"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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Friday, October 31, 2008


Reading the fine print

Lorraine Collins
Source: http://www.bhpioneer.com/articles/2008/10/22/opinion/doc48ff58af16094977614025.txt

By now many people around the country are probably wishing they had read the fine print in their mortgage contracts, their credit card agreements, their brokerage accounts, insurance policies, and so forth.

But meanwhile, we in South Dakota are being urged by some television ads to read the fine print of initiated measures on the ballot when we vote Nov. 4.

When the South Dakota Constitution was written, it made provision for citizens to either initiate laws or to refer laws the Legislature passed to a vote of the people. In this respect, we are the proud inheritors of what I'd call Direct Democracy. So two years ago an anti-abortion law passed by the Legislature was referred to the people who voted it down.

This year we don't have a referendum, but we do have an initiated measure dealing with abortion as well as two others that are perhaps more obscure and complex but which also could have serious implications for how business and government will be conducted in South Dakota in the future. So here they are in numerical order.

Initiated Measure 9 calls itself “The South Dakota Small Investor Protection Act” and so far as I can tell it deals with “short selling” securities. This initiative apparently has its origins outside of South Dakota and is promoted by a group that is trying to get the issue on the ballot in several states. I haven't read the entire bill, but the proponents indicate it would “allow our courts to intervene when federal bureaucrats and New York courts don't.”

This is not persuasive to me and I guess I'd go with the opinion of the director of the South Dakota Division of Securities who says we should vote no.

Initiated Measure 10 is one that has generated a lot of TV ads about reading the fine print and it seems to be opposed by a lot of organizations and government entities who claim it is a “gag law” that takes a shotgun approach to what may or may not be a problem requiring something of a more specific and surgical nature. It says it wants to prohibit tax dollars from being used for lobbying and political campaigns. It's hard to argue with that but again, it seems complicated and diffuse and apparently was not generated by any specific problem known to exist in South Dakota.

Initiated Measure 11, which seeks to overturn the vote of 2006 that rejected a strict anti-abortion measure is, so far as I know, generated locally. However, the other day I did get a call from somebody in Virginia supporting this proposed law. Again, those who oppose this measure urge us to read the fine print. I think that's a good idea. Get the whole bill and read it.

Actually, I think a proposed law like this should also lead us to read the fine print or the bold print of the Constitution of the United States. It should lead us to think about why we have government, what we believe is the proper exercise of governmental regulation, and about when government should intervene in our private lives. Personally, I think the discussion about this proposed law should be less about whether it includes enough exceptions and more about what democracy is.

Some of the first colonists who came to America really thought about founding a theocracy and enforcing laws that conformed to their beliefs, but that soon gave way to the idea of freedom of conscience. We can all be grateful for that. I think the problem with Initiated Measure 11 is that seems to require us all to agree with the opinion and beliefs of those who are promoting it. I don't think that's a good idea in a democracy. In that respect, I don't think Initiated Measure 11 belongs on the ballot.

Reading the fine print is a very good thing to do in many areas of our lives and it's especially important when it comes to voting for new laws.

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at collins1@rushmore.com.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Two articles about the current measures on the ballot in California that illustrate the need for reform of the initiative & referendum process in that state as well as many other states in order to make the process less driven by big money and more accessable to the people. - EDITOR

A long way from the grassroots

John Diaz
Sunday, October 12, 2008

There is no big secret to the formula for manipulating California's initiative process. Find a billionaire benefactor with the ideological motivation or crass self-interest to spend the $1-million plus to get something on the ballot with mercenary signature gatherers. Stretch as far as required to link it to the issue of the ages (this is for the children, Prop. 3) or the cause of the day (this is about energy independence and renewable resources, Props. 7 and 10). If it's a tough sell on the facts, give it a sympathetic face and name such as "Marsy's Law" (Prop. 9, victims' rights and parole) or "Sarah's Law" (Prop. 4, parental notification on abortion). Prepare to spend a bundle on soft-focus television advertising and hope voters don't notice the fine print or the independent analyses of good-government groups or newspaper editorial boards.

Ten of the 12 statewide measures on the Nov. 4 ballot came through the initiative process, which was created nearly a century ago to offset the grip of Southern Pacific Railroad on the California Legislature. Today, the initiative process is no longer the antidote to special interests and the moneyed class; it is their vehicle of choice to attempt to get their way without having to endure the scrutiny and compromise of the legislative process.

Five initiatives have been buoyed by a single wealthy contributor. Most audaciously, T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman, bankrolled Prop. 10, which asks Californians to borrow billions to fuel natural gas vehicles. Pickens happens to be the founder of Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which - you guessed it - supplies natural gas to fleets of vehicles. Other initiative backers appear driven more by philosophy than profit. George Soros, the New York financier and liberal activist, is the bucks behind Prop. 5, which would increase drug treatment as an alternative to prison. Peter Sperling, a devout environmentalist and son of University of Phoenix founder, is supplying the funding for Prop. 7, which would increase the state's commitment to renewable energy. Major environmental groups, however, oppose it as unrealistic and sloppily drafted.

Then there are Props. 6 and 9, the tough on (selected) crime trust-fund babies of Henry T. Nicholas III, an Orange County billionaire tech executive who has been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with securities fraud and drug-related offenses. But Nicholas, who has funded other anti-crime campaigns in the past, has nothing to fear from his Prop. 6: It's aimed at toughening penalties on gangs, illegal immigrants and criminals trying to get into Section 8 housing - not CEOs gone bad.

It's time to get past the illusion of the initiative process as a grassroots domain. As much attention as Hollywood actor Brad Pitt received for his $100,000 contribution against Proposition 8 - the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage - recent campaign disclosure reports showed that conservative activist Maggie Gallagher donated $1.45 million to Yes on 8.

Having sat through many hours of meetings with the proponents and opponents of these propositions, I say: When in doubt, vote no. Most of these measures - such as Prop. 2, which would require farmers to put chickens in more spacious cages - do not belong on the ballot. They should be resolved in the Legislature, where competing interests can be heard and balanced. Voters should reject all non-capital-investment proposals that commit the state to annual spending without offering a funding source: Prop. 5 (drug treatment, $465 million), Prop. 6 (tougher sentencing, $900-plus million) and Prop. 9 (victims rights and parole, "hundreds of millions," according to the Legislative Analyst).

Only one measure on the Nov. 4 ballot truly fits Gov. Hiram Johnson's early 1900s vision of "direct democracy" as a way to bypass a corrupt and power-mad Legislature: Prop. 11, which would strip lawmakers of the ability to draw their own district boundaries. Trust me: Legislators are not going to voluntarily cede that duty to an independent commission. Ever.

But the question is: Will bleary-eyed voters have the attention spans to get to Prop. 11? In addition to the 12 statewide measures, San Franciscans will be staring at 22 local propositions, on everything from decriminalizing prostitution to allowing the city to take over electricity service from PG&E to naming the sewage treatment plant after George W. Bush.

I'm waiting anxiously for the initiative reforms proposed by the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies: Limit contributions, increase transparency and offer an opportunity for proposals that gain the required signatures to go to the Legislature for a final shot before going to the ballot for an all-or-nothing decision.

All they need is billionaire benefactor. Unfortunately, good-government initiatives don't do much to feed the ego or line the pocketbook.

John Diaz is The Chronicle's editorial page editor. You can e-mail him atjdiaz@sfchronicle.com.


Most of the ballot propositions should be defeated

Thinking it through, By RICHARD REEB

Source: http://www.desertdispatch.com/opinion/ballot_4478___article.html/california_defeated.html

California’s voters will be inundated in the remaining days of the campaign with flyers, telephone calls and e-mails urging them to vote “yes” or “no” on the 12 ballot propositions to be decided on Nov. 4. Even though some organization claims to have endorsed or rejected a measure, that neither tells us very much about it nor provides very much help with understanding what we’re voting on.

