Quote of the day

This one comes from the word processor of the late Peter Mair:

The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.

The quoted passage can be found in the opening paragraph of Mair’s Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. Although his book addresses this phenomenon as it can be found in the Western European democracies, I believe that one can successfully argue that the epitome of democratic elections without significance lies in the United States. The last election which posed candidates that were clear alternatives to each other: The 1972 contest between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. And Nixon wins any comparison made with Barack Obama! Democratic accountability, and therefore political legitimacy, always eludes America’s national politicians, especially presidential candidates and winners. Because of this lack of accountability, it would be accurate to claim that America’s political elite represent the federal state to civil society and to America’s citizens in general. The happy relationship has these politicians representing civil society and the citizenry at large in the state. The founders did not care much for the common folk; they thus refused to constitutionally secure the direction and telos of this relationship such that it promoted representative government.

Recommended: Voting Green in a Swing State

This is a superb article by B. Sidney Smith, one which effectively and elegantly demolishes the lesser evil argument. The gist of his argument can be gleaned in the following:

As I have documented elsewhere, the partisan duopoly disenfranchises the entire electorate, left, right, and center. The American people as a whole, irrespective of ideology, have been locked out of running their own country as the writers of the Constitution intended they would. The mechanism at its root is dead simple and works in exactly the same way on both “liberal” and “conservative” voters. You are offered two choices, each of whom has been carefully vetted by the owners and is dedicated to serving elite interests. You are then persuaded that one of them is bad and must be voted against.

This is not to say that there aren’t real issues between the two; on the contrary, without the presence and validity of such issues the trick wouldn’t work. People aren’t stupid. But from the point of view of those whose interests the elected candidate will first serve, those issues are of minor importance.

Once voters are persuaded of the validity of a vote-against it only remains to ensure that the two political “sides” remain in approximate parity, a task ably handled by the corporate media in collusion with the parties themselves.

The only escape from this trap is to understand that the call of civic duty is a call to active participation (activism) in the political process. To those who answer such a call, voting-against doesn’t even make sense, because it means giving up on one’s own commitment to self-government. It is only when voting for the actual changes one wishes to see that it is rational to hope those changes will someday happen.

Common Americans — Alan Simpson’s “lesser people” — lack political power. This lack exists by design. Why does it exist by design? Let us recall here the fact that Colonial America did not have a social revolution. The actual American Revolution only replaced an aristocracy located at the imperial center with a ‘natural’ aristocracy located at the imperial periphery. The lesser people of that day suffered because the American Revolution was not a social revolution: Africans remained chattel slaves, much of white America was deeply in debt and would be forced by the natural aristocrats to pay for the Revolution and, as we know, the imperial-minded would soon begin to exterminate America’s aboriginal peoples. To keep the lesser people at arm’s length, the Founders wrote a constitution that institutionally secured elite rule. The lesser people have had to contend with that albatross ever after.

Amazing as it may be, America’s contemporary elite chaff under the yoke they believe the Constitution to be. Thus the great effort they have expended to ensure that the democratic mechanism fails to realize its legitimate goal: Creating a representation of Civil Society in the State. This mechanism instead creates instead a dubious legitimacy enjoyed by a political elite which willingly serves the ends of American capital in general as well as some fractions of capital in particular. The task of the citizen-activist revolves around breaking the bond that exists between the political elite and the higher levels of the economic system. Voting for change is one component of this project.

I also live in a swing state and will vote for Jill Stein.

Another click of the ratchet

The role the police play in a modern society ought to be straightforward and well-known. The police broadly considered ought to act with certain goals in mind, namely — to implement the laws of the land while ensuring these laws are observed and bringing to the courts those individuals and institutions which fail to obey those laws. (At one time, the police were also charged with maintaining the general welfare of the people.) The police are empowered by law to meet these goals. Since the United States is a constitutional republic, policing in America must be performed in such a way that the police habitually observe constitutional norms while fulfilling their duties. When the police are considered in this way, it is clear that they are agents of the Constitution and are meant to create a constitutionally ordered society.

Once again, the role of the police in a modern society should be both simple and clear to all.

Given the role assigned to the police and given the nature and content of the Bill of Rights, what are we to make of a recent report by David Graeber?

A few weeks ago I was with a few companions from Occupy Wall Street in Union Square when an old friend — I’ll call her Eileen — passed through, her hand in a cast.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“Oh, this?” she held it up. “I was in Liberty Park on the 17th [the Six Month Anniversary of the Occupation]. When the cops were pushing us out the park, one of them yanked at my breast.”

“Again?” someone said.

We had all been hearing stories like this. In fact, there had been continual reports of police officers groping women during the nightly evictions from Union Square itself over the previous two weeks.

“Yeah so I screamed at the guy, I said, ‘you grabbed my boob! what are you, some kind of fucking pervert?’ So they took me behind the lines and broke my wrists.”

