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John Simkin

Is America a democracy?

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Some countries seem to have been more successful than others in this regard. For example, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Although all these countries still have serious problems to deal with, they have managed to place certain restrictions over the power of the wealthy elite.

To some extent this was true but during the 1980's we could definitely see a change in Sweden. A big part of this change was connected with the economy and it's more rapid globalization. Several typical "Swedish companies" as SAAB, Volvo, SKF etc... are now part of multinational companies. As a result of this globalization Sweden also joined the European Union and we now see a bigger similarity between Sweden and the other Western countries when we study political democracy. Swedes who usually showed great interest in national and local politics and actually expressed a believe in being able to influence the political course of the country now reacted in a very similar way to all the countries who have lost their faith in the "democratic elections". One of the biggest signs of this is the lack of interest showed in the elections to the European parliament. In the first Swedish election 1995 to the European parliament 41.6% of the population used their democratic right to vote, in 1999 the number was 38.8% and in 2004 37.85% and we see no sign of any change of this trend. This trend has also affected the national elections. In 1976 91.8% of the population voted in the election to the Swedish parliament. These numbers have gradually dropped and in the latest election "only" 80.1% of the population voted.

I think this loss of faith in the existing democratic system is where we today find a similarity between my country and the US. During the later 1980's and early 1990's I had the privilege of working within the academic world in the US. As a lecturer in political history I often compared the ongoing development in Europe with the one in the US. The global economy has made the differences between the western countries much less significant - in a negative way. We still have other differences though; for example Sweden is a multiparty state with many different parties represented in the Swedish Parliament compared with the Dual party state of the US. Here we can see a greater similarity between the US and UK.

Actually when I wanted to challenge my students I called the US the "Dual Party Dictatorship" - a method that led to many good discussions. I have just come back from a month visit in the US and once again I'm amazed how so many great thinkers and highly intelligent people can't make their voice heard. I know that part of this problem is the voting system but clearly their must be other ways to shake the political establishment, or...?

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Dear Colleagues,

From my point of view we are living very far from democracy and it is blue dream for people to reach it in one day. But from the other hand we have not nothing better at the moment to use and explore in our daily lives. Communism collapsed as a nice idea for poor people so capitalist implementation of democracy is working in the field now.

I came from totalitarian society and have to say you that your meaning of democracy means death for former USSR republics and people (the whole generation grew up under completely different ideas but under the name of democracy too). Social values dominated during this period of time - people had free of charge medical care, education, houses and had predicable future for their children but now after the so called period of new democracy - millions homeless people, street children (like after WW2 we watch by TV in your countries such a situation but now in every republic millions of poor people and very few have milliards of money to transfer them into West economy not their own, buying football clubs like Abramovich but his own people in Chokotka are dying of starvation but he is a governor of this region - gave people before elections a bottle of vodka and peace of bread  according to their newspapers.

Is it democracy they are crying at every corner - no of course not. So, when USA is using military power under the name of democracy I do not believe in their honesty. Oil  and resourses, property and money are the main value for them and others countries who supporting them can't refuse because they never will get support from USA and it is better for them under the name of democracy to kill their own people and pay some money to the families. People's life cost very few now.

I was teaching soldiers and officers when we invaded Afganistan that we are helping poor people to live better and build better society. USSR wanted to have total control under this region because USA wanted the same. Who was thinking about ordinary people. Politicians were thinking about their own interest by using poor people in this direction under different names - freedom, democracy socialism and etc. So, millions of our people hate Mr. Gorbachev for his policy and total destruction and he never will get any votes within former USSR but for west he is a Hero.

We are very different and from very different civilisations and systems. It is true  and clash of civilisations continue.

Thank you for this contribution. Those on the left have been watching in horror at what is happening in many of the countries in Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism. It is clear that western governments were never really interested in the introduction of democracy in your countries. All they wanted was the freedom for their large corporations to enter your markets. They seem completely unconcerned about how the old regimes have been replaced by criminal elements of the old Communist Party. What people like Abramovich have done is a disgrace. From my reading of the subject it appears that Gorbachev put certain safeguards in place to stop this happening but these were removed by Yeltsin. These are the people who are now the financial backers of the current Russian government. This is very similar to what goes on in the so called democracies of the UK and the US. However, it is done wit more subtlety in the west.