But such communications are perfectly understandable for various reasons. First, there are a dozen measures for our consideration, which range in length from one sentence (Proposition 8: Affirming natural marriage) to 21 pages (Proposition 4: Adolescent abortion waiting period). It took eight pages for the legislative analyst to explain Proposition 5 (Nonviolent Drug Offenses), which is 17 pages long, and six pages to explain Proposition 7 (Renewable Energy Generation), which is seven pages long. That’s a lot to absorb for the millions of us who are not legislators.

Second, besides being numerous and lengthy, these propositions are inherently complicated. This is so not only because they are necessarily written in legalese, with which most voters are unfamiliar; they also include multiple provisions. That’s often the nature of laws but more accurately the nature of the bureaucratic laws that are the curse of the modern administrative state. Plus, these measures are sometimes the product of a process in which various interests obtain provisions to suit them as the price of their support for the entire measure.

Third, we are presented with an all-or-nothing decision that forces us to accept or reject the measure in toto even though there are sections that should be left out or included. We lack the flexibility of legislators who can amend to strike or add provisions that detract from or improve the bill.

But, since 1910, when the Progressive movement brought us direct democracy in this State, voting on these propositions has been part of our electoral responsibilities. The very feature that gave rise to this reform, namely, legislative dereliction, has not been overcome. Indeed, politicians seeking to avoid making hard decisions like it when the matter is thrown to the voters, for that lets them off the hook.

In spite of all these difficulties, direct initiatives (measures initiated by citizens outside the legislature) have often corrected bad public policy. The most famous example, of course, is Proposition 13, the property-tax-cutting measure approved by the voters in 1978. Besides such limits on taxing and spending, strong law-enforcement measures that cannot make it through our Democrat-dominated legislature can be enacted directly by the voters. Propositions 6 (Police and law enforcement funding, 13 pages) and 9 (Victims’ rights, four pages) fall into that category.

All bond measures have to be approved by the voters. These include Proposition 1 (High speed rail), 3 (Children’s hospitals), 10 (Alternative fuel vehicles) and 12 (Veteran housing loans). And all constitutional amendments must also be approved, such as Propositions 1, 4, 8, 9 and (once again) a measure (11) to take the power to draw legislative district lines from the legislature and assign it to a special commission.

There are two energy-related statutes on the ballot. These include the aforementioned Proposition 7, as well as Proposition 10. They are among 10 initiatives, half of which are constitutional amendments and half of which are statutes. Also in the latter group is Proposition 2, Standards for confining farm animals.

The first part of the 143-page booklet includes summaries, analyses and arguments pro and con. Well over half of the remainder contains the full text of the measures, including existing, revised and deleted language. Winston Churchill once said, “The devil is in the details,” and he wasn’t kidding. The reading is truly forbidding, especially when it is in small type, single spaced, double columns. More power to anyone who attempts, much less finishes, that project.

Still, we must decide. I think “yes” votes are in order for Proposition 4, mandating that adolescent girls inform a family member of their impending abortion; 6, guaranteeing funding for local law enforcement; 8, protecting male-female marriages; 9, affirming victims’ rights in the justice system; and 11, opening up legislative elections to real competition.

“No” votes should be cast for all bond measures (1, 3, 12), which undermine California’s currently precarious credit; alternative energy schemes (7, 10), which subsidize uneconomical and unproven technology; and misguided feel-good reforms that comfort animals and drive up the cost of production (2) or coddle drug peddlers in the name of “rehabilitation” (5).


Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of “ Taking Journalism Seriously: ‘Objectivity’ as a Partisan Cause” (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@verizon.net.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Participatory Democracy Relies on Trust of Media

Effects of media distrust on participatory democracy: Media distrust, democratic skepticism, and campaign participations Abstract Serious decline of media trust are thought to represent wide-spread cynicism in American political culture, which results in citizens’ withdrawal from political activities as well as their political inefficacy. However, the linkages between media distrust and decreased political participation might not be self-evident. Rather, citizens’ media distrust may in some part represent healthy skepticism which is related to citizens’ active political participation through their effortful information search and exchange. These ideas are tested with a national survey data on 2004 presidential election. Findings show that media distrust was positively related to citizens’ online information seeking and offline political discussion, which, in turn, affected their diverse campaign participations. These effects of media distrust appear to be channeled through citizens’ communicative participation such as online information search and face-to-face political discussion which then facilitate citizens’ political activities.

Click here for full article.

Friday, October 24, 2008


A debate is raging in Connecticut, ironically known as "The Constitution State," over a measure on the Nov. 4th ballot that would call for a constitutional assembly to propose amendments to the state's constitution. On one side of the debate are those in favor of the convention, such as the Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign whose stated reason for being in favor is solely to bring initiative, referendum, and recall to Connecticut by means of the convention. They are joined by, or opposed by, a flurry of special interest groups who, regardless of their stance on the convention, seem to be missing the essential point: that initiative & referendum would allow the entire electorate to decide on legislation relevant to these interests in a truly direct democratic fashion. Whether they are those who favor the convention because they wish to ban gay marriage through referendum , or public employee unions that are opposed to the convention because an initiative process could potentially threaten the power structure and flow of revenues that sustains their organizations, these special interest groups apparently have no reverence for the only meaningful motive for bringing intitiative, referendum, and recall to the state: to entrust legislative power to the people where it belongs through direct democracy. Instead, the opposition has raised nearly a million dollars to launch a "NO" campaign against the "YES" camp's twelve thousand dollar budget, and the special interests on the "YES" side continue to obscure the core argument for direct democracy that is behind the movement. They should all put their interests aside and take the opportunity to grant the people the power to decide. - Editor

Three articles on the subject follow.

Here also are the main opposing websites: http://www.ctvoteno.org/home http://www.ctconcon.com/index.html

Constitutional Convention: False hope or direct democracy?

by Christine Stuart October 22, 2008 11:19 PM
Posted to General News
Source: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/general_news/constitutional_convention_fals.php

Ed Pilkington of Manchester walked into Hartford Public Library Wednesday night not knowing how he would answer November’s ballot question: “Shall there be a Constitutional Convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?”

After hearing more than an hour of debate between three panelists against a constitutional convention and two panelists in favor of it, Pilkington walked out of the library thinking he would be voting ‘Yes’ to the question in November.

However, Pilkington didn’t necessarily agree with the motives of constitutional convention proponents.

Proponents of the convention would like to see the constitution amended to include direct initiative or ballot referendum, which would give citizens a way in which to petition public policy issues directly onto a ballot.

Pilkington said he thinks it may be a healthy exercise for the state to open up the constitution every few decades and take a look at it. He said if the question passes he’ll be sure to let his legislators know that’s why he voted in favor of it.

Pilkington said after hearing Matthew Daly, Constitution Convention Campaign chairman, talk about the 1965 convention and how only two of the 259 proposals made it out of the convention, in addition to knowing that the legislature would appoint the delegates to the convention, “made me feel comfortable.”

Frank O’Gorman, of People of Faith, said all you have to do is look at ballot initiatives being proposed in other states, like Colorado where voters will decide this November if a fertilized egg should be given inalienable rights, to see how dangerous voting in favor of a constitutional convention would be. He said proponents of a constitutional convention and direct initiative “are abridging the principles of what makes a constitution, a constitution.”

John Woodcock, Constitution Convention Campaign vice chairman, said the ‘Yes’ campaign is issue neutral. He said thinking its about one issue or another is exactly what the ‘No’ people want and “we refuse.”

Woodcock, a former Democratic state legislator who is credited with authoring the state’s first Lemon Law, said some of the most important laws in this country were passed by direct initiative. He said 13 states gave women suffrage before the 19th Amendment, six states passed public campaign finance laws, eight have approved medical marijuana laws, and six states have used it to increase the minimum wage.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is not in favor of a convention, said “my main worry about the convention is that it raises false hopes.” He said he thinks the people in favor of the convention are picturing a town hall meeting where everyone will attend and have a vote.

