Category Archives: Politics

Using the Bank for the Public Good

The Harper government is about to attack the most vulnerable Canadians, the elderly, with a draconian series of government spending cuts. At the same time, they’re only too happy to subsidize the oil and gas sector, and to pour money into wasteful, murderous wars.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and not a single law needs to change. The Federal Government has the authority, under the Bank of Canada Act to fund government operations by creating interest-free bank money (credit or debt) through the Bank of Canada. See Article 18, Section C.

The Bank of Canada is held in trust for the people of Canada by the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, who will not use the Bank as intended by the Prime Minister who nationalized it, MacKenzie King. No finance minster since Jean Chretien has used the bank as intended – to create public credit at zero interest – and our massive national debt, more than 90% of which is compounded interest, is the result.

Likewise, here in Toronto, the public is being told “there’s no money.” What’s true is that the private banks refuse to create it without costly interest. The private banks are only interested in their own profits, which they make by virtue of having an immoral monopoly on the creation of bank credit, and through speculative investments. These generate massive windfall profits and bonuses for top management, but they only add costs to the real, productive economy, which  banks around the world are throwing under the bus, along with democracy itself. One only has to examine conditions in Greece and Italy, where two democratic governments have been replaced by unelected “technocrats” or those in many US cities, which are under the rule of  unelected”Emergency Managers” empowered to cut spending, even if people lose their homes, starve and die. This could soon be the City of Toronto’s situation, if we do not act together.

We don’t need the private banks to create our money. We must bring finance under democratic, public control. That means reclaiming the power to issue currency, to manage the size of the money supply, and to direct newly created credit towards public purposes, and away from speculation on the prices of financial and other assets. Until we take back this power, any other victories we win will be hollow.


Occupy the state

From X-Ray Magazine # 36...

In the two months since Occupy Wall Street began its experiment in direct, democratic dissent, “democracy” of the liberal kind has revealed its bankruptcy to the whole world.

In the last sixty days the neo-liberal, let’s call it the “post-democratic” state, its various organs cooperating across jurisdictions and across national borders, launched a coordinated attack upon our rights to freely assemble, associate and speak.

In Oakland as at UC Davis, the radical violence of the cops was inflicted upon hundreds of the innocent and unarmed, and in Toronto and New York the radical violence of the law proved that under post-democracy, flimsy legal reasoning can be a powerful tool of oppression only so long as we continue to respect liberal, post-democratic legalisms.

We have seen two elected national governments, Greek and Italian, close up shop, transferring business to a new proprietor—the so-called “Troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank.

The abortive decision, quickly reversed, to hold a Greek referendum on the savage austerity measures being imposed upon Greek workers and Greek democracy was a disaster—for the markets.

A military coup was being prepared to prevent it if necessary. But it was not. Greek liberals and social democrats combined to carry out a coup against themselves. No sooner had Papandreou fired the commanding officers of the Greek Army, Navy and Air Force, he himself ran away.

The new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, named an entire Cabinet with not a single elected representative in it. Bankers, business owners and technocrats were simply parachuted into the government of a “democracy.”

No elections were held to make these two transfers of state power legitimate. In a very real sense, the Italian and Greek states are now under the direct control of central bankers, the people be damned.

But these “technocratic governments” are not a novelty. They merely formalize and bring out into the light of day the longstanding relationships of power. Now we can really see who calls the shots.

In the United States the powers of the US Congress have been devolved to a “Super-Congress” of twelve people with deep connections to the US corporate establishment.

We are witnessing something unprecedented.

Both the 1% and the 99% are realizing that liberal “democracy” holds nothing more for them. They are reaching the same conclusion, albeit based upon two entirely opposite political perspectives, and conflicting sets of interests.

For the 1%, even the largely pantomime rituals of our “democratic” elections, with all their stage-management and scripting are too risky to their continued accumulation of super-profits to be allowed to continue.

They have come to rely on a guaranteed and ever-increasing flow of wealth into their own pockets, from us, to them. Since neoliberal, structural adjustment “reforms” were imposed upon the world in the 1970s, at the insistence of the corporations, the wages and benefits accruing to the 99% have stopped growing, and the 1% have monopolized the financial wealth and income generated by a growing economy.

The crisis for both the 1% and the rest of us arises in part, from the fact that the economy can no longer continue to grow in absolute size on a finite planet featuring a shrinking common stock of natural capital.

Growth cannot continue on a planet where there is no place left unexploited and nowhere that is not already full of our waste, or full of us. The ongoing orgy of financial speculation—of trillions of dollars of bets on essentially phony “assets” – was the last-ditch attempt of the 1% to both delay the onset of the final crisis, and to transform “crisis into opportunity.”

To accommodate an ever more predatory capitalism, liberal “democracy” first had to be structurally adjusted, along with the economy. Then it had to be abandoned altogether. Elections had to be rigged, political parties hijacked. False flag terror attacks had to be staged, the predetermined victims blamed.

Nations had to be invaded on false pretexts, the bodies buried. Inalienable civil rights had to be made alienable. Millions had to die. A vomitous river of lies had to be told, and sold. All to keep the capitalist balls in the air, all to keep the system limping along.

The capitalism system should have collapsed in 2008. Its life was extended by means of a central bank trick: the creation of an immense amount of new fictitious “wealth” in the form of bank created credit.

But this only made the inevitable reckoning that much more catastrophic. Instead of being used to facilitate production, which would have made the credit economically useful, this credit was used to backstop the insolvent speculators and their derivative bets.

As of 2011 and 2012 the mask is falling away.

If the 1% are abandoning liberal democracy because it no longer provides iron-clad guarantees of free profits from their debt slaves, the 99% are looking for new, more participatory democracy because the old, “liberal” kind can no longer protect them from the rapacious greed of the 1%.

It is a very difficult conclusion for many people in liberal “democracies.” It is often a conclusion reached only with extreme reluctance. Rarely is it embraced. But it is no less true for that.

We, especially those of us in the English-speaking world, have been educated our whole lives to equate the existing constitutional set-up with democracy.

We have been taught – wrongly – that a system of preference elections, political parties (with a combined membership of less than 2% of the population) and professional politicians is tantamount to democracy.

We are taught – wrongly – that our constitution, our courts of law guarantee our freedoms. In fact, only our disobedience of the law, of what Erich Fromm called “irrational authority”, guarantees our freedom.

As the former US President once put it, a constitution is nothing but “a goddamned piece of paper” – at least when those entrusted with enforcing it no longer hold its fundamental principles dear.

We are living in that time, when our own governments have created the apparatus of a police state to maintain their political control. Liberal “democracy” is a sham.

It’s not just me.

That’s what Ronald Regan’s former Assistant Treasury Secretary calls it. Paul Craig Roberts writes:

“Every day that passes adds to the fraudulent image of Western Democracy…  it turns out that ‘we have freedom and democracy’ is not supposed to be taken literally. It is merely a propagandistic slogan behind which people are ruled through back-room deals decided by powerful private interests.” He’s right.

The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont declares: “democracy itself is failing.” He’s right.

Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks declares liberal democracy kaput when lobbyists can openly buy American laws they want drafted. He’s right too.

Linda McQuaig notes: “democracy has become a hollow shell.” She’s right.

Glen Greenwald, commenting on the brutal police attack on peaceful passively resisting student protestors at UC Davis, as well as the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning, describes American “democracy” as “a police state in pure form.” He’s right, and his insight is worthy of further scrutiny:

“The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed—or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet—many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant—to refrain from exercising their rights—out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.”

It reminds me of Fromm’s insight that freedom to think and speak only has meaning if one actually has original, self-generated thoughts of one’s own to speak. Freedom to merely repeat the received nostrums of authority, what Fromm calls “heteronomous obedience” is the freedom of a slave to love his chains. Real freedom means the capacity to disobey irrational, external authority.

But the debt slaves are beginning not to fear. Some of us are taking our freedom. The violent, illogical response of the authorities reveals their illegitimacy.

