"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


In another initiative that is a continuation of his professed policy of opening up U.S. politics to more public participation and increasing transparency in Washington, Barack Obama is inviting the public to have their say in the formation of the Democratic party platform for this year's election. 'Platform Meetings' designed to permit the input of the people into the process are now being held across the country. Visit the following link to find one near you: http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/listening/ Although it remains to be seen whether this experiment will have the desired effect of allowing meaningful direct participation in the process of drafting the platform, it is definitely a step in the right direction, and an encouraging sign. To learn about Obama's other proposals to increase participatory democracy visit the following link: http://www.barackobama.com/issues/ethics/ If enacted these measures will serve to marginally open up government to popular participation and will hopefully be the harbinger of more signficant steps toward direct democracy. - Editor

Listening to America:
The Democratic Platform for Change


Supporters like you have opened up the political process like never before. But now you can do even more.
You can write the next chapter in the history of the Democratic Party.

This year, we are proud to be the first major political party to open its platform process to all Americans. And we want you to contribute your ideas and input. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a real impact and help set the agenda for the next four years and beyond.

Find or host a Platform Meeting in your community, and get involved now:

Find a Platform Meeting near you: July 19th through July 27th

Every four years, the Democratic Party assembles a platform that outlines the party's position on a variety of issues. Traditionally, the platform is written by paid professionals and then presented to the American people.

This year, that's going to change.

From Saturday, July 19th to Sunday, July 27th, everyday people all across America will hold Platform Meetings in their homes, or in their local churches and even coffee shops, to help build the Democratic Party's platform for change from the bottom up.

Attend a Platform Meeting and tell us what matters to you, so we can incorporate your ideas into the party's platform. A few participants may even be invited to appear and testify at the National Hearing.

No experience is required to host or attend an event. We'll provide all the materials and help you need. Use our zipcode search to find a Platform Meeting near you.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Can people power in the form of grassroots activism and often uncoordinated populist movements succeed in challenging the deeply entrenched power structures that have democracy in a stranglehold in the U.S.? David Sirota in his new book examines the rise of Western populism in the lead up to the elections in November and what effect they may have upon the status quo of U.S. politics. - Editor

Book World: 'The Uprising'

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2008/06/02/DI2008060202445.html

David Sirota
Political Columnist, Author of "The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington"
Wednesday, June 4, 2008; 12:00 PM

Author and political columnist David Sirota, who was a senior campaign strategist to Democrat Brian Schweitzer in his successful run for governor of Montana, was online Wednesday, June 4 at noon ET to discuss his new book, " The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington," and how the resurgence of Western populism could reshape the political map in November.

Book World review: Rooting for a Revolution (Post, June 4)

The transcript follows.

Sirota will be giving a reading and signing books at 6 p.m. tonight at Borders on L Street in Washington. Sirota is also the author of "Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government -- And How We Take It Back." He is a co-chair of the Progressive States Network and a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future. His other political work has included advising Ned Lamont, who defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary (before losing to Lieberman, then running as an independent, in the general); chief spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee; and press secretary for independent Vermont Rep. Bernard Sanders.

Madison, Wis.: In what was does the populist uprising challenge the dominance of transnational capital? Can a fragmented populist movement successfully challenge the corporatist framework -- from agribusiness and energy to voting and media reform? Or does the success of such a movement to restore participatory democracy require a condensing of efforts behind a unique rallying point?

David Sirota: This is a great question - I think some condensing needs to take place, and as I say in the book, it's not clear that condensing is going to happen. I think there's a good chance it will around unifying issues like opposing NAFTA-style trade deals, raising wages, regulating oil companies, etc. But never underestimate the forces of the status quo to divide that unity through cultural, racial, and fear-based messages.

Freising, Germany: Do you think that the rise of Internet blogging and the ability to pick and choose your own biased source of news has encouraged the re-emergence of populist politics on the right and left?

David Sirota: Yes, I do - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think people can now find anti-Establishment viewpoints much more easily than they could have in the past. And I think that is starting to make people realize that the reality being fed to us by those in power is not the reality of the world. Part of the backlash that this uprising is about is a backlash to a media that is increasingly seen as part of the problem - not part of the solution.

Seattle: What's been your biggest surprise on the book tour so far?

David Sirota: The acceptance by many progressives that we have to start looking at where we can make common cause with rank-and-file conservatives. In such a polarized political environment I expected that thesis in my book to be met with hostility on the Left - but in fact I think people are starting to get the idea that we have to find commonalities with the other side.

Harrisburg: How does the populist movement fight the huge costs of getting elected -- costs that I note have escalated in the past few decades -- and the fact the press won't take a congressional candidate seriously unless that candidate has a quarter of a million dollars up front?

David Sirota: I think the Internet's use as a fundraising instrument - and specifically as an instrument of small-dollar fundraising - has allowed candidates who use it properly to feel more free of Big Money interests than before - and therefore to more aggressively try to represent the uprising when in office. That said, Big Money interests still have huge influence in politics, and that's why if this uprising is going to become a successful movement, it will have to put public financing of campaigns as a central part of its agenda.

Harrisburg, Pa.: You have advised a governor. What can state governments do to best extend progressive policies? How much impact might taking such actions as making tax collections more progressive, increasing the minimum wage, and creating tax breaks for business collections have if we could get a large number of states together to take such actions?

David Sirota: I'm glad you asked this question - in the din of the presidential election, we often forget all the other arenas of change like state legislatures. In the 1980s, conservatives focused on state legislatures for their uprising through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council - they knew that states could wield a huge amount of power on all sorts of issues because states deal with the most important area of government: money.

States can do all sorts of things - crack down on corporate crime (see Colorado's upcoming ballot initiative), make taxes more progressive (see the first chapter of my book), and even get involved in reforming our international trade policies through their procurement policies (see Public Citizen's website). So it's not what states can or can't do - it's what this uprising is willing to invest in states in terms of activism and pressure that will determine HOW MUCH states will do.

Chicago: Hey David, Why hasn't the federal bailout of the financial sector elicited more outrage from populists?

David Sirota: I think it has in the sense that the headlines about it have only reinforced the idea that the government no longer even pretends to work for regular people. So while people may not be thinking explicitly "I don't like that the government gave Bear Stearns a lot of money" I think they are thinking more generally that "wow, this government is really out of control."

Alexandria, Va.: So with this new movement, how hopeful can we be about enacting a 100 percent estate tax soon?

David Sirota: Pretty far away, I'd say, because tax reform is probably the toughest part of this uprising. Then again, if you read the first chapter of the book, you will see that the tax debate is finally starting to thaw from the right-wing freeze. Thirty years of conservative propaganda on taxes has set back the tax debate incredibly far. So getting a progressive tax debate about tax inequality going will certainly happen, it is going to be a gradual process.

Crestwood, N.Y.: Haven't read your book yet (but I plan to) and don't know how you answered this question: If the president-elect isn't named Paul, Huckabee or Kucinich, exactly what does Wall Street have to fear? Aren't the hedge fund trillionaires all in bed with Obama and the Democrats? As for Mc Cain and his good pal Sen. Gramm ... well, don't make me laugh.

There has been zero impact from the golden-parachute scandals, Enron, etc., etc.; the confidence game under the guise of "deregulation" continues. Barring a 1929-style crash, I don't see how we get a populist reform and overhaul of our financial sector, nor do I see how a President Obama who tries to do the right thing succeeds in this gargantuan task. Do you?

David Sirota: I think you are right - there is less for Wall Street to fear from the presidential candidates. But one of the key points my book makes is that presidential politics is really only one avenue of making change in a democratic society. The book talks about how there are all sorts of other arenas to make change - both electoral and in terms of direct action. In the electoral arena, we can pressure state government to crackdown on financial abuse (anyone remember Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's record?). In the direct action arena, workers can unionize their workplace to bargain collectively (last year was the first uptick in union membership in many years).

