Ben Bova Democracy began in ancient Athens

Democracy — as we understand the term — began in ancient Athens.

Back before the invention of agriculture, when human tribes of hunter/gatherers followed the game herds across the landscape, those tribes had a primitive sort of democracy.

Hunting tribes that still exist in remote parts of the world still show that kind of organization. The male members of the tribe come together in a council to decide issues of importance. One man, one vote.

Democracy — as we understand the term — began in ancient Athens.

Back before the invention of agriculture, when human tribes of hunter/gatherers followed the game herds across the landscape, those tribes had a primitive sort of democracy.

Hunting tribes that still exist in remote parts of the world still show that kind of organization. The male members of the tribe come together in a council to decide issues of importance. One man, one vote.

As hunting tribes turned to agriculture, though, that rough form of democracy disappeared. With agriculture came property rights and a hierarchical society. Decisions were made by leaders who eventually became kings, and even were worshipped as gods.

The ancient Athenians, some five hundred years before Christ, got rid of their tyrants and established a democratic system for ruling their city-state.

It was a direct democracy. The city-state was ruled by an assembly that consisted of every Athenian citizen: which meant every free male born in Athens. Slaves, foreigners and women were not allowed to vote.

The men gathered to discuss each issue, then voted. Direct democracy. The citizens decided each issue for themselves, usually after considerable argument.

Today, in the United States and other nations around the world, democracies are not direct. We have a representative democracy. We elect people to represent us, to ponder the issues of the day and vote on them.

The men who wrote our Constitution worried about mob rule, so they produced our representative democracy. They wanted men of substance and probity to decide the issues of the day, not poor, uneducated workingmen and farmers.

Besides, with a population of several millions, they figured that direct democracy couldn’t work. You might be able to get a few hundred voters together in a town meeting, but it would be impossible to get all the voters across the entire nation together to consider the issues. It just wasn’t practical.

So we have Congress. Many citizens complain about Congress. In nationwide polls, Congress usually comes out very poorly.

People are unhappy with their representatives. They feel that Congress is out of touch with the needs of the common people. Many believe that most members of Congress are more concerned with getting re-elected than with the nation’s real needs, more involved with inside-the-Beltway horse swapping than the vital issues that confront the nation.

Strangely, while most people complain bitterly about Congress, most Representatives and Senators get re-elected, term after term. There’s a disconnect in the system.

Could we do away with Congress altogether? Disregarding the Constitutional problems of disbanding Congress, could we revert to the direct kind of democracy that the ancient Athenians enjoyed?

After all, today we have digital communications. The Internet, Twitter, Facebook and other digital systems carry billions of messages back and forth across the country with the speed of light.

Might it be possible to have every eligible voter consider every issue that comes up, listen to the arguments pro and con, and then vote electronically? Direct democracy in the digital age.

It is certainly possible, technically. But would it work in actual practice?

Abandoning Congress and allowing the nation’s citizens to vote directly on the issues of the day brings up the specter of mob rule. Would the average American citizen have the depth of knowledge and the sober, unbiased attitude to consider the issues and vote wisely?

Well, does Congress?

One effect of direct digital democracy might be to virtually wipe out the influence of lobbyists. It’s one thing to sweet-talk or arm-twist a few hundred Congressmen and Senators into voting the way you want them to. How would a lobbying campaign work when the people who make the decisions are tens of millions of citizens?

Lobbying might evolve into something like commercial advertising campaigns. The money spent today on convincing Congress to vote this way or that would be spent on national advertising campaigns, no doubt.

But there is one major hurdle that will prevent direct digital democracy from becoming a reality: Congress itself. It would take a Constitutional amendment to abolish Congress, and Congress is not about to vote itself out of business.

The technology might be ready, but the politicians are not.

Ben Bova

New database of US voter fraud finds no evidence that photo ID laws are needed

A new nationwide analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 shows that while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent. 

A new nationwide analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 shows that while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent. 

In an exhaustive public records search, reporters from the investigative reporting projecdt News21 sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states, asking for every case of fraudulent activity including registration fraud, absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, false election counts, campaign fraud, casting an ineligible vote, voting twice, voter impersonation fraud and intimidation.
Analysis of the resulting comprehensive News21 election fraud database turned up 10 cases of voter impersonation. With 146 million registered voters in the United States during that time, those 10 cases represent one out of about every 15 million prospective voters.
“Voter fraud at the polls is an insignificant aspect of American elections,” said elections expert David Schultz, professor of public policy at Hamline University School of Business in St. Paul, Minn.
“There is absolutely no evidence," Schultz said, that voter impersonation fraud "has affected the outcome of any election in the United States, at least any recent election in the United States."
The News21 analysis of its election fraud database shows:
  • In-person voter-impersonation fraud is rare. The database shows 207 cases of other types of fraud for every case of voter impersonation. “The fraud that matters is the fraud that is organized. That’s why voter impersonation is practically non-existent because it is difficult to do and it is difficult to pull people into conspiracies to do it,” said Lorraine Minnite, professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.
  • There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases. “The one issue I think is potentially important, though more or less ignored, is the overuse of absentee balloting, which provides far more opportunity for fraud and intimidation than on-site voter fraud,” said Daniel Lowenstein, a UCLA School of Law professor.
  • Of reported election-fraud allegations in the database whose resolution could be determined, 46 percent resulted in acquittals, dropped charges or decisions not to bring charges. Minnite says prosecutions are rare. “You have to be able to show that people knew what they were doing and they knew it was wrong and they did it anyway,” she said. “It may be in the end" that prosecutors "can’t really show that the people who have cast technically illegal ballots did it on purpose.”
  • Felons or noncitizens sometimes register to vote or cast votes because they are confused about their eligibility. The database shows 74 cases of felons voting and 56 cases of noncitizens voting.
  • Voters make a lot of mistakes, from accidentally voting twice to voting in the wrong precinct.
  • Election officials make a lot mistakes, from clerical errors — giving voters ballots when they’ve already voted — to election workers confused about voters’ eligibility requirements.
Natasha Khan and Corbin Carson

Strategic Lessons from the Rand Paul Fiasco

Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.

— Lenin

Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.

— Lenin

Summary: For many years, the liberty movement’s aspirations and actions have been focused on the presidential candidacy of Congressman Ron Paul. In Early June, this strategy backfired, following Rand Paul’s (Ron’s son) endorsement of Mitt Romney, a most dedicated servant of the Banking-Militarist Complex. This essay argues that revolutionaries can draw two valuable lessons from Rand Paul’s about-face. First, they must realize once and for all that electoral politics in the USA cannot possibly bring meaningful change, and hence, that more radical strategies are required. Second, to survive, to retain its relevance, to deserve the gratitude of future generations, the liberty, environmental, social justice, and peace movements must merge into a single revolutionary movement.

Background: The Rand Paul Fiasco

This essay highlights the Rand Paul fiasco merely because of its recency and typicality. The exact same points could be made with thousands other historical occurrences.

In 2010, Rand Paul was elected to the U.S. Senate in part because he is the son of Ron Paul, a congressman well-known for his principled and uncompromising allegiance to constitutional principles. As well, to gain the support of Republican power-brokers, Rand was willing to give them the assurances they required—an act that by itself should have raised red flags in the liberty movement.

In early June of 2012, when it appeared that his father was not going to win the Republican nomination for president, Rand Paul endorsed the allegedly winning candidate, Willard “Mitt” Romney. Now, in American politics, a president is nothing more than the puppet of the tycoons who propped him. All mainstream candidates, apparently, are groomed, screened, and nurtured by the Banking-Militarist Complex. At the very least, the Complex will be just as comfortable with Romney as it has been with Reagan I, Bush II, Clinton I, Bush III, and Obama I. If anything, Romney could inflict even greater damage on what’s left of our personal freedoms. With even greater subservience, he will do the biddings of our masters of war and will accelerate the trends of planetary destruction and growing poverty. He will be, in other words, a valuable toady of the reckless psychopaths now in control of our planet. In particular, he cares nothing for the Constitution or Bill of Rights, and made it clear that he will continue the ongoing dismantling of both. Rand Paul, then, is a willing accessory of a criminal, and can be written off by any decent and informed person as a traitor to the supposed ideals of his father.

But what about Ron Paul himself? Can he emerge unscathed from his son’s double-dealings? So far we encounter troubling ambivalence. To begin with, it is unlikely that Rand endorsed Romney without Ron’s approval. Second, Ron Paul’s own website defends Rand’s Romney endorsement. More recently, however, Ron Paul said, “There is no way I’d endorse Romney.”

I shall now argue that it might have been a mistake, all along, to anchor our hopes on the presidential race and aspirations of Ron Paul—or anyone else’s.

No Change Can be Expected from American Elections

The Rand Paul fiasco merely reinforces the view that nothing can be expected from electoral politics in America (and in most other countries of the world). If change ever comes to our shores, it cannot possibly be brought about by politics as usual.

Many of my acquaintances, and many writers in the alternative media, put their faith in electoral politics. They feel, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it makes a difference whether a Republican or a Democrat is elected, that it makes sense to sue the government for one or another gross violation of the public interest or common decency. They fail to notice that most of our presidents, governors, and mayors, most of our “elected” representatives at the local, state, and federal levels, most of our judges—are puppets of the Banking-Militarist Complex.

Others, a bit more sophisticated but still profoundly misinformed about the nature of American politics, reject the corrupt two-headed party system out of hand, yet put their trust in the electoral process itself and in the ability of friends of the American people (as opposed to the traitors, swindlers, sycophants, and psychopaths who now infest most public offices of this land) to gain political or judicial office and bring about meaningful change. That trust is touching, but it fails to acknowledge incontestable political realities. To campaign for a Ron Paul, or a Dennis Kucinich, or a Jesse Ventura, or a Eugene Debs, or Jesus Christ himself, in this system is utterly futile. A few crystalline raindrops cannot disinfect a cesspool.

The reasons for this futility, the reasons it is misguided in principle to take part in electoral politics in the USA (Gerald Celente goes even farther, suggesting that such participation is immoral) are complex. For the moment, I can only offer a summary statement and some supporting documentation for the seven interacting factors (there could be more, but at this writing I can only think of seven) that render electoral politics in America a sad joke.1

1. Information

Almost all conventional sources of information—schools, universities, books, movies, newspapers, TV, radio—are under the thumb of the Banking-Militarist Complex. Most of us, therefore, end up voting against our own convictions and interests. For example, in 1919 Upton Sinclair (The Brass Check, p. 9) already sizzled:

The social body to which we belong is at this moment passing through one of the greatest crises of its history … What if the nerves upon which we depend for knowledge of this social body should give us false reports of its condition?