With the occupation camps mostly dismantled, the question arises as to what next. This is where it gets interesting, and where the limitations of the reformists and of liberal democracy to contain the hopes and dreams of Occupy become clear.

The Toronto Star recently ran an opinion piece by the seasoned journalist Olivia Ward with the title, “Will Occupy movement find a place in history?” She offers several potential routes toward such a place.

We can “educate, build a social network, co-opt authority (fat chance of that!), speak to power, agitate for proportional representation (too little too late) and spread the message.” But to what end?

Though her article begins with a story about the beginning of the revolution in Serbia, nowhere does she admit to the possibility that a revolution is what we require here in liberal “democracies.” Nor could she be reasonably expected to openly voice such sentiments in The Star.

But a complete revolution, a complete takeover and dismantling of the Canadian state, and of every other liberal “democracy”, is exactly what we require. We need to have a real democratic revolution.

The democratic revolution is not going to be confined to nation states. It’s going to be both global, and local. The revolution is global because it speaks to the universal need of humanity for freedom, autonomy and independence. It will be local as those universal values find their expression in each community, in its own way.

The democratic revolution has the potential to become the fulfillment of the promise of the Western Enlightenment; the creation of a rational, self-directed society of independent producer-citizens in free association, and a return, ad fontes, towards the ancient sources of participatory democracy. There are encouraging signs that this is happening.

In Greece and Italy and Egypt, in New York, Toronto, and in all of the Occupy protest camps, the direct democracy of the Assembly was put into practice to make decisions. Rule of a simple majority – or of minority parties claiming to represent a majority – was rejected as anti-democratic.

In essence, these assemblies are an open rejection of the fundamental premise of representative, liberal “democracy.”

It’s a dual premise: that assembly democracy is not practical, and that it is not desirable because the people are not fit to rule the state. The Enlightenment critique of classical democracy is where the ruling class mythology of “the mob” arises. The Occupy experience, and the experience of months of revolution in Egypt, have put paid to that lie.

The liberal state was designed in an age just emerging from domination by the landed gentry. Most people were still illiterate when our representative institutions were created. But today we enjoy universal literacy and widespread higher education.

As Jefferson put it, “we might as well require a man to wear the suit of clothes which fitted him as a boy, than society to remain under the regimen of its barbarous ancestors.”  We have grown up. Our system of government remains a spoiled child.

In Iceland, that other great democratic device, of selection of political offices not by election, but by lottery has produced a new constitution. In 2009, one thousand Icelanders were randomly selected from the voter’s list and met in an assembly called the Thjodfundur, the National Assembly.

The Assembly drafted an outline of the guiding principles of a new constitution. The following year a constitutional committee was elected from candidates nominated by the citizens to draft the new constitution. Citizen participation was encouraged through the Internet, where the constitution was essentially crowd sourced.

The participatory nature of Iceland’s renewed democracy is a step in the right direction. The citizen body is taking on the role of legislator.

While not a revolution by itself, the Icelandic constitution is certainly a giant step away from the 18th century liberalism of the US Founders and of the conservatism of Edmund Burke, the two schools of thought to whom Anglo-Saxon “democratic” institutions owe their current forms.

Those forms have reached the end of their useful existence, for both rulers and ruled. A democratic revolution is coming. Participate! (X)

Greece says No!

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is either very stupid, very smart, or perhaps very frightened. My bet is some combination of the first two, and definitely frightened.

His decision today to submit the European bailout package – a euphemism for suicide to ordinary Greeks who would be crushed by its immense weight – to a referendum of the Greek people is likely a gambit designed to give the embattled PM a viable exit strategy from the death grip of Berlin, while diffusing power of the Greek street. No doubt Papandreou is thinking seriously about the fate of previous rulers of Greece, who were unseated by smaller demonstrations than the ones which marched through Athens last week. Such mass action brought his father to power, and could as well usher him into a prison cell. He must also be thinking about the fate of his eponymous grandfather, deposed by Greece’s last king, and imprisoned by a military dictatorship. The European right wing is musing about a new military Junta for Greece that could “push through reforms.” The choice is clear: democracy, or the bankers.

The question is already being framed, or rather befogged, by the Greek government, with the help of the Guardian, which writes,

“The Greek finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, said the popular vote – the second to be held since democracy was restored to the country after the collapse of military rule in 1974 – would ultimately boil down to two choices. “Do Greeks want to remain in Europe, with the euro, in a country that belongs to the developed world, or do they want to return to the 60s? Do they think it is good to owe €100bn to the banks or do they not think it is good to live with such debt?””

Perhaps because the Greek people didn’t rack up the debt, they think they should not have to pay for it! Their charlatan government offers them a false choice.

Iceland told the bondholders where to put their busy hands. Are Icelanders starving? Not at all. Even Bloomberg’s wire service admits that Iceland did the right thing!

With that affirmation, with that democratic act of disobedience akin to the one which began human history in the Greek myth of Prometheus, a new democracy is now being born. Iceland is re-writing a brand new constitution, crafted by the people themselves, a marvel of democracy. Iceland had a choice, become the “Cuba of the north” by defaulting, or the “Haiti of the north” by agreeing to pay odious debts. Anyone who doubts the rightness of the choice should look up the Charles X Ransom.

The horror with which the European governments and the EU bureaucracy regard the democratic rights of the Greeks – who gave democracy to the world – is revealing. Their palpable fear and loathing is transmitted through the framing of the story.

From the Guardian:

“Sony Kapoor, managing director of Re-Define, an economic thinktank, said: “With the scale of adjustment being asked of Greek citizens, a referendum would be good for democracy and legitimacy, but it’s very hard to see how it can possibly be won.””

That’s right. “Democracy and legitimacy” are hesitantly endorsed, but only insofar as they confer “legitimacy” to decisions already taken, and which are actually opposed by at least 60% of Greeks. The tone suggests that democracy is in the way.

Greece is called once again to show the world that democracy is the way.

democratic fallacies Part 1b – the United States of America – a special case

In the United States the top 1% of the population controls 24% of national income, up from 9% in 1976. (15)  The top percentile of US “captured half of the overall economic growth for the period 1993-2007. And “during the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1% captured two thirds of income growth.” (16)  Reformed former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Steiglitz describes America as a society of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%, a damning indictment of American democratic pretense.

Like Canada, the United States is also a society characterized by vast inequalities of wealth. But does the concentration of wealth at the top also equate to a concentration of political power at the top?

The case which best illustrates the point is a brief explanation of the development of the current economic crisis in the United States.

As has been documented by journalists such as Matt Taibbi and others, the near monopolization of national income by the top 1% of US earners has been facilitated by an ongoing criminal fraud perpetrated jointly by government regulators, US lawmakers and Wall Street. The appropriation of ever more of the nation’s wealth by the top 1% is the goal of US economic policy.

In brief, the US banks lobbied the US government to allow them to act like brokerage houses, and to merge. Two US banks, Cit and Travelers merged illegally, before the merger was retroactively legalized by pliant lawmakers. Banks have a product they sell – debt. The debtor pays interest to the bank, (the banks don’t lend the money to pay interest, you have to find that somewhere else) yet the banks lend money they don’t actually have. The money is created the moment it’s loaned out. For more on this fraud (which is the central organizing pillar of both the US and world economy) see here, and here, and here.

US banks developed new mortgage loan “products” specifically designed to be sold to poor Americans who could not pay. No down payment was required. Mortgages contained hidden clauses in the fine-print which dramatically increased payment amounts unexpectedly. Loan officers regularly faked data on loan applications to please hard driving superiors only interested to draw in ever more suckers, that is debtors. The loan officers were afraid of loosing their own jobs. Many debtors didn’t read the fine print, and many loan officers deliberately misrepresented loan terms, and so the debtors found they could not pay. When the housing market and the economy went into crisis, they lost their jobs. Most of these people have lost their homes and their life savings. Automated systems were also used to fraudulently rush through foreclosure procedures bypassing the legal requirements for transferring property between owners. (17)

These dodgy mortgages were then bundled together and sold to both foreign and domestic investors as “securities” when in fact they were “toxic waste” – worthless because the debtors could not pay, and because the underlying value of the assets – the houses – were themselves overestimated. The bankers knew it, and they referred among themselves in their private correspondence to the fact that their products were garbage. That didn’t stop them from actively promoting them as “golden” to their clients. Junk bonds were sold as AAA investment grade. But it doesn’t stop there. After selling this junk to their clients, the Banks then actively traded against the investment positions of their own clients. They told their clients to “go long” while they “went short.” The banks also developed insurance “products” called Credit Default Swaps based on these junk mortgage bundles which could be spun off and re-sold, spreading the risk everywhere in the global financial system, with catastrophic results for everyone – but not for the bankers at the heart of the scheme.