“I think a constitutional convention is like an empty vessel and everybody pours into it their hopes,” Blumenthal said. “And I think those hopes would be dashed. I think the idea raises very false expectations. And I think nothing illustrates that point better than the unresponsiveness of the legislature being a reason for the constitutional convention, and then the emphasis on the leadership of the legislature being the ones to choose the delegates.”

As a former legislator, Woodcock said he knows the General Assembly would never amend the constitution itself. He said there’s “institutional hostility by the legislature to giving people the right to ballot petition.”

“It’s never gonna happen,” Woodcock said. “It has to happen now or 20 years from now.”

The constitution says voters must be asked the question about a convention every 20 years. The last convention the state held was in 1965.

Kim Knox, constitutional scholar and lawyer at Horton, Shields, and Knox, said the constitution is a stable continuous body of law, which is succinct and 10,000 words.

Knox said she thinks people need to differentiate between statutes, which “can bend with the wind,” and the constitution. She said amendments are a way the constitution has some flexibility, but the amendment process wasn’t intended to be easy.

Many in the audience Wednesday expressed frustration with unresponsive elected officials.

If people have issues with an unresponsive legislature then “you all have a say in that. Every election you have a say,” Knox said. “Do we need to take the risk of a convention?”

Blumenthal said the state constitution has been amended by the General Assembly 30 times since 1965.


Constitution question creates conflict

By Devon Lash
Staff writer
Article Last Updated: 10/23/2008 11:44:50 PM EDT
Source: http://www.connpost.com/localnews/ci_10800144

STAMFORD -- A simple question on Connecticut's ballot Nov. 4 is polarizing advocacy groups, forcing legislators to choose sides and setting off a debate about the very definition of democracy.

Voters will decide if the state will hold a convention to amend or revise its constitution.

The Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign promotes voting yes for a convention to re-examine the constitution and allow appointees to propose amendments.

The group has raised about $12,000, and counts Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Catholic Conference, the National Taxpayers Union, the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayers and the Green Party among its supporters.

The opposing Vote No Campaign, which raised about $829,350 as of last month, is backed by 45 organizations, 70 clergy members, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, of Bridgeport, and his Democratic challenger Jim Himes, of Greenwich, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein.

The Vote No Campaign held a 45-minute news conference Thursday at the Stamford Government Center with Mayor Dannel Malloy and representatives from the state League of Women Voters and the United Auto Workers union to urge the public to vote no.

"There is no compelling need for a convention," Peggy Shorey, the campaign manager for Connecticut Vote No, told the 20 people in attendance. "We already have a process in place to amend our constitution -- the legislative process."

Yet the Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign said a convention will raise a very compelling need -- a system of direct initiative, enabling voters to petition to get issues on the ballot.

"We're one of only 19 states that doesn't have direct initiative," said John Woodcock, vice chairman for the Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign. "There needs to be a mechanism available so people can have their voice heard."

Other groups, such as the Family Institute of Connecticut, have joined the convention campaign in hopes that enacting direct initiative would eventually allow voters to directly weigh in on the group's pet projects, which for the Family Institute is a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, executive director Peter Wolfgang said.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court decided 4-3 to overturn the ban on same-sex marriages.

Malloy said a convention is the "worst way" to amend state law.

"The constitution has been amended some 30 times since 1974 -- without a constitutional convention," he said.

In calling for a convention, Shorey said taxpayers won't get to decide who will attend or what will be proposed.

"None of these people will be elected," she said. "The politicians in Hartford will appoint lobbyists, special interest groups and party operatives. Any part of the state constitution is on the table for change."

Woodcock said there is little danger the process won't be responsible because the public votes on all the proposals suggested by convention delegates.

For example, at the last constitutional convention in 1965, 259 proposals were submitted and two were approved, he said.

"This is a rare opportunity for the public to directly say, 'Let's take a look at our constitution,' " said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

Bob Madore, regional director of the UAW, said his concern is for the burden such a convention would place on taxpayers.

"Folks can't afford gas, oil and food," he said. "The public is going to be burdened with the cost."

Shorey estimated hearings, staff and meetings would result in a cost of "hundreds of thousands" of dollars.

Both groups said they plan to advocate for their cause through debates and advertisements for the next 12 days.

Scare tactics used to avert convention

By Chris Powell
Published: Thursday, October 23, 2008 10:23 AM EDT
Source: http://www.journalinquirer.com/articles/2008/10/23/chris_powell/doc4900878ec9dc0687500633.txt

More political hysteria has come from the campaign against Connecticut's referendum on calling a state constitutional convention than from all the other campaigns in the state this year combined.

It is said that a constitutional convention would be dominated by special interests; that it would destroy civil liberties; that it would bankrupt the state by allowing too much government spending or choke the state by preventing spending; and that it would create chaos by establishing initiative and referendum, by which the public could make law directly.

So what could have been going through the heads of the supposed crackpots who wrote the state Constitution at the last convention, in 1965, when they included the requirement for asking the people at referendum every 20 years whether they wanted to call another convention? And what could have been going through the heads of the supposed crackpots who then inhabited the state when they voted overwhelmingly for that Constitution? If a convention is so dangerous, why regularly ask the people if they want to call one?

The supposed crackpots at the 1965 convention were actually the foremost members of Connecticut's political establishment, drawn equally from the two major political parties. And the supposed crackpots who enacted the convention's work, the new state Constitution, included the parents and grandparents of many of the people who inhabit the state now. Were they all really that nutty? Or did they just recognize the possibility that government occasionally might get so sclerotic as to need outside prompting for reform?

In fact, by itself a constitutional convention can do none of the scary stuff cited by the propaganda against it. A convention can only propose amendments to the Constitution. The people themselves then would determine at referendum whether to accept such amendments. And while some people are advocating a convention for reasons of specific policy -- like establishing initiative and referendum; changing Connecticut's binding arbitration system for public employee union contracts; and overthrowing same-sex marriage, recently elevated to a constitutional right by the state Supreme Court -- there is little telling what a convention would do.

For it is a long way from calling a convention to getting it even to discuss any particular issue.

Calling a convention is only the first step. Selecting the delegates would be the next, and the manner of selecting delegates would be left to the governor and General Assembly to decide by legislation. For the 1965 convention, summoned mainly to bring legislative districting into compliance with the new federal "one man, one vote" standard, delegates were elected by the people, chosen from statewide slates nominated by the major political parties. But the governor and legislature could legislate for delegates to be chosen in other ways -- even by appointment rather than by election.

And then any constitutional amendments proposed by the convention would be sent to the people for decision at referendum.

The loudest argument being made against calling a convention is also the most bogus: that a convention would be dominated by special interests. Since the method of choosing delegates is not yet known, there is no evidence for such a claim. Meanwhile the main argument in favor of calling a convention is that Connecticut's regular legislative process -- that is, the General Assembly -- is already so dominated by special interests that public-interest legislation has little chance.

The proof of this is in the groups on opposing sides of the convention issue. The supporters of calling a convention are mainly the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations and the Family Institute of Connecticut, the latter lately joined by the state's Catholic bishops. These groups have raised only a few thousand dollars for their campaign. Opposed to calling a convention are mainly a bunch of public employee unions, led by the Connecticut Education Association, the state teachers union, which have raised close to a million dollars and thus are sponsoring television commercials.

That is, the public employee unions are happy with state government; taxpayer groups are not. Who is the "special interest"?