What of the future? The only way to stop this is for the people to become mobilized against the government. I am afraid governments never give people their freedom. It always has to be won. Nor can it be imposed by some foreign power as in Iraq. Once you have won your freedom and democracy you need to be eternally vigilant to make sure they don’t take those hard won concessions away again (as has happened in the UK and the US).

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I'm with Chris on this, I don't believe the "good ol days" were so good.... My main enemies in our great nation are banking and the government as a human institution.  Since I'll end up rambling for 6 or 7 pages I'll fall back on the words of two people.

"Funds and banks I never approved of, or was satisfied with our funding system; it was founded on no consistant principle; it was contrived to enrich particular individuals at the public expense.  Our whole banking system I ever abhored, I continue to abhor, and I shall die abhoring...

"I am not an enemy of funding systems...but every bank of discount, every bank by which intrest is to be paid or profit of any kind made by the deponent, is downright corruption. It is taxing the public for the benefit and proft of individuals; it's worse than the old tenor, continental currency, or any paper money....

John Adams 1811 letter to Benjamin Rush

Selected writings of John and Quincy Adams, 1946 p 162-3.

"The right of absolute and irresponsible dominion is the right of property, and the right of property is the right of irresponsible dominion...But these men who claim and exercise absolute dominion over us dare not be consistant, and claim to be our masters or to own us as property. They say they are only our servant, agents, attorneys, and representatives.  No man can be my servant, agent, attorney, or representative, and be, at the same time, uncontrolable by me, and irresponsible to me for his acts."

Lysander Spooner

Heretics Handbook of Quotations, 1988, p.35.

This basically sums up how I feel about all of our governments........

Is it really banks that are the problem? I would have thought that the real problem concerns the corruption of politicians by their financial backers (sometimes this involves bankers but is more likely to be business leaders who have an interest in government contracts).

It seems to get a better form of democracy we have to stop rich people from corrupting politicians. Although this is currently an unpopular idea, I think that all political parties should be funded by the state. This is the only way you are going to stop this corruption. If that is too controversial, I think we need to adopt the model used in some North European countries where there are severe restrictions on how much money you can spend on elections.

All politicians have rewarded their financial backers. However, in the cases of Lyndon Johnson and George Bush, they have taken it to extremes. It is no coincidence that both men were excellent at raising funds for their party and themselves. In my opinion, these are the two most corrupt politicians in American history (yes, and this includes Richard Nixon).

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I realise I'm coming a little late to this party, so please bear with me if my reading of posts so far is not as well-remembered as one might like...

Whilst I would not describe the US as a democracy, there are some aspects I quite like, in principle. In particular the election of local officials, and not just local legislative representatives. If this were to work democratically (see John S comment/definition) it might engage the electorate more. Perhaps those of you in the US could help me here and say if these elections have a higher turnout than the Presidential ballot.

On voting systems, First Past the Post isn't perfect. The Electoral College idea seems frankly worse.

I think that people's growing disengagement/disenchantment with voting comes from two sources (at least?). The first is the concept mentioned above a few times, that the electorate does not feel that an individual's single vote will make much difference (as the people of Florida might agree following Bush jnr 1st election). The second is the increasing hegemony of right wing ideas. Most European Soc Dem parties have dropped the "ist" from "Social", figuratively if not literally.

From this side of the Atlantic, it appears that the 2 main US parties are stuck in a narrow field of acceptable politics because of "the Bible Belt Vote" or "Middle America" and a host of similar interest groups who it would not be possible to upset. They do, of course, go on to upset them. This focus on campaigning, and therefore on the media's image of the party/candidate is important. However it isn't that they object to upsetting this or that minority, but that they object to the media reaction to it. Which I suppose leads us back to the Plutocracy/Oligopoly angle of this discussion...

