Gerald Celente – Direct Democracy

Gerald Celente – Direct Democracy

03 May 2012 , 9:35 AM by Karyn Wood


Gerald Celente – Direct Democracy

03 May 2012 , 9:35 AM by Karyn Wood


Celente72He’s controversial and outspoken.

Every now and then Annie Gaffney talks to Gerald Celente in New York about what he sees coming our way, politically.

This  time he’s talking about Direct Democracy

He’s got some interesting opinions to share and you can hear them by clicking on the arrow in the box  below.




initiative process more

Regarding the editorial on Monday, "Are propositions out of control?":

The Arizona Republic claims that with at least 16 initiatives filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the November ballot could be crowded and "this is far too much of a good thing."

I disagree. The people of Arizona should strongly support the direct democracy use of the initiative and the referendum.

Regarding the editorial on Monday, "Are propositions out of control?":

The Arizona Republic claims that with at least 16 initiatives filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the November ballot could be crowded and "this is far too much of a good thing."

I disagree. The people of Arizona should strongly support the direct democracy use of the initiative and the referendum.

Our nation was built upon the foundation that government is by the consent of the governed.

Arizona is far from having too much direct democracy. In fact, we could use more.

With our votes, we entrust our elected representatives to make decisions in our best interest.

Direct democracy is not used to replace representative democracy but to correct it whenever it becomes unrepresentative of the people — and that’s a good thing.

Bob Haran, Glendale

Sneak peek at the ballot – for November 2014

It’s a bit early, but we wanted to give you a head’s-up about what voters could see on the ballot come November 2014.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told the Sacramento Press Club this week that he is launching an effort to make major changes in California’s storied direct democracy system.

Specifically, Steinberg wants to allow the Legislature to place initiatives on the ballot, including measures to raise taxes, by a majority vote of lawmakers. It currently takes a two-thirds vote to do that.

It’s a bit early, but we wanted to give you a head’s-up about what voters could see on the ballot come November 2014.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told the Sacramento Press Club this week that he is launching an effort to make major changes in California’s storied direct democracy system.

Specifically, Steinberg wants to allow the Legislature to place initiatives on the ballot, including measures to raise taxes, by a majority vote of lawmakers. It currently takes a two-thirds vote to do that.

He also wants to allow the Legislature, with the consent of initiative backers and the governor, to make changes in an initiative after signatures are turned in to county officials. That’s something that could help with fixing errors and allow the Legislature and backers of efforts to address the overall issue without it having to go to the ballot.

Finally, Steinberg wants all initiatives to face a review by the Legislature after 10 years, meaning they could be changed or repealed with the consent of the governor.

Now, we’ve seen many reform efforts come and go – or, frankly, never get off the ground – but Steinberg said he’s serious about getting his ideas on the ballot.

"I believe in the initiative, but I also believe strongly that it should be an outlet, not a shadow government," he said.

Steinberg said he will start his efforts in earnest next year.

Capitol Notebook appears every Saturday for an inside look at state politics.

This article appeared on page C – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Improbable research: why random selection of MPs may be best

Democracies would be better off if they chose some of their politicians at random. That’s the word, mathematically obtained, from a team of Italian physicists, economists, and political analysts.

The team includes the trio whose earlier research showed, also mathematically, that bureaucracies would be more efficient if they promoted people at random.

Democracies would be better off if they chose some of their politicians at random. That’s the word, mathematically obtained, from a team of Italian physicists, economists, and political analysts.

The team includes the trio whose earlier research showed, also mathematically, that bureaucracies would be more efficient if they promoted people at random.

Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, Cesare Garofalo, and two other colleagues at the University of Catania in Sicily published their new study in a physics journal called Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications. The study itself is titled Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency.

The scientists made a simple calculation model that mimics the way modern parliaments work, including the effects of particular political parties or coalitions. In the model, individual legislators can cast particular votes that advance either their own interests (one of which is to gain re-election), or the interests of society as a whole. Party discipline comes into play, affecting the votes of officials who got elected with help from their party.

But when some legislators are selected at random – owing no allegiance to any party – the legislature’s overall efficiency improves. That higher efficiency, the scientists explain, comes in "both the number of laws passed and the average social welfare obtained" from those new laws.

Parliamentary voting behaviour echoes, in a surprisingly detailed mathematical sense, something economist Carlo M Cipolla sketched in his 1976 essay called Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. Cipolla gave an insulting, yet possibly accurate, description of any human group: "human beings fall into four basic categories: the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit and the stupid". Pluchino, Rapisarda, Garofalo and their colleagues base their mathematical model partly on this fourfold distinction.

The maths indicate that parliaments work best when some — but not all — of the members have been chosen at random. The study explains how a country, subject to the quirks of its own system, can figure out what mix will give the best results.

Random selection may feel like a mathematician’s wild-eyed dream. It’s not. The practice was common in ancient Greece, when democracy was young. The study tells how, in Athens, citizens’ names were placed into a randomisation device called a kleroterion.

Later on, legislators were selected randomly in other places, too. In Bologna, Parma, Vicenza, San Marino, Barcelona and bits of Switzerland, say the scientists, and "in Florence in the 13th and 14th century and in Venice from 1268 until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, providing opportunities to minorities and resistance to corruption".

Athens, way back when, used random selection to people its juries. So, still, does much of the world.

And it’s not just juries. Iceland, having survived a financial collapse, is drawing itself up a new constitution. For advice on that, the nation assembled a committee of 950 citizens chosen at random.

• Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly annals of Improbable Research and organiser of the Ig Nobel prize

The 99.99998271%: Crushing Dissent – The Smearing of Wikileaks and Occupy

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the worst possible future abuse by a government over its own citizens. The first thing likely to come to mind for many would be assassination of citizens without due process.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the worst possible future abuse by a government over its own citizens. The first thing likely to come to mind for many would be assassination of citizens without due process. Sadly, you will have to think a bit harder; in the US, which so often describes itself as the world’s leading democracy and regularly criticizes the human rights records of other nations, the right to kill its own citizens before allowing them a chance to give their side of the story has already been reserved. Targets are placed on a ‘kill list’ by a secret panel working out of the White House, and their findings are brought to the President, who makes the final decision on whether a suspect will live or die. And not just the suspect, anyone else unfortunate enough to be standing close by when the drone strikes.

It is a fundamental tenet of law in any country that can call itself even remotely civilized that one is innocent until proven guilty, and that no matter how bad something looks on the surface, formal due process must be followed to get to the root of any alleged guilt. The alternative is chaos: lynch mobs and random punishment based on hearsay or unverified evidence. Terrifyingly, the World’s Leading Democracy(TM) now countenances such lawlessness, setting a precedent that other nations are bound to follow, basing their judgments on ‘secret evidence’, while the citizenry are supposed to blindly trust the actions of the same government that has demonstrably lied and orchestrated cover-ups on multiple issues.

Imagine if citizens, sufficiently outraged, took to the streets and blogs to protest. Would it make any difference? Make no mistake: the powers behind the governments, namely the banks, the corporations, special interest/lobbying groups, and the super rich, are working toward ensuring that any protest in the future that threatens the status quo will be ineffective.

