Thursday, January 28, 2010

 

Part 3 - Conspiracy theories, government spooks and Cass Sunstein

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By Peter Ewart
News 250 -  January 28, 2010

Previous installments in this series (see Part 1 and Part 2 ) discussed how Cass Sunstein, the well-known legal scholar and advisor to the U.S. president, has put forward proposals for governments to use undercover agents and “dirty tricks” to combat so-called “conspiracy theories” being generated by those he calls “extremists.”

Also discussed was how there are, in fact, very real conspiracies being carried out against the public interest whether they are hatched in the White House, Parliament buildings or boardrooms of multinational corporations.

Why is this the case? How is it that all these conspiracies are taking place? This is a legitimate question – after all, we are said to be living in a democracy where the people of the country are supposed to be in charge.

The facts are very different. Today, it is well-known that the big banks and big business dominate governments, and monopolize the main sectors of the economy, to the extent that even their most slavish apologists must admit it. Indeed, on the individual level, some of these financial and corporate monopolies have such huge power it now dwarfs that of many nation states.

Even members of the U.S. Congress openly acknowledge this state of affairs. Dick Durbin, a leading U.S. senator, has put it bluntly: the big banks “own the U.S. Congress.”

This situation prevails not just in the U.S., but also in Canada, the province of British Columbia and other parts of the world.

The problem with monopoly is that it goes hand in hand with conspiracy, whether this be price fixing, predatory lending, corruption, or other practices. The Robber Barons were the monopolists of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries who were notorious for their ruthless, unprincipled activity and for their conspiracies against their non-monopoly competitors and the public good. They were so bad that governments back then were forced to take some measures against them, including various pieces of anti-trust and anti-monopoly legislation.

Flash forward to 2010. Much of that legislation has been gutted or eliminated, as can be seen in the recent financial crisis on Wall Street. The 21st Century Robber Barons of today dominate government and the economy to an unprecedented degree. And with this domination comes numerous, ongoing, unrelenting conspiracies against the interests of the people, whether it be workers, professionals, small or non-monopoly businesses, or entire communities, regions and even countries.

This domination of government by monopolies has created an extremely dangerous situation whereby giant armament and war production conglomerates have a vested interest in provoking war and conflict throughout the world – these days especially in the Middle East. For example, U.S. armament companies played a big role in the conspiracy to launch wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, and they continue to beat the drum for military action against Iran and other countries.

As recent revelations in Britain are bringing to light for all to see, the launching of the Iraq War was a conspiracy hatched long before 9/11 and involved the highest levels of the American and British governments.

It is, of course, very interesting that a “legal scholar” like Cass Sunstein is proposing action against “conspiracy theorists” who are working to investigate and uncover government and corporate conspiracies, precisely at this time when the most heinous, and even treasonous, conspiracies are being launched at the highest levels.

But the problem is not just that monopolies dominate government. There is also a grave problem with the political process itself, and the two issues are interlinked.

The political parties in Parliament, Congress and the legislatures themselves are like monopolies, working together and conspiring like cartels to keep the citizenry out of the process except as “voting cattle.”

The party-dominated political process is such that we elect party-selected candidates on one day every four years. For the rest of those 1200 or 1400 days, we have an “elected dictatorship.” The people are kept outside the door in the cold. As the Little Richard song goes, “I hear you knockin’ but you can’t come in.”

The political process is such that, during an election campaign, a political party can make practically any sort of promise, yet, once elected, turn around and do the exact opposite, as happened in British Columbia with the sale of BC Rail and the imposition of the HST tax. A government can “prorogue” Parliament in the most anti-democratic way as the federal government in Canada has just done. Or, like the Republicans and Democrats jointly did in the U.S. last year, a government can bailout the billionaire bankers in spite of the fact that the American people were overwhelming against such an action.

Some would argue that this kind of behavior constitutes fraud and breach of trust. But the citizenry have no mechanisms to prohibit it, and it happens time and time again, whether the political party in power presents itself as “left wing” or “right wing”, “Republican” or “Democrat.”

Like the monopoly domination, such a political process breeds conspiracy. At all levels, it creates a political and governmental culture of extreme secrecy and lack of transparency, of “backroom deals” and “plain brown envelopes”. Government, in effect, becomes a captive to special interests and hostile to the vast majority of people.

Is it any wonder that many Americans have contempt for the U.S. Congress or that, as a recent report says, a growing number of Canadians are profoundly “disenchanted” with politics and feel “increasingly alienated from the political process and its institutions.”

It is one of the features of modern life that people want control over the political process and over their livelihoods. The monopolies, with their domination over government, and the established political parties, with their domination of the political process, stand in the way.

We need a new political process, one that has mechanisms to empower the citizenry and that ensures their control over government, as well as restricts the power of the monopolies.

In my opinion, if there is any lesson to be drawn from Cass Sunstein and the anti-democratic actions he is proposing, it is that.