Ed

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Yes, there is the corruption of politicians, so who is worse? With a dwindling tax liability coupled with record theft, err profits, our richest 1% just have a louder voice. I may be naive, but I don't think straightening out politicians will help in and of itself. If the problem is addressed a little, further upstream the result would surely, with some exception as always in life, trickle down to the politician. Earlier in my life, I had always considered the "Government" the ultimate "Power" in life. If they made the rules who could trump that? But that simply is not true, and perhaps was never meant to be. The fact is our nation was founded by and upon men of wealth and influence. Should we now expect things to be more equitable??

Another point I would like to raise is that in many of the posts, including my own, there has been reference to the "Government" (Hence my quotes earlier). But the Government is not some nameless, faceless inhuman thing. It is people, plain and simple. We have as citizens a choice, to legitimize the authority of these other citizens who just happen to be calling the shots. Or we decide that we no longer legitimize that authority and take the appropriate steps.

In many former colonial assets, such as our own, those citizens chose open rebellion through armed resistance and aggression. What sorts of leaders should we expect when our freedom is won through bloodshed? Mr. Gandhi chose the route of open rebellion, except the method employed, with exception as always in life, of non-cooperation.

I remember back in 2000 when the California dockworkers were locked out for demanding more compensation. That incident 'cost' the economy several billion dollars each day. That was one dockyard in one place....

Americans are so used to the violent approach that the wise one may pass them by. I'm not suggesting that anything is without risk of injury, imprisonment, and death. I'm merely suggestion that firstly, it is a no lose proposition. There is no way that a few million American government workers can control over 100 million Americans if those Americans refuse to cooperate. Non-violent non-cooperation. Wow, what a Christian idea.... No wonder it passes us right by.... I'm of the opinion that our official American sanctimony is only surpassed by our hypocrisy. What's my point? There is only one-way to control a few rich people who forgot who is really in control here. Make them much less rich.

The folks who call the shots are just people. Not gods, not super human, just plain old human beings. Of course they are plain old human beings who have bamboozled a good deal of us into thinking they are superhuman and god like...

The same holds true for government people.

I've often felt it very unfair that the 3P's are treated as something different that human. Politicians, Priests and Policeman are three careers that evoke some otherworldly ideas in common people. The truth is recent events have proved irrefutable is that politicians, more often than not, are crooks, plain and simple. Priest, at least some of them, rape children. There are other priests who cover up the crimes. Policeman torture people, falsify "evidence" and take payoffs. Does this mean all of these groups have solely "evil" people? That is as ridiculous as inferring that they are all above reproach. All three of these groups hold a good deal of public trust and I would submit that citizens crave that father figure. They want to be told they are safe and everything will be all right.

There was a physician in the 50's Dr. Wilhelm Reich who had a psychosocial theory that said in sex-negative societies there is a need in the people to seek fascism. That this condition, in various forms and names, has always existed in these sex-negative societies and that the condition is perpetuated in order to enjoy the benefits of a compliant and in many ways addicted society. He died in federal prison in the 1960's or 70's.

It is absolutely imperative that those of us who do not enjoy the privilege of public trust, do not confuse this trust with virtue. It is unfair to us as it confuses our roles in the society. And it is equally unfair to those charged with the public trust as it sets up unrealistic expectations upon them and forgets the fact of their own humanity. This is a very necessary first step. All men are created equal. Yes I'm sure I've read that somewhere......

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The people get the governmnet they deserve.  That is democracy.

I basically agree with that statement. But there's the rub. The American people are getting the government they deserve, and it may be too late to do anything about it.

In considering whether America is a democracy or not, I think it is instructive to look at the corporate/military coup attempt against President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. This conspiracy was the work of wealthy businessmen, what today is often called the power elite, or what would become (with the permanent armaments industry borne of WWII) what President Eisenhower warningly called the military-industrial complex (MIC). (The MIC is also called, in its more fascistic light, the national security state.) How much has really changed in the American political system since the power elite power play of the 1930s?

