Even the likes of the anti-Soviet journalist Paul Klebnikov described Yeltsin’s legacy as “one of the most corrupt regimes in history.”No wonder, then, that by the time Yeltsin left office, he had an approval rating of 2%.  (CNN, 2002)   But by that time it didn’t matter:  “democracy” had stolen the election from the Communist candidate in Russia, reinstated a pliant client in Yerevan, and advanced the interests of Berlin and Washington.

Since then, contested elections have continued apace in Yerevan as in Moscow, and more recent surveys have indicated that the disillusionment has only deepened. Instead of the promised Free Market prosperity, privatization plunged most inhabitants into abject poverty; unemployment soared, and Armenia slid into years of recession, from which the country had not yet emerged before it felt the effects of Western sanctions against Russia and falling oil prices.  Between rigged elections and economic ruination, the street-level euphoria about Democracy and Free Markets went the way of Vano Siradeghian.

Democracy as a Cloak for Class Rule

One of the most salient functions of democratic institutions these days—electoral arrangements, legislatures, constitutional set-ups, and so-forth—is their powerful role in legitimizing plutocracy.  Democratic institutions function to legitimize the rule of capitalists as a class the way divine right used to justify the king’s absolute authority in the Middle Ages.  

Indeed, as the eminent Canadian political thinker C.B. Macpherson noted in his book, The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, “The concept of a liberal democracy became possible only when theorists—first a few and then most liberal theorists—found reasons for believing that ‘one man, one vote’ would not be dangerous to property, or to the continuance of class-divided societies.”  Over the course of the last two centuries, democracy itself has been defined and redefined in keeping with the practices that have proven effective in this legitimating function.  Where “rule by the many” has not been conducive to capitalist class rule—such as workplace democracy--it has been rejected.  In such supposedly exemplary democracies as the United States of America, for example, democracy goes hand in hand with the power of Corporate America over “the people.”

Democracy, then, legitimizes established political rule.  In this sense representative electoral political systems are “merely formal”:  real power is never at stake in elections, and as we have seen time and again—from Iran to Guatemala and from Chile to Egypt—the poor can never capture political power through the ballot box alone.

The widespread recognition of this fact accounts for democracy’s diminished prestige in places like Russia and Armenia today. Among the opposition leaders in Yerevan there are ambitious men, would-be saviors, who offer nothing more than a return to the disastrous policies of the first post-Soviet administration.  Despite their best efforts and their personal fortunes, these personalities have failed to capture the imagination of the public.  When the “democratic” opposition fails to gain support against an unpopular administration, the disillusionment is complete. 

The Danger of Disillusionment

But disillusionment with “democracy” poses its own dangers. When the prescribed version of democracy fails to perform its legitimating function, ruling classes, or factions of them, have time and again adopted anti-democratic methods of control, by state institutions as well as non-state ones. Europeans witnessed this process eighty years ago in Germany, Italy and then again twenty-five years ago in places like Croatia, Kosovo, and a dozen locales in the former Warsaw Pact countries. 

More recently, in Georgia, Central Asia, Ukraine, and half a dozen other former Soviet locales, anti-democratic regimes have stepped in to save the day for capitalist rule, in the face of widespread dissatisfaction with democratic capitalist regimes.  In times of rising anger, it is child’s play for capitalist rulers to blame their own democratic institutions for the problems that their economic system created. When widespread disaffection with democracy sweeps a country, the first horse out of the gate is fascism.  And job number one for fascism is to terrorize workers—the very social force that holds out the best long-term hope for countries like Armenia.

Deepening economic crises and mounting social conflict could lead to greater and greater repression in Armenia, too.  Until Armenia has a mass-based democratic opposition that has built a sustainable institutional presence on the ground and that presents a realistic way forward, the country could face the damaging political upheaval and the pointless radicalism that has been so disastrous in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere.

The debacle in the name of democracy in the former Soviet Union could not have taught a clearer lesson if it had been scripted by a Disney screenwriter:  elections in Russia and Armenia show that democracy, at least the version operating in Russia and Armenia these days, functions to legitimate the rule of oligarchs and their foreign benefactors over everyone else.  So far, elections have served as little more than a scrim hiding the dictatorship of capitalists as a class and legitimizing its monopoly of power.  If people have been convinced that democracy consists of little more than casting futile votes in fixed elections, then the stage is set for demagogues of the strongman variety to step in to save capitalist rule. 

But democracy--at least some form of it--can do more than just legitimize plutocracy.  In the next installment of this series, we will consider a couple other functions of democracy, conceived more broadly and taken more seriously. 

Markar Melkonian is a university instructor and an author.  His books include Richard Rorty’s Politics:  Liberalism at the End of the American Century (1999), Marxism: A Post-Cold War Primer (1996), and My Brother’s Road (2005).

What Could Democracy Be?

Part III of III:  More than a Pretext for Plutocracy (Pt. 1, Pt. 2)

Democracy, or rather liberal democracy, advertises itself as a system of government in which individual rights prevail, but more accuratelyit is the name given to various political systems in which the “consent of the governed” legitimizes the political monopoly of capitalists as a class.  As it turns out, though, there is an alternative model of democracy for a system that could actually benefit the majority population of the country.  To see what this alternative model could bring, we should first take a closer look at the limited sort of democracy that prevails in places like Armenia today.