When the US housing market began to decline, the entire system exploded. Major investment banks such as Lehman Brothers and insurers such as AIG collapsed overnight, taking with them the savings and investments of millions of small time savers. More than five million families have lost their homes with many living in tent cities. (18)

The bankers went straight to the US government, the “democratically elected representatives of the people”, hat in hand. They demanded to be bailed out from the catastrophic results of their criminal conspiracy. They threatened “martial law” and financial collapse if they didn’t get their way. (19) Thus intimidated, the representatives gave the banks $16 trillion dollars. (20)

And the bankers proceeded to pay themselves a $70 billion dollar bonus, for “performance.” (21)

But the US Congress, democratically elected by the people, has done nothing to help the many millions of homeless. Houses sit empty, or are stripped of their valuable copper and left to rot into the ground.

The American system, which can devote endless resources to delivering a lethal weapon to a pinpoint target on the other side of the planet, is unable to organize a method whereby a homeless American citizen might live in an abandoned house and maintain it. To maintain the principle of private property, the homeless man must sleep on the street in front of the empty house. Grassroots campaigns to reoccupy derelict housing by homeless citizens are either ruthlessly repressed by the American state and by local law enforcement, or are else starved of funding. The American system seems to be willing to sacrifice every human ethical value to the “principle” of the private ownership of property, and the rule of money over society.

And it doesn’t stop there. Because of the collapse of the bond market, and because the pension funds of many American unions and State employee funds invested in these toxic mortgage products, they are now threatened with bankruptcy.  (22) So state governors, with the Tea Party’s Scott Walker in the lead, are now attacking the collective bargaining rights of their unionized workers, to make up for budgetary shortfalls caused by the banks, who seem to have collapsed the US economy in a reckless scheme to line their own pockets. Emboldened by the anti-democratic tenor of much of mainstream American media discourse, and urged on by the neo-fascistic Koch brothers, Governor Walker declared that Democratic Party legislators no longer have the right to vote on legislation in Wisconsin state legislative committees! He has since backed off from that position, but we have been warned.

To date, not a single CEO of one of the banks behind the financial scandal and crisis has been prosecuted. It’s not difficult to see why.

The US financial “industry” lobby spent $3.7 billion dollars on lobbying from 1998 to 2009. During the period 1990 to 2008, it donated more than $2.2 billion to US politicians. (23) It’s the largest lobby group in the country. Wall Street was the largest campaign contributor to the current US President, Barak Obama.

It takes big money to influence US politics.

The average political campaign for a US Congressional seat costs $1.1 million, a Senate seat $6 million. (24) Running for the US Presidency cost Barak Obama $532 million, or $7.39 per vote. (25) The notion that “anybody can be president” or even a member of Congress is patently absurd, contradicted by the basic facts of US economic and political life.

The group Open Secrets, which tracks the influence of money in US politics, finds consistently that US House and Senate seats are won, nine times out of ten, by the candidate who spends the most money. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, “The cost of winning a seat in Congress–more than $1 million in the House and millions more in the Senate–is prohibitive for most people. Many politicians get elected and re-elected to Congress simply because no one can afford to take them on.” (26) Incumbency has become a sinecure in American politics. More than 97 percent of Congressmen, and 86 percent of Senators won re-election in 2008. The situation resembles the unreformed British Parliament of the late 18th century, when most country seats went uncontested because they were monopolized by the landed gentry, and MPs could not be elected without their patronage.

The 2008 US election cost more than $5 billion dollars. Barak Obama ran his campaign with promises of “Change we can believe in” and declared that he would do things the people wanted, like stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to close down Guantanamo Bay Concentration Camp. Two years later, and President Obama has not only not stopped the wars, he has extended the wars into Pakistan and now Libya, and has declared that the President has the right to assassinate US citizens. His financial administration is made up of veterans of Goldman Sachs and other big banks at the centre of the criminal conspiracy of Wall Street. Obama raised more money from Wall Street than did John McCain.

Many Americans and others have observed that business corporations, with the legal status of immortal persons under law, (though the legitimacy of that claim is suspect, it is conventionally observed) now control American politics.

There are more than twelve thousand lobbyists in Washington, working on behalf of private interests, mostly US and international business corporations and banks, using the power of money to manipulate the laws of the United States so as to favour them. (27) Lobby groups employ teams of lawyers who present draft bills to Congressmen and Senators. The best-connected lobbyists are former Congressmen. (28) Many bills are so complicated and so long, and the time given to Congress to review them so short, that they are often passed without being read. (29)

What good is it to elect a “representative” who won’t even read the legislation she is voting on? Is this not merely a token representation? Is not this representative merely a cipher?

Why do lawmakers keep on renewing the USA Patriot Act even though a majority of Americans have long been opposed to the Act?

The USA Patriot Act, which strips Americans of many of their civil liberties, was on the desk of the President on September 24th, only 13 days after September 11th 2001. The bill was drafted well before September 11th the date of the incident that allegedly occasioned its necessity.

Introduced into the US House of Representatives on October 2nd, two Senators, Russ Feingold and Tom Daschle attempted to slow the passage of the Bill. On October 9th, Daschle’s office received envelopes containing weaponized anthrax spores, as did an NBC and New York Post office, in an attack that remains a taboo subject in US media. (30) What’s certain is that the kind of anthrax received by the Senators is of the type that is only manufactured by the US Military, at Fort Derrick. Five people were killed and 17 became ill after handling the infected letters. The Patriot Act was then passed on October 23rd, with Feingold the only US Senator to vote against it. According to US Congressman Ron Paul, most congressmen passed this Bill without first reading it, largely because the full text was deliberately withheld from legislators by the Bush government. (31)

In the intervening decade, government encroachment on the rights of Americans has only increased, legally justified by a legal theory supporting a kind of “royal prerogative” called “the unitary executive” advanced by the Federalist Society. This doctrine holds that the President of the United States is all-powerful and immune from legal restraints, much like a monarch who holds the power of life and death over his subjects. The US President can now simply declare that a person is a terrorist, and one’s rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are forfeit, without any due process of law. US President Barak Obama has recently asserted the “right” of the President to order the extra-judicial execution of suspected terrorists, and is busy carrying out targeted drone strikes against suspects in Yemen and Pakistan under this legal cover. These strikes often kill women and children.

The Patriot Act flows out of the legal philosophy of the unitary executive. The Act makes it a crime to “give material support to terrorists.” The terms of reference are deliberately vague, and allow the government to go after political activists doing solidarity work with oppressed groups in Colombia and Palestine, which is exactly what the US government is doing. (32) So the Patriot Act thus negates the First Amendment protecting free speech and the right to freedom of association.

The Act allows the US government to spy on its own citizens without any evidence of wrongdoing. The government had erected a vast electronic eavesdropping system which records every phone call, every email, fax and text message sent not only by every American, but which also vacuums up the private conversations of many people in foreign countries. Spy cameras mounted in urban centres, ATMs and other public places are used to track the movements of citizens. Massive amounts of private information are available to government bureaucrats, corporations and state security agencies. Yet citizens who want information on what their government is doing, on what the corporations connected to the government are doing must submit Freedom of Information Requests and endure a labyrinthine bureaucracy. What information they might obtain might be heavily or completely redacted, in the “interest of national security.” The right to privacy is gone. The right to know is gone along with it.