So the myth that the media foists on us about presidential politics being the only avenue of change is just that - a myth. And its a pernicious myth, because it distracts our attention from the other arenas where we can really make a difference - and where the uprising IS really making a difference.

Minneapolis: Now that we know the two major party candidates, can you compare their relative abilities to inspire support as populists? The conventional wisdom would seem to say Obama has it, McCain does not. Is this simple, obvious answer the correct one?

David Sirota: I don't think its as simple as that in terms of these two candidates. McCain has shown a populist streak in his past legislation and rhetoric against Big Money interests. That legislation and rhetoric may now be a thing of the past - but he may well resurrect it in the general election. Obama certainly could harness this uprising - and I think he has to some extent in the primary. But he will have to get comfortable with a more full-throated populist economic message on issues like trade and globalization. Neither candidate has shown any desire to be a real class-based populist - but the candidate who does realize the power of that kind of politics will harness this uprising and probably be elected President.

Boston: Hey David -- if you had to point to an economist who conveys your views, who would it be? Michael Hudson, Robert Pollin, Karl Marx?

David Sirota: Ha-Joon Chang.

Los Angeles: A flaw with U.S. capitalism is that Bear Sterns's chairman can receive $61 million after leading the company to its demise, billions in shareholder losses and a government-backed bailout. Formerly, Republicans championed limited government regulations (perhaps because regulated company officials make large political contributions) but Bush killed that Republican brand with regulatory expansion through the Patriot Act, leading to reduced civil liberties. Now Bushies want to expand regulation of financial markets. One wonders if these new regulations would've exposed Elliot Spitzer's hooker uses sooner than Patriot Act SARs.

I have some new regulations to propose: Bar federal employees regulating banks, brokerages and hedge funds from working for these companies until a reasonable period has expired, say three to five years (helps avoid conflicts of interest, such as what occurred in the in 2002-2003 Boeing-Pentagon scandal). Purchasers of a stock that experiences dramatic decline in stock price within 60-90 days of purchase (e.g. Bear Stern going from more than $100 to $2 since Dec 2007) should be able to reverse the transaction if the purchase decision was based on fraudulent or grossly inaccurate accounting information the company reported. If grossly inaccurate or fraudulent information is discovered, all bonuses paid to company and brokerage officials based on such information should be subject to recovery by regulators and paid to company shareholders.

David Sirota: These are the kinds of proposals I expect to bubble up as the financial meltdown gets worse, and the public gets more angry.

Washington: Hi David. I enjoyed reading your book very much, and blogged about it. One of the questions I had in my blog post was about the phenomenon of many, many people self-identifying as political independents in the U.S. (about 40 percent of the electorate) in rejection of the two major parties. I was wondering: What do you think of that phenomenon in relation to the various uprisings happening all over the country? And what do you think of the efforts to try and harness that widespread dissatisfaction into a political movement -- specifically, the efforts of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, or CUIP?

David Sirota: I think the increase in self-identified independents is an expression of anger. I'm not sure self-identified independents are actually voting much differently than they did before - that is to say, I think many people who call themselves independent also continue to vote with one party reliably. However, the change in party registration/affiliation is certainly people saying they've had it with what's going on. The question is whether that initial step will lead to more constructive activism...

Silver Spring, Md.: It is a fact that there is considerably more excitement and interest in the "battle" between fundamentally mainstream candidates than in the wars and famines that are raging all over the world today. What does this say to you about how much Americans really "care" about anything? While I agree with much of what you have said in many of your writings, I find that mainstream progressive thought is much more a case of people like you trying to sell the people a different-colored car than an alternative mode of transportation.

David Sirota: In advertising, they say the goal is to manufacture desires before you ever sell a product. Make people desire something and then the sales pitch for the specific product is easier. The excitement and interest in the battle between milquetoast candidates is merely the product of that manufacture of desire by the media. The media focuses only on presidential politics, and within that, only on a narrow set of issues and candidates in that arena. That leads us to believe that that's where the real "battle" is - when in fact, as my book shows, the battle is all around us in an infinite number of arenas.

I think it's hard to support your assertion that my writing is attempting to sell a different colored car, as you put it. I write about issues like globalization, trade and corporate power that very, very few authors/political journalists write about in any kind of power-challenging way.

Arlington, Va.: Mr. Sirota, I've listened to each of the three major presidential candidates (one of whom, by nature of the system, is guaranteed to be the next president) cheer the alleged "political awakening" of America's young people. Their emphasis is that these new "activists" either are donating money to Democrats and Republican or are active raising money from donors.

Thus, the main activity of the select few who have heard the call to activism is to collect yet more cash for an increasingly unresponsive, unrepresentative political system choked with special interest and PAC money. Personally, I find this news depressing. I don't feel a new wave of change and activism; I sense only a new generation a buying into a broken electoral system at a younger age than their parents, and nothing more. I'm hardly a radical, but I find the whole mess discouraging to say the least.

David Sirota: I can see your point of view - and I sympathize with it to a certain extent. I worry that lots of people getting involved in the presidential campaign think the campaign itself is a political movement. But as history has shown, candidates, parties and elections are not movements - they are vehicles for movements. Those who think any of these candidates or any of these elections are movements are deluded.

washingtonpost.com: You mention the power of state governments; how successful do you think a Republican strategy of playing defense in 2008 and conserving resources to fight tooth-and-nail -- especially on the state level -- in 2010 would be? Mid-term elections tend to favor the minority party as it is, and 2010's majorities would decide how to redraw district lines, post-census.

David Sirota: I think that's precisely what the GOP will do, but even beyond that electoral strategy, I think that will be their public policy strategy. If Republicans are shut out of Congress and the presidency, they will fire up their well-developed state-based infrastructure to take the conservative legislative fight to individual state legislatures in a more intense way than we've seen before.

washingtonpost.com: Do you think it's possible for Sen. Obama to win Montana and other just-out-of-reach Western states without moving so far to the center that it alienates the progressives what brung him to the dance?

David Sirota: I definitely think it is possible - but it will require him to understand that the left-right stereotypes presented by the media is not the continuum of politics in the heartland. "Moving to the center" is defined by the Washington, D.C. media as, for instance, supporting the Patriot Act. But the Patriot Act is hated in places like Montana and Colorado (see their state legislatures' near-unanimous passage of bipartisan legislation condemning the act).

If Obama is to win these kinds of states, he will have to move in a more populist direction on issues of civil liberties and economic issues - if he follows the DLC-ish faux "centrist" line of bowing down to corporate America and the national security state, he will lose these places decisively.

Evanston, Ill.: Hey David, what is your response to the argument that socialism is inefficient because of the absence of a dynamic price system -- i.e. the socialist calculation debate?

David Sirota: Forgive my ignorance, but I don't know the specific argument you are referring to. However, what I would say is this: the argument that government involvement in the marketplace is always inefficient is not supported by fact. Just one example: Medicare expends about 4 cents on the dollar for paperwork and administrative costs. The private health care market expends about 15 cents on the dollar for the same kind of thing. In short, in the health care market, we have evidence that the government can be far more efficient than the private system.

washingtonpost.com: What do you think of the criticism in today's Post review that your book, while well-written, pulls together disparate groups that don't constitute anything like a movement yet?

David Sirota: I was confused by the criticism - because that's precisely the point I make at the beginning and end of the book. These are disparate groups. They are all motivated by a similar backlash sentiment against the Establishment - but its not yet clear whether they can forge a full-fledged movement around a common agenda. That's why I called the book "The Uprising" rather than "The Movement" - an uprising is that middle-stage between total disengaged chaos and a full-fledged movement. Whether this uprising becomes a movement is not yet clear - that's the very point of the book.

Silver Spring, Md.: You wrote: "I think it's hard to support your assertion that my writing is attempting to sell a different-colored car, as you put it. I write about issues like globalization, trade and corporate power that very, very few authors/political journalists write about in any kind of power-challenging way." You really ought to get out more -- I have found all of your writings entirely predictable. I'm not trying to be mean, that's just how it is.

