Greenwald nails state of US “democracy”

Screenshot from 2016-05-04 13:09:58I’m a big admirer of the work done by Glenn Greenwald, not just in his efforts with the US whistleblower Edward Snowden but also for his ongoing work in exposing and commenting on the realities of US foreign policy. He and Jeremy Scahill have just come out with a new book on the US drone wars called “The Assassination Complex”, previewed here on the indefatigable Democracy Now! Looks like a must-read to me.

Greenwald’s withering assessment of the ongoing US primaries, Democrat and Republican, which he made during the same programme, bears repeating in full.

The “they” he is referring to are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though both he and Scahill are justifiably critical of Bernie Sanders too.

Well, I mean, I just think it’s—in some sense, Washington, D.C.—not the United States, but Washington, D.C.—is getting exactly the election they deserve. These are the two most unpopular presidential candidates ever to run, I think, in 30 years. They have the highest unfavorable ratings of any nominees in decades. The only thing they’re able to do to one another is try and be as toxic and nasty and destructive as possible, because everybody has already decided, more or less, that they’re so unlikable. And so, it’s going to be the opposite of an inspiring election. It’s just going to be two extremely unpopular people trying to destroy the other on both a personal level, backed by huge amounts of money and serving more or less the same interests. And I think the two parties and the establishment leaders in Washington, and the people who support and run that whole system, have gotten exactly the election that they deserve. Unfortunately, Americans are going to have to suffer along with them.

It really is that bad.

So the most powerful nation on the planet – thereby the most powerful government in history given the weaponry at its disposal – shows no imminent signs of substantive political change at the top.

That makes the work of finding better ways of political decision-making, such as sortition and participatory budgets, all the more critical. If that link seems obscure think of it as the difference between government by the people – “democracy” – versus government by a wealthy few – “oligarchy“.

That’s why I’m planning on ramping up Democracy Talk – an as-yet experimental audio and video reporting series focused on innovations in our political decision-making processes and accompanying commentary on the quality of existing ones.

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Democracy Talk, Episode 1

Democracy Talk TV – this inaugural episode sees presenters Patrick Chalmers and Yoram Gat tackle the question of “sortition” – what it is and why it might produce far fairer and more transparent political decisions than currently emerge from electoral politics.

Equality by lot

Patrick Chalmers and I are aiming to turn this into an ongoing video series. Any comments are welcome.

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Where next for Anywhere but Westminster?

I love what John Harris and John Domokos have been doing with their ad hoc video journalism project “Anywhere but Westminster” for the Guardian. Theirs was an inspired decision four years ago: to travel around the UK to cover national politics rather than stagnate among the self-absorbed and self-obsessed of London’s media and political pools.

Their coverage has been refreshing and realistic – far closer to the dynamics of what’s happening on the ground than what you could learn from watching the national broadcasters – the BBC, ITV or Sky and the first twos’ regional offshoots.

Now they’re asking for ideas for what to do next. My answer would be to focus on the various experiments in political innovation that are popping up around the UK’s four member countries – things like Frome’s Flatpack Democracy – which John Harris himself wrote about last year.

The Sortition Foundation is another interesting initiative. On the 10th and 11th of June it will host Harm van Dijk and Jerphaas Donner, the founders of the G1000 in the Netherlands, to help launch the G1000 in the UK. The G1000’s aim is to assemble a representative, random selection of people from a selected community to deliberate their areas political priorities.

I hope to be there myself to start gathering material for a follow-up series of articles to my book Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

https://cdn.theguardian.tv/mainwebsite/2016/04/22/160425ABWexplainer_desk.mp4

For six years, John Harris and John Domokos have travelled the UK to get a sense of British politics away from the Westminster bubble. Meanwhile, old-fashioned two-party politics has crumbled amid a rising sense of discontent with the status quo. For their new series, the pair are back on the road, hunting down radical new politics in some unlikely places

Where do you think they should go? Send them your suggestions

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The end of politicians?

Brett

Author Brett Hennig talks about his book “The End Of Politicians“, which describes how ordinary people could become decision makers in their own right by way of citizen policy juries.

“It’s about a different way of doing democracy. Instead of relying on elections to select your leaders you do a random selection of ordinary people and give them the power to make the decisions,” Brett said.

“Politicians are constrained by money, by the media, by factions. They aren’t actually as free to implement the things that they say that they’ll implement.”

Brett told Democracy Talk his 10-year dream would be to have national governments no longer chosen by elections but rather by sortition – the random selection of a representative sample from any population being governed.

The book gathers evidence from an array of citizens’ assemblies showing that they work: ordinary people can and do make good, informed, and balanced decisions.  An electronic version is being crowded funded on unbound.co.uk.

More details on sortition in the UK and more generally can be found at The Sortition Foundation.

 

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Germany and refugees – why so different?

Katja from the French association Playing for Change Occitanie (PFCO) explains what her organisation is trying to do to help Syrian refugees in a rural corner of Southwest France.

PFCO has helped two new arrivals from Syria, recently arrived in France, to make the most of their talent for pottery. They hooked them up with local potters and other people motivated to help their fellow humans, sparking off a dynamic sequence of events.

Their goal is to change the negative image that the media has proffered concerning refugees and show they have a lot to offer.

Katja, a native of Germany, contrasts the tiny number of refugees accepted in France and the UK versus the million plus already taken in by her compatriots.

“I think for Germans it’s more realistic. There are more families that have lost somebody in the war or have been refugees themselves. Even the reunification in the 1990s… It was a kind of refugee situation… you still feel it in Germany.

“All these people that have grown up in East Germany, they have been living with the Communist international solidarity as the main frame of all the education they have lived through. All this reflects the awareness of never fascism again.”

“In Germany, we treat that topic a lot whereas in France, that’s never reflected,” she said.

Katja’s own family became refugees at the end of the Second World War, fleeing ahead of the advancing Russian army from what is today part of Poland.

“If people hadn’t helped them, I wouldn’t been here today.

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Doing democracy differently in Oz

Democracy Talk meets Iain Walker, Executive Director of the Australian charity newDEMOCRACY, which aims to innovate in how we do democracy. Iain goes beyond conventional ideas about why Western representative democracies are suffering a collapse of public trust.

He sees the problem as much deeper than one of money’s outsize influence on elections – it’s the voting itself that’s at fault. Elected officials are in permanent election mode, making thoughtful, long-term decision-making impossible. The solution newDEMOCRACY favours is sortition – randomly selected samples of the public who then ponder a policy question with help from all the evidence they can gather.

This is the first part of a two-part interview.

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Democracy without elections?

What if our democracies didn’t depend on celebrity politics or money-fuelled elections but rather on systems that served the majority of humanity and the planet more widely? That may seem the stuff of dreams for citizens enduring the likes of the US presidential elections yet it isn’t as far fetched as all that. Experiments in governance alternatives are popping up across the planet, their members looking for ways to do democracy better.

Adam Cronkright, co-founder of the Cochabamba, Bolivia group Democracy In Practice, joins me on Democracy Talk to imagine political life beyond the frontiers of elections. DIP has been exploring better ways to do democracy for a couple of years, tackling the frustration many people around the world feel about representative politics.

Adam’s experimentation with random selection in student governments is road testing a technique that first came to light in Ancient Athens and other Greek city states. So what lessons to draw for today’s democracy lovers? Take a listen to find out.

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