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A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Three, the IVCS

8:40 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

This is the concluding post in a three-part series. The first post highlighted the problem of lack of representativeness in modern societies, characterized human societies, economic, and political systems as special kinds of Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs) called Promethean CASs, and then argued that such systems needed continuous self-organization to maintain democracy and open society in the face of tendencies toward oligarchy endemic in PCASs, and that e-participation platforms might enable continuous self-organization, if such platforms were designed appropriately. In Part Two, we spelled out the general and IT requirements needed for an e-participation platform that could provide a meta-layer for democracy enabling continuous self-organization. In this post we’ll conclude with a case study.

The Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) platform: A Case Study

All systems using IT and human agents relating people to one another, including political parties, and formal organizations generally, are PCASs, and in their formative stages after the introduction of the IT component to users will involve some additional degree of self-organization, network effects, and emerging collective behavior patterns, beyond that existing before introducing the technology. But, some IT platforms/tool sets will do a better job of enabling self-organization initially, and maintaining it continuously, than others. That means that some applications will serve democracy better than others in that continuous enabling of new self-organization outside any formal organizational structure within their IT application environments will more effectively prevent formation of entrenched oligarchies than will other applications ostensibly directed at similar problems.

How well IT platforms trying to heal modern democratic political systems such as the United States, will perform in enabling self-organization depends in great part on the power of their central symbols, or “tags” to attract self-organizing activity with a propensity to generate higher-level collectives such as voting blocs and electoral coalitions out of the self-organization.

The IVCS is a platform and set of tools being developed that is expected to fulfill all the e-platform requirements given above. It has policy options as its key tags, the central symbols around which people will self-organize to create voting blocs and electoral coalitions. In addition, when using IVCS, people prioritize their policy options and create policy agendas based on their options and priorities. Policy options, priorities, and policy agendas are the most effective tags for political self-organization because 1) people can locate others based on similarities in these matters, and 2) they can also engage in developing voting blocs and electoral coalitions by first finding people whose agendas are similar to their own, and then negotiating out differences among them by collaborating on how policy agendas may be changed, consensus created and differences resolved.

And because of these tags and other features that enable and encourage participation in the process of building voting blocs and electoral coalitions by negotiating and re-negotiating policy options, priorities, and policy agendas, IVCS is the platform that can best maintain continuous self-organization, continuous refreshing of “bottom-up”, democratic participation, in building and re-building voting blocs and electoral coalitions. The most important thing is that CASs are always poised at “the edge of chaos,” between the disorder of chaotic dynamics and the orderly dynamics of lifeless mechanical equilibrium.

They remain in this state, because their continuous self-organization allows them to cope with environmental challenges through problem solving. Their continued existence as PCASs, therefore, depends on this continuous self-organization. If that fails or is undermined by the institutionalization of oligarchies that can protect themselves from replacement, then the adaptive capabilities of the PCAS will fail and it will change its state.

The IVCS enables the U.S. electorate to bypass the current system and circumvent institutions that have corrupted it. It does this by enabling voters of all persuasions to build voter-controlled on-line voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get control of all vital processes that determine what the nation’s legislative priorities are, who runs for office, who gets elected, what laws are enacted, and which office holders will be made accountable for breaking their commitments made to voters prior to their elections.

These blocs and coalitions can work together outside the system, prior to elections, to democratize political parties so that their supporters control them rather than special interests. The blocs and coalitions can form alliances with democratically-run parties while supplanting all parties as the driving forces of U.S. politics (see figure 1).

ivcs as a PCAS

Figure 1: IVCS as a PCAS with self-organizing emergent collectives

IVCS’s agenda-setting, political organizing and consensus-building tools enable voters to set their legislative agendas and build voting blocs and electoral coalitions to elect representatives who will enact their legislative priorities, not special interest priorities, into law. The tools empower voters to change the whole political system by creating self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can perform all functions political parties perform to get their candidates elected, and their legislative agendas passed. This includes raising money for their candidates from individual donors throughout the country, rather than special interests.

