Monday, February 04, 2008

Sham on You

Whither Wither Democracy?

This item from the BBC strikes me as being painfully ironic.
The US, EU and other democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections out of political expediency, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.

Allowing autocrats to pose as democrats without demanding they uphold civil and political rights risked undermining human rights worldwide, it warned.
HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said it had become too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy "because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that".

"They don't press governments on the key human rights issues that make democracy function - a free press, peaceful assembly, and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power," he added.
"It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally," Mr Roth said.
The ironic pain comes from the blatantly obvious fact that the most dubious elections of all have occurred right in the United States. The 2000 sElection of Bush the Lesser by a partisan and biased Supreme Court was a travesty. Four years later the more sophisticated but no less devastating electronic vote fraud in Ohio reinstalled the moron who would be king, to go on and add to the considerable damage he had inflicted on the nation. Anyone who thinks things are going to be better this time around should read this story from TPMMuckraker. I declare shenanigans!

I shouldn't need to elaborate - places like Bradblog and Black Box Voting have detailed the demise of democracy to death, for all the good it's done. I will sketch out just a few of the major ways that the electoral process has been thwarted in the last couple of elections:

1) Disenfranchisement before the fact: this includes practices such as caging lists and the generation of lists declaring people ineligible to vote because of criminal records that didn't exist. This latter instance was well documented after the fact in Florida, 2000, but too late to do any good as the result by then was a fait accompli.

2) Disenfranchisement after the fact: in 2000 this consisted of things like hanging chads and butterfly ballots. By 2004 it was implemented through electronic means, whereby your vote could be excluded or even flipped to the other side by the alteration of a memory card, taking only a few keystrokes.

3) False flag candidacies: Pssst. Hey, buddy! You want to ensure a Republican victory in an election? Just pour enough money into the Democratic primary to install a corporatist puppet on the other side. If you have an R - Republican running against a D - Republican, the Republicans will win every time. Do you think LIE-berman, Feinstein and Schumer are the only wolves dressed in sheep's clothing in Washington? Think again. It's not so hard to arrange things so the question becomes "will that be plastic, or plastic?" In fact it's a lot cheaper if you're an unprincipled Republican to eliminate your opposition in the Democratic primary than it is to defeat him in the general election.

4) Bulldozer tactics: Is there a particularly vocal opponent giving you trouble in Congress? Simply outspend him or her 5 to 1, and steal his seat. That's what's happening to Dennis Kucinich right now. Is it any wonder so many people choose not to participate when any good candidates are eliminated long before the ballot is even drawn up?

Here's another list, of a different kind altogether, from Mark Crispin Miller:

1. Repeal the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
This step will inevitably follow an in-depth investigation of how HAVA came to be.

2. Replace all electronic voting with hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB).
Although politicians and the press dismiss this idea as utopian, the people would support it just as overwhelmingly as national health care, strong environmental measures, US withdrawal from Iraq, and other sane ideas.

3. Get rid of computerized voter rolls.
It isn’t just the e-voting machines that are obstructing our self-government. According to USA Today, thousands of Americans have had their names mysteriously purged from the electronic databases now used nationwide as records of our registration.

4. Keep all private vendors out of our elections.
With their commercial interests, trade secrets and unaccountable proceedings, private companies should have no role in the essential process of republican self-government.

5. Make it illegal for the TV networks to declare who won before the vote-count is complete.
Certainly the corporate press will scream about its First Amendment Rights, but they don’t have the right to interfere with our elections. When they declare a winner when we don’t yet even know if the election was legitimate, they de-legitimize all audits, recounts and even first counts of the vote as the mere desperate measures of “sore losers.”

6. Set up an exit polling system, publicly supported, to keep the vote-counts honest.
Only in America are exit poll results not meant to help us gauge the accuracy of the official count. Here they are meant only to allow the media to make its calls.

7. Get rid of voter registration rules, by allowing every citizen to register, at any post office, on his/her 18th birthday.
Either we believe in universal suffrage or we don’t.

8. Ban all state requirements for state-issued ID’s at the polls.
As the Supreme Court smiles on such Jim Crow devices, we need a law, or Constitutional amendment, to forbid them.

9. Put all polling places under video surveillance, to spot voter fraud, monitor election personnel, and track the turnout.
We’re under surveillance everywhere else, so why not?

10. Have Election Day declared a federal holiday,
requiring all employers to allow their workers time to vote.
No citizens of the United States should ever lose the right to vote because they have to go to work.

11. Make it illegal for Secretaries of State to co-chair political campaigns (or otherwise assist or favor them).
Katherine Harris wore both those hats in Florida in 2000, and, four years later, so did Ken Blackwell in Ohio and Jan Brewer in Arizona. Such Republicans should not have been allowed to do it, nor should any Democrats.

12. Make election fraud a major felony, with life imprisonment--and disenfranchisement--for all repeat offenders.
“Three strikes and you’re out” would certainly befit so serious a crime against democracy.
Not to diminish the value of Mr. Miller's list, but one must ask, "what government is going to implement these changes?" I see a catch-22 here, a 'you can't get there from here' barrier that will not easily be surmounted. You're not going to get these kind of reforms until you change the entire body politic in Washington. You're not going to get a new body politic without the reforms. If you go to this post at OpEd news you'll see that a lot of the commenters feel the same way.

A more sobering reflection comes with the assumption that the November elections will be above board and the results the best we can reasonably hope for under the current conditions. (which for me would mean Obama in the White House, and a Democratic supermajority in both houses.) My point is that even the best case scenario under current conditions would be far from adequate to restore the democracy that used to exist in America. So I've decided to take a little un-scientific survey that you can answer in comments. There's no format, no multiple choices, no boxes to fill in - very open ended and unruly, the way I like things. Here is the one multi-part question.
Given the very best outcome that you can currently imagine for the 2008 elections, (feel free to name the winning candidate and his or her running mate, even cabinet members if that floats your boat)
  1. The US will withdraw its troops from Iraq
  2. Prisoners currently in Guantanamo and elsewhere will either be released or tried with the due process that one would expect in any civilized country
  3. The USA PATRIOT Act will be repealed
  4. The Military Commissions Act will be repealed and habeas corpus restored
  5. The Protect America Act will be repealed
  6. Serious crimes committed by the current administration will be prosecuted fully, and guilty parties penalized without pardons or commutations of sentence
  7. Crimes committed by corporate entities enabled by the current administration will be prosecuted
  8. Even one of the worthy proposals made by Mark Crispin Miller will be enacted
  9. Anything I missed? Add your own in comments and I will put it up here too.
Of course it's a given that there are some things that desperately need to be restored for democracy to work, but can't be without a second American Revolution. The partisan Supreme Court that the last two Bushes have left as their legacy for example. The pillaging of the economy by the multinationals. I'm sure you can think of a few more.

The worst case scenario is of course terrifying: the installation of a worldwide system of corporate fascism under the guise of globalisation. What's really scary is that the best case scenario doesn't look that good either.

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