Many people put their trust in experts, not realizing the centuries-long dependence of academics and intellectuals on the Banking-Militarist Complex. Arthur Schopenhauer:

Party interests are vehemently agitating the pens of so many pure lovers of wisdom…. Truth is certainly the last thing they have in mind…. Philosophy is misused, from the side of the state as a tool, from the other side as a means of gain…. Who can really believe that truth also will thereby come to light, just as a by-product? … Governments make of philosophy a means of serving their state interests, and scholars make of it a trade –

This is even truer today, and especially so when it comes to disciplines that directly affect the Banking-Militarist Complex. As just one example, an article in the left-of-center mainstream press explains “how the federal reserve bought the economics profession:”

“The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni, and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession. … This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists.”2

2. Sunshine Bribery

In the USA, bribery is institutionalized. In fact, if one looks only at the sheer quantity of wealth being stolen from the people, one can perhaps surmise that the USA is the most corrupt country that has ever existed. Bribery is implemented principally through campaign financing, then complemented by such things as lucrative speaking and publishing arrangements after leaving office and by invitations to serve on the boards of the corporations that benefited from the ex-politician’s or ex-judge’s duplicity. As a result, politicians and judges gain adoration and millions, while a handful of banking families and their thousands of corporations gain extraordinary power and trillions.

Over the years we have gotten used to occasional outbursts on this issue.3 For instance, in 1987, Robert Byrd, then Senate majority leader, appealed to his colleagues:

It is my strong belief that the great majority of senators–of both parties–know that the current system of campaign financing is damaging the Senate, hurts their ability to be the best senator for this nation and for citizens of their respective States that they could be, strains their family life by consuming even more time than their official responsibilities demand, and destroys the democracy we all cherish by eroding public confidence in its integrity. If we do not face a problem of this magnitude and fix it, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the tragic results.

Political scientists Adamany and Agree share that view:

[The] political finance system … undermines the ideals and hampers the performance of American democracy …. Officials … are … captives of the present system. Their integrity and judgment are menaced—and too often compromised—by the need to raise money and the means now available for doing it …. The pattern of giving distorts American elections: candidates win access to the electorate only if they can mobilize money from the upper classes, established interest groups, big givers, or ideological zealots. Other alternatives have difficulty getting heard. And the voters’ choice is thereby limited. The pattern of giving also threatens the governmental process: the contributions of big givers and interest groups award them access to officeholders, so they can better plead their causes …. The private financing system … distort[s] both elections and decision making. The equality of citizens on election day is diluted by their inequality in campaign financing. The electorate shares its control of officials with the financial constituency.4

3. Human Nature

We are not only indoctrinable, but seem to enjoy being brainwashed (how many of us abstain from commercials?). We are not as open-minded as we need to be, nor do we readily surrender convictions in the face of overwhelming evidence against them. More often than not, we prefer obedience and conformity to individualism and critical thinking. Most of us lack the self-confidence, and perhaps the inborn taste, to detect quality on our own—in food, architecture, music, drama, paintings, literature, or politics. The vast majority of the still-reading public (which is itself a small minority) depends on the Banking-Militarist Complex for their choice of books, instead of trusting their own tastes and proclivities. Many of us have accepted the bankers’ absurd self-serving notion that crass materialism, endless accumulation of money and power, consumerism, and selfishness hold the keys to personal happiness.

Moreover, these failings are nowadays magnified by the very diminution—probably deliberate—of our very humanity. Our bodies nowadays are loaded with synthetic chemicals and radioactive materials. Our brains are loaded with heavy metals (e.g., mercury, lead) and thousands of commercials, infomercials, trivialities, and lies. It is no accident that the Banking-Militarist Complex facilitates prescription and illegal drug use in the USA, for such use clearly serves the interests of this Complex. The Complex discourages us from ever getting even close to dissident literature, classical music, folk music, critical thinking, compassion, and non-conformity. By getting us addicted to TV and artless movies, through their control of the educational system, and by doing everything they can to suppress the love of reading, they even managed to diminish our vocabulary—and thus our capacity to detect nuances of speech and thought.

Consider Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. According to Wikipedia, “in relation to the population of the Colonies at that time, it had the largest sale and circulation of any book in American history.” Could 1% of today’s Americans understand and be moved by such a pamphlet? In just 236 years, then, there has been a remarkable decline in the intellectual and spiritual caliber of the American people.

In short, we are not as rational, altruistic, and compassionate as we should be. On top of that, the Complex has deliberately diminished our positive qualities and amplified our failings, thus putting another nail in the coffin of our electoral process.5

4. Cloak and Dagger

Occasionally, in ancient Rome or Greece, or 21st century UK or USA, a champion of the people poses a threat to the Machiavellian system itself. In such cases, overwhelming evidence suggests, the top oligarchs resort to character—or literal—assassinations. They routinely malign, incarcerate, poison, or blow the brains out of anyone, anywhere on earth, who threatens their control—whistle blowers, congressmen, judges, U.S. presidents, DC madams who know too much, environmental activists, businessmen who dare tell the American people the truth about the Mexican Gulf disaster, sport celebrities naïve and idealistic enough to join the neo-colonial armies yet smart enough to read and understand the dissident literature, journalists who uncover the Banking-Militarist Complex’s collusion in the “war” on drugs, American peace activists, singers with a huge fan base who figure out how the system works—and dare share this information with the public, movie directors who had come to know a member of the Rockefeller family a bit too well—and who are bold enough to tell the world what they have learned, British princesses who speak up against landmines, union leaders, the Complex’s very own head of the International Mafia Federation (to borrow Celente’s phrase), countless foreign heads of states who would not betray their countrymen.

Once upon a time, fascists like kept such calumnies and strangulations below the surface, following their master Machiavelli’s sage advice. But now, as befits the emerging in-your-face style of fascism, some of these atrocities are carried out in the open.6

Self-guided internet exercise: What’s common to all-but-one dead-in-office American presidents?

5. Rigged Elections

Joseph Stalin reportedly said: “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Now that the bankers everywhere in the Western World are ingeniously re-introducing their version of Stalinism, following the same script in each and every country (just to dispel any doubt about this being a coordinated attack), the Trojan Horse in modern Western elections is the counters themselves. Such outrageous rigging provides the Banking-Militarist Complex another safety valve, and again makes a mockery of those who believe in electoral politics.7

6. Broken Promises

There is a vast gap between what a politician or a party promise before the elections and what they deliver after the elections. Wilson and Roosevelt, for instance, promised peace but, once elected, through guile, false-flag operations, and propaganda, led their countrymen to catastrophic wars. Politicians lie and get away with it, again making a mockery of the people’s will and of ballot-box reformers.8

7. Co-Option

The men in the shadows often support phony dissident organizations, e.g., the so-called “Tea Party” in the USA. Or, with their limitless supply of money, they might infiltrate and achieve partial control of a formerly genuine reform organization, e.g., the Sierra Club. They are thus able to control their own opposition. Also, an individual who discovers for the first time the sorrows of the biosphere might join, say, the Sierra Club, and might never realize that this suit-and-tie organization has sold out decades ago. If she uncovers the deception, she might give up in disgust, mistakenly believing that it is just “human nature” to deceive, look out for number one, and ignore long-term perils. And even if she manages to find her way to a genuine environmental organization, she might have only few years left to put her wisdom to good use.

This applies, in particular, to some “alternative” media. Many of these accept commercials and thus are, to a certain extent, at someone else’s beck and call. Other media have been created, funded, and sustained in order to throw confusion into the dissident camp. They magnify deliberately certain issues (which pose no threat to the Banking-Militarist Complex), thus deflecting attention from more pressing issues (e.g., Who is behind the ongoing destruction of the middle class, the Iraqi and Palestinian genocides, the USS Liberty Massacre and cover-up, Pearl Harbor, USS Maine? How in heaven’s name did the Rockefellers and Rothschilds manage to exclude themselves from the list of the richest people in the world? What is money? Is the Rothschild/Rockefeller Cartel doing God’s work, as it claims, or Satan’s? Did this cartel accumulate its wealth and power honorably, or by sleight of hand? Who really owns British Petroleum, Monsanto, and just about any giant western corporation?).

These phony media and websites often accept the absurd contention that our rulers never ever engage in conspiracies (relying on that standard, absurd dismissal: “He is just a conspiracy theorist”). For them, there is no point in investigating 9/11, for the simple reason that our rulers never plot in secret! Well, yes, the Russians, or the Chinese, or the Romans might have, but our lily-white bankers conspiring? Are you out of your mind? Such sites often refer to bankers’ propaganda organs (e.g., CNN, New York Times) as legitimate interpreters of reality. And again, seekers of truth must laboriously sift through their contrivances before beginning to see the world as it is.

I’m writing these words, scarcely believing them myself. My heart tells me that this is preposterous, that there cannot possibly be people out there so vicious as to not only corrupt everything they touch, but who do everything they can to diminish goodness, health, decency, and kindness, in this world. But then my cortex takes over, providing me with multiple proofs—both personal and research-based—that these people do exist. The existence and ascendancy of pure evil is no conjecture, but fact. There are people in this world who have enough ill-gotten money to last them one thousand and one reincarnations of obscene physical comfort, but yet give nothing, absolutely nothing, to help the thousands of children who will go blind this year because they can’t afford $1 worth of Vitamin A. As if this is not enough, these villains steal from these children the few centavos they do have, and torture or kill them outright if they refuse to surrender these centavos. A key step in planetary recovery is acknowledging the existence of evil, its pervasiveness, and its capacity to control human destinies. Mike Krieger:

We must admit to ourselves that there are truly evil geniuses out there, and in most cases these characters have taken control of the power structure (corporations, politics and factions of the military in most of the nations we reside in).9

To sum up. Electoral participation, in any way, shape, or form is counter-productive because it involves opportunity costs. As long as we accept the bankers’ myth that the system can be changed peacefully from within, the bankers and the system are safe. Some of our best people take part in this charade either as candidates or supporters, deluding themselves that anything at all can come from their electoral toil. Imagine all that energy and good will channeled into a strategy that could possibly work!

Electoral politics cannot work for many reasons. To begin with, how can we tell whether our champion is indeed our champion? How do we know that she would prefer sure death by saying no to the bankers to joining the fairly exclusive multi-millionaire club by saying yes? What guarantees do the people have that she will not break every single promise?

Moreover, the vast majority of gullible voters would believe that she is their enemy and that the bankers’ and weaponeers’ marionette is their friend. She cannot effect change because bankers can print as much money as they want, which they can give to her opponents. In the very unlikely event that she survives all this and becomes a threat to the bankers and weaponeers, they will crucify her in their media, threaten her, offer her bribes, slander her, arrest her on false charges and keep her naked and humiliated, without trial, in solitary confinement, in a freezing-cold, filthy, noisy cubicle. In the still more unlikely event that she actually receives a majority of the votes, they will doctor the results. If she miraculously manages to overcome all this, and if nothing else works, she will be impeached on false grounds, suicided, incinerated in the skies or roadways, or poisoned.

She will waste time and money, and never change anything, regardless of her sincerity. Since the American people are too drugged and televised, they will not be outraged by yet one more assassination, and will accept the bankers’ version of events. In cases that cannot be readily forgotten, the bankers will establish a commission, appoint its members—and then proceed to ignore post-mortem reports of even these carefully-screened commissioners that the investigation was a cover-up, a hoax. The people would even permit these bankers to derisively reproduce the image of their murdered champion on their fiat money.

In more general terms, putting our hopes for freedom and for a better world in the process of electoral politics is fundamentally ill-advised, if not immoral. We must grow up, as the Ancient Athenians did, or as the American revolutionaries did, and provide for our own freedom and security. Our system is irreparably broken and must be overthrown, one way or the other. The contemporary ballot box is a bewitching siren, a mirage, a shibboleth, a bankers’ trap.