The biggest players in the plot against FDR were the du Pont and J.P. Morgan financial empires. Obviously this power elite did not really believe in democracy. It didn’t believe in it then, so why should the power elite believe in it now? In the 1930s they were open admirers of fascism, as were some elected officials in Washington. In May 1932, David Reed, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, stood on the Senate floor and said, “I do not often envy other countries and their governments, but I say that if this country ever needed a Mussolini, it needs one now.” Such honesty changed, of course, during and after WWII, as the power elite could no longer openly admire fascism after fighting a highly profitable world war against somebody else’s brand of it.

The plot against FDR was simple. FDR would be given an ultimatum, to resign for health reasons, turning his duties over to a new position to be created, which would of course look out for the interests of the power elite. If he did not resign, he would be removed. And the coup probably would have succeeded, given the power of this fascist elite, had they not chosen the wrong man to lead it. They chose a retired Army general, Smedley Butler, because of his popularity with the troops, who might be needed if FDR did not resign. But the conspirators probably should have gone with their second choice, General Douglas McArthur, because while Butler, a two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor, may have been popular with the troops, he did not share the undemocratic views of the plotters. Butler for a time pretended to go along with the plot, but foiled it by betraying it to the Congress.

But though the plot was foiled, two significant things happened that tell us how much things haven’t changed. First, the Congress did not have the guts or independence to stand up to the power elite. Not a single one of the wealthy plotters was called to testify before Congressional investigators, except for the go-between Gerald Maguire of Wall Street, who had represented the plotters to Butler. The Congress protected the power elite after its attempted high treason. And second, the mainstream corporate media even in the 1930s was so controlled that it didn’t really cover the story. It was all supposedly nothing but rumors and gossip; the power elite, as far as America’s “watchdog” media was concerned, hadn’t really done anything wrong.

There was a successful MIC coup in 1963 in Dallas, against an independently wealthy president who was too far off the reservation, the MIC taking abrupt corrective action to redirect the course of national and world events (with the government and media saying a lone nut did it).

There was another coup in 2000, when the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which hardly anyone had even heard of, but whose members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, and whose published agenda of world domination through “the transformation of warfare” represents the MIC run amok, took over the federal government and promptly brought us 9/11, the PNAC’s wished-for “new Pearl Harbor” (with the government and media saying that a nut in an Afghan cave did it).

And do you know what? Five years after the PNAC coup, most Americans still haven’t heard of PNAC! Viewers of Fox News, for example, listen to regular news commentator William Kristol “of the Weekly Standard,” without even being made aware of the fact that Kristol is Chairman of PNAC. In other words Kristol is among the leaders of the current administration, he just doesn’t hold an official administration position. And Americans sit and listen to him as an “objective” commentator on what the administration is doing!

But I digress (though not really, as the ignorance of the American people, whatever the cause, is a major factor in the demise of their democracy). I see only one big difference between the power elite that wanted to set up a fascist government in America in the 1930s and the power elite today, which could set up such a government at virtually any time (all it would take is another 9/11 and martial law). The difference is, the power elite today, with the Pentagon (stealing taxpayer money a “lost” trillion dollars at a time) fully behind it, is far more powerful than the du Ponts and Morgans of the 1930s. And it will never be foiled again.

But let’s look at the bright side. Martial law may prove unnecessary, a pretense of democracy may continue to be maintained, thanks to a brand-new menace, masquerading as a boon, to democratic government. It was in 1961 that Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned the American people of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. It’s too bad that Ike wasn’t around in 2001 to warn us of the dangers of the electronic voting-machine industry. For the advent of electronic voting machines has simply made electoral fraud (which of course has always been with us in various forms) as easy as the click of a hacker’s mouse.

The leading manufacturer of these machines, complete with their software secrets, is Diebold, run by partisan members of the party that is now in power. And of course the Republicans, as the party in power, have the advantage over the Democrats in controlling the electoral process, using (how convenient) Republican-built voting machines. So the Republicans can perpetuate their power indefinitely by hacking out as many votes as they need, as they apparently did (at least in the decisive state of Ohio) in 2004 (the first national election in which there were enough of these new machines in use to make all the difference, no matter how much the Democrats tried to steal votes in old-fashioned ways).