The Market Model of Democracy 

Western agencies prescribe a certain model of democracy for vulnerable countries like Armenia, namely, “the market model of democracy.”  According to this model, democratic participation is an act of separate individuals, each with his or her own pre-given preferences.  It is the job of a democratic systemmerely toregister these individual preferences and pile them together, to determine policy, legislation, and candidate choice. That is the official story.  In actuality, this version of democracy has a lot to do with WHAT KINDS of preferences it registers; but that is another discussion for another time.  The point to stress here is that for most of the population, the decisive political act is voting, which is little more than choosing this or thatpre-selected candidate.  

Like shopping,then, democracyis supposed to be another way for individuals to pursue theirprivateinterests. American-funded economics textbooksexplicitly connect democracy to shopping, though in a typically backwards and one-sided manner:  consumer choice, they say, is “economic democracy,” and shopping amounts to casting votes for and against goods and services. My decision to vote for candidate A over candidate B is all about which of them is likely to serve my private needs and the private needs of my most immediate family.  Customers are voters, and voters are customers; candidates are would-be service providers, and electoral campaigns are advertising campaigns.  

Liberal democracy characteristically appeals to self-interest narrowly conceived, rather than a collective good.  In this view, the goal of democratic politics is the optimal compromise among private interests. Back-and-forth haggling in the market of democracy produces diminished expectations, cynicism, and the priceless lesson that the rich will always be in power. The resulting low voter turnout and limited participation--an effect of the system--further strengthens that very system by constricting the range of choices and destroying hope for real change.  Thus, the market model of democracy reduces participation of a large part of the electorate, usually without compromising its legitimacy. 

And yet in Armenia as elsewhere, candidates and politicians still know that they can advance their interests by conjuring “the will of the people,” “national interests,” and various flavors of nationalism.  Collective ideals die hard, even in a country where the electorate is exhausted and disillusioned. 

The market model of democracy could only prevail in Armenia by doing violence to deeply held traditional assumptions and motifs that emphasize the broader welfare of the neighborhood, the town or village, and “the people.”  Our older compatriots, women and men who lived longest within the Soviet order, could tell us this, if we would for a moment listen to what they have to say instead of constantly denigrating their lives and ideals.

Armenians are understandably angry about bribery, ballotstuffing, back-room deals, fraud, and other “irregularities” of the election process in their country.  It is surprising that the most brazen of these “irregularities” have persisted for so many years.  Perhaps Armenia’s plutocrats have made the mistake of assuming that the coming generation will remain as docile in the face of theirdepravities as thecounterrevolutionary generation has been.  In any case, patronage,back-room haggling, and the manipulation of the electorateare natural expressions of a liberal democratic political culture in which public institutions are, at best, just service providers for customer-voters.  

“Political scientists” in the West have long acknowledged this.  In his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (first published in 1942), for example, the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that the electorate is inveterately ignorant and easily manipulated by politicians, who set the agenda. Instead of the “rule of the people,” Schumpeter argued that democracy is—and should be--a mechanism whereby leaders compete for influence the way private companies compete for business.  Although periodic elections legitimize governments and keep them accountable, the participatory role of individuals is severely limited, and the policy program is—and should be--very much in the hands of an elite leadership.Schumpeter’s views are influential among academics in the West, but for obvious reasons Western propagandists do not showcase these views.  They have convinced us to accept what they themselves do not really believe, namely, that liberal democracy is all about popular sovereignty, and that elite leadership was the sole province of non liberal-democratic states, such as the old Soviet Union.  

In the absence of a robust conception of the greater good, what remains of public office aside from payment for services rendered?  If the pursuit of private interests is job number one in politics as in daily life, thenit is not surprising that politicians, bureaucrats, and even traffic cops should view their “customers” as a source of income.This cautionary observation applies to the liberal opposition groups in Yerevan today just as much as it does to the current government that they denounce. 

Indignation is growing, though, and it is likely that in the coming years the most blatant of the“irregularities”will disappear, as it becomes clear that continued abuses threaten to undermine the political legitimacy of the regime.  But even at that, the country’s electoral politics and official political culture will remain every bit as limited, one-sided, and rigged in favor of the candidates of the plutocracy.  

If the market model of democracy is the only game in town, then aside from the “irregularities,” Armenia today already has a rather pure form of liberal democracy.  And even when it comes to corruption, it is not clear that it is worse in Yerevan today than it was in, say, theUnited States of America (that self-imagined paragon of liberal democratic rectitude)during the Gilded Age.  The pro-Western liberal democratic opposition in Yerevan really does not have much to complain about--or at least they do not have solutions for the problems that they identify, because they do not provide a genuine alternative.  

Democracy and the Common Good

As it turns out, there is an alternativeconception of democracy, one in which democratic institutions open up a public space for discussion ofcollective interests, instead of exclusively private interests.  Within this public space, or forum, open discussion and debate transform personal preferences, creating new conceptions of the greater good. 

Open debate discourages the public expression of blatantly self-serving preferences.In open debate, if a party with narrowly self-serving aims does not castits proposals in terms of public good,then it risks losing the debate.  Itsself-serving arguments will come up against counterarguments, whether self-serving or not. Before a mining company can buy votes for politicianswho will look the other way when it dumps waste water into a river, the corporation’s mouthpieces will have to come to the forum with arguments, strong or weak, to the effect that their preferred candidate will pursue the greater good.  They will have to change the minds of voters, by making the casethat their “market solution” actually will redound to the benefit of more people.  Environmentalists, local residents, and farmerswill come to the forum with a different perspective, presenting their own arguments to make the opposing case. 

