Tuesday, October 15, 2013

American Democracy

The goal of most citizens living in the United States and of our government is to have our country considered a democratic country. Most U.S. citizens would like to see the world governed by democratically elected governments.

What is a democracy? A good definition is: "A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives." There are a few caveats, if this definition is accepted by those living in the United States.

Does the United States have a true democracy if it accepts less than 100% of the eligible voters voting? In fact, the U.S. usually gets just over half of the eligible voters voting. If the U.S. is a democracy, then those not voting are actually voting negatively. Nonvoting citizens are openly stating that they don't like the choices. Therefore, if the U.S. is to be a true democracy, more choices and probably mandatory voting laws are necessary.

What if an elected person acts illegally or gives false information to the population? Is not that person violating the trust of the people who elected him/her to hold those democratic powers? Democracy has to work on trust, the trust of the people in their representatives. Representatives, who accept money because of their position to make laws, destroy the trust the people need to have for true representatives. Accepting bribes from lobbyists also impairs the work turned out; for the results will naturally be slanted towards the positions of those providing the money.

It must be accepted that, on each level of government, a representative represents a specific group of people. A true representative might also see issues on the basis of the whole democracy (country). Still, representatives are required to represent those who elected them. The United States has representatives, known as senators, who are elected by the whole state. Senators should represent the people of their entire state, but should see beyond the state level to the national level.

This has not been the case. Individuals, such as our president, are elected at large, and should act differently. The president must assume a unique office in relation to other countries of the world. Almost every other country has a sovereign head as well as an executive head. Canada has both a prime minister and a sovereign head appointed by the Queen of England. The president of the U.S. holds both offices. The president needs to be nonpolitical in order to truly be a democratic head of state. Unfortunately, the U.S. presidents have been very political.

In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover became head of the FBI. Under his leadership, which lasted until his death in 1972, the U.S. became sort of a police state. J. Edgar Hoover collected files on Americans from all levels of society. Members of the government were the most important for him. No politician would go against Hoover or the FBI, for he had the goods on most of them. That is why he died in office.

The United States is far from being a true democracy by allowing all these deviations and corruptions to continue. The U.S. has been able to get along over the course of its history. Those times of trouble have been when very political people try to advance their particular political principles upon the country. Usually these political positions have not been for the nations good or accepted by the general population. The United States has first need to champion democracy itself before it could successfully champion democracy to the world. We are currently in such times. "We the people" must work hard to obtain democratic principles if we want a true democracy. If we don't live with democratic principles, we will continue to have all the disgraceful actions of those in power and those who feel above the law. The United States will constantly experience swings in policies if the presidency continues to change parties and thus the policies. By Chester P. Soling

Monday, October 07, 2013

Central Bankers Perform Euthanasia - Capitalism and Democracy R.I.P.

The recent actions of the ECB and the Federal Reserve have driven the final nail in the coffin of Capitalism and Democracy. Both these cornerstones of our civilization have been on life support for years. Central bankers decided last week to 'pull the plug'. Capitalism and Democracy will be replaced with a hybrid economic system combining the attributes of the old Soviet Union's command economy, the Oligarchy's of South America and efficiency and integrity of today's of today's economic system [with a dose of fascism thrown in for good measure].

"Rubbish, you declare", "Poppycock", "More left wing ranting". Fair enough dear reader, at this point in history you are still allowed your own opinion, but before you click away you should consider the following realities.

Capitalism, as defined by Wikipedia is an economic system that is based on private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods or services for profit. Let us consider the following realities. Only then can we understand how our central bankers performed the 'coup de grace'.

Global spending on Weapons was 1.74 trillion in 2012. For many countries particularly the United States the largest employer in the 'private' industry is the weapons industry. In the United States, if one includes the postal service and the military over 3 million people work for the Federal Government. [Imagine if we included state and local government employees in this number] In every developed country in the world the civil service is by, far the largest employer in the country. The second largest employers are those industries or sectors such as weapons, health care or education that receive their revenue from the government. The developed world is no longer served by government. The developed world is dependent on government spending to maintain, not improve, their current lifestyle. Private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods or services for profit exists only as curious anachronism in small pockets around the world. One could not possibly argue that worldwide, the automobile, banking, weapons and health care industries exist only at the pleasure of government spending. The survival of these industries is reliant on favorable government support, spending and regulation.