I suspect that the Democrats consequently elected their last president, from here to eternity, in 1996. The Democrats know this but can’t do anything about it, so they don’t let on, because it’s not nice to fool with the Cheney regime (with or without Karl Rove). Hillary is already running for 2008 to keep America’s “democracy” show on the road, with Democratic office holders like Hillary thus always assured, in their role as the loyal opposition, of getting crumbs that fall from the Republican table.

And the American people don’t bat an eye at all this. To the people these newfangled voting machines (do they have them in Britain yet?) are just more wonderful signs of modern progress (no more old-timey paper ballots and hanging chads!), making it so much easier than in the old days to cast their votes and continue to think that they live in a democracy, instead of in a military/corporate oligarchy, functioning for the benefit above all of the power elite.

General Butler, by the way, published a book in 1935 entitled “War Is a Racket.” Here are the first three paragraphs of General Butler’s book, which can be read online:

“War is a racket. It always has been.

“It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

http://lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm

Did General Butler have it right or what? The same thought was behind Ike’s farewell warning years later about the military-industrial complex. And it’s what the American government is running right now, a racket, thanks to the PNAC in power and its dream, a new Pearl Harbor, come true. (Talk about a coincidence! How lucky could they get?) And there’s not much that the American people can do about it, were they even inclined to try.

An interesting account of the history of American democracy. I am disturbed by your conclusion that “there’s not much that the American people can do about it, were they even inclined to try”. That suggests that America has ceased to be a democracy.

I myself have become very disillusioned with democracy over the last 30 years. When I was a young political activist in the 1960s I thought we could change the world. In a way I think we did. In the UK we got a whole range of progressive legislation passed between 1964-70. The same was true of the United States. For example the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. I also think that young people helped bring an end to the Vietnam War.

The problems that we face today are in many ways far worse than those of the 1960s. Trying to persuade our politicians not to take part in a nuclear war was far easier than getting them to take action to bring an end to global warming.

I think the biggest difference between young people in the 1960s to those today is that we believed we could change the world. Without this belief you cannot do it as you are unable to maintain the motivation necessary. I still believe it is possible to change the world and that is why I spend so much time producing information that suggests we can. However, it can’t be done with old codgers like me. We need the young, with all their surplus energies, to get involved in this struggle. Yet so many are apathetic. I can understand that given the current situation. But it is a recipe for a new kind of fascism.

I have been concerned for example in the way that people have reacted to the calls by the UK government to curtail our civil liberties since the London bombing. Tony Blair tells the public that we cannot allow the terrorists to change our way of life. Yet he immediately talks about bringing in legislation that will do just that. The majority accept these measures. Not only that, the popularity of Blair since the bombing has gone up. Instead of people thinking that the bombing only took place because of Blair’s policy on Iraq, they embrace his “tough talking” and reward him with high poll ratings.

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I myself have become very disillusioned with democracy over the last 30 years. When I was a young political activist in the 1960s I thought we could change the world. In a way I think we did. In the UK we got a whole range of progressive legislation passed between 1964-70. The same was true of the United States. For example the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. I also think that young people helped bring an end to the Vietnam War.

However, it can’t be done with old codgers like me. We need the young, with all their surplus energies, to get involved in this struggle. Yet so many are apathetic. I can understand that given the current situation. But it is a recipe for a new kind of fascism.

Slightly off topic, but...

I doubt either of these is factually correct! You may have become disillusioned with the way UK and/or US governments have become more autocratic/authoritarian/similar, but I would hope that in some other world that you would have the young (and I'm coming to that) create would surely be properly democratic. This may sound like a semantic nicety, but it's important to accept that democracy isn't what we are offered, and remains a good idea.

Your comment on the young, and that we old codgers can do nothing... Some of the most brilliant speeches (motivating......) have been given by 'old codgers'. Those same old codgers were very active in the ANL of the late 1970s, the Poll Tax campaign.... I admit that there were thousands of young people there too, and that they did have an awful lot of energy. However, the young of today are not as apathetic as you suggest. They may be more fatalistic than we were in the 60s and 70s, and divert their energies in different ways. The Islamic militancy so apparent recently suggests this energy still exists.