Some protests will succeed (to some degree), of course – the Trayvon Martin case being one such recent display of people power – but the elites will not be overly concerned about giving in on such issues of justice as they do not even slightly threaten their hold on real power; indeed, such concessions serve to reinforce the false view that ordinary people actually have the power to change society in any meaningful way under the current system.

In reality, any form of dissent which presents a potential threat will be crushed mercilessly. Citizen protest sadly has as much chance of changing things as an asthmatic squirrel has of scaling the north face of the Eiger on an antique tricycle…ahem. Recent examples include Julian Assange/Wikileaks and the Occupy movement. A closer look at how these two threats were dealt with yields details of the methodology used.

Instead of learning the truly astonishing abuses uncovered via Wikileaks, the public is told in multiple media outlets and by a glittering cast of political household names that the recklessness of Wikileaks in publishing secret information will cost innocent lives. Then the target of hate is given a face; and so a personality cult is created around Julian Assange. Almost every single article has the words ‘rape allegations’ tacked on the end, so the reader goes away subconsciously thinking Assange is a rapist, even though he has not been charged with any crime. Tell that to The Daily Mail, which was forced to run five corrections regarding false allegations they made in articles about Wikileaks and Assange. In my book, I argue for prohibitive fines for such misleading journalism – only in that way can newspapers be forced to stop deliberately deceiving the public.

David Leigh, the ‘investigations’ executive editor of The Guardian unnecessarily published the password of the file containing the US diplomatic cables in one of the most stupid acts of internet recklessness of all time in his book co-written with Luke Harding (not in any way written to cash in on the Wikileaks phenomenon) and then went on to shamelessly blame Wikileaks for recklessness. He also told journalism students at City University that Assange is a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ who ‘didn’t used to wash regularly’ and was ‘quite deranged’. Meanwhile, supporters of Assange are smeared in comments threads around the world by astroturfers and ordinary people who have been taken in by the propaganda as ‘naive’ and ‘Assange worshippers’.

On a more ominous note, the recent Stratfor leaks prove that the US has issued a sealed indictment against Assange, ready for if/when he is extradited to Sweden. The expectation is that he will then be taken to the US, where his outlook would be bleak when we consider the abusive treatment of the alleged leaker of the US diplomatic cables, Bradley Manning. Assange can expect no sympathy from Barack Obama, who, when asked about Bradley Manning, said: "He broke the law." I am no lawyer, but even I can see that Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has some basic misconceptions about assigning guilt to a man yet to stand trial.

This all-encompassing deluge of, erm…bullshit leaves the average reader of news, the vast majority who lack either the time or the interest to read past the surface, with an overwhelmingly negative impression of Wikileaks and its founder. To them, Assange is simply an attention-seeker with dubious personal habits and hygiene. Without digging deeper, what else could the average punter possibly think? And the actual abuses revealed via Wikileaks are lost in the background noise and fail to stir popular outrage. This is a tragic failing of modern establishment media.

The Occupy movement has suffered a similar fate. After the initial wave of euphoria which swept the world when people heard someone was actually going out onto the streets to try to do something about the criminals in government and on Wall Street, the propaganda machine ground into action. Lacking a single leader, the movement was smeared throughout the corporate-owned media en masse as a bunch of hippies who smoke a lot of marijuana and don’t wash. They were advised to ‘get a job’ and stop bothering ordinary hard-working people. The fact that the movement itself contains a huge number of ordinary hard-working people failed to reach the front pages. In a presidential election year, they are now nigh on ignored, and we are instead treated to a witless stream of endless gaffes and missteps of candidates and their campaign staff.

On top of the smear campaign, protesters are regularly subjected to police violence and intimidation despite protesting peacefully, and those arrested can also expect special treatment at the hands of the police.

Returning to our original question, how many people do you know (including yourself) would risk the citizen abuses above, knowing full well that any protest you make is almost certainly likely to fail or be ignored no matter how long you continue? Protesting takes time, energy, conviction and courage, things that many people do not possess as they have families, jobs and other obligations to protect, obligations which would be severely jeopardized in the event of injury or arrest.

Meaningful protest in the traditional sense is finished. The only remaining frontier for effective protest is the internet, and the elites are already working hard to ensure this also comes under their control, justifying such efforts by invoking the threats of online piracy and even terrorism. You can be certain that internet-savvy organizations like Wikileaks and Anonymous will be the subjects of massive FBI investigations to ensure their silencing. For this reason, these organizations deserve our support and, indeed, respect for the risks they are taking on behalf of a world public that is largely hostile to them thanks to the endless smearing in the media.

What is the answer? There is only one thing that the elites would not be able to prevent: a massive grassroots movement towards direct democracy, a perfectly viable (despite what people often believe) system of government that would greatly reduce or even eliminate the abuses of the elites. Switzerland, a strong and stable society, utilizes a form of direct democracy, proving that such a system is workable.

In order to excise this cancer, massive support of such a movement would be required from all popular progressives and other public figures in order to promote awareness. One possible way of implementing such a grassroots campaign is detailed in my book (see footnote below), which is free to download. If we do not act soon, even the freedom of the internet will be severely curtailed and the chance will be lost. For those of us who do not want a future of pervasive surveillance of every aspect of our lives and ever-worsening abuses by those in power, it really is that critical. In a media environment suffering a surplus of superlatives, that cannot be stressed enough.

The 99.99998271% – Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog.

Carne Ross on Being an Agent of Change


BILL MOYERS: You just heard Paul Volcker say that even he thinks the rule named after him is too complicated and could stand a little streamlining as long as it doesn’t pull the teeth from the original law. Other supporters of the Volcker Rule also think the same thing – including Congressman Barney Frank, the co-sponsor of the Dodd-Frank Banking Reform Bill, and Sheila Bair, the outspoken former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. All three see the need for reform but basically believe in the banking system. Others, like my next guest, think it needs to be scrapped and rebuilt as part of a new vision of democracy — one that, much like Occupy Wall Street, calls on each of us to become an agent of political change.

Like Paul Volcker, Carne Ross is an economist, but he’s also a trained diplomat who was on his way to the top of the British Foreign Service. He was the speechwriter for Britain’s foreign secretary, and went on to become that country’s Middle East expert at the UN Security Council. He became disillusioned and distraught by the march to war in Iraq and his own role in selling it. He quit — although not before giving secret testimony to an official inquiry probing how intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was deliberately misused by American and British officials.

Since then, Carne Ross has founded Independent Diplomat, a non-partisan, non-governmental organization that offers advice on negotiating strategy and international law. He’s also working with the Occupy movement to create an alternative banking action group.

His new book couldn’t be more timely. There it is – The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st century. Talk about anticipating the spirit of the moment. This is a call for change everywhere, by everyone convinced that governments are in thrall to the one percent. Carne Ross, welcome.

CARNE ROSS: Thanks for having me.

BILL MOYERS: You’re either very fortunate or very prescient or both to have worked on this book for several years and to have it come out right in the midst of these global uprisings. What did you see happening, at the time, that led you to think something was going on?

