As our options dwindle down…

Some want to argue that we have a functioning democracy because we have the outward forms of democracy. We can protest in the street, vote, etc. But then why does it rarely lead to democratic results, specifically at the Federal level? And why is there so little ability for the public to force transparency and accountability?

It’s because those forms are separate from the actual seat of power. The two party system and corporate media is controlled by oligarchs. They use public perception management (AKA propaganda), backroom deals, cronyism, revolving door politics (e.g., politicians becoming lobbyists), regulatory takeover, and a thousand other kinds of anti-democratic tactics. They use these to determine who we are allowed to vote for and what those people can do while in office.

This system is so well entrenched that is protected from the voting public. But it isn’t just the government. Polls show that union leadership advocate for positions and support politicians that union membership often doesn’t support. The same thing is seen with organizations like the NRA, a divide between those who control those organizations and the members.

Of course, the leadership of these organizations have close ties to the two party system that controls the government. So, these organizations can’t be used by the public to exert influence on politicians. They are part of the social control. No amount of petitions or protests can change this. Present strategies of activism and attempts of reform have been failing for longer than I’ve been alive.

If what you are doing has been proven not to accomplish what you claim to want, then what do you do? You either lower your expectations by making excuses or you try something new.

We have two options left to us. The first is a constitutional convention. But the first constitutional convention more than a couple of centuries ago was taken over by powerful (pseudo-)Federalists who, unconstitutionally according to the first constitution (The Articles of Confederation), forced through an anti-democratic document to ensure their rule. Powerful forces would attempt to do the same thing with another constitutional convention. So, if that fails, that leaves only one option left. That is revolution, whether peaceful or not.

As our options dwindle down, our choice of action becomes simplified. The only question remaining is do we have the moral vision and moral courage to take action. It is up to the oligarchs about whether or not they want to push us to the edge, seeing how far we can be pushed before we simply go over. But as we find ourselves teetering on the edge, what do the rest of us do, We the People?

As citizens of the United States, here is something to keep in mind. Fool the American public once, shame on the oligarchs. Fool the American public a thousand times, that is the shame of our entire society. We’ve been played for fools and we’ve acted accordingly. Let’s take this as a lesson learned the hard way. So, what do we do now? The first step might be learning to make important distinctions.

Pseudo-democracy is to democracy as truthiness is to truth. The spectacle of pseudo-democracy gives us the appearance of democracy to absolve the public’s sense of failure and guilt. The public can say that, well, at least I voted, joined the union, protested, signed a petition, volunteered for a campaign, etc. It allows small impotent acts in order to avoid the possibility of actions that would make a difference.

If we want actual functioning democracy, it is our collective responsibility. We have to act outside of the anti-democratic system. That would require creating a new parallel system that acts independently. We need to create our own separate government, not unlike what the American colonists did when they turned revolutionary, and then put so much public support and power behind it that it can’t be denied. We’ve waited long enough for the oligarchs to do the right thing. It’s now in our hands.

All of that is easier said than done. But it is either that or we continue our decline. As always, it’s a choice to be made.

Voting Rights Act: a Last Defense Against Voter Suppression

An important case has attracted attention recently. It is about voting rights.

I will never understand why this is seen as a partisan issue, specifically why Republicans make it a partisan issue. If Democrats (or any other party) sought to suppress Republican voters (or any group of voters), if they sought to disenfranchise Southern whites, conservatives and fundamentalists, I’d be as strong of a critic of this practice as when Republicans have done the same in recent elections.

Why do Republicans, conservatives and libertarians lack principles about democracy? Or refuse to apply their principles in principled fashion? What do they fear about democracy? Why do they do to others as they would never accept others doing unto them? If their principles don’t include democracy and the constitution, what do they represent?

Here is one article making clear the issues at hand.

Millions Of Voters Of Color Will Be Affected By The Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision

As the nation awaits a decision in the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, the future of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance. The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

As the repeal has become official, let’s ponder the consequences. The reason the Voting Rights Act was passed in the first place was because certain states were practicing legal oppression of citizens and suppression of their voting rights.

Consider this in terms of the criminal system. With the Voting Rights Act, certain states were in a sense put into prison with the hopes of rehabilitation and one day release into normal life.Replace the crime of unconstitutional and anti-democratic political action. Replace it with some more mundane crime against one’s fellow citizens, let’s say: theft, murder or rape.

The criminal is caught, charged, given a trial, and imprisoned. After many years, the prisoner appeals for release. Would the appeal committee release the prisoner without looking at his record of behavior while in prison? One would hope not. If the thief, murderer or rapist had had stolen, murdered or raped while in prison, should he be released simply because he had been in prison for decades? Of course not.

Now, let’s analyze the original crime that caused these states to have this law enforced upon them. Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, have these states committed these crimes again? Have they committed these crimes recently? Yes and yes. Have they been rehabilitated? Should they be released because of good behavior? No and no.

So, what is Section 5 all about and how does it specifically relate to recent political issues?

The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

A new report, to be released next month by Advancement Project and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, comprehensively analyzes that experience for the first time, and recommends election reforms to ensure the ballot remains free, fair and accessible for all. (See a five-page summary with key data from the report here.) Entitled Lining Up: Equal Access to the Right to Vote, the report highlights the determined efforts of the two civil rights organizations, from the courtroom to the streets, to combat voter ID laws, challenges at the polls, deception and intimidation, proof-of-citizenship registration practices, unacceptably long lines, and the improper use of provisional ballots.