Perhaps the key difference between the 'active' and the 'fatalists' is that the active (as in earlier times) think they HAVE to change things, rather than discussing whether they can or cannot.

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No.

Another bizarre attempt to insert yourself into a debate. I suppose it is significant that you are unable to come up with any points in favour of a so-called democratic system that has allowed someone of the quality of George Bush to be elected to serve two terms as president.

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When I was in my late-teens, early-20s I too thought that we could change things. I think we probably did to some extent. Public opinion against the Vietnam War probably influenced US government policy – but it took a long time. In the UK, public opinion against the Poll Tax was probably effective. We even had a riotous demonstration outside Maidenhead Town Hall – yes, Maidenhead! You have to understand what kind of a genteel, middle-class, Conservative town Maidenhead is in order to appreciate what this meant. I got involved in local politics in my 30s and even stood for election on three occasions, but then I became disillusioned with the type of people that I met in local politics. Most of them were ambitious dickheads, regardless of their political persuasions, and only interested in making a name for themselves. So I got out of politics and concentrated on my career as a teacher in HE – and never looked back.

Now that I am retired, I find I don’t really care much about political ideologies. Democracy is just a concept that may or may not be implemented, depending on what a particular politician feels at the time, and most politicians, left or right, water it down as soon as they get into power. The difference between left and right in the UK is becoming blurred – as is already the case in the USA. Looking back on my life, I can’t recall a single government policy (whatever the colour of the government at the time) that made a significant change to my personal circumstances. I have always had a modest income, I have always paid more tax than I wanted to, but I had an excellent education, enjoyed a good career as a teacher and (which is especially important in my old age) I am on the whole satisfied with the care that the National Health Service has given to me. I have been in hospital on three occasions in the last two years for three totally unrelated problems, all of which have been resolved. I know that education and health are a bit of a lottery, depending on where one lives. I guess I have just been lucky enough to live in the right places.

I have now run out of energy. Walking my dog, playing the occasional round of golf and enjoying a swim at the local fitness centre are all that I have energy for these days. Let the youngsters keep up the political struggle. And - by the way - thanks to all you young guys and girls for paying my pension.

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John Simkin: I myself have become very disillusioned with democracy over the last 30 years. When I was a young political activist in the 1960s I thought we could change the world. In a way I think we did. In the UK we got a whole range of progressive legislation passed between 1964-70. The same was true of the United States. For example the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. I also think that young people helped bring an end to the Vietnam War.

However, it can’t be done with old codgers like me. We need the young, with all their surplus energies, to get involved in this struggle. Yet so many are apathetic. I can understand that given the current situation. But it is a recipe for a new kind of fascism.

Graham Davies: Now that I am retired, I find I don’t really care much about political ideologies. Democracy is just a concept that may or may not be implemented, depending on what a particular politician feels at the time, and most politicians, left or right, water it down as soon as they get into power. The difference between left and right in the UK is becoming blurred – as is already the case in the USA. Looking back on my life, I can’t recall a single government policy (whatever the colour of the government at the time) that made a significant change to my personal circumstances.

I don't know what to say or think about these comments. I agree to a certain extent. It's easy to get disillusioned when you followed some party and/or specific group and saw that they "changed" (or you changed) to something you didn't expect. We have faced a longer period of blunt selfish global capitalism and unfortunately we see that many parties try to adjust to that. The more experienced you are the easier it is to give the more active campaigns a miss and resort to some calmer exrecises but at the same time it's a lot of your experience that's necessary for the continuation of the struggle against unlimited egoism. Your experience in invaluable and much desired among several of the groups that are active today. They need a living connection to the past struggle, lot's of advise and input and they need to understand that the old geezers still have ideals and ideas about the future. So try to give some groups your valuable time once in a while - I sure that it will be appreciated (and don't drop the old ideals - they are worth fighting for now more than ever!). B)

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John Simkin: I myself have become very disillusioned with democracy over the last 30 years. When I was a young political activist in the 1960s I thought we could change the world. In a way I think we did. In the UK we got a whole range of progressive legislation passed between 1964-70. The same was true of the United States. For example the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. I also think that young people helped bring an end to the Vietnam War.