CARNE ROSS: The sort of fundamental inspiration for it was something that is occurring to people across the world. And is now kind of manifesting itself in these popular protests, both in the West and in the Middle East.

It’s about disillusionment. A fundamental disillusionment with the nature of government. That government whether autocratic or, indeed, democratic is not working, is not solving some problems that are fundamental, that are really very concerning. Whether it’s inequality, environmental protection, or indeed, economic volatility. Those three things are real problems, functions of the globalized world. And they’re not being sorted out by the current structure.

BILL MOYERS: But is there anything new about that? I mean, the United States was born in a sense of disillusionment with the reign of the crown. I mean, right on down through to our day. This has been happening.

CARNE ROSS: I think it wasn’t true 20 or 10 years ago. I think after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a real sense that liberal democracy, free markets, you know, governed by governments to an extent was the answer. That was the universal answer. That was the end of history. That is clearly not the case. And we have mounting frustration. I think the problems have risen to such a level, and the disillusionment with the system has risen to such a level that we’re almost, at the moment, a paradigm shift to a new form of politics.

We have to accept that government is no longer fixing things for us. Whoever’s in charge, whichever bunch of politicians has taken over government, they will not provide the answer, however well-meaning they may be. We have to instead take on the burden ourselves. That is a fundamental cultural change. And I think it requires a real examination of our own role in our political circumstances.

BILL MOYERS: When we went down to Occupy Wall Street, soon after it broke out, what we discovered is so many reasonable and what we used to say upright citizens, who have lost faith in the ballot, in voting.

CARNE ROSS: Yeah. It’s a very common feeling. I’m very struck in Occupy. It’s very ordinary people. It’s not kind of extremists or radicals. And the pretty common feeling is that government is not the answer. There are some who feel that we need to press government, you know, for better legislation. But there’s an awful lot of people who feel that that is just impossible, given the way that Washington has been co-opted by special interests. It’s basically implausible to expect good legislation to come from Washington.

And having worked in government, you know, very closely, in you know, in government foreign policy, but also in international institutions like the U.N., I simply don’t believe that these mechanisms are competent to solve our global problems, our national problems.

BILL MOYERS: Do you understand the paradox you represent to us? I mean, here’s a man who, if I understand correctly, at 12, you said to your parents, "I want to be a diplomat."


BILL MOYERS: At 29, the British Foreign Office put you in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian section, right? At 32, you were the point man for your government on dealing with Iraq, at the United Nations. This is a long way talking, being part of Occupy Wall Street, talking about grassroots democracy, from the world of diplomacy. What happened?

CARNE ROSS: Well, it’s a hell of a journey. I mean, it’s been a tough ride. And my wife will testify to that. And without her, I could not have done it. But I think, actually, that journey illustrates how I’ve got to this philosophy. You know, I was actually in government. I was writing for my Foreign Secretary. I was writing those claims that we were managing the world. I remember writing them.

You know, we have an answer to the problems of world trade, to the global environment, to poverty in Africa. You know, I’d write these very, very compellingly-written, convincing speeches, explaining how we would do it. And we weren’t. We were wrong. I was wrong. You know? These were — these speeches were written in a vacuum. They were just claims. They weren’t actually proof of output.

And when I got deeper into the system, I began to see why. Because government is fundamentally detached from the reality that it is trying to manage. It cannot manage and predict highly complex events. I saw this in the invasion of Afghanistan, which I was involved in, and of Iraq, where, you know, we make these assumptions about the rest of the world, which are grossly simplistic.

BILL MOYERS: You were the point man for your government in the United Nations on Iraq. That meant you dealt with the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction. Because it was at the U.N., the weapons inspectors were finding evidence contrary to what George W. Bush and Tony Blair were saying. And you were disillusioned by that, right?

CARNE ROSS: I was disillusioned by many things. The claim of a W.M.D. threat was a gross exaggeration of what little we knew. I mean, our internal assessment was that Iraq was not a threat. And then suddenly, our politicians required us to say that it was. And literally black was turned into white.

And the same intelligence assessments that I had worked on, you know, were edited over and over again to tell a completely fallacious story. But my real concern over Iraq was, in fact, not that. It was that we ignored alternatives to war.

You know, I really believe that war is the last alternative that should be taken. And in fact, there were better alternatives to war which were totally ignored. Because government oversimplified things. There were, actually, very technical, complex things that we could have done to the Saddam regime to undermine that regime that were never tried.

BILL MOYERS: One alternative was economic sanctions.

CARNE ROSS: Well, economic sanctions are, as a blunt instrument, and in, you know, what we’re doing to Iran now, I don’t believe are particularly effective tools. I think they harm the wrong people. In Iraq, we harmed the civilian population grotesquely. And Iraq is still suffering from that.

BILL MOYERS: You were greatly repelled by the suffering of innocent people in Iraq?

CARNE ROSS: Well, to my shame, I, you know, I did it, when I was working on sanctions. You know, those were the sanctions that I helped implement. I negotiated those at the U.N. Security Council. I think only afterwards was I really confronted with the reality of what these sanctions had done to ordinary Iraqis.

They damaged the Iraqi population very fundamentally and very severely and in a very widespread way. And whatever, you know, there’s a lot of controversy about particular statistics. But I think there’s no question that we did enormous damage to ordinary people in Iraq.

BILL MOYERS: Thousands of children died as a result in Iraq, as a result of–

CARNE ROSS: Yeah, it’s very, very shocking–

BILL MOYERS: You write about that very powerfully.

CARNE ROSS: Well, because I feel some sense of personal responsibility for it. And I think this —

BILL MOYERS: You’re hard on yourself in here. You’re flagellating yourself.

CARNE ROSS: Well, I think it’s one of the problems of the system. That the officials in it don’t feel responsibility. I mean, a lot of people suffered in Iraq, because of sanctions. Who is responsible for that? Who is accountable for that? And I kind of feel that at least I can say, "Well, I was part of it, therefore I am responsible." I mean, you know, that responsibility doesn’t bring any great price to me, you know? I’ve not been sent to court or pay a fine or anything for it. But at least I can say, "I was directly involved."

And I do think that sense of amorality and irresponsibility in government, of detachment from the consequences of your decisions, is a real problem.

But to go back to hitting Saddam, I don’t — I’m not talking about comprehensive sanctions. I’m talking about very specific, targeted sanctions to undermine individuals in the regime and the specific pillars of the regime, like the Republican Guard. There are lots and lots of things that could have been done, involving freezing his financial assets. These were never attempted. It’s been done elsewhere. And it was never attempted on Iraq. And I still am wondering why that was.

BILL MOYERS: Much of what came to disillusion you about your experience in government, at about the age I was disillusioned, too, inside government in Washington. I didn’t go quite as far as you. I haven’t given up on government. And I keep wanting to believe that it can be made an instrument of "We the People," as our constitution–

CARNE ROSS: Yeah, I want to believe the same thing, believe me.

BILL MOYERS: But I haven’t joined Occupy Wall Street. That is a long journey.