The Act also authorizes so-called “sneak and peak” searches of people’s private homes. Combined with the groping, prodding and “enhanced pat downs” (sexual assault) conducted by Transportation Safety Agency staff on everyone at airports and now train stations, Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights which protect people from unwarranted search and seizure have gone too. People who will passively let strangers grope them between the legs have been bled of just about all of their democratic instincts, behaving in a manner more akin to that of trained dogs.

Can such people be said to have any power in the American system? Could such a group of pacified sheep mount any kind of serious resistance, when they are content to be followed, filmed, searched and groped? It seems unlikely.

The US Constitution guarantees a right to trial by jury, in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendments. This has not stopped both Republican and Democratic US governments from holding people merely suspected of “terrorism” for years, incommunicado and without trial or due process of law. American government lawyers such as Viet Dinh have asserted that the US President has the unlimited right to detain people indefinitely during war time. Since the US government has been at war constantly since 1942, this is a right asserted in perpetuity.

The people whose rights are stripped from them then become the victims of torture.

In 2005 photographs from Iraq’s Abu Graib prison documented the perverted psycho-sexual torture and the murder of Iraqi detainees by US armed forces. The torture had been specifically authorized by President Bush. A few underlings such as Lyndie England were punished. Those who gave the orders got away with it. Most recently the magazine Rolling Stone exposed previously censored trophy photographs taken by a US military “Kill Team” in which the US soldiers posed with the bound bodies of Afghans they had killed for sport. The Kill Team would toss candy to Afghan children, then run them over with their vehicles. They cut off heads, fingers, and then these sadistic animals posed for more than one thousand photographs with their human victims. So far one low ranking soldier has been punished, in what is surely a whitewash covering up what is a regular practice in the US Army: the murder of innocent civilians as standard operating procedure. This has been documented in every US armed conflict to date.

The US government’s use of torture against American citizens such as Jose Padilla and Bradley Manning tells us what the US government thinks of the Eighth Amendment, which bans torture, and which declares one’s right to a speedy trial (by jury). The US executive’s insistence on its countervailing right to unilaterally deny Eighth Amendment rights reduces them to a privilege, a boon granted by the sovereign. US government lawyer John Yoo has publicly argued that no law can stop the US President from ordering the torture of an innocent child (specifically crushing that child’s testicles) if such torture forces a terrorist suspect to reveal useful intelligence. (33) This is the mindset of the caste of political specialists which runs the United States of America.

One might ask whether or not the concept of the “rule of law” in American politics was a mere fiction covering up the arbitrary rule of lawyers, legislators and police?

The USA is a republic with a president, who is not directly elected by the people. US voters actually vote for members of the Electoral College, which elects the President. The founders of the USA did not trust the common people to directly elect the president or to directly run their own affairs. They were to be “totally excluded in their collective capacity” from “any share” in the constitution, according to the Federalist Paper #63. The fear of democracy, based on an elite interpretation of classical scholarship, runs throughout the Federalist Papers.

In the most recent 2008 election, Barak Obama won with 52% of the popular vote, and 365 votes in the Electoral College. John McCain took 45% of the popular vote, and 173 votes in the Electoral College. America also uses a “first past the post” system, as opposed to a system of proportional representation, under which the results in the Electoral College would have been far closer.  No third party candidate won a single seat in the Electoral College. Voter participation in the 2008 election was 61.7%, so we can state that President Obama secured the support of a minority of the total US electorate, 32%. Voter participation in 2008 was up slightly from the 60% participation rate recorded in 2004.

In the two previous elections there was widespread voting fraud carried out by Republican Party operatives.

In 2001, the election was decided by the US Supreme Court, which declared George Bush the President after an unprecedented battle in the State of Florida, which was at that time governed by Bush’s brother Jeb. Jeb had previously hired a private company called Choice Point to remove voters, mostly blacks who vote Democratic, from the voter rolls. Some 36,000 people were turned away from polling stations in Florida on November 4th, 2000 because of the actions of Choice Point and Kathleen Harris, who presided over Florida’s voters’ lists while at the same time being a member of the Committee to Elect George Bush, a blatant conflict of interest.

Police were stationed outside of polling places to intimidate voters and check for photo IDs, which many people did not possess. This turned even more people away.

Despite these efforts, the Democratic candidate, Al Gore won a majority of the vote. But this outcome was to be challenged and ultimately overturned.

On the evening of November 4th, exit polls (which are usually very accurate predictors of election outcomes) were calling a Gore victory. Despite this, Fox News, owned by right-wing billionaire Ruppert Murdoch called the Florida vote for Bush, which if true, would have tipped the vote in the Electoral College towards Bush. The problem is that it wasn’t true, and the man who made the call on Fox News was John Ellis, George Bush’s first cousin and a member of his campaign team planted within the news agency.

After lobbying by the Bush team, TV networks reversed their calls for Gore, saying now that the election was “too close to call.” Despite poling returns during the night of November 4th and morning of the 5th which showed any lead by Bush in Florida to be dwindling, Fox’s John Ellis called the election for Bush at 2:00 AM on the 5th.

The Gore campaign was not going to concede defeat, but neither were they prepared to mobilize ordinary Americans in the streets to defend US electoral “democracy.” They confined themselves to legal means, while their opponents observed no such restraint.

A manual recount was demanded by court order in Miami’s Dade County. The Republicans responded by flying in a small gang of operatives into Miami. These men then staged what has become known to history as the “Brooks Brothers Riot” in which they physically attacked the members of the County’s elections commission, posing as “outraged citizens.” The Board was intimidated into not re-counting the ballots.

Team Gore’s half-hearted efforts also played a role in throwing the election to Bush. The Gore campaign only demanded partial-recounts in selected Florida counties. The organization, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, writing subsequent to a review of ALL of the uncounted ballots, notes that if all ballots had been recounted, Al Gore would have won the election.

“The study’s key result: When the consortium tried to simulate a recount of all uncounted ballots statewide using six different standards for what constituted a vote, under each scenario they found enough new votes to have narrowly given the Florida election–and by extension the presidency–to Al Gore. Under three models that attempted to duplicate the various partial recounts that were asked for by Gore or ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, however, Bush maintained a slight margin of victory.” (34)

Team Gore took the case to the US Supreme Court, which ordered that the Florida re-count of votes be abandoned, and in a byzantine decision, handed the Presidency of the United States to George W. Bush. So in a very real sense, the people of the United States did not pick its 43rd President. The 2000 “election” was voided by a series of extra-legal stunts and legal tricks.

The 2004 election was likewise fraudulent. (35)

In control of the state apparatus, the Republican Party used it to throw the US Presidency to Bush once again.

The scheme was conducted on multiple fronts, and nearly all observers point to Karl Rove, Bush’s Senior Advisor. (36) In brief, some of its highlights were:

the undersupply of voting machines and staff to largely black and or democratic voting precincts, resulting in long line ups, with many people either abandoning their attempt to vote or being unable to vote (37)

Democratic voters were mailed warnings by the Republican Party that people with unpaid parking tickets or other misdemeanors would be arrested at the polling place. (38)

absentee ballots to US citizens living abroad, who vote largely for Democrats, were mailed out by the Pentagon in 2004, instead of the State Department. Approximately half of US overseas residents either received their ballots too late, or not at all. (39)

a private nexus between the owners and managers of voting machine companies (ES&S, Diebold, Sequoia, and Hart Intercivic) and the Republican political machine. The CEO of Diebold, Wally O’Dell was a key Bush fundraiser in 2004. Voters who indicated a vote for Kerry on an electronic voting machine instead ended up voting for Bush. Virtually all of the voting machine errors ended up favouring Bush, and in many places more votes were reported for Bush than were recorded as even being cast for both candidates combined. (40)

The actual results of the 2004 Presidential election defied previous opinion and exit poll results, which showed that John Kerry would have won the election, were one carried out fairly and freely. Exit polls showed Kerry beating Bush 50.8% to 48.2%. But the actual result of the vote was 50.9% for Bush vs 48.9% for Kerry. (41) Even if we refuse to examine the prima fasciae evidence of massive vote fraud, the 2004 voter participation rate of 60% would mean the Bush only ever had the support of 30.48% of the US electorate.