David Sirota: One's "predictable" is another's "consistent." I make no apologies for advocating what I advocate, nor do I apologize for refusing to be inconsistent in order to satiate your desire for surprises.

David Sirota: Thank you all for being here and participating. I hope you pick up the book, and feel free to email me your comments at ds@davidsirota. And most importantly, join the uprising!

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

Friday, July 25, 2008


The Washington Fair Trade Coalition consistently communicates with members of congress in an effort to change trade policy in a way that will directly benefit people, not just the "economy." The media and politicians show us graphs with numbers that will placate our fears about our trade deficit, the latest free trade agreement, and low inflation, but groups like WFTC are working to reveal the reality of the problems these policies impose on people in the US and around the world. WTFC employs a participatory approach to achieve their goals, gaining a presence in government by maintaining contact with members of congress in the hopes of influencing their decisions. While it is a constant struggle, some of their campaigns have been successful in reforming trade policy and mitigating the destructive effects that current policies have on workers and the environment. See their website for more information about what they do and recent success in swaying some policy-makers: http://www.washingtonfairtrade.org/ While it is unfortunate how hard they have to work to influence policy, it is at the same time uplifting to know that people are actively taking part in decisions that most are content to leave to representatives and government officials. -Editor

Congressional Leaders Launch Bold New Trade Reform Act

The Washington Fair Trade Coalition Urges Washington State Members of Congress to Co-sponsor Legislation

Source: http://www.citizenstrade.org/pdf/WFTC_TRADEActpressrelease_06102008.pdf

Over fifty original House and Senate cosponsors joined twenty leading labor, environmental, family farm and faith groups in supporting new consensus legislation offering a positive vision for future U.S. trade policy. Entitled the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act (H.R. 6180), the bill was introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) on June 4th, 2008 in Washington D.C. None of Washington State's members of Congress were original co-sponsors.

The act triggers a review of all existing trade agreements, and provides a process to renegotiate them. The bill also outlines principles of what should be included in future trade agreements, and expresses the sense of the Congress that their role in trade policymaking should be strengthened.

Rick Bender, President of the Washington State Labor Council, supports the TRADE Act. "It is time we get some teeth in our trade agreements and require real protections for both workers and the environment," said Bender. "We must no longer treat these vital concerns as a sidebar to broader economic interests. Securing the future of workers and the health of the planet will benefit everyone - business and labor included."

No member of the Washington State Congressional delegation was an original co-sponsor of the bill. However, many local organizations are already praising it as a bold step forward on trade policy, and are encouraging state officials to sign on.

"This bill is ground-breaking. It is an opportunity to restore balance in our trade agenda, between business and investor interests on one hand, and the interests of communities and the public on the other hand," comments Cynthia Cole, President of SPEEA, the union of Boeing engineers and technical workers. "Hopefully, Congress members from Washington State will be quick to support a new model for trade that will benefit working people as well as businesses in our state."

Environmental groups see this bill as important for ensuring trade and environmental concerns are complementary. Kathleen Ridihalgh of Sierra Club Northwest/Alaska Region says: "This Act has the potential to set straight the history of NAFTA and the WTO to encourage truly sustainable development that promises to benefit the majority of the world's people, whether farmers or business owners, while protecting our resources for future generations."

Kristen Kosidowski of Witness for Peace Northwest sees this bill as an opportunity to be in favor of trade policy, since many social justice groups often find themselves opposed to trade agreements. "The TRADE Act is exactly the step that we need to take. Over and over we've had to say "No!" to trade policies that set up our local working communities and our global neighbors for failure, but the TRADE Act gives us hope for a trade model that we can support - one that is of the people and for the people."

The TRADE Act was introduced following a presidential primary season that saw trade policy rise to the top of American's concerns. With several Democratic candidates promising to renegotiate existing agreements (visit www.citizenstrade.org/positions.php for those commitments), the TRADE Act provides a blueprint for how to best remedy many of these past problems in trade agreements.

The current U.S. trade model has had devastating impacts. Since 1975, when Fast Track (Trade Promotion Authority) was first enacted, the trade deficit has gone from a slight surplus to an unsustainable $709 billion deficit in 2007. A net 4.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. In Washington State almost 14,000 workers have applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance, which indicates that our current trade model caused them to suffer job loss or reduced income. This represents only a fraction of the total number of those whose jobs or livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the NAFTA-style trade model, including thousands of Mexican farmers who have immigrated to Washington State in search of a livelihood after the collapse of the Mexican rural economy.

According to Stephanie Celt, Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, "More and more Americans are realizing that our current trade model hurts more people than it helps. I hope that Congress members from Washington State will act on this important opportunity to support a truly fair trade bill that will benefit our state as well as the world at large."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party's Presidential candidate, advocates participatory democracy and reflects the power of diverse social movements. While the mainstream media refuses to cover her campaign, this editor salutes her efforts and hopes that campaigns like hers will be more successful in the future. Below find a press release announcing her running mate, Rosa Clemente, and outlining some of her stances. Below that is a headline from "Democracy Now" with a great quote from Mckinney. -Editor

CYNTHIA MCKINNEY IS GREEN PARTY NOMINEE: Former Democratic Congresswoman chooses hip hop activist as running mate.

Source: http://eurweb.com/story/eur45251.cfm
July 15, 2008

*At its convention in Chicago over the weekend, the Green Party selected former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia as its presidential nominee, with hip-hop artist, journalist and activist Rosa Clemente as her running mate.

In 1992, McKinney, 53, became the first African American woman to represent Georgia in Congress. She has been a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, has called for new investigations into the 9/11 attacks, sought justice for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and introduced articles of impeachment against President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In 2006 McKinney got into a scuffle with a Capitol Police Officer after passing through security without an identifying lapel pin. She later apologized on the floor of the House.

Clamente, 36, born in the Bronx and of Puerto Rican descent, became an activist and journalist after being angered by the Bush administration's response following Hurricane Katrina.

"I choose to do this, not for me, but for my generation, my community and my daughter," Clamente said of the nomination. "I don't see the Green Party as an alternative; I see it as an imperative."

On Saturday she described the campaign as an opportunity for the Hip-Hop generation: "We must remember that youth have always taken risks. From the Soweto uprisings in South Africa, to African-American and Mexicano children in the '50s and '60s who walked out of schools, to the 17-, 18- and 19-year old men and women who joined the ranks of the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, the Black Panther party, the American Indian movement, the Black Liberation Movement, the Young Lords Party - young people have always been the catalyst of change."

Green party ideals include environmentalism, non-hierarchical participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, peace and nonviolence.

Green Party Nominates Cynthia McKinney to be President

And the Green Party has nominated former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to be the party’s presidential nominee. The Greens also nominated hip-hop activist and organizer Rosa Clemente to be McKinney’s running mate. McKinney spoke on Saturday at the Green Party convention in Chicago.

Cynthia McKinney: “And when I got to Washington, I saw that public policy is really made in a room at a table. There were real seats at the table. Well, imagine what has happened to public policymaking now. There is a real room with a window and a door, and there’s two seats at the table. The window is for us to look through, while our representatives make policy for us, so we can see what they’re doing. At the table, one seat is for the Democrats, one seat is for the Republicans. Now, we don’t know who did it, but one of them put a lock on the door and slipped a key to the corporate lobbyists who can come and go at will and whisper what they want to Democrats and Republicans, and the result is that we the people, who pay for those seats and determine who sits in them, want one thing, but because the corporate lobbyists can come and go at will, our values get overridden and our representatives give us something else. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re against the war and occupation, but war and occupation still gets funding. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re against illegal spying on innocent people, yet end up with a telecom immunity bill being signed into law. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re in favor of universal access to healthcare and no one supporting what the physicians, nurses and healthcare really want, and that’s a single-payer healthcare system in this country.”