The Different Branches of the Humanitarian Camp Must Unite


The Rand Paul Fiasco provides us with yet another crossroads for improving our reform strategies: Recognizing our common humanity and goals and forming a universal, humanitarian, reform movement.

What, really, are the things that decent, politically literate, human beings care most about? The answer, I suggest, must comprise at least these four elements:


Throughout most of their existence, human beings seemed to have lived in tribal democracies, with themselves making every major decision. For a long time, America had been a fairly free country, but that is no longer the case. Here is Former President Jimmy Carter10 :

While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change … In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws … allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate… . Meanwhile, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, now houses 169 prisoners. About half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom. American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security.” Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

If we ignore the horrors of slavery, inequality of women, and limited rights of people of foreign origins, we can probably say that a similar system existed in the democratic phases of many ancient Greek city-states. We can mention in passing that freedom is not only a natural right, not only good for one’s soul, but that it promotes excellence in the moral, cultural, artistic, intellectual, and commercial spheres—as shown by the astounding achievements of democracies like Athens. Genuine democracy, it so happens, is also the political system most likely to promote environmental sustainability, social justice, and peace.

Environmental Sustainability

Environmental scientists suspect that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” Cancer rates have already at least doubled; obesity, autism, diabetes, and asthma are on the rise, to name just a few human-facilitated scourges. Shouldn’t freedom include the right to have one’s fat tissues not soaked with synthetic poisons, one’s brain not loaded with heavy metals, one’s lungs not bathed in plutonium and depleted uranium? Are the victims of environmentally-acquired autism free? Don’t I have a right to know if the corn kernels I’ve just ingested are laced with built-in poisons?

Many among us dismiss environmental concerns as a swindle. The world’s population, they believe, can forever go up by 80,000,000 a year. We can puncture as many holes in the stratosphere as we wish; we can continue the ongoing destruction of forests, topsoil, oceans, lakes, aquifers, and air; continue to produce as many new chemicals as we wish; go on tampering with the evolutionary heritage of living organisms; persist in the creation of massive amounts of imperishable radioactive wastes; continue to reduce species diversity—and yet survive unscathed.

This is not the place to refute such scientifically naïve views. Instead, let me just say that the majority of the people who are best qualified to judge the matter—independent scientists—are extremely concerned about the very future of the biosphere. For example, in 1992—when the situation was less desperate than it is now—some 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued this “Warning to Humanity:”

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

This is echoed in turn by more recent warnings. According to the U.N.’s 2011 World Economic and Social Survey, “humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries” and heading towards “a major planetary catastrophe.”

And that is exactly the threat we face now. For those of us capable of simple extrapolation of past trends into the future, the conclusion is inescapable: We are an almost-extinct species, give or take a couple of centuries. We treat the earth, our only home, with reckless abandon. We have been warned, again and again, by our best and brightest, about the peril, the absurdity, for example, of relying on nuclear fission to boil water (a process which, when analyzed in all it complexity and throughout its entire period of relevance, paradoxically consumes more energy than it produces), but the psychopaths totally ignore the absurdities and warnings. As of now, humanity has forever lost land to the 1957 Kyshtym disaster in the Urals, to the Chernobyl catastrophe in the Ukraine and Belarus, and to the Fukushima cataclysm (including, perhaps, Tokyo). How many more such disasters before we reach the tipping point?

More worrisome is not one or another tipping points, but the multiplicity of threats, the daily arrival of new anthropogenic threats, our inability to predict the impacts of these threats on something as complex as the biosphere, and our failure, in Paul Watson’s words, to give precedence to natural laws. We may survive a dozens threats, but we are unlikely to survive thousands, and yet our political systems excels at introducing new ones. We shall have to be extremely fortunate, or the earth must be exceedingly resilient, to be forever lucky and reckless. You can’t play Russian roulette forever.

It takes a science fiction writer to fully grasp the irony and hopelessness of our situation. In Karel Capek’s humorously pessimistic War with the Newts, sentient and prolific salamanders are encountered in some far-off bay. At first their discoverers offer them knives and protection from sharks in exchange for pearls. Gradually, however, many of the world’s nations avail themselves of these creatures for other purposes, including war. In a few years, the salamanders run out of living space. To accommodate their growing numbers, they flood countries, one at a time. To do this, they need supplies from other countries and from merchants of the soon-to-be ravaged country itself. Needless to say, the salamanders have no trouble securing everything they need. At the end, humanity is on the verge of sinking and drowning; not so much by the newts, but by its greed, shortsightedness, and colossal stupidity.

A similar conclusion is reached in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle:

And I remembered the Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?”

It doesn’t take long to read, The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.

This is it:


Social Justice

Throughout most of human history—in humanity’s hunter-gatherer phase—rough egalitarianism (as well as freedom) probably prevailed. Our ancestors rightly believed that no one should starve in the midst of plenty, no one should go cold, no sick person should be left unattended by the local shaman because he was poor, no one should be denied access to local traditions because he couldn’t afford to hire a teacher. We look down on these “savages,” but in this we’re mistaken—we are the top practitioners of savagery the world has ever seen. A few among us— psychopaths, sycophants, misers, swindlers, or their heirs—have untold riches, while billions of us are starving, lack access to decent housing and water, or are trampled upon and imprisoned by some feudal lords.

According to Joseph Stiglitz, once seen as the land of opportunity, the U.S. today is grappling with rising inequality and a political system that benefits the rich at the expense of others, resulting in lower growth.

“The U.S. worked hard to create the American dream of opportunity. But today, that dream is a myth … we are paying a high price for inequality: it contributes to social, economic and political instability, and to lower growth.”

Is that the best we can do? What does political freedom mean to the 18,000 children under five who will die today because of malnutrition and hunger-related diseases, while humanity produces more than enough to comfortably feed everyone? What does it mean, freedom, to the 215 million children trapped in child labor around the world? What does our indifference say about us? Have they stopped assigning Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” in college, or are recent graduates too televised to get the irony? What is the meaning of this, that we can readily create a system where every child, every adult, every old and infirm person, has all that is needed for a dignified existence, yet we pretend that the present system gives us the best of all possible worlds?

Thankfully, some of us (and not surprisingly, such people tend to die prematurely, under suspicious circumstances) ask themselves the same question. Here is Michel Jackson:



I see the kids in the streets,
With not enough to eat
Who am I to be blind,
Pretending not to see their needs?

A summer disregard, a broken bottle top
And a one man’s soul
They follow each other on the wind ya’ know
‘Cause they got nowhere to go
That’s why I want you to know

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they’re not alone?


Most people pay at least lip service to the notion that war, military or economic occupation, and violence are undesirable because they kill and maim countless human beings, degrade both perpetrator and victim, destroy the earth and its inhabitants, and, nowadays, pose potential risks to continued human survival. War is clearly a racket, evidently avoidable. The Swiss escaped it for centuries, because they have a greater measure of control of the political process than any other nation on earth. We could avoid war too, if we wanted to.

James Miller:

Then and now, wealthy special interests are a driving force behind American imperialism. Lies will be spun till they are seen as facts. When the truth comes out, the irreparable damage will already be done. Like anything the state lays its filthy hands on, war is a racket. The beneficiaries of the ruling class’s gleeful foray into mass murder are few in number. The masses, still brainwashed into feverish nationalism, end up paying the costs with their pilfered income, eroded liberty, and, ultimately, their own lives.

But that is not all. War is intimately linked to freedom. Thucydides graphically described the blood-curdling cultural transformation of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. In times of war, classical Rome turned itself from a republic into a dictatorship. In the USA, one of our greatest champions of freedom, Thomas Jefferson, refused to be dragged to war despite numerous Rothschild Family provocations (acting through their underlings in the British Parliament), because he clearly understood the inverse relation between freedom and war. During the Civil War, World War One and Two, freedom in the USA was cynically made subservient to security. And once you let the tyrants and the bankers grab some of your freedoms, they never again, if they can help it, let you have these freedoms back. Likewise, the never-ending bogus war on terror is the chief excuse for dismantling the Constitution, Bill of Rights, privacy, presumption of innocence, and the Posse Comitatus Act. That same bogus war likewise facilitates the bankers’ plan of destroying the middle class, bringing the pleasures of hunger and scarcity to an ever-increasing number of human beings, further stretching the wealth gap between the parasitic bankers and militarists and the rest of us, and accelerating the pace of planetary rape.

There is a better way, Pete Seeger says:



One blue sky above us,
One ocean, lapping our shores.
One earth so green and brown,
Who could ask for more?

And because I love you
I’ll give it one more try
To show my rainbow race
It’s too soon to die.

Some folks want to be like an ostrich;
Bury their heads in the sand
Some hope for plastic dreams
To unclench all those greedy hands.

Some want to take the easy way:
Poisons, bombs! They think we need ‘em.
Don’t they know you can’t kill all the unbelievers.
There’s no shortcut to freedom

Go tell, go tell all the little children!
Go tell mothers and fathers, too:
Now’s our last chance to learn to share
What’s been given to me and you

Ron Paul as a Test Case of This Wider View of Political Aspirations

Once we embrace the ideals of freedom, sustainability, social justice, and peace, we are faced with the practical question: How can we decide who is on our side and who is against us? The obvious answer is: research. To illustrate this, I shall now return to the case of Dr. Ron Paul.

To begin with, Ron Paul does not appear to be a corporate-approved candidate. He has been steadfast in his opposition (apparently on constitutional, not humanitarian, grounds) to the Iraqi genocide, the planned Syrian and Iranian blitzkriegs, and the ongoing, brutal, oppression of the Palestinian people. He is no friend of the moneylenders, oilmen, and arms peddlers who control every aspect of our polity, and he is a determined opponent of such monstrosities as Democrat Jane Harman’s “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” (only 6 representatives voted against this Draconian measure). He sees the slowly-unfolding Second Great Depression and is committed to its mitigation. Above all, he seems to loathe the Federal Reserve—a key weapon in the bankers’ war against humanity.

But even if voting and running for office could accomplish anything (they no longer can), the day has not yet come when we must vote for a principled reactionary. Instead of covering Paul’s entire record, let me just highlight three positions.

Position 1: Ron Paul on Sunshine Bribery and Disinformation

As we have seen, two of the most scandalous aspects of American “democracy” are the near-total ownership of the mass media by the Banking-Militarist Complex, and, through “campaign financing” and similar devices, the Complex’s near-total control of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of our government.

What does Ron Paul, the erstwhile idol of the liberty movement, have to say about this rotten state of affairs? Paul is opposed to media reform and feels likewise that “so-called ‘campaign finance reform’ is unconstitutional:” “The First amendment unquestionably grants individuals and businesses the free and unfettered right to advertise, lobby, and contribute to politicians as they choose. Campaign reform legislation blows a huge hole in these First amendment protections.” Dr. Paul urges his fellow congressmen, instead, “to reduce special interest influence in Washington and restore integrity to politics by reducing the federal government to its constitutional limits.”