The forum, then, will function very differently from the market.  Rather than merely registering pre-given preferences and then pretending to come up with a compromise, politics would change preferences through public debate.  Rather than merely casting votes for pre-selected candidates, the decisive political act would beengaging in public debate, with a view to transforming preferences of participants in the broader democratic process.

This alternative model sometimes goes by the name of deliberative democracy.  This model of democracydoes not require the participation of every citizen in politics.  People are different, and many people simply do not wish to engage in the political process.  (In this respect, political deliberation differs from the market, which requires the participation of pretty much everyone.)  Nevertheless, it is likely to bring many more into the political process than currently bother with it under the existing regime. It is certainly the case that deliberative democracy operates, to greater or lesser degrees, within many contemporary liberal democracies.  In the major examples that come to mind, though, deliberation is highly constrained and deliberative democracy is subordinate to the market model. 

There are reasons to believe that, in capitalist Armenia today, a new political culture is taking form, outside of the framework of official political institutions.  To a limited extent, as we know, deliberative democracyalready exists in Armenia, thanks in large part to the work of investigative journalists, community and environmental groups,and consumer advocacy groups, applying external pressure on the political system. Public deliberation and ground-level activism have scored victories, at least marginally, against the ruling class.  The victories and near-victories include the closure of polluting mines and rapacious logging operations, the removal of corrupt magistrates, the prosecution of cronies, successful protests here and there against evictions and the privatization of public land; strikes for payment of back wages, and campaigns against domestic violence, bus fair increases, and repression of political dissidents.  Even within the context of capitalist political systems, public debate and the activism that comes with it have forced the windows open and pointed beyond prevailing relations of domination.  

We should keep in mind, though, that what has made these victories possible was action OUTSIDE of the rigged political system.  The lesson is that if anyone but the plutocrats and their foreign benefactors are to make themselves heard, then they must apply pressure from below.  The political system itself, whether it calls itself democratic or anything else, is an obstacle to the power of the working-class majority of Armenia. 

Deliberative democracy alone, then, is not a cure-all. The decisive difference between a well-functioning deliberative democracy and the market model of democracy could and should lie in the character of state institutions themselves:  are they committed at the outset to the political power of the working class majority, rather than a handful of plutocrats? But a well-functioning deliberative democracy at the level of state institutions will not simply arrive on the scene of their own accord.  There is no way around considerations of the class character of the state:  if the state is a capitalist state, then every conflict between a corporation and the greater good will be rigged against the greater good. 

Expanded deliberative democracy could also play a pivotal role within a future context of workers’ power.  Here, unfortunately, the historical record provides tragic lessons as to what NOT to do.  Soviet leaders, starting with Stalin, failed to make the connection between democracy and accountability, and this had disastrous effects:  in the absence of democratic oversight, inefficient, brutal, and ultimately self-defeating policies proliferated.  Open debate is the closest thing there is to a safeguard against inefficient and dysfunctional legislation, leadership, and state policies—or at least against the indefinite continuation of them.  It would be hard to overstate the importance of this point. 

*        *        * 

The Republic of Armenia is a state in which big capitalists as a class hold a monopoly on political power. The prevailing market model of democracy is part of a closed and privatized political culture that legitimizes an economic and political order that has dealt one blow after another to the majority of households in Armenia.  An alternative model, deliberative democracy, could help set the stage for the emergence of a new unofficial political culture.  In fact, there is evidence that this is what is taking place in Armenia today, as a younger generation is repudiating—in practice, of not explicitly—the political, economic, and philosophical assumptions of the counterrevolutionary generation of 1991.  But until and unless thestate itself is changed fundamentally, it is folly to expect state policies and status-quo politicians of their own accord to pursue a greater good that will actually benefit the majority population of the country.

Markar Melkonian is a philosophy instructor and an author.  His books include Richard Rorty’s Politics:  Liberalism at the End of the American Century (1999), Marxism: A Post-Cold War Primer (Westview Press, 1996), and My Brother’s Road (2005).

Capitalism Run Amok Is Just Plain Capitalism

The source of Armenia’s misery and humiliation, we often hear, is not capitalism per se, but rather “gangster capitalism,” “a broken system,” “capitalism run amok.” The goal for the future, then, is to “fix the system,” to reform capitalism, to make it more like regular, pure, genuine Free Enterprise, the kind of capitalism that works.  But what if Armenia’s actually existing capitalism already is genuine capitalism? An economist once observed that the only existential meaning of “enterprise” in the term free enterprise is “whatever capitalists happen to be doing at the time”--and “free” is the accompanying demand that they be allowed to do it. 

In Armenia, successive presidents, legislators, ministers, and mayorshave certainly allowed them to “do it.”Post-Soviet cliques have privatized public land, seized factories, and plundered resources.  They have shredded the social safety net,unleashed the “job creators” on child labor; eliminated overtime pay; dispensed with job safety standards, trashed even the most minimal environmentalregulations, and generally done everything they can toenrich themselves and their cronies, seemingly without a thought to the welfare of the vastmajority.  Over the years, has done a truly admirable job of reporting the daily pillage. 

