Friday, April 8, 2011

The Myth of True Democracy

A few years back I was having an interesting discussion with a professor who taught Political Science at the local university. Somewhere in our conversation the topic of voting came up; he confessed to me a rather jaw-dropping admission – he personally doesn’t vote. Flabbergasted I was really curious why he, of all people, would chose not to exercise his right to vote.

Here is what he explained to me: our government policies are driven by, and for, special moneyed interest through lobbyists; in fact much of the legislation is written outside of Congress by the very same special interests the proposed laws are designed to regulate. Elections, he went on to explain, is just “theater” to give people the illusion of representation in governance. Voting trends are completely manipulated by very complex, expensive and professionally managed campaign marketing machines.

The professor has since moved to a university president position; I’ve lost touch with him over the years. Still, at that time I found it very difficult to accept what he told me. Somehow, I still held onto the belief that the democratic process was working the way it was supposed to. But events over recent years have caused me to no longer believe we live in a democratically run country.

Some of you may already be familiar with this monologue by the late George Carlin. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. Carlin is not joking, he is deadly serious – and I fear is he is also right.

Carlin has been accused of being a “conspiracy theorist”; but as he pointed out during an appearance on the Bill Maher show, the ultra wealthy do not need to meet in secret chambers, they need no secret plan or to plot devious strategies -- the wealthy and powerful already know what is in their best interest and their enormous resources are employed to further those interests.

Even newly elected governor Jerry Brown in a recent interview, "We the People? Jerry Brown on Money, Politics,and Who Really Runs America" even concedes the democratic process is skewed to the advantage of wealthy special interests. Exerpt: "The fact of the matter is that if... you take special interest money, you do what they want. Now on any given bill, if there’s heat, if there’s public scrutiny, you’re not going to be obvious about having been bought off. You have to keep that covered. But in fact you are bought off. The entire system is bought off by the institutional bias created by special interest campaign spending."

I understand that some people want to hold onto hope. The Obama campaign was selling hope by the bushel basket; and I bought into it as well. But one needs to ask themselves; why is it we are debating cutting benefits for the most needy in our society while the wealthiest 2% sacrafice nothing? Why have the two longest wars in our history been waged without a tax increase as ALL our other wars have?

Even our "free press", is sustained by huge private media corporations. Fox news is, at least, blatant about their conservative bias. The stories which air are intentionally crafted to manipulate the public; be it “gay marriage”, abortion, immigration, the growing deficit. These hot-button issues are intentionally thrust into the public consciousness to divert our attention from the corruption of our democratic process. In a country where a vast majority base their decisions regarding candidates and issues primarily based on 30-second TV advertisement, this is where the propaganda turns directly into votes.

I do not discount that there are men and woman of principles and conscience within our government. For example, Vermont's Bernie Sanders or our own Peter DeFazio here in Oregon. But they still are limited by the rules and the harsh realities of government strongly influenced by unseen moneyed and special interests.

As sad as I am to accept what Carlin is saying, I find substantiation of his views on an almost daily basis. We are dancing to the tune being played by the wealthiest 2% who own 24% (and growing) of the nation's wealth. The system is working for them quite well.

Below are just a few bits of evidence supporting Carlin's view; you can likely find many more on your own.

~ Court rulings ~

January 2010 - The US Supreme Court has struck down a major portion of a 2002 campaign-finance reform law, saying it violates the free-speech right of corporations to engage in public debate of political issues. The result is that all campaign finance laws are thrown out opening the door for any anonymous moneyed interests to support candidates or causes.

~ Documentaries ~

Frontline: The Warning (2009)
A detailed look at the roots of America's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, this "Frontline" documentary exposes why government officials refused to regulate emerging derivatives markets that later ruined global financial systems.

Frontline: Breaking the Bank (2009)
With an eye on the financial crisis that sent Wall Street reeling in the midst of the 2008 presidential election, this penetrating edition of "Frontline" investigates what went wrong, who's to blame and how long it will take to repair the damage. Specifically, the program looks at the role of so-called "superbanks" and other players in the housing market's soaring fortunes -- and its ultimately devastating decline.