(This article is the last in the series)

Peter Ewart is a columnist, writer and community activist in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

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Comments:
Excellent article! And isn't this exactly what is happening. Where are the people? I guess some haven't been affected or hurt yet, by what the government is doing. Their time will come.
Curt
 
Curt,

I agree: excellent article. We owe a lot to people like Peter Ewart who make a huge contribution to our ability to better understand the situation.

You ask: Where are the people?

I'd say: They are right here, all around us, and doing their best in a world gone upside-down.

It's true, they rarely demonstrate ... then I wonder: what do we expect them to do? What would you like them to do?

And the most cruel question of all: when people have no way of knowing the whole truth about their world, how can we blame them for not knowing and not showing concern?
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Peter Ewart has a unique ability to clearly articulate our need to resume the search for governing institutions and processes that can truly be called democratic.

The historical record tells us that the pursuit of "democracy" began at the end of the eighteenth century, notably with the American and then French revolutions. A broad base of citizens at that time had recently become literate and had some meaningful access to information because of the proliferation of printing presses.

It is doubtful that we would now benefit from repeating the chaos that followed. However, the Internet is immeasurably more powerful than the printing press, and it is still quite a new development (and of course it continues to evolve).

So, through this new powerful medium we can discuss and develop new governance mechanisms that will bring us closer to the democratic ideal.

The elites continue to argue against anything like the ancient concept of direct democracy. How could the system that apparently worked for some time in ancient Athens possibly work in our complex modern society? However, the current arrangement of representational democracy is not solving problems but rather creating them. All of our elected assemblies have discredited themselves. There is good reason to blame much of that on the power of political parties.

In the last provincial election there was one credible independent candidate - who prevailed rather spectacularly over the incumbent Attorney General. The press chose to narrowly construe, that is misconstue, what that outcome signified. There are many things that we, the citizens, can do. One is to withdraw our support from all the established political parties. I did that ten years ago. The message, "vote for us, and when we win, then we'll acknowledge your issues", doesn't work with me anymore.

If we are going to continue to base our elected assemblies on geographically defined constituencies, then we need something more than a loyal party member and a constituency office that 99% of the constituents never visit. The constituency offices should not be instruments of the parties. They should exist and function in a manner that says they belong to the people.

A few days ago I got an emailed invitation from my own MLA to attend an "Open House" - three hours this evening with light refreshments and even a DJ. Well thanks, but I'd rather have the opportunity to meet there with my MLA and other constituents to discuss and address my concerns about the democratic deficit.
 
"What would you like them to do?"

Pitchforks might be cheap and available now, being snow shovel season and all......well some places anyway.

Then there are all those abandoned rail beds for riding tarred and feathered folks on a rail, without worrying about interrupting train traffic.

I am convinced that if it doesn't get fixed it is going to become VERY UGLY and sooner than later.
 
reply to Chris Budgell:

One idea i bandied about somewhere, maybe in old Tyee election blogs, was the notion that constituencies have assemblies/town halls, with a certain quorum that could order an MLA/MP to vote this or that way...or some other such mode of control over the representative so that they are not, as you note, simply the party's representative in the constituency, and bagmen for those who bought them the seat (by advertising or campaign donations or whatever other means).

And unlike a lot of other democratic reformers, I don't think representation-by-population is a fair means of representation for rural/wilderness areas; what happens is that places with distinct needs and identities get submerged into the "democratic will" of larger centres at some distance from their area. Which is why Lillooet, Lytton, Bralorne, Seton etc have no real say in their governance, which is determined by Chilliwack (Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon federally).

Representation-by-population is a logic put forward by urban dwellers, who think only in terms of numbers. But tell that to the people of the Chilcotin, whose votes are submerged into those of the Cariboo cities. Not that this has much to do with making MLAs and MPs more accountable, although in the old days candidates and members had to actually go to these places and not just parachute in by helicopter and go back to the urban areas afterwards.

In the early, early days of the province, not only was voting by show of hands (at least until 1903, I don't know when the practice was ended) but constituencies also had only a few hundred, or even a few dozen, voters. You knew everybody, they knew you, and you had to face them at church, or walking down the street or, as might be the case, riding the range.....

Power should be in the hands of local assemblies, is my main point, not vested in a gathering of party bagmen in a distant capital, in a House kept under wraps or run in such an infantile manner as to encourage people to watch anything else; parliamentary name-calling has not proven to be a competitive form of reality TV.

Of course, in Russia, the term for such a local assembly was a soviet. "All power to the soviets" would I'm sure be a highly sale-able notion to BC's continuing community of commie-phobes....
 
"....a House kept under wraps or run in such an infantile manner as to encourage people to watch anything else; parliamentary name-calling has not proven to be a competitive form of reality TV."

Hear, Hear (as I thump on my desk)!
 
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