Armenia’s plutocrats justify their actions in the name of free enterprise, and their point is well taken.  After all, a law prohibitingthe exploitation of child labor or the poisoning of drinking water is nothing if it is not state regulation of the market.  Building public schools and enacting laws that protect forestsmake markets less free.So if Free Enterprise really were as important as the IMF and the advisors from Chicago say it is, then Armenia’s oligarchs really are the national heroes they think they are.

One of the Ronald Reagan admirers who led Armenia’s charge down the road to ruinexemplified the wisdom of Yerevan’s Free Marketeers: “free market reform,” he wrote, is the path “which has been traveled by many other nations and which leads to happiness.”(Vazgen Manukian, quoted in Jirair Libaridian (ed.), Armenia at the Crossroads, 1991, p. 52.)  In the years since he made this announcement, we have beheld the happiness that free market reform has wrought in many other nations, from Mexico to Greece, and from Iceland to India, where in recent yearsa quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide.

The oligarchs and their IMF advisors, of course,are willing to pay this price for the sake of their Free Market utopia.  Or rather, they are willing to make the poor pay this price.  For decades, sensitive commentatorsin the West excoriated Joseph Stalin for his “blood-curdling” suggestion that the end justifies the means.  These days, those same commentatorsdo not give a passing thought to the hundreds of millions of lives consigned to displacement,drudgery, fear,and early death in the name of free market reform. 

A quarter century ago, the Ter Petrosyan administration set Armenia off on the path to happiness by doling out state property to cronies and racketeers,guttingthe industrial infrastructure, and shredding the social safety net.  Hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs, anduntold thousands of Armenians, especially the elderly and the very young, have died of exposure, food poisoning, preventable accidents, and lack of access to basic healthcare.

Since then, aparade of alternating opposition figures and national saviors have come into office, enriched themselves and their cronies, and then left the scene with the loot, one after another.  Despite the personnel changes, though, economic policy has continued to benefit the rich few, at the expense of the poor majority.

Armenia has undergone twenty-five years of foreign-directed reform:  privatization, shock therapy, conditionalities, and so on.  Every time we turn around, it seems that more “reform” is needed.  And the reform always seems to require further wage cuts, further cuts to social programs, further deregulation, and ever more sacrifice from the have-nots.  Consider the much-ballyhooed Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) of earlier years:  for Armenia, as for other poor debtor countries, SAPs required: 
  •  selling off state enterprises to the private sector;
  • eliminating price controls and producer and consumer subsidies for agricultural goods;
  • devaluing the local currency;
  • cutting consumer subsidies and charging user fees for social services such as health care and education;
  • dropping protectionist measures and reducing regulation of the private sector;
  • providing guarantees, state-funded infrastructure, tax breaks, and wage restraints as incentives for investment;
  • dismantling foreign exchange restrictions (which has allowed wealthy locals to export funds overseas, as capital flight, worsening balance-of-payment deficits). 
As a result of these policies, Armenia today can boast of Enterprise that is as Free as anywhere on Earth.  Readers of are aware of the consequences:  sky-high unemployment; proliferating poverty; the depopulation of the countryside; deforestation; plummeting birth rates; falling life expectancies, and, of course, the catastrophic outmigration of one third of Armenia’s population.  Successive plutocrats have lengthened the work week, lowered the legal work age, evicted families from their homes in order to build “elite homes for elite guys,” demanded ever-higher bus fares for a privatized transport system; raised university fees far beyond the means of most families, attempted to privatize social security, and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

It is a sad commentary on the state of intellectuals in Armenia today that few of them are even aware of the work of the great social geographer David Harvey, who has so accurately described the process of “capital accumulation by dispossession” that characterizes scores of countries like Armenia.  When is someone going to translate Harvey’s book, The New Imperialism, into Armenian? In Armenia, as we know, “free market reform” has taken place against the background of official impunity, the jailing of dissidents, electoral manipulation, and fraud so pervasive that it would have astonished even the most cynical Armenians of the Soviet period.

Let us remind ourselves that these measures were undertaken under the tutelage of the IMF and the World Bank, in strict adherence to Free Market doctrines.  All the while, Western agencies and bureaucracies have heartily congratulated their Armenian followersfor rapidly privatizing state property, “making hard choices,” and faithfully carrying out Washington’s directives. 

David Brooks, one of the more thoughtful American Free Market columnists, recently acknowledged that, curiously, post-Soviet success stories are rare.  (“The Legacy of Fear,” New York Times, November 10, 2014.)  Despite the generalized “wreckage,” however, he was able to identify several success stories, including none other than Azerbaijan and Armenia! That’s right:  according to Brooks, Armenia today counts as one of “only five countries that have emerged as successful capitalist economies” from the former Soviet bloc. 

This should surprise the Free Market faithful in Yerevan, who were hoping that ultimate success lay in the bright future, not in the dark present. If this is what a successful capitalist economy looks like, then the question naturally arises:  What was the point of letting capitalists take over the country in the first place? 

The Free Market coercion and rhetoric has come full circle:  right-wing politicians in the USA, exemplified by Scott Walker, the governor of the state of Wisconsin, have tried to enact many of the same policies in the USA that the IMF, the CIA, and the economists from Chicago have foisted on vulnerable countries like Pinochet’s Chile and today’s Armenia.  In their arguments for, say, privatization of social security, the Scott Walkers have pointed to policies in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet republics as examples of an irresistible global trend that America must follow. 