I would love seeing the powers of this federal government curtailed or altogether incinerated, but that is not going to solve the central problem of our ailing republic, a sad fact which totally eludes our good doctor. If western history, going all the back to the ancient Greeks, teaches us a single lesson, the lesson is this:

“Democracy, taken in its narrower, purely political, sense, suffers from the fact that those in economic and political power possess the means for molding public opinion to serve their own class interests.”11

The issue for seekers of rational and compassionate policies is leveling the playing field. For Ron Paul, on the other hand, the right of rich people to corrupt the political process by buying politicians and judges and contaminating the airwaves is unassailable. For him, this right entirely overrides the need for an authentically uninhibited marketplace of ideas and for bribery-free elections. He would probably agree that I have no right to cry fire in a crowded theater, that concern for the lives of dozens of people overrides my freedom of speech. And yet when it comes to the right of few conniving psychopaths like David Rockefeller and Evelyn Rothschild to bribe politicians and thereby destroy free markets, kill and impoverish billions, destroy the biosphere, and see to it that each and every political decision in the USA, UK, and their empire, is made to enrich and empower the few and impoverish and enslave the many, that right is sacrosanct. In particular, property rights are inviolable, even if they drag us to the fascism Paul abhors. He cites the constitution, and yet, I am certain that his rather peculiar reading of the constitution would appall men like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin

Ron Paul, apparently, has never outgrown the influence of that two-bit philosopher, Ayn Rand. It has never occurred to neither the famous guru, nor her disciple, that self-made great fortunes are, more often than not, nothing more than a testimony to corruption and psychopathic tendencies, as John Steinbeck, Taylor Caldwell, and so many other fiction writers and historians have shown, over and over again. Rand and Paul act as if Jesus had never existed, as if The Count of Monte Cristo, or Les Misérables, had never been written, as if the murderous Russian oligarchs deserve their stolen billions. Rand and Paul never read anthropology either, apparently, never learned that in many societies far freer than our own, Mother Nature was too sacred to be owned.

Position 2: Ron Paul on Environmental Sustainability

Ron Paul, as one might expect from a man whose political views had been inalterably molded by a remarkable, but deeply-flawed, 18th century document, is far more concerned with infringements on the rights of property owners than with the physical and biological foundations of life itself. Against probably his private wishes for the survival of humanity and the long-term welfare of his own 18 grandchildren, he feels compelled to defend the rights of corporations (and not the survival rights of fragile ecosystems, endangered species, and humanity as a whole) to drill for oil in Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge (this is just one example of his environmental record). It is likewise no accident that his son openly defended British Petroleum’s murderous conduct in the Gulf of Mexico. When it comes to climate change and the laughably feckless Kyoto Protocol, that is, when it comes to taking a miniscule step towards protecting the health, pocketbooks, and survival of the world’s people from the externalities of crony capitalism, Ron Paul sides with the would-be terminators of the biosphere.

Position 3: Ron Paul on Democracy

The word democracy is taken from the Greek, and roughly means “power of the people.” In the ancient Greek world, this is exactly what it meant—majority rule. In Athens, all major political and judicial decisions were made by the people, not by politicians and judges. In democratic Athens, for example, excellence was certainly encouraged, and wealth, but only because the majority wished them to exist. If we reluctantly forgive the Athenians their exclusion of women, slaves, and foreigners from the full franchise (which Paul readily forgives 18th century Americans), and if we ignore the wonderful democracies that prevailed in some tribal and semi-tribal societies (the Haudenosaunee, for instance), then Athens had been the truest democracy of which we have sufficient records. And the Athenians prospered, as a result of their democracy, to a much greater extent than their oligarchic (another Greek word) and totalitarian rivals in Greece itself. Often, when they lost wars, the loss could be traced to their own oligarchic fifth column, not to their external enemies.

Like the majority of our founding fathers, and like the majority of Athenian oligarchs, Ron Paul does not like democracy, either because he is unaware of its unparalleled achievements, blinded by the rancid ideology of unregulated capitalism, or feels that democracy does not serve his own class interests. Ron Paul accepts the majority of the founders’ self-seeking disdain for democracy, and the anti-democratic document these rich men wrote, as the gospel. In 2003, on the house floor, he opined “that the Republic is gone, for we are wallowing in a pure democracy against which the Founders had strongly warned.” The trouble with our country in 2003, according to Paul, was not that the oligarchs were controlling everything, deceiving and manipulating us, stuffing their pockets at our expense, declaring wars to enrich and empower themselves, rigging elections, and engaging in financial rackets which, in a working democracy such as ancient Athens, modern Iceland or Switzerland, or an Iroquois village, would have prompted their arrest, exile—or perhaps even a hemlock drinking party. No, Paul traces these real problems to a democracy run amok. The ills which afflict us are not traceable to crony capitalism, but to “the evils of democracy.”

One does not know where to begin with such a sincere misreading of history, except noting that a little study of history is a dangerous thing. In fact, the most successful and happiest societies were also the most democratic. In the USA, to give one more example, Paul holds the majority accountable for the American proclivity to “promote … undeclared, unconstitutional wars.” This is palpably false, a view which one has come to expect from enemies of the open society, not its friends. Independent historians agree that the majority of Americans had neither intention nor desire to get involved in either the Spanish War, World War I, or World War II, and that they were manipulated into these wars by bankers and arm merchants. Throughout most of the past decade, the majority was opposed to the Iraqi genocide; the USA occupied Iraq (and in 2012, occupies it still, but with a bit more decorum) not because the majority desired to permanently occupy Iraq, make billions selling bombs and destroying and then re-building infrastructure, depriving China and Russia of access to Iraqi oil, and poison and enfeeble Iraq’s entire Arab population and thereby gain full possession of all Iraqi oil—a $30 trillion loot—for itself. Most Americans are manifestly too decent to support such an outrage. We enslave and incinerate the Iraqi people because a small cabal controls the politicians, who then proceed to blithely ignore the desires of the America people. Let a ghostwriter for the bellicose President Eisenhower have the final word here:

“I think people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.”

As I have said, electoral politics in America is a sad joke, and should be of no concern to perceptive reformers. But a revolution must have leaders. Even a leaderless revolution must have some strategists and forward thinkers. The type of analysis carried out above with Ron Paul should be applied to all such leaders and strategists.

Closing Remarks

Freedom, sustainability, justice, and peace begin with us. We must strive to open our minds to new ideas, subordinate our selfish desires to the interests of humanity and the biosphere, and try to understand the world in all its complexity and interconnectedness.

We must also strive to liberate our minds, beginning by disconnecting ourselves, as much as possible, from the bankers’ propaganda system. We must actively fight such ingrained but palpably false notions that America is a democracy, that our economic institutions come even close to genuine capitalism, that our president is “the most powerful man in the world,” that we should write letters to “our” representatives, that the only qualifications a reformer needs is an avowal of reforming sentiments. We should condemn such Punch and Judy shows as contemporary elections, political debates, the mendacious 9/11 and Warren “Commissions,” or trials by judges. We ought not to send our children to the bankers’ indoctrination centers, nor allow the bankers’ propaganda to intrude into our living rooms while masquerading as news or entertainment. We must grasp that Hollywood is part of the Banking-Militarist Complex propaganda system and look for entertainment, uplifting art, or comic relief elsewhere. We must give the slip to that artful National Propaganda Radio, and all other radio programs provided to us by our masters. We must see how vulnerable we all are, and how any exposure to political and commercial propaganda pollutes our most cherished asset—our minds. We ought to be doubly careful when it comes to our children.

We must carefully and open-mindedly study the political process. Such a study will show that we ought to abandon all hopes of the system reforming itself. Our real rulers have wrested every bastion of power within our republic, and will cling to it come hell or high water. At this advanced stage of decay, electoral politics can accomplish less than nothing.

We must overstep the ideological boundaries that divide us. Instead of aspiring to just one or two of the following—genuine freedom, environmental sustainability, social justice, peace—we ought to embrace them all. We ought to do so because all four are interdependent, and because this is the right thing to do.

If a sufficient number of us grasps these urgent truths, the world may yet turn towards the morning. The hour is late but perhaps not too late; our chances admittedly slim, but still above zero. If, on the other hand, we let our rulers and our own delusions, close-mindedness, and ignorance partition us into countless disparate or even hostile ideological camps, if we go on diverting precious resources to the corrupt electoral masquerade, if we go on waiting for a knight in shining armor to conduct the revolution for us instead of conducting it ourselves, if we fail to establish direct democracy within our own organizations, and if we fail to subject the records of our more prominent spokespeople and strategists to dispassionate analyses, then we shall have no chance at all.

  1. For a more detailed review of the first three factors. []
  2. Recommended Starting References: 1. Sinclair, U. 1919. The Brass Check. 2. Bagdikian, B. H. 1987. The Media Monopoly. 3. Huxley, Aldous, 1958. Brave New World Revisited. 4. Carlin, George. Who Really Runs America? 5. Loewen, James, 1995. Lies my Teacher Told me. 5. Media Coverage of the Greenhouse Effect. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 21: 27-43. []
  3. Please consult this source for countless quotations. []
  4. Recommended Starting Reference: “Brass-tacks Ecology.” Trumpeter. []
  5. Recommended Starting References: Human Failings: 1. Milgram, Stanley, Obedience to Authority. 2. Conceptual Conservatism: An Understated Variable in Human Affairs? Social Science Journal, vol. 31, p. 307-318. Human Strengths (under natural conditions, human beings prefer cooperation, freedom, and rough equality of material possessions): 1. Stefansson, Vilhjalmur. Lessons in Living from the Stone Age. In A Treasury of Science, 1943, p. 502. 2. Mann, Charles C. 2005. The Founding Sachems.). 3. Harris, Marvin. Life Without Chiefs (Are we forever condemned to a world of haves and have-nots, rulers and ruled? Maybe not, argues a noted anthropologist—if we can relearn some ancient lesson). []
  6. Recommended Starting References: 1. Pepper, William, F. 2008. An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King. 2. Caldwell, Taylor, 1972. Captains And The Kings (fiction). []
  7. Recommended Starting Reference: Palast, Greg. Election Rigged for Bush. []
  8. One supporting example: Obama’s promise to end the neo-colonialization of Iraq. In a second example, John Perkins documents the assassination threats, blackmail, and bribes used to turn a decent elected officials into renegades. []
  9. Recommended Starting Reference: Helvarg, David. 2004. The War Against the Greens. []
  10. A Cruel and Unusual Record, 6/24/2012 []
  11. Albert Einstein, Einstein on Peace, p. 502. []

Dr. Moti Nissani is a professor emeritus, Department of Biology, Wayne State University. His newest work in progress is available here: A Revolutionary’s Toolkit. Read other articles by Moti, or visit Moti’s website.

Seven Billion Cheers for Direct Democracy

Revolutionary strategists must ask themselves: How can we best structure our own movement? And: What kind of political framework should we aim for, once we relegate the Banking-Militarist Complex to the dustbin of history? The answer to both questions is the same: genuine (or direct) democracy.

Revolutionary strategists must ask themselves: How can we best structure our own movement? And: What kind of political framework should we aim for, once we relegate the Banking-Militarist Complex to the dustbin of history? The answer to both questions is the same: genuine (or direct) democracy.

Democracy, for the Greeks who coined the word, meant “power of the people” or “rule of the people.” Perhaps the best-known example of a genuine democracy in a highly-advanced, highly-literate, polity, is Athens and its sister democracies of Ancient Greece. There, all significant political, legal, and judicial decisions were made directly by the people. Democratic Athens went to war if, and only if, the majority so voted; a man was exiled, or condemned to death, if, and only if, his fellow citizens so decreed.

