Progressive Calendar 04.12.12 /2
From: David Shove (shove001umn.edu)
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2012 14:50:49 -0700 (PDT)
*P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R    04.12.12*

1. Film/Khmer Rouge 4.12 6:30pm
2. ALEC exposed      4.12 7pm
3. Arab pioneers        4.12 7pm

4. Mark Engler    - ALEC annoyed at losing sponsors? It breaks my heart
5. Jack A Smith  - Big Brother’s getting bigger
6. Andrew Levine - Democracy in America today
7. Wendell Berry - Some further words  (excerpt) (poem)

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From: Human Rights Center Office Administrator humanrts [at] umn.edu
Film/Khmer Rouge 4.12 6:30pm

APRIL 12, 2012
Film Screening: We Want (U) to Know
A Participatory Film Project by Survivors of the Khmer Rouge Period
When: 6:30pm
Where: University of Minnesota Mondale Hall Room 45 (Subplaza)
229-19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455
For additional inf
Information, please visit: www.facebook.com/wwu2k


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From: WAMM
ALEC exposed 4.12 7pm

“Val” Speaks about ALEC Thursday, April 12, 7:00 p.m. Ridgedale Regional
Library, Room 172, 12601 Ridgedale Drive, Minnetonka.

 Join others to meet and hear "Val.” "Val" does not reveal her last name
for reasons that she believes to be necessary. She has been recommended by
those who have heard her presentation on the American Legislative Exchange
Council (ALEC). ALEC began about 35 years ago and now boasts almost 2000
members from state legislatures throughout the country. ALEC also maintains
a working relationship with like-minded legislators in other part of the
world. The ALEC website states that it has prepared nearly 1000 pieces of
legislation that promote their conservative agenda. And, what is that
agenda? What legislative efforts have they promoted?  What is their role in
Minnesota at this time? How is ALEC impacting our world, our nation, our
state, your life? Free and open to the public. Sponsored by: Northwest
Neighbors for Peace (NWN4P). FFI: Call Carole Rydberg, 763-546-5368.


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From: Mizna
Arab pioneers 4.12 7pm

Hikayat Al-Mahjar (Tales of the Diasporas): Khalil Gibran and Beyond
Novel, poems, and prose, it turns out, are laden with information about how
the first generation of Arab pioneers lived in the United States. Join us
to hear scholar Hani Bawardi discuss early Arab American history and the
largely neglected writings from early Arab American writing communities.

Thursday, April 12, 2012
7:00 p.m.
Free event
125 Nicholson Hall, University of Minnesota
216 Pillsbury Dr SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455
Reception afterward

Bawardi will offer a primer on Arab American history and describecthe
literary treasures he has come across during his research. Bawardi will
explain how early writings by Khalil Gibran and many others in his writing
community challenge settled assumptions about rampant illiteracy and
incurable sectarianism among the immigrants. Books, newspaper articles, and
magazines from the early twentieth century suggest a far more sophisticated
and varied intellectual life. Although the literary society Al-Rabitah
al-Qalamiya was the epicenter of Arab literary life in New York, many
immigrants also published high quality autobiographies and articles,
preserved folklore, and commemorated major events. This talk will draw
attention to the importance of utterly neglected Arabic text from this time
period, revealing, for example, how many editors and authors in Gibran's
circles participated in well-developed nationalist agenda anchored in
feelings of Arab peoplehood. Accordingly, the Arab pioneers worked to move
past sectarianism to weave plans to rescue their beloved Syria (Bilad
al-Sham) from Ottomans before the encroachment of Western colonialism.


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ALEC Annoyed at Losing Sponsors? It Breaks My Heart  by Mark Engler
Published on Thursday, April 12, 2012 by Dissent

It is a myth that Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at
you, then they fight you, then you win.” But that old saying nevertheless
carries a lot of truth when it comes to social movements. And it is always
a pleasure to see a worthy target of activism move from disregard or
mockery to going on the attack.

Therefore, I was happy to see the right-wing American Legislative Exchange
Council (ALEC) release a half-defiant, half-pathetic statement bemoaning
the “coordinated and well-funded intimidation campaign against corporate
members of the organization.” Its statement reads:

ALEC is an organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and the
vigorous exchange of ideas between the public and private sector to develop
state based solutions. Today, we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded,
expertly coordinated intimidation campaign.

