Democracy In America: 2014 Version


Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy
over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power. ..... Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters. ...... "The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence." ...... Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first. ...... this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month's ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse. ...... "Ordinary citizens," they write, "might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."
Chomsky: The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy The MIT professor lays out how the majority of U.S. policies are opposed to what wide swaths of the public want
American power is diminishing, as it has been in fact since its peak in 1945, but it’s still incomparable. And it’s dangerous. Obama’s remarkable global terror campaign and the limited, pathetic reaction to it in the West is one shocking example. And it is a campaign of international terrorism – by far the most extreme in the world. ...... According to received doctrine, we live in capitalist democracies, which are the best possible system, despite some flaws. There’s been an interesting debate over the years about the relation between capitalism and democracy, for example, are they even compatible? I won’t be pursuing this because I’d like to discuss a different system – what we could call the “really existing capitalist democracy”, RECD for short, pronounced “wrecked” by accident. To begin with, how does RECD compare with democracy? ....... In the work that’s essentially the gold standard in the field, it’s concluded that for roughly 70% of the population – the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale – they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They’re effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it’s plutocracy. ....... So the major domestic issue in the United States for the public is jobs. Polls show that very clearly. For the very wealthy and the financial institutions, the major issue is the deficit. Well, what about policy? There’s now a sequester in the United States, a sharp cutback in funds. Is that because of jobs or is it because of the deficit? Well, the deficit. ....... Europe, incidentally, is much worse – so outlandish that even The Wall Street Journal has been appalled by the disappearance of democracy in Europe. …[I]t had an article [this year] which concluded that “the French, the Spanish, the Irish, the Dutch, Portuguese, Greeks, Slovenians, Slovakians and Cypriots have to varying degrees voted against the currency bloc’s economic model since the crisis began three years ago. Yet economic policies have changed little in response to one electoral defeat after another. The left has replaced the right; the right has ousted the left. Even the center-right trounced Communists (in Cyprus) – but the economic policies have essentially remained the same: governments will continue to cut spending and raise taxes.” It doesn’t matter what people think and “national governments must follow macro-economic directives set by the European Commission”. Elections are close to meaningless, very much as in Third World countries that are ruled by the international financial institutions. That’s what Europe has chosen to become. ....... Returning to the United States, where the situation is not quite that bad, there’s the same disparity between public opinion and policy on a very wide range of issues. Take for example the issue of minimum wage. The one view is that the minimum wage ought to be indexed to the cost of living and high enough to prevent falling below the poverty line. Eighty percent of the public support that and forty percent of the wealthy. What’s the minimum wage? Going down, way below these levels. It’s the same with laws that facilitate union activity: strongly supported by the public; opposed by the very wealthy – disappearing. The same is true on national healthcare. The U.S., as you may know, has a health system which is an international scandal, it has twice the per capita costs of other OECD countries and relatively poor outcomes. The only privatized, pretty much unregulated system. The public doesn’t like it. They’ve been calling for national healthcare, public options, for years, but the financial institutions think it’s fine, so it stays: stasis. In fact, if the United States had a healthcare system like comparable countries there wouldn’t be any deficit. The famous deficit would be erased ....... For 35 years there have been polls on ‘what do you think taxes ought to be?’ Large majorities have held that the corporations and the wealthy should pay higher taxes. They’ve steadily been going down through this period. ...... On and on, the policy throughout is almost the opposite of public opinion, which is a typical property of RECD. ....... In the past, the United States has sometimes, kind of sardonically, been described as a one-party state: the business party with two factions called Democrats and Republicans. That’s no longer true. It’s still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction. The faction is moderate Republicans, who are now called Democrats. There are virtually no moderate Republicans in what’s called the Republican Party and virtually no liberal Democrats in what’s called the Democratic [sic] Party. It’s basically a party of what would be moderate Republicans and similarly, Richard Nixon would be way at the left of the political spectrum today. Eisenhower would be in outer space. ......... There is still something called the Republican Party, but it long ago abandoned any pretence of being a normal parliamentary party. It’s in lock-step service to the very rich and the corporate sector and has a catechism that everyone has to chant in unison, kind of like the old Communist Party. The distinguished conservative commentator, one of the most respected – Norman Ornstein – describes today’s Republican Party as, in his words, “a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, dismissive of its political opposition” – a serious danger to the society, as he points out. ....... Really Existing Capitalist Democracy is very remote from the soaring rhetoric about democracy. ....... men who understand that a fundamental task of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority”. Those are quotes from James Madison, the main framer ..... another important feature of RECD is that the public must be kept in the dark about what is happening to them. The “herd” must remain “bewildered”. The reasons were explained lucidly by the professor of the science of government at Harvard – that’s the official name – another respected liberal figure, Samuel Huntington. As he pointed out, “power remains strong when it remains in the dark. Exposed to sunlight, it begins to evaporate”. Bradley Manning is facing a life in prison for failure to comprehend this scientific principle. Now Edward Snowden as well. And it works pretty well. If you take a look at polls, it reveals how well it works. So for example, recent polls pretty consistently reveal that Republicans are preferred to Democrats on most issues and crucially on the issues in which the public opposes the policies of the Republicans and favors the policies of the Democrats. One striking example of this is that majorities say that they favor the Republicans on tax policy, while the same majorities oppose those policies. This runs across the board. This is even true of the far right, the Tea Party types. This goes along with an astonishing level of contempt for government. Favorable opinions about Congress are literally in the single digits. The rest of the government as well. It’s all declining sharply. ....... Iran just had an election, as you know. And it was rightly criticized on the grounds that even to participate, you had to be vetted by the guardian council of clerics. In the United States, you don’t have to be vetted by clerics, but rather you have to be vetted by concentrations of private capital. .... The role of the PR industry in elections is explicitly to undermine the school-child version of democracy. What you learn in school is that democracies are based on informed voters making rational decisions. All you have to do is take a look at an electoral campaign run by the PR industry and see that the purpose is to create uninformed voters who will make irrational decisions. For the PR industry that’s a very easy transition from their primary function. Their primary function is commercial advertising. Commercial advertising is designed to undermine markets. If you took an economics course you learned that markets are based on informed consumers making rational choices. If you turn on the TV set, you see that ads are designed to create irrational, uninformed consumers making irrational choices. The whole purpose is to undermine markets in the technical sense. ...... after Obama’s election in 2008, a couple of months later the advertising industry had its annual conference. Every year they award a prize for the best marketing campaign of the year. That year they awarded it to Obama. He beat out Apple computer, did an even better job of deluding the public – or his PR agents did. If you want to hear some of it, turn on the television today and listen to the soaring rhetoric at the G-8 Summit in Belfast. It’s standard. ....... If you go back to the 1960s, banks were banks. If you had some money, you put it in the bank to lend it to somebody to buy a house or start a business, or whatever. Now that’s a very marginal aspect of financial institutions today. They’re mostly devoted to intricate, exotic manipulations with markets. And they’re huge. In the United States, financial institutions, big banks mostly, had 40% of corporate profit in 2007. That was on the eve of the financial crisis, for which they were largely responsible. After the crisis, a number of professional economists – Nobel laureate Robert Solow, Harvard’s Benjamin Friedman – wrote articles in which they pointed out that economists haven’t done much study of the impact of the financial institutions on the economy. Which is kind of remarkable, considering its scale. But after the crisis they took a look and they both concluded that probably the impact of the financial institutions on the economy is negative. Actually there are some who are much more outspoken than that. The most respected financial correspondent in the English-speaking world is Martin Wolf of the Financial Times. He writes that the “out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from the inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid”. By “the market economy” he means the productive economy. ...... a study of the IMF that found that the largest banks make no profit. ..... There is a widely publicized bailout, but that’s the least of it. There’s a whole series of other devices by which the government insurance policy aids the big banks: cheap credit and many other things. And according to the IMF at least, that’s the totality of their profit. ........ there is massive state intervention in the productive economy and the free-trade agreements are anything but free-trade agreements. ...... The information technology (IT) revolution, which is driving the economy, that was based on decades of work in effectively the state sector – hard, costly, creative work substantially in the state sector, no consumer choice at all, there was entrepreneurial initiative but it was largely limited to getting government grants or bailouts or procurement. Except by some economists, that’s underestimated but a very significant factor in corporate profit. If you can’t sell something, hand it over the government. They’ll buy it. ...... After a long period – decades in fact – of hard, creative work, the primary research and development, the results are handed over to private enterprise for commercialization and profit. That’s Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and so on. ........ In just the past 20 years in the United States, the share of profits of the two hundred largest enterprises has very sharply risen, probably the impact of the Internet, it seems. These tendencies towards oligopoly also undermine the mantra ....... What are the prospects for the future under RECD? There’s an answer. They’re pretty grim. .. One is environmental catastrophe. The other is nuclear war. ........ There are some who seek to act decisively to prevent possible catastrophe. At the other extreme, major efforts are underway to accelerate the danger. Leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster is the richest and most powerful country in world history ......... Leading the efforts to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life, are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations in Canada, Aboriginal societies in Australia, tribal societies and others like them. The countries that have large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in the effort to “defend the Earth”. That’s their phrase. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing forward enthusiastically towards destruction. ....... take Ecuador, which has a large indigenous population. It’s seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial hydrocarbon reserves underground, which is where they ought to be. Now meanwhile, the U.S. and Canada are enthusiastically seeking to burn every drop of fossil fuel, including the most dangerous kind – Canadian tar sands – and to do so as quickly and fully as possible – without a side glance on what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction. ........... there’s still a real problem in American society. The public is still too committed to scientific rationality. One of the many divergences between policy and opinion is that the American public is close to the global norm in concern about the environment and calling for actions to prevent the catastrophe and that’s a pretty high level. ........ these are deep-seated institutional properties of RECD. They’re not easy to uproot. All of this is apart from the institutional necessity to maximize short-term profit while ignoring an externality that’s vastly more serious even than systemic risk. For systemic risk, the market failure – the culprits – can run to the powerful nanny state that they foster with cap in hand and they’ll be bailed out, as we’ve just observed again and will in the future. In the case of destruction of the environment, the conditions for decent existence, there’s no guardian angel around – nobody to run to with cap in hand. For that reason alone, the prospects for decent survival under RECD are quite dim. ........... The governments seek to extend power and domination and to benefit their primary domestic constituencies – in the U.S., primarily the corporate sector. The consequence is that security does not have a high priority. ....... Obama’s now conducting the world’s greatest international terrorist campaign – the drones and special forces campaign. It’s also a terror-generating campaign. The common understanding at the highest level [is] that these actions generate potential terrorists. I’ll quote General Stanley McChrystal, Petraeus’ predecessor. He says that “for every innocent person you kill”, and there are plenty of them, “you create ten new enemies”. ....... Take the marathon bombing in Boston a couple of months ago, that you all read about. You probably didn’t read about the fact that two days after the marathon bombing there was a drone bombing in Yemen. Usually we don’t happen to hear much about drone bombings. They just go on – just straight terror operations which the media aren’t interested in because we don’t care about international terrorism as long as the victims are somebody else. But this one we happened to know about by accident. There was a young man from the village that was attacked who was in the United States and he happened to testify before Congress. He testified about it. He said that for several years, the jihadi elements in Yemen had been trying to turn the village against Americans, get them to hate Americans. But the villagers didn’t accept it because the only thing they knew about the United States was what he told them. And he liked the United States. So he was telling them it was a great place. So the jihadi efforts didn’t work. Then he said one drone attack has turned the entire village into people who hate America and want to destroy it. They killed a man who everybody knew and they could have easily apprehended if they’d wanted. But in our international terror campaigns we don’t worry about that and we don’t worry about security. .......... the invasion of Iraq. U.S. and British intelligence agencies informed their governments that the invasion of Iraq was likely to lead to an increase in terrorism. They didn’t care. In fact, it did. Terrorism increased by a factor of seven the first year after the Iraqi invasion, according to government statistics. ...... Let’s go back to 1950. In 1950, U.S. security was just overwhelming. There’d never been anything like it in human history. There was one potential danger: ICBMs with hydrogen bomb warheads. They didn’t exist, but they were going to exist sooner or later. The Russians knew that they were way behind in military technology. They offered the U.S. a treaty to ban the development of ICBMs with hydrogen bomb warheads. That would have been a terrific contribution to U.S. security. ... Here’s a possibility to save the country from total disaster and there wasn’t even a paper discussing it. No one cared. ........ A couple of years later, in 1952, Stalin made a public offer, which was pretty remarkable, to permit unification of Germany with internationally supervised free elections, in which the Communists would certainly lose, on one condition – that Germany be demilitarized. That’s hardly a minor issue for the Russians. Germany alone had practically destroyed them several times in the century. Germany militarized and part of a hostile Western alliance is a major threat. That was the offer. .......... The offer was public. It also of course would have led to an end to the official reason for NATO. It was dismissed with ridicule. Couldn’t be true. ...... Khrushchev .. realized that Russia was way behind economically and that it could not compete with the United States in military technology and hope to carry out economic development, which he was hoping to do. So he offered a sharp mutual cutback in offensive weapons. The Eisenhower administration kind of dismissed it. The Kennedy administration listened. They considered the possibility and they rejected it. Khrushchev went on to introduce a sharp unilateral reduction of offensive weapons. The Kennedy administration observed that and decided to expand offensive military capacity – not just reject it, but expand it. It was already way ahead. ........ on October 26th, the letter came from Khrushchev to Kennedy offering to end the crisis. How? By withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba in return for withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey. Kennedy in fact didn’t even know there were missiles in Turkey. .......... North Korea, Iran, China. .... North Korea has been issuing wild, dangerous threats. That’s attributed to the lunacy of their leaders. It could be argued that it’s the most dangerous, craziest government in the world, and the worst government. It’s probably true. ......... the current crisis began with U.S.-South Korean war games, which included for the first time ever a simulation of a preemptive attack in an all-out war scenario against North Korea. Part of these exercises were simulated nuclear bombings on the borders of North Korea. ......... the North Korean leadership. ..... they can remember that 60 years ago there was a superpower that virtually leveled the entire country and when there was nothing left to bomb, the United States turned to bombing dams. ........ exulted over the glorious sight of massive floods “that scooped clear 27 miles of valley below”, devastated 75% of the controlled water supply for North Korea’s rice production, sent the commissars scurrying to the press and radio centers to blare to the world the most severe, hate-filled harangues to come from the Communist propaganda mill in the three years of warfare. To the communists, the smashing of the dams meant primarily the destruction of their chief sustenance: rice. Westerners can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple food commodity has for Asians: starvation and slow death. ..... Clinton’s strategic command, STRATCOM. It’s about the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era. Its central conclusions are: U.S. must retain the right of first strike, even against non-nuclear states; furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be available, at the ready, because they “cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict”. They frighten adversaries. So they’re constantly being used, just as if you’re using a gun, going into a store pointing a gun at the store owner. You don’t fire it, but you’re using the gun. ....... the “gravest threat to world peace” – those are Obama’s words, dutifully repeated in the press: Iran’s nuclear program. .. a Western obsession. The U.S. and its allies say it’s the gravest threat and not the rest of the world, not the non-aligned countries, not the Arab states. The Arab populations don’t like Iran but they don’t regard it as much of a threat. They regard the U.S. as the threat. In Iraq and Egypt, for example, the U.S. is regarded as the major threat they face. ........ There was to be an international conference under the auspices of the non-proliferation treaty, UN auspices, in Helsinki to deal with moves to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. That has overwhelming international support – non-aligned countries; it’s been led by the Arab states, Egypt particularly, for decades. Overwhelming support. If it could be carried forward it would certainly mitigate the threat. It might eliminate it. Everyone was waiting to see whether Iran would agree to attend. .. In early November, Iran agreed to attend. A couple of days later, Obama canceled the conference. No conference. .......... The last potential confrontation is China. ... Magna Carta .. one is the Charter of Liberties which is being dismantled. The other was called the Charter of the Forests. That called for protection of the commons from the depredations of authority. ........ It’s privatization that is destroying the commons.

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