Besides, even if a constitutional convention was called, it would be very unlikely for anything to come of it. Dominated by the public-employee unions, the legislature probably would rig the delegate-selection process in favor of them. No, votes to call a convention will be little more than idle protests. And yet these protests will be justified by the hysterical resentment they already have aroused.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


The founding fathers included in our nation's constitution many safeguards against abuses of power, one of which we may not all be familiar with, perhaps because it has never been invoked. The following article discusses Article V of the U.S. Constitution which provides for the calling of a constitutional convention of delegates from each state that has the function of amending the constitution. It is triggered when the legislatures of two thirds of the states formally request it. The founding fathers saw this as a way for the states to correct imbalances of power in the federal government. In our nation's history the requirement for calling the convention has been met, but the congress has never recognized it by convening the Article V convention. Similar conventions have been held at the state level however, and the historical results have been more direct democracy in many states through the introduction of initiative & referendum. See the following website to learn more about why many are advocating an Article V convention at this time to acheive similar reforms at the federal level: www.foavc.org

When the Federal Government Fails the People

by Joel S. Hirschhorn
Source: http://www.opednews.com/articles/When-the-Federal-Governmen-by-Joel-S-Hirschhorn-081014-415.html

The hardest thing for Americans to do right now in this presidential election season is to fight distraction and, instead, focus on the failure of all three branches of the federal government. And also to resist the propaganda masquerading as patriotic obligation that voting will fundamentally fix the federal government. The real lesson of American history is that things have turned so ugly that electing a new president and many new members of Congress will at best provide band-aids when what is needed is nothing less than what Thomas Jefferson wisely said our nation would need periodically: a political revolution.

The basis for this view is that the institutions of the three branches have been so corrupted and perverted that they no longer meet the hopes and aspirations embedded in our Constitution.

It is easy to condemn George W. Bush as the worst president in history. The larger truth is that the presidency has accumulated far too much power over the past half century. This has resulted from the weakening of the Congress that no longer, in any way, has the power of an equal branch of government, not that any recent Congress has shown any commitment or capability to execute its constitutional authorities. Concurrently, we have become accepting of a politicized Supreme Court that has not shown the courage to stop the unconstitutional grabbing of power by the presidency and in 2000 showed its own root failure in choosing to select the new president.

Worst of all, modern history has vividly shown Americans that the federal government has usurped the sovereignty of the “we the people” and of the states, and has even sold out national sovereignty to a set of international organizations and the greed of corporate-crazed globalization.

The current economic and financial sector meltdown is just another symptom of deep seated, cancerous disease of government that has sold out the public because of the moneyed influence of the corporate and wealthy classes of special interests. The serious disease is a long festering unraveling of the constitutional design of our government. Each of the three branches of the federal government is totally unequal to each other and completely incapable of ensuring the constitutional functioning of each other. Checks and balances have become a fiction.

These sad historic realities have been produced because of an all too powerful and corrupt two-party political machine that has prevented true political competition and real choices for voters. This two-party system has thrived because of corruption from money provided for Democrats and Republicans to maintain the status quo that is the ruination of our constitutional Republic.

Yet the hidden genius of the Founders and Framers was to anticipate how the Republic would most likely unravel under the pressures of money and corruption. Unknown to nearly all Americans is a part of the Constitution that all established political forces have worked hard to denigrate over our entire history. They fear using what is provided as a kind of escape clause in the Constitution, something to use when the three branches of the federal government fail their constitutional responsibilities. What is this ultimate solution that those who love and respect our Constitution should be clamoring for?

It is the provision in Article V to create a temporary fourth branch of the government – in the form of a convention of state delegates – that operates outside the control of Congress, the President and the Supreme Court, and that has only one single function: to consider proposals for constitutional amendments, just like Congress has done over our history, but that must also be ratified by three-quarters of the states. One of the most perplexing questions in American history that has received too little attention is simple: Why have we never had an Article V convention?

One possible answer might be that what the Constitution requires to launch a convention has never been satisfied. But this is not the case. The one and only requirement is that two-thirds of state legislatures apply to Congress for a convention. With over 600 such state applications from all 50 states that single requirement has long been satisfied. So why no convention?

Because Congress has refused to honor the exact constitutional mandate that it “shall” call a convention when that requirement has been met. Simply put, Congress has long broken the supreme law of the land by not calling a convention, and virtually every political force on the left and right likes it that way. Why? Because they have learned to corrupt the government and fear an independent convention of state delegates that could propose serious constitutional amendments that would truly reform our government and political system to remove the power of special interests and compel all three branches to follow the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

With great irony, the public has been brainwashed to fear an Article V convention despite many hundreds of state constitutional conventions that have never wrecked state governments, and that in countless cases have provided much needed forms of direct democracy that have empowered citizens and limited powers of state governments.

There is only one national, nonpartisan organization with the single mission of educating the public about the Article V convention option and building demand for Congress to convene a convention. It is the Friends of the Article V Convention group that has done something that neither the government nor any other group has ever done; it has been collecting all the hundreds of state applications for a convention and making them available to the public at www.foavc.org.

With a new president and many new members of Congress, now is the ideal time for Americans that see the need for obeying the Constitution and seek root reforms to rally behind this mission of obtaining the nation’s first Article V convention. The new Congress in 2009 should give the public what the Constitution says we have a right to have and what Congress has a legal obligation to provide. Always remember that the convention cannot by itself change the Constitution, but operating in the public limelight it could revitalize what has become our delusional and fake democracy. The main thing to fear is not a convention, but continuation of the two-party plutocracy status quo. Sadly, no presidential candidate, not even third-party ones, has spoken out in support of Congress obeying the Constitution and giving us the first Article V convention.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The following editorial piece reflects the continuous struggle to preserve, expand and reform initiative & referendum at the state level in the U.S. in order to make it more accessable to the general voting public as a means of self-legislating the public will. - Editor

EDITORIAL: Blocking the public's will

The ruling political class hates the referendum and initiative process -- a provision that allows citizens to vote directly on changes to the law or state constitution, bypassing Legislatures often beholden to well-heeled special interests.

The main complaint is that the process allows the enactment of measures by voters who haven't taken the time to weigh the often complex testimony that explains why some ideas aren't as good as they sound.

There's some truth to that. On the other hand, the dangerous slide toward state meddling in our lives could easily be reversed if the powers that be weren't so adept at foiling the voters' will.

There's a role for the courts in blocking proposals that would be blatantly unconstitutional. In the end, though, our system of government is supposed to be "of and by the people"; the best way to block foolish enactments is to "better educate the public's discretion." Instead, the political class grows ever more creative in their attempts to stymie direct democracy. Here in Nevada, the Legislature responded to an effort by the trial bar and others to create Trojan horse questions with provisions of their liking buried in the fine print.

In the end, voters saw through those ruses. But the Legislature nonetheless enacted a measure barring ballot questions on more than one topic.

Nevada's courts have gleefully seized on that provision to knock perfectly proper questions off the ballot -- actually going so far as to rule that a measure calling for a tax hike to fund the schools violates the two-subject rule. Apparently, the only way petitioners could obey this rule (in the judges' view) is to enact one measure to raise taxes -- "but we can't tell you what we're going to do with the money" -- and a second, spending measure -- "but we can't tell you where the money's coming from."

Now comes word of a ballot measure down in Arizona stipulating that no provision raising taxes or requiring new spending could take effect unless approved by a majority of the state's registered voters. Not merely a majority of those casting ballots in that election, mind you -- a majority of all those registered, a barrier that legislative analysts say no Arizona initiative in the past decade would have cleared.

The goal is admirable: Higher taxes and mandates for "someone else" to spend more money are almost always bad ideas. Since tax hikes often sock it to a minority to benefit the majority, a supermajority requirement is not irrational.

But the misguided strategy of most of these measures is to remove citizens' direct voice from governance entirely, based on the theory that "We in the government are smarter than you guys; we're the experts."

As Ben Bernanke of the Fed and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson run around in circles these days, cackling that their next "fix" will surely get the economy back on track, the bankruptcy of such smug assumptions has rarely been more clear.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The solution to an unpopular, corrupted and inefficient congress: MORE DIRECT DEMOCRACY - Editor

Inside Politics: No Surprise, but Congress Not Popular

By Rebecca Boyle
Source: http://www.fortcollinsnow.com/article/20081008/NEWS/810089991/1062&ParentProfile=1054&title=Inside%20Politics:%20No%20Surprise,%20but%20Congress%20Not%20Popular

After passing a hugely unpopular financial rescue package, Congress is getting very little love from the American people.

So little, in fact, that only half of Americans, 49 percent, think the legislative body would do a better job than people chosen at random from the phone book.