Our members join ALEC because we connect state legislators with other state
legislators and with job-creators in their states. They join because we
support pro-business policies that promote innovation and spur local and
national competitiveness. They’re ALEC members because they’re more
interested in solutions than rhetoric....

At a time when job creation, real solutions and improved dialogue among
political leaders is needed most, ALEC’s mission has never been more
important. This is why we are redoubling our commitment to these essential
priorities.  We are not and will not be defined by ideological special
interests who would like to eliminate discourse that leads to economic
vitality, jobs and fiscal stability for the states.

After about the third reference to “job creators,” it’s hard to miss that
this is an operation nestled snugly within the depths of the far-right echo
chamber, never passing over a chance to frame tax cuts for the top 1
percent as a moderate, bipartisan path to common bliss. In fact, far from
sticking to promoting “improved dialogue,” ALEC has (with troubling
effectiveness) advanced a slew of reactionary measures in statehouses
throughout the country. Stand Your Ground? Check. Prison privatization?
Check. Right to Work? Check. Discriminatory Voter ID laws? Check. The list
goes on and on.

These legislative outrages have inspired a coalition of progressive groups
to fight back. They are going after the companies that are paying $25,000
annual dues to this far-right outfit—exposing these brand-sensitive patrons
for aligning themselves with the conservative fringe.

The tactic is proving very effective. On Wednesday, fast-food giant Wendy’s
joined McDonald’s in ending its ALEC membership. Previously Pepsi, Coke,
Kraft, Intuit, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation all announced that
they were jumping ship.
This exodus is what prompted ALEC’s response. That organization complaining
about a “well-funded, expertly coordinated” political operation surely
merits placement in the pot-calling-the-kettle-black hall of fame. But
these words serve as high praise for the organizations that have endeavored
to expose the group’s corporate funders.

Prominent among them is ColorOfChange.org, which has quickly establishing
itself as a leader in the field of corporate campaigning. I previously
lauded ColorOfChange.org for its successful effort to strip Glenn Beck of
advertisers after the demagogue (then at Fox News) said that President
Obama harbored a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white
culture,” among other batshit-crazy statements.

Few in the mainstream media wanted to give the boycott credit for ousting
Beck, preferring to believe that the cable news personality had simply
outstayed his welcome on the network. Beck himself was not about to
acknowledge activists’ impact, just as Kraft now says that it is leaving
ALEC for a “number of reasons”—none, of course, related to the tens of
thousands of signatures pouring in from ColorOfChange.org and allies such
as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. This is exactly what you
would expect. Wendy’s, for its part, says that it didn’t renew its ALEC
membership not because of pressure but because it “didn’t fit our business
needs.”

That, in the end, is a pretty good definition of the purpose of corporate
campaigns—making businesses decide that it doesn’t “fit their needs” to
attack workers, reinforce institutional racism, wreck the environment, or
undermine the social safety net. In any Big Brother’s Getting Bigger by
Jack A. Smithcase, it certainly doesn’t fit the needs of the rest of us.
© 2012 Dissent

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of
How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation
Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website
http://www.DemocracyUprising.com <http://www.democracyuprising.com/>


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Jack A Smith - Big Brother’s getting bigger
April 11th, 2012

Government surveillance and attacks on the privacy of American citizens
were bad enough under the Bush regime but they are getting even worse
during the Obama years.

[WHAT?? Oh,  no, not OUR Obama!!! How can we vote for him again if that
were true??? How can we feel good about our last vote for him? And all
those other Dems? THEREFORE, it is NOT TRUE - because it would make us feel
bad, and nothing that makes us feel bad can possibly be true. God wouldn't
allow it. (He's on our side, you know.)  -ed]

In addition to retaining President George W. Bush’s many excesses, such as
the Patriot Act,  new information about the erosion of civil liberties
emerges repeatedly during the era of President Barack Obama from the
federal government, the courts and various police forces.

The Supreme Court added judicial insult to personal injury April 2 when it
ruled 5-4 that jail officials may strip-search anyone arrested for any
offense, even a trifle, as they are being incarcerated, even if they are
awaiting a hearing or trial. The four ultraconservative judges were joined
by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

According to the ACLU’s Steven R. Shapiro, the “decision jeopardizes the
privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought
to jail, often for minor offenses. Being forced to strip naked is a
humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable
suspicion.”