Monday, July 21, 2008


In the opinion of many who support him based on his promises of real change in Washington, Obama has begun to fall short of the mark on several issues. Questions about his shifting goalposts on FISA, permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq, NAFTA and other policy issues are worrisome to those who have looked to Obama as someone who is willing to make a stand and confront the powers that be in Washington. As Obama seeks a more centrist posturing in the lead up to the November elections evidently in order to appeal to undecided voters, it becomes ever more clear that, as Obama himself has stated, he alone will not be capable of effecting real change. Instead it will require a continuation and expansion of the grassroots movement that has grown around his campaign. It will only be through continued political pressure and participation on the part of the masses that any kind of breakthrough has any hope of being achieved. We reiterate this point and stress that the struggle for change does not end on election day in November, that is the day that the struggle will truly begin in earnest, regardless of whether it is Obama or McCain who emerges the winner. However, as the following article illustrates, Obama continues to be the sole candidate with a chance of winning that will allow the doors to the corridors of power in Washington to be left ajar just enough for the people to have a chance of getting their foot in the door. In his platform he is inviting the participation of the people in federal government to an extent never offered before by any major candidate. Please read about these proposals by clicking HERE. Although this would only be the beginning baby steps towards a truly direct democracy, it is nevertheless a beginning. The alternative offers no hope at all. The question is whether the people who have currently become politically energized will have the perseverance and the determination to push the agenda through even if the candidate that has promised them change does not turn out to be the champion they envisioned him to be. - Editor

Winning -- and Running -- the Presidency as a Participatory Democracy

By Craig Newmark - Huffington Post
Posted July 8, 2008 03:50 PM (EST)


This election is historic, it's the beginning of a long tipping point where networked citizen involvement in the election marks the start of large scale participatory democracy. This year is comparable to 1787, when the Founders defined our system of representative democracy.

As more of us get Net access, we're getting the tools for the kind of representative democracy the Founders envisioned. Whoever wins the presidency will be faced with an electorate that is genuinely empowered. (There's still a digital divide issue, slowly being addressed.)

Barack Obama has signified his commitment to a role for American citizens in his election and his presidency, and he's following through with his commitment. (more below)

John McCain, who I admire, seemed to start with a similar vision, but has recently committed to sharing the current administration's view of democracy: "The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up." (video here). (Note that he's now hiring people with a record of deceptive campaigning; check out the first link.)

1. The financial contributions of ordinary citizens, including myself, constitute the best of Americans demonstrating their dedication to shared values. It's the most genuine, honest form of public electoral financing. Given the choice between genuine, grassroots electoral financing, and a coercive, tax-based public financing, the grassroots approach is the one consistent with American values.

So, the factual perspective is that Obama honored his commitment to honest public financing by refusing taxpayer based public financing. However, swiftboaters have already used this material for deceptive advertising. Additionally, commentators who don't understand participatory democracy have misinterpreted it.

2. Many parts of the FISA Amendment Act are subject to debate. However, in America, no one should be above the law, including telcoms who may have broken the law.

It should be noted that the Qwest case established that illegal wiretapping started well before the current Adminstration was interested in counterterrrorism, and that intelligence specialists have stated that current FISA mechanisms are effective. One might observe that Ronald Reagen never broke the law in this manner to fight Communism.

I feel Obama has the right position, and is also listening to the grassroots efforts opposing amnesty for illegal activities on the part of the telecoms.

3. After the inauguration of President Obama, real change will be facilitated by the evolution of the grassroots network into an effort for participatory governance. This is a matter of considerable discussion, but some concrete examples include:

-- transparency: all governmental work should be disclosed in an easily accessible manner. If we all can see how the sausage is made, at least it could be made increasingly better. Naturally, there will be sensitive matters which should not be disclosed. (credit to Jeff Jarvis.)

-- customer service and accountability: the success of city customer service call centers, that is, 311 systems, should be expanded to all government operations.

-- speaking truth to power: the current presidency illustrates the danger when the executive is isolated from the reality of his actions, that is, when kept in a bubble. The grassroots network could be used to provide an alternative means of letting the president really know what's going on.

The participatory movement and concrete efforts like these are the kind of change people talk about.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


This piece, though slightly dated, gives an overview of initiative and referendum and the how New York State would benefit if it joined the other states that have it. In recent history the state legislature has come close to passing legislation that would have instituted initiative and referendum, but if has never been approved by the full legislature. Hopefully efforts will continue and the people of one of the most populated and economically significant states of the union will have this tool of direct democracy available to them at the state level. - Editor

Little Initiative

By Sydney Fisher

Source: http://www.academic.marist.edu/shaffer/lilin.html

In California, it succeeded by outlawing mandatory quotas for hiring practices and admittance to public institutions. In Massachusetts, it has put an annual cap on previously unchecked property taxes, making it more difficult to call the New England state by its notorious nickname: "Taxachusetts." But in New York state, the initiative and referendum (I&R) process continues to elude voters.

As the Republican candidate for governor in 1994, George Pataki vowed had bring I&R to New York. He issued a promise in his inaugural speech, saying, "I will ... give the people ' the dean unmistakable democratic voice that is theirs with the right of initiative and referendum."

While making good on other campaign promises-from reinstating the death penalty to lowering taxes--the governor has shown no sign of advancing I&R beyond his failed attempt in 1995, when he circulated his proposed bill in the Legislature. His spokesman, Michael McKeon, says the governor still hopes to bring I&R to New York. But currently, it is not among PataUs priorities. "Right now the governor is focusing on ending Darole for first-time violent felons, building on his welfare reform success; and job creation," McKeon says.

For New York's recently reform-minded Legislature, which has embraced conference committees and has approved making campaign funding information available over the Internet, I&R also remains on the back burner. For many lawmakers, the primary argument against I&R is that it undermines the deliberative process of government by allowing the electorate, rather than the people in elective office, to make the laws.

"The systems of campaigning and electing representatives every two yew for legislative office are working properly," says Mark Hansen, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, in dismissing I&R , which frequently is used to enact policy-such as term limits--opposed by many lawmakers.

Conservative and liberal advocates and certain lawmakers and candidates for office, nevertheless are continuing their crusade to bring I&R to the Empire State. Polls, too, show as many as two-thirds of New Yorkers favor the process.

I&R is about "my voice counts," says Mark Dunlea, chairman of the legislative committee for New York Greens. It gives voters a stronger voice on issues, he says. And if "citizens feel they are listened to, they'll get more involved," Dunlea says.

In April of this year, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) released a report that analyzed 20 years of election data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The study revealed that the average voter turnout for states with I&R was 52 percent compared to states without I&R, which reported an average of 46.5 percent. New York ranked 37th out of 50 states, with 44 percent of voters going to the polls .

Initiative and referendum is often referred to as "direct democracy" or "citizen lawmaking." An "initiative" is a process allowing people to petition and put amendments or legislation on the ballot for voter approval. Referendum, used less often, is a ballot measure that allows for final voter approval of a newly enacted law, by petition, from the Legislature. In both cases, the process enables the electorate a more direct, immediate say on public policy matters such as tax, campaign finance and tort reforms.

I&R had its antecedent in the 1600s when New Englanders held town meetings. The people used the forums to place ordinances and other issues on the agenda for discussion and a vote. Contemporary I&R is adapted from the Swiss, who have used it since the mid-1800s. In this country, I&R was first adopted by South Dakota 100 years ago when the progressive movement -which ushered in reforms such as women's suffrage and the direct elections of U.S. senators-swept across the western United States. Progressives hoped I&R would eliminate the ills associated with certain political machines.

States today can adopt the I&R process by having their legislatures approve an I&R amendment, or by holding a constitutional convention in which the delegates decide to adopt an I&R amendment. In either case, the proposed amendment must be placed on the ballot for voter approval.

From 1898 to 1997, voters in the 24 states with I&R have approved 39 percent of the 1,650 measures placed on state ballots. I&R's use has accelerated in recent years, making it one of the most prevalent mechanisms for altering and influencing public policy on the local, state and national levels. In 1996 alone, 20 states voted on 90 initiatives, an unprecedented number. In 1 986, the total count was 41.