But 33 percent of people think a group of their fellow citizens, chosen completely at random, would do a better job. In fact, more than half of Americans would like to toss the entire Congress and start over.

A new poll released Oct. 5 shows Americans have an abysmal opinion of their elected representatives. Along with the numbers noted above, only 24 percent, according to the poll by Rasmussen Reports, believe members of Congress understand legislation before they vote on it. Just 23 percent of people have even a little confidence in the ability of Congress to deal with the country’s economic woes, Rasmussen said.

Those numbers could be bad news for any incumbents this fall, no matter their party—change is definitely in the air.

But the phone book statistic gave me pause—it sounds funny, but it’s actually more in line with what the Founders intended, and not unique in history.

When the Constitution was adopted, state legislatures experienced vast turnover each election cycle, and the architects of the document likely expected things to be the same way on the federal level. Americans in the 1790s were not exactly fans of perpetual incumbency—our first executive limited himself to just two terms, more than 150 years before those limits were formally imposed.

And, as Rasmussen points out, turnover was the name of the game for more than a century. It all started changing in the 20th century, especially, as Rasmussen pollsters say, after “power and prestige flowed to Washington” during and after the New Deal.

Well before our Constitution was written, history’s first practitioners of democracy already employed their own phone book strategy, of sorts. The Athenians practiced a form of direct democracy, wherein citizens voted directly on legislation.

Given that background, I decided to conduct an experiment: I called random numbers out of the phone book.

The first name my eyes landed upon was that of Frank Bayless, a Fort Collins resident. It was completely random, but I must admit that I guessed someone named Franklin might be older, hence retired, and therefore home at 11:30 on a Monday morning.

I dialed his number and when he answered, I explained my odd request: “I’m calling you randomly out of the phone book because of a poll that said a third of Americans think people randomly chosen from the phone book would do a better job in Congress. So, what do you think of Congress?”

Bayless, as it turns out, might be pretty well qualified to run.

He’s writing a book about dueling philosophies through history and how they’ve shaped our culture—mercantilism versus socialism, conservatism versus liberalism, etc.—and he is a retired lawyer.

Bayless said members of Congress have abandoned their constituents in favor of special interests.

“Basically, the will of the people has been ignored,” he said. “It’s because of, primarily, special interest groups, and you’ve got the influence of the political parties and you’ve got of course, the conscience of the representative, whoever he is, if he has one. And all of that impacts these guys to the point that they’ve forgotten what the people want.”
He said spin and propaganda have clouded the truth.

“A Congress, a republic, can’t survive without truth. And so what I think of the Congress? I would have to say, I’m very disappointed, but I’m not disappointed in all of them. I am in some of them who really aren’t willing to cooperate and aren’t willing to reconcile their differences, and who follow the party line to the point that government doesn’t work anymore.”

He said he’s voting this fall for Sen. Barack Obama for president and Rep. Mark Udall for Senate.

After talking with Bayless for a few minutes, I flipped forward in the phone book to the letter J. No one was home under several listings for the name Jamison, so I flipped forward a couple of letters and landed on the Limbecks of Loveland.

Adam Limbeck, 10, who is home-schooled, answered the phone. Citing his youth, he said he wasn’t sure about the people in Congress, and passed the phone to his mom, Janet, who said she has some concerns about the current Congress and its partisanship.

“I definitely feel like with major issues, we don’t always get the whole story,” she said, adding that some issues are more complicated than they seem. “When the president is making his decisions, I feel like there are a lot more people in the trenches who don’t come on the news. I try to have faith that they are doing the right things.”

Limbeck said her family has been hit by the tough economy.

“In the last few years, the belief was that the economy was going to trickle down,” she said. “We owned a restaurant that failed. And it was for a multitude of reasons, but I never felt the trickle-down. I didn’t think any of the things that were in play benefited us.”

She worries about the Iraq War, too, and veterans coming home who will need access to mental-health treatment. She said she doesn’t think Congress has done enough to address any of those issues. She, too, is voting for Obama on Nov. 4.

As of this writing, several people in the S section in Greeley’s phone book were not home, at least not during the day. But I’ll keep trying, especially hoping to find some supporters of Sen. John McCain.

Because you never know—maybe they’ll be qualified to run for Congress. Odds are they might be more popular, at least.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Healthy Democracy Oregon's Citizens' Initiative Review is aiding the Initiative & Referendum process in that state by giving citizens accurate information and unbiased analysis of measures on the ballot. Read the following from their website for mre information. - Editor

The Citizens' Initiative Review

For reference and review.

The Citizens' Initiative Review is a citizen-based review process for statewide ballot measures. Each Citizens' Initiative Review panel would hear arguments from the campaigns for and against the measure, along with background information and testimony from policy professionals and affected parties. Following this careful multi-day review, the panel would deliberate on the merits of the measure. The Citizens Initiative Review panel would determine if:

• the ballot measure will really do what its supporters claim it will; and

• if the ballot measure provides a good solution to a statewide problem.

The panel would then report their findings directly to every voter in Oregon through the statewide Voters’ Pamphlet. These findings would be highlighted next to the summary information about the ballot measure. By providing a trustworthy, balanced, and citizen-based source of information in the hands of every voter across Oregon, the Citizens Initiative Review has the potential to decrease the influence of political spin in our initiative process.

What happens?

Citizens panels are convened by the Citizens' Initiative Review Commission to review citizens' initiatives that qualify for the general election ballot.
These citizens panels, comprised of 18 - 24 registered voters selected at random, are each tasked with deliberating for 3 - 5 days on one ballot measure. During the deliberation process, panelists hear from pro, con and background witnesses.
Panelists draft a report on the ballot measure outlining their findings and conclusions. The Citizens' Initiative Review report is summarized to one page and published in the Voters Pamphlet, providing the citizens of Oregon with a trustworthy, balanced, and investigative report on each ballot measure.

Who are the panelists?

The 18 - 24 citizen panelists are selected at random through a statewide survey.

They are stratified to be a microcosm of Oregon in terms such as age, education, partisan affiliation, and residence.

They will be paid a fair day’s wage for their participation.

How will this be run?

The CIR will be conducted as an independent state commission.

Overseen by an independent board composed of citizens.
There will be yearly evaluation by citizen panelists and moderators.
Why should I trust this?

  • Allows the viewpoints of a microcosm of the state to be heard.
  • Comes from ordinary citizens, not the proponents and opponents who each have their own agendas.
  • No interest group has control.
  • Process is designed to maintain neutrality and fairness.
  • Based on tested methods.

The Citizens Initiative Review is intended to allow a microcosm of the people of Oregon, meeting in citizens panels, to take a close look at at ballot initiatives. They will spend three to five days doing this and then issue a report with their findings. A one-page summary of this report will be placed in the Voters Pamphlet, with the full report being available online, as well as in libraries around the state.

Each citizens panel consists of 18 to 24 Oregon citizens, 18 years of age or older, who reflect fairly the population of the state as a whole with regard to age, education, political attitude and geographic location. These people are contacted at random according to high standards of scientific random sampling. Several hundred names will be gathered in this way and placed in a “jury pool." Then a final selection of 18 to 24 for each citizens panel will be done to meet the demographic targets to create a microcosm of the state. This can be done in public to enhance trust of the process.

Each panel will review one initiative or referendum that has qualified for the statewide ballot. The review will be conducted over three to five days, during which time proponents and opponents of the initiative will testify about the reasons for and against passing the initiative. The citizen panelists will have an opportunity to question these witnesses, as well as to hear testimony from independent witnesses. On the final day, the panelists will divide up into those who favor the initiative and those who oppose it. They will list the main reasons why they favor or oppose the initiative and indicate information that helped them to make up their minds. They will also indicate how many of them favored and how many opposed the initiative.

The CIR is designed to help Oregon citizens make sound voting decisions and to strengthen the voice of average citizens in the initiative process. The CIR report in the Voters Pamphlet will be brief and clear, yet will provide evaluation and analysis that reflects in-depth consideration from different points of view. The mix of citizens from around the state will help the panelists focus on what is good for Oregon as a whole.