A day before the strip-search outrage, the New York Times reported that
“law enforcement tracking of cellphones… has become a powerful and widely
used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of
departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no
court oversight, documents show…. One police training manual describes
cellphones as ‘the virtual biographer of our daily activities,’ providing a
hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.”

Other abuses of civil liberties are taking place with increasing frequency,
but the public outcry has mainly been muted, an enticement for the
authorities to go even further.  On March 23, the American Civil Liberties
Union reported:

The Obama administration has extended the time the National
Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) can collect and hold on to records on U.S.
citizens and residents from 180 days to five years, even where those people
have no suspected ties to terrorism. The new NCTC guidelines, which were
approved by Attorney General Eric Holder, will give the intelligence
community much broader access to information about Americans retained in
various government databases….

Authorizing the ‘temporary’ retention of non-terrorism-related citizens and
resident information for five years essentially removes the restraint
against wholesale collection of our personal information by the government,
and puts all Americans at risk of unjustified scrutiny. Such unfettered
collection risks reviving the Bush administration’s Total Information
Awareness program, which Congress killed in 2003.

The news, evidently, was underwhelming. Tom Engelhardt wrote April 4:

For most Americans, it was just life as we’ve known it since September 11,
2001, since we scared ourselves to death and accepted that just about
anything goes, as long as it supposedly involves protecting us from
terrorists. Basic information or misinformation, possibly about you, is to
be stored away for five years — or until some other attorney general and
director of national intelligence thinks it’s even more practical and
effective to keep you on file for 10 years, 20 years, or until death do us
part — and it hardly made a ripple.

A week earlier, new information was uncovered about Washington’s
clandestine interpretation of the Patriot Act. Most Americans are only
aware of the public version of the Bush Administration’s perfidious law
passed by Congress in a virtual panic soon after 9/11. But the White House
and leaders of Congress and the Justice department have a secret
understanding of the Patriot Act’s wider purposes and uses.

Alex Abdo of the ACLU’s National Security Project revealed March 16:

The government has just officially confirmed what we’ve long suspected:
there are secret Justice Department opinions about the Patriot Act’s
Section 215, which allows the government to get secret orders from a
special surveillance court (the FISA Court) requiring Internet service
providers and other companies to turn over ‘any tangible things.’ Just
exactly what the government thinks that phrase means remains to be seen,
but there are indications that their take on it is very broad.

Late last night we received the first batch of documents from the
government in response to our Freedom of Information Act request for any
files on its legal interpretation of Section 215. The release coincided
with the latest in a string of strong warnings from two senators about how
the government has secretly interpreted the law. According to them both,
the interpretation would shock not just ordinary Americans, but even their
fellow lawmakers not on the intelligence committees.

Although we’re still reviewing the documents, we’re not holding our breath
for any meaningful explanation from the government about its secret take on
the Patriot Act.

The Senators involved were not identified, but they were Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), both of whom went public about the secret Patriot
Act last May. Wyden declared at the time: “When the American people find
out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they
will be stunned and they will be angry.” Udall echoed, “Americans would be
alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.”

The Obama Administration has not sought to mitigate much less abandon the
Patriot Act. Indeed, in the 10 ½ years since the act was passed the law has
only become stronger, paving the way for other laws assaulting civil
liberties and increasing government surveillance.

Three months ago, for example, Obama signed the National Defense
Authorization Act (NDAA) containing a sweeping worldwide indefinite
detention law allowing the U.S. military to jail foreigners and U.S.
citizens without charge or trial.

Just last month, Wired magazine revealed details about how the National
Security Agency “is quietly building the largest spy center in the country
in Bluffdale, Utah.”

Investigative reporter James Bamford  wrote that the NSA established
listening posts throughout the U.S. to collect and sift through billions of
email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within America or
overseas.  The Utah surveillance center will contain enormous databases to
store all forms of communication collected by the agency. The NSA
previously denied domestic spying was taking place.

In his article Bamford quoted a former NSA official who “held his thumb and
forefinger close together” and said: “We are that far from a turnkey
totalitarian state.”

The Associated Press has been dogging the New York City police department
for several months to uncover its domestic spying activities. On March 23
it reported that “Undercover NYPD officers attended meetings of liberal
political organizations [for years] and kept intelligence files on
activists who planned protests around the country, according to interviews
and documents that show how police have used counterterrorism tactics to
monitor even lawful activities.” Some of these snooping activities took
place far from New York — in New Orleans in one case.