Dane Waters, president of the Initiative & Referendum Institute in Washington, D.C., says this trend toward increased use of I&R stems from the legislature's inability or unwillingness to act because of self-interest and/or conflict of interest. While the states allowing I&R have increased their use of the process, non I&R states are not rushing to join them. In 1992, Mississippi became the first state to adopt I&R since Florida implemented it two decades earlier.

Opponents point to California to justify their disdain for the process. You need to be mindful of the California experience," says Patricia Lynch, spokeswoman for New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Many of I&R's critics point to California's Proposition 13, considered the grandfather of initiatives, which froze property taxes at 1978 values and drained the state of a major source of revenue, causing its infrastructure to fall into further disrepair.

Tracy Westen, president of the Center for Government Studies in Los Angeles, says California's I&R process is too rigid. Once a bill is given an official title and summary by the state Attorney General's Office and circulated, it can't be amended by anyone, including its proponents, for any reason, even if mistakes are found. Westen's organization is trying to pass a ballot initiative in 2000 that would build greater flexibility into the process.

Dale Maharidge, a journalism professor at Stanford University, is. critical of the knee-jerk response at the voting booth when it comes to initiatives like California's Propositions 187---considered an anti-immigration measure-and 209-which ended affirmative action-that he says disproportionately affect minorities. "Its like using a sledgehammer to solve the problem that needs a scalpel," he says.

In his book The Coming White Minority, Maharidge examines how some propositions pander to peoples' xenophobic fears, especially those of wealthy whites over the age of 50 who comprise 42 percent of Californias electorate. "I&R makes the lawmakers reluctant to do anything," he says. "lt's a cop-out for the legislators who delegate the unpleasant task to the voters."

Maharidge's advice to those considering the adoption of I&R: "Get on your horse and ride the other way. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Most of the time, big money and, xenophobia speaks."

But the Center for Govemmenes Westen says I&R frequently performs its traditional role, and does so positively. "It puts out measures to get things done when the legislature refilses to do anything," he says.

In 1988, for example, California lawmakers tried to increase the sales tax on cigarettes, but the bill never got out of committee. Voters bypassed the Legislature, raising a ballot initiative. The measure passed, even after tobacco interests spent $21 million on a media campaign to quash it.

Advocates also point to California passing three initiatives on campaign finance reform, two in 1988 and one in 1996 concerning contribution limits and expenditure ceilings for public financing. All three have been declared unconstitutional by the courts.

Waters of the I&R Institute says New York's neighbor to the east exemplifies how a "Partnership between the people and the legislature" can work. Massachusetts, which adopted I&R by constitutional convention in 1918, has the nation's 14th highest voter turnout rate and uses what's called an indirect initiative to pass statutes. Instead of appealing directly- to the voters, indirect initiative requires petitioners to gather signatures from at least 3 percent of the total number of people who cast ballots for governor in the last gubernatorial election to send their initiative to the Legislature. If it is approved, and petitioners agree to any amendments made, the measure is signed into law. If it is rejected or the petitioners don't like the Legislature's proposed, changes, they may gather an additional half percent of the signatures and place the bill on the ballot.

Dorthea Vitrac, executive director of LIMITS, a term limits organization based in Braintree, Mass., says I&R is stiff homegrown and largely volunteer-based in her state, unlike in California, where millions of dollars are needed to fund a campaign. "On this year's ballot, voters will decide on tightening up campaign finance reform, whether or not to cut taxes on investment income, and whether tollbooths should be removed from the state turnpike," she says.

In 1980, Massachusetts voters approved the state's most significant ballot measure to date, Proposition 21/2. Like California's Proposition 13, it capped property taxes at 21/2 percent of valuation annually. Without it, Vitrac says, no one would be able to afford to live in the state. "They didn't call us 'Taxachusetts' for nothing," she says. "Its tragic for states that don't have it. It's a tool for the people. It's a way to get around the Legislature when they don't respond."

The procedure for enacting I&R in New York is a long one. A constitutional amendment authorizing it must be passed by two consecutive, separately-elected legislatures. The measure then would go to voters in, of all things, a statewide referendum.

In 1995, legislators rejected Pataki's proposed I&R bill, which called for direct initiative, limits on campaign contributions and gathering signatures equal to 5 percent of the total ballots cast during the last gubernatorial election. Similarly, the legislators have consistently ignored a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Frank Padavan of Queens, which calls for indirect and direct initiative, along with gathering signatures equal to 6 percent of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election.

According to NYPIRG's April report, I&R bills have also been circulated by Sens. Richard Dollinger, a Rochester Democrat, and Michael Nozzolio, a Seneca Falls Republican; and by assemblymen Joseph Robach, a Rochester Democrat, and John Bonacic, a Middletown Republican. But the first discussions of bringing I&R to New York date to the states first constitutional convention in 1894.

At NYPIRGs Albany press conference to release the report in April, groups from the liberal New York Greens to the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a Bible-based lobbying group, voiced their support. NYPIRG's legislative counsel, Russ Haven, believes I&R would be a healthy addition to what he says is New York's entrenched, ossified Legislature. "[I&R] would hold legislators accountable," Haven says. "Legislators would be more responsive to voters' needs and would put more pressure on their jobs."

But I&R also has its drawbacks, he warns, since image-conscious lawmakers could "Punt" on sensitive issues, leaving it up to the electorate to make difficult choices. Dunlea of New York Greens, however, says, It's possible for citizens to vote on issues they care about. Like what type of health care system we want, what type of gun controls ...we want in our state, or how ... we regulate the utility companies." Without I&R, says the Rev. Duane Motley, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, citizens are largely locked out of the government's Affairs. "If we had I&R,we would have passed the death penalty long ago," he says. "Polls showed that 70 [percent to] 80 percent of New Yorkers were in favor of the death penalty."

Bringing I&R to New York state is a daunting task because it threatens lawmakers, says Tom Carroll, president of CHANGENY, an anti-tax group favoring the process. In 19 of the I&R states, he notes, the people imposed term limits in addition to other measures not always popular with politicians, such as tax and campaign finance reforms. "It's a 'Catch-22,"' he says. "Those who give up power to the people are the ones who get to decide if voters will get the power."

Lynch, spokeswoman for Silver-a critic of term limits-contends the speaker's opposition to I&R has nothing to do with fear of elected officials losing power. Rather, she says, the purest form of democracy is the voters' privilege to cast a ballot every two years for their elected officials.

While New York doesn't have I & R statewide, it does hold referenda to approve not only constitutional amendments but also certain bond issues. Voters in 1996 approved the $1.75 billion Clean Water/Clean Air Environmental Bond Act, for example. In 1997, they shot down a $2.4 billion school construction bond act and a measure that would have convened a constitutional convention.

On the local level, 63 chartered cities and municipalities have limited I & R under Section 37 of New York's Municipal Home Rule Law(MHRL), which "grants authority to localities …. To pass laws."

According to a report on intergovernmental affairs by Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault, the current version of the law, adopted in 1963, extended home rule to towns and villages. New York's first home rule law was enacted in 1894 to protect cities' "property, affairs, and government" from legislative "Meddling."

Putting a measure on the ballot has proved extremely difficult and costly. In 1993, Allen Roth, executive director of New Yorkers for Term Limits, petitioned to get an initiattive placed on the ballot that would impose term limits on NewYork City's mayor, city council members, borough presidents, and selected other elected officials. After what he calls a "strenuous and exacting process" of gathering the required 35,000 signatures (the organization gathered 100,000 to be safe), Roths group submitted its petition to the city clerk responsible for seeing that the bill complied with the MHRL criteria. The city council rejected the petition limiting officials to two terms in office.

Before campaign organizers gathered another 15,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, the city clerk sued RotEs orga:nization, charging that the bill wasn't a valid charter initiative.

The state Court appeals declared the proposed amendment legal and placed it on the ballot. To the politicians' disappointment, the measure passed and ten-n limits were installed. The city council tried unsuccm0y to overturn the amendment in 1996.