When the Scott Walkers have failed to achieve their maximal demands, it is because traditional constituencies in the United States with independent organizational presence—notably labor unions—have fought against free market “solutions.”  Here, ironically, America does provide a valuable lesson to Armenia:  resistance to Free Market reform must be organized, sustained, and based in the working class. 

The tide of misery rises ever higher, and there is no good reason to hope that further reforms along the same lines will change the trajectory. And yet capitalism still escapes blame for the disasters it has created.  Instead, we are told that “capitalism run amok” is to blame, and that the only antidote is—more capitalism!  This has happened over and over again. 
At what point will skepticism kick in?

Free Marketeers love to sermonize about accountability and the responsiveness of the market.  But the Free Marketeers escape all responsibility for their policies and get to prescribe more of the same poison to the patient. As long as we are unable to describe the problem accurately, we will not even begin to address it in an effective manner. The first step is to start calling the thing by its name:  the main source of Armenia’s devastation in the past twenty-five years is not “capitalism gone amok”; rather, it is capitalist rule. 

(MarkarMelkonian is a nonfiction writer and a philosophy instructor.  His books include Richard Rorty’s Politics:  Liberalism at the End of the American Century (Humanities Press, 1999), Marxism: A Post-Cold War Primer (Westview Press, 1996), and My Brother’s Road (I.B. Tauris, 2005, 2007), a memoir/biography about Monte Melkonian, co-written with Seta Melkonian)

Armenians Need to Lose Their Faith in the Free Market

In a best-selling book, the late Nobel-laureate economist Milton Friedman wrote that, “…if inequality is measured by differences in levels of living between the privileged and other classes, such inequality may well be decidedly less in capitalist than in communist countries.”  (Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, p. 169.) Friedman built his career on confident pronouncements like this. 

A quarter of a century ago, a generation of intellectuals in Yerevan seized on such statements, which became articles of a Free Market faith that seemed new and exciting at the time.  They hoisted the banner of capitalism high above their heads and waved it around furiously. Since then, they have had many cold winters to reconsider the claim that capitalism would narrow the gap between rich and poor. 

Armenians, of course, have not been alone in their disillusionment.  According to a recent report by the international relief organization Oxfam, “In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of the adults on the planet.”  Almost all of the remaining 52% of global wealth, the report claims, is owned by the richest 20%, leaving only 5.5% of global wealth to the remaining 80% of the human population of Earth.  (Deborah Hardoon, “Wealth:  Having It All and Wanting More,” Oxfam G.B. for Oxfam International, January 2015, p. 2.) The eighty percent at the bottom, presumably, includes the population of the Republic of Armenia.

Oxfam reports, furthermore, that the wealth of the poorest 50% of the human population of Earth is less in 2014 that it was in 2009, while the wealth of the richest eighty individuals doubled in nominal terms between 2009 and 2014.In fact, “The wealth of these eighty individuals is now the same as that owned by the bottom 50% of the global population, such that 3.5 billion people share between them the same amount of wealth as that of these extremely wealthy 80 people.”(Hardoon, pp. 2-3.)

The Oxfam report is just the latest of a long series of reports and studies that point to a huge and growing gap between the super-rich and the rest, both in the former Soviet republics and across the globe.These reports come as no surprise to some of us, but theyplainly contradict the claims of Friedman and the Free Market faithful, from Washington to Yerevan and beyond. TheAmerican journalist and former hedge-fund manager, Jim Cramer, summarized the lesson:  “The only guy who really called this right,” he said, “was Karl Marx.”  (Time magazine, “Ten Questions for Jim Cramer,” May 14, 2009.)

There is much evidence that within the wealthiest and most powerful countries, too, the gap between the richest and the rest is growing.  A quick way to fathom the dimensions of that gap is to examine the American Profile Poster, a graphic representation of a large amount of data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau. (Stephen J. Rose, Social Stratification in the United States:  The American Profile Poster, The New Press, 2007.) 

The figure at the very top of the poster’s main chart represents 190,000 individuals with the highest reported incomes in the United States.  The chart is evenly calibrated and the poster itself measures about one meter in height. If it were to represent the 20,000 individuals with the highest income as a separate figure, the chart would have to extend twenty stories above the poster!  That is the distance that separates the income of America’s super rich from the rest of the country.

(The latest edition of the poster was published in 2007, using data collected before the Great Recession.  If anything, the recession has further skewed the trends registered in that edition. Every indication is that an updated chart will represent an even greater gap between the super-rich and the rest.)

The Occupy activists of a few years back denounced “the 1%” of the wealthiest Americans.  In fact, the super-rich in the United States make up less than one-one hundredth of one percent of the population of the country.  Indeed, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the 400 richest Americans control more than 38% of the country’s wealth, and 10% of the population of the U.S.A. controls 70% of the wealth. No wonder, then, that even the current administration in Washington D.C. publicly expresses alarm at the growing gap. 

The United States of America enjoys huge advantages that Armenia will never enjoy.  A vast country of 316 million people, with immense natural resources and thousands of miles of coastline, the United States dominates its own hemisphere--and most of the rest of the globe, too--economically, culturally, and militarily.  And yet forty percent of the U.S. population has a net worth of zero; they have no assets.  If it were not for social security, tens of millions of these Americans would be destitute. This is the country that the leaders of the counter-revolution in Yerevan twenty-five years ago looked to as a model.