The USA, Britain, France—even better-governed Norway and Iceland—might or might not have free elections, but they are not democracies. As a result, in the USA, even when elections are not rigged, once in power, the winners routinely defy voters’ sentiments. Thus, for instance, most Americans did not wish go to war in 1917, were opposed to the colonization and pulverization of Iraq, and have never been in favor of their country’s ongoing program of biospheric carnage. But in a “democracy,” American style, the majority’s preferences are routinely ignored.

Eduardo Galleano whimsically captures the essence of contemporary “democracies”:

The other day, I heard about a cook who organized a meeting of birds—chickens, geese, turkeys, peasants, and ducks. And I heard what the cook told them. The cook asked them with what sauce they would like to be cooked. One of the birds, I think it was a humble chicken, said: “We don’t want to be cooked in whichever way.” And the cook explained that “this topic was not on the agenda.” It seems to me interesting, that meeting, for it is a metaphor for the world. The world is organized in such a way that we have the right to choose the sauce in which we shall be eaten. [my translation]

Conceptual Barriers Against Genuine Democracy

Our task is not simply proving the superiority of genuine democracy to all other known political systems, but also letting go of ingrained prejudices.

Barrier 1: Cradle-to-Grave Propaganda System. Genuine democracy—along with compassion and rationality—pose the greatest threat to the enemies of the open society. No wonder then that since infancy we have been inculcated against it. We have been lied to incessantly about the virtues of the Roman republic on the one hand, and about the horrors of Greek “mob rule” on the other hand.

Barrier 2: Opposition of Intellectuals. Throughout the ages, genuine democracy has been laughed at by self-serving, brilliant, oligarchs. A historian of Ancient Greece, writing in 1900, remarks that “few sights are stranger” than the spectacle of some Athenian intellectuals and first-rate thinkers “turning their eyes from their own free country to regard with admiration the constitution of Sparta,” where a free thinker “would not have been suffered so much as to open his mouth.”

The self-serving falsification of the historical record continues to this very day. Karl Popper:

The history of the Peloponnesian war and the fall of Athens is still often told, under the influence of Thucydides’ authority, in such a way that the defeat of Athens appears as the ultimate proof of the dangerous weaknesses of the democratic system. But this view is merely a tendentious distortion, and the well-known facts tell a very different story. The main responsibility for the lost war rests with the treacherous oligarchs who continuously conspired with Sparta…. The fall of Athens, and the destruction of the walls, are often presented as the final results of the great war which had started in 431 B.C. But in this presentation lies the main distortion, for the democrats fought on. At first only seventy strong, they prepared under the leadership of Thrasybulus and Anytus the liberation of Athens, where Critias was meanwhile killing scores of citizens; for during the eight months of his reign of terror the death-role contained nearly a greater number of Athenians than the Peloponnesians had killed during the last ten years of war.

But after eight months (in 403 B.C.) Critias and the Spartan garrison were attacked and defeated by the democrats who established themselves in the Piraeus, and both of Plato’s uncles lost their lives in the battle. Their oligarchic followers continued for a time the reign of terror in the city of Athens itself, but their forces were in a state of confusion and dissolution. Having proved themselves incapable of ruling, they were ultimately abandoned by their Spartan protectors, who concluded a treaty with the democrats. The peace re-established the democracy in Athens. Thus the democratic form of government had proved its superior strength under the most severe trials, and even its enemies began to think it invincible.

Moreover, the writings of the enemies of democracy have been deliberately preserved, while the writings of the friends of democracies, from Democritus to Thomas Paine to Subcomandante Marcos to Gerald Celente, have been incinerated or ignored by the powers that be. We are thus left with the impression that most creative thinkers have been opposed to genuine democracy.

Barrier 3: The Ruling Faction of America’s Revolutionaries was thoroughly Anti-Democratic. For Americans, there is still one more conceptual barrier to acceptance of genuine democracy. Some founding fathers were genuine democrats, but the winning faction falsely (and self-servingly) equated democracy with mob rule.

Americans are taught to admire the revolutionary founders of their republic. Americans are not, however, often reminded how averse some of these founders were to the Bill of Rights, how they proceeded to betray their countrymen by establishing the Rothschild-controlled First Bank of the United States, how they brutally suppressed popular uprisings, and how close they came, during the Adams presidency, to establishing a dictatorship. These betrayals have been glossed over by the official record, so Americans find it hard to believe that such courageous, principled, and brilliant men chose a second-best political system for their contemporaries and descendants.

Athenian Democracy

Some of the advantages of genuine democracy are immediately apparent. Unlike contemporary western republics, in Athens promises to the people could not be as readily broken, for the people were always in charge. Influential Athenians (especially the oligarchic variety) were just as bribable as their contemporary western counterparts, but in a system where real power, at any given moment, resided with the citizenry, the damage was more limited. The information system in Athens was never taken over by the oligarchs. Athenians breathed cleaner air, drank chemical-free water, and ploughed healthier soils for their sustenance; their schools were private (not state-run), and they exercised daily; they were thus in better mental and physical shape than contemporary Americans. Hence, in Athens, human beings came close to their truer intellectual, artistic, and civic potential. In a genuine democracy like Athens, dissident organizations could not be readily co-opted, elections and trials could not be as readily rigged, and politically-motivated assassinations were rare. Overall, the Athenian system served the public interest far better than American oligarchy.

The ancient Greeks recognized the link between genuine democracy and greatness. The historian Herodotus, himself not an Athenian, clearly perceived the causal connection between freedom and excellence

Thus did the Athenians increase in strength. And it is plain enough, not from this instance only, but from many everywhere, that freedom is an excellent thing; since even the Athenians, who, while they continued under the rule of tyrants, were not a whit more valiant than any of their neighbors, no sooner shook off the yoke than they became decidedly the first of all. These things show that, while undergoing oppression, they let themselves be beaten, since then they worked for a master; but so soon as they got their freedom, each man was eager to do the best he could for himself. So fared it now with the Athenians.

Pericles, an influential Athenian before and during the Peloponnesian War, put it this way:

Our political system does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar…. The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and do not feel called upon to nag our neighbor if he chooses to go his own way…. But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right…

Our city is thrown open to the world; we never expel a foreigner…. We are free to live exactly as we please, and yet are always ready to face any danger…. We love beauty without becoming extravagant, and we cultivate the intellect without lessening our resolution…. To admit one’s poverty is no disgrace with us; but we consider it disgraceful not to make an effort to avoid it. An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending to his private business…. We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it. We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all…. We believe that happiness is the fruit of freedom and freedom of valor, and we do not shrink from the danger of war…. To sum up, I claim that Athens is the School of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian grows up to a happy versatility and to a readiness for varied emergencies—to self-reliance.

Unlike the United States, which has always fostered oligarchic governments in its empire, the Athenians fostered genuine democracies in theirs.

Athenian lawmakers understood human weaknesses, and they knew from bitter experience how bribery could undermine justice. Obviously, it is easier to bribe, and deform a passion for justice in, a judge than a jury, and hence, all trials were by a jury of one’s peers alone. The people, not paid experts, were deemed most qualified to decide judicial cases. There was no presiding judge telling people that their task was to serve an abstract law (as opposed to simple justice). Nor was there a jury-free appeal system, which often, in America, nullifies the people’s verdict.

But Athenian juries were definitely corruptible too; to circumvent that problem, juries in important cases were randomly selected from the entire citizen body and numbered 500 or more (roughly 2.5% or more of the total number of citizens). Often the caseload was too heavy, and so the number of jurors for each particular trial was reduced to fifty. Now, a rich man might try to bribe all fifty, so the legal system placed a safeguard against that eventuality: The decision as to which 50 jurors of the 500 would be assigned to any given case was made by lottery, just before the trial began.

The Athenians knew that power-seekers could not be trusted, so they filled many important public offices by lot. Moreover, most office holders maintained their positions for extremely short durations. Athens thereby bypassed, to a certain extent, a key problem in all other extant political systems: The ascendancy of the psychopaths.

The Athenians did not give their rich people tax cuts, thereby leading to an ever-growing mal-distribution of wealth. Athenians respected private property and wealth, but expected their leisure class to make greater contributions to the public, by sponsoring musical festivals or dramas (another Greek word), for example. When the majority decided to go to war, the rich had to risk their lives too. Moreover, in times of war, each rich man was expected to contribute one battleship to the navy of the city—that is where our word liturgy (public service; literally, a public building) came from.

The contemporary decline of republics like the USA or Italy can be explained in part by their system of banking and money creation. In these republics, the bankers in charge of money creation try to fabricate the impression that the private, for-profit, central banks are under public control. Witness for example the names they choose for their key institutions—Bank for International Settlements, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Federal Reserve, Bank of England, First Bank of the United States. In reality, these institutions are controlled by a few banking families. The politicians, media, the bought economic profession, pretend that these privately-controlled institutions serve the public interest, but the reality is the exact opposite: The only goal of these institutions is to further enrich and empower their owners, and they can only accomplish these goals by impoverishing and enslaving the vast majority. These institutions do not serve a nation—they parasitize it. They are worse than the black plague, because they never go away. Instead, they steadily, mercilessly, and incessantly devour their host. They are, by far, public enemy number one. This, along with the fraudulent fractional reserve system, permits the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the banking octopus and its military, academic, drug, death squads, industry, health, farming, and mining tentacles. It also permits destructive and deliberate manipulations of the money supply, and the devastating boom-and-bust economic cycles which further enrich and empower a few banking families and enslave the public at large. I shall have more to say about this banking plague elsewhere, but for the moment let me just say this: If I were forced to choose between the current rule of bankers, on one hand, or the rule of the Mafia, on the other, I’d choose the Mafia, any day, any time.

The Athenians, by contrast, did not have that parasitic fifth-column in their midst. They had access to plenty of silver in their own national territory, and the state (not private interests) issued the national silver or copper currency. The state did not accumulate debt as a matter of course, did not suffer the depredations of fractional reserve money creation, nor planned booms and busts. The Athenians thus avoided the horrors of a bankers-dominated economic and political system.

Another salient feature of Athenian democracy involved ostracism (their word). Athenian democrats well knew that their worst enemies were the oligarchs within their own walls. In rare cases, these traitors were brought to trial and executed. But the Athenians did try to live up to their ideal of moderation. Individuals who were deemed a threat to the democracy were selected by an anonymous vote of the assembly and ordered to leave the city for ten years. They retained their citizenship and possessions but were required to remain in exile. By law, only one person could be ostracized in any given year. As a matter of historical record, though, ostracism was rarely applied.

The remarkable political maturity, compassion, and tolerance of a free people can perhaps be best captured through two specific historical examples.

The first involves post-war reconciliation. A contemporary legal scholar holds that the first well-documented example of a “self-conscious transitional justice policy is provided by the classical Athenians’ response to atrocities committed during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants … The Athenians carefully balanced retribution and forgiveness … remembering and forgetting.”