However, it can’t be done with old codgers like me. We need the young, with all their surplus energies, to get involved in this struggle. Yet so many are apathetic. I can understand that given the current situation. But it is a recipe for a new kind of fascism.

Graham Davies: Now that I am retired, I find I don’t really care much about political ideologies. Democracy is just a concept that may or may not be implemented, depending on what a particular politician feels at the time, and most politicians, left or right, water it down as soon as they get into power. The difference between left and right in the UK is becoming blurred – as is already the case in the USA. Looking back on my life, I can’t recall a single government policy (whatever the colour of the government at the time) that made a significant change to my personal circumstances.

I don't know what to say or think about these comments. I agree to a certain extent. It's easy to get disillusioned when you followed some party and/or specific group and saw that they "changed" (or you changed) to something you didn't expect. We have faced a longer period of blunt selfish global capitalism and unfortunately we see that many parties try to adjust to that. The more experienced you are the easier it is to give the more active campaigns a miss and resort to some calmer exrecises but at the same time it's a lot of your experience that's necessary for the continuation of the struggle against unlimited egoism.

I still have not retired from my political campaigning. One of the sad things about age is how Bob Dylan has changed his views on politics.

On the radio this morning I heard a DJ play Dylan's "With God on its Side". He said it reflected the time it was written (1963) when young people believed they could change the world. In 1963 I thought this song helped to change the way people viewed the Vietnam War. I know that Dylan has now rejected the ideas behind the song but in my opinion it still has plenty to tell us about the current war in Iraq.

Oh my name it is nothin'

My age it means less

The country I come from

Is called the Midwest

I's taught and brought up there

The laws to abide

And that land that I live in

Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it

They tell it so well

The cavalries charged

The Indians fell

The cavalries charged

The Indians died

Oh the country was young

With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American

War had its day

And the Civil War too

Was soon laid away

And the names of the heroes

I's made to memorize

With guns in their hands

And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys

It closed out its fate

The reason for fighting

I never got straight

But I learned to accept it

Accept it with pride

For you don't count the dead

When God's on your side.

When the Second World War

Came to an end

We forgave the Germans

And we were friends

Though they murdered six million

In the ovens they fried

The Germans now too

Have God on their side.

I've learned to hate Russians

All through my whole life

If another war starts

It's them we must fight

To hate them and fear them

To run and to hide

And accept it all bravely

With God on my side.

But now we got weapons

Of the chemical dust

If fire them we're forced to

Then fire them we must

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide

And you never ask questions

When God's on your side.

In a many dark hour

I've been thinkin' about this

That Jesus Christ

Was betrayed by a kiss

But I can't think for you

You'll have to decide

Whether Judas Iscariot

Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'

I'm weary as Hell

The confusion I'm feelin'

Ain't no tongue can tell

The words fill my head

And fall to the floor

If God's on our side

He'll stop the next war.

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I answered:

No.

John then wrote:

Another bizarre attempt to insert yourself into a debate. I suppose it is significant that you are unable to come up with any points in favour of a so-called democratic system that has allowed someone of the quality of George Bush to be elected to serve two terms as president.

With all due respect, what I submit is bizarre here is that our host, a man whose intellect I greatly admire, was not astute enough to understand the point I was making. (I deliberately did not spell it out just to see who was bright enough to "catch my drift").

If I remember my history correctly, it was Ben Franklin who was asked what kind of a government the founders had created. He replied: "A republic--if you can keep it."

America is a constitutional republic. It is NOT a democracy. The distinction is important. And it is unfortunate that the distinction is lost on educated persons such as John Simkin.

And by the way it was the educated judgment of the Supreme Court that gave us Bush II in 2000. But it was after his four years in office that the American public considered his performance and considered the alternative and then handily re-elected Bush in 2004. Something left-oriented intellectuals will NEVER understand, I acknowledge. I think it was William F. Buckley who once said he would rather be governed by the first 100 people in the Boston phone book than by 100 professors at Harvard.