But perhaps the past quarter of a century of poverty and misery is just a passing phase.  Perhaps, under more propitious circumstancesand in the even-longer run, Free Enterprise mightyet narrow the gap between the super rich and the rest, as Milton Friedman claimed it does.  Perhaps, despite appearances to the contrary, Armenian is on the way to a natural equilibrium state in which the markets will work their magic happily ever after. 

This is a claim one hears these days, as it has become clear that capitalism has failed to make good on its promises.  The economist John Maynard Keynes once noted that “in the long run” we are all dead.  This observation becomes worse than ominous in the case of Armenia, in view of the long-term economic, strategic, and security consequences ofits dramatically diminished population. But even setting that consideration aside, the facts of capitalism wipe out the “passing phase” article of faith, too. Thomas Piketty’s much-discussed book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has shown that, over the course of the last two centuries, the rate of return on capital has exceeded the rate of economic growth.

Piketty’s book, a popular presentation of exhaustive research, shows that in the West no less than in Armenia, capitalism left to its own “free market” devices leads to greater and greater disparities of wealth.  Without state intervention, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, even as productivity soars.  For all of his confidence, then, Friedman was clearly wrong:  even in the long-run, capitalism left to its own devices leads to greater and greater inequalities. But this would hardly come as a shock to most residents of the Republic of Armenia today.

If by now Armenia’s Free Marketeers have not seen the error of their ways, they never will.  Indeed, why should they?  The leaders of Armenia’s counter-revolutionary generation have by now safely squirrelled away their loot and either left the country or ensconced themselves in mansions, behind gates. Capitalism certainly has worked for them. But what about Armenia’s wage-earners, the unemployed, the under-employed, those on fixed incomes, and the poor?  These people, together with their dependents, make up the larger part of the population of the Republic of Armenia.

People who care about Armenia had better hope for a generation of working-class Armenians who will break with the delusions of their parents and grandparents as thoroughly as the counter-revolutionary generation twenty-five years ago blotted the lives and hopes of their Soviet Armenian predecessors. We had better hope for a generation that will recognize that the guy who really got this right was Karl Marx.

The Great Democracy Meltdown: Why Democracy is Failing Across the World

As the revolt that started this past winter in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Libya, and beyond, dissidents the world over were looking to the Middle East for inspiration. In China, online activists inspired by the Arab Spring called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition members called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. Perhaps as a result, those watching from the West have been positively triumphalist in their predictions. The Middle East uprisings could herald “the greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of the cold war,” argued British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Indeed, at no point since the end of the cold war—when Francis Fukuyama penned his famous essay The End of History, positing that liberal democracy was the ultimate destination for every country—has there been so much optimism about the march of global freedom.

If only things were so simple. The truth is that the Arab Spring is something of a smokescreen for what is taking place in the world as a whole. Around the globe, it is democratic meltdowns, not democratic revolutions, that are now the norm. (And even countries like Egypt and Tunisia, while certainly freer today than they were a year ago, are hardly guaranteed to replace their autocrats with real democracies.) In its most recent annual survey, the monitoring group Freedom House found that global freedom plummeted for the fifth year in a row, the longest continuous decline in nearly 40 years. It pointed out that most authoritarian nations had become even more repressive, that the decline in freedom was most pronounced among the “middle ground” of nations—countries that have begun democratizing but are not solid and stable democracies—and that the number of electoral democracies currently stands at its lowest point since 1995. Meanwhile, another recent survey, compiled by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, spoke of a “gradual qualitative erosion” of democracy and concluded that the number of “highly defective democracies”—democracies so flawed that they are close to being failed states, autocracies, or both—had doubled between 2006 and 2010.

The number of anecdotal examples is overwhelming. From Russia to Venezuela to Thailand to the Philippines, countries that once appeared to be developing into democracies today seem headed in the other direction. So many countries now remain stuck somewhere between authoritarianism and democracy, report Marc Plattner and Larry Diamond, co-editors of the Journal of Democracy, that “it no longer seems plausible to regard [this condition] simply as a temporary stage in the process of democratic transition.” Or as an activist from Burma—long one of the world’s most repressive countries—told me after moving to Thailand and watching that country’s democratic system disintegrate, “The other countries were supposed to change Burma. ... Now it seems like they are becoming like Burma.”

Twenty or even ten years ago, the possibility of a global democratic recession seemed impossible. It was widely assumed that, as states grew wealthier, they would develop larger middle classes. And these middle classes, according to democracy theorists like Samuel Huntington, would push for ever-greater social, political, and economic freedoms. Human progress, which constantly marched forward, would spread democracy everywhere. For a time, this rosy line of thinking seemed warranted. In 1990, dictators still ruled most of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia; by 2005, democracies had emerged across these continents, and some of the most powerful developing nations, including South Africa and Brazil, had become solid democracies. In 2005, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s people lived under democratic systems.

Then, something odd and unexpected began to happen. It started when some of the leaders who had emerged in these countries seemed to morph into elected autocrats once they got into office. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez is now essentially an elected dictator. In Ecuador, elected President Rafael Correa, who has displayed a strong authoritarian streak, recently won legislation that would grant him expansive new powers. In Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who led the 2005 Tulip Revolution, soon proved himself nearly as authoritarian as his predecessor. And, in Russia, Vladimir Putin used the power he won in elections to essentially dismantle the country’s democracy.

