Yes, We Have No Democracy

Josh Mitteldorf

Thom Hartmann has it right:  Government in the USA is no longer responsive to the will of the people.  But his focus on money in politics is misdirected, distracting attention from factors that are more important, more shocking, less discussed.  There are six ways in which our democracy has been sabotaged, and only two of them can be discussed in polite society.   The most-discussed and least controversial one is the focus of Hartmann’s article.

The six factors:

  1. Media consolidation / press censorship
  2. Secrecy in government
  3. Assassination of charismatic populist leaders
  4. Direct, electronic corruption of the vote count
  5. Restricted access to the polls
  6. Money in politics

Perhaps there is no need to point out that all six pull in the same direction, that is, to the right.

  • away from populism, toward concentration of power
  • away from wealth distribution, toward wealth accumulation
  • away from equality , toward privilege
  • away from human rights and freedoms, toward repression
  • away from corporate responsibility, toward corporate license
  • away from cooperation, toward competition, toward dominance
  • away from peace, toward war

Without these six factors, America would be a very different place indeed, politically and in every other way.  In fact, the two political parties are both to the right of the American people, and far to the right of where American popular opinion would be if we all knew the truth about war and the truth about what goes on in Washington.

In reverse order:

6.   Money in politics.  The most discussed and least controversial of the six.  Hartmann has done a great job with this one, and I will say no more.  But this story is not as important as the others.  Money generally makes only a marginal difference in electoral outcomes, as politial advertising never sways more than a few percent of voters; and there are steeply diminishing returns when saturtion ad campaignis are re-intensified.

5.   Restricted access to the polls.  This, too, has been covered in the media.  Voting rates among minorities and poor people and students and people with disabilities are way below voting rates in the Republican suburbs.  It is easy to see that this is by design of the Republicans, who have played dirty tricks, propagated disinformation, and promoted fraudulent legislation to keep Democratic demographics from the polls.  What is harder to see is why the Democrats have so frequently gone along with this plan.  Not since the LBJ era have Democrats aggressively pursued expansion of the franchise as a way to establish and maintain their majority.

4. Direct, electronic corruption of the vote count.  This is the crudest, the most overtly criminal of the six factors.  There has always been vote theft in America, but until the introduction of electronic voting, it was labor-intensive and local.  Ballot-box stuffing was practiced by both parties, and had to be organized at the local level.  Since about 2000, it has become easy to steal elections remotely, efficiently, with only a few people privy to what has happened.  This new era in vote theft has been almost exclusively a province of the Republicans.  In a few extreme cases, huge chunks of votes have been switched to alter the course of an election, as with Diebold’s Rob Georgia campaign in 2002, and the 2010 nomination of Alvyn Greene for Senator from South Carolina.  Far more commonly, close races have been altered by shifting a few percent of the vote from D to R.  (Ron Paul and Howard Dean also lost their presidential primary bids to corrupted elections.)  This process has become institutionalized and now constitutes a thumb on the scales of American democracy.  We know this primarily from election statistics, but there have also been a few cases where electronic vote theft was documented firsthand, with direct, physical evidence.  The 2004 Presidential race in Ohio and the Florida Congressional district that whistleblower Clint Curtis was hired to fix are prominent examples.

There is a blackout in mainstream American news channels on the topic.  Thom Hartmann covered electronic vote theft in 2005, when his operation was smaller and more independent.  Now he won’t touch the issue.  You can read more about electronic election theft at these web sites:

3.  Assassination of populist political leaders.    The stories we hear are about the “lone nutcase” who got lucky with his gun, or a mysterious plane crash.  Monuments and public buildings are named for these heros, after they are taken out of commission because the CIA has deemed too dangerous to the direction of American politics.   Huey Long .  John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and possibly John, Jr.  Martin Luther King.  Malcolm X.  John Lennon.  Paul Wellstone.

Don Siegelman and Eliot Spitzer escaped with their lives, but were politically neutralized by trumped-up “scandal”.

2.  Secrecy in Government.  When elected officials live in glass boxes and ordinary citizens are secure in their privacy, then we have democracy.  But when the government knows everything about the private lives of individuals while the people know about their elected representatives only what those representatives want them to hear – then we have a self-perpetuating totalitarian state.  Thus “terrorism” has been used as an excuse to shield the Bush and Obama Administrations from public scrutiny.  The Bush White House was the most secretive in the history of the United States – until Obama took office.  No one doubts that legitimate secrecy has been stretched to shield the wrongdoing of people in office and their supporters in Federal agencies and in private contractors.  But the truth is actually far more radical:  Almost none of the secrecy serves a legitimate purpose in deterring attacks on Americans.  Rather it serves to cover up wrongdoing.  “Terrorism” did not arise on its own, but was invented as an excuse for war and repression, which the American people would never have tolerated had they not been by real actions and by propaganda campaigns.

1.  Media consolidation / press censorship.   Gone are investigative reporters.  Gone are local TV and radio stations that responded to local constituencies and were uniquely familiar with issues and government officials in a particular locale.

“In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S.

in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world’s largest media corporation.

In 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S.General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth.”  (from E Pluribus Media)

Thomas Jefferson once said

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.”

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson was right.  If we don’t know what is going on, we can’t change it no-how.  And if we do know, then there is no government repressive enough to hold us back.  We need a press that is aggressive, diverse, and uncompromising in its pursuit of truth.  This is the most important factor for the restoration of democracy in America.

There is a great deal of self-censorship in the press.  Most journalists know their place, understand the limits of what can be discussed.  It is rarely necessary to teach them a lesson.  Just a few examples need to be set for all the rest to get the message.

Rosie O’Donnell disappeared from TV the day she asked questions about 9/11.  Veteran Dan Rather was dismissed from CBS before he could expose unsavory details of George W Bush’s past.   Gary Webb was dismissed from the San Jose Mercury-News, then assassinated for coming too close to the truth about the CIA and the drug trade.  We may never know what story Michael Hastings was chasing when he was murdered.  Wikileaks represents an entire genre of journalism held hostage in a London embassy compound.

Without investigative journalism, democracy doesn’t have a chance.  That’s why the rise of dispersed, crowd-sourced reporting on the web is the most hopeful development in American politics of the last half century.

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The “lone nut” story would be an easy sell to the press and to the public in the case of our first African-American President.  If a “security breach” should occur, who would dare question it?  Mr Obama gives every indication he knows just how vulnerable he is.

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