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A very interesting debate, with good points made on all sides. I think the best point made so far is the suggestion that donations to political parties should be banned, or at the very least, strictly controlled via a system that is corruption-proof. Not an easy task but worth attempting.

America today is ruled by a corporate oligarchy. This may have also been the case previously but has never seemed more apparent than in 2005. I have nothing against the corporate entity as a vehicle for participating in commerce with profit as the primary motive (while mitigating personal financial liability) but must societies be destroyed in the process? What we're seeing is the result of corporations pursuing profit to the exclusion of all else, with Americans being fooled into thinking that relentless greed is a good thing, a great thing, an American thing (this applies in most other countries, not just America, but I'm just using America to highlight the case as it's the starkest global example of corporate capture). Some things can be more clearly seen when you are observing from a distance and what is happening in America today is frightening. Many people require two or three jobs to survive (while the administration slashes welfare), the prison population has exploded--2.1 million--many serving long sentences for trifling offences, debt is at its highest point in history (while the rich avoid paying tax by employing tax havens), serious emerging problems such as global warming and peak oil are ignored, and the Government (as the representative of the corporate oligarchy) creates enemies worldwide with foolish military adventurism. The great irony is that its the ordinary citizens who endure all the pain while the corporations pursue the gain. It's not CEO's of global corporations who come home in bodybags. The media won't touch these problems--the War on Terror and American Idol sell much better. And the media is owned by the corporate oligarchy anyway. Serious discussions about these issues don't generate sufficient profit.

At the moment there is still enough wealth around for many average Americans to remain blissfully comatose to changing circumstances---but this will soon change, IMO.

So winding back all this will be very difficult. Banning political donations would at least curtail the corporations' influence on politicians. Such a proposal would create a large backlash and might well prove to be impractical but I can't see how else the political process can be de-corrupted.

Sorry to be so downbeat but that's the way I see it.

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I answered:

No.

John then wrote:

Another bizarre attempt to insert yourself into a debate. I suppose it is significant that you are unable to come up with any points in favour of a so-called democratic system that has allowed someone of the quality of George Bush to be elected to serve two terms as president.

With all due respect, what I submit is bizarre here is that our host, a man whose intellect I greatly admire, was not astute enough to understand the point I was making.  (I deliberately did not spell it out just to see who was bright enough to "catch my drift").

If I remember my history correctly, it was Ben Franklin who was asked what kind of a government the founders had created.  He replied:  "A republic--if you can keep it."

America is a constitutional republic.  It is NOT a democracy.  The distinction is important.  And it is unfortunate that the distinction is lost on educated persons such as John Simkin.

Is it really a judgement of my intelligence that I should have worked out all of this with your posting of the word “No”? What a strange mind you have?

However, let us see if we can unpack your views on democracy. On other threads you have constantly defended George Bush for trying to impose “democracy” on Iraq. Am I to believe that what he/you really mean by this is that he is imposing a “republic” on Iraq? Or is a “republic” too good for Iraq?

Could you define what you mean by a republic? My dictionary says it means: “A state whose head is not a monarch. A state in which supreme power resides in the people and is exercised by their elected representatives governing according to law.” However, you appear to be under the impression that a republic is something different from this.

And by the way it was the educated judgment of the Supreme Court that gave us Bush II in 2000.  But it was after his four years in office that the American public considered his performance and considered the alternative and then handily re-elected Bush in 2004.  Something left-oriented intellectuals will NEVER understand, I acknowledge.  I think it was William F. Buckley who once said he would rather be governed by the first 100 people in the Boston phone book than by 100 professors at Harvard.

Was it educated judgement or did it have something to do with the party allegiances of the judges?

I find William F. Buckley’s views very strange. He seems to be saying that he would rather be ruled by the unintelligent than the intelligent members of society. I assume this explains why Buckley is a strong supporter of Bush. I suppose by quoting Buckley you are suggesting you agree with him. Can you explain why you think this is a good idea? How does this fit into your views on democracy?

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