If voters want more information about the panelists' review of an initiative, they will be able to review the testimony and proceedings of the panel through a new CIR Web site established by the board of commissioners. This Web site will bring together, in one place, the summaries of the positions of the opposing sides, independent information such as economic analysis, and the discussions of the panelists. Without having to spend excessive time and money on gathering relevant information and reviewing each initiative in depth, the general public will be able to access easily the reliable information they need to make their evaluations.

Each Oregon voter most likely will continue to use his or her own sources of information in making voting decisions; however, the CIR panel report will alert them to facts and perspectives that they would not have been given otherwise. The pro and con witnesses at the hearings will be forced to go beyond sound bites and to answer the panelists' questions in an honest and clear manner. This is an opportunity which citizens almost never get. The results of this analysis will be presented in a clear and simple way easily accessible to the voters of Oregon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Again, another article illustrating how in Arizona, as in many states where intitative & referendum occurs at the state level, reform is needed to allow more grassroots access to the process and prevent direct democracy from being hijacked by and limited to special and corporate interests with the funds to push initiatives through. - Editor

Big money, not citizens, is driving initiatives

by Matthew Benson - Jul. 30, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic


So much for the "citizens" with this year's batch of citizens initiatives.

For most of the nine initiatives planned for the November ballot, financial backing from individual donors has been scarce. The money has flowed almost exclusively from corporations, political committees and a relative handful of wealthy individuals.

Grass-roots? Nope. Not yet anyway.

Take the transportation campaign in favor of a 1 cent-per-dollar hike in the state sales tax.

Of the nearly $1 million received by the ballot effort, just $100 has thus far been donated by individuals. Campaign-finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show that the vast majority of contributions have come from businesses with a financial stake in roadwork and other transportation projects: construction companies, contractors and engineering firms.

Likewise, nearly every cent of the $8.7 million dumped into a ballot effort benefiting the payday-loan industry has been donated by - guess who? - a trade group representing payday lenders: the Arizona Community Financial Services Association.

Initiative representatives counter that the disparity in campaign donations among business interests, political committees and regular Arizonans is nothing new.

But the divide is so pronounced this election cycle that it raises the question of whether Arizona's direct democracy has become little more than a legislative vehicle for wealthy special interests.

Voting via pocketbook

Some past initiative campaigns have demonstrated better success at gathering money from a broad base of donors.

In 2004, the Protect Arizona Now campaign reported that individuals accounted for more than one-fifth of its $550,000 campaign haul.

The initiative, approved as Proposition 200, set restrictions on government benefits for undocumented immigrants and established regulations for identification at the polls.

Two years later, an initiative to ban gay marriage in Arizona garnered thousands of individual donors. Despite raising more than $1 million, Protect Marriage Arizona was rejected at the polls. Supporters have returned to the ballot this year but chose to save their money and energy by opting instead for it to be referred to the ballot by the Legislature.

Although no guarantee of success, small-dollar donations are important when it comes to measuring a campaign's base of support, said Pat Graham, campaign chairman this year for the latest effort to reform the state's trust-land system.

Said Graham, "Somebody who feels strongly enough to vote with their pocketbook is going to get out and carry the message for you."

What if your campaign is short on cash?

Bonita Burks had hoped to qualify for the ballot new state restrictions on motorists' use of mobile phones while driving. But despite a series of high-profile accidents that focused public awareness on the issue, her petition drive stalled long before it collected the 153,000 valid signatures it needed. Some of that she attributes to a lack of campaign funding that forced her to rely on volunteer, rather than paid, signature gatherers.

"It made it difficult," said Burks, whose Safer Road Arizona campaign reported just $1,050 in total donations. "Although it is a very important issue and I'm very passionate about it, we just didn't have the dollars to make it happen this year."

Even with a throng of volunteer signature gatherers, border-security activist Don Goldwater, too, failed to make the ballot with either of his immigration proposals.

"In the history of the state of Arizona, no citizens initiative has ever been done without paid signature gatherers," Goldwater said. "If you've got the bucks, you can get the initiative on the ballot."

Measuring support

Luckily for supporters of Graham's trust-land reform initiative, that campaign has a handful of big-dollar donors.

The Our Land, Our Schools campaign has garnered more than $820,000 in donations so far this cycle, most of which have come from the Nature Conservancy and a development firm owned by Democratic benefactor and former state-party boss Jim Pederson. Individuals have contributed $50,250, all but $250 of which was given by John W. Graham, chairman of the board for the state chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Campaign Chairman Pat Graham said he expects small-donor contributions to pick up once the initiative is certified for the ballot.

"People don't want to give money to gather signatures," the Nature Conservancy's John Graham said. "The broader base of fundraising is going to pick up now through the rest of the campaign."

Stan Barnes isn't too worried about where the money comes from for his Payday Loan Reform Act. The key is that it's there. And it's big.

"We're not even trying to collect money from Arizonans who are not connected in some way to the payday-lending industry," said Barnes, a lobbyist representing the campaign.

The key, he said, is using the money in a fashion that educates voters about the proposal.

The initiative includes consumer-interest reforms, such as a cap on annual interest rates that branches can charge, and eliminates a planned 2010 sunset date. That change would allow the industry to continue in the state.

Barnes noted that campaign donations aren't the only measure of public support. There are the petition signatures, for one. The payday-lending campaign gathered about 265,000 from across Arizona, he said.

And there's another, most important measure of support. It will come on the first Tuesday in November.


Educating the Revolution

Asset B21970 Posted By Szamko
Source: http://www.gnn.tv/threads/23773/Educating_the_Revolution

Democracy is supposed to be a central goal for radical movements, from anarchism – which seeks to work towards a democracy free of hierarchy and evolving from the bottom up, with no role for the state – to mainstream conservatism – which seeks a regulated democracy and a strong state which can ensure social and economic stability. Even the Peoples’ Republics of the Eastern Bloc maintained a constant democratic facade, even as in practice, they developed systems of control which we tend to reject as authoritarian. In his own world view too, Hitler was a democrat, ruling with the people, for the people (or the Volk) as a conduit for the general will.

So Democracy is a contested idea. Despite its centrality to the rhetoric of state systems across the political spectrum, however, the practice of democracy is usually shallow when it is not an illusion. Democracy restricted to periodic representative elections is much less than the rule of the people, which the concept presupposes.

So how can we move towards ruling ourselves, as the most radical democrats demand, while still allowing for the pooling of our sovereignty within larger social units, as practicality requires?

One of the most crucal aspects of building a democratic society is also one of the most overlooked. Few people have argued in favor of the radical democratization of education, but there can be no adult democracy without the development of self rule and the confidence to participate in democratic structures at an early age. We emerge from school, all too often, adults in the economy, but children in democracy. It’s not surprising that public participation in policy formulation and implementation, along with social movements and anti-war activism are so far from the mainstream.

But we require popular participation in order to effect social change. So democratic schooling is an essential element of future democracy. Well directed public policy intended to create the conditions of democracy at a high-school (or secondary school) level could act as a “non-reformist reform” – a reform intended to help generate the conditions for revolutionary change. It is so palatable to the professed ideals of many societies that a slightly left of center government could put it into place.

What do I mean by the democratization of education? Obviously it is a massive subject, and because it is a little studied one, we have to proceed somewhat in the dark, but some outlines might be drawn to begin.

Firstly, the strengthening of student bodies, school parliaments, debating societies, even to the extent of creating participatory budgeting for sections of school life are options to bring young people into the process. That process I would suggest, is not the process of entering the “political system” but gaining the confidence and skills to rework that system, while encouraging self rule.

Secondly, and perhaps more radically, I propose the introduction of “pupil shares” – in which each member of the school (teachers included) receives a share of the funding set aside for the school by government. The level of this funding would then be linked to factors like academic performance, participation in political events, cultural production, level of participation in sport.