Even with the tradition of home rule, Rochester Sen. Dollinger, a vocal I&R proponent, says he believes the chances of New York adopting the process statewide are slim to none. "I don't think it'll ever happen," he says. "I don't think the Legislature will voluntarily give up the power." But, he adds, New York could perhaps get I&R by amending the state's constitution during a constitutional convention.

The I&RInstitute's Waters plans to help New York adopt the process. He recently founded Americans for Sound Public Policy (ASPP), a conservative advocacy group whose mission is to protect the rights of I&R states and to bring the process to the 26 states that do not yet have it. Waters says he is looking to become active in New York by the year 2000.

"With a concerted, multiyear process, lots of money and ongoing education, New York has a good chance of getting it," Waters says. 'A few years ago, privatized Social Security was unthinkable, now its very realistic. The same could happen with I&R."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


An editorial piece from a Burlington, VT paper provides insight to greater issues of participation in local politics by focusing on specific issues that the community faces. Increasing participation in the democractic process requires different approaches for different communities with differing demographics. But above all, as this author points out, we all need to participate more in local governance issues if we wish to have some control over our daily lives and our communities.

Editorial: Local voting changes can help participation

June 20, 2008

The more people take part, the better democracy works. One Chittenden County community is returning to a town meeting tradition in hopes of increasing participation, while another is moving in the opposite direction with the same aim.

South Burlington is moving in the right direction as it looks at bringing its election date in line with the day that most Vermont communities take care of business having to do with local governance. So is Westford by voting to replace its traditional town meeting with daylong secret balloting.

Westford's decision to end town meetings is a concession to the fact that typically only a small portion of voters turn out for a daylong gathering, with fewer and fewer people unable to take the time away from work to attend. The tradeoff is the loss of the face-to-face meeting, an opportunity to connect with neighbors in a shared enterprise and the chance to hear various sides of an issue right up until it's time to come to a decision. But how much value is there in the give and take if too few people can take part?

South Burlington City Council is considering changing the date of municipal and school elections to the first Tuesday in March. Town Meeting Day is a focus of heavy news coverage around the state, and even garners national attention. That kind of publicity and civic enthusiasm is difficult to replicate for a single community's election in May, when South Burlington holds its annual vote.

Moving South Burlington's vote to Town Meeting Day is sure to raise voter awareness and help voter turnout. Increasing turnout is especially important because, since voters approved a charter change in 2006, the city and school district must submit their budgets to voter approval each year.

The annual town meeting, a New England exercise in direct democracy that goes back more than 200 years, is still an important event that helps define Vermont. That's why Town Meeting Day is such an important reference point for so many communities.

If moving the vote to Town Meeting Day means more people turn out to vote, it is a move worth making. If switching from a town meeting to daylong balloting means more people can take part in making decisions about town business, that, too, is a sensible change.

Any town that seeks to change the way the people's business is conducted must make certain that those changes serve the democratic process. The changes in South Burlington and Westford will do that by increasing the likelihood that more people's voices will be heard through the ballot box.

Monday, July 14, 2008


This article illustrates one of the ways that direct democracy currently functions in the State of California: through the initiative process. Since not all states have direct democratic institutions, California is certainly an example from which other states should learn. They are able to tackle difficult and pertinent issues like street violence and clean energy that require the input of diverse individuals rather than relying solely on the whims of a select group of elected officials . However, for this type of system to function efficiently and effectively, it must be ensured that the electorate is properly educated about the issues at hand and that the petition process is accessable to everyone. Too often the process is exclusive to those interests who have vast financial resources with which to gather the required signatures. This editor would like to know more about who is participating in these petition drives and who is unknowingly being affected by these policies. What kind of outreach programs and public relations do these groups use to incorporate various actors? As has been said here before, cooperation with local communities make for more well-rounded consideration of the issues and a truer democratic process. - Editor

Eight propositions make it to November ballot

By JOHN C. OSBORN , The Eureka Reporter
Published: Jun 3 2008, 11:43 PM

Source: http://www.eurekareporter.com/article/080603-eight-propositions-make-it-to-november-ballot

Eight propositions will make their way to the Nov. 4 general election ballot, with topics ranging from abortion to the sentencing of non-violent offenders.

Only about half the states in the U.S. have ways in which the public can create law through direct democracy practices. Proponents of initiatives must gather a certain number of signatures before moving to the ballot for all to vote on.

Individuals, businesses and organizations can start initiative campaigns that amend California’s constitution or create a new law.

According to the California State Department Web site, 25 initiatives and referenda are in circulation, 17 failed, three are pending signature verification and two are having the signatures counted.

The final day for initiatives to be considered for the ballot is June 26.

The eight that made it to the ballot vary in scope and topic.

Below is a brief summary of what each proposition would do if passed in November based on information from the California State Department:

California Marriage Protection Act

As the California Supreme Court ruled on May 15 to overturn a ban on same-sex couples voted into law back in 2000, an organization is trying to amend California’s Constitution to overrule the court’s decision.

The proposition, if it is approved in November, would allow only recognize marriages between a man and a woman. It would also overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.

California is the second state in the U.S. to recognize same-sex marriages — Massachusetts was the first.

A total of 694,354 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 1,120,801.

Non-violent Offender Rehabilitation Act of 2008

This proposition would attempt to modify sentencing, parole and probation guidelines for non-violent offenders, as well as focus on treatment and rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.

It would increase funding toward individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for both non-violent drug offenders and parolees.

At the same time, this proposition would reduce criminal penalties for those offenses by offering a different form of probation focused on treatment.

The court would have their ability to incarcerate parole and probation violators limited.

It would also shorten the amount of parole time for most drug offense, including sales, and non-violent property crimes.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects that it would cost the state no more than $1 billion annually to expand drug and rehab programs. At the same time, no more than $1 billion annually would be saved in reduced prison and parole operation costs.

They also expect a one-time savings of no more than $2.5 billion in prison facility costs. The cost to run these expanded treatment facilities is unknown.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 761,183.

Safe Neighborhood Act: Stop Gang, Gun, and Street Crime

On the flip side of the previous proposition, this one would increase criminal penalties for several crimes and allow hearsay evidence in certain instances.

Funding would be allocated to combat crime and gangs, and toward prisons and parole operations.

Several crimes that would see increases include using and selling methamphetamine and carrying a loaded or concealed firearm for certain felons.

Bail would be eliminated for illegal immigrants charged with gang-related or violent crimes.

It would also change the law to allow certain hearsay statements as evidence if witnesses are unavailable.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expect costs to state to exceed $500 million annually for increased criminal justice programs and for prison and parole operations.

There would also be a one-time cost that could exceed $500 million toward prison facilities and costs to courts, county jails and local criminal justice agencies.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 789,668.

Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act: Sarah’s Law

This constitutional amendment would prohibit abortion of unemancipated minors until 48 hours after their parents, or guardians are notified.

There would be exceptions if the minor has a waiver from a parent or it is a medial necessity.

Minors would also be able to prove to a court that they are mature enough to have the abortion without their parents’ permission, or that it is in their best interest to do so.

Physicians would have to report all abortions of minors. Also allows physicians to be sued for monetary damages if they violate this amendment.

A minor also has to consent to the abortion, though in some cases they don’t have to.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects an unknown state cost of several million annually for health and social service programs and court costs.

A total of 694,354 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 1,228,217.

Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century

The California Senate originally voted for this bond measure to go before a public vote for the November 2004 election. It was moved several times since.

The bond measure would allocate $9.95 billion, in conjunction with federal funds, to plan and construct a high-speed train system.

A line connecting the Bay Area with Los Angeles would serve as the beginnings of a 700-mile system that would eventually connect all major population centers in California, going as far north Sacramento.

Trains would go at speeds of at least 200 mph on this network.

The Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008

This proposition would require all utility companies have 50 percent of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.

The requirements would be phased in: 40 percent by 2010, 45 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025.

An account would be created in order to buy property and rights of way for renewable energy.