Frontline: Obama's Deal (2010)
Witness how American politics operates in the Obama era with this revealing documentary, which grants viewers incredible access to private meetings from the White House to Capitol Hill throughout the lengthy and arduous health care reform debate. Through interviews with key officials, senators and lobbyists, this program exposes how quiet negotiations and special interest groups drastically reshaped the landmark health care legislation.

~ Journalists ~

Robert Reich:
Big American companies are sitting on almost $2 trillion of cash because there aren't enough customers to buy additional goods and services. The only people with money are the richest 10 percent whose stock portfolios have been roaring back to life, but their spending isn't enough to spur much additional hiring.

Republicans, for their part, worry that if they tell it like it is Americans will want government to do more rather than less. They'd rather not talk about jobs and wages, and put the focus instead on deficit reduction (or spread the lie that by reducing the deficit we'll get more jobs and higher wages).

To the extent non-financial companies are doing well, they're making most of their money abroad. Since 1992, for example, G.E.'s offshore profits have risen $92 billion, from $15 billion (which is one reason it pays no U.S. taxes). In fact, the only group that's optimistic about the future are CEOs of big American companies.
[FYI: GE paid NO corporate income taxes last year.]

George Lakoff
Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don't think government should help its citizens. That is, they don't think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people.

~ News ~

Regarding President Obama's chairman of his "Jobs council", GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt - former senator Russ Feingold says: "How can someone like Immelt be given the responsibility of heading a jobs creation task force when his company has been creating more jobs overseas while reducing its American workforce? And under Immelt's direction, GE spends hundreds of millions of dollars hiring lawyers and lobbyists to evade taxes." Read the full article here.

Update: There apparently is some misinformation regarding GE and it's tax liability. For a more detailed explanation, check out this article: Setting The Record Straight on GE’s Taxes, by Allan Sloan, Fortune, and Jeff Gerth, Pro-Publica.


Rain said...

You cover the problem well. What do we do about it? I have grandchildren, as do you, I am not satisfied in giving up. At one time I thought third party but right now, any left wing third party will just guarantee another GW Bush.

adrielleroyale said...

Well, this is just depressing. I know it's true though - I have seen it in the way the votes "surprise" people depending on which trends you watch. Then there is something as simple as oil prices. They blame all sorts of things/circumstances for the oil prices going up, but then that same circumstance comes up later and miraculously the price stays the same...hmm, odd (not really). But like Rain asked, what do we do about it? I have seen this from the dems side along with the repubs side and even heard from the "anarchist's" side. But no one really seems to know what to do about it except to take over the country in which case we may as well have a monarchy or something similar - which, again, no one wants. So how do we fix this cluster $@#! that we have named Democracy? I have maintained hope for our country so far, but remain clueless and powerless to do anything to help the situation, it seems...

Jon said...

Nicely done, Robert. Carlin was my favorite philosopher. "Two party dictatorship" sums it up very well.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain Well it's something our grandchildren will have to deal with, we can't fix it for them and they certainly won't until they become a unified 98% instead of

A third-party would accomplish nothing, only contribute to the "theater". The machine of the ultra rich would kick simply in and the third-party would compete against the monumental media power of the "owners", as Carlin calls them.

It's going to get worse.

adrielle I share your disappointment and I am sorry. If the public chooses to be, as you say, "clueless and powerless" we will only continue to decline.

Jon You are right on, it is indeed a "Two party dictatorship".

KleinsteMotte said...

This has been an issue I've recognized years ago. The problem is growing worse now that the internet is being used to make users believe they have some say. It's actually going in the opposite direction. The wealthy control the internet. They follow our every move and sell us more and more goods that actually take away our freedom. We are constantly watched and sent messages of fear and asked to pay for higher security. Democracy? Ha!
When I see the people in the struggling nations strive for democracy I wonder what they think we have that gives us freedom. Better jobs and pay? But it's not freedom, just a means for coping a bit better in the frenzy of massive consumerism designed to encourage addictions that fuel more spending.
In Canada we are currently in an election campaign. One party actually screens who is permitted to participate at there rallies. Why? Security! No freedom in that!! One girl who was registered to attend was banned. Why? A photo of her on Facebook showed her attending a rally of an opponent. Does she not have the right to go to all rallies to form her opinion who to follow? She's young and has already tasted the lack of democratic rights.
My post a while back about the movie Gasland (Sadness, March5th)? illustrates a real example of how powerless people are in getting their voice to be heard. Fracking is killing their safe drinking water and making their home environment unfit. They are being manipulated and managed so gas company profit can be made most quickly.
Dick Cheney? Who convinced him it to change the laws not protect the environment and it's people so that fracking could be done? Gas companies and their willingness to fund his party??
Today there's the crazy media hype that there may be a shut down of the gov't in your country over some, very hurtful to women's health, cost issues. No funding for parenthood related health maintenance. REALLY???
The myth of democracy is playing out right in front of our eyes as the opposing parties play their games and use us. Yet we do nothing. Why?

