Monday, October 22, 2012

Elections at the End of the World

(written for The Africa Report)
by Quincy Saul, October 2012

Crises of all kinds are converging on every continent – ecological, social, economic, political, military and more. If they have not visited you yet, they will soon! And here in this gauntlet of world history, the world is watching as the political process of the global superpower self-destructs. Welcome to elections at the end of the world.

Chapter 1: Money
The capitalist society is a democracy in which every penny represents a ballot paper.” Ludwig von Mises

This will be the most expensive election in world history. The numbers are coming in too fast to count, but estimates are already as high as five billion dollars. It's unclear if we will ever know exactly how much money is being spent, because campaign money, following the global trend, has emerged from purgatory into a deregulated wonderland. Like banks before them, electoral institutions have entered a new stage in evolution. Political Action Committees [PACs] have merged to form Super PACs, which have spawned Shadow PACs, and the list goes on. No one knows where all the money is, where it's been, or where it's going. What happened to mortgages is happening to democracy.

There was nothing sudden about this. The US kicked off the millennium already possessing the best democracy money can buy, and since then has simply stayed the course. This course culminated two years ago in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision known as “Citizens United.” In a powerful feat of logic, the Supreme Court deduced that since corporations are people, money is therefore speech. Ergo, corporate spending must have the same legal prerogative and protection as the freedom of speech. So freedom to speak equals freedom to spend. Without a doubt, this is more of the same thing we've been seeing develop for decades—but it is so much more of the same that there has been a qualitative shift. More than 300 Super PACs are registered with the Federal Election Commission. We have moved from measuring elections by the millions, to measuring them by the billions. 
Whose money is this? Ari Berman reports that

In the 2010 election, the one per cent of the one per cent accounted for 25 per cent of all campaign-related donations . . . Or, to be more precise, the .000063 per cent. Those are the 196 individual donors who have provided nearly 80 per cent of the money raised by Super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each . . . In a recent segment of his show, Stephen Colbert noted that half of the money ($67 million) raised by Super PACs in 2011 had come from just 22 people. "That's seven one-millionths of one per cent," or roughly 0.000000071 per cent, Colbert said while spraying a fire extinguisher on his fuming calculator. "So, Occupy Wall Street, you're going to want to change those signs."

Where is this money going? We'll probably never know, but the major media networks are certainly making a tidy bundle from all the campaign advertising. “The media promote the election, the election promotes the media, and advertising competes with democracy” as one unusual commentator observed in the last election cycle. It's a nice round deal that benefits everyone in the 0.000000071%. But unlike some of their shadier transactions, this one probably leaves everyone involved with a clean and even righteous conscience, doing their parts for democracy.
The 2012 election will consume more money than the entire gross domestic product of many smaller Third World countries. The world is ending, so now more than ever the show must go on.

Chapter 2: Spectacle
In this imperfect world, the sovereign citizens of the first and greatest Electronic Democracy . . . exercised once again its free, untrammeled franchise.” Isaac Asimov

Given the price tag, it is guaranteed in advance that the 2012 election will be spectacular. But given the severe limits of the actual political debate, it is also guaranteed to be a massive anti-climax. It is the job of the technicians and consultants to make careers and campaigns by hiding and prolonging this contradiction.

While we have not yet reached the climax of Electronic Democracy as foretold in Isaac Asimov's classic short story “Franchise”, we are on our way. Combine the technological predictions of Asimov with the sociological analysis of Guy Debord's 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle and the result will be something resembling the current 2012 US presidential election. 
To give one only example, take the new “dial metre group” system. Steven hill reports that these are now “a standard feature in virtually every presidential race and other high-profile campaigns,” in which “voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages in a speech,” to help candidates lean how to manipulate their constituencies better:

It's a bizarre and frightening spectacle, this notion of wired humans co-operating in the fashioning of campaign missiles that will be aimed right back at people like themselves via television ads . . . It is a kind of Orwellian group-think that is expertly crafted and staged to induce maximum emotional peaks from viewers, trying to attain a kind of visceral script that will prod, poke and catch their imagination. No wonder former New York Times columnist Frank Rich has called this new-fangled presidential selection process the "Survival of the Fakest" . . . Not surprisingly, McCampaigns have become little more than sales pitches and advertising jingles, using "crafted talk" and "simulated responsiveness" to sell political products . . . So when you get excited over a Barack Obama speech, remember: the mad scientists who work for him are really good at figuring out what you want to hear. And Obama, just like Bill Clinton and George W Bush, is really talented at reading the Teleprompter.