CARNE ROSS: Yeah. Well, as I say, in intellectual and emotional terms, it’s been very logical for me. I mean, you know, the Iraq War was a very big jolt for me. It was a very painful experience to leave the government. And I think before that, I really did believe in the kind of omniscience and the sense and the effectiveness of government led by decent, sensible, rational people.

That experience, but indeed earlier experiences, too, convinced me of the opposite. Now if that is the case, it’s– you know, it’s very painful to abandon that set of beliefs. It’s very comforting to believe the government has got things in grip. But if they don’t, what is a more plausible politics? What is a better method of addressing our politics, our problems? And I think actually it’s entirely logical that one should look to self-organized action as the answer. Ideally, with other people, always consulting, always negotiating, always acting nonviolently. That is precisely the mechanism of political change that I’m proposing in the book. And that is actually the most effective mechanism of political change.

BILL MOYERS: Did I hear you say you’re part of a working group on Occupy Wall Street?

CARNE ROSS: Yes. Quite early on, I set up a working group on alternative banking, which is trying to examine what an ideal bank would be that would be better than the current system. Because one fundamental idea of the book is that rather than accept that the existing system is all we have to work with, we should set up alternative systems.

The bank we want would have many characteristics that we don’t really see in the current banking system. It would be democratic. It would be transparent. It would be owned by its customers as well as its employees. It would employ practices of lending that would minimize, if not remove the systemic risk that the current profit-driven banking sector exposes all of us in the economy to.

BILL MOYERS: And you said this group that’s working on this alternative system is a disparate group? Can you just sort of describe the diversity?

CARNE ROSS: Well, it’s got young people, students. It’s got folks who’ve been sleeping in Zuccotti Park until the eviction. It’s got novices like me, who know nothing about the banking sector. And it’s got real financial experts, writers about finance and economics, as well as real dissidents from inside Wall Street, people who are part of banks, quant traders, derivatives traders. It’s a pretty extraordinary group of people.

BILL MOYERS: Just give me a sense of what’s in your head about an alternative bank.

CARNE ROSS: All the elements of the bank, the ideal bank that we’re talking about, the Occupy Bank, has been done before. They’re present in mutuals, in credit unions, in community banks. But what we’re trying to do is, you know, very boldly, very ambitiously, try to imagine all of these characteristics in one bank. And available to everybody, country wide, which at the moment, credit unions, for instance, are not able to be. You know, we want something that is as plausible, as easy to use, if not better, than the current for-profit banks, on the high street, that people and businesses use today.

BILL MOYERS: You talk about the methods of democracy. How do you– how is that taking place?

CARNE ROSS: In the beginning, very interestingly, when everybody showed up, the lot of people showed up, everybody wanted to give their speech about what was wrong. Me, too. You know, "What’s wrong with the economy? What’s wrong with banking? I’ve got to have my say." But once that people had had their say, we, you know, we got down to work.

We’ve invited real experts from credit unions. People who’d run community banks, professors of finance. We’ve invited them to come and, you know, advise us. And many of them have responded to that invitation.

BILL MOYERS: So where are you now?

CARNE ROSS: Right now, we’re actually putting out a call to say we would like to partner with or even perhaps acquire banks, who would like to work with us to implement this, to set up a national Occupy Bank with the characteristics I’ve described. We know that alone we can’t do it. You know, for instance, we couldn’t get a federal charter. It was take us years to years and years of work.

BILL MOYERS: But wouldn’t you then have to have the very structure that you find so objectionable, which you write about regularly in your book, consistently in your book, hierarchy. You have to have a hierarchy, somebody has to say yes and no.

CARNE ROSS: Well, in a different way. I mean, all– in my view, all hierarchy is humiliating to both the leader and the led. But I think you can design institutions, including banks, that are fundamentally democratic. Where the all the members, all the owners, all the depositors, customers, and employees are consulted on major decisions. They may elect a smaller group to make day to day decisions on the basis of principles that they’ve all agreed.

And this is a really, really important idea of the book, that we’ve lost agency. We feel out of control. We don’t have control over even our workplace.

BILL MOYERS: You mean we individuals have lost our own political agency, our own moral agency?

CARNE ROSS: I think in all kinds of ways we’ve lost it. I think we’ve, we feel absolutely detached from the things that most matter to us. And we feel, we can’t really affect us, that we’re affect them. We’re completely impotent. When, in fact, the truth is the opposite. We are the most powerful agents of change. But we have to take the initiative back ourselves. We actually have to do things rather than voting for others to do them.

BILL MOYERS: You make the point in your book, that people prefer democracy. But they’re less and less happy with the practice of democratic government. Why do you think that’s so?

CARNE ROSS: Well, I think the distinction between democracy and the current form of government is a very important one. I think the current form of representative democracy, where you have a very small group of people taking decisions for a very much larger group of people is fundamentally imperfect, it’s fundamentally vulnerable to corruption, whether legal or illegal. And I think I’m afraid that’s what we’ve seen. You see all too often that legislation reflects the interests of special interests, particularly big corporations, the banks, for instance, rather than the interests of the common man, of the mass .

What I’m talking about instead, what I’m proposing instead is a much more, much lower level democracy, people to people democracy, direct democracy of mass participation in decision making.

BILL MOYERS: In "The Leaderless Revolution," you list nine principles for action. What’s your purpose there?

CARNE ROSS: The book is all about political method. It’s not about a blueprint for where we’re going to go. It’s about doing politics differently. And I suggest nine things that you should bear in mind, nine principles that should govern that action. It doesn’t say what the action should be addressing. But it says "These are the ways that you should go about it."

BILL MOYERS: Number one, "Excavate your convictions."

CARNE ROSS: Without really knowing what you care about, it’s very difficult to find the energy to do anything. And I think actually in contemporary politics, it’s very difficult to know what you really care about. You’re bombarded all the time with politicians telling you what to care about. But what is the thing you really, really care about? And once you’ve identified that, that will give you the strength and the fuel to– for the long journey to try to address that thing.

BILL MOYERS: Number two, "Who’s got the money? Who’s got the gun?"

CARNE ROSS: This is where you need to step back and analyze the situation. Who has the real power over the problem that concerns you? Who’s got the money and who’s got the gun is a pretty good start for your analytical technique.

BILL MOYERS: Number three, "Act as if the means are the end."

CARNE ROSS: This is purely quoted from Gandhi. I didn’t come up with this myself. He was convinced that actually the form of politics that you choose is actually the end. You know, if you just vote for somebody, you’ve not actually done anything. If you use violence to create a particular political end, all you’re doing is promoting violence.

So actually you need to embody the principles that you wish in the goal that you seek, whether it’s equality, transparency, democracy, in the form of change that you are pursuing, in the very method. And this is what the book is about. It’s about a method.

BILL MOYERS: You were quite impressed with Gandhi’s salt march.



CARNE ROSS: Well, he in protest of British colonialism, he organized a 200-mile march, of lots of people, to go to a coastal city in India to make salt. And the reason he did that was because the British charged poor people, ordinary Indians a tax on salt, as a way of keeping them down. And Gandhi felt the salt belongs to all of us, and ordinary people were forbidden from making salt.