But it wasn’t just leaders who were driving these changes. In some cases, the people themselves seemed to acquiesce in their countries’ slide away from free and open government. In one study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, only 16 percent of Russians said it was “very important” that their nation be governed democratically. The regular Afrobarometer survey of the African continent has found declining levels of support for democracy in many key countries. And in Guatemala, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, and Nicaragua, either a minority or only a small majority of people think democracy is preferable to any other type of government. Even in East Asia, one of the most democratic regions of the world, polls show rising dissatisfaction with democracy. In fact, several countries in the region have developed what Yu-tzung Chang, Yunhan Zhu, and Chong-min Park, who studied data from the regular Asian Barometer surveys, have termed “authoritarian nostalgia.” “Few of the region’s former authoritarian regimes have been thoroughly discredited,” they write, noting that the region’s average score for commitment to democracy, judged by a range of responses to surveys, has recently fallen.

But what about the middle class? Even if large segments of the population were uninterested in liberal democracy, weren’t members of the middle class supposed to act as agents of democratization, as Huntington had envisioned? Actually, the story has turned out to be quite a bit more complicated. In country after country, a familiar pattern has repeated itself: The middle class has indeed reacted negatively to populist leaders who appeared to be sliding into authoritarianism; but rather than work to defeat these leaders at the ballot box or strengthen the institutions that could hold them in check, they have ended up supporting military coups or other undemocratic measures.

Thailand offers a clear example of this phenomenon. In 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former telecommunications tycoon turned populist, was elected with the largest mandate in Thai history, mostly from the poor, who, as in many developing nations, still constitute a majority of the population. Over the next five years, Thaksin enacted several policies that clearly benefited the poor, including national health insurance, but he also began to strangle Thailand’s institutions, threatening reporters, unleashing a “war on drugs” that led to unexplained shootings of political opponents, and silencing the bureaucracy. In 2005, when the charismatic prime minister won another free election with an even larger mandate, the middle class revolted, demonstrating in the streets until they paralyzed Bangkok. Finally, in September 2006, the Thai military stepped in, ousting Thaksin. When I traveled around Bangkok following the coup, young, middle-class Thais, who a generation ago had fought against military rulers, were engaged in a love-in with the troops, snapping photos of soldiers posted throughout Bangkok like they were celebrities.

The middle class in Thailand had plenty of company. In 2001, urban Filipinos poured into the streets to topple President Joseph Estrada, a former actor who rose to power on his appeal to the poor, and then allegedly used his office to rake in vast sums of money from underworld gambling tycoons. In Honduras in 2009, middle-class opponents of populist President Manuel Zelaya began to protest his plans to extend his power by altering the constitution. When the military removed him in June of that year, the intervention was welcomed by many members of the urban middle class. An analysis of military coups in developing nations over the past two decades, conducted by my colleague David Silverman, found that, in nearly half of the cases—drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East—middle-class men and women either agitated in advance for the coup, or, after the takeover, expressed their support in polls or prominent press coverage.

Even as domestic politics in many developing nations has become less friendly to democratization, the international system too has changed, further weakening democratic hopes. The rising strength of authoritarian powers, principally China but also Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other states, has helped forestall democratization. Moscow and Beijing were clearly rattled by the “color revolutions” of the early and mid-2000s, and they developed a number of responses. First, they tried to delegitimize the revolts by arguing that they were not genuine popular movements but actually Western attempts at regime change. Then, in nations like Cambodia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova, Moscow and Beijing intervened directly in attempts to reverse democratic gains. The Kremlin’s youth group, Nashi, known for its aggressive tactics against democracy activists, launched branches in other Central Asian nations. In Kyrgyzstan, Russian advisers helped a series of leaders emulate the Kremlin’s model of political control. In part because of this Russian influence, “[p]arliamentary democracy in Kyrgyzstan has been hobbled,” according to the International Crisis Group. China and Russia even created new “NGOs” that were supposedly focused on democracy promotion. But these organizations actually offered expertise and funding to foreign leaders to help them forestall new color revolutions. In Ukraine, an organization called the “Russian Press Club,” run by an adviser to Putin, posed as an NGO and helped facilitate Russia’s involvement in Ukrainian elections.

But China and Russia are only part of the story. In many ways, the biggest culprits have actually been stable democracies. Consider the case of Myo, a Burmese publisher and activist who I met four years ago in a dingy noodle shop in Rangoon. The educated son of a relatively well-off Burmese family, he told me he had been working for a publishing company in Rangoon, but had to smuggle political messages into pieces he published in magazines that focused on safe topics like soccer or Burmese rap. “It’s kind of a game everyone here plays,” he explained, “but after a while it gets so tiring.”