In simple terms most societies in their current form only because our governments borrow money from future generations to keep civil servants employed and captive industries on life support. Competition and survival of the fittest, truisms of capitalism do not exist anymore. The concepts of entrepreneur, merit, hard work, pride, sacrifice, choices, work ethic, patience, effort, pay as you go, integrity, truth, risk reward, moral hazard fairness and equality are, of course, now obsolete. To survive going forward the key will be one's ability to ''get me some of that newly printed money".

Now let us consider democracy. Once again let us use Wikipedia's definition that defines Democracy as 'a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally -- either directly or through elected representative.' Dear reader, surely the death of democracy is not something we need to debate. It is self evident. No, "you still believe in democracy, you still believe that your vote counts". Please consider the following words and phrases carefully. Create an image your mind as to what each word or phrase means the system of government known as democracy: Gerrymandering, Hanging Chad's, QE 1, QE 2, unlimited campaign spending by individuals and corporations, "corporations are people too" Bailout conditions, Operation Twist, QE 3, technocrat government, TARP, Wall Street bailout, lobbying, Greece, Spain Italy, ECB terms and conditions for bond buying campaign. There are more words to help paint this picture but I do not want these disturbing images, that I imagine you created in your mind, to cause you Post Traumatic Stress. These are not words that were spawned in the evolution of democracy. These words evolved as democracy evolved into a more sinister system that left the world with the 'illusion of democracy'.

Let us now connect the dots that connect the death of capitalism and democracy to the recent actions of our central bankers. By announcing in tandem over the last couple of weeks that both federal reserve and the ECB, both led by unelected officials, that they would expand their asset purchasing [ Oh Please can we all just agree to call it money printing]. The central banks have irrevocably committed their respective governments to a course of action that is done without public consent, understanding or referendum. These have enacted fiscal policy disguised as monetary policy that will handcuff the "citizen taxpayer's" ability to manage government finances for, well, forever.

This course of action will cause a misallocation capital of historic proportions. On 'Main Street' the theft [via artificially low interest rates] of retirement income from retirees, who diligently accumulated retirement capital during their working years to provide interest income in their retirement will continue unabated. [In some ways, you have to admire baby boomers for their audacity and hubris to steal from their parents via artificially low rates as well as their children and grandchildren through absurd government borrowing. This is done to maintain the lifestyle boomers have become accustomed to. The boomers are like a Robin Hood from an alternate bizarre dimension. The boomer Robin Hood steals from old and young and keeps the money for himself] 'Moral Hazard' has been removed from decision making process. It has been replaced with a modern version of "I'm all right Jack."

Governments will be able to spend in an unlimited fashion, immorally with no fear of punishment by the bond market vigilantes. Dear reader, 'How could government spending be immoral?' you ask. When our governments spend money we don't have on goods and services we cannot afford or do not need, at prices that are not determined by a free market capitalist system only to leave the 'Butcher's Bill' to our children and grandchildren that is immoral, undemocratic and definitely not how capitalism works.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

When Is a Democracy Less Than a Democracy?

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried", or so said Winston Churchill. But democracy cannot be that bad, can it? To answer let's take a short walk through democracy in America.Who is eligible to vote?

In theory democracy is simple enough. One person, one vote and the majority wins. But politics make democracy hard in practice. Start with the fundamental question - who has the right to vote? Originally that was only adult white males (the Constitution didn't require property ownership). With time ex- slaves (15th amendment, 1870) and then women (19th, 1920) received the franchise. Our current voter profile was finally set when the residents of Washington DC gained Electoral College votes (23rd, 1961) and the franchise was guaranteed to 18 year-olds (26th, 1971).