So he went and made salt. And this was the perfect political protest, because not only did it draw attention to this great injustice, but it actually physically embodied the change that needed to happen, which was ordinary people making salt. And it was immensely powerful.

BILL MOYERS: Number four, "Refer to the cosmopolitan criterion."

CARNE ROSS: That is the idea that instead of, you know, assuming that we know what others want, like the golden rule does, you know? Which says we should, "Do unto others as we would like them to do unto us." That to me is a very solipsistic moral maxim. Instead you just ask them. I mean, these days, you’re connected on the internet. You can find out what people over there think. And they will tell you very clearly and persuasively. And often very different from what you assume they’re going to say.

BILL MOYERS: Number five, "Address those suffering the most."

CARNE ROSS: This again is not from me. It’s from Karl Popper, the Austrian philosopher who gave us the open society. He believed that no government, no authority can decide what, can know what makes people happy. In fact, we don’t even know ourselves often. But the one thing you can measure – happiness is not measurable. You know, it’s not something that’s empirically testable, but suffering is.

Actually, the indices of suffering, starvation, absence of water, mortality. These things are very measurable. And actually addressing suffering is much easier than trying to make ourselves happier. You can do far more. You can actually– to lift a very large number of people from poverty takes very little. And therefore, you would have actually much more effect with your politics. It– there’s also kind of behind a moral imperative. I mean, you know, personally, I think those suffering the most should be our primary concern.

BILL MOYERS: Six, "Consult and negotiate."

CARNE ROSS: Don’t just roll over people. If you take them for granted and try to do your thing without taking account of what they want, you won’t succeed. And I’ve seen this in international negotiations, which exclude people. The agreements that follow from that won’t work. This is what we’re trying to do in Independent Diplomat is get ordinary people’s voices into that process. But that consultation will produce an outcome that might work, because you have included people in its construction.

BILL MOYERS: Seven, "Big picture, little deeds."

CARNE ROSS: Big change, change in the world – saving the global environment, you know, stopping economic volatility– overwhelming goals, overwhelming problems. You know? How the hell can little me do something about that? This idea is simply that you bear that overall strategic goal in mind, but you do something small every day to reach it. And that is a plausible and effective form of political change and will actually solve the problem, if we all do it.

BILL MOYERS: Eight, "Use nonviolence."

CARNE ROSS: In researching the book, I read a lot about nonviolence, which is not doing nothing. It’s not pacifism. It’s actually a series of techniques, which are very powerful and persuasive, and can achieve, you know, extraordinary ends but without relinquishing the moral high ground by using violence.

And you know, all kinds of – the most fundamental and extraordinary political change has come about nonviolently. I think in this country about, you know, the struggle for female emancipation, for civil rights. These were nonviolent movements. If you want to change society, you can’t do it violently.

BILL MOYERS: And yet number nine, "Kill the king."

CARNE ROSS: Yes. You know, a slightly colorful way of saying, "It is really hard to change things." It is really, really hard. And I think this is one of the, you know, the fundamental ideas of the book. You know, somebody promises you that clicking on a petition will change a problem, they are lying. That is simply not true. So to take on any problem, you’ve really got to focus. And in chess, the objective is — there’s one objective, which is, "Take the other guy’s king." And that’s what you’ve got to keep in mind, all the time.

BILL MOYERS: "The Leaderless Revolution" you call it. But can any movement be leaderless, seriously?

CARNE ROSS: I passionately believe that it should be. Not only that it can be, but it should be. Occupy is leaderless and successfully so. It is many things. It is not one thing. It is a lot of people spontaneously acting upon their own convictions. And that is what makes it powerful.

The moment you have one person standing up and saying, "It’s about this agenda," you weaken the movement. And I think this is actually a new form of politics for the 21st Century. I do not think this will be the exception. This will become the rule.

Personally, I feel that now is the time, particularly as we enter the presidential election season, we need to move from words and protests to action, to actually building new systems that embody these values. That is the most powerful form of political change for me.

BILL MOYERS: But, you know, Barack Obama did this splendidly in 2008, using social media to organize, mobilize people for the change that we can believe in. What’s happened since then?

CARNE ROSS: Well, there was a kind of, you know, it was a bit of a slightly misleading the way that he put it. I mean, I don’t want to sound critical of the president, who I respect and admire. But he wasn’t actually calling for mass action to create political change. He was calling for mass action to get him elected, which are two fundamentally different things.

And that is, I think the great disjunction in contemporary representative politics. Is that politicians say, "Get me elected and I, individually, will solve these problems. That is change you can believe in." And actually, it’s not plausible anymore. And, but what was interesting about that campaign was, I think, people really connected to the idea of mass action for change. And that’s what I, you know, my book and others are proposing, that actually that sense of passionate commitment is exactly what we’re missing, of action really meaning something, rather than just this very sterile, inconsequential act of voting.

BILL MOYERS: You ask us in your book to imagine the world without institutions. And with all due respect, that’s very hard to do.

CARNE ROSS: Well, I understand that. I mean, I’m talking about very gradual. I think this is more evolution than revolution. I’m not saying we should overthrow institutions. I think, though, we have to recognize that our current institutional political set up is not working. And indeed, the form of the company and the economy today as a purely profit-seeking entity is not working.

So we have to change all of these things from the ground up. That’s what I’m saying. I’m not particularly against institutions, though I hate hierarchy. I think when institutions and organizations flow from people’s real convictions and are truly democratic, they can be very good things. I wish that our contemporary institutions were more like that.

BILL MOYERS: You’re going to strike a lot of people as either an anarchist or a Saul Alinsky reborn.

CARNE ROSS: I would be flattered to be called a Saul Alinsky reborn.


CARNE ROSS: Because he, you know, inspired a lot of people to do things. And if my book can do that, I would be absolutely honored and thrilled.

BILL MOYERS: You still believe individuals can signify?

CARNE ROSS: I believe they’re the by far, the most important thing, you know? Because actually we are, you know, what embody – we are what the world consists of. There are seven billion of us now. We’re not a system. Actually, we’re just a bunch of individuals. And we comprise reality. Therefore, why don’t we, you know, just realize that. And say, "Crikey, well, I can start from changing something. I can change my own reality. I can, you know, inspire those around me." And thus, we can actually begin to change the whole system. That’s an extraordinary possibility.

BILL MOYERS: The book is The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century. Carne Ross, I’ve truly enjoyed our conversation.

CARNE ROSS: Me, too. Thank you very much for having me.


Former lawmaker takes on initiative process


Fixing California’s ballot initiative process, fraught with obvious shortcomings, according to its detractors, cannot be done until the National Initiative for Democracy is passed by more than 66 million voters in the country, Mike Gravel said yesterday in San Mateo.

Gravel, who ran for president in 2008, is a former senator from Alaska who has been on a nearly 20-year mission to give lawmaking power to the general public independently of Congress and the president.


Fixing California’s ballot initiative process, fraught with obvious shortcomings, according to its detractors, cannot be done until the National Initiative for Democracy is passed by more than 66 million voters in the country, Mike Gravel said yesterday in San Mateo.

Gravel, who ran for president in 2008, is a former senator from Alaska who has been on a nearly 20-year mission to give lawmaking power to the general public independently of Congress and the president.