Actually, she quickly clarified, only one wrist was literally broken. She proceeded to launch into a careful, well-nigh clinical blow-by-blow description of what had happened. An experienced activist, she knew to go limp when police seized her, and how to do nothing that could possibly be described as resisting arrest. Police dragged her, partly by the hair, behind their lines and threw her to the ground, periodically shouting “stop resisting!” as she shouted back “I’m not resisting!” At one point though, she said, she did tell them her glasses had fallen to the sidewalk next to her, and announced she was going to reach over to retrieve them. That apparently gave them all the excuse they needed. One seized her right arm and bent her wrist backwards in what she said appeared to be some kind of marshal-arts move, leaving it not broken, but seriously damaged. “I don’t know exactly what they did to my left wrist—at that point I was too busy screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. But they broke it. After that they put me in plastic cuffs, as tightly as they possibly could, and wouldn’t loosen them for at least an hour no matter how loud I screamed or how much the other prisoners begged them to help me. For a while everyone in the arrest van was chanting ‘take them off, take them off’ but they just ignored them…”

The author continues by noting the obvious:

Arbitrary violence is nothing new. The apparently systematic use of sexual assault against women protestors is new. I’m not aware of any reports of police intentionally grabbing women’s breasts before March 17, but on March 17 there were numerous reported cases, and in later nightly evictions from Union Square, the practice became so systematic that at least one woman told me her breasts were grabbed by five different police officers on a single night (in one case, while another one was blowing kisses.) The tactic appeared so abruptly, is so obviously a violation of any sort of police protocol or standard of legality, that it is hard to imagine it is anything but an intentional policy.

From the rape squads around the world (that made mass rape a weapon of war) to the dirty-handed goon squads of the NYPD (who have added sexual assault to the weapons locker of a terrorist state), the goals thus pursued are held constant across time, space and culture: Terrorize the weak, especially women, demoralize the opposition, and the rule of law be damned.

What do I make of this report? The crimes committed by the New York Police Department reported by David Graeber should be considered signs. What do these signs signify? They point to the fact that the United States continues its slide into a state of barbarism.

Food for thought

Food for thought

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

The Roberts Court disgraces itself one more time

In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County Of Burlington (pdf), the Roberts Supreme Court held that individuals arrested for non-indictable offenses and meant to be held in the general prison population can be strip searched by prison officials. Correctional officials are to have “substantial discretion” to manage and secure the prison population, according to Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. The upshot of the opinion is clear enough: The interests of prison management ought to override any prisoners’ Fourth Amendment rights meant to protect them from unreasonable searches and seizures as well as their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.

With this ruling, the prerogatives of the security-surveillance apparatus have again trumped the requirements set by the rule of law. Since the Florence .v Board ruling is just one component of a larger and longer trend, one may wonder if the United States is now rushing towards the creation of a variant of a bureaucratic authoritarian regime (pdf).

However one may want to answer that question, it is clear that the Florence v. Board ruling arrived just in time for local authorities in the United States to apply the powers it authorizes to the various post-Wisconsin, post-Occupy Movement protest events they will want to suppress during this election year. Steven Rosenfeld of AlterNet affirmed this very point when he reported that, “Among the jurisdictions seeking expanded authority to strip-search anyone arrested were the City of Chicago, where the NATO summit will be held this May and where protests have been planned, as well as the state of North Carolina, where the Democratic National Convention will be held in early September in Charlotte.”

For a concerned and committed American citizen, thanks to the Roberts Court, the exercise of his or her First Amendment rights may end with his or her arrest and personal humiliation.

 

Quote of the day

Glenn Greenwald drew this conclusion from his discussion of the Federal government’s fear- and terror-mongering:

The central linchpin of Endless War and civil liberties erosions is keeping fear levels high. Foreign Al Qaeda villains once served that role, and Homegrown Terrorists have now replaced them. That they are, in fact, a “miniscule threat to public safety” seems to have no force in even slowing down, let alone grinding to a halt, the never-ending war mentality imposed on the citizenry even though we are now more than a full decade away from the last successful Terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

If I were asked to choose a government institution that best illustrates bureaucratic-monument building and excessive resource usage, I would select the security-surveillance apparatus. What is truly disturbing about the apparatus is that it is a network of related institutions which would have no reason to exist if the United States were not an empire. But it is an empire, one struggling to remain so for an indefinite future.

Mike Lee likes California so much

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Senate class of 2010, wants a Constitutional amendment to impose a ⅔rds supermajority requirement on the Congress whenever it votes for a tax increase. This, of course, is the Constitutional limit on democratic governance that has made California a basket case economy. Lee discussed his desires on Hardball with an incredulous Chris Mathews:

Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress calls Lee’s gambit extortion:

So Lee wants to rewrite our Constitution to [sic] that the American people must always live under conservative governance, regardless of who they elect, and he’s got a simple plan to force his colleagues in Congress to make this happen. That’s a mighty nice economy we’ve got here, it would be a shame if Mike Lee had to break it.

And so it is.

President Obama wants to respect Constitutional limits

After Barack Obama’s meeting today with Republican leaders — during which they discussed the pain they would spread around the country and when they also agreed that they could live with the pain they will cause if they go through with their plans — it was left to Treasury Secretary Geithner to whip up Congressional support for the latest austerity budget. In this, the New York Times reports:

Mr. Geithner appeared to be playing a role not unlike that of Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who warned lawmakers in the fall of 2008 that unless Congress voted to bail out the banking system, the credit crisis threatened to plunge the United States into a depression. Stunned by Mr. Bernanke’s dire depiction, the lawmakers undertook measures that were until then unthinkable.

Lest his warnings go unheeded,

…Mr. Geithner told the lawmakers the White House did not believe it had the authority, under the Constitution, to continue issuing debt if it reached the debt ceiling. Nobody in the room disputed Mr. Geithner’s bleak assessment, the officials said.

Naturally, this President, a man of principle and a Constitutional scholar, would not want to exceed the authority given to his office by the Constitution. Never would he choose a path marked by excess and legal impropriety. He would not act unconstitutionally even though his doing so would spare so many they pain this austerity budget will inflict upon them. It is just not in his nature. He will not flinch when forced by circumstances to look deeply into the abyss; nor would he refuse to throw the “lesser people” into this nothingness when duty demands that he do so. He, like Kennedy, would ask them what they can do for their country.

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