‘Brexit’ and the Democracy Myth

Exclusive: A referendum like Brexit can be a satisfying moment for an angry populace to vent its frustrations but “yes or no” answers to complex questions can be dangerous for democracy, explains Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

There’s a theory going around that referenda are the ultimate in direct democracy. There’s something about masses of people voting for or against some major issue that causes would-be populists to go weak in the knees. But the theory is pure myth, as the Brexit debacle shows. Rather than raising democracy to a new level, referenda often drag it down.

The classic example occurred in the early 1850s when Napoleon III, nephew of the more famous Napoleon I, engineered back-to-back plebiscites that allowed him to institute a dictatorship for nearly 20 years. Instead of democracy, France got the opposite – political prisoners by the thousands, foreign adventures, and a disastrous war with Germany.

British Prime Minister David Cameron.

British Prime Minister David Cameron.

More recently, there is California’s system of “initiative and referendum” that was supposed to usher in a glorious age of progress back in 1911, but has instead allowed an endless parade of conservative business interests to manipulate state politics and bend them to their will.

There’s also a long-forgotten 1973 referendum on Northern Irish independence that, as the London Independent’s estimable Patrick Cockburn recently pointed out, “did nothing except exacerbate hatred and convince the losing side that they had no alternative except violence.”

There’s also the 2005 U.S.-engineered constitutional referendum in Iraq that, according to Cockburn, “turned out to be one more stepping stone towards civil war.”

There’s last June’s farcical Greek referendum on the European Commission’s budget bailout proposals in which a resounding 61-39 no vote somehow provided the Syriza government with a mandate to say yes to everything the E.C. demanded.

And now there’s Brexit in which a 52-48 vote in favor of leaving the European Union has left the United Kingdom’s political classes feeling dazed and confused. Scotland, which voted heavily in favor of staying put inside the U.K. in 2014, is once again pushing for independence as a consequence of Brexit, while Sinn Fein, which is also pro-E.U., is calling on Northern Ireland to leave the U.K. and join up with the republic to the south (possible consequences unanticipated by many Brexit supporters).

Ultra-rightists are, meanwhile, pushing for similar leave-the-E.U. referenda in Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Slovakia and Poland, suggesting that the great E.U. sundering may have only just begun. It’s a massive snafu that has apparently left many “leave” supporters with a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

Democratic Breakdown

But how did this happen? Brexit is a milestone in an ongoing process of democratic breakdown taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. Britain has all the symptoms of the disease in its final stages, not just advanced income polarization and a runaway financial sector, but a privileged political class that is increasingly detached from the masses below and a Parliament that is increasingly unrepresentative.

Flag of the European Union.

Flag of the European Union.

Fifty or 60 years ago, for example, 90 percent or more of the British electorate voted either Conservative or Labour. The percentage has fallen to just 67.3 percent as of last year thanks to the rise of smaller parties like the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, but the duopoly still winds up with 85 percent of the seats.

Even though Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron commands a solid parliamentary majority, he heads up what was in fact a minority government backed by just 36 percent of the electorate. Conversely, the upstart U.K. Independence Party took home 13 percent of the vote in 2015, yet wound up with just one seat out of 650. If Cameron was weaker than he appeared, UKIP was stronger.

For those who despise UKIP and the right-wing xenophobia it stands for, this was a result they could live with. But it was unsustainable. Desperate to keep UKIP out and thereby preserve his own parliamentary majority, Cameron made his pact with the devil by agreeing to hold a referendum on the subject of the E.U.

Out of touch with popular opinion, the Prime Minister figured that he could have his cake and eat it too by portraying himself as a down-home populist while resting secure in the belief that the status quo would prevail.

Needless to say, he miscalculated. By shutting UKIP out, he provided it with an extra-parliamentary field from which to mount an assault on Westminster’s two-party dictatorship. The offensive succeeded beyond all expectations, resulting in one of the most stunning political upsets in the U.K.’s post-World War II history.

Now consider what might have happened had Parliament been more representative. With not just 13 percent of the vote but 13 percent of the seats, UKIP might well have succeeded in maneuvering the Conservatives, with their large Euro-skeptic wing, into adopting an explicit anti-E.U. stance. But even if UKIP had prevailed, chances are it would not have done so for long.

Parliament would have been forced to thrash the issue out in full, and if it still voted to leave, it would always have the option of reversing itself at some later date. Once the battle had been fought, the Remain camp might eventually have emerged all the stronger by virtue of its long march through the trenches.

Addressing Reform

But this would have required thoroughgoing constitutional reform aimed at rendering Parliament more equitable. Constitutional reform was once a hot topic in Britain, but it suffered a long and lingering death under Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. Instead of wrestling with the problem democratically, Cameron opted for a pseudo-democratic referendum.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush shake hands after a joint White House press conference on Nov. 12, 2004. (White House photo)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush shake hands after a joint White House press conference on Nov. 12, 2004. (White House photo)

He thought it was an easy way out since the vote was sure to go his way. Now that it hasn’t, politicians are searching desperately for a solution. But short of a miracle, one is unlikely to be found.

None of this is to say that Brexit is incorrect. With the E.U. turning into an iron cage of neoliberalism and bureaucracy, powerful arguments can be made both pro or con. But a referendum is a disaster because it leaves the British people with no obvious recourse.

If the decision turns out to be wrong, then, short of a revolutionary transformation of British politics, it deprives the people of the ability to correct their own error. It robs the people of their own sovereignty, presuming such a thing can be said to exist in Britain’s antiquated constitutional system.

Oh those silly Brits with their bewigged judges and outmoded monarchy! Aren’t Americans lucky that they’re so much more up to date?

But American are not. Take Britain’s sclerotic political institutions and multiply them by a hundred and you may begin to get an idea of how politics have fallen in the two-century-old oligarchical republic known as the United States.

Where to begin? There’s a Senate that is perhaps the most unrepresentative major legislative body on earth, one that grants equal representation to lily-white Wyoming and to multi-racial California even though the latter’s population is some 67 times greater. There’s a House of Representatives that, thanks to the miracle of gerrymandering, has come under a semi-permanent Republican dictatorship.

There’s an Electoral College that not only exaggerates the clout of Wyoming, Montana, and other under-populated Western states but forces presidential candidates to concentrate on winning over half a dozen swing states while ignoring the rest. There’s gridlock that now extends not just to Congress but to the Supreme Court. And there’s a political class that is far more detached and corrupt than anything poor little Britain has to offer.

Founding Flaws

These are all products of structural errors that the supposedly infallible Founding Fathers put in place. It’s not necessarily their fault. After all, they were practical politicians wrestling with problems that were all but overwhelming. But the one of the worst things they did was to create an amending clause in Article V that requires approval by two-thirds of each house plus three-fourths of the states to change so much as a comma.

An artist's rendering of the Constitutional Convention in 1787

An artist’s rendering of the Constitutional Convention in 1787

Again, it wasn’t necessarily their fault since a tight restriction on constitutional change was necessary to seal the package and see it through to ratification. (An obvious exception was the so-called “Bill of Rights,” the first ten amendments that were demanded by some critics of the Constitution and were promptly ratified.)

But more than two centuries later, the amendment process is a disaster. Whereas the three-fourths rule allowed four states accounting for as little as ten percent of the population to block any constitutional amendment in 1790, today it grants total veto power to just 13 states accounting for as little as 4.4 percent.

Given today’s partisanship and the quasi-mystical view of the Constitution as some sort of divine document, the barriers to change are all but insurmountable. This is why – not counting the 27th Amendment regarding changes to compensation of members of Congress, which was written in 1788 but not ratified until 1992 – there have been no constitutional amendments since 1971, a 45-year constitutional dry spell exceeded only by the dry spell that preceded the Civil War (another time of bitter political infighting – over slavery and the balance of power between the federal government and the states).

In today’s political environment, the three-fourths rule locks in the Founders’ errors and makes the simplest correction impossible. Take the Second Amendment, 27 words dating from 1791 that everyone claims to understand but which are in fact indecipherable.

If no one knows for certain what a “well-regulated militia” means, what it has to do with “the right to bear arms,” or even whether “bear arms” means a personal right to carry a gun or was meant by the authors to state the right of citizens to participate in a militia, then the obvious answer is to issue a clarification.

That’s what happens when a journalist turns in copy that is muddled and unclear or when a government agency issues a regulation that doesn’t make sense. But since no one would have any problem coming up with a list of 13 rural states unalterably opposed to tampering with what they regard as holy writ, it’s impossible.