Commenting on the new guidelines allowing Washington “to retain your
private information for 5 years,” the satirical ironic Times commented
March 26:

If you’re guilty of no crimes, never owed money, don’t have a name similar
to that of someone who has been in trouble or owed money and there are
absolutely no computer glitches in the government’s ancient computer system
during the next five years, then you have nothing to worry about.

The American people, of course, have a lot to worry about since both ruling
political parties are united in favor of deeper penetration into the
private lives and political interests of U.S. citizens.  The only recourse
for the people is much intensified activism on behalf of civil liberties.

Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter and a former editor of
the Guardian (US) radical newsweekly. He may be reached at:
jacdon [at] earthlink.net. Read other articles by Jack.

This article was posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 at 8:00am and is
filed under Civil Liberties, Espionage/"Intelligence", GWB, Obama, Police,
Supreme Court.


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April 12, 2012
Why the Voting Booth is the Last Place to Look for Political Change
Democracy in America Today by ANDREW LEVINE

What a miserable prospect: a presidential election between a lackluster
incumbent unable any longer to conjure up even an illusion of hope and the
foremost chameleon in national politics who happens also to be by far the
least colorful candidate in the Republican circus.  Not all the propaganda
money can buy – and we’re talking about quite a lot of money — can make a
race between those two rise even to the level of boring.

Add to that the nauseating spectacle, already underway, of liberals
rallying to defend President Drone, continuator of the Bush-Cheney assault
on civil liberties and the rule of law and champion of a Grand Compromise
with the Tea Party.  Under his leadership, had the other side not been so
sublimely (and stupidly) obstinate, we might already be living though the
undoing of Social Security and Medicare.

It could still happen in a second term: making the man whom liberals once
thought of as the Second Coming of FDR the most successful Reaganite
president of all.  Because only a Democrat can bring Democrats along,
neither of the Bushes nor the Gipper himself could do much to put the New
Deal and Great Society to rest.  Obama’s only serious rival in that regard
was Bill Clinton.  In his zeal to do Wall Street’s bidding, that
irrepressible rascal might well have done in the last remnants of what we
still have in the way of an affirmative state had not certain distracting
peccadillos of a prurient nature gotten in his way.

Were there not still a chance that real politics will break out again this
spring, as it did last fall, this would be a fine time for anyone wanting
to maintain a semblance of sanity to hop onto a slow boat to China – except
that all the boats to China these days operate at full speed both ways,
exporting wherewithal for super-exploited workers to turn into crap that we
can import for Wal-Mart to sell.  For this sad state of affairs, we have
the machinations of neo-liberal globalists and vulture capitalists to
thank.  We have one of each to choose from this November.

Does anything ride on the choice?   Probably not, if Mitt Romney can still
etch-a-sketch his way back to his former Governor of Massachusetts persona.
 Then it will take a keen eye to discern light between his politics and
Barack Obama’s.  Most likely, though, after this primary season, he won’t
be able to pull it off; Tea Partiers and other theocrats don’t forget
quickly enough.   And so Obama will be up against someone whose public face
is that of a Rick Santorum – neocon wannabe, but without Santorum’s surreal
risibility and without the neocon’s unflinching conviction.

In that scenario, the empire’s current steward will cakewalk his way back
into a second term.  This will give new meaning to talk about “no drama
Obama.”  No drama; and therefore an electoral contest of no interest at all.

How did it come to this?  How did democracy in America degenerate into a
mind-numbing absurdity?

The answer, in a word, is money.  It has transformed what has always been a
profound dissociation between what democratic theory promises and the real
world of American democracy into a yawning divide.

* * *

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist)
and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America
today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and
very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting
interests.  It is about legitimating government of, by and for the
corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the
White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely
appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness.
 Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free?
 The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the
most part, abide by their results.  Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats,
no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real
democracy – rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from
economic and social elites).  Democratic commitments run so deep that
almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with
extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes
like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine
percent plus of the population.  Competitive elections embody a shard of
what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough
for us.

Let pass the class content that defined “democracy” from the time of Greek
antiquity, and say, along with the major political theorists of recent
centuries, that a democracy is a form of government in which the
(undifferentiated) people are sovereign; in other words, in which the
people who comprise a state and are subject to its authority are the
supreme authority within that state.

