December 28, 2011

Freedom without democracy?

A new book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, argues that the system is stacked in favor of the elite, regardless of which political party runs Washington.

With only five percent of the world's population, the United States nevertheless holds nearly one-quarter of all prisoners in the entire world. And yet, nearly no one ever goes to prison in America for violating the United States Constitution or crimes against the American people. That includes everything from illegal wiretapping of thousands of U.S. citizens, to the financial meltdown that engulfed our nation just over three years ago. In fact, our financial agencies are controlled by executives of Goldman Sachs and a few other major banking firms, regardless of which party controls Washington.

I've been blogging this past year about how Egypt will remain under the same military rule, regardless of whether the brave demonstrators in Cairo succeeded in getting Mubarak removed as the President (though I had hoped otherwise). Russia will continue to be run by the same security apparatus and moneyed classes as before, but this past month's popular protests will force them to scale back some of their control and possibly change one or both faces at the top. Whatever it takes...

In the United States, a previous generation mounted full-scale protests against military adventurism in Vietnam and racism at home, and truly changed the face of our land. New laws were enacted, freedoms were expanded, and public welfare enhanced for millions. 

But do we have effective and functional democracy today?

Yes, reforms have been made over the years. But was it all we could do, or was it just enough to get on with business? The War Powers Act was expected to stop catastrophes like the Iraq War from ever occurring, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was supposed to prevent illegal wiretaps. And the guarantee was supposed to be prison for violators. Oh well...

Our House of Representatives and our state legislatures are controlled by party machines that determine their own electoral districts, agreeing on safe Democratic and Republican seats so that neither party ever needs to be truly accountable to the voters. No matter how pure or natural a candidate looks, when he (so far, only he) gets to the White House, he plays mostly by the same rules as his predecessors.

One reason the Occupy Wall Street movement has sparked popular sympathy across America is that people agree that the system is broken, even if they realize there's little to be done. As the author of With Liberty and Justice for Some has pointed out, the OWS demonstrators have no clear legislative proposals to fix the system, because the legislative system and the courts themselves have become part of the problem.

This time, however, unlike four decades ago, it appears little will change for Americans, even on the surface. Maybe we've just stopped caring?

I intend to read this book, and give it some thought. I hope others do, too.

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