Another historian comments on the same historical occurrence:

In 404 BCE the Peloponnesian War finally came to an end, when the Athenians, starved into submission, were forced to accept Sparta’s terms of surrender. Shortly afterwards a group of thirty conspirators, with Spartan backing (“the Thirty”), overthrew the democracy and established a narrow oligarchy. Although the oligarchs were in power for only thirteen months, they killed more than 5 percent of the citizenry and terrorized the rest by confiscating the property of some and banishing many others. Despite this brutality, members of the democratic resistance movement that regained control of Athens came to terms with the oligarchs and agreed to an amnesty that protected collaborators from prosecution for all but the most severe crimes.

Does this exceptional act of amnesty (their word) and forgiveness sound like mob rule?

Another touching example of Athenian greatness, of compassion in the midst of a struggle for national and personal survival, is related by Thucydides:

Immediately after the invasion of the Peloponnesians all Lesbos [a Greek island], except Methymna, revolted from the Athenians…. However, the Athenians, distressed by the plague, and by the war that had recently broken out and was now raging, thought it a serious matter to add Lesbos with its fleet and untouched resources to the list of their enemies; and at first would not believe the charge, giving too much weight to their wish that it might not be true. But when an embassy which they sent had failed to persuade the Mitylenians to give up the union and preparations complained of, they became alarmed, and resolved to strike the first blow.” After a prolonged siege, the Athenians prevailed, and, at first, the assembly sent a trireme with the order to execute all the men of the rebellious island, and to enslave the women and children. The following day the assembly reconvened, and narrowly voted to overturn the first vote, and spare the lives of most Lesbians: “Another galley was at once sent off in haste, for fear that the first might reach Lesbos in the interval, and the city be found destroyed; the first ship having about a day and a night’s start. Wine and barley-cakes were provided for the vessel by the Mitylenian ambassadors, and great promises made if they arrived in time; which caused the men to use such diligence upon the voyage that they took their meals of barley-cakes kneaded with oil and wine as they rowed, and only slept by turns while the others were at the oar. Luckily they met with no contrary wind, and the first ship making no haste upon so horrid an errand, while the second pressed on in the manner described, the first arrived so little before them, that Paches had only just had time to read the decree, and to prepare to execute the sentence, when the second put into port and prevented the massacre. The danger of Mitylene had indeed been great.

Ask yourself: Have the Roman or American republics just once behaved thus? And if not, isn’t it high time that we reclaim as our own a political system capable of such wartime wisdom and compassion?

Other Key Features of Athenian Democracy were:

  • Near economic self-sufficiency of the average household
  • A genuine free enterprise system (largely absent in modern so-called capitalist societies)
  • A less materialistic world view
  • A small state
  • Minimal taxation in times of peace
  • Involvement of the majority in civic affairs

Athens was certainly no utopia. Slavery was widespread and neither women nor foreigners enjoyed the full franchise. The Athenian Empire often exploited and lorded over its member states, at times brutally and even cynically suppressing defections. Influential Athenians were eminently bribable and often betrayed their city. Athenians seemed unable to conceive of a genuine union, on equal terms, with sister democracies, and were thus, in the end, enslaved by the Macedonian dictatorship. But Athens, I believe, still provides the best starting point for a free, rational, and compassionate society. We can copy its basic framework of genuine democracy, while avoiding its major weaknesses.

Two Modern Examples of Genuine Democracy in Action

In some contemporary republics, on rare occasions, the people are allowed to decide an issue directly (through a referendum), without massive rigging. In such rare democratic outbursts, the people often vote wisely. Here are two examples.

The Italian Demos vs. Nuclear Power

We have been warned about the menace of atomic energy right from the beginning of the nuclear age. Many years later, in 1977, for instance, Ralph Nader and John Abbot wrote:

What technology has had the potential for both inadvertent and willful mass destruction … for wiping out cities and contaminating states after an accident, a natural calamity, or sabotage? What technology has been so unnecessary, so avoidable by simple thrift or by deployment of renewable energy supplies?

When the decision is left to the psychopaths, they of course choose short-term gains and empowerment, even though a nuclear power plant may consume more energy than it produces! After them, they might think, is the deluge. But when the people are allowed to decide, they often make the right decision, the bankers’ propaganda avalanche notwithstanding:

Italy is a nuclear free zone since the Italian nuclear power referendum of November 1987. Following center-right parties’ victory in the 2008 election, Italy’s industry minister announced that the government scheduled the construction to start the first new Italian nuclear-powered plant by 2013. The announced project was paused in March 2011, after the Japanese earthquake, and scrapped after a referendum on 12–13 June 2011.

The Icelandic Demos vs. the International Bankers

The global economic crisis is now in its fourth year, and, the propaganda system notwithstanding, the situation is getting steadily worse. Real unemployment is nearing levels of the great depression while the middle class is steadily losing ground. Given the growing misery of the American people, one would think that the USA would stop its extremely costly wars of aggression, yet the United States is spending now even more on killing innocents abroad. One would think that the USA would dismantle its extremely costly police state apparatus, but the bankers and their puppets are actually spending more money on subjugating and humiliating the American people. One would think that, in such hard times, greater income equality would be attempted, but in fact the gap between the rich and poor has grown by leaps and bounds from 2008 to 2012. One would think that the DC mafia would permit the bankruptcy of the international banks that caused the crisis to begin with, and which, moreover, according to this mafia’s self-professed capitalist (let alone Christian) ideology, are too big to exist. But just the opposite is taking place: to prevent the deserved bankruptcy of these banks, our politicians (that is, the big bankers themselves or their pawns) have robbed the American people of trillions. Consequently, the economic hard times will continue unabated, or grow far worse, for years and years.

As of June 2012, there has been only one exception to this sad tale of gargantuan theft—Iceland. There, thanks to an inordinately courageous and decent president, the people were allowed to decide their fate, twice, despite the strenuous opposition of the international bankers. “These were private banks,” said Iceland’s president, “and we didn’t pump money into them in order to keep them going; the state did not shoulder the responsibility of the failed private banks.” The people voted and, consequently, Iceland is now in far better economic shape than countries such as Greece, Spain, or the USA. In Iceland, too, some bankers actually ended up paying for their crimes, and the country has, in the wake of the crisis, moved in a more democratic direction. The people of Iceland

took a different path than the United States after their financial crisis and nationalized the banks, threw some the people responsible for the crash in jail, and bailed out the homeowners instead of worrying about only bailing out the banks. And now they’re coming back and their economy is growing again.

Even the mainstream press, on the rare occasions when it covers the Icelandic story, underscores the fabulous potential of genuine democracy:

Icelanders who pelted parliament with rocks in 2009 demanding their leaders and bankers answer for the country’s economic and financial collapse are reaping the benefits of their anger. Since the end of 2008, the island’s banks have forgiven loans equivalent to 13 percent of gross domestic product, easing the debt burdens of more than a quarter of the population … The island’s steps to resurrect itself since 2008, when its banks defaulted on $85 billion, are proving effective. Iceland’s economy will this year outgrow the euro area and the developed world on average … The island’s households were helped by an agreement between the government and the banks, which are still partly controlled by the state, to forgive debt exceeding 110 percent of home values. On top of that, a Supreme Court ruling in June 2010 found loans indexed to foreign currencies were illegal, meaning households no longer need to cover krona losses…. Iceland’s $13 billion economy, which shrank 6.7 percent in 2009, grew 2.9 percent last year and will expand 2.4 percent this year and next … The euro area will grow 0.2 percent this year and the OECD area will expand 1.6 percent, according to November estimates…. Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn. Once it became clear back in October 2008 that the island’s banks were beyond saving, the government stepped in, ring-fenced the domestic accounts, and left international creditors in the lurch. The central bank imposed capital controls to halt the ensuing sell-off of the krona and new state-controlled banks were created from the remnants of the lenders that failed. Iceland’s special prosecutor has said it may indict as many as 90 people, while more than 200, including the former chief executives at the three biggest banks, face criminal charges…. That compares with the U.S., where no top bank executives have faced criminal prosecution for their roles in the subprime mortgage meltdown.

Closing Remarks

It is no accident that, when given a choice, the Italian people rejected nuclear power, despite massive false advertising by the moneylenders. It is no accident that, as of June 2012, the only country with any chance of escaping serfdom, Iceland, was able to do so through a referendum, despite massive false advertising by the moneylenders. What worked so well for the Ancient Athenians is obviously working just as well for any country choosing to give genuine democracy a chance.

Dr. Moti Nissani newest work in progress is available here: A Revolutionary’s Toolkit.

Dr. Moti Nissani is a professor emeritus, Department of Biology, Wayne State University. His newest work in progress is available here: A Revolutionary’s Toolkit. Read other articles by Moti, or visit Moti’s website.

Turning to the people has drawbacks

Turning to the people has drawbacks

Centre for Fair Political Analysis: Citizens are not always up to the task

Turning to the people has drawbacks

Centre for Fair Political Analysis: Citizens are not always up to the task

The National Consultation announced by the government has again stirred up a hornet’s nest. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) called for a boycott and far-right party Jobbik branded it demagogy. Is the uproar justified? The question is not a simple one. The government and the opposition seem to have a different interpretation of the essence of democracy.
The opposition spurns the initiative in the spirit of liberal democracy on the grounds that Parliament is the place for making decisions, while the government wishes to base democracy less on institutions than on the sense of community of the citizenry, which cannot be argued with either. And what represents better the sense of community than the involvement of citizens in the decision-making process?
However, it is doubtful whether the National Consultation in its current form is up to the task. In the West the procedures of the various forms of direct democracy – participatory, direct and deliberative democracy – are well-established so there would have been plenty of models to draw from. Below we describe the advantages of risks of direct democratic procedures, and then seek to answer the question of what purpose the National Consultation could serve and what it is not good for.
First of all, it is worth distinguishing between direct and deliberative democracy. While traditional direct democracy tends to emphasise legal institutions (referendums, people’s initiatives), the process is at the centre of deliberative democracy: the views of the sides are shaped through public debate, allowing them to find common ground.
The fundamental principle of deliberative democracy is the conduct of public debate. Research into deliberative democracy has a rich tradition in the West, with special research institutes and think-tanks specialising in the question (such as the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University and the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation).
The government is taking Hungary towards deliberative democracy with its National Consultation initiative, or rather it would take Hungary in that direction, if both the government and the opposition were not labouring under the Hungarian political culture. We argue that the National Consultation is essentially deliberative in theory but the way in which it is being implemented and its purpose is not.