Dante’s Inferno

So, like characters in Dante’s Inferno, Americans are condemned to argue for all eternity about a problem that no one can fix. The same goes for the institutional structures of the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, and the Electoral College.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Given Article V’s powerful bias in favor of the status quo and today’s political dysfunctionall are unfixable as well. Americans have done to themselves what the British have done with Brexit. They’ve locked in their own impotence not once, but many times over.

This is why the Yanks are even angrier nowadays than the Brits. Their leaders remind them nonstop that they are the most powerful people who have ever lived, that their country is the greatest on earth, that they are the envy of the world, blah blah blah. Yet democracy is squelched, government is at a standstill, the economy is turning sour, and conditions for a growing portion of the population are plunging downhill.

Yet there seems to be nothing the people can do about the problems because the Founders failed to provide adequate tools. So they sit and steam and then vote for a latter-day Napoleon III who bills himself as an anti-politician who will knock sense into the system from outside.

Though many political experts tell us that Donald Trump can’t win no matter how angry the American electorate seems to be, the experts also dismissed the chances of Brexit prevailing in the U.K.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

67 comments for “‘Brexit’ and the Democracy Myth

  1. July 3, 2016 at 04:37

    Anyone with an IQ above shoe leather knows that being a member of the EU is tantamount to living under Totalitarianism, yet around 48% of people voted to remain with it. That indicates a basic and systemic problem concerning the lack of value and integrity with the people of the UK. Anyone with worth above that of the puss oozing out of a pimple on a cochroach’s scrotum would be involved in an active Revolution to overthrow their own country for having anything to do with the EU, a corrupt, Totalitarian, oppressing, impoverishing, murdering, cancerous-blight on humanity.

  2. Evangelista
    July 1, 2016 at 22:39

    While it might behoove the beneficiaries of EU European union to make a fuss and attempt to pretend there can be no exit from the EU union, or that exit can only be accomplished through long and arduous processes (except when they forget themselves and state the obvious, as Jünker did, that the nations whose people vote to leave are out upon the determination of the vote result), the fact is that the EU union is its own unique form of federation, a federation not formed of coalescing states, like the United States, but a federation of nation-states who voluntarily joind in federation. Thus, unlike the united states f the United States, the nations of the EU may go or come at will, coming through applications and then “ascent” upon demonstration of adequate conformity to EU federation requirements and acceptance by the U of the nation’s “ascent”, and going through voting to “descend” from the federal union. Where do “descending” nations, like Britain now, “descend” to? They “descend” to the EEA. The EEA is the European Economic Area. The EEA is predecessor to the EU, and, because not all nations in Europe desired to be part of a federal state, continues to exist as an entity along side the EU that economically integrates with the EU, but whose member nations maintain their individual sovereignties. To integrate economically with the EU both EU and EEA states must maintain certain commonly agreed upon standards where interactions are intended, in human right, basic labor standards, etc. Obviously Britain, having to 23 June 2016 been an EU member, is current in all common standards areas, and so does not even have to decide if it wants to conform or not conform in any point or point, so, upon its 23 June “descent” from the EU it became an EEA state in good standing.

    Note that the European Economic Area is the ‘supervening’ international organization in Europe: It is not a federation, it is a Treaty Organization. The EU is a member state in the EEA. The EU has its ‘federal’ courts, the EEA has its international court. Per the EEA Agreement, to which the EU, not the EU states, is signatory (for the EU states), where a dispute may arise between an EEA state and one or more EU states the unhappy EU member nation must carry its complaint to the EU and the EU must then decide to, or not to, carry the complaint for the EU member state. The EU, however, because it is large, powerful and federated, does not have standing to enter the EEA court. To avoid Goliath v. David inequalities the EEA Agreement requires the EU to carry its complaint to the EEA Commission. The EEA Commission, which is the “District Attorney’s Office” for the EEA Court, may both initiate complaints itself and carry complaints for complainant EEA member states, including the EU, but not (legally) for an EU state (who must ask the EU to). The EU may not appear, itself, in the EEA court, except by asking and being granted permission by the court. From this you can recognize the relationship between EEA and EU and EU-member-states.

    So what Britain has done by “Brexiting” is default itself from EU member-state back to EEA member-state, where it was before agreeing to join the EU (for supposed additional benefits). Britain may now, legally, carry any complaints it may have, or come to have, to the EEA Commission, itself, instead of passing them to the EU Commission. Note that in any EEA Court action the EEA Court’s decision is controlling: An EEA Court decision controls the EU; the EU cannot gainsay an EEA Court decision. For particulars look up the 2012 EEA Commission v. Iceland case, in which the Britain and Holland, two EU states, sought to have the Republic of Iceland (the people of Iceland) assume responsibility for debts incurred by two private Iceland-based international banks, and by Britain and Holland for banking officials and public officials in those two EU nations collapsing the two banks triggering their own national depositor-relief systems. The case was mixed-up fun, because Britain and Holland each complained to the EEA Commission as if they each were sovereign nations (bypassing the EU they were members of), and the EEA Commissioners, contrary to the EEA Agreement, accepted the complaints. The result would have been a moot decision (if any decision at all) for the complaints being without standing, so the EU had to jump in and adopt its two wayward members’ complaints, to make them legal. The EEA Court, bending over backward to show absolute fairness, let all irregularities go by, including Britain and Holland filing briefs as if sovereign nations (the EU asked permission for its EU Commission to enter the court, which was granted, and so caught up with its wayward, and froward, member states to make things legal) and then ruled, as international sovereignty required, that the people of Iceland, Iceland, not being an EU member-state, could make their own decisions, and their decisions controlled their nation in international relations. Britain, Holland and at least some of the EU Commissioners, and other EU officials, pitched fits, but what could they do? The EEA Court had the jurisdiction and had made its decision.

    The EU Article 50 provision provides Britain two years to re-write contracts Britain may have with the EU and EU nations, that might require rewriting in result of Britain’s change in status, so the contracts correctly reflect the new relationship between Britain, a Sovereign Nation, and the EU Federation, or EU subsidiary EU member-nations. The contracts remain in effect for the two years, of course, the British decision to “descend” not effecting international law of contract.

    You see? Easy peasy. All the hoot and hoopla is flatulence and fireworks. Enjoy the show, and then on we can go. There are, after all, some real problems out there in the world…

  3. Fergus Hashimoto
    July 1, 2016 at 05:10

    The author rejects referenda as decision-making procedures for selecting policies, as opposed to electing candidates for public office. In my previous comment I attributed the author’s rejection of referenda to sloppy research. I have now discovered two serious methodological errors in the article, which go a long way toward explaining the author’s mistaken conclusion.
    They are:
    1. Confusing democracy with majority rule. Nowadays, majority rule by itself does not suffice for a political system to be democratic. To be democratic, a political system must comply with procedural requirements that cannot be summed up in the concept of majority rule. These procedures consist in guaranteeing freedom of speech, assembly and association to minorities. These guarantees are inviolable and cannot be set aside by any majority. Thus the requirements are fulfilled for holding new elections in which voters and candidates shall be free to propose changes even if the majority rejects them.
    2. For direct democracy to be complete, referenda are not enough. A complete direct democracy must enable private citizens to initiate petitions. Once enough eligible voters have signed a petition, a referendum must be held on the issue. The government cannot refuse to hold a referendum if enough voters demand it.
    The referendum that brought Louis Napoleon to power in France most likely fulfilled none of these conditions. The concept of “plebiscitary tyranny” when applied to ancient Greece and Rome, refers to the same lack of guarantees. In Germany the Nazis held a number of plebiscites of this sort. That is the ground why the German constitution today does not allow plebiscites. Denying procedural guarantees reduces the plebiscite to a mere gesture of popular homage that is however void because it is not the expression of the people’s free will. Only compliance with the procedural conditions can yield a valid plebiscite result.

  4. Don
    July 1, 2016 at 01:10

    Referenda = Ochlocracy

  5. John
    June 30, 2016 at 23:49

    I only really got to the Brexit part, but very lazy article indeed.

    The SNP may have emerged in recent years, but the liberal democrats are in steep decline now with just 1.2% of all Parliamentary seats.

    Additionally, UKIP does not stand for “right-wing xenophobia” and many of the Eurosceptic parties are merely pro-democracy ones and not “ultra right” as stated.