How much support to American government policies enjoy? Can they be changed once a policy direction is taken, in response to public opinion in this putative democracy? Taking the issue of the US wars in the Middle East as a touchstone, we remember that support for these wars was engendered by a massive propaganda campaign, the opening shot for which was the attack of September 11th. The US public was whipped into support for the Iraq war via a massive propaganda campaign involving phony claims about “weapons of mass destruction” amplified by the multi-billion dollar corporate media. Despite this enormous effort, polling during the lead up to the invasion was only able to measure support at between 54 and 60%. This support began to erode rapidly as the dead and injured soldiers began to come home. By 2005 60% of Americans thought the war should not have been fought in the first place. (42) By 2010, 60% of Americans opposed the war in Afghanistan. (43)

Clearly opposition to the war has been long standing. But this does not stop the US administration. Questioned about the unpopularity of American wars, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that he “could not let US public opinion sway American commitment to Afghanistan.” (44) Do the Afghans support the US war? Opinion polls can find only 6% who do. (45)

If the USA is a democracy, how can the government maintain a “commitment” to a tremendously costly policy which the public has opposed for years, and despite a change of government? The answer can only be that the change of government is merely cosmetic, carried out for effect only. The USA is actually governed by a single party, the party of money. Its deliberations are private, and cannot be affected by the opposition of the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” or by the “swinish multitude.”

That said, the American ruling class do need to maintain the pretense of public support, and to increase their capability to manipulate public opinion. This is a strong indicator of ongoing mass public opposition to their policies. If the US ruling class enjoyed popular support, such techniques would be superfluous. The latest one is the Pentagon’s creation of fake online personalities on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The Pentagon has contracted a software developer to create a system whereby a Psy Ops officer can control up to ten phony online personae, which can be made to spout “tweets” and other messages in support of Pentagon war objectives. The name of the program? Operation Sock Puppet. (46)

In poll after poll, substantial majorities of Americans support “the need for government investment in education, infrastructure and science, the need for a transition to clean energy, the need for government regulation to protect workers and consumers and the need to provide financial support for the poor, the sick and the elderly.” (47) If Americans live in a democracy, why does their government combat every single one of these policies?

For the purposes of length, we will omit any substantial reference to the long standing US government practice of subverting and overthrowing democratically elected governments all over the world, save to remind the gentle reader that it has recently successfully overthrown the government of Honduras, and has for the last eight years prevented the Haitian people from enjoying a popularly elected President, Mr. Aristide, because his policies would have raised costs for American corporations in the country with the lowest wages in the western hemisphere, and generally set a “bad example” for others. In the recent, US sponsored Haitian elections, less than 10% of the electorate voted. The rest abstained in protest of Aristide’s exclusion.

The United States is clearly a “special case.” The form of “democratic” elections is followed, even fetishized, perhaps precisely because its proponents know it to be a complete sham. But what sort of results does it produce? (48)

(15)   New York Times, Kristof, Nicholas. Our Banana Republic, November 7th, 2010

(16)   Striking it Richer. The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States. Emmanuel Saez, 2009. University of California at Berkeley.

(17)   )



(20)   US Bank Bailout Details:






(26) Op cit (14)


(28) ibid

(29) (John Conyers to Michael Moore, Farrenheit 911






(35)  See the books of Harvey Wasserman on the subject at :

(36) How & why we have filed racketeering charges against Karl Rove’s election operations by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman October 29, 2010

(37)  See Mark Crispin Miller’s comments on Democracy Now at

(38) GOP Challenging Voter Registrations, Washington Post, October 28th, 2004

(39) Hurdles Remain for American Voters Who Live Overseas, New York Times, September 29th, 2004

(40) The 2004 Presidential Election: Who won the popular vote? An Examination of the Comparative Validity of Exit Poll and Vote Count Data, by Jonathan D. Simon, J.D. and Ron P. Baiman, PhD, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Chicago, at

(41) Ibid







(48) Graphic depiction of inequality in America:

democratic fallacies part 1a – Canada

In Canada, where the author lives, 1% of the total population controls 32% of the national income. (5) CEO pay is more than 155 times the pay of the average worker. (6)

Canada is thus a society characterized by a vast inequality of wealth between the rich and the poor. As documented by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, this disparity is growing ever wider, ever faster.

But who controls the government? A defender of the axiomatic notion of “liberal democracy” would claim that because the Canadian government is popularly elected, Canada is a democracy, and the people control the government.

The recent Conservative government of Stephen Harper was a minority government. (At the time of writing, this government has just been defeated in a vote of non-confidence.) Twice elected, in 2006 and 2009, the government received first 36% and then again 36% of the vote. However, because only 64% of eligible voters participated in 2006, and only 64% in 2008, this government actually only ever enjoyed the confidence of 24% of ALL VOTERS. Put another way, a greater percentage (36%) of the people chose not to vote than voted for the government. We may take a decision not to vote as a vote of non-confidence in Canadian “democracy.” (7)

So we can say in Canada that the majority of the people, – 76% – for the last five years at least, have not controlled “their” government. We have a system which permits minority rule, both in terms of parliamentary seats and in terms of an absolute minority of total votes cast and of all voters. We can say that we have rule by 24% of the people…and the police.

In the 2006 election, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police chief Giuliano Zacardelli personally insisted on leaking to the press the existence of an RCMP investigation into insider trading within the office of the then Liberal Finance Minister, creating an impression of Ministerial criminality that helped push votes toward the Harper Conservatives. The RCMP refused to cooperate with a subsequent public investigation into the matter. The interference of the national police force in a Federal Election was unprecedented.

Equally unprecedented was the defeat of the current government, the only time in Canadian history in which a government has been declared “in contempt of parliament.”

The citation for contempt arose out of the government’s refusal to reveal the cost of several very expensive spending plans; the purchase of new stealth attack fighter jets (they are not for defense purposes) and the building of massive new prisons, despite the declining crime rate. In the Westminster system, no government may spend money without the consent of Parliament. Thus votes on spending bills are considered “confidence motions” – if the opposition votes against the budget, the government must resign. The Harper government refused to reveal the cost of these budget line items, prompting the contempt ruling of the speaker. In this case the opposition parties voted for a Liberal Party non-confidence motion before the budget was presented, and the government called an election.

Who else voted for the previous government? Mostly the rich and upper middle class, as well as the least educated workers. Rich people have a tendency to vote for rightist parties, who mobilize the fears of the public. In Canada the Conservative Party is the choice of the richest people, as the Party protects their interests over those of the poor, many of whom vote for the social democratic NDP. (8)

The Conservative Party used to be a mass party. However like all mainstream parties, its base has shrunk, and now exists as a kind of elite vanguard organization.

The Conservative Party machine does not seem to be an organization rooted in the “common people” according to at least one academic, Mr. Farney, who writes “The organizational history of the Canadian right since the Reform Party was transformed into the Canadian Alliance suggests that strong competitive pressure for Canadian parties to be organized in a cadre manner that minimizes the involvement of ordinary members. Both the Canadian Alliance and Conservative Party of Canada represent steps away from the attempt to emphasize direct public engagement in the name of garnering sufficient public support to win office.” And Further, Mr. Farney observes that “ Power — and policy direction — in the party is extremely centralized, as Stephen Harper has successfully implemented party discipline that is extremely strong even by Canadian standards. This discipline, moreover, seems to be applied not only to the party’s MPs and staff, but also down to the constituency level.” (9) Farney’s observations have been widely noted by the popular press and other scholars. In the current governing party, elected by 24% of the people, we have a picture of top-down control, not “bottom up” democracy.

This top down organization of power has also been reflected in the operation of the Canadian state.

The recently defeated government felt entitled to use the vast resources of the Canadian state to promote the Conservative Party. This is illegal, but the government felt empowered to break its own laws, because it could. When handing out stimulus cheques in 2009, the Conservative government had oversized cheques printed prominently featuring Conservative Party insignia, not Government of Canada insignia. (10) During the so-called “in and out” election financing scandal of 2006, the local candidates used the resources of the national Party to subsidize local Conservative Party electioneering, despite the fact that the national party was approaching its legal spending limits. (11) Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney has been caught using the resources of his constituency office to subsidize fundraising for the Conservative Party, which is also an illegal use of taxpayers’ money. (12) He has also steadfastly refused to release Tamil detainees, despite repeated orders from Canadian courts. His department just ignores them. Kenny also interfered in the Canada Customs and Border Inspection Agency for political purposes when he ensured the refusal of the British MP George Galloway from the country at the request of the Israeli state, and also likely when his department offered Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi a tourist visa, instead of the type routinely issued to a Head of State. The Canadian government refuses to publish details of its spending, earning it a rebuke from the Speaker of Parliament that it is in contempt. One of its Ministers, Bev Oda, has submitted forged documents to Parliament and lied about it. She is protected by the Government because she obeys orders. And the latest development of such abuse, the government has now instructed all federal agencies (the bureaucracy) to cease to refer to the “Government of Canada” in intra-departmental and public communications, and instead refer to “the Harper Government.” If we live in a democracy, it’s one that conflates the Party with the State, in a manner which resembles the operation of the Chinese Communist Party.

This was most dramatically expressed on two occasions, in December of 2008 and then again a year later when the Conservatives used the Royal Prerogative to “prorogue” or in plain English, suspend Parliament. The first prorogation was in response to an attempt by the Opposition to form a coalition government, something perfectly legal and legitimate. However Prime Minister Harper launched a public relations campaign, casting it as an attempt at treason because the separatist Bloc Quebecquois had agreed to support the Liberal NDP government on supply and confidence motions, despite the fact that Harper himself had similarly cooperated with the NDP and the Bloc in a failed attempt to bring down a previous Liberal government in 2004. Harper deliberately mischaracterized the Bloc as a participant in the new government, when it was not, playing upon common prejudice in Anglophone Canada. The common smear against the Bloc as “traitors” in English Canada is simply a gross lie, as all of its Federal MPs have sworn an oath to HRH The Queen in order to sit in the House of Commons.  Once more a threat to the Conservative Party was conflated with a threat to the state.

Even more interesting in the coalition affair was the role of the federal Liberal Party. The Liberals under Stephane Dion, signed the coalition accord with the NDP, though Dion was scheduled to be replaced as Liberal leader in a party convention the following May. Despite this, the two main candidates to replace Dion, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, signed the coalition accord as members of the Liberal Caucus, and came out publicly in support of it. And then something funny happened…

Ignatieff suddenly broke the coalition deal. Without notifying the NDP, he staged a press conference, and threw buckets of cold water over the whole idea to which he had subscribed. Why?

The answer was only revealed posthumously.

Conservative Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt was secretly taped by her assistant, a certain Ms. McDonnell, the daughter of a politically connected Liberal. While driving around Victoria, Minster Raitt described how on the weekend that the Coalition deal was negotiated, Michael Ignatieff was reminded who really runs this country,

“They did it at the Canadian Council of (Chief) Executives, there was three presidents of major banks who stood up in the room — and this is not from cabinet so I can talk about it — stood up and said, ‘Ignatieff, don’t you even think about bringing us to an election,’” said Ms. Raitt.

According to her, the Bankers told Iggy, “’We don’t need this. We have no interest in this. And we will never fund your party again.’ That was very powerful. So he heard it from very powerful people in the industry. He was definitely muzzled.” (13)

Despite the wishes of a majority of voters who backed the coalition parties, and despite the massive demonstrations which sprung up across the country, Canada’s top bankers vetoed the coalition agreement. Their motto is vote early, and often, and they vote with dollars.

The second prorogation was an attempt to prevent a Parliamentary committee from hearing evidence that Prime Minister Harper and some of his ministers and Generals are war criminals, based on the testimony of a whistleblower in the Canadian diplomatic service who testified that Canadian forces transferred captured Afghans to the US and local forces where they were tortured, and that successive governments knew all about it but did nothing.

Does the Canadian government do the will of the people, or even of 24% of the people, or does the formulation of policy come from an even smaller layer?

In Canada less than 2% of Canadians are members of a political party of any description. Yet it is within political parties, and within think tanks and institutes which report to and which are aligned with political parties that government policy is crafted, and within which our laws are drafted. Put another way, at least 98% of Canadians are entirely outside this process. Lippmann’s idea of elite “democracy” is certainly in operation in Canada.

Among the influencers of the current government are right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the MacDonald Laurier Institute, the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and other groups which attempt to influence public policy to benefit private capital: the rich. The rich and corporations have, in the last two decades, convinced successive governments, both Conservative and Liberal to impose spending and tax policies which have shifted the burden of taxation off of corporations and the rich, and onto the poor and the working poor. And it’s worked. The rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer.

The average Canadian household is now $100,000.00 in debt. (14) Debt has been a tool used by the rich creditor to control the poor since the beginnings of human civilization. In fact, the Athenian democracy began as a revolt by poor indebted farmers who demanded the cancellation of their debts. Athenian democracy begins with Solon’s cancellation of these debts. In contrast, indebtedness of average Canadian households is increasing. The average household in Canada only saves $2500 in after-tax income per year. In 1990 the average was $8000. This is a direct result of policies enacted in the last 20 years by governments both Liberal and Conservative which have cut corporate taxes and raised consumption taxes which impact ordinary Canadians disproportionately.

These Canadian Governments have also been busy attacking the democratic rights of the Canadian people.

In 2001 the Canadian Liberal government passed an Anti-terrorism Act which made provisions for secret trials, indefinite and preemptive detention of terrorism suspects, and expanded powers to spy on ordinary citizens. Immediately these new powers were abused. The Canadian government passed information to the US government which caused Maher Arar to be arrested and flown to Syria where he was tortured. The government also detained five men for unproven “links” to so-called “terrorist groups.” These became known as the Secret Trial Five. The anti-terror laws allowed their indefinite detention, and prevented them and their lawyers from knowing the government’s case against them. In 2007 the Canadian Supreme Court declared the method by which they had been detained – the so-called security certificate system by which the say so of a government Minister was all that was required to subject a person to this parallel justice system – unconstitutional. Faced with a public relations disaster, the Canadian government moved the detainees to a kind of Orwellian house arrest, featuring constant video surveillance in their own homes and forced wearing of an electronic tracking bracelet. They are followed by the secret police wherever they go. Three remain in this condition, while two have been released, proving that the entire original case against the men never existed. If it had, they would have been tried in a court of law, found guilty of a crime and sentenced to prison. The Secret Trial system was created to bypass the law itself, by a “democratic” government, and is maintained by a “democratic” government.

Given the fundamental contempt shown by the Canadian government for basic principles of the English Common Law such as Habeas Corpus and due process, the separation of party from the state, there is no need to discuss the contempt of the “Harper Government” for the finer points of abortion rights, women’s rights or gay rights, which it adamantly opposes. As Paul Craig Roberts has pointed out in the related case of US government contempt for the law, it’s beside the point. If basic concepts of distributive justice and democracy are flouted, the finer points are under threat by definition.

We might ask that if Canada is a democracy, characterized by “people power” where the “poor control the government” why the poor have chosen to deliberately impoverish themselves, and to elevate an elite group so far above them in both wealth and public influence? Or have these decisions been taken despite the opposition of 76% of the people? If instead we have the rule of experts, are they ruling in the interests of the people at large, or for the benefit of a much smaller elite grouping, which includes themselves?


(5)  Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, The Rise of Canada’s Richest 1%, by Armine Yalnizyan, available at:

(6)  Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Recession Proof, Canada’s 100 best paid CEOs, available at:

(7)  For 2006 Federal Election Results see:,_2006

For 2009 Federal Election Results see:,_2008


(9)   Farney, James. Conservative Party Organization and the Democratic Deficit. Queens University. Available at




(13)  Topp, Brian. How we almost gave the Tories the Boot, pg 167

(14) Vanier Institute of the Family, State of the Canadian Family Finances, Annual Report 2011, at

democratic fallacies part 1

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in colour and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

The assumption that “we live in a democracy” is the ground upon which western socialists, liberals and reactionaries stand. It’s taken to be axiomatic, that is it’s a premise automatically accepted without recourse to proof. But what would happen if we tried to prove it?

To some the question will seem absurd; to others, offensive. For some, the democratic nature of the liberal state must not be questioned. Its rituals have acquired the status of holy offices, its constitutions, that of holy writ, its idea of “democracy” revealed truth.

I am questioning this received idea in all of my work, including my film work.

What if one could prove, through the examination of the historical development of our idea of democracy that in point of fact, we do not live in a democracy as that term has been understood for 95% of its existence, and that we never have, and that contentions to the contrary – that we do – are most often supported by the most basic logical fallacies, and little supporting evidence?

What if one could show that the accepted notion of democracy has been completely altered over the course of the last 120 years, and that what we now take for “democracy” was in fact taken for its opposite until very recently? What if ancient notions of democracy could be shown to have new relevance today, when our supposedly “democratic” societies are monopolized by a tiny caste of wealthy men who are attacking our rights? Does this attack not make such a reexamination urgent?

If this point could be proven, and our argument here is that it can be, then a radical reexamination of the idea of democracy would be as much in order as it would be timely. The implications would be revolutionary; that we are called upon to establish a true democracy where we have had heretofore only an imaginary one.

In this essay, Part 1, we will take up the history of our notion of democracy in its development, and examine three societies which today claim to be democracies; Canada, the United States and Great Britain to determine if any of these societies can be proven to be a democracy. In Part II we will examine in detail how the notion of democracy evolved from 1789 to the present day, and why. In Part III we will consider possible alternatives.


Let us examine the accepted definition of the Cambridge English Dictionary, which defines democracy as

“the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves, a country in which power is held by elected representatives”

The first part of the definition is surprising. Democracy is here defined not as a material relation between people, but merely a “belief” in such a relation, or a government founded upon such a belief. It’s weak.

Webster’s Dictionary definition is stronger, describing democracy rather as an existing material relation between people:

government by the people; especially : rule of the majority b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

b) a political unit that has a democratic government

c) the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority

d) the absence of hereditary or arbitrary distinctions or privileges

The term democracy has evolved in meaning over time. It did not always mean “a government with periodic free elections” or that the common people were merely “the source” of political authority, with power wielded by representatives. In fact, if we examine how this word has been used in the last 2500 years, we shall find that its meaning has been radically altered only in the last hundred years or so. In the 2400 years previous, it meant something altogether different than what it has come to mean today.

Walter Lippmann, writing in the 1920s, attacked the technical ability of ordinary people to manage a democracy directly. For Lippmann there were insiders, the technical managers, and outsiders, everybody else. “Only the insider can make decisions, not because he is inherently better, but because he is so placed that he can understand and can act. The outsider is necessarily ignorant, usually irrelevant and often meddlesome.” (1) Lippmann’s thought is the culmination of a reactionary attack on classical notions of democracy which oddly enough mirrors the classical anti-democratic arguments of Socrates and Plato: that government is work for trained specialists.

But as F.I. Finley points out, Lippmann’s, and Plato’s attack assumes an equivalency between technical and political problems. Behind the assumption of technical competence by specialists there is a great deal of room to disguise anti-democratic ends, cloaked by means we accept because we believe that the technical specialists are acting in our best interests. This is a process by which decisions taken by the few are legitimized, but is it democracy?

This so-called “elite theory” of democracy as elaborated by Schumpeter and his school, by Seymour Martin Lipset and others is the “democracy” that we know today. The role of the citizen is now merely to choose between a small group of leader – specialists placed before the public by political parties. In this respect, the people are removed from their previous role as the political authority to a secondary role as its source.  It’s a curious notion, that the source of authority could be more powerful than the authority itself. But it’s one we’ve come to accept without question. Political authority, and hence coercive power, is thus delegated to specialists. We take the means by which this power is delegated, preference elections, to be the acid test of democracy.

Thus the idea and practice of democracy has been transformed into something completely unrecognizable to previous generations. In his Funeral Oration, the Athenian statesman Pericles famously remarked that anyone who did not participate in politics, the ideotes (from this word we derive our own term ‘idiot’) was “useless.” Our system encourages such political passivity. Ours is an idiocy generating machine.


Dr. Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary, the first in the English language, defined democracy as “sovereign power lodged in the collective body of the people.” In Johnson’s definition, the common people were the authority.

In the middle of the 18th century, when Johnson wrote there were no states claiming to be democracies. Democracy was not even considered a desirable form of government. Johnson had as his basis only his understanding of classical Athenian democracy, based on ancient Greek sources.

Democracy is derived from two ancient Greek words, demos, meaning the people, and kratos, meaning power, or might. So democracy might translate as “people power.” Its etymological meaning is seldom referred to, in fact has been erased.

We might turn to Aristotle for help in broadening our idea of people power, or democracy. Since Aristotle lived in a culture which had known democracy for 180 years, whereas western states have barely known democracy for 90 years, and arguably far fewer if recent gains for women and racial minorities are taken into full account, perhaps his ideas are worthy of review. They are especially so in light of the fact that the founders of western liberalism, the framers of the US Constitution and the 19th and early 20th century formulators of elite democracy, addressed themselves directly to Aristotle’s thought on this subject.

Aristotle in the Politics makes several attempts to define what democracy is. His was the first systematic examination of political science. He based his analysis on an empirical study of the constitutions and ways of life in Greek city states, and collected their constitutional documents.

He notes that “democracy exists wherever the free-born are sovereign, and that oligarchy exists wherever the rich are sovereign,” (1290a30) and “There is democracy wherever the free-born and poor control the government, being at the same time a majority, and similarly there is oligarchy when the rich and better-born control the government, being at the same time a minority.” (1290b7)

The Greeks knew few elections, which are merely one means (of several) to the end, (democracy) not the end in itself. The aspect common to both ancient and modern notions of democracy seems to be a certain type of “class rule” that is rule by “the common people.” How that rule is exercised may vary.

The critical question is this: do the means we use today – preference elections –produce the end –“people power” or rule by the majority, by “the common people” or by the poor?

Moderns have chosen preference voting in contested elections. Or rather we’ve agreed to be included in this means to the  democratic end, which was originally a means to a far different end. The Athenians had a different means to the end, ruling themselves in person in the Eklessia, the famous Assembly, and also in the choice of representatives by lottery, as we still choose our jurors today.

Aristotle considered preference voting a feature of oligarchical forms of government, not of a democracy. He wrote, “in the appointment of magistrates, the use of the lot is regarded as democratic, and the use of the vote as oligarchical. Again, it is considered democratic that a property qualification should not be required, and oligarchical that it should be.” (1294a30)

The words which follow more accurately describe the kind of “democracy” we know today. “The method appropriate to an aristocracy or a ‘constitutional government’ is to take one element from one form of constitution and another from the other – that is to say, to take from oligarchy the practice of choosing office-holders by voting, and from democracy the practice of requiring no property qualification.” (1294a30)

Modern liberal democratic states also feature “free elections” and no formal property qualifications, although in many countries the act of running for office requires monetary resources only available to the very wealthy. Is this not an informal, but very significant property qualification in our system?