The report also tells the story through testimonials from African-American and Latino citizens who were impacted by – and stood up to – voter suppression laws and policies. Collectively, this illustrates the continued need for federal laws, such as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote. In addition, the report explores the critical role of Section 5 in blocking legislative assaults on voting, and the continued voting problems in states covered by the provision. Findings include:

  • In states covered by Section 5 in the 2012 elections, more than 22.9 million Black, Latino and Asian-American voters were able to cast a ballot.
  • Laws that shortened early voting periods in 2012 contributed to long lines in some locations, which voters of color faced more. Black and Latino voters were reportedly two to three times more likely than whites to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote.
  • In 2013, 11 of the 15 states that are either fully or partially covered by Section 5’s protections – more than 73 percent – have introduced restrictive voting bills.

 

“While African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters came out in historic numbers in 2012, those numbers were possible only after voter protection organizations, community groups and voters themselves, who fought tirelessly to defeat restrictive laws across the country and other attempts to suppress voters of color,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney and Director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project. “Without the intervention of the Justice Department through Section 5, the impact of these assaults on democracy would have been far worse.”

Push to overturn Voting Rights Act tied to GOP voter suppression efforts
Zachary Roth
MSNBC

In 2012, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted caused an outcry when he ended early voting in the three days before Election Day for everyone except members of the military. The change would have made it harder for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans—disproportionately African-Americans—to vote. As Rachel Maddow and MSNBC.com noted at the time, Husted brought in Consovoy to defend the move in court, after it was challenged by the Obama campaign. Ultimately, the court required that the early voting days be restored.

Also last year, Florida Republicans passed a law that cut back on the state’s early voting days. Among other changes under the new system, polls would have to be closed on the Sunday before the election—a day when many black churches help get their members to the polls right after services. The Justice Department blocked the law. As The Nation‘s Ari Berman recently noted, Wiley Rein was brought in by Florida to argue the case in court. Consovoy claimed that reducing early voting was necessary to combat voter fraud—though there’s almost no evidence of significant fraud occurring. The early voting days were ultimately restored, though long lines nonetheless plagued both early and Election Day voters in the Sunshine State.

To block Florida’s early voting cutbacks, the Justice Department cited Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows the federal government to stop any election changes in most southern states if they’re deemed to reduce minority voting power. It’s Section 5 that’s at issue in the Shelby County case that goes before the Supreme Court this week, and voting-rights advocates have held up the Florida case as an example of why the provision is still needed.

Conservative Anti-Democratic Elitism

In my last post, I wrote:

“I was only slightly shocked to learn that a mere 8% of Americans were considered legal persons when the Constitution was ratified. This means that 92% of the population had very limited rights of any sort, from voting to having one’s own bank account. Women, for example, were basically seen as property, owned by fathers and later husbands with only widowhood giving them some power and freedom.

“The founding fathers wanted a society determined by class, race and gender. They wanted to create an independently wealthy class of “disinterested aristocrats” (i.e., rich white males). Talking to many conservatives, I realize that this vision of a ruling elite still has strong support.”

 The last sentence was inspired by an actual conversation I recently had with a conservative, although I’ve had similar conversations in the past with other conservatives. This particular conservative thought the founding fathers had a point in not allowing the common rabble, the ignorant lower classes to vote and such things.

He was being completely honest and genuine. This not atypical conservative fears mobocracy more than he fears plutocracy or oligarchy. The reason he fears it more is that he assumes that, if there was a ruling elite, he’d be allowed to be a member. It’s the common desire to have as much power over others while disallowing others to have power over you. It is obviously self-serving and that is the entire point.

This kind of person doesn’t realize that once power becomes undemocratic then who gets it and who doesn’t can become quite arbitrary. His certainty that he’d be part of the ruling elite is rather naive.

I think this is made clear in the words of Benjamin Franklin, at least in interpreting those words according to the present context of democracy: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary danger, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Just exchange “Essential Liberty” for “Universal Liberty” and exchange “Temporary danger” for “mobocracy”… and you get the same basic idea: Those willing to sacrifice the freedom of others, intentionally or unintentionally, end up sacrificing their own freedom.

 This conservative explained his reasoning which is what really got me thinking. I pointed out that 8% legal personhood when defined by such narrow terms (whether race, gender or class) is concentration of power. He argued that such benevolent paternalism wasn’t concentration of power if it was done on the local level such as Jefferson envisioned, ignoring for a moment that alternative benevolent paternalism of Hamiltonian federalism.

I was utterly shocked by this profound lack of insight. When a local police force or private thugs beat, kill or imprison labor protesters on behalf of a local business, why would that not be concentrated power just because it was local? When a dictator or oligarchy takes over a smally country, why would that not be concentrated power just because it is on the smallscale? When a cult leader controls the lives of his followers, why would that not be concentrated power just because it only involves a small group of people?

Without inclusive democracy and popular soveriegnty, how does one prevent benevolent paternalism from becoming concentrated power? What makes American conservative ideals of benevolent paternalism different from all those other ideals of benevolent paternalism that have a long history of justifying oppression?

What is scary is that this profound lack of insight is at the very heart of the conservative vision of America. Conservatives are very serious about their fears of democracy. That is why I fear conservatism.