    The EU is an anti-democratic, over-reaching nightmare run by un-elected, unaccountable bureaucrats. In recent years, the French, the Danes and the Irish have all rejected it in its various forms, only to have the will of the people ignored.

    In the case of the UK, the net contribution after rebates is around GBP 34m per day in return for which, the EU makes ~80% of Laws, overrules the high courts, places burdensome regulation on the 88% of British business that do not even trade with the EU and forces Britain to have an open door to 508m people, many of which are from poorer ex-communist countries.

    It doesn’t take a genius to see the impact that this has on every day lives with downward pressure on wages as well as pressure on school places, infrastructure, housing and [free] healthcare. Until 1997 the UK had net migration was around 30,000pa, current net migration is 11 times that – this is simply not sustainable and affects peoples everyday lives. Also, you cannot plan public services for a population if you have no idea or control over the size of that population.

    It is not “Xenophobic” or “Ultra-right wing” so say, as UKIP do, that migration is important but it must be the right kind, ie. Controlled and for skills that are in demand, just like Australia do. It is not Xenophobic to say, that a country should have control over its own borders, make its own laws and elect its own rulers. It is not Ultra-right to say that a country should be free to make its own trade deals or control its own fishing waters.

    The EU has been a disaster for the UK and has completely impoverished the Mediterranean countries. The UK government continues to lie about the EU’s intentions to create an army. It already has a flag, an anthem, a foreign policy and it aiming for political union by stealth.

    Furthermore, given the fact that the EU seems hell-bent on admitting Turkey as a member (something David Cameron continues to deny in-spite of the fact that he’s been championing this for years), a country with an 80m Muslim population and porous borders with Syria and Iraq and seems to be an ISIS dream come true, are you really suggesting that it is Xenophobic and Ultra-right to have genuine concerns over the fact that 80m muslims from a region that is deemed to have some rather old-fashioned views when it comes to Women and Homosexuals, will have freedom of movement?

    People across Europe are fed up and seriously concerned, this is not an Ultra-right thing, this is simply people with legitimate concerns. The referendum was won in spite of people like Mr. Lazare branding these people xenophobic and the establishment using every trick in the book.

    I went a little off topic with this rant, but sufficed to say that this was not a complex topic. The Government complicated it with spin and misdirection, but ultimately it was simple; did the people of the UK want to rule themselves or become part of a political union which would ultimately become the United States of Europe? They voted NO.

    It will be interesting these next few months watching our own government conspiring to keep us in.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 04:15

      This is the classic argument made over and over in the US by xenophobes. There are plenty of comments from here, and from Europe, which support my statement, but who cares, for all this is polemics anyway. Globalization compels countries to be integrated in major ways, and there are, in fact, all sorts of ways this helps everybody: you can look it up, but the tone of your words suggests you are disinclined to do so. The fact is that very few people desire to leave the place where they were born and grew up. Thanks to the US, Britain and Israel, we have this tremendous turmoil in the middle east, wars that never end, wars that put millions of people into a state of perpetually migrating, perpetually trying to just make a life away from where things are getting blown up (most deaths in that area are via bombs dropped by the US, not ISIS killings, the former the worse because of much greater numbers.) ISIS would not exist but for the interference, now 25+ years long, of the US in the affairs of a sovereign state, Iraq, whose borders were made following WW1 in part by Britain, with no regard whatsoever about the various populations in the region, that is, it baked into those silly boundaries a great deal of the present troubles occurring in the middle east. This, I think you will concede, is the cause of the present immigration problem in Europe. (The US inmigration issue is not really a problem, because businesses here are very happy to be able to employ any number of Latin Americans for very low wages all through our economy, so the Powers That Be really don’t want immigration of cheap labor from the south to stop.)

      So the real solution to this basic problem for Europe is to, somehow, convince the US, then Britain, to get the hell out of the regime change business in the middle east. If we do that, attacks on people outside of the middle east will drop: it is only the mega news coverage which drives fanatics to come to places like Paris and the Istanbul airport to kill people at random via suicide vests or high-volume assault rifles. In this US, this view is unsustainable in every political circle, an absolute nonstarter: apparently, the US aspires to be Death, the Destroyer of Worlds, makers of weapons that grow steadily more terrible as the technology metastasizes.

      • John
        July 3, 2016 at 07:45

        I think you missed the point of my post. It was EU specific and the problem with the Brexit vote is the fact that it was hijacked by the liberal left PC brigade as a Good Guy (in) vs Xenophobe (out), the media ate this up and suckers from all over the globe became armchair experts on the subject.

        The vote was about the right to be an independent sovereign state able to trade with world and make its own laws – that’s it. The alternative was to remain in an expensive, anti-demographic political union where some of the draw-backs were already outlined above. One not mentioned was the awful TTIP that was being forced on the peoples of Europe, this was not the kind of Globalisation the people of the UK wanted. We chose out, race had nothing to do with it.

        If you are from the U.S. happy 4th of July tomorrow!

  6. toto
    June 30, 2016 at 19:59

    By changing state winner-take-all laws, without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes, the National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:49

      So what? Will never happen at national level, because the smaller states will never cede their power over the rest of us that is baked into the US Senate. So we need not only 38 state legislatures to approve such a measure, but two thirds of both houses of Congress. Apparently, the only other way (I forget specifics) is if two thirds of the states (which would then only be 34 state legislatures) voted to call a constitutional convention and rewrite the whole thing. Iceland did this recently, and there was widespread citizen contribution of things to include in the rewritten constitution. I understand that citizens there were happy with the outcome. So maybe I am wrong, and maybe, by some improbable circumstance, this proverbial Century Plant will put out its flower for us to savor before its scheduled bloom time.

  7. Lawrence Magnuson
    June 30, 2016 at 18:25

    First there is this assertion about Brexit (and referenda in general): “But the theory is pure myth, as the Brexit debacle shows. Rather than raising democracy to a new level, referenda often drag it down.”

    Then, after lumbering slowly as a hippo through glue (ax Alex Cockburn once said) among centuries and various polities for other debacles of direct democracy, finally comes the contrary assertion, vis a vis the debacle of Brexit: “None of this is to say that Brexit is incorrect.”

    So there you have it. 1. Referenda can be bad. 2. Brexit is a dragging-down debacle, but not incorrect.

    So maybe referenda can also be good, too? This possibility seems left to the writer’s further considerations.

  8. Rodney Wickersham
    June 30, 2016 at 16:08

    One fact of history that is undeniable is that the poor and uneducated outnumber their educated counter parts. Every few hundred years they rise up and clean house. This house looks dusty by the way. You can intellectualize the issue until the cows come home it will not hold back the tide of what is to come.This would be an excellent time to get to know your neighbors and fellow community members because all politics are local and so are the militia’s. These are lessons from Iraq and education some of you may have missed.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 17:03

      Rodney, this argument is also made by Chris Hedges, the well-known critic of the USA’s Duopoly. Hedges, for whom I have the greatest respect, seems to have lost over the past year and a half any hope that significantly positive change can come through democracy.

      I don’t know where you stand on the candidates but, from where I sit, there are two politicians running to become the Democratic Convention’s nominee for POTUS and one to become the Republican nominee.

      Donald Trump gathers together enthusiastic followers. Why? (1) He will bring the troops home from Afghanistan, from the Middle East, from Poland, and he will negotiate a peaceful resolution of any tensions with Putin. Sanders would do pretty much the same. Pulling back troops and spending almost nothing on maintaining troops beyond our own borders.
      (2) Trump will not support the “too big to fail” banks with taxpayer dollars when he could use the same money to hire tens of thousands of workers who have construction experience and large equipment. Sanders would do the same. Obama claimed there weren’t any shovel-ready jobs but, in fact, there are. The people who did construction, worked on highways, and have the equipment and skill to rebuild bridges are those who can be put back to work with real jobs, jobs at the pay they received before they were laid off.

      Think of one such single parent woman. Suddenly she’s making $65K a year with a three-month sign-up bonus. She can throw a really great party for her daughter who is turning fifteen. To make it a memorable one, besides buying her new shoes and jeans and a couple of tops, she’s purchasing a $250 cake for her and her friends. The past five years she was only able to have a tiny chocolate cake that mom baked and cost $25 or less. This year…. so she purchases the cake from the local baker.

      create a very positive and peaceful relationship with Putin.