Actually there is more. Ex-felons' right to vote depends on where they live. If you don't think that matters consider the 2000 Presidential election. It's possible that, if Florida had let ex-felons vote, Gore would have been the President.

If you have the right to vote, does that mean you will be able to?

A putative constitutional right to vote doesn't guarantee your ability to vote; states have and continue to put hurdles on the way to the ballot box. Before the Supreme Court struck them down, literacy tests and poll taxes disqualified the poor and uneducated. (In a cynical exercise, some states 'grandfathered' voters if they or an ancestor was eligible to vote in 1867 - before blacks got the franchise).

People in power will rarely cede any advantage. When one means of suppressing votes is barred another will spring up. In states dominated by one party, the primaries are the election. Some state political parties barred blacks from voting in these primaries arguing that as private entities their primaries weren't subject to federal election law. Today ID requirements and cumbersome registration practices serve to restrict the vote.
Physical impediments can lower turnout. Targeted precincts may have fewer voting machines or longer journeys to a voting site. Voting methods or the ballot itself can confuse the voter. (2000 introduced us to the now infamous 'butterfly ballot' and dangling, swinging and pregnant chads.)

When the fox guards the hen house

Independent management of voting would solve these problems, but voting conditions are controlled by politicians. It is hard to pretend that democracy is legitimate when the 'ins' have significant influence over the process that keeps them 'in'. Florida 2000 is once again an egregious example. Katherine Harris, who as Secretary of State was responsible for elections, called a halt to the recounts with George W. Bush 537 votes ahead. Fair enough. Except that in addition to her state position she was also co-chair of Bush's Florida campaign.

Populations increase and decrease, people move. Every ten years the census counts these changes and congressional seat allocation by state is adjusted. Congressional districts are redrawn to account for the adjustment and the movement of people within the state. Five states have independent or ad-hoc committees to redraw the boundaries; Florida (ironically) has some rules on redistricting. But, as long as the process doesn't impact minority rights, in 44 states the party in power has carte blanche to redraw the districts.

The election map is distorted to lump opposition voters together in a few districts while leaving allies a majority in the bulk of them. This political adventurism is as old as the Republic. Its name, gerrymandering, is a legacy of a Congressional district drawn by Elbridge Gerry's party in 1812 Massachusetts that reminded some of a salamander.

The process and how it renders many voters irrelevant

In the US representation is 'first past the post'. The make-up of Congress is based on a district by district result and not the overall vote. (In 'proportional representation' a party is awarded seats based on its percentage of the popular vote.) Voters who live in 'safe districts' are therefore irrelevant. It doesn't matter if their representative is elected with 62% or 92% of the vote, it still just one seat, with no additional national significance.

Our political system was created to balance the rights of small and large states which leaves voters from small states with a disproportionate amount of influence. 564,000 Wyomingites have the same clout in the Senate as 37 million Californians.

This disparity in influence is compounded in the general election. The President is elected, not directly, but by a vote of the Electoral College. And because each state's electoral votes is equal to its number of Representatives plus two Senators, voters in small states again profit. Each of Vermont's 3 Electoral College votes represents 208,000 Vermonters; each of Texas's 38 votes represents 661,000 Texans.

Adding to this disparity is the custom of giving all of a state's electoral votes to the winner. The citizens of states that consistently vote for the same party have no role in electing the President. Massachusetts last voted Republican in 1984. Kansas last voted Democrat in 1964.

Democracy in America

Democracy in America is compromised by disenfranchisement; it is compromised by political interference; it is compromised by the very design of our government. But the greatest damage to our democracy comes from a self-inflicted wound. Half of us don't vote. And of those that do, many don't pay much attention.
Winston Churchill was scathing: "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter".

Jefferson however had a solution: "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."Which might explain why many politicians are so strident in discrediting teachers and the media; if you cannot stop people voting then at least keep them uneducated and ill-informed. By Pitt Griffin

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