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte Everything you said are examples of this grand manipulation by powers beyond our control.

We do nothing because we are powerless against such established and vested moneyed interest. We are powerless because we can't all read the volumes of tax code written to favor special interests. We are powerless because more and more of our dwindling time and energy is focused on trying to meet our own basic individual needs. We are powerless because the huge media conglomerate soothes us offering escape from the drudgery of our existence in return for separation of us from our money. We are powerless because we are easily manipulated by elaborate mythology and outright lies. We are powerless because we are all in this alone, we have no unity, no sense of common purpose.

billy pilgrim said...

i agree with the professor 100%. i vote in every election and knowing the game is rigged i always vote for whatever fringe candidate catches my fancy.

with all the pension funds including your social security and our canada pension plan heavily invested in the capital markets the spice must flow. if the stock market falters there goes everyone's pension and they're already on shaky ground.

Antares Cryptos said...

I'll be back to look at the links. This has been the topic of much discussion in RL the last few years.*Deep sigh*

I revert back to Churchill's quote:
"Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried from time to time"

Still a democracy, just less so than what people think.

Really "liked" your response to KM. I read it sometime ago, but didn't Chomsky warn that this would happen?

I miss Carlin.

DJan said...

I gave up long ago. I never thought I would ever see any of my social security money, but now I'm living on it. Who woulda thunk it?

And now I'm looking at the young people in other countries taking back their government. There will be a revolution here, too, but it will be after I'm gone, it seems.

Orhan Kahn said...

Bill Hicks said it best:

“I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. 'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.' 'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.' 'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!'”

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy Isn't it incredible - after the almost total financial collapse that ANYBODY would think our social security should be privatized!! But there are large segments of our population who think this is a splendid idea.

Cryptos I would guess that there could possibly be monarchies out there in other parts of the world that are less corrupt than the democracy we supposedly revere. Perhaps "corrupt" is too strong a word as most of what is happening is actually legal, or been made so, by the very people who benefit most.

Back when I worked in banking in the 1970's and 80', there were "usury laws", limits on interest rates one could charge. Illegal loan sharks would charge huge interest rates of 20% or more - at that time it was a criminal act. Then the financial institutions were deregulated and usury went out the window - same huge interests charged by mainstream institutions, but it is no longer illegal.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan We are actually so fearful that they will cut Social Security by changing the qualification process that we are taking ours (this year) as soon as we can. Our children have already accepted there will be no SS for them when they reach age.

You mention revolution in the country similar to what has been happening in other parts of the world. I came across an article about just that very thing. Tax the Super Rich now or face a revolution. But I think our population will be so distracted and placated by media entertainment and misinformation that they will willfully allow the wealthy to turn us into a third-world nation. Few people can name the Secretary of State but they sure as hell know who will be on "Dancing with the Stars" tonight.

Orhan Yes, wasn't Ronald Reagan a most presidential appearing man? Of course he was an actor for most of his life so he had no problem playing a president. The conservatives later discovered that you could put any "puppet" in the oval office for the public to focus it's limited attention span on - meanwhile the people behind the curtain were, and are, running the show.

Entre Nous said...

Just so yah know, I'm readong all your posts, it's just that the computer at the library won't let me sign in to comment. It's nearly 6 am and I need to return this notebook to my son's room before he wakes up and figures out my electrically bad karma has been near the only functional appliance left in this house. He'll kill me and hide the body.

Entre Nous said...

BTW---- The pic at the top of your blog with the kid, the knife, and the wall socket.... think I'm gonna be seeing it in my sleep.... I did that in eighth grade sci lab, yuh even then :}}}

Paul said...

Robert, what do political parties do ? They have platforms that they say will produce positive results fot the people and as often than not the opposite happens. They are like a myth that people believe in even when it is not true.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Entre Nous I remember a kid in high school science class lab who stuck a pair of tweezers into an electrical socket. It was a teachable moment to be sure.

Paul Parties profess to forward an agenda which they think will resonate with the views of enough voters in order to game themselves into power through elections.

Think about it for a moment, does anyone really believe the GOP wants to end abortion? Of course not; they know the consequences of introducing huge numbers of unwanted children into society would drive up an incredible amount of demand on social services, medical, criminal justice. BUT they pander to those who hold this simplistic idealism in order to secure their votes.

Antares Cryptos said...

Legalized "crime"? :)

Globalization has turned this into a global problem.

The Mother said...

No answers, just agreement.

secret agent woman said...

I know Carlin's right and yet I vote. I can't not vote. I can' utterly give up on hope.

Paul said...

Robert I have founded a new political party and I call it the Block Party. ANyone can join except any of the nitwits who now control things in Washington,D.C. Our platform is "a full lunch pail". If people eat they are generally amenable to real change.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos No doubt, with China now the second largest world economy, and on the rise while we are on the decline. It keeps me awake at night.

Dr. Mom I have no answers either - we're on a ride and we can't get off, all we can do is hold on.

SecretAgent Nor can I. The "Machine", though hugely powerful, is ultimately dependent on the election process to put the people THEY wish into the government. The power of manipulation is monumental, still the elections are where the rubber meets the road. If only the supreme court had not 1) determined that corporations are individuals, and 2) equated unfettered and anonymous campaign contributions as "free speech".

Paul Funny you should mention a full lunch pail. My prediction is the next wave of controlling the public will be via food prices (as is being done in other countries right now). But I will save that for another blog.

Anonymous said...

You are so accurate and it is so depressing that I cannot deal with it. My husband and I have this discussion regularly, and we still cannot get to a solution. We are active in the local politics.....and look who is our Rep-Bachmann. She is the reason I stay involved. She is worse than most, and I refuse to sit back and let her win without a fight from me.

That is my small and futile attempt to spit into the wind.

Carlin was great. I wish I could have had a conversation with him.

Nance said...

In the middle of the three ring circus over government "shutdown" this past week, it's amazing how easily these basic truths got lost. We were all holding our breaths like we were watching Celebrity Poker or a tie breaker at Augusta, while the clowns in DC climbed in and out of little cars and shot themselves from cannons.

At some point you just want to trash your stale popcorn on the way out the door.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Backrow Unfortunately there are people out there who are so stupid, they don't have the capacity to recognize how stupid they are. Bachmann is one of them. What is scary is the there are enough morons out there like her that she can even get into office. I really feel for you.

Nance Once I accepted the truth of what Carlin (and many others I am finding) is saying, the whole carnival of the budget crisis and government shut down garnered less of my attention than NASCAR. I think your analogy to circus clowns is totally spot on!

Entre Nous said...

I slid over this way to let you know, thanks to your link for Jerry, Lawrence Krauss is my new idol... His latest book coming out is on Richard Feynman, can't wait :}

Marylinn Kelly said...

I have nothing to add, it has been covered thoroughly by you and your readers. This is not the country I believed it was. Where do we turn?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Entre Nous Another blogger put me onto that Krauss video and now I have a permanent bookmark to it, he does spell it out all so nicely. Feynman laid such firm groundwork from which others were able to build from. I've read a lot about Feynman.

Marylinn You clearly state my beliefs as well; this is not the country I believed it was either.

You ask where do we turn - my feeling is that, even though the game is rigged, there are still things we can accomplish within the conditions that have been set before us. One thing is to try to take advantage of the benefits that have been in place to benefit the big players. For example, I started a small business (my film production company). So when I buy a computer, I am able to deduct that computer as a business expense and lower my taxable income. My wife started a scrapbooking business, so all the paper and ink she purchases is a business expense. These are things we were going to purchase anyway. Yes by claiming then as a business expense, we have actually reduced our tax liability! And it is all legal - what's good for GE is good for my little enterprise as well. In short: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.