Trends in the West: advantages and risks

In the West efforts by politicians to involve citizens in the decision-making process have long been observed. Complementing modern democracy with direct and deliberative elements cannot be regarded as “populism” or “demagogy”, since we would then also have to reject the well-established institutions of referendums and people’s initiatives. And who would claim that Switzerland or the 24 states of the United States where referendums are customary are democratic wastelands, rather than laboratories of direct democracy?
Nevertheless, the level of the conflict of the given political culture and society play a large role in what actually becomes of the mechanisms of direct democracy. In France, for example, the system that is commonly known as Bonapartism was cemented and maintained by means of referendums. An originally democratic institution propped up the autocracy, and became a plaything of legitimacy in the hands of Napoleon III (it is another question of course, and one which need not be decided, whether there was another alternative beyond the republic, which has proven weak, or restoration of the monarchy).
The examples indicate that it is not so much the institutions themselves as the political, cultural and social environment, the depth of political and social conflicts, and the means of handling such conflicts that determine whether exercise of the forms of direct democracy strengthen the political system or not.
When it comes to the successful functioning of direct democracy, the nature of the state structure is more important than the size of the country. The first two examples are states with federal structures, in which the rights of regional communities (on the federal state level) act as a check on central power, allowing the forms of direct democracy to serve the purpose for which they were intended: as a counterbalance to the central power and as a guarantee of the freedom of citizens.
In France, by contrast, the central power, which gained strength through centralisation, successfully took advantage of direct democracy to bolster its own legitimacy, setting aside the rights of the smaller communities of citizens (regions, départements).
Dane Waters, founder and president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, describes direct democracy based on people’s initiatives as a central element of the principles of self-government and liberty upon which America was founded.
At the end of the 19th century the People’s Party and the progressive movement embraced forms of direct democracy in order to curb the power of the government, felt by everyday Americans to be too strong, through people’s legislative initiatives and referendums. Many were worried that the party machines would become out of touch with society and do away with democracy, which is why they reclaimed democratic political decision-making for everyday people (today such progressive efforts can be seen on the right wing, in the Tea Party movement).
In the cantons of Switzerland and in many states of the USA, the procedures of direct democracy channel information “from below” into political decision-making and play a role in the exchange of information between the community, “the people” and the elite, and in counterbalancing the rule of the elites and the influence of political and economic interest groups.
Naturally, direct democracy can be not only exercised by citizens; such initiatives can also be encouraged “from above”, from the government. The fact that a party, a movement or even the government itself turns directly to voters, the “people”, in itself cannot be regarded as a threat to democracy and parliamentarianism.
Nevertheless, the gesture of “turning to the people” should not be used to eliminate parliamentary decision-making, the role of technocracy or the performance of obligations arising from international agreements and membership of international organisations from the functioning of democracy.
Direct democracy also has its weaknesses. One obstacle, which is difficult to surmount, is the question of competence and lack of information. It is not worth “bothering” citizens with questions that they are not capable of or have no desire to answer because of lack of information. Since deliberative democracy assumes the equality of the parties, the individual lacking information will necessarily be at a disadvantage.
The more local the level at which direct democracy is practised (town, housing community, factory), the more likely it is that sound, well-thought-out answers will be given to well-asked, relevant questions, since it is easier to access information within smaller communities, and the individuals concerned are more motivated to participate in joint decision-making (although even in such small communities there are many free riders who wish to enjoy the benefits of decisions made but not participate in making those decisions).
In questions on a national level, especially where the economy is concerned, citizens have a tendency to answer without gathering the necessary information, based solely on their desires or likes and dislikes.
In other words, we should not lend too much mystique to the involvement of the “people” in decision-making but nor should we underestimate either its practical or theoretical significance. Our starting point should be that democracy works if citizens are regularly confirmed in their conviction that they are important and their opinion matters to the political players.

Another way of counting voters?

Having established that turning to the “people” strengthens democracy rather than running counter to democracy, we can ask specifically: does the government’s initiative satisfy the criteria of deliberative democracy?
As we have outlined above, direct democracy serves to ensure citizens’ liberty. That can include the holder of power turning to citizens. However, such government initiatives need to fulfil two minimal requirements: the questions should be directed at those groups that are competent to answer on the given subject, and sufficient information should be available about the likely advantages and disadvantages of the decision made.
The current National Consultation meets neither criterion. When putting together the questions, competence of the respondents clearly was not at the front of the drafters’ minds: the questions cover everything from flat-rate taxation, housing support for families with children, and assistance for foreign-currency borrowers through to the purchasing power of pensions. Pensioners are competent to answer one question while foreign-currency borrowers are competent to answer another.
The drafters of the questionnaire probably assumed that individuals are capable of planning their future (until their retirement years), but anthropology does not back up that view of man as far-sighted and deliberating rationally (not to mention the fact that another government can come along that is not “bound” by the consultation).
It may seem unjust that those people are (also) deciding on assistance to foreign-currency borrowers who are not in trouble since they cannot judge what help those who are need would require. It would have been more expedient to turn directly to the given target groups and ask what needs and suggestions they have, and how they think the government could help them effectively.
The questionnaire is not the most suitable means for that. Its drafters made the mistake of phrasing the questions in a particularly complicated way so that they each take up four to seven lines. As a result it is likely that there will be a large number of “I cannot judge” replies.
How many people will take the trouble to go through all 16 (!) questions closely, ponder on the answers and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages? It is probable that those wishing to prove their loyalty to the government by returning the questionnaire will be in larger numbers among the respondents. What answers they give is almost irrelevant. To the government the main thing is that its sphere of supporters can be assessed.
So if the National Consultation does not satisfy the principle of competence and it is not based on equal access to information, then what is its purpose? The government is clearly keen to give citizens the impression that the views of everyday people are important to it, as opposed to the previous Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments, which gave preference to technocracy.
Besides that, the government may well have the pragmatic aim of assessing its own level of support through the consultation (given the unfavourable trend indicated by opinion polls) and forging greater unity among its camp.
The fact that larger numbers of its own voters are likely to return the questionnaire, so it will reflect the opinion not of the population as a whole but of voters for the governing party(ies), is not a problem since there is no better method than the questionnaire for the government to assess the degree of loyalty within the population and the size of its potential sphere of supporters.
For the government, in other words, the National Consultation is a winner. The problem is that it does not bring us any closer to real deliberative democracy.

Mixture of elites good for democracy

In a recent bond election, some 7 percent of eligible San Antonians voted.

This is pretty much in line with recent voting history. In Dallas, for example, more people have attended a single professional baseball game than cast a ballot in primaries.

Is this democracy? Well, I think democracy is defined less by how many vote than who has a right to vote, and whether a government rules by consent of the people rather than by compulsion. The vast turnouts and huge majorities achieved by totalitarian regimes certainly do not represent “rule by the people.”

In a recent bond election, some 7 percent of eligible San Antonians voted.

This is pretty much in line with recent voting history. In Dallas, for example, more people have attended a single professional baseball game than cast a ballot in primaries.

Is this democracy? Well, I think democracy is defined less by how many vote than who has a right to vote, and whether a government rules by consent of the people rather than by compulsion. The vast turnouts and huge majorities achieved by totalitarian regimes certainly do not represent “rule by the people.”

In Texas, the great majority may vote if they can prove citizenship; tabulations are reasonably honest; and people who take no interest in public affairs (whom the Athenians called “idiots”) are free to do so. And the non-voting majority usually consents to the judgment of the minority. Like it or not, this is American democracy.

The fact is, the “people” in so-called modern democracies have never actually run “their” governments. Even Switzerland, which holds popular referendums on most big issues is a federal confederation made up of small republics.

Only tiny agglomerations of people can handle direct democracy. San Antonio, Texas, and the U.S. elect representatives to manage their public affairs, which means we are governed by professional politicians, insiders, and various skilled elites. (We may elect amateurs, but like streetwalkers, when office-holders accept pay or benefits, they become professionals.) All governments are directed by elected or appointed elites; their key to legitimacy is approval by the majority as to “which people” rule.

Democracy demands political equality of citizens, which is expressed in the U.S. Constitution; it does not require social or economic equality, which are not. Unfortunately, liberté and égalité are hostile ideals: Freedom for both the wolf and lamb does not create fraternité.

Another fact is, all organized societies, in all times and places, have been directed by some sort of elite. (Elite is French, referring to accomplished people separated from the masses but who are not necessarily aristocrats. Anglo-Saxons have never much liked the concept. Ivy League students today vehemently deny they are an “elite,” thinking it is politically incorrect.)

Historically, elites may be wellborn, military, political, economic, technical, financial, clerical, or learned (mandarin), usually in combination or alliance. Over the millennia birth, war-skills, and land ownership have declined in favor of industrial, scientific, financial, and political power.

I believe one reason for American success is that we have always thrown up a mélange of elites, none of which became utterly dominant. Military regimes (Latin America), and purely political elites (Nazis, Communists) are disasters. Businessmen make poor politicians, and politicians are lousy businessmen. It follows that business should never try to run government, and politicians should never try to run business or an economy — both should treat the needs of the other with respect.

I hope that we never give government, or business, education, or science, too much control over our lives — none is fit for the role unless balanced by the others. Societies in which elites work together prosper.

T.R. Fehrenbach, Express-News columnist

Byron Williams: If California is to survive, the initiative process should be reformed


I engaged a number of readers in opposition to last week’s column to reform California’s initiative process.

Some offered Proposition 13 as the primary reason the current system should remain intact.

Proposition 13 assessed property values at their 1975 value. Moreover, property tax increases on any given property were limited to no more than 2 percent annually as long as the property was not sold.

I engaged a number of readers in opposition to last week’s column to reform California’s initiative process.

Some offered Proposition 13 as the primary reason the current system should remain intact.

Proposition 13 assessed property values at their 1975 value. Moreover, property tax increases on any given property were limited to no more than 2 percent annually as long as the property was not sold.

How many voted for Proposition 13 in 1978 because of the supermajority requirement to raise revenues or the loopholes afforded corporations that allow them to buy property without reassessments, maintaining tax bases at Carter administration levels?

It is the latter two aspects of Proposition 13 that place undue harm on the state.

In 1990, Californians passed Proposition 140, the term-limits initiative primarily to remove Speaker Willie Brown from office. He has been out of the Legislature for 17 years — has the institutional memory that shifted to unelected special interests served as a net plus for the state?

Sensational crimes may have fueled the emotion that led to the passage of the "three-strikes" law in 1994, but now prison overcrowding besieges the state.

One reader bemoaned that unelected judges overruled the will of the people by nullifying his support for Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

If democracy is simply majority rule, regardless of the margin, why have a Constitution?


Is the initiative process beyond the parameters of checks and balances?


But it is not the exception that readers cited that’s the problem; it’s the rule.

The reason Gov. Hiram Johnson signed the initiative process into law in 1911 was to minimize the power of the railroad barons. Today, the initiative process has morphed into a cottage industry, financed largely by moneyed interests, serving as the most influential arm of governing. Direct democracy has become the supreme authority in creating legislation, enacting laws into perpetuity without any accountability.

The most important question posed by readers came from an individual who asked: How would you reform the process?

Here are five items for consideration:

1. A two-year moratorium on all initiatives so that a thorough review of the current fiscal impact, which also includes the unintended consequences, could be conducted along with methods that problems could be addressed.

2. All initiatives going forward that affect the general fund must identify how they plan to finance themselves if passed.

3. A much higher threshold must be required, assuming the current system is maintained. You can’t have a supermajority to raise revenues but a simple majority to cut taxes. Nor can you have a simple majority to amend the state constitution.

4. Initiatives can’t exist in perpetuity with no means to correct unintended consequences. I propose that three years after passage of a proposition that analysis of it is conducted and that the Legislature can place any correcting proposals on the ballot.

5. A nonpartisan committee would review each initiative and, after appropriate testimony, provide a comprehensive analysis before the election, similar to what is done in Oregon.

A process that began more than 100 years ago hamstrings California today. It is easy to blame the Legislature, as many have, without examining our collective culpability.

Look at the state’s infrastructure, the systematic decline of higher education, the chronic deficits and the fragile condition of the social safety net. How can we blame the Legislature when we the people have locked up 70 to 90 percent of the state’s general fund?

But reform won’t be easy. Any movement to reform the current system would be met by a strange coalition of political opposites defending the so-called status quo. They all have reasons to protect their sacred cows.

Meanwhile, California is suffocating under that protection.

Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or


A post on Occupy Baltimore led me to a Daily Pennsylvanian report that both the Occupy movement and something called the 99% Declaration Working Group plan summer conventions in Philadelphia over Fourth of July weekend.

A post on Occupy Baltimore led me to a Daily Pennsylvanian report that both the Occupy movement and something called the 99% Declaration Working Group plan summer conventions in Philadelphia over Fourth of July weekend.

… The 99% Declaration group and the Occupy movement are both planning national conventions this summer, but the groups differ in their philosophies toward governmental change.

The 99% Declaration, or 99D, is hosting a conference called “Continental Congress 2.0” in Philadelphia beginning on July 2. One man and woman will be elected from each Congressional district to attend the event. The 878 representatives will be elected through an online ballot open from June 1 to 3.

Each delegation will submit a list of grievances, which will be voted on from July 2 to 4. The petition of grievances will be finalized by July 4.

“The idea is to get the list down to about ten key grievances and give it to Congress, the president and the Supreme Court,” founder of 99D Michael Pollock said.

Pollok appears to be an attorney practicing in New York State handling DUI and post-trial procedural cases. Occupy sources paint him as a lawyer for white collar criminals.

However, the Occupy movement does not endorse 99D and is displeased that the group did not consult them in the planning of the convention.

“Our movement thrives on transparency and horizontalism, and [99D’s] meetings take place in a hierarchical structure behind closed doors,” Occupy member and organizer Larry Swetman said. He added that delegate candidates for the 99D conference are required to put in a Social Security number, which excludes parts of the population. According to the 99D website, delegates must be citizens or permanent residents.

Occupy is planning its own five-day National Gathering in Philadelphia culminating on July 4, according to Swetman.

Manning said 99D had reached out to the Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park for collaboration, but the movement refused to endorse 99D and Continental Congress 2.0.

A representative from 99D attended an Occupy Philadelphia General Assembly, according to an Occupy press release, but because of “outrage at the group’s behavior,” they voted unanimously not to support them.

The press release cited concerns about eligibility to be a delegate candidate, having closed meetings with the Philadelphia City Council before coming to the Occupy Philadelphia General Assembly, and association with former Goldman Sachs executives.

The two groups have very different methods to achieve their goals. Occupy intensely disagrees with 99D on the basis of representative democracy versus direct democracy.

“We’re trying to include the 99 percent and they’re trying to include a few hundred people,” Swetman said.

Meanwhile, 99D finds issue with Occupy’s philosophy of governance by direct democracy ineffective and unfair.

“If for some reason you aren’t able to go to a local meeting, you’re just not heard,” Pollock said. “To us that’s not democratic, it’s survival of the fittest.”

99D’s use of the Liberty Bell in their website graphics remind me of Tea Party imagery: 

Today, the 99% Working Group ( and Rootstrikers ( announced that the July 2-4, 2012 Philadelphia convention, known as Continental Congress 2.0, will conclude in front ofIndependence Hall with closing ceremonies featuring Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, former judge Catherine Crier and other prominent speakers. An unveiling of a Petition for Redress of Grievances, crafted by hundreds of delegates from around the nation will be the focus of the rally. …

1. An End to Corporate Personhood

2. The Overturning of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C.

3. The Elimination of Crony Capitalism and Washington’s Revolving Door of Corruption 

4. Comprehensive Banking and Securities Reform to end Wall Street’s Control of our Politicians 

5. 100% Public Financing of Political Campaigns and Other Election Reforms

On November 17, 2011, The 99% Declaration Working Group filed as a NYS not-for-profit organization called The 99% Working Group, Ltd.  We engage in discussions about the 99% movement and our plans to hold an election of 878 delegates in June 2012 and provide a venue in Philadelphia for the National General Assembly in July. While we are a not-for-profit, because we are organized to effectuate political change, contributions made to us are not tax deductible.

With THIS IS NOT THE 99% DECLARATION, Occupy National Gathering (NatGat) is trying to distance themselves from 99D:

The national convention of delegates on July 2nd in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a product of the 99% Declaration affinity group and does not have the endorsement of the Occupy Movement. The 99D project employs methods that the Movement has found disconcerting including representative governance, closed meetings, and exclusionary tactics. Our Movement is committed to the principles of direct democracy, transparency, and horizontalism and we cannot endorse a convention that does not adhere to these principles. 

It isn’t hard to find links with very strong criticisms of 99D. Former Sachs VP, NY Corporate Crime Lawyer Behind So-Called “Occupy” 99% Declaration Attempt claims several internal coups and firings by Pollok over control of donations.

In addition, Democratic Underground discussed concerns about Michael Pollok’s management of the 99% Declaration Group:

OK, He threatened to "out" an Occupier for allegedly being affiliated with Anonymous… Gee, I wonder who can raise awareness about the problem with this guy’s organization?

Despite their tumultuous relationship with OWS, the group continued to develop its plans and formed its own nonprofit, The 99% Declaration Working Group, Ltd. The board members include founder Michael Pollok, a former white collar crimes criminal defense attorney who ran for Congress in 2009; Nancy Marcus Newman, whose father Steve Newman was involved in a bribery scandal with Vince Fumo; Adeline Malone, a former VP at Goldman Sachs; and an unknown Kevin Archambault.

 Written by

Byron Williams: Voters have had a major hand in creating dysfunctional government


On June 5, a key culprit to California’s chronic dysfunction will again be allowed, unencumbered, to add to the state’s woes.

Who is this perpetrator responsible for gridlock and institutionalized deficits? That’s right, it’s we the voters.

For all our bemoaning the lawmakers in Sacramento, whose approval rating is slightly above Satan, we have institutionalized the dysfunction we claim to abhor by using the tool we commonly view as the savior to our democracy — the initiative process.


On June 5, a key culprit to California’s chronic dysfunction will again be allowed, unencumbered, to add to the state’s woes.

Who is this perpetrator responsible for gridlock and institutionalized deficits? That’s right, it’s we the voters.

For all our bemoaning the lawmakers in Sacramento, whose approval rating is slightly above Satan, we have institutionalized the dysfunction we claim to abhor by using the tool we commonly view as the savior to our democracy — the initiative process.

Assuming the past is any barometer, in next week’s primary fewer than 50 percent of the voting-age population will cast votes on propositions that will direct California’s future. Those voters will do so based on a few scant sentences in the voter guide or hyperbolic commercials without any consideration of the unintended consequences.

In many cases, the initiatives not only have not solved the problems they were intended to solve, but have made things worse.

When we passed the Three Strikes Law, did we factor the massive prison overcrowding? What about term limits? Did we factor the institutional memory, key to creating legislation, would move from the elected Legislature to the unelected staff and lobbyists?

The Economist opined last year: "Many initiatives have either limited taxes or mandated spending, making it even harder to balance the budget. Some are so ill-thought-out that they achieve the opposite of their intent: for all its small-government pretensions, Proposition 13 ended up centralizing California’s finances, shifting them from local to state government. Rather than being the curb on elites that they were supposed to be, ballot initiatives have become a tool of special interests, with lobbyists and extremists bankrolling laws that are often bewildering in their complexity and obscure in their ramifications." 

Californians have used the initiative process to create laws and to amend the state constitution. Since the state embraced the initiative process 101 years ago, we have adopted 115 initiatives, including 64 laws and 42 constitutional amendments.

Moreover, initiatives require only a simple majority of the vote to pass new laws or amend the constitution. It presents a low threshold that places laws in perpetuity offering little recourse to address the unintended consequences of the legislation passed — a process that has locked in between 70 to 90 percent of the state’s general fund.

I suspect that we are more likely to see the problem manifest in the issues we oppose and view issues we support as the exception. Do we have the capacity to oppose even those initiatives we support to put back some much-needed balance to our system?

Each initiative that passes going forward, no matter how noble the cause, merely aids and abets the current dysfunction.

More than passing new initiatives, the current system is in desperate need of reform. How long can we go on adding laws with virtually no accountability? Do we have the maturity to put our sacred cows on the table to resurrect the state from its largely self-induced financial quagmire?

We can’t continue to vote issues into perpetuity. The California that existed in 1978 when Proposition 13 was enacted is not the same state today.

As lawmakers seek to balance the budget in 2012, the shadow of Proposition 13 will loom large dictating what’s possible. How’s that working for us? Have there been initiatives that improved the state? Yes. But the exception can’t serve as the rule. It is the rule, in its present form, that’s contributing to the state’s demise.

For as much as we like direct democracy, when we peel back the petition drives, focus-group-tested language and millions of dollars in campaign propaganda, doesn’t the initiative process ultimately serve as an excuse to remain largely an uninformed electorate?

Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or


True democracy needs facts

By Victor Bowman – Prince George Free Press
Published: May 18, 2012 5:00 AM
Updated: May 18, 2012 5:50 AM


Direct democracy seems like a great idea.



By Victor Bowman – Prince George Free Press
Published: May 18, 2012 5:00 AM
Updated: May 18, 2012 5:50 AM


Direct democracy seems like a great idea.



The basis is that the citizens of any society should have the privilege of deciding all the significant directions we wish our society to go. A purely direct democracy would essentially do away with the need to elect representatives at the national, provincial or civic level. We could decide every issue by referendum.



As great as it sounds, there are some disadvantages. In a democracy the will of the people should reign supreme. That assumes that we can always find a decision that will satisfy the majority of citizens involved. It would also require the citizens to inform themselves and vote on a factual basis rather than an emotional basis.



Where the theory fails in our modern, often complicated world, is the failure to understand what we are voting on. There are few of us who can spend the time and effort to understand all sides of the question. That is not to say the citizens are stupid, it is just means that none of us can be an expert on everything.



We then look to others we can trust to supply the expert knowledge we need. Often the question is complex and relying on the expertise of others is a matter of trust. Trust can be used by others to convince us to follow their opinion without them giving us all the facts. Sometimes our trust is used by others to convince us to make a poor decision.



In British Columbia, we are dismantling the HST while other jurisdictions are adopting it or trending in that direction. The process is going to cost us a lot of dollars that could well have been used for health care, education, grants to municipalities to repair failing infrastructure or other positive uses of our tax dollars. Think of it as you avoid the potholes.



The effort to get rid of the HST will provide future generations with a wonderful example of what can happen. A former premier, who had resigned from office in disgrace not many years before, led the charge to end the HST. He was aided in his efforts by others who were more interested in the thrill of the power of direct democracy than in debating the facts. As we made our bed, we shall lie in it, lumps and all.



Closer to home is the citizen uprising against the proposed dike project. Similar to the HST it was led by armchair experts who felt they knew better than hydrologists, engineers and other with real expertise. Another triumph of opinion over fact.



It makes sense to find out a few facts before scrawling one’s name on a petition. Your buddy may have strong opinions, but are they based on fact or just opinion? In the case of the Nechako dike project proposal there was little interest in the information available to the public. If individuals had informed themselves, then the common belief that dredging the river would solve the problem would not have been the alternative. It just doesn’t work.



It is great to have citizens interested in the affairs of our community. Along with that interest, there is an obligation to find out the facts before committing ourselves to any action. Good decisions arise from a knowledgeable base.