It could even be linked into efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the school. Schools which work to install solar panels or grow food on permaculture plots within school grounds, or institute recycling programs, would receive credits for doing so.

So each pupil would benefit from the collective actions of the school. At the end of the education of each pupil, they could qualify to withdraw a set amount from the annual funding (say, five percent of their share) and this amount could be negotiated within the school through democratic means. Naturally bright high-fliers would still have the strong incentive to perform well in the form of good grades and university admission. Everybody would have an incentive to help with tutoring in order to raise the general “share price” of the school.

The ownership of “one share” in the school itself, if formulated on a basis of equality between staff and pupils (the share could amount to quite a large amount of money) would give pupils far more bargaining power with staff and even with the school board and wider community. Class presidents would become meaningful positions, able to lead their electorate into strike action, go slows, or into more positive actions like organizing political debates.

If teachers depend upon the share price (to an extent) for bonuses, and the pupils for future gain (or maybe some sort of social credit system to help them access university or employment) then a system of trade offs would operate. At times, the pupils would consider taking collective action to influence school policy. At other times, they would reject it as counter-productive. Teachers would have an incentive to work with students, rather than “above” them.

At the moment, pupils are taught down to by necessity. Education is almost uniformly an experience of being given facts and tasks in which the pupil has little negotiating power or creative input. It’s a poor schooling for the give and take, group bargaining and collective action needed to generate democratic change outside the school.

There are some obvious objections to be made from a radical perspective (and many for conservatives). The linking of democracy to monetary gain, even if this gain is related to socially beneficial production and sustainability, might be seen as a schooling in speculative capitalism and personal accumulation rather than in solidarity and mutual aid. I would agree, but suggest that in any pathway towards genuine social change there are trade-offs and stepping stones. The benefits from promoting collective action and responsibility outweigh the potentially insidious effects of “monetarising democracy.”

Secondly, you might argue that linking individual political development into the collective fate of the school, promotes the kind of allegiance to nation and state that non-reformist reforms would seek to weaken. Having a nation of democratic schools competing against each other for prestige, would change little from the local patriotism shown by many schools right now. But if student democracy develops as I believe it might, then it will overflow the boundaries of the school and enter the wider community. Beyond that even, delegates could be elected to regional student bodies to coordinate cultural or political events.

There is no telling precisely what the effect of creating such a virtuous cycle would be. However, any move towards brining participatory democracy into the mainstream is welcome and, increasingly, essential.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Decentralization, Communism, & Model-Building

Wednesday October 08, 2008 00:08
by Wayne Price
Source: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/10116

From my Parecon Debate with Michael Albert

Further selections from my literary debate on Znet with Michael Albert, co-founder of Parecon. The full debate can be found on



In Kropotkin’s famous essay on “Anarchism” for the Encyclopedia Britannica, he wrote that, under socialist anarchism, “True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound….”

Parecon has decentralist aspects, in its roots in workplace and consumer councils. But economically, it proposes a series of back-and-forth responses among the councils of the U.S., guided by facilitators, to result in a single plan which will be accepted for a period. This single, overriding, plan covers the whole country, which in our case includes most of a continent. Not surprisingly, in your Parecon: Life After Capitalism, you have a section rejecting “Green Bioregionalism” (hc, p. 80f). Similarly, Robin Hahnel, has a section in his book, Economic Justice and Democracy, which rejects “Community-Based Economics” (trade pb, p. 181f). So, if Parecon is not centralist, as such, neither is it decentralist.

This limits direct democracy. Instead of a local council having a significant say in the economic (and other) factors that directly affect its people, the council has only a tiny voice, being one out of a zillion councils in the whole country, making a tiny impact on the whole plan. Most of those deciding on the plan (the 330 million other people) are not you or your workmates or neighbors. Once the overall plan is decided on, the local workplace may decide how to carry it out, and the local community may make local decisions, but only within the framework of the overall national plan.

I do not insist that everything be decentralized, but I do have a bias in favor of decentralization. Social institutions should be as decentralized as possible, as much in human scale as possible, with only as much centralization and big institutions and buildings as absolutely necessary. This makes it possible for people to directly control their lives and to make decisions whose outcomes they can foresee, without power being in the hands of distant authorities. But if some industries can only function with big factories in a few central places, so be it. Big universities might need to be supported by several regions. “Representation” may be needed, but it can only be democratic if people experience self-rule locally in day-to-day decision-making. Regions encourage social, economic, and political experimentation, different ways of handling similar problems

Libertarian Communism

You seem to think that I advocate (small-c) communism (not statism, as you know, but as a method of motivating workers and sharing society’s wealth). First, I am open to several possibilities being tried out in different regions (Parecon, full communism, Takis Fotopoulis’ model, etc.). However, I have a personal preference, which is not to go immediately into full communism, where income is completely disconnected from work. Instead there needs to be some form of reward for work, as in the Parecon program or otherwise. But, I believe, the long term goal should be full communism (what Marx called the higher phase of communism): “From each according to their ability to each according to their needs.” Anything short of this still has some necessary inequalities, left over from capitalism. You write, “In parecon I get income for working longer and harder.” But some people are able to work longer and harder than others. And people have unequal and different needs and desires.

Already, our technology is potentially so productive that it could (eventually) provide plenty for all with hardly any labor. Unpleasant tasks could be rotated, with everyone expected to do their share. We could become so productive that there would be more people wanting work than there would be needed jobs (as foretold in William Morris’ News from Nowhere). People would combine necessary labor, what little is left, with creative crafts. I propose that a socialist-anarchist society (or Parecon) begin with a basic communist sector (according to what it can afford), such as health, and minimal food, clothing and shelter. Over decades or generations, as productivity (and social consciousness) rise, this sector can be expanded until it covers everything.

In Realizing Hope, you yourself conclude that at some time after Parecon has been in place, “…Maybe a new aim will be removing the whole idea of measure regarding human traits, or even the whole idea of warranting rewards at all” (pb, p. 188). You refer to the wonderful anarchist-communist utopian novel, Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed.

Concluding Statement: Model-Building and Electoralism

Much of our difference is that Michael Albert is a model-builder and I am not. This causes us to talk past each other, despite the wide range of things on which we do agree. Michael and other Pareconers keep on trying to interpret my comments as though I am proposing an alternate model of post-capitalist society. So they ask how a decentralized socialist society would work, how goods would be exchanged among regions, how libertarian communism would value goods, and so on? Frankly, I do not know the answers and am not worried about that.

It is important to have a vision, a utopian set of values, of a different, more human, unalienated, way for people to live and work and to relate to each other. This is opposed to the Marxist tendency to let the Goddess of the Historical Process take care of everything. That is a dangerous approach because it leads to accepting whatever the historical process turns up, such as totalitarianism, and calling it socialism. A workers’ revolution must be conscious, with a true analysis of how society works and with a deliberate goal. This is different from the capitalist revolutions, whose main task was to remove barriers to the market and then let it automatically perform; therefore it was possible to have all sorts of illusions and false consciousness. However this does not mean that a revolution of the workers and oppressed must have a worked-out model, as opposed to a set of values. The working people can deliberately set about to develop a new society, consciously trying out various approaches.

It can be useful for someone to develop a more-or-less detailed model of how a vision could be concretized, how it might actually work. Besides Parecon, I can think of Bookchin’s Libertarian Municipalism, Takis Fotopoulis’ Inclusive Democracy, Paul Goodman’s Scheme II in Communitas, Pat Devine’s ideas, Kirkpatrick Sale’s bioregionalism, Guild Socialism, Castoriadis’
plan factory,and so on. Not to mention the ideas Marx raised in passing in the Critique of the Gotha Program and elsewhere. (There are also models of decentralized market socialisms, which I reject but I would be against other regions invading an area which had adopted such a model, unless exploitation was reintroduced.)

It is important to study all these and other models, but I have no need to endorse any one (aside from rejecting market socialism or state planning). I am willing to be in the same revolutionary organization with people who are committed to any of them. No one knows how a free people would reorganize production and politics after a revolution.