The electronic spectacle culminates in the debates. If there weren't so much at stake, this would be some of the best comedy out there. While we pass tipping points for irreversible catastrophic global climate change, the big question is, who will drill more on federal land? Who is the better friend of coal, gas and oil? Who will accelerate genocide by biofuel faster? Who will build more pipelines? Who can more smoothly insert nuclear and renewable energy into the same breath? As usual, it's only the jokers who dare to speak the truth: “Who won? Who cares? You Decide!” reported Rap News.

By now my liberal progressive readers are squirming uncomfortably. We must after all vote for the lesser of two evils (or as Abbie Hoffman put it more accurately, the evil of two lessers). We might not like the Democrat, but the Republican is worse. This masterful feedback-loop is a piece of conditioning against which no argument stands a chance. In spite of the degeneration of the politics and the process, every four years we must beat ourselves over the heads with this time-tested guilt trip. Sure, the most important issues (climate change, war, civil liberties, Wall Street corruption, etc) are not up for discussion. Sure, there has been more continuity than change between the presidencies of Obama and Bush. But nonetheless, we have been conditioned to remember and repeat, we must vote for the Democrat because the Republican is worse. It's a persuasive argument, and it might even be relevant if it mattered. But for the votes to matter, the system has to actually work.

Chapter 3: Theft
It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes.” Joseph Stalin

Elections are stolen in the United States. But the biggest obstacle to democracy is not this theft. It is the inability of US citizens to believe it. It is the extreme hubris, the kind which only a superpower is capable of, which prevents people in the US from recognizing that the system is rigged. If stolen elections are the bombs that threaten the political process, it is the arrogant denial that hits the self-destruct button.

Elections are stolen in two ways, overt and covert. These overlap in various ways, including the way in which they are completely ignored by just about everyone.

The overt theft takes the form of new laws which have been enacted to prevent certain targeted populations from voting. Who are the targets? “[O]nly two states” Greg Palast reports, “. . . have more than 50 percent of eligible Hispanic citizens registered”. Yes, this is a trend:

. . . the majority of registration forms submitted by legal voters of color in California had been rejected . . . despite the federal law requiring states to make voter registration forms available at government offices, in some states like Florida, the papers have been yanked from welfare offices and outlawed in high schools. The number of voting citizens with incomes less than $15,000 has actually declined. Mission Accomplished! In Florida, registration is down by eighty-one thousand in May 2011 compared to May 2008.So get ready for the bottom line: the number of black and Hispanic registered voters in the USA has fallen radically since 2008, by two million in these four years. 
The fact that these new voting laws specifically target poor people of color is not controversial. In fact it is not even controversial that they have been enacted on behalf of Republicans. This overt take-over of the electoral system is completely transparent and unashamed about its intentions. As Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai boasted publicly in June, the new “Voter ID” law will “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
The covert fraud is more complex, but barely less hidden. It takes place on touch-screens, on which more than 90% of all votes are cast. Three private corporations, Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia, control 80% of this electoral system. It is not controversial that these machines are faulty. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office published a report saying that these machines have inherent flaws that “could allow unauthorized personnel to disrupt operations or modify data and programs that are critical to ... the integrity of the voting process." It is also not controversial that the owners and manufacturers of these machines have outspoken political leanings toward the Republican party.

Since Greg Palast's seminal expose of the stealing of the 2000 election, numerous other studies have confirmed that electronic voting is deeply vulnerable to manipulation. There is no shortage of testing and study on this subject, and the results are uniform and conclusive. Watch these videos.
And yet US citizens pretty much refuse to look at this subject. Even following the more-obvious-than-usual fraudulent re-election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker there was no public outcry. Not only do “progressives” fail to challenge a fraudulent process, they don't challenge the stolen result—even when they lose! As a result, the billionaires and ballot bandits who are perpetrating this massive fraud are doing less and less to hide it. Governor Romney has been so bold as to go into the voting machine business himself! If we are all lucky enough to survive a few more election cycles, we might find that Asimov's science fiction is not as far off as we might hope.

Now that we've cleared the air, let's think clearly about all this.

Obama became president in 2008 for a reason worth celebrating: a mass movement of new voters outnumbered the extent of legally and illegally purged votes. Can we expect a similar outcome in 2012? 
It's not about what we believe or feel; this is about numbers. For instance, in Indiana, 72 thousand African Americans are likely to be prevented from voting this year. “Coincidentally,” reports Palast, “that’s three times Barack Obama’s victory margin in that state in 2008. Coincidentally.” This is the kind of math that will decide the election. Not polls. (As usual, The Onion came closer to the truth than most of the “real” news, reporting that “this year's election will almost certainly be decided by a small handful of swing corporations.”)

Over the last four years, Obama's support has fallen drastically. There are many reasons why, but it includes the fact that he has done almost nothing to distinguish his administration from George W. Bush's. Many new voters supported Obama because they hoped he would stop foreign wars, protect the environment, or preserve civil liberties. Over the last four years he has given them every reason to feel used and betrayed. So it is no surprise that we do not see the outpouring of support for Obama that we did four years ago. 
The question is not who will win, because no one wins or loses in a rigged system. The question is whether Obama's supporters will once again outnumber the purged votes; whether the mobilization will be greater than the fraud. Since Obama's support has decreased while the fraud (overt and covert) has increased, the evidence points in a clear direction. Romney is not going to win this election, any more than Bush won in 2000 or 2004. But he is very likely going to be declared president. In fact it might as well be declared in advance.

The Final Chapter: “Progressives” on Trial
What is the lesson for the rest of the world, held hostage as an audience to this election? Is this massive fraud the climax of the development model that the US is supposed to represent, the model which Africa, Asia and Latin America are supposed to look forward to? 
In the US, the real question for everyone is not about the lesser of two evils. It is what are the citizens of the superpower going to do about their self-destructing political system? 
In 2008, self-defined “progressives” united around the slogan of “change we can believe in,” and in retrospect that's what we all got. Forget about change that these progressives can't believe! What is revealed in the US today is a severely limited politics, and more deeply, a severely limited imagination. 
One of the foremost “progressive” magazines in the US, The Nation, is full of examples. Neither there nor in any other “progressive” publication will you find any discussion of the most important fact about this election—that it has already been stolen. In an editorial of its latest issue titled “Why Obama?” (October 22, 2012) The Nation admits that “it is impossible to imagine any progress . . . with a Romney administration in power.” This is a powerful self-condemnation of progressive politics and imagination. It is tantamount to admitting that progressives cannot imagine any progress whatsoever.

No matter what we think of Obama, Deepak Bhargava writes in the cover article, “it is crucial that we lean into this election without ambivalence.” No matter the cost to country or conscience, we who are about to vote, salute you! On the high-voltage gate leading to the polling stations of this election, a sign reads: “abandon all politics, ye who enter.” Drink the Diebold Kool-Aid: Voting will make you free. 
All of these kind-hearted liberals should know better. But they don't, and that is the sad fact of the matter. There are too many questions that they are not ready to ask. Only Ai-Jen Poo, to her credit, had the sense to state clearly the explosive potential of these end times. “[T]here is a broader base for an economic justice movement than ever before,” she writes:

Regardless of election outcomes, this may be the greatest opportunity for us to unite in generations. To seize the opportunity, we must pay attention to the connective tissue needed to build and hold a broad movement together... We should be organizing as many actions as possible to take place immediately after the election.

But who is going to organize like this? Will it be the same progressives that have been apologizing for the Obama administration for the last four years? Unlikely. Glenn Greenwald has compiled some important statistics about the politics of these progressives:

53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — support keeping Guantanamo Bay open . . . 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones . . . Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35.

Without a doubt, many progressives will come out into the streets to protest Obama's war and police state, once they become Romney's. But with the enemies we have, who needs friends like these?

What's really at stake here is a political class unfit to rule, and a civil society unfit to replace it. These are the conditions for imperial decline, clothed in the best hubris that money can buy. The voices of reason and compassion are more than ever buried, not only by fear and hatred, but—what is almost worse—under equally suffocating progressive nonsense.

And if enough people vote for Obama to outweigh the voter fraud, what will we have to celebrate? There is no solace in any possible outcome of this exorbitant farce. We can only hope that revolutionaries start getting their act together.