When I next met Myo, it was in Thailand two years later. He’d finally grown weary of trying to get his writing past the censors and left for India, then for Thailand. “I’d heard that, before, India had been very welcoming to Burmese activists, particularly after 1988,” Myo said, referring to a period of anti-government rioting in Burma. At one time, Indian officials had assisted Burmese democracy activists, and India’s defense minister from 1998 to 2004 was George Fernandes, a prominent human rights advocate who even gave some Burmese exiles shelter in his family compound. By the time Myo came to India, however, Delhi had stopped criticizing the Burmese junta. Instead, it had reversed itself and was engaging the generals under a policy called “Look East.” When Than Shwe, the Burmese junta’s leader, paid a state visit to India, he was taken to the burial site of Mahatma Gandhi, a cruelly ironic juxtaposition that Amnesty International’s Burma specialist called “entirely unpalatable.” For Myo, India’s chilly new pragmatism was a shock. “I expected China to work with Burma,” he said. “But to see it from India, it was so much more disappointing.”

Like Myo, many Western officials had expected that stable developing-world democracies like India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, and Turkey would emerge as powerful advocates for democracy and human rights abroad. But as they’ve gained power, these emerging democratic giants have acted more like cold-blooded realists. South Africa has for years tolerated Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime next door in Zimbabwe, and, in 2007, it even helped to block a U.N. resolution condemning the Burmese junta for human rights abuses. Brazil has cozied up to Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to local autocrats like Cuba’s Castros. When a prominent Cuban political prisoner named Orlando Zapata Tamayo held a hunger strike and eventually died, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva seemed to ridicule Tamayo’s struggle, likening the activist to a criminal who was trying to gain publicity.

There are exceptions to this trend. Poland, for one, has used its influence to support reformers in other post-Soviet states like Belarus. But Poland is unusual, and by playing a limited—or hostile—role in international democracy promotion efforts, countries like South Africa or Brazil or Turkey have made it easier for autocratic leaders to paint democracy promotion as a Western phenomenon, and even to portray it as an illegal intervention.

Why have regional democratic powers opted for this course? It seems hard to believe that a country with, say, Brazil or South Africa’s experience of brutal tyranny could actively abet dictators in other nations. But it now appears that the notion of absolute sovereignty, promoted by authoritarian states like China, has resonated with these democratic governments. Many of these emerging democratic powers were leading members of the non-aligned movement during the cold war and weathered Western efforts to foment coups in their countries. Today, they feel extremely uncomfortable joining any international coalition that could undermine other nations’ sovereignty, even if potentially for good reason. And many of these countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia and India, may simply be eager to avoid criticism of their own internal human rights abuses.

Then there is the United States, still the most influential nation on earth. Its missteps, recently, have been serious. Barack Obama’s efforts to distance himself from the Bush administration—which greatly undermined America’s moral authority-have combined with the country’s weakened economic position to downgrade the importance of democracy promotion in U.S. foreign policy. While Obama has delivered several speeches mentioning democracy, he has little obvious passion for the issue. When several prominent Iranian dissidents came to Washington in the summer of 2009, following the uprising in their country, they could not obtain meetings with any senior Obama administration officials. Rabeeya Kadeer, the Uighur version of the Dalai Lama, met with Bush in 2008 but found herself shunted off to low-level State Department officials by the Obama administration.

More substantively, the administration has shifted the focus of the federal bureaucracy. Though it has maintained significant budget levels for democracy promotion, it eliminated high-level positions on the National Security Council that, under Bush, had been devoted to democracy. The administration also appointed an assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor who in his previous work had been mostly focused on cleaning up America’s own abuses. This was not a bad thing—the Bush administration indeed left major issues to resolve—but it meant that he had far less experience than many of his predecessors with democracy promotion abroad.

To be fair, the White House has to grapple with an increasingly isolationist American public. In one poll taken in 2005, a majority of Americans said that the United States should play a role in promoting democracy elsewhere. By 2007, only 37 percent thought the United States should play this role. In a subsequent study, released in late 2009, nearly half of Americans told the Pew Research polling organization that the United States should “mind its own business” internationally and should let other nations work out their challenges or problems themselves. This was the highest percentage of isolationist sentiment recorded in a poll of the American public in four decades.

There is an obvious appeal to the constantly touted notion that the march of human freedom is inevitable. But not only is it simple-minded to treat history as a story with a preordained happy ending; it is also, for those who truly want to see democracy spread, extraordinarily dangerous. After all, if democracy is bound to triumph, then there’s no reason to work too hard at promoting it. This overconfidence can spread to developing nations themselves, lulling democrats into a false sense of security once an election has finally been held, and dissuading them from building the institutions that are necessary to keep a country free over the long-term. Democracy is not a simple thing: It’s a complex system of strong institutions and legal checks. Very few nations have mastered it fully. And sustaining it is a never-ending effort.

Stopping the global democratic reversal, then, will require giving up the assumption that democracy will simply happen on its own—and instead figuring out what we can do to promote it. At the most basic level, the United States can be much less abashed in its rhetorical advocacy of democracy and much more consistent. Condemning autocracy in places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia—where the United States has significant strategic interests—would help to counteract the notion that democracy is merely a concept the West wields to serve its own geopolitical aims. In addition, the United States and its allies should do more to make democracy promotion pay off for emerging powers. New democratic giants, like Brazil, should be granted more power in international institutions like the United Nations—if, that is, they show a commitment to helping expand human rights and free government around the globe.

Right now, few of these lessons have been learned. Instead, we seem content to watch events unfold across the world and assume that things will work out for the best, because history is invariably headed in the direction of freedom. We should stop telling ourselves this comforting story and instead do what is needed to give democracy a fighting chance. Joshua Kurlantzick is Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article originally ran in the June 9, 2011, issue of the magazine.