Competitive elections give institutional expression to that idea.  So long
as they are free and fair, the outcome, the social choice, is a function of
individuals’ choices for the alternatives in contention.  The social choice
is then the peoples’ choice.  The sovereign “speaks” through their votes.

In principle, therefore, the method of majority rule is the ideal voting
procedure in a democracy, the one that is most responsive to individuals’
choices.  To require more than a bare majority of voters is to invest a
minority with the power to veto the popular will.  Super-majority rule
voting is therefore less than ideal because it accords a kind of
dictatorial power to voters in the minority.  If, for example, it takes
two-thirds of the voters to enact a law, one-third plus one can block its
passage.

This would introduce a bias in favor of the status quo that detracts from
the idea that social choices are functions of individuals’ choices only.

It may be wise to introduce conservative biases, especially on matters of
grave import where individuals’ rights or the basic structure of the
political system are involved.  The writers of the American Constitution
thought so.   They concocted all sorts of obstacles in the way of direct
popular rule.   What they contrived was not a democracy at all, except in a
very attenuated sense; instead, it was, as they emphasized, a “republic.”

They had reasons for wanting to limit democracy by making positive change
difficult or, in the case of basic rights and liberties, impossible.   But
it could be argued that these reasons ultimately have to do with the deeper
interests of the sovereign people — that they allow the people to achieve
by indirection what they cannot reliably be counted on to accomplish
directly – and therefore that the founders were democrats after all.  This
kind of indirection has many precedents in our philosophical tradition.

Aristotle thought that mercy was a necessary corrective for justice.  In
much the same way, defenders of our constitutional system argued that
introducing biases that favor the status quo, conservative biases, are a
corrective to the untrammeled operations of majority rule voting.  Justice,
for Aristotle, remained the core virtue of public institutions.  In much
the same spirit, our founders saw democracy as the ultimate legitimating
principle underlying even the deviations from direct democratic rule that
they contrived.

They therefore made regular competitive elections mandatory – and so we
ultimately have them to thank for the dreary contest ahead.  Although it
was hardly what the founders had in mind, the fraction of the one percent
that are sure to win in November, the fraction that always wins, therefore
have them to thank as well.

Of course, as mentioned, it is not enough just that there be elections —
elections must also at least seem to be free and fair.  That is the theory.
 In practice, we have always cut our institutions a great deal of slack.

Slaves were not citizens, and neither were the indigenous peoples who
survived the European conquest.  Arguably, therefore, their exclusion from
the republic’s electoral processes still left elections free and fair.  Not
so, the way full-fledged citizens were treated.

>From the beginning, there were severe restrictions on the franchise; before
1920, women were even forbidden by law to vote.  This was only the most
egregious offense; there were others.  Indeed, it has only been since 1965,
with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, that de facto restrictions on
the rights of descendants of emancipated slaves and other persons of color
to have their say in our elections were finally abolished.

There is some danger now that the pendulum will swing back as Republicans
launch voter suppression efforts aimed at categories of persons likely to
vote for Democrats.  Their efforts are widely berated and it remains to be
seen how successful they will be. It is telling, though, that the idea that
voter suppression might undo the legitimacy of electoral outcomes is rarely
even suggested.

Perhaps this is because we Americans have grown inured to elections that
are unfree and unfair.  After all, our founders did see to it that our
institutions block expressions of popular sovereignty, especially at the
national level.

The Electoral College system and the idea that every state, regardless of
size, gets two and only two Senators undoes any pretense of “one person,
one vote.”  Until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, we didn’t even
have direct elections for Senators; they were appointed instead by their
state legislatures.  Add to this the power of states to gerrymander
Congressional districts and there is, in the end, not much for voters to
decide.

Gerrymandering Congressional districts is only one of the many ways that
our two semi-established parties see to it that it is difficult to break
their duopoly hold.  This would not be so bad if the Republicans and
Democrats were still “catch all” parties – ecumenical enough to incorporate
a wide range of views within their respective folds.

This was never really the case.  But not long ago, the description was at
least approximately apt.  Arguably, it still holds for the Democrats,
though, after Clinton and Obama, the party’s leftwing, such as it is, has
been much reduced and effectively marginalized.  The situation is worse in
the GOP where ideological uniformity reigns.

The result is that our two parties are now more polarized than at any time
in recent history.  Paradoxically, though, because they are each bought and
paid for by more or less the same interests, their overall policy
orientations are as uniform as ever.

Therefore anything that falls outside the “bipartisan” (really
uni-partisan) consensus is marginalized – in ways that ought to make the
claim that our elections are free and fair ring hollow.  Even to the extent
that voting does generate a social choice out of individuals’ choices for
the alternatives in contention, the paucity and uniformity of the
alternatives disenfranchises many, perhaps most, voters.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, there is the additional obstacle of
judicial review.  Constitutional courts are an American invention, and for
a long time, it was only in the United States that courts had almost
unlimited powers to “check and balance” legislatures.

In certain historical periods, this arrangement has had beneficial
consequences; it was certainly instrumental for deepening and extending the
scope of civil rights.  For the most part, though, throughout our history,
the court’s rulings have not been beneficial.

But, even when they were, the idea that unelected and unaccountable judges
can nullify democratically rendered laws plainly offends the idea of
democratic governance.

It is no wonder, therefore, that elites in other countries have introduced
similar institutional arrangements, and that constitutional courts have
become a common feature of constitutions written since World War II.  Even
to this day, however, the American case is extreme.

The offense to democracy would be mitigated if the courts restrained
themselves  — intervening only rarely and then mainly to protect
individuals’ rights.  This used to be the norm in our Supreme Court.  But
decades of right-wing court packing are now working their deleterious
effects.

The Supreme Court today is a highly politicized institution that reflects
the asymmetrical character of our duopolistic party system: rightwing
judges installed by Republicans are unabashedly obstinate and radical,
while judges installed by Democrats are generally “reasonable” to a fault
and insipidly liberal.

And so the Supreme Court made George W. Bush president in 2000,
notwithstanding the popular vote and what would have been the vote of the
Electoral College had the Justices allowed all the votes in Florida to be
recounted fairly.

In violation of ample precedent and sane jurisprudential reasoning, the
Supreme Court has since gone on to permit unrestricted campaign
contributions by corporate “persons”, allegedly to protect their rights to
free speech.  The American system of campaign finance has made a mockery of
democratic governance from time immemorial.  But thanks to the Citizens’
United ruling of 2010, even the pretense that governance is not about what
can be bought and paid for is now thoroughly shot.

* * *

So much for rational deliberation or combining autonomously formed choices;
our politics is about buying votes – not directly, but through the
techniques advertisers use to market their clients’ wares.  This involves
dumbing down voters, not enlightening them through reasoned discourse; and
instilling wants, not encouraging their self-directed development and
combining them fairly.

In other words, our politics has no more to do with democracy than the
public discourse registered in the media that report on it, on the “horse
race” it has become, has to do with a marketplace of ideas.  There is only
enough intimation of democratic procedures to give the system the de facto
legitimacy economic elites need to keep everything working for benefit.
 Our politics is about buying influence with politicians who then buy
votes.  It has been reduced to hucksterism pure and simple.

Whether the election goes to Obama, as now seems likely, or to Romney, the
real winner will, in either case, be the same: the fraction of the one
percent that always wins.

And so, come November 6, Americans will be asked to choose a president from
among two choices, neither of whom anybody wants except perhaps for lesser
evil reasons.  This is what democracy in America today has come to.

A miserable prospect indeed, but there are silver clouds.

At least this time, no one will think that, if only the right candidate
were on offer, the mess would somehow fix itself.  The best thing Obama did
in his first term has been to shatter that illusion for a long time to come.

And perhaps too the plain irrelevance of the electoral process for the
kinds of changes liberals thought they would get through Obama’s election
will finally dawn on the national consciousness.

Electoral efforts, like Jill’s Stein’s in the Green Party, can be helpful
for educating voters in ways that enhance democracy in America; and, at the
state and local level, Democratic victories can be indispensable for
fighting back against Republican overreach.  The impending recall election
of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a case in point.  But, in the end,
elections that alter the course of business as usual – whether for good or
ill — only ratify transformations in the political landscape forged outside
the electoral arena.  For an engine of “change we can believe in” the
voting booth is the last place to look.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the
author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY
WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political
philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the
Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University
of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama
and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).


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Wendell Berry - Some Further Words  (excerpt)

My purpose
is a language that can repay just thanks
...a tongue set free from fashionable lies.

Neither this world nor any of its places
is an "environment." And a house
for sale is not a "home". Economics
is not a "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave. A fool
in a public office is not a "leader."
A rich thief is a thief... An intellectual
whore is a whore.

The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by the sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."....

published 2001

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