  9. David Tam
    June 30, 2016 at 14:22

    Daniel Lazare’s points are well-taken.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 16:37

      Mr. Tam, before we can engage with you we need to be sure you are a human being and not a mere trolling automaton. My asking you this is about the same as when you are changing a password on a financial site and the site generates a test (usually copying some letters and numbers) that will tend to prove you are a human and not a trolling automaton. We don’t have such delightful apps, so to prove you are a human, would you please list three of his “usual well-taken” comments and then write or quote a sentence of two about each? For example, you might think the following is a well-taken point: “A referendum like Brexit can be a satisfying moment for an angry populace to vent its frustrations but “yes or no” answers to complex questions can be dangerous for democracy.” So, if you thought that this was one of his well-taken points, please list it and say something that supports it being true. Thank you.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 17:04

      Mr. Tam, before we can engage with you we need to be sure you are a human being and not a mere trolling automaton. My asking you this is about the same as when a financial site asks to to prove you are a human and not a program. To prove you are a human, would you please list three of his “usual well-taken” comments and then write or quote a sentence of two about each? For example, you might think the following is a well-taken point: “A referendum like Brexit can be a satisfying moment for an angry populace to vent its frustrations but “yes or no” answers to complex questions can be dangerous for democracy.” So, if you thought that this was one of his well-taken points, please list it and say something that supports it being true. Thank you.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 18:11

      Bjørn Holmgaard, you are WAY ahead of the author. I’ve tried to look up the author in other contexts and I finally found his 1996 book on Amazon. The blurb on Amazon: “In this thought-provoking polemic, “an accomplished iconoclast” whose “knowledge of american history is as persuasive as his wit” (New York Times Book Review) blames america’s outmoded constitutional system of checks and balances for the political malaise and governmental gridlock of recent years.”

      It sounds like he developed a way of blaming the “outmoded constitutional system of checks and balances” for today’s gridlock. And maybe that’s why his article is so terrible. He’s using what was a viable and insightful (we’ll assume) explanation for gridlock in 1995 (book’s take time to be copy-edited and published) and applying it to America over 21 years later. Very few good analyses and explanations that were good or even relevant 21 years ago will hold up today. Sounds like the “expert” I mentioned above. Experts “know” so they don’t have to learn.

  10. David Tam
    June 30, 2016 at 14:18

    Daniel Lazare’s comments are as usual well-taken.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 16:10

      David, are you a plant? Has Lazare asked you to post some positive comments? What points are “well taken” by Daniel Lazare. My asking you this is about the same as when a financial site asks to to prove you are a human and not a program.

      So: are you a human? Then please quote three of his “usual well-taken” comments, okay?

  11. Bill Bodden
    June 30, 2016 at 12:42

    The Brits who voted for Brexit to get away from the neo-liberal policies of the European Union are likely to be disappointed if British governance continues in the hands of the Conservative Party and the Blairites in the Labour Party.

    Charles Dickens exposed corruption in the England of his time, especially related to law and the courts. This article suggests, if anything, corruption might be worse now than in Dickens’s time: “Britain is most corrupt country on Earth,” says Mafia expert Roberto Saviano – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/05/29/britain-is-most-corrupt-country-on-earth-says-mafia-expert-rober/

  12. Antonio R cafoncelli
    June 30, 2016 at 11:18

    The big structural problem is neoliberalism and wild capitalism. This country needs a massive transversal popular movement, just as Bernie Sanders is initiating, in order to change the structures of this decayed and unjust capitalism system. This less than one percent plutocracy, oligarchy and corporatocracy that rules this country imposes gradualism with mild reforms to keep the capitalism system alive with bimodal and changing turns Democrats and Republicans,both right wing oligarchs that impede the change of production, political and economical radical reforms that bring once and forever the power to the USA people. Howard Zinn said it clearly in The american people history, as the political, economical and social power needs to shift to people’s hand. Do not talk about good or evil or God. We need to start and launch the big movement that Bernie Sanders is preaching.

    • Brad Owen
      June 30, 2016 at 12:15

      Just as form FOLLOWS function, structure proceeds from INTENT, which, in turn proceeds from the CHARACTER of those in a position to intend and do. We didn’t “stumble” into a bad structure of neoliberalism and wild capitalism, thus producing the wicked results witnessed by everyone. The wicked results were INTENDED by the 1%er plutocracy, oligarchy, and corporatocracy. To ignore Good and Evil is to be BLIND to causes. Look, the 1%ers are basically Mafia Dons, and what they do is “just (amoral) Business, nothing personal”. They are NOT going to give up their positions of power and wealth just because you show them a “better structure” for the General Welfare of the people…they only care about that to the degree that they must trot out the “bread & circuses” to placate and stultify the masses. An actual threat to their power will induce a very big and VERY bloody fight. Indeed, the threat of nuclear WWIII is BECAUSE their financial system is on the verge of collapse, and passing on to BRICS, SCO, etc…THAT is how desperate they are to hold on to their positions of wealth and power. They’d rather reign in Hell-on-Earth than to be demoted to servants in a Heavenly World. It’s a “character flaw” (called wickedness) that most of them share. It’s enough to make one turn away from the World and beat a retreat to the Mystics’ “Third Eye”.

      • Bill Bodden
        June 30, 2016 at 12:47

        Very well said. I recall one of the so-called titans of Wall Street telling Maria Bartiroma during a television interview that morality is not a factor in making business decisions.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:35

      How? Seems like an utterly impossible goal against the strength with which the oligarchs control the US, and from that platform, most of the rest of the world. There is a potload of laws on the books which support the control by said oligarchs, a huge body of legal precedent which backs this stuff up from the 18th century, plus the rank and file, who are basically ignorant of history, of civics, of the constitution, and far too amenable to control by polemicists like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin.

  13. Larry Motuz
    June 30, 2016 at 10:23

    I very much enjoyed Daniel Lazare’s views on the difficulty of incorporating Amendments into the U.S. Constitution. It is one of the reasons why newer countries have turned to Constitutions like Canada’s that are less intractable. I think also that it is the intractability of Amending the U.S. Constitution that empowers some on the Supreme Court of the United States to take what are called ‘originalist’ stances rather than treating the Constitution as a ‘living’ document.

    Re: Brexit and Democracy, I think George Monbiot’s Roots in the Rubble offers a possibly ‘better’ view of what has happened in England.

  14. Fergus Hashimoto
    June 30, 2016 at 10:16

    The US congress refuses to discuss a national single-payer health insurance scheme. But if a national referendum were held on the issue, it would most likely be approved. The same goes for gun control. This is because the one percent can buy off senators and congressmen, but it cannot buy off the whole population.
    Consequently the author’s conclusion that referenda are bad seems extremely dubious and is most likely the result of sloppy research.
    Switzerland holds more referenda every year than the rest of the world combined. Most of them are at a local or cantonal level, instead of national. A comparative study of Swiss cantons revealed that in cantons that hold more referenda
    1. people are more politically aware and engaged, and
    2. government is more efficient and less wasteful of public resources.
    Moreover direct democracy enables citizens to put political issues on the agenda that the political caste refuses to discuss. Some years ago a national Swiss referendum was held on whether to abolish the Swiss army. The proposal was turned down by a majority of voters. But professional politicians would have simply suppressed discussion of such a radical proposal.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:30

      There are very few places in the world where it would ever be possible to create a system such as exists in Switzerland; for sure, not the US as presently constituted [a pun!]. And from what I know, it is far from a paradise of equal opportunity for all, and free of control by the monied folk. But I must admit to lacking full knowledge to make a comment like this.

  15. fosforos
    June 30, 2016 at 09:27

    So sad that the whole Labour party–left, right, and center all together for the first time since 1945–got snookered by Cameron into joining him for his phony “advisory” referendum. It would have been so simple, so obvious, so politically devastating to point out that it was just a trick to sort out a squabble between two gangs of Tories by giving the people the false choice between accepting a permanently malfunctioning European Union and trying to unscramble an omelette (one made of “curates’ eggs” to boot). If Corbyn had only had the sense and guts to call for ABSTENTION, Labour today would be in position to demand and win a new election. But, alas, no–as always they’re social democrats. Always have been.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 15:16

      fosforos, for you Brexit hasn’t marked a line beyond which politics in he old sense is no longer a big thing. Brexit has blown the lid off of politics as usual in the UK. And lots of “secret” motivations were exposed. For example, the leader of the opposition campaigned to stay but secretly wanted to leave. The man who campaigned to leave because he hoped losing would help him win the leadership of his party accidentally won and ruined any chance of leading because the man who thought he couldn’t lose, did lose, but resigned before doing the thing the vote had been about. As for the opposition, they aren’t opposing anything because their leader isn’t listening to his party who wants him to quit, the party isn’t listening to the country, none of their opponents want to be the one to do the thing that the vote was all , so there’s nothing on the table to oppose. If no one ever does do the thing that most people wanted them to do, it would be fully undemocratic [based on a letter from Benjamkin Timothy Baine].