In addition to doing the same things that parties do to run winning candidates, the voting blocs and coalitions that voters build, using IVCS tools, can do two things absolutely essential to democracy that traditional political parties have failed to do. First, they can overcome the parties’ failure to allow voters to collectively set and vote on party platforms and legislative agendas, And second, the IVCS and its consensus-building tools, especially the voting utility, collaboration, and problem solving tools, and knowledge bases containing both claims and meta-claims, enable voters to resolve conflicts. Space limitations prevent our dealing with IVCS in more detail; more information can be found on the prototype website.

Conclusions

Aristotle pointed out that monarchies were subject to transformation to tyrannies, aristocracies to oligarchies, and constitutional governments to democracies (mob rule). He had no way of knowing that such transformations may have something to do with whether the processes of self-organization decay to such a degree that lack of adaptive success in each of these systems drives their transformation to their perverted forms.

He also had no way of envisioning the need for modern constitutional liberal democracies to continuously renew themselves with new distributed ‘wicked’ problem-solving capabilities and accountability mechanisms that can only be produced through openness and self-organization supported through modern IT web-based e-participation platforms. These platforms can provide a meta-layer of new knowledge, cultural norms, and self-organization, for democratic political systems, unconstrained by and not open to, manipulation by emergent globalizing elites.

Without these new e-participation platforms, and the continuous self-organization they will bring, the iron law of oligarchy will continue to dominate representative democracies, and they will travel further along the real road to serfdom. IVCS can create the meta-layer necessary to strengthen self-organization into voting blocs, electoral coalitions, and web-based social networks in such a way, that new policy solutions can be continuously introduced, along with new mechanisms of accountability. That meta-layer can ensure that policy elites either become representative, or are quickly replaced by new officeholders who won’t rely on the financial and organizational resources now co-opting self-organizing movements, the heart and soul modern democracies. It can repeal the Iron Law!

Acknowledgment

This conference paper on which the posts in this series are based was written in collaboration with Nancy Border, PhD., inventor of IVCS. We thank Dr. Bordier for her contributions, insights, and support.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Two, Meta-layer Requirements

8:48 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

Requirements for an e-participation platform in human political CASs

We won’t be able to stop the movement toward oligarchy unless we can create a new institutional framework that allows us to change those aspects of our present situation supporting oligarchy and undermining open society. We need a framework that will operate within the context of existing rules and laws to create changes supporting increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing shifting our democratic PCASs back towards an open state.

The new institutional framework must provide a meta-layer of political interaction and networking that places new ecological constraints on the current political system, driving it back towards a condition in which the ability of individuals to both arrive at more accurate constructions of reality, and act on them, through increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing, is dominant. The meta-layer can be provided by a web-based platform eventually incorporating most of the eligible voters in a political system, and providing capabilities for political organization that can overcome the impact of big money and media on political parties, legislators, legislatures, and politics generally.

Here are the requirements for such a framework. It must provide or enable:

– social contexts and milieus within which people can organize themselves and others around public policy agendas, comprised of policy options and policy priorities, into voting blocs and electoral coalitions ranging from very small to blocs of millions of voters without needing sizable financial resources from sources external to these social milieus, and without being subject to external mass media communications influenced by financial oligarchs and other special interests;

– social contexts and milieus offering the possibility of informal group and social network formation around these policy agendas;

– social contexts and milieus that are transparent and inclusive in providing participants with previously developed data, information, and knowledge, and in allowing them freedom to participate in communicating, organizing, collaborating, critically evaluating, problem solving, and decision making within voting blocs and electoral coalitions;

– social contexts and milieus in which participants have a modicum of trust in other participants;

– participants and voting blocs to communicate their policy agendas to candidates for public office and office holders, and also securing either commitments to these agendas, or clear refusals to support them;

– participants and voting blocs to continuously monitor and rate performance of office holders against agendas and to decide whether to continue to support them after performance ratings are arrived at;

– tools for voting blocs and electoral coalitions to organize efforts to get both major party and third party candidates and initiatives onto ballots, and to get people to the polls to vote. Simply, it must provide tools to enable voting blocs to do all the things political parties now do to support candidates they want to elect and ballot initiatives they want to pass.

In brief, the new institutional framework must provide an alternative network of social and political relations to the contemporary world of political parties and established interest groups. The alternative world must embody the key attributes of open society, which means it must provide an informal communications and knowledge network that is very much independent of the mass media, and also capable of enabling creating highly cohesive voting blocs and electoral coalitions of many millions of people, and even new political parties, which can offer decisive support to candidates and office holders in return for their continuing support of voting bloc agendas. The alternative world will then work as a meta-layer constraining the prior political world, and preventing it from concentrating power in oligarchies by subjecting them to continuous self-organization and a cultural background of new knowledge arising from distributed knowledge processing.

Information Technology Requirements

What are the Information Technology (IT) requirements to provide this new meta-level of political interaction and networking? Below we present our view on functions and facilities needed:

a. Application software available as web services within an architecture capable of easily incorporating new web-service enabled applications when they appear. Fulfilling this requirement makes the platform adaptive;

b. Facilities (e.g. forums, web conferencing) people can use to jointly clarify with one another and state the problems they see, and store the problem formulations in a knowledge base, linked to people who formulated them;

c. Facilities for creating policy options, selecting others from a knowledge base, rating policy options relative to one another to establish ratio-scaled priorities, entering and storing policy options, and priorities in a knowledge base, making annotations linked to the options text, explaining why policy options make sense, and describing how they’ve performed;

d. Facilities for gathering information both internal to the system, and across the web, to help people arrive at their policy agendas. System search facilities employing the best available semantic web technology, newly emerging in web 2.0 and 3.0 applications, to help people locate information relevant to policy option formulation. Facilities for content aggregation “mash-ups” drawing on hundreds of web sites for content related to issue areas linked to policy options. For more advanced users facilities/tools for modeling, measuring, and projecting policy impact;

e. The search and content aggregation facilities mentioned, will supply people with tools to help them critically evaluate policy options, and annotation and linking capabilities will enable them to tie their evaluations to their policy options, and to create a track record that they and others will be able to use in the future;

f. Facilities for accessing an already existing policy options knowledge base, using platform search capabilities, learn about other people’s policy agendas, creating new policy options, and adding them to the knowledge base. Facilities for accessing existing policy options by using folksonomies established by users over time, producing content by participating in forums, by blogging and micro-blogging, and by contributing to wikis they’ll create on various issues. Facilities for cognitive mapping allowing people to compare the cognitive profile of their own policy agendas with other policy agendas available in the knowledge base, helping people place their agendas in context, and preparing the way for collaboration with others in voting blocs;

g. Facilities for annotating policy options and creating the track record of criticisms and evaluations of all policy options, as well as all reasoning recorded in the knowledge base supporting them. The best practices in policy and the lessons learned will be there. The history of performance will be there, and will be organized, searchable, and navigable due to the annotation and linking capability present in the platform and people’s use of this capability over time;

h. Facilities for social networking including building and mapping networks, and analyzing them like those in such well-known applications as Facebook and LinkedIn, and for accessing social network graphs, using social software for creating communities and discussion groups, exchanging ideas, searching for and locating experts, using text and data mining, cognitive mapping, and finding and contacting voters with statistically and/or conceptually similar priorities and cognitive maps;

i. Facilities for team-based workflow so teams of people can plan and implement common tasks involving specialization, virtual team workspaces, application and desktop sharing in virtual collaborative sessions, collaborating on documents such as policy agendas, policy options, impact analyses, wikis, blog posts, and discussion forums to use in creating voting bloc coalitions;

j. Facilities for project, task, and event management, web-conferencing for online meetings to recognize and formulate problems, develop solutions, criticize them, and mobilize support for policy agendas and for voting bloc campaign activities; collaborative prioritizing of policy options as well as planning and prioritizing political initiatives to get policy options passed into law; collaborative e-learning for getting access to content fragments gathered from across the internet relevant to a problem they’re trying to solve, and a variety of virtual environments for social collaborative learning for teams;

k. In addition to the facilities mentioned earlier, a voting/polling capability for collaborating and getting agreement in voting blocs, using agreed upon policy agendas as a legislative mandate for elected representatives and electoral candidates, a rating tool for evaluating announced candidates and recruiting new ones, a tool for monitoring elected representatives’ legislative actions, and a scorecard and decision making tool for evaluating their track records and deciding whether to vote for or against them;

l. Facilities for a mass e-mail blaster; “Write-your-rep” campaigns and petitions using voting bloc agendas; web conferencing between voting bloc members and reps, if they agree to attend; voting bloc donation solicitation and management; political event management; and voting bloc chapter management.

m. Facilities for identity management for members, a hierarchical system of access rights guaranteeing the security of sensitive data, content, or applications, assigning access rights to any object, a central user and rights directory allowing access rights of individual users or groups to be assigned with a mouse-click. Facilities for creating unbreakable security for privacy protection including, if necessary, quantum encryption.

Next we look at the case of the reinventdemocracy.net platform and its Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) tools being developed by a team led by political scientist Nancy Bordier. The platform, IVCS tools, and voters using it will together form an open PCAS, solving the wicked problem of overcoming Michels’s Iron Law which, today, is threatening to transform the US and other modern democracies into oligarchies.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part One, Conceptual Foundations

8:37 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

The Disconnect

It’s hardly news that there’s a very wide chasm between voters, lawmakers and political parties. The rage in America reflected in the Republican primary contests is palpable. And there’s also rage among progressives as well, though it’s not finding an outlet in the Democratic Party. The same is true in Europe, where we see unrest in many nations. People in developing nations are demanding democracy, and making some progress too. But, everywhere one looks in developed countries, democracy is retreating, and Michels’s (p. 400) “Iron Law of Oligarchy” is triumphant.

In the U.S. most Americans believe lawmakers don’t care what they think, Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, and most Americans believe the major parties won’t represent them. Neither tries to match its policies to a majority of voters’ preferences, and both continuously support laws that seem designed to benefit large corporate interests and the 1%, but not working Americans. There are now more unaffiliated voters than party-affiliated ones, and major party candidates often win elections with only 25% of potential voters.

Most voters want most federal incumbents defeated, but legal constraints on minor parties and candidates typically ensure their defeat, whether they are “insurgents” from within the party, or candidates from third parties. This skewing of electoral outcomes leads voters to think that they have to vote for major party candidates, or “waste” their vote. Angry voters alternate election cycles between major party candidates to “punish” incumbents. But the new “winners” ignore what voters want, just as the old ones did. So, how can we repair this disconnect? How can we make office holders accountable and representative again?

Complex Adaptive Systems: Features and Significance

A mechanistic world view is unlikely to work in reforming our political systems, because they’re not clockworks, “orange” or otherwise. We need models for transformation using perspectives of complexity theory, focused on the significance of co-intelligence and deliberative democracy in tackling legislative problems.

In working with complexity theory, it’s common to try to define “Complex Adaptive System” (CAS). But, I think it’s better just to list their features. The first of these is coherence in the face of change, or “identity.” Coherence refers to maintenance of the characteristic pattern of organization of a CAS.

Second, CASs are diverse in both form and capability. They range from adaptive software agents to the International Social System, and include one-celled living systems, immune systems, and many others of diverse form, varying capability and degrees of complexity.

Third, CASs are populated with agents (members) who learn, individually and collectively. Fourth, distributed problem-solving and knowledge processing is an important feature of CASs. Individual agents in CASs solve their own problems. In doing so, they contribute to solving CAS problems in a distributed, but organized way.

Fifth, CASs are marked by extensive interactions among their agents. