What is democracy?

I made this short film at the Occupy Toronto protest march and sit-in this past weekend. The film is based on the responses to three questions:

What is democracy?

Do we have a democracy here in Canada?

How can we make democracy better?

The answers expose some fundamental disconnects between the ideas of democracy held by the public, and especially by this section of the public, and the kind of “democracy” we have. We have an allegedly representative system where the representatives don’t really listen to the public, but to interested parties. They make promises they don’t keep. There’s a sense of betrayal out there. The public’s notion of democracy has evolved beyond the limits set by western liberalism. They seem unwilling to give a lot of latitude to their representatives, preferring them to act more like delegates with only provisional authority, who require permission from the people before acting. Many people expressed a desire for a more participatory democracy. We have evolved, but our institutions have not. There’s a big collision coming.

 

Is a Better World Really Possible? Questions for Occupy Toronto, its critics and its false friends

 

The Occupation movement has inspired love letters, hate mail, paranoid rants from the usual suspects, police mischief, pepper spray, ham handed right wing smear attempts,  damnation by means of faint praisederision and warnings. This story is none of the above.

 

I don’t want to give anybody advice. Life has taught me that nobody takes advice they’re not ready to act on. More precisely, dispensing advice has taught me that. I just have some questions I want to put out there. Make what you will out of them.

 

What is democracy? Does it mean elections? Why didn’t Aristotle think so, and why do we? Why didn’t the men who founded our liberal democratic states think so? Again, why do we? Why have we conflated one thing, constitutional, “mixed” government, for democracy?

 

Is it a democracy when 1 percent of the population can monopolize 14 percent of all the income, and 3.8 percent of the population controls 67 percent of the financial wealth? Is it a democracy when we are ruled by political parties with a membership of less than 2 percent of the population?

 

Is it a democracy when less than 50 percent of registered electors actually vote? Is it a democracy when a minority, representing a minority, chosen by a minority gets to rule as if it were a majority? This isn’t a questionDalton McGuinty won the election with the support of 18 percent of all eligible Ontario electors.

 

Are we for reform, or revolution? Or some combination of both? If we’re for a democratic revolution, and I think we might be, how can we transcend the dead end of the western liberal system of political parties, professional politicians and the dishonest personality and pissing contests we dignify overmuch with the term “democratic” elections? It’s a loaded question. Mea culpa.

 

What is our idea of citizenship? Can we imagine, as the ancient Greeks could, an idealized “citizen”? What does she do with her day? Is she shopping for status-branded consumer items? Is hers a lot of incessant toil for wages that do not keep up with real inflation?

 

Does she pay attention to the latest political developments? If so, where does she get her information? Does she get it from the CBC? From the business press, which never met a corporate press release it didn’t have the urge to print as if it were factual news?

 

Is she reading independent media? If so, what is she doing about the glaring contradiction between the picture of the world pieced together by independent journalists, and the one spun by official journalists?

 

Why do journalists who are most often paid nothing or its closest dollar equivalent, who do their work out of the love for truth, out of a commitment to justice, come up with such a radically different picture of the world than those paid six figure salaries by corporations? Why does the work of independent journalists stand up to factual and logical scrutiny more readily than that produced by people paid infinitely more?

 

Are we not all called upon, as citizens of an allegedly democratic society, to seek and to know the truth? What is the best method for finding that truth? How is a citizen to act upon the truth she discovers? What if the truth is so monstrous, that it demands immediate action?

 

Is her citizenship to be confined by voting every four or five years, to writing letters to MPs whose secretaries will respond with preconceived nostrums, the true faith of the party, cited chapter and verse? How far is she to go, in righting wrongs, in setting society upon the course demanded by her human conscience?

 

Should she always act within the bounds set by the law, even unjust law? If she has only ever known the authority of received “wisdom,” if she has never asked a question that threatens power, (including the authority inside her head) if she has never disobeyed authority, and so discovered her “self”, can she be said to have a human conscience at all?

 

Is she free? Does she even want to be? If she does not desire freedom, if she is afraid of it, if she is afraid of the accuser who would label her a heretic, an apostate, just for speaking her mind, just for being herself, if she is afraid of being arrested for the act of being free, how can she have the inner strength to be a citizen? Can automatons be citizens? Can slaves?

 

Could there be other, perhaps better ways to live? Might there be new ways to have a democratic society together? Might there be ways we have not yet considered? Ways that have not been tried, but which should be? Does our history have anything to teach us? Has there been a successful democracy? Has there been a disastrous one? If so, for whom was it successful, and for whom disastrous?

 

Why were the men who founded western liberal systemsmen like John A. MacDonald, Benjamin Disraeli, Lords Durham and Russell, James Madisonso afraid of democracy? Why have we forgotten that these men didn’t like democracy? Or rather, why did they like democracy when it did what they wanted it to do, but hated and feared it the rest of the time?

 

Would they be afraid of an electorate that was too afraid of losing their creature comforts to rebel? Would they be afraid of an electorate that chose to stay home and watch the hockey game on voting night? Would they be more afraid if we had stayed home on election night sharpening pitchforks?

 

Would they be afraid of the Icelandic constitution, which was written on the Internet by the ordinary citizens of the country? Would they not be even more afraid of our democratic General Assembly? Should we not structure a new society so as to send chills down the spines of authoritarians everywhere?

 

Could otherswho fancy themselves our friendsalso be afraid of democracy? Why do some people think only they and their sect hold the key to “the revolution,” to the democratic future? If they do, why do so many of their new recruits bleed away in disenchantment and disillusionment?

 

What right do they have to lead any movement, other than their claim to ownership of the “true faith” and their ability to suddenly get out in front of a parade? Why does the world continue to get worse, while their solutions to fix the world never seem to change? Why do we listen to the priests of politics while we ignore the prophets?

 

How could we remake democratic society to prevent, structurally, vested interests of whatever sort from ever gaining power over our minds and bodies? How could we structure democratic government to put the power directly in the hands of ordinary people, all the time?

 

How could we short-circuit the ideological dead-ends into which the western liberal debate has descended? How could we put all political decisions into the hands of ordinary citizens, free to use the power of their human conscience, independent of all ideology, to act on behalf of all, for the good of all?

 

How could we make this politics incorruptible, by its very structure? Is there any future for liberal, parliamentary, electoral, party “democracy” if such a system is our goal? What can we do right now to make a new, more democratic society a reality, and not just a dream?

 

Perhaps we could start occupying our public squares, and asking each other questions. I hope you’re asking questions too, because our immediate future depends not upon answers, but upon questions.

 

If there are answers, we will either find them together, or not at all.

 

 

it takes a riot

from X-Ray Magazine….

I knew David Starkey from his ponderous history series “Monarchy” which played late nights on TVO. I’ve watched the whole thing, and it’s fair to say that Mr. Starkey is an expert on the evolution of the Royal power in Britain.

When it comes to the contemporary forces that might challenge, and (soon I hope) overthrow that power, Mr. Starkey is considerably less expert. His decision to prove this point to the entire world live on BBC television on August 13th 2011 may have proven a “career ending move” according to Owen Jones, author of Chavs, The Demonization of the Working Class who was interviewed in the same segment.

Starkey, Jones, and British novelist Dreda Say Mitchel were in the BBC studio to offer their insights into the cause of the riots that had spread virally from London to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, five cities that have historically been centers of English working class radicalism.

For David Starkey, the problem is that the “whites have become black.” And he just didn’t blurt this statement out. He really thinks that, and spent the entire segment arguing the point, from the bottom of the giant hole he had dug of his own free will. He later defended his statements. The whole segment can be seen here.

Mr. Starkey began the interview with what Americans would call the “home advantage.” Silver haired and conservatively dressed in a dark blue suit which is today’s mantle of authority, the “expert” on British history could have turned down his tortoise shell glasses and reminded the BBC viewers of the rich tradition of working class riot and insurrection that has been written in blood for hundreds of years on the streets of London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

He could have explained how it was to these riots, not to favours bestowed by any Lord, that Britons owed their freedoms. He would then be today’s hero instead of yesterday’s pariah.

Starkey could have reminded the audience that one of the members of the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820, which planned to assassinate the British Cabinet over the issue of the right to vote, William Davidson, was a black man from Jamaica.

He could have reminded viewers of the famous Bristol Riots of 1831. Workers basically took over the city for a whole week, and forced the local magistrate, the “Recorder of Bristol” Sir Charles Wetherell to flee in his nightclothes over the rooftops.

All of Bristol’s prisons were burnt to the ground. The workers were angry at the defeat of a Reform Bill in the House of Lords. The bill would have allowed the richest of them to vote. The insurgent population of Bristol was then attacked by British soldiers armed with cutlasses. Seventy workers were cut down, four were hanged, and several soldiers died to defend the monarchy Starkey admires.

He could have told BBC viewers that it was the threat of such an insurrection in London that finally forced the House of Commons and the Lords to concede the vote; that the upper house had to be “stacked” with 60 new peers to ensure passage of the Bill, much to the objections of King William.

He could have reminded viewers that in 1839 the recently formed London Metropolitan Police had to be exported to Birmingham to fight running battles with rebellious workers (some of them black!) in Birmingham’s Bull Ring, and were repelled by those workers.

Why? The British government of the day, along with the monarchy didn’t want to grant the universal male suffrage demanded by the Chartist movement. To this day, at least one of the demands of the Peoples’ Charter, the demand for annual parliamentary elections as a check on corruption, has still not been met.

He could have reminded Britons that Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police for the purpose of the political and economic repression of the working classes—not that they need reminding.

Perhaps Starkey could have told us a bit about William Cuffey. Born in St. Kitts, he was the leader of the militant wing of the London Chartists in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The Times of the day dismissively referred to Cuffey as “the black man and his party.”

A footnote to history? Whose history? It is to Cuffey and his party, in no small part, that British workers owe their voting rights, not the monarchy. Cuffy was “transported” to Tasmania for his efforts.

Does the gentle reader see a theme emerging here? Whites and blacks, trying to overthrow the British government together and set up a democracy: a proud tradition, going back at least 200 years. Mr. Starkey the history buff could have reminded the viewers at home…

But he didn’t. He chose not to talk about the history of English working class resistance to the powers that be. That’s because for his whole academic career, Starkey has been one of the most ardent defenders of and apologists for those powers.

He made his name rationalizing the obscenity that is the British Monarchy. So he was simply incapable of explaining the working class riots of 21st Century England to the working class. Yet this was what everyone expected of him, so he was set up to fail.

The BBC should have known what they were going to get. After all, at the beginning of Episode 2 of the series Monarchy, he tells us that these days “thuggish disorder tends to come from the bottom of the social pile…” Such are his long-standing views.

Ergo, some of the criticism leveled upon Mr. Starkey has been manifestly unfair. For Mr. Starkey wasn’t in studio to explain the riots to the hoi polloi, in their own terms.

Rather, Mr. Starkey was present on the BBC that night to explain to the working class, the attitude of their betters (their term, not mine) towards them. And yes, everything that came of his mouth was a load of racist tosh. But we should be clear about what was going on, the better to understand it.

Starkey was conveying the POV of the British ruling class (Inbred Gentry Section).

A great deal of attention has been focused on Starkey’s mimicry of the “Jamaican patois” as he put it, in which some of the dispossessed of neo-liberal Britain communicate with each other by text. He theatrically pulled from his suit pocket a transcript of a text he had somehow culled and did a little mocking impression of it.

Starkey should know as an historian the power of a shared language to bind together a rebellious underclass. Certainly the tension between the tongue of 11th Century Saxon England and the lingua franca of the Norman French conquerors is a subject upon which the learned scholar has previously declaimed. Surely a man who speaks in such a posh accent is aware of the relationship between social class, power and language, which can be used to exclude or include.

Starkey’s bias in the matter shows him to be firmly on the side of the inheritors of the Norman French, who are now (history is a fickle mistress) actually Germans living under an alias, (where have we seen that before?) the “Windsor” family, but really the inheritors of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. They only changed their name in WWI for the sake of “convenience.” OK, they did it to save their skins from the same kind of revolution their ancestors feared in 1832. And it worked.

So if you’re white and rich you are permitted to blur your ethnic or national identity. In fact, today the rich can transcend that identity through globalized capitalism. The profits of their corporations can be shifted to the lowest tax area, so they pay little or no tax at all. They can become “trans-national,” jetting about from Dubai and Hong Kong to the City of London and back.

No such courtesy is extended to working class youth. They are expected to be contained by the British ruling class’s false notions of their race, and by the way in which they speak English.  This is why Starkey says during the interview that MP David Lammy doesn’t “sound black” because he speaks the way Starkey expects a “white” person to speak.

Workers likewise must accept the dominance of the nation state and its government and police. Stepping outside these boundaries, asserting the revolutionary power of one’s language is not permitted. And so Starkey mocked it.

But working class youth in Britain and elsewhere have had enough. They understand that a parliamentary “democracy” that can impoverish the voters for 40 years while Members of Parliament claim fraudulent expenses and alternatively schmooze with and cower before Rupert Murdoch and his staff is no democracy at all.

A new democracy is coming. History will say it started with a riot.

after industrialism

From X-Ray Magazine, #26

If one had predicted the collapse of capitalism a few short years ago, one would have been marked as either a communist or else clinically insane, perhaps a bit of both.

Today, the act of reading capitalism’s last rights is a kind of ticket-of-entry into “serious debate” about the economy, even for the system’s ex-partisans.

Marketwatch’s Paul B. Farrell regularly sprinkles holy water on the corpse, perhaps in the hopes of raising Lazarus, while former US Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts has been publicly bereaved for the better part of a decade. Count in Gerald Celente and the ever-entertaining Max Keiser, and perhaps the Globe and Mail.

They may confuse appearance with essence. The system isn’t dead. The system is death. Monopolies are becoming more monopolistic. Prices are being fixed higher, wages slashed.

Liberties are being stripped, governments hijacked. These are all necessaries to the further development of capitalism, not contraries. But it doesn’t matter.

The real question is however not “Wither capitalism?” but rather “Wither industrial civilization?” As one wag famously put it, things that can’t go on forever, don’t. Our civilization is one of those things.

The reason, in a word, is limits. In a few more words, it’s that industrialism needs an infinite amount of stuff to process, and an infinite amount of space to absorb our waste, while stuff and space are finite. So is time.

Thus we are living in that special moment in history when a global civilization does a slow-mo car crash into those limits. Buckle up. The car we’re driving is out of gas, the brakes are shot, and the driver is insane.

What we face is the collapse of industrial civilization worldwide, as a number of irreconcilable contradictions attempt to reconcile themselves:

The exponential growth curve of the human population since pre-history will revert to the mean, as do the exponential growth curves of every other animal population facing resource constraints. That implies a human population of less than one billion. Currently we’re at six plus. Most people don’t really understand exponential functions.

Global fossil fuel extraction likely peaked in 2006, according to IEA data, neatly confirming Marion King Hubbert’s prediction from 1976, plus ten years, due to the frantic effort to produce oil from marginal fields. It won’t save us.

This just might be the world’s most consequential “Told ya so!” Everything Homo Industrialensis does is dependent upon fossil fuels. Without natural gas, coal and oil, no industrially grown food reaches our plates.

Without fossil fueled pumps, no municipal water will flow out of our taps, or flush our toilets, or purify our shit. No more cars, iPads, vanilla soy lattes, summers at the cottage… no weekend getaways to Bahamas, no office, no factory.

Even if world oil production were to increase, the quality of the oil we’re finding is declining in terms of its net energy yield, or EROI—energy return on investment. When it takes a BTU to extract a BTU, best not.

The quality of world metal ores has also been in decline for decades. This trend can be seen in detail in the USA, the world’s most intensely explored and documented region for natural resource availability and production.

No, we’re not about to suddenly “run out” of iron ore, bauxite or copper ore. However, declining ore quality increases the energy-cost to produce a given amount of metal.

It also increases the environmental impact of mining, as a greater volume of earth needs to be destroyed, and more poisonous chemicals used to extract a given amount of metal from a larger volume of ore. It’s a big concern to global mining companies.

And no Virginia, there are no solar powered aluminum smelters or 50 ton CAT dump trucks coming to the rescue.

The world’s stock of arable land and water resources are all in serious decline. The world looses approximately 100,000 km/sq of farmland each year.

Cultivation of marginal lands is highly dependent upon irrigation (pumping water with fossil fuel power), fertilizers (from natural gas) and mechanization (more oil please). As global average temperatures increase, many “developing” countries will likely suffer catastrophic declines in agricultural productivity.

Yet western nations have been encouraging the industrialization of Third World agriculture, and the abandonment of traditional subsistence systems over which local people had some control.

Food industrialization will prove a death sentence for farmers and eaters.

The Indian journalist P. Sainath has been documenting the process in India, where farmers are responding to forced industrialization by preemptively killing themselves though the ingestion of pesticide.

World grain stocks remain close to historic lows, at 78 days of consumption as nations dip into their reserves to prevent local shortages, which lead straight to insurrections.

And there’s the collapse of world fish stocks. Most of the world relies on fish protein. Switching to beef is a non-starter. Cows eat grain fertilized with… you guessed it.

In short, the way of life we have known is ending, and the future that most of us expect: a solar-powered post-industrial hipster-heaven of super-fast information technology, ironic pop songs, dirigibles, Maglevs and Mars missions is never going to happen. Sorry.

The mind balks, contemplating its own demise. We imagine we have always been, always will be. Our incapacity to imagine the death of our own civilization is a morbid symptom of our own naiveté.

I’m afraid it’s terminal.

And so we go through the stages of grief. We deny. “They’re discovering more oil all the time!”, I have heard this one countless times, and it’s the easiest to refute. “Well, no actually. Oil discovery peaked in—wait for it—1965, before you were born.”

It follows that the peak of production must follow the peak of discovery after a time lag. Time’s up!

We bargain. “Solar and wind and geothermal and zero-point energy and an infinite number of propellers spinning atop an infinite number of monkey heads…”

OK, let’s take this apart. First of all, technology is not a source of energy. High tech devices use ever more energy. The answer “Technology and innovation will save us!” gets an F.

What about solar panels? Solar energy (photovoltaic electricity generation) currently accounts for less than 1 percent of the global energy supply. At this rate of production, we will soon come close to exhausting the world supply of rare earth elements that are necessary to their production.

What about Ontario’s “Feed-in Tariff” which pays solar power producers a premium for solar generated electricity fed into the grid? Well, Ontario is about to ratchet down the price paid to generators in the fall of 2011. It’s a global trend.

German rates are going down. Spain radically cut its program. The UK just cut their FIT rates by 42 percent. And then there’s the fact that Ontario’s electricity grid is “full.”

The whole electricity grid is dependent upon the constant production of “base load power” from nuclear generating stations, coal or gas fired stations, or hydro-electric generation. Base load power has to be on all the time, even if the lights are off.

Beyond a certain threshold, fluctuating inputs of energy from wind turbines and solar PV will destabilize the electricity grid, leading to blackouts.

The Ontario Power Authority has recently set a threshold for renewable electricity input—7 percent of the total. Behold your 7 percent salvation!

The Ontario government’s solar program has simply created a bubble, which is already bursting, as some solar energy companies are actually laying off staff, while others are going under.

They are burning through cash while they wait for government approvals on projects that may never happen. The author has begged several members of the Canadian Solar Industries Association to go public about the secret solar industry crisis, but was told that “decisions are made behind closed doors.”

Corporate solar is afraid of upsetting the touchy regulators they have worked so hard to cozy up to in the backrooms of Queen’s Park and Ottawa.

Conclusion: there isn’t going to be a techno-fix.

We cannot create ex nihilo resources which industrialism has destroyed. We can’t make more fish, which might regenerate their populations and environments in the long term, if only fishermen would go away. We can’t create more oil and gas.

They’re a “one shot deal” and we’ve blown our load on history’s biggest all-nighter. We can’t create more farmland. As they say in the Real Estate business, “they’re not making it anymore.” The past is the past. Our problem is that we’re living in it.

The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. I’ve left out anger and depression. For more on those, click here. This is a bitter pill to swallow.

But when we “take the red pill” and when “we see just how far the rabbit hole goes” we find that it comes back to the place where the grand adventure started – down on the farm.

Industrialism began with the “enclosure” of common lands. Private landowners in England began to claim the common lands of the medieval peasants for themselves. They turfed the peasants, who either starved or else migrated to the cities.

The lords turned the enclosed lands to pasture. They invented laws of trespass, which created crimes such as “vagrancy”, lawyer-speak for hanging around, which is what free people used to do a lot of the time. Workers were herded into cities and domesticated much like the sheep that quietly munched the formerly populated dales.

Yes, the sheeple must rise up. But our target cannot be confined to capitalism. We need to reverse industrialism itself, and the social, political and economic relationships which industrialism enabled. We need to do it before industrialism destroys the world.

Accepting the inevitable end of industrial civilization can allow us to see clearly the task before us. We need to establish the basis of a new civilization; one that will look radically different from industrialism, and only somewhat like the pastoral civilization, which birthed industrialism.

We must struggle for independence from the old civilization. We need to create our own alternative democratic economies that are truly local and truly sustainable.

I almost hesitate to use these terms, as they have been adopted as marketing slogans by industries determined to paint green as “the new black.” We need to build a revolutionary economy beyond government and corporate control, and be prepared to resist.

Going “off grid” is not an option for the vast majority in the industrialized west. The country farm property powered by solar and wind is a middle class escape fantasy. Off grid life will come to us, whether we want it or not.

So we need to find alternative and radically democratic ways of organizing society that take this inevitable reality into full account. That means combining an “Arab Spring” in the streets with the development of a new economy in the shops which front them.

Backyards and parking lots and residential streets need to be repurposed for local food production. The city square needs to be repurposed for self-government.

Both processes will take time, as the people are not used to governing themselves, and the pavement has smothered what could be productive land.

Neighborhoods will eventually need to form their own democratic councils, and take charge of the provision of local needs as centralized governments exit the field via cutbacks, and eventually become incapable of functioning because of their immense scale, which can only function when subsidized by cheap fossil fuels. Food production will be the central concern of all.

The masses of unemployed will need to be retrained to use a garden hoe and a shovel, and to mind chickens. The same thing happened in Cuba when Soviet oil supplies were cut off.

No doubt armies of ex-desk jockeys will grumble. Many will not be able to manage the mental and physical transition, and will shed their mortal and mental coils.

The world will find itself suddenly full of useless paperweights in the form of computers and cars for which there is no longer enough power, and in the form of people for whom there is no longer a reason or a way to live.

If the gentle reader has come this far, congratulations. You have my sympathies. My own journey in dealing with this information has closely followed the stages of grief.

I wouldn’t work in the solar energy business if I hadn’t engaged in some bargaining with the fact of our industrial dead-end. I still work in the business because, well, it’s a paycheque, and I can look myself in the mirror when I go home to cultivate my garden. But it’s not an easy row to hoe.

I’ve fallen out with some of the “cornucopian” fellow travelers in the movement, who imagine, in full-flight into fantasy, that materials constraints are some conspiracy dreamed up by big business.A number of orthodox Marxists fall into this category. They need the “industrial working class” to fullfill their own end of history fantasy. Without industrialism, the whole narrative falls apart. So they assert that “we’ll figure something out” – just like big business does.

I’m afraid the science says it’s just not so. Being “collapse aware” does tend to make one the odd man out at every sort of dinner party, and I think even though many people may be able to accept the information I have presented, the social pressure to conform to group expectations prevents most of us from acting rationally on this information.

That’s also why many of the wealthy passengers on the Titanic refused to proceed to the lifeboats. “Nonsense! This ship is unsinkable!” Fish made a meal of their certainty.

the NDP votes for war

from X-Ray Magazine, Issue # 28

To my gentle readers,

In X-Ray issue #25, I defended the young NDP MPs. In X-Ray issue #21, I urged readers to vote NDP. And Canadians did, in record numbers, delivering 103 MPs to Canada’s 41st Parliament.

In this edition of X-Ray, I come to critique the party, not to praise it.

As soon as the party was safely parked in the official opposition benches, they fulfilled one of my predictions from X-Ray #21: they betrayed us, or at least those of us who oppose the mushrooming imperialism of our own nation state.

NDP voters are almost as used to being betrayed as we are to losing, as betrayal usually happens after we win. The Party is said to “oppose from the left, and govern from the right.” Now they’re opposing from the “centre.”

With the Green Party Leader MP Elizabeth May the sole dissenting voice, Canada’s MPs, including those rosy cheeked McGill students, voted to endorse NATO’s barbaric attack against a sovereign state, Libya. Why?

The answer to that question can be found in the answer to another – why are we there at all? Unfortunately, the NDP seems to have swallowed the government’s propaganda that we’re bombing Libya to stop alleged human rights abuses, based on an inquiry I sent to my MP Jack Layton, which was kindly answered by Karl Belanger, his Press Secretary, and a staffer from Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar’s office.

Once upon a time I used to be able to email Jack and get a response back from the man himself. We’ve met on several occasions, I’ve interviewed him in person, and I like him a great deal.

That only made the answers I received from his staff even more disappointing. I reproduce some of them here in full, as we will be dissecting them.

From the desk of Mr. Belanger came the following statement:

New Democrats support the clear UN mandate to protect Libyans from government attacks. The UN mandate is clear: protect civilians from government attacks and work towards a ceasefire. We remain deeply concerned about Gaddafi’s savage treatment of civilians. Reports from the ground demonstrate there’s a continued need for the international community to help protect the lives of Libyans.  We are particularly alarmed by reports that Gaddafi’s troops are carrying out systematic sexual violence against women in rebel-held areas.

 New Democrats have concerns about mission creep and we want the government to do more on diplomacy and humanitarian assistance. That is why New Democrats proposed substantial amendments to the government’s motion seeking to extend Canada’s contribution to the United Nations-mandated mission in Libya. In doing so, New Democrats set clear conditions for Canada’s involvement in Libya. New Democrats also made clear that they would not support a further extension of the mission.

 Our amendment secured clear guidelines for Canada’s involvement in Libya. We made clear the goal of the UN-mandated mission is to protect civilians. We secured an increase to Canada’s support for Humanitarian assistance. We strengthened our diplomatic role and acknowledged that only a Libyan-led political transition will end this conflict. We ensured improved oversight of Canada’s involvement in Libya, including committee meetings and better information sharing.”

First of all, there is at least one very promising statement in the above; the NDP won’t support a further extension of the mission. Jack Layton has also, to his credit, urged the Canadian government to follow the example of Italy, and declare a ceasefire. It goes rapidly downhill from there.

The NDP’s expressed illusions in the goodness and rightness of Canadian diplomacy are troubling. If “war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means” then neither our diplomatic efforts in Libya nor the bombs we drop are protecting civilians.

The Canadian state and the Conservative government don’t give a damn about such things.

This war is about “regime change” and the “interests” of western corporations. If the government really cared about “protecting civilians from government attacks” we’d be at war against the United States and Israel, which most people in the Middle East believe to be the greatest threat to their civil, political and economic rights, to their very lives.

A 2010 Zogby poll in Egypt revealed that essentially the whole working and middle class population, 92 percent thought the USA, our ally, was their greatest threat. We’re proving how correct they are in Libya.

There’s a massive blind spot in the NDP’s field of vision where the dead bodies of Libyans are piling up. According to a credible western witness on the ground, Franklin Lamb, a former Assistant Counsel of the US House Judiciary Committee at the US Congress and Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, NATO bombings have killed or injured up to 6232 civilians.

His figures are not being reported by western media, who, according to Lamb, prefer to hang about in Tripoli hotel bars and pontificate to each other instead of going out to see Libyan hospital wards. Russian television RT has covered the story in Tripoli extensively.

Perhaps Jack should tune in. The once mighty western liberal press is a sick and pale shadow of its former investigative glory. The political institutions which once depended upon the press as a bulwark of democracy fare little better.

I suspect that some in the NDP benches, and certainly many NDP supporters either know or suspect that the “human rights” angle is part of a phony sales pitch long in the making, and that it was crafted to help sell imperialist war to “the folks at home.”

The Iraq wars were sold the same way. Saddam Hussein was tossing babies out of incubators in 1991, except he wasn’t. The PR firm Hill and Knowlton invented it. And then in 2002, Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”, except he didn’t. He had “mass graves” with 400,000 bodies, until we looked for them.

But by the time the truth was revealed our leaders had the war they wanted. It will be the same with Libya. Our oil is under their sand.

Western liberals, NDP included, have once again been overcome by the weapons of mass deception wielded by their own governments. And because both the Iraqi National Congress and the Benghazi based “National Transitional Council” were and are being funded by our governments, we’re essentially paying our own PR firms to befuddle our elected representatives.

The Benghazi rebels are being aided in their PR efforts by the Harbour Group and Patton Boggs. How many people will Canadian bombs kill before we sort fact from spin this time? No doubt the NDP is also “concerned” about the “savage treatment of civilians” blown to bits by NATO bombs.

But how can the party be or even look serious while it endorses the bombing runs and expresses faith in the official military / diplomatic warfare process, which are two sides of the same coin?

UN Resolution 1973 was just a pretext to start shooting. In late June the Guardian revealed that the French government, our NATO ally, has been secretly arming the Libyan rebels, something expressly forbidden under this mandate.

NATO does not take the resolution that provided the cover for its violence seriously. Why does the NDP?

And in this respect the NDP commitment to stop supporting the war after the clock runs out is irrelevant. The war is now started on the pretext of preventing civilian casualties. Only the facts on the ground matter now, yet the NDP is focused on the reality of the pretext.

For the United States and NATO the must be won by killing people until the survivors surrender. But it’s not cake walk we were promised. According to Franklin Lamb, the NATO bombing has united Tripoli citizens behind the government, which has distributed one million AK47s to the population, training to defend the city in house to house fighting. Friday prayers end with mass rallies in Green Square.

Our allies are also trying to assassinate Gadaffi—illegal under international law. Are Canadian forces participating in such illegal attempts? Or will they capture him and send him to the International Criminal Court, which is simply a political weapon in the hands of the west, since our own leaders will never be subject to its “justice”? To date, it has indicted only Africans.

And since this is a tribal civil war, not an episode of the simplistic “Arab Spring” TV melodrama as so many, including apparently the NDP, want to believe, it’s going to go on longer than necessary, the longer we stay, just like the other civil wars in which we’ve interfered in total ignorance, such as Afghanistan and Vietnam. Our intervention will prolong the killing, not halt it.

The NDP is “alarmed” about reports of rape being used as a weapon of warfare.  These reports should alarm us, but more so because investigators on the ground, from both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch can find no evidence to support such claims:

“Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, said “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. She stresses this does not prove mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, the head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: “We have not been able to find evidence.”

A party or government in a condition of alarm which induces it to launch the full force of state sanctioned violence against “rapists” on the other side of the world that nobody seems to be able to find needs to lie down a while before contemplating its next big move.

When I followed up with Mr. Dewar about this, his aide referred to Margot Wallenstrom, the special representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She has a mandate to investigate all instances of rape during wartime, but even she cannot point to any evidence of mass rape or a specific incident in Libya to support the contention coming from Benghazi that Gadaffi’s supporters are using mass rapes as a weapon of warfare.

Despite this lack of evidence, urgent “Calls to Action” were seeded all over the net, like this one from Melodee, a young American woman who works at the NATO “Fusion Centre” for the Mediterranean Basin.

Since the initial explosion of rape rumours in June, western media outlets have let the mass-rape story die a quiet death. If it had any legs at all, this story would be walking all over our front pages because it supports NATO war aims. Because it does not, it goes “down the memory hole.”

Why aren’t we bombing US prisons, in America or in Afghanistan or Iraq? Rape, which is by definition of weapon of violence used to subjugate and repress, is endemic in all three contexts.

The answer is simple. Human rights are beside the point, and taking that argument seriously leads away from a rational explanation of our foreign policy, not towards one.

The US, Canadian and other western state governments intervene militarily in the affairs of other nations to protect their most important principle, the right of our corporations to accumulate private capital and profit anywhere they so choose. We also fail to intervene on the side of aspiring revolutionaries in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for exactly the same reason.

In those cases the “humanitarian intervention” line would run counter to the interests of the Canadian state, and the corporate power structure of which it is an expression. In those cases the human rights abusers are our business partners, such as the neo-Duvalierist Government of Haiti we recently installed, with the help of France and the United States, but not with the help of the majority of the Haitian people.

Our gangster for hire, “Sweet Mickey” was elected with less than 10 percent of the vote. The most popular party by far, Lavallas was banned from running.  Canadian sweatshop operators in Haiti can rest easy that Haitian wages will remain the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and their super-profits are safe. This is Canadian diplomacy at work abroad. Be very afraid.

The fact that human rights are beside the point is why we are not bombarded with ongoing coverage of the show trials of doctors in Bahrain, and why we’re not waging a war for Bahraini human rights against the al-Khalifa family.

The policy is coherent and coldly rational, but only if one grasps that the “humanitarian intervention” angle is a subterfuge designed to create “buy in” for our wars of aggression, and in any other context may not be mentioned. We love human rights abusers who do business with us on our terms.

Only when a nation asserts economic independence from the western banking and finance structures do our governments become alert to “human rights abuses.” If they can’t be found, we simply fabricate them.

Judged by the answers of his staffer to my follow-up questions, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar doesn’t share this analysis.

I asked if the NDP really believed that NATO and the USA—our “coalition partners”—were truly interested in protecting civilians, and received a non-answer prefaced by this bit of sophistry: “I can’t speak to the intentions of everyone involved…”

The NDP has endorsed a war – organized, state-sponsored killing, costing billions of dollars – and its mandarins have not thought about and can’t describe the possible motives or intentions of our allies? Words fail this reporter.

I asked about whether or not the NDP accepted the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that underpins the false “we’re here to protect civilians by bombing them” argument. Apparently the answer is yes.

The staffer writes:

‘The “responsibility to protect” doctrine is not mentioned in the UN resolutions on Libya, but the situation certainly fits the criteria ascribed in R2P. We have a collective responsibility for the situation in Libya. You’d think no one would be a fan of Gadhafi, but he has been pretty good for business. Under the current government, Canada’s exports to Libya have skyrocketed and that included the sale of arms to the Gadhafi regime.

Canadian owned SNC-Lavalin received a $275 million contract to build a prison for Gadhafi – today we hear in the news that the Harper government is planning to sell our nuclear agency to the same company! Western oil companies have reaped the benefits of doing business with that regime – with little consideration for Libyan human rights or their economic rights over their own oil resources. The current uprising undermines those business interests and that’s why a lot of right-wing hawks in Canada and the United States were actively trying to stop UN-mandated action in Libya.”

In addition to his total brushing aside of a progressive and principled opposition to the violence of the Canadian state, the staffer’s answer is troubling on a number of levels.

Do we have a “collective responsibility for the situation in Libya”? Who gave us such a burden? Do the Libyans then not have a “collective responsibility” for the situation on our First Nations Reserves? Why does this responsibility only seem to fall on western nations with large armaments industries and greedy financiers? Next time the Toronto police stage a riot, should activists expect rescue from Belorussian and Cuban troops?

“You’d think no one would be a fan of Gadhafi…” says the staffer, only because he knows near to nothing about him, or about Libya. Actually Gadhafi does have a fan club in Libya, and in Africa, and for several very good reasons, which reveal why we’re really attacking Libya.

This is not a blanket political endorsement of Gadhafi, but before we started bombing runs, Libya had the highest UN Human Development Index score in Africa, with modern hospitals and housing. Education and healthcare are free public services. The gentle reader will remember the American government’s fondness for socialized medicine.

Gadhafi’s government created the world’s only functioning system of direct democracy. Is it faulty? Certainly. Is ours not?

Why do we critique it with armaments and not with arguments? Is it because the intense posturing on behalf of “democracy” by our governments, elected by a minority of eligible voters and determined to push unpopular policies on citizens whether we like it or not, masks a very real and intense hatred for democracy?

Africans admire Libya for reducing their cell phone costs. Libya paid for the first African telecommunications satellite. Before this satellite was launched, African countries paid massive premiums of hundreds of millions per year to Intelsat for phone service. Gadhafi broke that monopoly, cutting Intelsat revenues.

Most importantly, and I believe this is the key to the whole business, Libya has been moving to rid Africa of the International Monetary Fund, the organization which just removed its lefty chief executive Dominique Strauss Khan on what are almost certainly trumped up charges of rape. Remember Julian Assange? False accusations of rape seem to be in fashion this year.

The loss of the IMF as a vehicle to force foreign investment and privatization of state assets on developing countries would be a major blow to western corporate interests, for it would deprive them of foreign markets to penetrate.

So it’s no coincidence that the United States illegally seized $30 billion in Libyan government funds that had been set aside to set up an African Monetary Fund, an African Central Bank, and an African Development Bank.

The US government has never frozen more money in a single instance.  Nobody can state that this freeze was about preventing rapes. It was about preventing the prevention of rape – the rape of a whole continent, by our criminal governments and corporations.

So yes indeed, why would anybody like Gaddafi? He looks squinty eyed, and he talks funny, making long rambling speeches in that language we don’t understand… he must be nuts! And did I mention he’s against the occupation of Palestine? Suicidal crazy!

Since making an agreement with the western powers in 2004, Gaddafi has been “pretty good for business”, as Mr. Dewar’s staffer avers. Why and how he suddenly went from business partner, friend and ally in the “war against terror” to persona non-grata is key to why we’re there. Civilian casualties in the civil conflict that started in February had zero to do with it.

Contrary to Dewar’s staffer’s claim that the Libyan government’s grant of oil concessions to western corporations showed “little consideration for Libyan human rights or their economic rights over their own oil resources,” it was precisely Gaddafi’s refusal to turn away from a posture of resource nationalism and independent economic development for Libya and Africa that triggered the western attack.

“Human rights” are just a smokescreen for befogging the real issues at stake.

Gaddafi had been demanding an increased share of oil exploration and production revenue to go to Libyan coffers since 2009, even though Libya receives the majority of the oil revenue under existing exploration deals.

He was given courage by the global trend of secondary economic powers such as the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India China) developing new economic and political relationships that are independent of the United States, Canada and Europe. Chinese and Russian business delegations are currently all over Tripoli.

The NATO war is much about thwarting the development of these new, independent relationships. It’s a proxy war against the BRIC economies intended to assert continued western dominance of geo-politics and economics through a demonstration of brute force. NATO is also attempting to thwart the independent development of the revolutions in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. And there are significant material interests at stake.

Ironically, the Harper government’s lack of sensitivity training may have helped provoked Gaddafi back towards resource nationalism. I reported on this in my blog back in March. In 2009 the Canadian government first castigated Gaddafi over his greeting of the accused, but innocent “Lockerbie bomber” Omar Megrahi at the Tripoli airport.

Later that year, Gaddafi was to stop over in Gander, Newfoundland on his way to address the UN General Assembly. The Harper government issued him a standard tourist visa, instead of the diplomatic visa to which he is entitled as a head of a UN member state. Insulted again, he began to harass our oil and business interests.

Those are considerable. Suncor paid a signing bonus to the Libyan government of $500 million dollars in 2008 for its oil concession in Libya. SNC Lavalin is busy building the massive “Great Man” canal project that will pump billions of gallons of water into Libyan cities. The company also built a prison.

Sonde Resources is drilling for offshore oil. The outbreak of civil unrest in February threatened those investments. But the NATO war is not good for them either.

A month into the civil war in Libya, on March 21st, a few days after a second UN resolution was passed against Libya, Gaddafi declared that he would re-nationalize the Libyan oil resource, and grant new concessions directly to China, India and Brazil, while maintaining its existing relationships.

The rebels in Benghazi set up a new and illegal “National Oil Company” to deal directly with western oil companies the very next day.

Libya has the lowest cost of oil production in the world, with some fields having a cost of just $1 per barrel. That’s about as big as a profit margin gets. The light sweet crude oil is abundant only because Libya is relatively unexplored.

In a world past the global peak of oil production, the lost Libyan production due to the war has caused countries to release petroleum from their strategic oil reserves to manage prices. Libya is a crucial part of the slowly deflating “global oil supply cushion.” The little war we can’t seem to win is causing major problems in the oil markets. Look for $150 oil before too long.

Libya’s are the largest oil resources on the African continent: larger than Nigeria’s. Let us not forget that for more than 50 years, the United States has considered oil to be “a tremendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The quote is from a US State Department memo in 1945. It still applies.

So those who think we’re bombing Libya to stop young ladies from being ravished and thrown in front of moving trains by “evil people” they can’t find need to explain why the principal belligerents are also the western countries with the biggest investment positions in the Libyan oil fields: Italy (ENI) France, (Total) the UK, (British Petroleum) USA, (Conoco Phillips, Amarada Hess, Marathon) Canada (Suncor, Sonde).

Ironically, these same relationships also illustrate the weak points in the coalition. Since the war started to go badly for NATO, Italy, which is dependent upon Libyan oil for its own domestic needs, was first to have second thoughts. Add France to the list.

The NATO war’s NDP endorsers also need to ask themselves some questions about what exactly they voted for. Would a rebel Libyan government, beholden to the coalition for its existence grant sweetheart deals to our corporations?

Would they take an IMF loan or three to finance the rebuilding of the infrastructure we’re bombing? Would Halliburton, Bechtel and SNC Lavalin win the contracts? Would formerly free public services be sold off for cheap to predatory western capitalists?

Would a western-backed puppet government in Tripoli keep silent while Israel continues its criminal occupation of Palestine? Would it ruthlessly repress pan-Arab nationalists and trade unionists, as was done in Iraq? Will our political leaders be forced to admit one day that they were “fooled again” by slick PR firms into supporting another war of choice for oil and full spectrum dominance?  Would a NATO backed puppet state play host to the new US military base for AFRICOM, the US Africa Command which every other African nation has emphatically rejected?

What’s more disturbing to you, gentle reader? That the Harper government is using an easily refutable cover story to hide its true motives in bombing Libya, 0r that Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, the NDP, whether naïve or complicit, is letting them get away with it?

I report. You decide.

Update

I’ve been diverted for the last four months with a book project, The Secret History of Democracy, with a new writing gig at X-Ray Magazine in Ottawa, the labour of love of an old comrade of mine, David Julian Wightman, and with some film courses. So, I’m going to be updating the blog with some choice contributions from X-Ray, a short film, and will be posting on the global Occupy movement during the fall and winter months. I will be occupying Bay Street along with my fellow democrats, in an effort to kick-start the global democratic revolution we all want.

Peace and love to all,

Stephen

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 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/opinion/07kristof.html?_r=1

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

(17)   ) http://exiledonline.com/bushs-treasury-secretary-hank-paulson-considered-declaring-marshal-law-calling-army-into-streets-after-bailout-paulson-was-goldman-sachs-chief-before-treasury-in-1972-3-paulson-worked-for-joh/

(18)    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=21345

(19)    http://geraldcelentechannel.blogspot.com/2010/09/welcome-to-united-states-of-tent-cities.html

(20)   US Bank Bailout Details: http://www.usfederalbailout.com/program_details

(21)   http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/oct/17/executivesalaries-banking

(22)   http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=5921473&page=1

(23)   http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=5921473&page=1

(24) http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/11/money-wins-white-house-and.html

(25) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundraising_for_the_2008_United_States_presidential_election

(26) Op cit (14)

(27) http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/

(28) ibid

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

(30) http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/15/us-usa-anthrax-idUSTRE71E5L620110215

(31) http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a102601patriotact

(32) http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/12/18/obama-doj-and-fbi-target-anti-war-solidarity-activists/

(33) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article11488.htm

(34) http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1095

(35)  See the books of Harvey Wasserman on the subject at : http://www.harveywasserman.com/

(36) How & why we have filed racketeering charges against Karl Rove’s election operations by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman October 29, 2010 http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/19/2010/3981

(37)  See Mark Crispin Miller’s comments on Democracy Now at http://www.democracynow.org/2005/11/4/was_the_2004_election_stolen_a

(38) GOP Challenging Voter Registrations, Washington Post, October 28th, 2004 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7422-2004Oct28.html

(39) Hurdles Remain for American Voters Who Live Overseas, New York Times, September 29th, 2004 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/29/politics/campaign/29military.html?pagewanted=all&position=

(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 http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/19/2004/1054

(41) Ibid

(42) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/07/AR2005060700296.html

(43) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38787528/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia

(44) http://www.newsmax.com/US/AfghanistanPublicOpinion/2010/12/16/id/380200

(45)  http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/afghanistan/101208/afghanistan-war-us-troops-counterinsurgency-public-opinion

(46) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks

(47) http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/03/opinion_0316.html

(48) Graphic depiction of inequality in America: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph