10 Ways Arab Democracies Can Avoid American Mistakes

Dear Arab World:

Your peoples have demonstrated enormous courage and idealism in challenging a whole series of seedy police states throughout the Middle East. In two instances, Tunisia and Egypt, you have managed to overthrow dictators who had ruled through fear, intimidation and massive theft of public resources for decades. In Yemen, you are keeping pressure on the regime of wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh, rejecting the attempt of his son to succeed him or of his relatives and cronies to retain control of the state and the economy. In Libya, you have fought off vicious bombardments of civilian populations in Ajdabiya, Misrata and the Western Mountain towns, and have a good chance of moving to parliamentary rule once the Qaddafi mafia flees. In Syria, you have stood up to tanks, snipers and secret police mass arrests, keeping the pressure on week after week despite vicious repression that has left an estimated 1400 dead. In Bahrain, despite the crushing of your street protests, you have continued to mount demonstrations, to speak out, and to seek negotiations with the hard line monarchy. In Morocco you have impelled the king to give up some prerogatives in favor of the majority party in parliament, such that a small step toward popular sovereignty has been taken.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the next step is to move to parliamentary elections, a move that may come in some of the other countries of the 2011 revolutions in time. But let me just warn you about democracy. It is a vague ideal and the old-established democracies like the United States are seeing it undermined by a whole host of undemocratic practices that are reminiscent of the police states you just challenged. Here is some advice on how to avoid the mistakes of my generation of Americans, who have perhaps fatally undermined our constitution and turned ourselves into a corporation-dominated national security state. From a twilight democracy heading toward being a large Company town where the workers are deprived of any right to privacy or a fair share of national income to a young vibrant set of democratic movements in the Arab world, I send you this dire warning.

1. Contemporary political campaigns in the US depend heavily on television commercials. In the UK these ads are restricted, and in Norway they are banned. Consider banning them. But whatever you do, do not let your private television channels charge money for campaign advertisements. Television advertisements account for 80-90 percent of the cost of a senate or presidential campaign in the US, and the next presidential campaign will cost each candidate $1 billion. The only way a candidate can win is to fall captive to the billionaires and their corporations, leaving the people powerless and victimized by the ultra-wealthy. Consider putting a ban on paid radio and television political ads in the constitution, because otherwise if it is only a statute, the wealthy will try to buy the legislature so as to overturn it.

2. Do not hold your elections on work days. America’s robber barons put elections on Tuesdays in order to discourage workers, including the working poor, from voting. In many democracies, the poor do vote, as in India, but in the US they have been largely successfully discouraged from doing so. Policies are therefore mainly made for the wealthy few, ruining the lives of millions of workers. France, in contrast, holds its elections on Sundays. In the first round of the 2007 French presidential election, 84% of the electorate turned out. In contrast, in the hotly contested and epochal 2008 presidential election in the US, the turnout was only 64%.

3. Have compulsory, government-run voter registration at age 18 or whatever the voting age is. Voluntary voter registration, especially when it must be undertaken months before the polls, is just a way of discouraging citizens from voting. This voluntary system is favored by the wealthy and the racists in the United States, who consistently oppose efforts to make it easier to register. Compulsory voter registration is correlated with high electoral turnout.

4. About 32 countries in the world have enforced compulsory voting. In Australia, for instance, you have to pay a small fine if you do not vote in certain elections. Although the sum is small, apparently people don’t want to pay it, and Australia has turnouts as high as 95%. It is important not only to make voting compulsory, but to have some enforcement mechanism such as a fine. It is desirable that as many people vote as possible, and for voting to be compulsory is no more coercive than for military service to be.

5. Make a bill of rights central to your new constitutions, and be specific about what rights people have and what actions infringe against those rights. Include electronic rights to privacy, such as freedom from snooping in private emails or warrantless GPS tracking. You have suffered from intensive secret police spying on your populations, and should know that rights to freedom of speech, worship, press and publication, privacy, a fair and speedy trial, and protection from torture are hallmarks of any democratic system. We have given up most of these essential rights to our secret police, without admitting we have done so and without calling them secret police. But you have lived through domestic surveillance and would easily recognized the violations of individual rights that have become routine in the United States and which are defended by our increasingly corrupt judicial authorities, including a whole series of attorneys-general. Abolish your secret police where they still exist and consider abolishing your intelligence agencies. It is not clear that government intelligence agencies even are very good at gathering intelligence beyond what an intelligent person could conclude from reading the newspapers and maybe doing some site visits. Intelligence agencies have a strong motivation to spy on your own citizens and to violate individual rights to privacy. You’re better off without them, but keep them small and poorly funded if you have to have them.

6. Put separation of religion and state in your national constitutions and make it hard to amend the constitution. I know this piece of advice will probably fall on deaf ears in the Muslim world, but really, you’d be doing yourselves a big favor. If we did not have our First Amendment, our fundamentalists would long since have passed blasphemy and other laws and deprived us of freedom of speech (which they consider a ‘provocation’ just as your fundamentalists do). One of the reasons that Algeria went into civil war from 1992 was that the fundamentalists won a 2/3s majority in that country’s unicameral legislature, which would have been enough to amend the constitution in a theocratic direction. That prospect caused the secular generals to intervene to cancel the election results, which provoked long-term violence. Have elected provincial legislatures and governors, and require that super-majorities of them approve constitutional changes along with supermajorities of the national legislature. Your constituent assemblies have a unique opportunity to fashion new constitutions. Avoid pandering to the fundamentalists, and just make it so the state is neutral on religion and all laws must have a secular purpose. Tunisia, you have the best opportunity here. You only have one chance to put this principle in the foundational document, and to make it as hard as possible to overturn.

7. Keep your defense ministry spending as low as possible consistent with being able to defend your borders. Tunisia, you get this one right. The more you spend on “defense,” the more you create an military-industrial complex that lobbies the government to spend ever more on “defense,” creating a feed-back loop that is almost impossible to disrupt. The US has been at war most of the time since 1941 because it created a vast military-industrial complex from that point forward. We spend more on war-related things than the next 20 or so countries. Not only is that level of expenditure on weaponry wasteful and unnecessary, it is actively pernicious. If you have a lot of nice new shiny weapons, there is an incentive to use them before they become outmoded or before your neighbors catch up. Your militaries have often been dominant and dictatorial forces in your societies. Put them back in their place. Most of you do not even face a credible military threat, and the rest of you could easily make peace with your enemies, which your officer corps have often opposed for selfish reasons. Small armies are the way to go.

8. Avoid allowing your judiciaries to become politicized. Having party-dominated executives and legislatures approve judicial appointments has real drawbacks. In India and now in Pakistan, justices are appointed by other justices. This way of doing things perhaps goes too far in the direction of judicial power, but give some thought to a way of protecting the appointment of judges from party interest. In the US, we now have a Republican-majority Supreme Court, and since the Republican Party mainly looks out for the interests of our 400 billionaires, our constitution is being profoundly distorted. They even declared the billionaires’ corporations to be persons under the law. Never, ever, ever recognize your corporations as persons under the law. You’ll be really sorry if you do.

9. Protect your workers’ unions. Make it illegal to fire workers for trying to unionize. Remove obstacles to unionization. Unions are key to a healthy democracy, and to ensuring that workers get their fair share of the nation’s economic progress. Since about 1970 our unions have gone into a tail-spin and I think only 9% of workers are now unionized in the US. This decline has come from Reagan’s and his successors’ having given implicit permission for corporations to de-unionize. Not coincidentally, since 1970 the average wage of the average American worker in real terms has been just about flat. That means that the super-wealthy have gobbled up all the economic increases in the American economy for the past 40 years. Having a high gini coefficient, that is to say, extremes of wealth and poverty, is highly undemocratic, and we have seen in the US a ratcheting motion whereby the wealthier the top one percent is, the more they are able to engineer further increases in the proportion they hold of the national wealth.

10. Find a way to fight monopoly practices with strong antitrust legislation and enforcement. If you can implement principle #1 above and keep big money out of political campaigns, you might have a chance at good antitrust practices. The US is now ruled by a small number of semi-monopolies, and the Justice Department almost never actually intervenes against monopolistic practices. Recently Comcast, a cable-provision company, was allowed to buy NBC Universal, which is a clear conflict of interest. One of the FCC commissioners who voted for it was only a little while later given a cushy job…at Comcast. Laws against legislators and regulators being hired by the companies they used to regulate would help tell against the entrenchment of the monopolies.

It is probably too late for us. The aggregate of changes in US law and practice in favor of corporatocracy and the national security state is so extensive and powerful that our constitution has been overwhelmed. We have 2 million people in jail, in a vast gulag, some of them for minor offenses and others for being the wrong color. We are nearly always fighting a ground war with our troops for some murky economic interest. The government is reading our electronic mail and tracking us in various ways, and wants to grope us at airports. Our workers are virtually without rights and until until recently without basic health care (bestowing the latter on them has angered the billionaires against Obama, causing them to create phony ‘movements’ like the Tea Party, which are just crony facades for people like the Koch brothers. Never heard of the Koch brothers? If you don’t take the steps I’ve advised, you’ll be hearing about your own versions.

The blood of your martyrs for revolution is too recent and too precious, and too often belonged to young people who sacrificed a bright future, for you to squander this once-in-a-century opportunity to put liberty and democracy on a firm foundation in your countries. You are young, and you still weep at the thought of freedom, and of those who died for it. You are having your weddings at Tahrir Square to celebrate a new beginning. Be careful. Be very careful. In my lifetime I have seen the American state spiral down into a brutal tyranny that tortures, spies, union-busts, engages in illegal wars, and plays dirty tricks on dissidents. We used to have something much more like a democracy. Maybe we can learn from you how to safeguard something so precious.

61 Responses

  1. Wow! That pretty much covers it. And nothing that would be considered too radical in the US 40 years ago. But today it’s enough get the FBI over to your local library to see just what you’ve been up to.

    I think there is one other consideration that can help or harm the others – creation and distribution of wealth.To flourish, a new democracy must have a means to provide economic comfort to the population. Probably the hardest part is finding a way to create wealth with all fierce global competition, and the money men are always there to channel as wealth as possible into their own pockets.

  2. No. 11 Establish an independent press that provides real news instead of endless, mind numbing coverage of some murder case.

    • Nice addition to a strong list created by Professor Cole. I do not mean to sound insensitive toward the death of a small child, but the choice of the American media to cover the trial of an accused murderer so extensively definitely ignores other terrible events presently occurring in the world.

      I would venture to add No. 12:
      Avoid a two-party system and establish a system that allows multiple parties to have the potential to receive federal representation. That way, maybe the Arab world can avoid the back-and-forth competition that the USA has experienced since the Federalists held power and those who disagreed with them created an opposing party in order to seek power.

      • I would abolish the party system altogether. Amend No. 12 to read no candidate may associate himself or herself with any political party. The candidates should strive to represent their constituents, not political ideologies.

  3. Hard to disagree with that list. They’re still ideals that we could accomplish. But it would take real effort. I particularly like the suggestion of weekend voting, but our tradition may be too entrenched to make that change. One quick possibility: let’s automatically register young people when they turn 18. Let’s make it a default to automatically register them to vote. We’ve just done it with automatic enrollment into employer provided pension plans. The rule was that you had to opt into a pension plan. Now you have to take the steps to opt out. That seems to have successfully increased the number of pension plan members. Couldn’t we accomplish the same with voter registration if you have to take steps to negate an automatic registration to vote.

  4. The Tea Party is not a phony “movement”. Members of this very real (though loosely affiliated) movement share the common and reasonable belief that the government no longer represents their interests. Having seen regulation and policy abused, their tendency is to reduce regulation and government. The Koch brothers cynically manipulate this to attack and remove the policies and regulations that they (the Kochs) don’t like, often to the detriment of the Tea Party members themselves.

    • As I understand the original Tea Parties data base was stolen, or taken if one wishes to say, and given to a GOP consulting firm. From there the Tea Party Express was formed.

    • Eric, the TPers I know hold no “reasonable beliefs” about government. Most “believe” that “government,” the part they personally don’t like (mostly safety net, except for “their” Social Security and Medicare), should, in G. Norquist’s horrifically telling phrase, be shrunk to where it can be “drowned in a bathtub.” The notion that you cure a metabolic disorder (like diabetes) by cutting off the patient’s head, which is what I think the prescription for “curing abuses” of regulation and policy, might be as effectively fatal as drowing the baby, if the Kochs et al would actually let it happen, but all you are likely to see if the TPers’ eminence grises get their way is empire in decline, and a country even the most rabid “don’t Tread On Me”-er would not want to live in. Too bad the TPers “see Red” so overwhelmingly, so they don’t get what part of “government” is really skinning and filleting them.

    • The Koch Brothers aren’t the only ones there with fishy pasts. Many men associated a few years ago with extremist militias, armed anti-immigrant groups, and religious tyranny very quickly reinvented themselves as Tea Party leaders, and the media refuses to hold them accountable for their pasts or the implications of the beliefs they once honestly embraced in small circles. Michelle Bachmann has a long history of religious extremism, as Matt Taibbi pointed out in his Rolling Stone article, but now her face is plastered all over the airwaves as a secular figure.

      Question is, in whose interest is it that these bastards get to reinvent themselves now that they are given the chance to expose themselves to millions of apolitical citizens who know nothing about those past movements and their sickening goals?

      As for the government not representing them, why did so many of those inviduals not feel that way back when everyone in the government was white, Christian, and ostensibly heterosexual? If this is a movement about class interests, it would not be possible for the Kochs to turn it into a campaign for infinite tax cuts for the rich. If this is a movement about re-establishing the white monopoly on all forms of power, then it makes some sort of sense to destroy all barriers against the rich, since the rich are nearly 100% white and from a tribal perspective are the elders who are expected by the tribal mentality to lead their poorer “brothers” to conquest and prosperity as they did in ages past.

      And no, it’s no good for them to drag out the black Tea Party guy to prove they have a few black friends; the point of the 14th Amendment (which they want to repeal) is that minorities should have the right to vote even if their history has given them very different views than white conservatives; demanding that they must act and think exactly like “good” Americans to deserve to vote means that they have no effect whatsoever on the outcome of elections, since they’d vote exactly the same way as those already voting. Why would anyone want to restore to state legislatures the power to strip citizens of the right to vote when they claim to want to return government to the “people”? No point unless they want to greatly narrow the definition of “people” so as to change election outcomes.

      • “Many men associated a few years ago with extremist militias” – What is deemed militia is a broad term which ranges from Ranch Rescue, which attempted to keep people on their farms to historically, W. Virginia has had groups had groups which could be deemed militia and there whole existence had to do with corruption locally caused by the labor situation leading to the ‘redneck war’.

        The modern militia can be traced to the ‘red scare’ in the fifties, the situation was taken advantage and advanced by people like Cleon Skousen with the formation of his Freeman Institute, formed under the direction of the Mormon Church leadership. Hoover expressed concern over Skousen’s work in the John Birch Society and claims Cleon was making — since Cleon had no experience in communist subversion.

        See Cleon Skousen’ s FBI record, located on line link to sites.google.com

        The Freeman’s Institute, later called the Center of Constitutional Studies had its own political agenda, giving an organization in Utah a more powerful political base and broadening its sphere of political influence.

        The modern militia movement, which is at best fragmented, has been exacerbated by some political elites saying the right to bear arms, is not an individual but a states right. Looking at what happened around Concord and Lexington, when the British were going to take individuals arms, not just guns but — the CANNONS, which had been smuggled in from the Netherlands, I am not sure what the colonist were hunting with cannons other than the British.

        The history of the right to bear arms aside, this issue has increased militia member numbers, resulting many being indoctrinated from the teachings filtering down from Cleon’s institution.

        The Arab Spring, as I understand is being brought about by the middle and upper middle class, our middle-class in America is fragmented, and individuals somewhat isolated. American groups do not work well together, there are grass-root issues which people on the conservative side are concerned and similar grass -root issues people on the liberal side are concerned over, but they will not work together to confront the issue – and American’s seem to have become hedonistic. Maybe the Middle East will become the beacon of democracy, because American’s are selling out theirs.

        Mike Wallace interview with Ayn Rand
        link to youtube.com
        American pre- Ayn Rand – good interview.

    • The Tea Party is a subsidiary of The Democratic-Republican Party, Inc., which is indeed a phoney movement. They are 100% owned by Gilded Fascist Elite, Ltd., a Bilderberg Production!

      What exactly do they produce? Boring Cspan delivered deliberations that are more fake than Studio Wrestling. It’s boring because we always know the end of the show. The Gilded Wealthy Elite get everything they want, and the bottom 99% of us get the crumbs. Then the Democratic-Republican Party, Inc. make up excuses and blame one another for doing what they always do. Then the bottom 99% vote out the old bums and elect new bums.

      Tune into Cspan tomorrow for more of the same.

  5. “…. our increasingly corrupt judicial authorities, including a whole series of attorneys-general.” – I agree wholeheartedly on corrupt judicial authorities, but this goes beyond judges in our country. Corruption goes to the heart of our legal system to judges, court officials, attorneys – even law enforcement. Not solely attorney generals and judges.

    It was mentioned once in another post, don’t trust Congressman Mike Rogers to do anything regarding an investigation – Rogers is the creator of illegal wiretapping. Strange, well maybe not so strange – Rogers the author of illegal wiretapping, his closest of county friends have odd appearance of being very, very crooked IMHO.

    Some learned long ago about ‘red neck rube’ and his side-kick; however, they may not have understood the depths the pair. Attorney Generals? Some turn their heads; go along for ‘political’ reasons – the danger also are county alliances that have an impact reaching into the halls of Washington.

    The Politics of Misconduct Part II — Malicious Prosecution, or Cover-Up?

    link to youtube.com

    The Politics of Miss-Conduct in Livingston County Michigan and its courts – Political Corruption?

    link to youtube.com

    Bear with the mother’s story above; she has been fighting several issues on different levels for over a decade, all the people involved are close with Mr. Rogers.

    The justice system is a core to protecting citizens and I do not know the answer on keeping the system untainted and don’t pretend to, but judges appointing judges – they might groom and appointed close family and friends. It has happened and is happening in our country and in our state.

    By the way, it was and is cover-up IMHO. If this can happen to a mom, it can happen to anyone, if someone wants them silenced.

  6. Thank you, Professor Cole.

    What is really good about mandatory voting, as in Australia, is that it makes it even harder to disenfranchise voters. Preventing people from fulfilling their legal duty to vote is a serious crime. Don’t ever let voting become a privilege that is available only to “qualified” voters.

    Also, the United States used to be much more democratic in who was allowed to vote. If you lived in a community and paid taxes, you had a right to vote on how your taxes were used. Those rights went away with Jim Crow. Some were restored by the Voting Rights Act, but not all. And now we have a new class of “illegals” who work and pay taxes and have no rights at all. That is profoundly corrosive to our democracy. Whatever you can do, push the pendulum as far as you can the other way, towards freedom for all.

  7. Thanks…any thoughts about:
    – Legislative representation by district or proportional to the vote?
    – Two-party or multi-party politics?

  8. Appointment of judges is a very difficult problem.

    Appointment of judges by governors and legislators is, indeed, political. Election, however, is also very, very political and involves judges in corruption (they must get election-campaign funds from somewhere, at least where such funds are necessary — as in USA). And as to “extremists”, consider well the pro-DEATH PENALTY judges in states such as Texas (where, usually, the death penalty is overwhelmingly applied to racial minorities).

    Appointment of judges by other judges? Might be OK if the original population of judges was OK. But how would that happen? and how would you know if it had happened?

    Appointment of judges by bar associations? Who do their members mostly represent?

  9. The most concise, spot-on analysis of the American dilemma I’ve read. We are now engaged in a massive social-political experiment to see whether oligarchy leads, as it has repeatedly throughout history, to outright tyranny.

    As someone famously asked, What is to be done? What is the average thinking US citizen to do to work around, under, subvert or simply survive this powerful and (I fear) inevitable trend. Defeatism isn’t enough–although I do catch myself muttering the great Robinson Jeffers poem, “Shine, Perishing Republic,” more often than not.

    Thoughts, Prof. Cole?

  10. I would also suggest:

    Put severe limits on donations to political parties. In Canada, the limit to donate to a federal political party is $1,100 per year (per individual, and corporate and union donations are either severely limited or not allowed). And I think it can be argued that Canada’s way is much better than America’s on this issue. (In the U.S., it was argued that money is equivalent to speech in the Supreme Court and that, therefore, practically unlimited donations must be allowed, not to America’s benefit, I think.)

  11. daring, complete, just.

    on compulsory voting…tend to think a no vote is a statement to be left as an option, it should be less than a certain percentage to carry an election as valid. that way a no vote is a participating statement. obligation to vote is equal to being owned by society, the possibility to define oneself as non-participant is required for the sake of mere nuancing the public’s thoughts.

    m.

  12. Good points, Juan. Hopefully the new Arab democracies will consider some of these ideas rather than replicating the flaws of the American system.

    One point on which I disagree, however, is mandatory voting. Many people in any society — probably the majority — are uninformed about political policy issues and have no desire to become informed enough to cast a responsible vote. Forcing such people to vote would have a negative effect on the quality of government and its leaders.

    Other than that, great article! I wish people in America were talking about reforming our own political system along the lines you described. Well, I guess some people are, but their voices are ignored by the mainstream media, whose owners have a vested interest in the status quo.

  13. I’m going to copy this great article and keep it to remind me of what is possible on our way towards a better society.

  14. Great prescription for a new dawn…I have issues only with the idea of emasculated armed forces. After all, those Middle East dictators were serving masters, who still exist.

    Weak military is not an option nor a necessity. Egypt faces a credible military threat from an expansionist Israel. And India proves that a strong military can serve a vibrant democracy..as long as there is no outside superpower attempt to undermine that democracy.

    And an Islamist government should not be a threat to democracy ..Turkey has safely bottled up its generals whilst continuing to be a member of NATO.

  15. The architects of the German Constitution after WWII were quite aware of the deficiencies of the American version. They not only adopted a much less polarizing parliamentary system, but created a Supreme Court with a 12-year maximum term and a process for selecting justices that essentially requires consensus from major parties. Furthermore, it does not have the power to effectively change the Constitution.

  16. A uniform date for choosing presidential electors was instituted by the Congress in 1845.[4] Many theories have been advanced as to why the Congress settled on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.[5] The actual reasons, as shown in records of Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844, were fairly prosaic. The bill initially set the national day for choosing presidential electors on “the first Tuesday in November,” in years divisible by four (1848, 1852, etc.). But it was pointed out that in some years the period between the first Tuesday in November and the first Wednesday in December (when the electors met in their state capitals to vote) would be more than 34 days, in violation of the existing Electoral College law. So, the bill was amended to move the national date for choosing presidential electors forward to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a date scheme already used in the state of New York.[6]

  17. We also safeguard through the word, through the voice. Right now we are slipping between the worlds–between the old textbook world of “democracy” into a brave new world of corpocracy dominated on the outside by robotic smiley face and political correctness, and on the inside by absolute self-absorption. We need to resist in a quest for truth and perspective, including historical precedent and heroes. Millions, even in America, are intellectually disturbed and restless with these authoritarian robocracies. We need to revive Socratic education and a rebellious press away from the downward path to brutality and chaos.

  18. “It is probably too late for us.”

    Too late? You mean we can’t protest in America like they’re doing in the Arab countries? I don’t think it’s too late. We can make changes. I don’t think they’ll come about through the electoral process, though. If our democracy is broken, then we should try to fix it. It says in the Declaration of Independence:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

    — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    It’s not the corporations that deserve life. It’s us. It’s not the defense industry that deserves liberty. It’s us. It’s not the banks and their political backers that deserve happiness. It’s us, “all men (and women and children).” So why is to too late for us, Professor Cole? Well, you said “probably” too late. Our safety and happiness are being ignored by, as you relate in your post, the top one percent, the military-industrial complex, the whole structure of our political representation. People are unemployed, embittered with government. There is no reason why we can’t rise up and demand real change. If we want a more just society, it’s our duty. The problem is how to organize and on what basis. But it can be done. It’s not too late.

  19. “The aggregate of changes in US law and practice in favor of corporatocracy and the national security state is so extensive and powerful that our constitution has been overwhelmed.”

    So maybe we need a new constitution.

    • We don’t need a new constitution, we need a couple of amendments to update it and take control away from the corporations, finally. Plus we need to get our government under our control. They are not the boss of us, we are the boss of them. “We the People”, collectively, can do anything we want. They, our employees in our government must do everything we say. After all, that is why the Constitution was written, to control our federal government, not us collectively.

  20. This is a good list, but you forgot a few things that I believe to be very important to a healthy and functioning democracy.

    1. Ban donations over a certain sum of money. This would keep the rich and ultra-rich from bombarding political parties, in exchange for their over-representation and favours. Make sure to mix in some proactive disclosure of the donation.
    2. Ban unions and corporations from donating. Yes, unions too. This will keep political parties from forming the Business Party, and the Union Party.
    3. Spending cap on elections. Even playing field.
    4. This is a very important one: publically fund political parties; even the smaller ones. This will make sure that political parties can actually function, instead of begging those with money just to do something. Public money in elections is neutral, it means there’s no hidden deals that have to be made to obtain said money. This has been established in many countries, such as Canada, and it’s rather successful in defending democracy.

  21. “It is probably too late for us. The aggregate of changes in US law and practice in favor of corporatocracy and the national security state is so extensive and powerful that our constitution has been overwhelmed. ”

    Its sad to think that any one of these suggestions, if enacted, would make our country immeasurably better than it is right now. It is an outright tragedy that I can’t possibly imagine a way any of these reforms would pass through our current political and social system.

  22. Well put, Prof. Cole. One point of correction, however. The decision to hold the presidential vote on the first Tuesday in November was not some scheme by “robber barons” to keep down the working-class vote. An industrial “working class” hardly existed in America at the time (1845, when Congress established the date). This seemingly random day was, for the time, actually a populist move. Most Americans lived in relatively isolated, rural communities. Travel to the county seat, or nearest large town, to vote could take a day or two. By November, most of the fall harvesting was over and the weather still not too cold, so people would be willing to take the time to vote. Taking Monday-Wednesday off to travel to town for markets was common (Sunday was out since that was a “day of rest” — Christian Nation and all), so Congress decided to hold the vote on Tuesday.

    That said, today, it is clearly an anachronism and should be changed to reflect modern work and travel habits. My preference would be the first Saturday in November.

  23. I disagree. Brazil has mandatory voting, and it does not work. Elections are controlled by a apathetic portion of independents that are just voting because they are obliged to do it.

  24. This is good stuff as far as it goes. America would be a completely different place with 95% voting rates.

    However, it shows the intellectual lacunae humans suffer from regarding the esential need to grant rights to nature — to thrive and exist.

    It is difficult to create a happy healthy society when the environment is toxic and lacks a vital life force. The UN is considering it, Ecuadfor has done it, Bolivia advocates for it, even Philadelphia Pennsylvania has given nature constitutional rights.

    At this point in human history, as we mind-bogglingly heedlessly unravel all systems that support our species and species biodiversity, it is essential to make Nature central to any 21st century constitutional rewrite.

  25. 4. compulsory voting.

    naah. the right not to exercise your franchise shall not be infringed.

    mandating a vote doesn’t insure that a meaningful vote will be cast.

    when people don’t wish to vote and are yet required to do is, you’ve got just the right condition for votes to be bought.

    • Let me clarify what “compulsory voting” means in Australia. It means that you must do one of the following:

      1. Attend a voting centre – once you get there and are recorded as having attended you may do what you like with the ballot papers – make a paper airplane, write obscenities on them, or just walk out. There is no record of your voting.

      2. Send a postal vote – again you may write what you like – it will not be identified against your name, or

      3. Have a good reason for not doing 1. or 2.

      Those libertarians who object to this minimal measure towards the preservation of democracy will undoubtedly ultimately lose it.

  26. About point no. 6, specifically the part about making it hard to change the constitution.

    I would recommend making constitutional changes dependent on a mandatory referendum on a weekend. Generally speaking people don’t like being dragged into the ballot boxes on their days off, and at least in Australia’s case referedums fail more often than not unless the public care a great deal about the issue.

    For example the referendum to become a republic in 1999 was defeated even though it appears from polling information that most people favoured the change in theory but didn’t like the model presented; but the 1967 referendum pass with overwhelming support (more than 90%) to alter the constitution to recognise aborginals as citizens.

  27. Great article! As an addendum to “We have 2 million people in jail, in a vast gulag, some of them for minor offenses and others for being the wrong color”, let’s not forget that 35 states disenfranchise ex-felons of their voting rights. The 14th Amendment permits it, though doesn’t mandate it. Most other Western democracies don’t have similar laws.

  28. This is quite possibly the worst blog entry I have read in ages. The number of presumptions presented are simply astounding.

    1. You presume your words will be seen in the Arab world. OF the tiny few who may stumble upon your blog, few will find it to be anything more than interesting.”
    2. America bashing sells books and drives traffic, doesn’t it?
    3. You presume the powerful elites (both religious and the wealth), who are already in place, are going to allow any government to exist which is not under their influence.
    4. You assume elections are free and open. They are not.
    5. Private entities have the right to charge for their services whether you agree or not. (Commie much?)
    6. Weekends in the Middle East are Wednesday and Thursday, which happen to be business days in the rest of the world. For many people voting (as if it mattered) will be an all day affair and disruptive to commerce – the life blood of any wouldbe-democracy.
    7. There is no freedom where there is coercion. People have just as much right to NOT participate in elections, Comrade.
    8. A Bill of Rights offers no protection. Degradation of rights occurs over time and is caused by a lack of maintenance. A better suggestion would be mandatory Constitutional Conventions. Coercion of government is perfectly acceptable.
    9. Religion will not be separated from government in the Arab world. Naive.
    10. Defense spending is controlled by the wealthy elite, who are already in place. A better suggestion is to reject any notion of a central bank. This will force the wealthy elite into a weaker position as their finances will be regulated from afar.
    11. People can and will be bought. Judges are no exception.
    12. Labor Unions are just another form of control for the wealthy elite. You see a division wherein workers are protected. Again, this is naive since the wealthy elite create unions to suppress workers who would otherwise have much more say over their own rights – IF they had the spine to stand up for themselves.
    13. Monopolies and anti-trust are “feel good” legislation. The reality is these measures are passed to promote a more subdued masses who erroneously believe these things aren’t controlled by the wealthy elite. Hogwash.

    In short, this is just “feel good” nonsense written to serve your own selfish interests.

    On my blog, I educate. I don’t presume and I certainly don’t promote fallacies based on a child-like perception of reality.

    Good day.

    • OMG what claptrap!! Unions created by corporations??
      As far as this post being seen in the Arab world, I intend to show it to as many brothers in the Libyan/Egyptian community as I can. Maybe that’s as far as it will go, but maybe not.
      BTW weekends in the parts of the ME that I visited were Thursday’s and Fridays, FYI.
      Your comment about not compelling people to vote also makes some assumptions, (as do most of your other points). I think it is perfectly legitimate to require people to vote if they can be informed and have the option of voting “none of the above”
      I do agree on one point though, you cannot separate religion and politics, not in the ME and not in the USA. FWIW, I don’t see that as a problem.

      • I don’t think you understand. Juan Cole posted this blog entry and I dismantled it with common sense. In fact, I also counter with suggestions to fix the failed logic herein. I am never surprised to find such harmful dialogues on the net though. But, because the thinking is wrong and harmful, it cannot go unopposed. There are consequences. Here’s one just for you: link to schizotypalgrasp.blogspot.com

        As for you, Mr. Cole, I can appreciate your desire to help but you should do so through your own narrowly-focused career choice. Having an education does not make one an expert in all fields.

        Lastly, stop with the underhanded slaps. When I tell someone they are wrong or stupid, I say they are wrong or stupid. You just throw the baby out with the bath water in some vain attempt to look erudite while not being anything of the sort.

        America is not perfect but the people are trying their best not knowing the deck is stacked and the house always wins. The people are ignorant but good. The government is the problem, but the same can be said of every government.

    • So why were corporations hiring Pinkerton mercenaries to murder workers who were organizing unions 100 years ago?

      In fact, not once do you explain how the workers are actually supposed to fight back once they have no unions, no antitrust laws, and no government institutions to regulate finance. The only thing left is revolution. Commie much?

      And explain to me what the hell Professor Cole’s selfish interest is?

  29. I think the type of government structure largely determines success or failure. A Presidential system where one man is Head of State and political leader has often led to a tyranny. A monarchy or a titular Head of State with a Prime Minister and cabinet selected by parliament has a better distribution of power and appears to have greater success on providing representation.

    • I think a system where a head of state chosen by the people has unlimited power to do what has to be done within the confines of the constitution would be a good one. Kind of like a benevolent dictatorship. One restriction I would put on it though is that if a person campaigns for the post in any way he/she should be disqualified.

  30. What day is better for voting, how to register voters, redistricting, etc are really exciting questions. But I am afraid that in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan this is taken as pure scholastics.

    Meanwhile, Chinese are building magnificent bridges. GOP believes that bridges lead nowhere, but I can’t agree!
    link to youtube.com

  31. One thing is missing. Proportational representation (PR).

    Having ancient and dysfuntional two party sytem that comes from single member districts and plurality vote is clearly not right way. It’s especially bad system when country has lots of minorities who may never get representation.

    • Sure, but multiparty systems have a weakness too: in Canada now, as in Britain under Thatcher, and Italy under Berluscogni, the Right can rule without a majority because it is more unified than the parties of the Left. We have yet to see about France. Even proportional representation doesn’t solve this because eventually a parliamentary majority must be formed and the Right can hold the country hostage until someone else caves in.

      But there seems to be a spreading conspiracy among minority conservative regimes to attack the public good, and in the case of American insurance conglomerates licking their chops at dismantling public health in Canada and the UK, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s all being plotted from Wall Street.

      Basically, the left doesn’t have a Wall Street to hold its factions together, anywhere on Earth.

  32. Great list. I would only add one thing. To have run off elections at EVERY level. This ensures a majority candidate wins and eliminates splintering ideologies in order for a minority winner to squeak in. Never let someone win even the smallest election with a 40% share of the vote.

  33. The constitutional amendments suggested should limit contributions to (1) defined mass media and (2) political campaigns to contributions by individuals not exceeding in any year the national average of one day’s pay, all contributions to be registered by the donor, recipient, and any third parties; with no recipient allowed to receive or spend any contribution or other resources not so accounted or from any other source.

    But with economic power encrusting once-democratic institutions, there is no way to get such amendments without another US revolution (no longer possible) or an executive decree temporarily placing the mass media in the hands of the universities (and later public-interest corporations of a viable structure) and requiring new elections with the electoral process and a free press restored. That won’t happen; the issue was submerged in the euphoria of affluence over the last century, and the disease has progressed too far.

  34. As an alternative to compulsory voting, I suggest the following:

    i, Each and every political campaign donation must be declared, and matched with a similar amount placed in a general fund.

    ii, That general fund will be used in a lottery. Prizes of, say, $5 million will be allocated on the basis of lottery tickets handed out for free to voters, one per customer. Said lottery ticket can also be used as a means of preventing electoral fraud (say, by registering a serial number against each eligible voter).

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