He is the author and promoter of the National Initiative for Democracy that consists of a constitutional amendment and federal law that would recognize the legislative power of the people to make laws and “permit the people” to amend the Constitution directly.

Currently, 24 states, including California, have an initiative, referendum and recall process that allows the general public to place them on the ballot.

The United States, however, does not allow for direct democracy through the initiative process.

Why is it needed?

“Because the initiative process in California is corrupted by representative government,” Gravel told a crowd at a League of Women Voters meeting yesterday.

Gravel wants to see direct democracy installed at the federal level for states to follow. And even though the process might be corrupt in California, it is still doing better than other states, Gravel said.

The League of Women Voters is currently updating its stance on the ballot initiative process in California, which it supports. Gravel, 82, and his wife Whitney are members of the local league and now live in Burlingame, closer to family.

The problem is not with the initiative itself, Gravel said, but with the representative government that controls the process.

Congress has studied direct democracy for decades, he said.

“Nothing has changed in 20 years. It has been studied ad nauseum. In Congress, when you don’t want to do something, you study it,” Gravel said.

The problem with California’s current initiative process, Gravel said, is the cost to government for an initiative election is too great; the corrupting influence of money; initiatives are poorly drafted; they are confusing with multiple subjects; there is no limit on the words that describe ballot initiatives in voter guides; the qualifying process is too expensive; the Legislature cannot amend a ballot initiative; the lack of deliberation; and not being able to tell who supports or opposes the ballot initiative.

Gravel said the best way for the public to govern itself is not by “bridging” the gap between representative government but rather by “widening” it.

As a former member of the Senate, Gravel said his decisions related to policy votes were often “selfish.”

“First you think ‘how does this affect me.’ Then you think ‘how does this affect the special interests that give me money.’ Then you think about the party. It is not about what is good for the public,” he said.

It is “human nature,” he said.

The nation’s form of government is meant to keep Americans “civic adolescents,” he said.

The only way to fix California’s initiative process is to “divorce yourselves from representative government,” he said.

He founded The Democracy Foundation in 2001 to educate the public on their “inherent powers within a democracy.”

Gravel ran for president in 2008 as a Democrat not because he wanted to be president, he said, but to advance his National Initiative for Democracy plan.

“I wanted to use the celebrity nature of running for president to promote direct democracy,” he said yesterday. “But in seven debates, there was not one question on the topic.”

Gravel switched to the Libertarian Party after Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination in 2008. He wanted to run for president as a Libertarian but never got on the ballot.

Gravel’s National Initiative for Democracy has the support of consumer activist Ralph Nader and economist Noam Chomsky. He does not have much support for the measure in Congress, however.

“When I talk to legislators about it they don’t even know what I’m talking about,” he said.

Gravel even endorses getting rid of the Senate altogether.

Nebraska’s unicameral form of government works well enough, he said.


For more information on the National Initiative for Democracy visit


Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

Just Who Fears Democracy? On the Need to Update the American Republic

For all of Europe’s current problems, it has done a better job than the United States of protecting the social welfare of its citizens. As The Globalist’s Stephan Richter writes, the longer the American debate clings to its individualism-and-freedom rhetoric, the more removed it becomes from the real-life concerns of ordinary Americans.


For all of Europe’s current problems, it has done a better job than the United States of protecting the social welfare of its citizens. As The Globalist’s Stephan Richter writes, the longer the American debate clings to its individualism-and-freedom rhetoric, the more removed it becomes from the real-life concerns of ordinary Americans.


ome very earnest Americans cling to a stunning, yet categorical belief. They think that the Europeans have long regarded the United States of America as a dangerous nation. Why? Supposedly because the purpose of its government is dedicated to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."


The Europeans have understood the promise of the American Declaration of Independence far better than the Americans themselves.

In the late 18th century, that was certainly a radical idea. Back then, Europe’s ruling houses were undoubtedly opposed to the American experiment. But we no longer live in the 18th century. From today’s perspective, the key question is this: Who has come close to making the original American vision a reality?


Here comes the surprise: The Europeans have understood — and realized — the promise of the American Declaration of Independence far better than the Americans themselves. Instead of a rather vapid worshipping of the notion of "freedom," as Americans continue to do, Europeans have insisted that their governments become truly dedicated to task of organizing their societies so that they promote the ideas of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a remarkably effective manner.


What is the point of the pursuit of happiness if it does not include health care for all, an effective safety net to balance against the risks inherent in the global economy, providing public education to ensure social mobility, sufficient vacation time, maternity leave and so on?


For all of Europe’s current problems, it delivers on that crucial point. Not so the United States, even though the level of public indebtedness is as high there as in most major European countries. One wonders what the worth and purpose of a state edifice is for if it cannot secure sufficient social and economic rights for its citizens.


All this flies in the face of what Americans are taught to believe, of course. They are trained reflexively to castigate today’s Europeans for being insufficiently focused on the precious notions of freedom and the rights of the individual. As if that vague, immaterial notion could provide happiness. In the modern world, it is pure fiction that the individual — outside of the top 5% or 10% of society — can get that accomplished. Smart risk-sharing is pivotal.



American-European role reversal


For further proof of this curious American-European role reversal, look no further than Francis Fukuyama. The inventor of the End of History concept and presumed proponent of post-Soviet American triumphalism has come around to saying that it is Europe — not the United States — that comes closest to fulfilling the promise of history. In his view, the Scandinavian countries, Germany and others in Europe’s northwestern corridor are the true liberal Western democracies, dedicated to ensuring a good living for the broadest number of its citizens.


What is the point of the pursuit of happiness if it does not include health care, an economic safety net, public education, sufficient vacation time, maternity leave and so on?

His about-face should give pause to those Americans who are still devoted to peddling the notion of American exceptionalism, whose main promise — a government built for the individual — sounds great until it collides with contemporary economic and social realities.


These days, few Americans still feel that they have it in them to be the rugged individualists who can absorb all the shocks that life can offer. After two centuries of benefiting from a prolonged economic growth spurt, the United States — the world’s original emerging market nation — is now part of the "old world."


That is no wonder and no reason to feel ashamed. And yet, because the virtue of toughness and self-reliance is upheld so forcefully in the public debate, Americans still have a hard time acknowledging outright that they are barely coping. A big wave of unemployment and decades of stagnating incomes, while regular family expenditures keep rising, are more than they can handle.



Rejecting democracy


What needs an urgent rethink is the old line that America was established as a republic and that its founders rejected direct democracy because it didn’t protect the individual from the "tyranny of the majority."


Tyranny of the majority? Rejecting democracy? This from a nation that has used the idea of democracy promotion as the unifying theme of its own foreign policy for the past two decades?


Historically speaking, these statements about the original framework of the Constitution are true. The question that should be at the heart of the current U.S. political debate is this: Isn’t it time to move beyond 18th-century notions of the conservative set of the Founding Fathers?


After all, theirs was no democracy, but a parliament convened from the ranks of what used to be called the landed gentry in England of old. Virtually all of them property owners, they were keen to protect their privileged material positions from any potential onslaught, or power grab, by the "masses."


