Saturday, January 21, 2012

Losing Democracy

People around the world are starting to realize that our economic system is incompatible with democracy. Around the world, democracy is being taken away, and governments are being turned over to creditors to be dismantled. Thus, we see that democracy was just a convenient fiction to mollify the people, but when push comes to shove, democracy gets shoved aside, and the real leaders take over. Case in point:
When the state stepped in to take over financially struggling Central Falls in 2010, Rhode Island's smallest city lost something fundamental: its democratic government.

Mayor Charles Moreau would be forced to give back his key to City Hall, and the City Council was relegated to advisory status — unsure for months whether it was even allowed to convene.

"They're being governed without elected representation," state Sen. Elizabeth Crowley said of Central Falls' 19,000 residents. "That flies in the face of the democratic principle that our country is founded on, not only our little city. Maybe we should have a tea party and dump some tea in the Blackstone" River.

Crowley, a Democrat and lifelong Central Falls resident, uses a twist on Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to describe government there, under a state-appointed receiver, these days: "of the receiver, by the receiver and for the receiver."

That receiver, former state Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Flanders Jr., is often criticized for sweeping like a dictator into a city he doesn't know, where he doesn't live and where, with the state's blessing, he unilaterally decides matters that go far beyond the fiscal.

The General Assembly passed the "Fiscal Stability Act" in direct response to Central Falls' financial crisis — giving the receiver authority to file for bankruptcy, which city officials did not have. It allows him not only to "exercise the powers of the elected officials" on fiscal issues but says his powers supersede theirs.
Troubled RI City in Receivership Loses Democracy

I like the last line of the article: "We may be in bankruptcy, but as far as I remember, I didn't lose my citizenship," she said. "Let's be very cautious about the rights that you're taking away from the governed." I wonder, how many cities are going to "lose democracy" in the decades ahead? Already the entire nations of Greece and Italy are being governed by similar unelected regimes, euphemistically (and incorrectly) termed "technocratic". And "democratic" cities around the country are becoming ever more repressive towards their citizens. Case in point: Chicago. I remember when Obama's chief of staff and former investment banker Rahm Emmanuel announced he was running for Chicago mayor. Well, "running" wasn't really accurate - it seemed to me like it was considered by all observers to be a fait accompli, with the actual election merely a formality. Why go through the trouble? And now former democratic strategist Rahm is implementing policies demanded by the financial elite, who are taking over the city for one of their conferences where decisions that affect us all are really made.

It's almost as if Rahm Emanuel was lifting a page from Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine – as if he was reading her account of Milton Friedman's "Chicago Boys" as a cookbook recipe, rather than as the ominous episode that it was. In record time, Emanuel successfully exploited the fact that Chicago will host the upcoming G8 and Nato summit meetings to increase his police powers and extend police surveillance, to outsource city services and privatize financial gains, and to make permanent new limitations on political dissent. It all happened – very rapidly and without time for dissent – with the passage of rushed security and anti-protest measures adopted by the city council on 18 January 2012.

Sadly, we are all too familiar with the recipe by now: first, hype up and blow out of proportion a crisis (and if there isn't a real crisis, as in Chicago, then create one), call in the heavy artillery and rapidly seize the opportunity to expand executive power, to redistribute wealth for private gain and to suppress political dissent. As Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom in 1982 – and as Klein so eloquently describes in her book:

"Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function … until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."

Today, it's more than mere ideas that are lying around; for several decades now, and especially since 9/11, there are blueprints scattered all around us.
Read the whole sad story here: Outlawing dissent: Rahm Emanuel's new regime. On the pretext of policing upcoming G8 and Nato summits, Chicago's mayor has awarded himself draconian new powers (The Guardian)

On a related note, Treehugger's Sami Grover makes a good point here - when listening to a report about the economy, it listed the overthrow of brutal dictators who rammed through the neoliberal economic agenda as a setback!:
"The economy seems to be recovering, despite blips caused by the Arab Spring and the Fukushima Earthquake."

I almost missed the disturbing absurdity of this statement as I was listening to the radio the other day. Did I really just hear that the march of democracy is a threat to our economy, comparable to that of a horrific natural disaster? Sure, a giant earthquake that destroys communities, claims countless lives and disrupts supply chains can (and should) be seen as a major economic disruption. But a popular uprising against a murderous and brutal regime?

If the economy is supposed to be a measure of our well-being and development, we have a serious problem.
If the Economy Tanks When Democracy Advances, We Have a Serious Problem (Treehugger)

So are democracy and capitalism even compatible? In America, we've always been taught in a Pavlovian way to link freedom, democracy and capitalism. But they are unrelated. In fact, some would say they are antithetical! That's why I use the term authoritarian capitalism - there is nothing that says capitalism, especially the highly centralized corporate variety that straddles the world today - has to be under a democratic government. And now we're seeing democracy chucked out the window in the examples above. How long could our economic system last under actual democracy? And when are we going to stop pretending we have it?

Related: Why Are We Forced to Worship at the Feet of 'Mythical' Financial Markets Controlled by the Elite? (AlterNet)

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