I am an experimentalist. Under socialist anarchism, people will try out different plans at different times in different regions. There will be constant reorganizing. To quote Kropotkin again, from his encyclopedia article on “Anarchism,” “Such a society would represent nothng immutable….Harmony would (…) result from an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between the multitude of forces and influences, and this adjustment would be easier to obtain as none of the forces would enjoy a special protection from the State.”

Once we agree on a general vision, then what matters most is our program for the here-and-now, what we are going to do, what we say to advanced workers who are listening to us (even if it is mostly propaganda for the future). Which is why I could be in the same organization as Pareconists, anarchist-communists, libertarian Marxists, anarchist-syndicalists, and so on, if we agree on our program for the next period.

This is why I keep on raising the issue of voting for Obama and other Democrats, even though this is a peripheral question for Michael and even though there are other Pareconists who disagree with him. Is there something in the Parecon program which leads Michael as well as Robin Hahnel (the co-founders of Parecon) to be willing to vote for an imperialist war monger? If so, this is a problem. Or is there no connection between the model of Parecon and one’s position on voting in capitalist elections? If so, this may be even worse. What good is Parecon if it gives no guidance to current political action?

(Michael’s comparison of voting for—and working for—Obama with getting a job in the capitalist economy is pretty weak. I have to work in order to feed myself and my family. I can live perfectly well without voting for my class enemy. I work because I have to; it does not imply support for capitalism. Voting for Obama, and urging others to do so, means giving political support to a politician and his capitalist program. Also, respecting other people’s motives does not require that we agree with them.)

Tom Wetzel has associated Parecon with the idea that mass movements of opposition should be participatory and directly democratic. I agree with this. And I agree with Michael’s belief that movements should be militant and threatening to the ruling class, so that it will make concessions. This approach would seem to contradict support for the Democrats and the passivity of reliance on capitalist elections. However, it is not necessarily connected to the specific program of Parecon as distinct from a general revolutionary libertarian socialism.

I believe that a revolutionary anarchist organization should not be primarily formed around a specific model of post-capitalist society. Instead it should be in general agreement on a vision, open to specific ways that vision may be eventually embodied, and in general agreement on a program for the coming period.

Right now we are at a major turning political turning point. A large part of the U.S. population is moving to the left, and many are losing their faith in capitalism. Right now, both Parecon and revolutionary class struggle anarchism are extremely marginal but this will change. We are parts of the same libertarian socialist movement and should work together where we can.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


'The Voters of Arizona' is a committee organized to oppose proposition 105 which will roll back initiative & referendum and direct democracy in Arizona. The organization seeks to defend Arizona's direct democractic institutions. Read the following press release and visit their website for more information. CLICK HERE: http://thevotersofaz.com/ - Editor

Press Release: Newspapers Endorse No on Prop 105

October 9, 2008

Source: http://thevotersofaz.com/

Four out of four newspapers statewide agree: Vote NO on Prop 105

Unanimously, newspapers statewide agree that come this Election Day voters should vote NO on Prop 105. The Arizona Republic, East Valley Tribune, Yuma Sun, and Tucson Weekly have all come to the conclusion that Prop 105 is a misleading measure that should not be passed by Arizona voters.

If passed, Prop 105 will amend our constitution and require a majority of all people registered to vote to vote YES in order to pass any future initiatives in Arizona, taking away a fundamental right of our citizens, the right to a fair election process.

If Prop 105 passes, 80 percent of those voting on a ballot initiative would need to vote yes for it to pass. Under these rules no initiative since 1974 that was passed by voters and enacted in to law would have passed—including the statewide smoking ban in 2006. Prop 105 effectively kills the initiative process in Arizona, which is the closest thing we have to a direct democracy.

Prop 105 is misleading and encourages voter apathy, and would make elections unfair. It would amend the Arizona Constitution to, in essence, automatically cast a no vote for those who don’t bother to vote, for those who have moved, or for those who are recently deceased.

About The Voters of Arizona

The Voters of Arizona is a political campaign committee composed of individuals and organizations. Visit www.thevotersofaz.com for more information.

No on Prop 105 has been endorsed by newspapers statewide including The Arizona Republic, East Valley Tribune, Yuma Sun, and Tucson Weekly.

Paid for by The Voters of Arizona – No On Prop 105. Major funding by Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, Arizona School Board Association, and the National Education Association (an out-of-state contributor with 34,227 members in Arizona).

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Is Direct Democracy in Oregon Too Much of a Good Thing?

Voters in Oregon's 1st Congressional District are taking the law into their own hands. In fact, so are voters throughout the state, and they have been doing it for years.

Oregon is one of 24 states that give voters the right to place proposed laws and constitutional amendments on the state ballot via petition.

Since 1902, Oregon voters have used the petition to change the state's political landscape. In 1908 they instituted the recall election, allowing citizens to remove elected officials from office before the expiration of their terms. Another early initiative authorized one of the nation's first open primaries, giving voters the power to choose their party's nominees for office.

In recent years, Oregon voters have placed on the ballot and passed several important measures, including limits on property taxes, increased rights for crime victims, term limits for legislators, and a controversial measure on physician-assisted suicide.

But many Oregonians are wondering if this long-respected institution has become too much of a good thing.


The initiative process was used sparingly for its first 85 years, averaging about one measure per year. Since the 1990s, it has mushroomed, with 20 initiatives on the ballot in 2000. In 1996, more than 200 ballot measure petitions were circulated in the state, with only a small minority gaining enough support to appear on the ballot. The use of initiatives has dropped a bit since 2000, but there were still, on average, about eight initiatives each in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Some recent citizen initiatives were judged unconstitutional and overturned by the courts. On other occasions, approved ballot measures contradicted each other or were worded so vaguely as to be unworkable.

A cloud over the process has been cast by the activities of a man named Bill Sizemore, who has sponsored more initiatives than anyone else in the state's history, including one with the greatest impact of any Oregon ballot initiative in decades: His 1996 ballot measure drastically restricted property tax increases. More recently, a court found he had used forged signatures and filed false financial reports during his initiative efforts. It ordered his organization to pay more than $3 million in damages. Although portions of that ruling were set aside by an appeals court, the litigation damaged Sizemore's credibility with some voters.

Despite these problems, most Oregonians know some recent ballot measures have proven successful and remain an important check on government officials. Voters are seeking reform, rather than abolition, of the initiative process. Reforms already enacted include a ban on paying petition circulators for each signature gathered. Perhaps ironically, this reform was achieved through a ballot initiative.

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature created further restrictions, including a requirement for registering and training petition circulators. Supporters of the reforms say they will give new relevance and life to a cherished example of direct democracy. Opponents call them unjustified restrictions on free speech.

The 2008 ballot will be the last before the new measures take effect.


Eight measures - five sponsored by Sizemore - are on the upcoming ballot. One would limit bilingual classes in public schools. Others would reduce state revenues by increasing tax deductions, require teachers' pay increases to be based on student achievement rather than teacher seniority, require harsher sentences for criminals (two initiatives), dedicate more money to public safety, and harmonize voting eligibility for school board elections with eligibility requirements for other state and local elections.

The most far-reaching measure might be a proposal to eliminate the traditional party primaries, which were established by one of the first successful initiatives a century ago. Instead of holding a separate primary election for each party, Oregon would hold only one joint primary, with the top two nominees going forward to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation. Proponents say it would encourage more moderate candidates. Critics counter that one of the major parties could end up with no candidate on the November ballot.

Whatever the fate of this year's ballot initiatives, 2008 could be the last year that Oregon voters face such a range of petitions and ballot measures. Whether that is good or bad is still a subject of debate.

This article is part of America.gov's continuing coverage of seven of the 435 U.S. congressional districts during the 2008 campaign. Each offers a different prism from which to view U.S. politics. For more information, see U.S Elections - State and Local ( http://uspolitics.america.gov/uspolitics/elections/stateandlocal.html ).

Source: U.S. Department of State