America’s Founding Fathers were keen on protecting their privileged material position. That endeavor is understandable, but it is no longer acceptable.

That endeavor, as a matter as sheer self-interest, is understandable. But it is no longer acceptable in a country where the political base, 235 years on, has shifted far away from just property owners. As a matter of fact, the whole idea of referencing the Founding Fathers so devotedly is a very transparent effort to keep the entire U.S. political debate in a time warp.


The best way to understand the fears the Founders had with regard to the American people at large is to equate it to the animosity and fears generated deliberately about today’s immigrants (and, in particular, Latinos).


The longer the official American debate, especially in the Republican Party, clings to its individualism-and-freedom rhetoric, the more removed it becomes from the real-life concerns of ordinary Americans.


No matter how much efforts to bring about a better social and economic balance in the United States are denigrated as "class warfare," they will not ultimately prevent the deep-seated frustration from rising to the surface. The more and the longer it is suppressed, the more virulent it will become.


Fearing the tyranny of the majority is an untenable concept in the 21st century. Any nation purports to promote democracy abroad but is beholden to that notion at home automatically loses credibility. In fact, there are those who argue, with good reason, that the United States promotes democracy abroad so intensely precisely because it lacks the domestic consensus to do the same at home.


The sad but inescapable reality is that, in terms of how it manages political power, the United States has transformed itself into a clever modern version of Prussia’s old political order, where wealth and land ownership conveyed political power from generation to generation.


But don’t expect to hear a serious debate about the purposes of American democracy any time soon in the capital city of Washington, D.C. That is a place where the top 5% of households have an annual income of $473,000 — a stunning 60% higher than in other large U.S. cities.


This overclass of lawyers, lobbyists, pollsters, association executives and other professional influencers has a direct stake in the preservation of the old order of the landed gentry. Not only does the established order serve them very well, they are also very well compensated for their ardent efforts to uphold the status quo.

Greek Lessons: Democracy versus Debt-Bondage

It is a truism to say that democracy began with the Greeks – less so to say that it originated in popular rebellion against debt and debt-bondage. Yet, with the Greek people ensnared once more in the vice-grip of rich debt-holders, it may be useful to recall that fact. For the only hope today of reclaiming democracy in Greece (and elsewhere) resides in the prospect of a mass uprising against modern debt-bondage that extends the rule of the people into the economic sphere.

It is a truism to say that democracy began with the Greeks – less so to say that it originated in popular rebellion against debt and debt-bondage. Yet, with the Greek people ensnared once more in the vice-grip of rich debt-holders, it may be useful to recall that fact. For the only hope today of reclaiming democracy in Greece (and elsewhere) resides in the prospect of a mass uprising against modern debt-bondage that extends the rule of the people into the economic sphere.

Across virtually all the ancient world, to fall into irretrievable debt was to enter into bondage to the rich. For millennia, the poor typically had no collateral for loans beyond their bodies and their labour. The result in ancient Greece, as Aristotle acknowledged, was that “the poor … were enslaved by the rich.”[1]

Beginning more than 2,600 years ago, a succession of upheavals by the Athenian poor – or the demos – broke the power of the aristocracy and began a drawn out democratic revolution. Squeezed by debts and the spread of debt-bondage the common people rendered their aristocratic society effectively ungovernable. In 594 BC, in an effort to restore stability, huge concessions were made to the demos: all debts were cancelled and debt-bondage abolished. For the first time, poor men acquired meaningful rights to political participation. And they used those rights to systematically curtail the unaccountable power of aristocrats, accomplished by elevating the popular Assembly and its direct democracy above all other institutions.[2] So interconnected were the principles of democracy and economic justice for the demos that Aristotle identified “the rule of the poor” as the essence of a democratic state. “In democracies,” he explained, “the poor have more sovereign power than the rich.”[3] For this reason, struggles by the rich to increase their social and economic power invariably took the form of struggles against democracy.

Class Divisions

Notwithstanding enormous differences in social and historical context, a similar battle is wracking Greece today. To be sure, the ancient landed aristocracy has been replaced by a capitalist “financial aristocracy.”[4] Yet, war between the modern aristocracy of debt-holders and the forces of democracy once again grips Greek society.

From the earliest days of the recent ‘debt crisis’ – caused, let us recall, by the global bank bailouts and the recessions that followed the financial crash of 2008 – international financial institutions have been on a collision course with democracy. Time and time again, the interests of global banks have over-ridden the will of the people. Consider just the following events of early November:

  • On November 3rd of last year European Union leaders browbeat and humiliated Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for having pledged to hold a popular referendum on a proposed austerity deal. The confidence of financial markets being unable to abide consultation of the Greek people, Papandreou was quickly forced from office.[5]
  • One week later, the former head of the Bank of Greece and former vice-president of the European Central Bank, Lucas Papedemos, never having been elected to any public office, was installed as Greek PM.
  • Two days after that, a non-elected prime minister was appointed in Italy, in the form of former Goldman Sachs executive, Mario Monti. Defending this end-run around basic liberal-democratic procedure, the country’s president explained that “Italy could not afford elections at a time of market crisis.”[6]

Speaking of elections, the people of Spain found themselves in the midst of one at the very time Greece and Italy were receiving non-elected prime ministers. Yet, as one perceptive journalist reported, the public displayed a distinct lack of interest. “If scarcely anyone is taking any interest in the election,” he noted, “it’s because the result is seen as largely irrelevant: it’s the markets that rule.”[7]

The Rule of Markets

Since then, the recognition that “it’s the markets that rule” has grown, and with it the decline of even the most elementary forms of democracy. Nowhere has the assault on democracy been more brazen than in the negotiations leading to the most recent ‘bailout’ of Greece – which, of course, is really just another bailout of Europe’s banks.[8] As the price of paying back the banks while impoverishing its people, the Greek government has been forced to accept nothing less than outright colonization by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In fact, the ‘bailout’ agreement states that:

  • Greece is required to rewrite its constitution to give priority to debt repayment. A political document meant to enshrine the rights of the people will now be amended to give priority to the rights of banks.
  • The ‘loans’ bestowed on Greece will be placed in a special escrow account which can release funds only for the purpose of payments to banks. Spending these funds on pensions or healthcare is explicitly forbidden.
  • Foreign lenders will have the right to seize the gold reserves of the national Bank of Greece.
  • A task force created by the European Union will be given an “enhanced and permanent” presence in Athens, where it will monitor all financial and social policy activity of the Greek government.

Whatever semblance of democracy is possible in a capitalist society has now been shunted aside in Greece. The country’s elected institutions now function as little more than fig leafs for the power of global capital. And its people are being subjected to modern forms of debt-bondage in which the bodies of poor and working-class people are sacrificed to debt payment.

Under the bailout package, for instance, the Greek minimum wage will be slashed by 22 per cent (and more for young workers); 150,000 public services jobs will be eliminated; pensions will be savaged. Living standards, which had already contracted on average by 30 per cent, will be pushed down a further 15 per cent. An economy that has been in recession for five years (and has shrunk by more than one-fifth) will be pushed into a further downward spiral. More than 60,000 small and medium-sized businesses will collapse, and a quarter of a million private sector jobs will evaporate. Youth unemployment will soar above 50 per cent.[9] Homelessness and street begging, already rising alarmingly, will worsen.

How long this can continue is anyone’s guess. Since the economic crisis emerged in 2008-9, Greece has seen waves of general strikes, mass demonstrations, and fighting with riot police. Anger and frustration may well boil over. In the view of one trade unionist, “People are literally hungry and the number of homeless is growing every day … soon they won’t take anymore. There’ll be a popular revolt.”[10]

Democracy and Economic Justice

If it is to have any chance of success, such a revolt will have to reclaim the ancient connection between democracy and economic justice. It will have to revive the meaning of democracy as “the rule of the poor” – all of the poor exercising real sovereign power in popular assemblies. And such a project of radical democracy will have to break decisively with liberalism through the deepening and extension of popular power and control into the economic sphere.

Liberal-capitalist democracy, observes Ellen Meiksins Wood, “leaves untouched vast areas of our daily lives – in the workplace, in the distribution of labour and resources – which are not subject to democratic accountability but are governed by the powers of property and the laws of the market.”[11] Those powers of property and the market have now shown their utter incompatibility with any kind of genuine democracy.

It also requires attending to the new practices of assembly-style democracy that have emerged at the highest moments of recent struggles from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street.

It thus falls to the radical Left to reclaim the project of democracy and to once again link it to popular struggles against new forms of debt-bondage. Not only does this mean learning from the ancient example of “the great democracy of Athens,” as C.L.R. James urged.[12] It also requires attending to the new practices of assembly-style democracy that have emerged at the highest moments of recent struggles from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street.[13] All of this means building a radical Left uncompromisingly committed to deepening the project of direct democracy as an indispensable part of all popular movements against austerity and injustice. •

David McNally teaches political science at York University, Toronto, and is the author of Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance. He blogs at

Online petitions crack through board rooms, capitals



Published February 25, 2012

The online petition movement has come a long way from chain mails that threaten eternal bad luck for failing to forward a message to at least five friends. 



Published February 25, 2012

The online petition movement has come a long way from chain mails that threaten eternal bad luck for failing to forward a message to at least five friends. 

Last year, a 22-year-old part-time nanny complained in a petition about Bank of America’s $5-a-month debit card fee. After hundreds of thousands of people signed on, the image-bruised bank dropped the fee. 

Online petitions last year also helped spur state proposals for a so-called "Caylee’s Law" to toughen requirements on parents to report missing children, in the wake of the Casey Anthony case. The Obama White House even responded to its own petition site after enough people clamored for the administration to weigh in on a controversial online piracy law. 

The digital petition world has notched a string of successes over the past 12 months, and just now seems to be taking off. As Facebook and Twitter revolutionize the way people connect with one another, the merger of social media and political activism is creating a wave of its own. 

"It’s really been this explosive growth over this past year in particular," Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of, told 

The San Francisco-based company launched five years ago, but only started focusing on petitions in the past year or so. Rattray said the site went from gaining 1,000 members a month to 1 million a month now. He said more than 10,000 petitions a month are currently being started on the site, and he’s projecting 25 million members by the end of the year — up from 8 million now. 

What’s the appeal? Rattray reasoned that the petitions are allowing everyday people to coalesce into their own lobbying force — on very particular issues, quickly and publicly, at the local and national levels. 

He cited the case of Molly Katchpole, who launched the Bank of America debit-card fee petition. Five years ago, he said, Katchpole would have been "miffed" about the fee and complained to friends — maybe even closed her bank account. 

Instead, she launched a petition that fed into heavy media coverage and additional social media campaigns. 

"(Bank of America) just recognized the potential damage they’re exposed to," he said. "They’re facing a rapid-response lobbying group that is now their customer base." 

Rattray, who started the site with a former classmate at Stanford University, said he wasn’t originally going to get into the social networking business. 

The 31 year old, who grew up in a conservative household, said he went to school to be an investment banker. He studied political science and economics. But Rattray said he started getting more into social advocacy after one of his brothers came out as gay. He watched the rapid rise of Facebook — which is now preparing to go public on an epic scale — and figured he could use similar technology to connect people not just around personal interests but issues. 

Several other petition-oriented websites have sprouted up around the same concept. 

One of them, Care2, predates The company started in 1998 and has since focused mainly on environmental and human rights causes. The social network site is a forum for an army of bloggers but also uses petitions to advance its goals. 

"It’s about empowering individuals to have a voice and take part in … collective actions," founder Randy Paynter said. 

Paynter said he got the idea for the site from chain emails. By themselves, those emails tended to vanish into the digital ether — so he started to aggregate petitions. 

Like on, the petitions range from the serious to the slightly bizarre. As of Saturday, a petition to outlaw "vanity tattoos" for cats in Russia had more than 18,000 signatures. Another calling on Kardashian-family companies to stop selling furs had attracted more than 100,000 signatures. 

Care2 also claims to see more than 10,000 petitions started every month. Paynter said the site has 18 million members. 

Washington has hardly been deaf to this trend. Last fall, the White House launched its own petition site, We the People, promising to offer an official response to any petition that attracts at least 25,000 signatures in 30 days. 

Among the petitions the administration has responded to were those concerning controversial anti-online piracy bills in Congress. The administration, in response to the petitions, said last month that it had concerns about whether the proposals could undermine Internet freedom. 

Within days, congressional leaders put the proposals on hold. 

Not all petitions lead to definitive legislative action. In the case of the "Caylee’s Law" proposals, many states have struggled to actually get those reporting requirements passed despite the public pressure following the trial last year. Thousands of other petitions gather a modest number of signatures, and then fade away. 

Paynter said progress from petitions is often incremental. "But the reality is, that’s the way that all change works," he said. 

While the petition sites allow people to band together and take their grievances directly to lawmakers, another site has also just launched meant to give candidates themselves a more direct platform for reaching voters. 

The site, PolitiView, launched last month, allows candidates in races across the country to post campaign videos and web addresses on a personalized page. 

The site is subscription-based for politicians, though free for everyone else. The idea, eventually, is that a voter could type in his or her address, then see a listing of the candidates running in the area for different offices — and be able to click to their pages. Ballot-initiative campaigns could also subscribe. 

Creator Susan Nightingale compared the site to airline-price aggregators — only for political campaigns. 

"It’s a campaign dashboard," she said. "This is direct democracy. It couldn’t be any more direct." 

At, Rattray has ambitious plans for the future. He plans to grow his 100-person staff to 200 by the end of the year. The company currently has offices in three U.S. cities and a few other countries but plans to expand to 20 countries over the next 12 months. 

He said the desire for mass mobilization is not a uniquely American one. But in the U.S., he predicted the site could have a strong impact on the 2012 presidential race. 

With so much concern about the influence of money in politics — particularly through so-called super PACs — he anticipates a campaign to compel candidates to crack down on super PAC influence. 

But the site is user-driven, and he conceded his staff’s role is just to mediate. 

"We wake up every day and have no idea what’s going to be started on the site," he said.