Aristotle was not a great advocate of democracy, where the poor control the government. He writes, “it seems impossible that there should be good government in a city which is ruled by the poorer sort,” (1294a1) and on the other hand that “of all the perversions from a true constitution… democracy is the most moderate, and so the least bad.” (1289a38)

The ancient elites, and most of their philosophers both feared and hated democracy. Plato and Socrates were sworn anti-democrats who thought the common people did not possess the wisdom to govern themselves or others. In contrast, the “Sophists” (the aristocrat’s term of abuse which has come down to us uncritically) such as Protagoras asserted that every man possesses politike techne, the ability to form political judgments about his best interests. If we believe in democracy today, we would have to agree with Protagoras, and not with Plato that every human being has the innate capacity for political judgment.  This is a curious thing, because our “democratic” system is based on Lippmann’s Neo-Platonic absolute denial of the proposition that the ordinary person is fit to govern herself. Whereas our system encourages mass political passivity, on the philosophical ground that the ordinary person is inexpert, the Athenian system trained citizens for political participation from an early age, and so they developed political skills to a greater or lesser degree. To borrow a common Athenian metaphor, just as an athlete develops not only his body but also his inner physical capacity, his endurance and strength, through the active and consciously directed exercise of those capacities in training, so too may humans develop and strengthen their capacity for political judgment by means of a conscious practice. Use it, or loose it. We have sadly lost it. We have been led into this debilitated condition by an elite misreading of Aristotle.


In Aristotle’s system of thought, democracy was a perverted form of constitution, not something desirable, if it could be avoided.

Aristotle classifies three “right forms” of political system, or constitution.

Monarchy is the rule of one man or a king. Aristocracy is the rule of the best people in society, or the aristoi. By “best” Aristotle means the most virtuous and also the most skilled, but he also recognizes that this term will be perverted so that “the best” become equal with the wealthy, as in an oligarchy. (We shall return to this point.) The third type he calls polity, or “constitutional government”, which is a mix or balance between Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy.

In fact, this is the very type of mixed constitution – polity – which all modern liberal “democracies” now possess. We do not live in a democracy in any sense in which that word may be correctly understood.

The United States famously claims for itself a “constitutional” government, featuring a separation of powers between an indirectly elected President (monarchy), a bicameral legislative branch featuring the House of Representatives (democracy) and the Senate (aristocracy). This is how the Founders of the American republic thought of their second Constitution (we often forget there was a first one), and argued explicitly for and against it in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers based on classical political thought. According to Lippmann, it was Jefferson who first conflated the mixed, republican system of the United States with democracy, though as we shall see the two were conflated earlier and by others such as Edmund Burke. The conflation serves elite interests.

The English government viewed, and still continues to view its constitution as a mixed one. Judge Blackstone, in his massive work On the Laws of England which is still cited by jurists today, describes the English constitution of King, Lords and Commons as embodying the ideal mix between the three “right forms” of government, citing Aristotle, Cicero and Tacitus to back him up. (2)

The 18th century elite view of democracy can be clearly seen in the following cartoon. Here the mixed constitution of Great Britain sails the stormy seas betwixt the rock of democracy, represented by the Phrygian Cap (another ancient symbol from the classical world) of the French Revolution, and the whirlpool of tyranny.

Blackstone would have been horrified, as would have been James Madison, Benjamin Disraeli and others to imagine that we have confused this system with “democracy.”

They would have been quite a bit less horrified once they had appreciated that this very confusion has perpetuated the mixed constitutions and the hidden rule of the rich that they defended. Lord Jack Russell, who in 1832 first granted voting rights to English 10 pound householders declared that his reform “would not one jot advance democracy.” (3) Did he know something we have forgotten? We will fully explore this history in future posts.

It seems that the contradiction between modern and ancient notions of democracy revolves around the means by which it might be organized, around the method by which “magistrates” or in our case “representatives” are chosen. We recognize that the Greek role of “magistrate” and the modern “representative” are not co-equal, as the Athenians had no representatives per se, but represented themselves, and moderns elect representatives from whom magistrates (executive offices in the state which in our system are divided between professional bureaucrats and elected officials) are chosen. The ancient meaning and the modern one both include rule by the common people. Thus we must take as the acid test of democracy whether or not the common people hold real, substantive political power in a given society. The means by which that power is obtained is secondary. The means exist to further the end. If the end is absent, the means are no use.

The modern citizen assumes that because a society holds “free and fair elections” that it’s a democracy. The idea has become axiomatic since the early 20th century. An axiom is a proposition that is taken for granted, and which is not required to be proven. This may be a mistake in this case, for it involves a conflation of the means by which the “power is vested in the people” with the end itself, the just exercise of that power to create the good society. The axiomatic reasoning also can lead into attributing the qualities of a part to the whole. Just because a society holds elections doesn’t mean it’s a democracy. Such is obviously the case in Haiti, where “free and fair elections” have been held, but without the Lavallas Party which represents 90% of the population. The fallacy that attributes the quality of the part to that of the whole serves to confuse the issue.

It’s a mistake that Enlightenment thinkers clearly identified. Thomas Paine, in his Rights of Man, which inspired the beginning of the struggle for a reformed English Parliament and the right to vote, was very clear. His book is a defense of the French Revolution and its radical democracy, against Edmund Burke’s attack on that revolution. In it Paine accuses Burke that he “confounds representation and democracy together.” Paine’s other critics at the time also acknowledged that a system of political representation is not concomitant with democracy. In an attack on Paine’s writings presented to the members of his book club, a Royalist gentleman (who wished to remain anonymous to history) wondered at Paine’s admiration for “the new representative system which has become engrafted upon democracy.” (4) Here our Royalist gets it wrong. When we examine the case further, we shall see that in point of fact, it is rather that a representative system has since been engrafted upon a mixed constitution to give it more of a democratic appearance.

If we could distill Lippmann’s and Schumpeter’s idea of democracy, we might describe it as “the rule of the expert, for the common people, for their own good.” This may also be called polyarchy, a term of modern social theorists.

If we could distill Aristotle’s thoughts on democracy and oligarchy then we could derive an alternative axiom which might help us see our own situation more clearly; that democracy is the rule of the poor, and oligarchy of the rich. He said exactly this, so no distillation is really needed. This type of oligarchy has also been referred to as plutocracy.

Using these terms of reference above, we can ask the following questions about three countries which claim to be democracies:

  1. In whose interests do “political experts” rule in practice, as opposed to in theory?
  2. How have experts protected democratic rights?
  3. Are the rich or the poor in control of the state and of the economy?
  4. Do the common people experience rule by experts as beneficial, or would they prefer participatory democratic reforms?

Further, if we take the common terms between the Cambridge and Webster definitions, that of “majority rule” and either a “belief in” or a really existing “freedom and equality between people” and the notion of “free elections” we could ask these additional questions:

  1. Does the ruling group represent a majority of voters and of citizens in each country?
  2. Does the ruling group uphold freedom and equality between people?
  3. Are elections free or rigged?
  4. Can voters radically change the direction of their country by means of the election of a different political party or leader, or do political parties represent merely the appearance of choice?

Unfortunately when we examine the evidence, we can find a great deal to support the notion that in fact so-called “democracies” are really disguised oligarchies where the few rule the many, for the benefit of a few, under the disguise of the mixed constitution.

In the next installments, we shall examine Canada, the USA, and the UK in detail against the questions above. In future posts we shall explore how these three countries developed their mixed constitutional systems under the false label “democracy” and how the people came to accept this state of affairs. Stay tuned.


(1)  Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public, pg 140

(2)  Blackstone, On the Laws of England, Book 1, Chapter 2.

(3) Lord “Finality” Jack Russell. Hansard. British House of Commons, March 22nd, 1831.

(4)  A Protest Against Paine’s “Rights of Man” Addressed to the Members of a Book Society” T. Longman, Paternoster Row, London, 1792/

canadians head to the polls

I’ve been busy the past few months working away on a book project related directly to some of the subjects I’ve taken on in this blog: democracy, corporate power and how our representative political system thwarts the former, and nourishes the later.

I’ve also taken up making films in order to deliver the same message.

This is the first in a series of short “newsreels” that I’ll be posting in the coming weeks as we go through a federal election. In the future I’ll be bringing you more film, several essays about the history of police power, a major study on democracy in Canada, the United States and the UK, a short feature about working and commuting to work, and two feature-length documentaries about policing and the evolution of our modern (and phony) notion of democracy.

I hope you find this film amusing, enraging and enlightening. More to come. And of course the voice of the “cranky American journalist” I assume in this newsreel is a persona I’ve taken on for dramatic effect, in case you were wondering!