There would be fast track approval of energy plants creating renewable energy.

This would also impose fines on utility companies that don’t comply with the regulations.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects it would cost the state up to $3.4 annually to regulate the rules, though it would be paid by fee revenues.

There are unknown costs resulting in increased costs and reduced revenues that may lead to increased electricity rates in the short term.

Costs could be offset, and revenues increased in the long term, if this measure increases the development of renewable energy.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 736,145.

The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act

This proposition would try to alleviate animal suffering by requiring specified farm animals spend the majority of their day in a place with enough space to fully extend their limbs or wings and turn around, among other things.

The animals specified include calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs.

The proposition would make it a misdemeanor to not do this, with the possibility of fines not exceeding $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail up to 180 days.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects minor financial impact based on local and state law enforcement and prosecution, which may be offset by increased fine revenue.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 782,507 with only 536,605 determined to be valid.

Children’s Hospital Bond Act of 2008

This bond measure would authorize $980 million to fund the construction projects and furnishing children’s hospitals.

The measure requires that 80 percent of funds go toward hospitals that focus on children aliments such as leukemia and diabetes.

The other 20 percent would go toward University of California general acute care hospitals.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects that the bond will cost the general fund about $2 billion over 30 years to pay off, with payments of around $67 million annually.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 684,892 with only 469,967 determined to be valid.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Direct Action for Direct Democracy: Shut Down the Republication National Convention

Author: Pittsburgh Organizing Group
Date Created 04 Jul 2008

Source: http://arkansas.indymedia.org/newswire/display/22388/index.php

Monday, September 1, will be a day of civil disobedience and direct action to shut down the opening of the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) will join these actions in opposition to a two-party system incapable of meeting basic human needs that is bankrupting and decimating our communities through a culture of war and fear.

The RNC Welcoming Committee (RNC-WC), a Minneapolis-Saint Paul-based group, has been publicly organizing to shut down the RNC through a three-tiered strategy of blockades. Dividing downtown St. Paul into seven sectors, the RNC-WC is asking groups to adopt an intersection or sector. POG has decided to coordinate blockades for Sector 1 and shut down the intersection at 7th and Wall St. We invite you to join us in Sector 1 on that day.

Why Shut Down the RNC?
Many rightfully point out that this convention is a spectacle since the result is already a certainty. This is a coronation, not a decision-making event which outsiders can influence. If we shut it down, they could always meet a week later in a secluded location. However, this is exactly why and what we're protesting.

The current system doesn't survive because of a decision made by a party or politician. It doesn't survive because parties calling themselves "The Republicans" or "The Democrats" say they represent the people. It survives because of corporate control of the means of mass communications that limit the scope of the political discourse. It survives because people give the system "legitimacy" through their participation (with activities such as voting) and refusal to demand more. It survives because it prevents the rise of-and has successfully delegitimized-alternative means of decision-making in the popular imagination. In the end, people have few choices on a limited set of questions that never get at the root of where power rests. This is not enough. Our goal isn't to push a more centrist or even a more liberal candidate. It isn't to strengthen government power in the hopes that can curtail corporate power. Nor is it putting into power a new brand of left-wing elites. Our aspirations are to change the fundamental structures of society to decentralize power and decision-making so all those impacted by a decision have a say in its outcome, to change the economic question from "what is profitable?" to "what is necessary, desirable, and sustainable?" and to expand the concept of liberty and the pursuit of happiness from simply "freedom from" to include "freedom to."

Conventions, elections, and debates are events that promote the false idea that people are freely participating and freely choosing who best represents them. They mask who has power and obscure the reasons why certain people have power. In this way, the RNC and DNC represent the idea that it is legitimate for John McCain and Barack Obama to be the only realistic choices to head a vast hierarchy ruling over the lives of hundreds of millions of people and affecting the lives of billions.

The positive result of shutting down the Republicans' convention, much like shutting down a trade agreement summit, does not primarily reside in the decisions that were delayed or the meeting that couldn't take place. It is in the loss of legitimacy the institution suffers as it becomes controversial and alternatives demonstrate popular support. It breaks a cycle of propaganda that has lulled people into believing "the way things are" is natural, desirable or inevitable. It reaches out to the half of the population that chooses not to participate in electoral politics to say, "There are people searching for something different and we need your voice." It reaches out to the other half that does participate to say, "We know why you vote. We know that who rules us can be life or death within this system. But we also know that our future rests in figuring out how to break out of the trap of accepting bad rulers for fear of getting worse rulers."

The change we can believe in lies in direct, participatory democracy, built on strong social movements that oppose interconnected oppressions and expand individual and collective freedom at the expense of the forces, government and corporate, curtailing it. We believe that in this desire for true freedom and true democracy, we have much in common with the people of Minneapolis and St. Paul and very little in common with the John McCains and Barack Obamas of the world.

POG's Role in the RNC-WC Strategy
Over the past year, the RNC Welcoming Committee has worked with people from all over the country to create a strategy for shutting down the RNC. The result was a three-tiered strategy of blockades, the division of St. Paul into seven sectors and a plan for blockading known as the "3S Strategy" (Swarm, Seize, Stay). With this in mind, the RNC-WC has called for groups to adopt sectors and to block intersections. POG has decided to adopt Sector 1 and organize a congestion blockade at 7th and Wall. As articulated by the RNC-WC, adopting doesn't mean POG is blocking all the intersections in our sector, nor are we assuming responsibility for recruiting and ensuring other groups do so, it simply means we're making ourselves available as a point of contact for groups interested in operating in Sector 1. In this way, we will provide an open avenue for participation, and help disseminate information and coordination.

We will announce a Sector 1 launching point, place and time later this summer. In conjunction with the RNC-WC, we will organize a Sector 1 spokescouncil meeting the weekend before the actions. On Sept. 1 participants will collectively swarm the sector, seize key intersections and hold them for as long as possible.

We hope this call will provide an inclusive way for others to participate in the action and help build the success of the mobilization. We see a public gathering point as important for groups to utilize for their planned actions and it provides an easy way for smaller groups and individuals to plug into the actions. Through clear articulation of our underlying motivations and goals we hope to dialogue with other groups and the general public about why and what we're protesting.

At the 7th and Wall congestion blockade, we will collectively resist any attempts to dislodge the blockade through our numbers and determination. Though we hope to avoid it, participants should understand this action has the risk of arrest and the possibility of police violence. In addition to the normal police arsenal of weapons, the Twin Cities have recently passed new protest laws restricting the rights to assemble. A chart of the new policies is available here.

We are working on how to facilitate an initial gathering point for groups operating in Sector 1 and will post updates on our website. Regardless of assembly restrictions it's important not to let other sectors down. Groups should be prepared for the possible necessity of reaching their intersection alone. Plan accordingly.

To Get Involved with Sector 1 "Direct Action for Direct Democracy":
If your affinity group or organization is interested in publicly endorsing this call, participating in the blockade of 7th and Wall, or blockading another intersection in Sector 1, contact us at rnc@organizepittsburgh.org to coordinate.

As we've already mentioned, not all the information is available yet. We will be releasing another call closer to the action. Check our website at www.organizepittsburgh.org/rnc to keep up with updates and get information on our plans and the situation in Sector 1.

For the official call to action and other info see www.rncwelcomingcommittee.org.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


This important article explains one of the most influential tools the U.S. government uses for political manipulation in order to acheve their foreign policy objectives. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created during the Reagan administration primarily to help fund right wing elements in Central America. Gradually the scope of the NED's activities has expanded and they are operating wherever the U.S. has interests worldwide. The tactics that the NED uses are covert and subversive. As James Jordan clearly demonstrates below, the masses would be appalled to find what has been done to oppress people in the name of democracy. The media is clearly tied up in the scandal as well. Mainstream sources would never print such an incendiary article as this one, they aren't even likely to review Eva Golinger's books which both reveal similar information to that below. There is little hope of shutting down the NED anytime soon, given that most people continue to harbor the misconception that it is a quality institution doing good things abroad in the name of the US. Still we must continuously work to change the policies of the NED by revealing the subversive and immoral nature of its current activities, and by pushing our foreign policy makers to respect the freedom of expression, self-determination and sovereignty of other peoples when carrying out diplomatic relations. The following outlines why these actions are necessary. -Editor

Close the Mis-named National Endowment for Democracy

By James Jordan


Haven’t heard of the National Endowment for Democracy? Not many people have. Yet the NED is taxpayer funded and carries out foreign policy with no meaningful public oversight or transparency. In fact, it does more to undermine democracy than not.