      Nobody has said that democracy wouldn’t be difficult, complex, or even confusing. A government that is very straight forward, uncomplex and not confusing is a king, authoritarian regimes (e.g., like in Saudi Arabia where one of the top sheiks has illegally contributed $42,000,000 to the Clinton campaign) where the top autocrats make all the decisions in the privacy of their regal residence armed guards. No uncertainty, no messiness, no confusion. I choose Democracy and its lack of tidiness. I think our author would prefer the tidy regime. Having an authoritarian non-democratic regime, as is the case in Saudi Arabia, avoids all these unknown factors that the King cannot control. It’s not the money, stupid, it IS about control.

      • bill peppin
        July 2, 2016 at 03:27

        I don’t believe that people in the US have EVER experienced a system of “democracy,” whatever that would mean in the context of our history and institutions. But I don’t think it can possibly work in a country as big and as culturally diverse as the US. If we’re talking Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark maybe so, partially because they are culturally and racially relatively homogeneous. (Look at what the Icelanders did to their thieving bankers recently: JAIL, by God.) The only way I see that there can be anything which can be called “democracy” in the US is if it does a FSU number and splits up into about 10 to 20 different republics.

  16. David Smith
    June 30, 2016 at 09:03

    There is no gridlock or standstill of government when the desires of the Propertied Class are addressed. Bailouts for Too Big To Fail Banks materialized with supernatural swiftness when “Constitutional Government” swung into action. In contrast, in Greece, Syriza bluntly ignored a referendum, stuck it to “The People” and gave The Propertied Class more than it asked. These two examples show the real structure of government, very different than the Civics Class version. Propertied Class power devolves from ownership of the means of production by way of the Limited Liability Corporation. The owner of a LLC appoints executive management, who carry out the owner’s orders. The mighty “CEO” is merely another employee, dismissed at the owners whim. The American Propertied Class, who own everything of economic significance, view Constitutional Government as “executive management”, that is employees that may be dismissed at the owners whim. It is a ponderous system that requires great wealth to function but has the advantage that the puppet-masters are unseen by “the rabble”. The present-day Propertied Class emerged in the early 19th century, a transitional period when the Landed Nobility/Royalist system(government by the same titled Lords that owned the land) was breaking down(after a 6000 year run) and the new industrial ” Smokestack Barons” appeared with concentrated ownership of the means of production indistinguishable from feudalism. However the Feudal Lord had an easily identifiable castle and title, an obvious target for an army of armed disgruntled peasants. Fortunately for concentrated industrial wealth, Constitutional Government By The People(ie employees/customers) was appearing in historical parallel, and was easily bent to conform to the template of Corporate Governance. Sorry Mr. Lazare, the gridlock in government is not caused by Old White Dudes With Guns(who in pseudo-lefty propaganda seem to cause ALL the problems) because “the gridlock” magically disappears when The Propertied Class says whatever it is they say to whoever it is they say it to(who won’t listen to me, just call “security”).

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      June 30, 2016 at 15:26

      Aren’t the “Old White Dudes” the propertied class?

      • Evangelista
        July 1, 2016 at 21:23

        “Aren’t the “Old White Dudes” the propertied class?”

        No. “Old White Dudes”, like “Old Black Dudes”, “Old Mexican Dudes”, “Old Jew Dudes”, “Old Muslim Dudes”, “Old Oriental Dudes” and all the rest, ad inifinitum, is a prejudicial reference. For this it, along with all the others, can only define prejudice, and in any referencial assertion turn the assertion to a bigoted assertion.

        In fact, “the propertied class”, in any republican government situation includes all, of every division an sub-division, who has desire to, and makes successful effort to, own.property. In imperial government situations no legitimate “propertied class” exists since the only property owner is the emperor. They bestow property “ownership”, when they do, on favored parties, who ‘hold’ the bestowed properties under the emperor’s suffrage, only so long as it pleases the emperor to allow them to. Emperors may be, and are, of every division and sub-division Mankind can split itself into and may be whole ‘classes’, or parts of them.

    • David Smith
      July 1, 2016 at 03:30

      No. Families. Entailment Of Estates is illegal in The United States, but a will can be written for three generations and is structured as a Trust, holding blocks of stock in a family owned LLC, distributed among cousins, functioning like a sole ownership. But that is the most simplistic form, the Trust will be a Holding Company, with interlocking ownerships with other Holding Companies. LLC’s always have Foundations for tax avoidance, to hold(and trade) stock, and subsidize “friendly activities”. Issuing securities/brokerage/mutual funds and banking and insurance are owned by the same families and amplify their income and social control. All that is the Golden Capstone of the Pyramid, because of the anonymity of holding companies it is unclear how far they are into low rackets like residential landlordism, but it is a certainty they control the cocaine and heroin trade. So, RRT, ditch your racism if you can, and use this bare outline I have gifted you, to begin your study of The Royal Scam.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:21

      In plain and brief language, your words simply mean that the monied classes control everything that pertains to us in ways that affect us: our livelihoods, our education, our health, the very places we live and work, and anything possibly higher on Maslow’s pyramid of ranked human activity. With this I not only concur, but see it as the problem facing all peoples of the world in an environment where there are just too many people, and while this situation will fairly shortly be rectified in a number of ways both unspeakable and unpredictable, our ride downward as a species is not going to be pleasant.

  17. Tristan Martin
    June 30, 2016 at 07:47

    A well-balanced article, thank you. Very refreshing after the amount of seriously misguided reporting that Consortium News (normally a very trust-worthy source) has offered on Brexit, representing the Leave vote as somehow being largely composed of anti-neoliberalism voters, as opposed to being driven by xenophobia.

    It would be foolish to say that all Leave voters are racist – but all the racists voted to Leave..

    • Michael Stones
      June 30, 2016 at 12:30

      And maybe they were just sick of being robbed while the rich cream off the cash, as usual when ye don’t get everything ye want ye start throwing insults

  18. Bjørn Holmgaard
    June 30, 2016 at 04:22

    OK let me get this right

    1) Gridlock – the fault of a constitution – that by the way is ignored every time a president initiates hellfire over some unfortunate brown people somewhere.

    2) Corruption of the political class – solution is constitutional reform – but no NO NO!!! direct democracy – because of an abundance of examples where the political class/”money” ignored or abused the system.

    Seem to me at strange approach as it is the money in politics that is destroying democracy in both Europe and in USA. Further as all the aggressive war-crimes, on part of the various American presidents, show, the constitution is nothing but a piece of paper if the political class wills it. So constitutional reform to save democracy seem to me like the feudal Russian peasants dreaming of the “good zar”. It never proved a winning formula.

    How about overturning “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205” and reintroduce Glass–Steagall that seems to me a more promising start – that is if you truly want to save democracy – and not just create a more efficient technocracy.

    • Sam F
      June 30, 2016 at 08:19

      Good thoughts, that ” constitutional reform to save democracy” seems “like the feudal Russian peasants dreaming of the ‘good zar'”. And we can hardly blame the Bolsheviks (or the Chinese or Vietnamese etc.) for deciding that an egalitarian insurgency structure like communism was their only path. Nor for thinking, after the invasions of Napoleon and Hitler, that there was a slight problem with the structure of those Western forms of egalitarian free market governments.

      The question never addressed in such forums as these, perhaps because it is dangerous under a Czar, is how we get rid of the Czar in order to fix the problems with egalitarian government. We can’t do that by observing what changes we would make if only we could get rid of the czar. We are forced to consider – somewhere else – how to get rid of the czar.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:14

      See my comment above. Even if it were to happen, which I deem all but impossible, it would at this point do no good, unfortunately, Wish this were not so, but I gotta call ’em as I see ’em, i.e., “Steerrrrrrrike Three, you’re (i.e., we) OUT!”

  19. Abbybwood
    June 30, 2016 at 01:34

    Dear Consortium News:

    How about snooping into the private “off the schedule” meeting Bill Clinton recently had with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on board her plane for a half an hour in Phoenix:


    When asked by reporters if they had discussed the criminal investigation into his wife’s email/Clinton Foundation fiascos she answered, “No”.

    Then what DID they discuss??!

    I find it IMPOSSIBLE to believe that the subject never came up. Why the need for a private meeting? Why not just a phone call or email exchange?

    The fact that the Attorney General met with the husband of a woman who is under a current criminal investigation is TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE and I fully expect journalists like Robert Parry and others to dig deeper into WHY they met and WHAT they discussed.

      June 30, 2016 at 05:06

      “Our conversation was a great deal about grandchildren, it was primarily social about our travels and he mentioned golf he played in Phoenix,” said Lynch Tuesday afternoon while speaking at the Phoenix Police Department.

      “There was no discussion on any matter pending before the Department or any matter pending with any other body, there was no discussion of Benghazi, no discussion of State Department emails, by way of example I would say it was current news of the day, the Brexit decision and what it would mean,” she said.

    • Michael Stones
      June 30, 2016 at 12:24

      well said

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:10

      It’s been answered adequately by the AG, I believe. Clinton just shows up at an airport and requests an audience with the AG. How does the AG refuse an audience with a former POTUS? Then she comes out of it, language, both lingual and body, tell of a person who did not enjoy the experience at all, and who says: I will roll with the recommendations of my staff only (and therefore, will disregard this totally inappropriate interference with the work of this office visited upon my by a person acting quite out of bounds.) I think, knowing almost nothing, we have only these comments to take as the relevant data, versus all of the other crapola that has been written and spoken on the subject.

  20. Robert Severance
    June 29, 2016 at 20:59

    Perhaps Russia will be invited to join Europe to fight terror?

    • Michael Stones
      June 30, 2016 at 12:24

      I don’t think the number ONE terrorist regime on the planet (USA) would like that

      • Rodney Wickersham
        June 30, 2016 at 15:58

        That is the most troubling truth of our times. I am ashamed of it.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 14:12

      Both Donald Trump AND Bernie Sanders would invite Russia to join Europe to fight terrorism. Trump and Putin are ready to work together. Sanders would change NATO so that Russia would be a member of the NEW NATO and, along with the other members, would fight terrorism AS A GROUP (the New NATO).

    • Rodney Wickersham
      June 30, 2016 at 15:57

      I doubt that but I do see an eventual German Russian alliance. Its just a matter of time.

      • bill peppin
        July 2, 2016 at 03:06

        I think WW2 has foreclosed that possibility for the foreseeable future which, however, might well be quite brief.

  21. Erik
    June 29, 2016 at 19:47

    A very good article sketching the limitations of the Constitution. We certainly need several amendments
    1. restrict funding of elections to limited and registered individual contributions;
    2. same for the mass media to prevent money from influencing elections that way;
    3. extend treason to include economic or information control of government or public information;
    4. extend treason to include accepting bribes or contributions related to public office.
    Many other changes could be made as statutes rather than constitutional changes.

    But these changes cannot be enacted because those tools of democracy are already controlled by money.

    Americans need to be aware of these problems, especially control of government by money. When they attribute their suffering to these problems, they may at last take sufficient action.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 03:01

      I believe that in this country the options are so far in control of the monied classes that no significant change is possible. Say Clinton is elected, and say she nominates, and has seated, three new members on SCOTUS: William O. Douglas, Jr; Hugo Black, Jr; and Thurgood Marshall, Jr. Suppose Citizens United is revisited and struck down as a result. Do you believe this will change anything? It will just be back to money transactions behind the (Oz-like) curtain that will control the elections, rather than the explicit control now being exerted by Adelson, the Kochs, and (shamefully!) Rupert Murdoch. Absent a full-on revolution, not a thing is going to change for most of us, and our situation will steadily grow worse. Expect any action on climate change? Fuggedaboudit, you KNOW that ain’t happening. Increasing cost of college education? Be serious. How about privatization of the U.S. Postal Service? Fuggedabout the Constitutional imperative to operate a federal postal service. These creeps will just continue to privatize it piece by piece until there is as much left of it as the bodies of those dead prospectors who attempted to find gold in Death Valley, but July came upon them.

  22. IAL
    June 29, 2016 at 19:02

    Democracy and voting is not the problem and neither is the Constitution. The problem is evil people in government and the media and in business that think they have all of the answers while caring only for their own material wealth rather than the rights and prosperity of others, and thinking that they alone should be able to tell the stupid plebs what to do.

    What is clear from your article is that even though you quote Dante you know little about how to spot the different between good and evil.

    Let me give you a hint – evil in government and systems leaves a trail of dead bodies. In Saudi Arabia it is gays and women with their heads chopped off in the street and slums of poor people while the Saudi Royal family lives in opulence and Sharia Law that allows the enslavement of women. In the USA it is the highest suicide rate in decades and a rise of drug use due to hopelessnes – due to job loss, the ability ot get a job due to the use of credit or criminal background checks, the loss of rights, a justice department that sends drug users up the river for decades but lets criminal bankers off the hook “for a fee”, the loss of a future due to debt, the loss of safety nets in unemployment or medical care, a lack of affordable housing, etc.

    I could spend some time trying to educate you further on the will of God – but let’s face it you and your “friends” in the “know” would not listen.

    So chew on this – you do know that God has the ability to destroy this entire planet and every living thing on it at any time? And that there is no “rich person bunker” that can “hide you from God”?

    If you did not know that, you and your “friends” in the “know” should now consider why any God with that kind of power would want to keep systems and governments or people around that are clearly evil – when we all know that God desires good.

    Perhaps she is giving you some time to repent before she drops the hammer.

    IAL Ph.D. MBA

    • Erik
      June 29, 2016 at 20:10

      Yes, human wrongdoing is the problem, and ultimately moral education is the answer, but we must have truth and justice to get there, and that is the political question: how to organize truth and justice.

      Those who understand their religion best, never have trouble seeing that other moral educational systems, including all religions and secular moral systems, including literature and agnostic and atheistic systems, are just as valuable. They are all trying to educate their members, so most of their members are works in progress – they aren’t yet able to practice what their own religion preaches. That’s just the nature of moral education. We all have to translate our moral concerns and traditions to a common vocabulary suitable to public debate.

      When we make public policy for a diverse society or group of nations, we must be moral, but we must be strictly rational to gain acceptance. So we must put aside our differences of tradition, which is easiest for those who understand their own tradition best.

      Why not help us rational folks figure out a solution which does not depend upon traditions that not everyone accepts or understands? We only ask that you translate your moral notions into general philosophical terms.

      What cannot be translated are traditions that insist upon dictating policy directly from an invisible force without rational intermediaries. So in public debate, when someone insists upon being the spokesperson or explicator for a god that may strike at any time, they are insisting upon dictating the results of the debate, which disqualifies them from useful participation in debate. Especially when they don’t have an answer to practical problems in practical terms.

      Otherwise we end up with silly contradictions that cannot be resolved and waste other people’s time: If god is benevolent why does he/she always makes such a mess? If ours is the best of all possible worlds, why is it such a disaster and why not change what makes it that way? If god is so powerful, what is he/she waiting for? If prayer works, why has it never worked, and why not do practical things meanwhile? And finally you would have to answer your own question: “why any God with that kind of power would want to keep systems and governments or people around that are clearly evil – when we all know that God desires good?”

      • Michael Stones
        June 30, 2016 at 12:39

        It’s really quite simple There is NO god

    • Brad Owen
      June 30, 2016 at 07:18

      You are right. You’ve located the source of the problem…people in high and powerful places who have a preponderance of evil, over good, in their character (we all have both present in our character; hopefully the Good prevails over the Evil, in our personal characters). If the broad masses are predominately good, then ANY political construct will work relatively well. If predominately bad, then NOTHING will work. The World is littered with moral codes and codes of ethics, laying around like leaves in the Fall. Our Preamble is sufficient to organize a political society to promote/provide for, the General Welfare (Jesus’s second Commandment in modern, secular clothes) establish Justice, and provide for the common defense of this covenanted society. The rest of the Constitution is just the details for carrying out this Mission Statement. Ahh, but in what condition are the “hearts of men”, what prevails?…Good or Evil. Everything else rests on the answer.

    • Michael Stones
      June 30, 2016 at 12:22

      Well you were doing really great there for a while till you came out with the god shite

    • June 30, 2016 at 13:44

      God is dead.

      The problem is, radicalized people like you perpetuate the myth that the people should be hopelessly divided by wedge issues. But the truth is, these wedge issues are thrust upon us by the global corporate elite to divert our attention away from the fact that they are responsible for most of the evil in the world.

      Once the people figure out how to get beyond the artificially imposed wedge issues, then they will take all power and control away from the wealthy elites, and a new golden age will be the result.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      June 30, 2016 at 13:58


      Dear IAL Ph.D. MBA. Like you I am over-educated: BA in mathematics, a Latin scholar, MA in philosophy, Ph.D. in philosophy, expertise in ethics and public policy (plus more), a published poet, the author of two books (one on the philosophy of Gandhi and the other on the Buddha), the co-author of an interdisciplinary book on medical ethics (my co-editor was a fine human being and a full professor in the School of Business), the author of exactly 50 academic articles(several have been reprinted) plus blog articles on Consortiumnews, Counterpunch, Truthout’s Speakout, PolicyMic, and more. I’m not some fancy academic with huge credentials and an ego to match.

      As a public “intellectual” it’s important to keep learning, never to think we know it all, while at the same time learning new things almost every day (or more often). I believe that academics who are well trained have an obligation to give back to the community. For one thing, we are part of the community, not pale Ivory Tower residents. As applied academics, we need to keep open to learning, hopefully every day I wrote a verse (not a poem) which expresses some of this attitude toward learning and letting go:

      You learn something new everyday–
      Or at least “they” say you should–
      But perhaps it’d be better, though I’m not totally sold,
      That once a day, every day, we forget something old.

      I admire you for your patience. I have less patience than you do with what the author has done. [I’m not going to categorize Lazare’ paper above, but the late Harry “Frankfurt, one of the world’s most influential moral philosophers …. with his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds … [to explore] how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all…” His book, “On Bullshit,” is a great read and is the most widely read work of analytic philosopher … even out-selling all of Wittgenstein, any particular work by Bertrand Russell, and any particular work by John Rawls.] .

      I sense that you, IAL, have been as stunned as I am with this ill-conceived piece on Brexit and what the author has the hubris to call the “democracy myth.” You respond to his hubris clearly, patiently, and gently
      “What is clear from your [Lazare’s] article is that even though you quote Dante you know little about how to spot the different between good and evil.

      “I could spend some time trying to educate you further on the will of God – but let’s face it you and your “friends” in the “know” would not listen.”

      Isn’t that the way it is with the experts? They know everything. My wife, who founded the first Medicare Hospice in Texas, writes in her book GRIEF ALCHEMY that Richard Lamerton, then the world’s top hospice physician who came to the States from St. Christopher’s Hospice in London, contrasted a service with a program. “A program,” he said …, “is put together by people who ‘know.’ They’re ‘the experts.’ Unfortunately, because they’re ‘experts,’ they don’t listen well, have nothing left to learn, stop growing, and become inflexible.” That’s a great way of understanding the limitations of someone who considers himself an expert.

      My own experience with experts was when I was protesting the Vietnamese war in D.C. I thought if I could have twenty minutes with Secretary of State Robert McNamara, we would agree that the war in Vietnam was immoral, illegal, and a hopeless killing field for our own military, for innocent Vietnamese including many children, as well as an arrogant in-your face insult to the rural people in Vietnam who were only defending their country from the second Western invasion during a 30 year period (the first wasn’t an invasion but was the 1946 struggle to throw out the French.) So… Back to you, IAL:

      “So chew on this – you do know that God has the ability to destroy this entire planet and every living thing on it at any time? And that there is no “rich person bunker” that can “hide you from God”?

      “If you did not know that, you and your “friends” in the “know” should now consider why any God with that kind of power would want to keep systems and governments or people around that are clearly evil – when we all know that God desires good.”

      As an applied philosopher, a Buddhist [both Theravada and Vajrayana], a Gandhian, and an Advaita Vedantan, I am more inclined to think of the Divinity as the unnamable, though at times it is clearer and more useful to personify Divine Awareness and call it the “Goddess.” Thinking in Divinity terms, I suspect She just enjoys the Llila (play) of life and that She doesn’t take all of our impermanent realm of worries, politics, health, money as seriously as most of us do. Didn’t Jesus tell us to be like the lilies of the field?

      In the context of your comment and my reply, it seems important to let you know that the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus reminds us that birds of a feather flock together: “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” That’s how your comment affected me. You were clear that Lazare’s didn’t recognize evil even when it smacked him in the face:

      “[the] evil in government and systems leaves a trail of dead bodies. In Saudi Arabia it is gays and women with their heads chopped off in the street and slums of poor people while the Saudi Royal family lives in opulence and Sharia Law that allows the enslavement of women. In the USA it is the highest suicide rate in decades and a rise of drug use due to hopelessness – due to job loss, the ability to get a job due to the use of credit or criminal background checks, the loss of rights, a justice department that sends drug users up the river for decades but lets criminal bankers off the hook “for a fee”, the loss of a future due to debt, the loss of safety nets in unemployment or medical care, a lack of affordable housing, etc.”

      Unlike you, I can’t refer to the smug unindicted criminal bankers like Lloyd Blankfein or Timothy Geithner merely as “bankers.” To me they are “BANKSTERS”–gangsters in white shirts and ties who, when they testify, have one or more lawyers whispering in their ears.. By way of HUGE contrast, I think of bankers as the folks I talk to when I visit my local branch of SunTrust. Some of them are good fun, one of the managers is in tune with aspects of reality that go beyond what we learn in our textbooks, and just last night I had a delightful conversation with a young Hispanic bank manager. After he resolved my banking issue, we talked for another hour and a half about politics (Sanders is a 10, Trump is a 9 [don’t forget, he is Hispanic], and the crown princess is a big fat zero [a crown princess is the princess who’s next in line for the crown]. We even discussed a couple of fun questions, for example: “What was the biggest island on the earth BEFORE geographers discovered Australia?”

      I usually go into detail when I analyze a piece published on Consortiumnews and clearly I am NOT doing that here. Instead, I am simply affirming what I think is the central message of your comment. To write a detailed comment of Lazare’s piece would turn this reply to your comment into an article longer than Lazare’s.

      Having come this far, though, I do feel a kinda obligation to put my money where my mouth is. So: if the day takes a turn and I can therefore begin to work on a critique of Lasage’s “article” [I’d be praising the glory of the Brexit expression of democracy and only bringing in Lazare to negate his foolish arguments for the other side]… hopefully I will have something published on Consortiumnews by the end of the weekend or sooner.].

      Brexit has frightened politicians like Clinton, and made the neoliberal defenders of corporatism wonder just where democracy will spring up next. Brexit was and will in the future looked upon as the swelling up of democracy, much as Occupy was until a coordinated police action across the country rubbed it out. But when the swelling up of participatory .democracy exhibits itelf in perfectly legal channels–Brexit, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump–he top dogs like to control us get nervous about the far flung possibility that they may lose control. Hillary’s campaign IS worried, as are the 0.01% of the top banksters.

      • Samuel Pelletier Pépin
        June 30, 2016 at 15:54

        Dear Bart Gruzalski,

        I was enjoying a fine oolong tea at my local tea house yesterday, and read the following short-story from a scroll that was hung-up on one of the walls there. I think you would enjoy it, too! Here is how it goes:

        “Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

        Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

        The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

        “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

        • Bart Gruzalski
          June 30, 2016 at 22:05

          This is for Samuel Pelletier Pépin,

          That is a delightful Zen story (the opening story in “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,” a book that belongs in the bathroom where a person can read a story and let it simmer. Some of the stories have become clearer as time goes on. Others seem to fade. I don’t have the book with me–I’ve moved from Maryland to Ohio to California to Ireland and now to Florida and books don’t travel well–too heavy. My favorite Zen story is the one where the student is asking the master a question [I don’t have it right and so this is a fail] “What is it that we are seeking,” and the master tells the student “what you are asking is the answer.”

          An incredible philosophy professor, a genius and as bright as anyone in the field (I suspect he’s deceased) had the same name as a famous zoo person, Moreland Perkins. Moreland showed by doing how a person with analytic credentials could still be thought of as “okay” in the very narrow confines of Western analytic philosophy
          WHILE and even BECAUSE of the way that person would teach/write about aspects of Eastern Philosophy. Moreland’s favorite Zen story was one in which the king had his soldiers bring the Zen Master to his kingly digs and teach Zen to him and his fellow royals. The Master came, bowed politely, rang a bell, and then disappeared. That means a lot more to me now but it’s hard to have a favorite with a book so full of puzzling, delightful, and eureka-moment stories.

          As for empowering me to be able to do Buddhism and still be thought of as a competent analytical philosopher, my only easily accessible piece, based on Moreland’s lead and the teachings of several lamas as well Luang Por Sumedho, is a book that was published by Wadsworth entitled “On the Buddha.” At times you can purchase a used copy through Amazon for a couple of dollars. I do not recommend purchasing a new one. I am in the process of significantly revising the book, although I think today’s political upheavals and the great danger of the crown princess advancing any farther toward POTUS need to be addressed first.

          A major press has expressed interest in my revised Buddhism book (the new title signifying that the principle teachings are, in fact, insights). But now that I see how self-publishing works, rather than have it listed by a famous publisher and selling for $30 or more, I may finish the radical revision and put it out there for the least possible amount: $14.95 for a paperback (there are some limits due to book length so I don’t know) and $8.95 for a Kindle. It’s not that I don’t need to make money–heck, we don’t even have a car (we do have a golf cart). But money isn’t the end all as long as my wife and I can meet our needs and don’t get into serious disagreements over money, that’s great. She is our CFO for good reason, alas.

          When I was teaching in Boston, I didn’t really know anyone who did important things without being paid for it and the pay being important. But through some pretty magical phone call connections, I wound up having the longest conversation I ever had with a man (we’ll call him Bob, not his real name) and that conversation was during our first and longest phone call or even in-person meeting. (I was often in Bob’s presence but he was always too busy for a serious conversation.)

          During our phone conversation he told me that when his partner and he picked a project to do, the money was never a guiding factor. He also shared with me what he said was a wise saying from the Native Americans who were in the area. “No matter how far you go down the wrong road, turn back.” That played a part in my abandoning a tenured post at 50 years old. The finale was equally important: “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

      • Joe Tedesky
        June 30, 2016 at 16:16

        Bart, there was a time back in the 90’s when I use to seek advice from retired executives. After every plan, or idea I had, was discussed among the group of those old time business people, there was always at least one of them who would then question the proposed idea with this question, ‘now how will this plan of yours effect our community’? Yes, there was more often than not, a sincere thought for the commons thrown into the mix of how any plan would reach out to help others, and also would provide a profit to be returned to the business. These experienced business folk knew the value of the public, and they also knew what gave a product integrity as well. From a business point of view, employment, and consumerism is of great concern, if you want to sell product. Although, we live in a debt consumer driven economy, which requires consumers to have a good credit line, and not necessarily a full time job. Until we start by growing things, manufacturing things, and trucking those things, we are just a paper tiger.

        I don’t see the Brexit as the final nail in any established power structures coffin, such as the EU. What I do see Brexit standing for, and maybe the Occupy Movements protest could be included, as being one of those many little things, which may lead up to an overthrow of the NWO’s trade agreements. This so far peaceful revolution, is all another reason to sight the decline of the American Empire.

        A something old, which should be something new learned today, would be FDR’s 4 freedoms. Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear. People need those freedoms, in order for any civil liberties to exist. With the policing of speech political correctness, by any standard could be that slippery slop that does away with freedom of speech. Hey, there are a lot of times I don’t like what someone has to say, but doggone it it is there right to speak their mind. With all the hoopla about Muslims and Mexicans being not wanted in America, well there goes the freedom of religion. I have a few atheist friends who value this right even more so than the religious zealots I happen to know. With the skyrocketing prices for such things as healthcare, well what better a commodity can be given as an example of how this right for freedom of want is being totally ignored. Lastly the freedom of fear, has sucked up all the oxygen in the room, by our fear of terrorist, and for that we all have lost a ton of our civil liberties.

        What America really needs, is a maturing of a third and maybe even a fourth political party which will rival the big two corporately owned ones. This years presidential election in America could be just what the doctor ordered, in order to give voice to the discontented. If America is an experiment in democracy, then we do need to go threw this cycle of events, and hopefully come out on the other side of it that much for the better of it. If there is to be a globalism, then this globalism will need to compensate for everyone, and not just the chosen few who have so far been profiting rather mightily from their exploits. Power to the people.

      • Willem
        June 30, 2016 at 17:31

        I agree with IAL and Bart Gruzalski that

        A) the reason for the present turmoil in the world and why people voted for Brexit is due to evil people in governments and media and business who only care for themselves and not for others, that
        B) voting and democracy and the constitution, is not the problem,
        C) that (over)qualified people have the moral obligation to tell others what they know and have learned so that others can learn from them to progress knowledge (like ‘Newton’s’ quote [others have said this before him]: standing on the shoulders of giants) and
        D) That being educated does not mean that you have more right than those that did not have the chance or privilige to be educated.

        This article of Daniel Lazare reminded me of a painting of Gazzoli
        in which Plato and Aristotle are reading their books (knowledge) without showing the content of the books to the viewer and without taking the trouble to look the viewer in the eye (hence the elitist view) and Thomas Aquinas who looks the viewer straight in the eye and who holds his book of knowledge open to anyone who is interested in its content (see here: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benozzo_Gozzoli_-_Triumph_of_St_Thomas_Aquinas_-_WGA10334.jpg)

        Lazare appears to have a lot of knowledge. For instance he knows the democracy myth (a myth, really?), reads Dante, etc, but doesn’t tell the reader how we can become as ‘educated’ as he is. We just have to listen to him, as good spectators are allowed to do. We are, fortunately, allowed to comment though, of which we can thank consortiumnews, and of which I took the trouble to do.

        Lazare tries to convince the readers that the whole turmoil the world is in today is something natural and cannot be fixed. As readers we have to guess why it cannot be fixed, because Lazare does not tell us. He knows, apparantly, but does not tell us how he knows. We just have to believe him. This is, like Plato and Aristotle on aformentioned painting, just another example of what elitist behavior is.

        If I had an answer to the question how we can stop the turmoil that the world is in today, I would show it to you, like Aquinas in the painting. And actually the answer to this question is known. In the open society and its enemies from Karl Popper, Popper writes that this book was not written to answer the question who should rule the people (the answer to that question is very short and easy, that is: No one), but to answer the question how you can get rid of a bad government without violence. The answer is plain and simple: with a majority vote, just like Brexit.

        Or in other words: Democracy is like Winston Churchill once said, the worst form of government – with the exception of all other forms of government.

      • Bart Gruzalski
        June 30, 2016 at 21:00

        Correction to own piece: my wife wasn’t overjoyed that I mentioned her book. Two reasons:

        1. She says her book is not about political change. [Of course she’s right and also wrong, since pioneers in the hospice movement hospice fought against home nursing which saw hospice as a threat, fought the physicians who wouldn’t refer patients to hospice because to do so was, in their eyes, to fail [as if we all won’t be dead too soon]; and, finally, as palliative care developed, the was a response to status quo medicine that did not take care of patients who could no longer be cured]; finally there was, and still is, problems getting physicians to give doses of pain meds–their pts might become addicted!
        2. Dr. Lamberton was from St. Joseph’s, which is also the oldest hospice. St. Christopher’s is much better known because of Cecilia Sanders. Learn something new every day….

      • IAL
        July 2, 2016 at 04:28

        Thanks for your comment Bart. I am just so tired of people that think they are the end of all things and not part of an infinite universe where all things are possible and that the good of the universe and Earth’s inhabitants (people, animals, and plants) should be considered when making decisions – not bank accounts or personal power – which, as you already know, amounts to a hill of beans in the grand design.

        Thanks for making me understand that there are still good and capable people in this country who see that we cannot continue on our present course.

    • FightClubber
      July 1, 2016 at 00:36

      OK, I was with you until you invoked a “god”, which reinforced the point the author made about the angry impotent masses turning to a strongman from outside the system to act in their interest.

      This historically seems to fail regularly with disastrous consequences.

      Oh yeah, there is no god. Chew on that for a while.

      • IAL
        July 2, 2016 at 04:29

        If you do not believe in God perhaps a Type 3 society – which is the same difference – I’ll let you chew on that.

    • bill peppin
      July 2, 2016 at 02:51

      Gawd is far, far too busy working the entire universe (I mean, the problems in Andromeda make ours look like a walk in the park) to give a damn about the silly goings-on of this planet. The situation ain’t about Gawd, it is about people who, across so much of the world, have ceded, probably irrevocably, their (however weak) control of government to people who believe that Gawd has given them the right to take as much in terms of money or resources as they can salt away in their castles, and this is, in fact, the stairway to heaven for them.

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