The NED…

* …spent more than $20 per voter in Nicaragua in 1990--more than had been spent by both candidates in the 1988 US Presidential election!
* …funded and set up meetings between organizations involved in the 2002 attempts to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela.
* …funds far right parties in Eastern Europe, even working with convicted Nazi collaborators like Lazslo Pasztor, of the NED funded Free Congress Foundation.
* …funded, created, and trained most of the groups involved in the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, through its core institute, the International Republican Institute, chaired by John McCain. This led to the bloodiest year in Haiti in modern history.
* …spends almost half its budget in support of the occupation of Iraq.

Here in the United States, we care about democratic rights. We fought a revolution against colonialism and we fought a civil war against slavery. In the 20th century we fought for women’s right to vote and we waged a civil rights struggle to secure the vote for people of all ethnicities. We were knocked down a few times when we got a president, in 2000, who actually lost the popular vote, only to turn around and force us into a war that the US people didn’t want. But we’re still here, still struggling on behalf of real democracy!

We care about democracy—at home and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the political-corporate-military machine tries its best to keep us from learning about US efforts to undermine elections in other countries. These efforts are aimed at making sure other governments adopt policies granting easy access for big corporations to natural resources, cheap labor, and new markets. This is backed up with US military power. Michael Plattner, a vice-president for the NED, explains, “Liberal democracy clearly favors the economic arrangements that foster globalization ….The international order that sustains globalization is underpinned by American military predominance.”

While the NED is only a small part of the US so-called “democracy promotion” efforts, its influence reaches far beyond its annual budget.

The NED is…

1) …Unconstitutional–

* The NED sets a dangerous precedent by privatizing US foreign affairs. The constitution is clear that international relations are carried out on behalf of the US people by the executive and legislative branches.

2) …A “Black Box” of Democracy Interference that violates the public trust–

* Because of it’s publicly-funded, yet “private” character, the NED is not subject to any meaningful oversight. In fact, the core institutes of the NED also receive funding from USAID and the US State Department. Funneled through these institutes, and then further subcontracted, even non-NED funding can get laundered so that it is almost impossible to track.

3) …A web of military, political, espionage, and corporate media that obstructs the free flow of information for the sake of corporate interests–

* The boards of the NED and its core organizations are full of Spin Doctors from public relations firms, big advertisers, corporate headquarters; political analysts and advisors; and ex-CIA and military personnel. Vin Weber, NED Board Chair, works for a public relations firm that is part of the Omnicom Group, the world’s 3rd largest advertising agency. The Center for International Private Enterprise, an NED core institute, includes an executive from Google and a major contractor with Google. The International Republican Institute, another NED core institute, includes a former Senior Advisor to the CIA and various representatives from the military-industrial complex. These are just a few examples. The NED is able to coordinate campaigns of misinformation and bring together a diverse coalition in order to manipulate foreign elections. If that fails, the NED empowers that coalition to overthrow elected governments—like it did in Haiti and like it is trying to do in Venezuela.

The sole mission of the NED is to “fix” other countries’ elections, and most US residents would agree that is unfair. USAID also builds schools, roads and has other projects that are an obligation for rich countries to provide to the poor countries since our wealth was extracted from them in the first place. The NED mission, on the other hand, is limited to the manipulation or other countries’ democratic institutions and processes.

In the playing field of democracy, two competing forms have met head to head: neoliberal vs. participatory democracy. The kind of democracy that the NED favors is the neoliberal kind. Its proponents, such as Plattner, refer to it as liberal democracy, but that is incorrect terminology. Liberal democracy is the philosophy of government on which the US was originally founded. It is flawed, but still more democratic than its neoliberal permutation. One still has had to struggle pretty hard to win the right to vote, be it through colonial revolt, civil war, or suffragist and civil rights movements. But once the less-than-assured right to vote is won, elections are more or less decided along the lines of “one person, one vote” and “majority rule.” Another goal of real liberal democracy is the protection of minority rights. But the only minority neoliberal democracy aims to protect are the rights of big corporations.

Neoliberal democracy replaces the motto of “one person, one vote” with “one dollar, one vote.” For instance, in Iraq, the US is advocating for passage of oil laws that are opposed by two thirds of the Iraqi population. Passage would result in the biggest give-away of oil profits that the Middle East has witnessed. Union membership in the oil and public sector was also outlawed by the occupation government.

Conversely, participatory democracy directly empowers community structures and cooperative ventures. When I think of participatory democracy, I think of Susana and Cesar Achique, from Tacaraigua de la Laguna in Venezuela. Susana Achique is the elected president of the Grupo Turismo y Aventura Dios y Yo (or, the God and I Tourism and Adventure Group), a local coop that was founded on a government credit of just under $140,000 US dollars. With that money, they bought and outfitted three motor boats, an office and launching dock, and set up a cooperative that takes tourists on ecological and fishing trips.

Cesar, the driver and tour guide for our boat, was enthusiastic, telling us how their lagoon had been damaged by over-fishing by commercial trawlers, depleting both fish and bird populations that depend on the fish for food. Jobs were scarce—the commercial fishing industry brought the town little benefit. Cesar’s eyes radiated a confident pride as he told about the return of the fish and bird populations following the Venezuela’s reform of fishing laws that stopped the trawlers from entering such environmentally sensitive areas. As if to underscore what he was saying, thousands of birds started their evening descent into the mangrove swamps around us as the sun began to set.

Back on shore, Susana explained to us how members run the coop democratically. Profits from the venture are used to pay the workers and to provide community benefits. This is something I heard over and over in Venezuela—how coops and worker owned and operated factories don’t just benefit the people directly involved, but the whole community. Revenues fund schools, health clinics, and more. Media centers, food subsidy centers, health clinics, and a whole variety of government missions are not just serving but are being implemented by community members.

While Venezuela is engaged in a massive effort to diversify its economy, it still remains dependent on oil profits which, under participatory democracy, support social spending. Community members are involved in decisions about whether or not to develop oil resources and, for the first time in Venezuelan history, indigenous nations most affected by oil development, take part in these decisions.

Has participatory democracy been good for Venezuela? Since the people gained popular power in 1998, the poverty rate has dropped from 54% to 38.5%--30% if food and health subsidies are factored in; millions have gained access to free health care; half the population is enrolled in free, public education; and over 5 million acres of fallow land have been turned over to rural people for agricultural development. The economy has been growing steadily since NED funded attempts to overthrow the government in 2002.

The Alliance for Global Justice has begun a project called the Respect for Democracy Campaign, and one of our primary goals is to close the NED. This campaign has been endorsed by many groups and individuals, including Howard Zinn, author of the Peoples’ History of the United States, Eva Golinger, author of The Chavez Code and Bush Vs. Chavez, Rev. John Fife, co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement and former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, the Venezuela Solidarity Network, the Campaign for Labor Rights, the Worker to Worker Solidarity Committee, and the Nicaragua network.

Of course, ending democracy manipulation and winning participatory democracy must be built upon participatory struggle! In other words, what this campaign needs is…YOU!

Neoliberal democracy and economics has put the future of the world at stake. We have a choice: corporate globalism and elitist power or community autonomy and people power.

Which of these is in YOUR future?

--James Jordan is coordinator of the Respect for Democracy Campaign. For More information: www.respect4democracy.org. Email: respect4democracy@afgj.org. Phone: 202-544-9355.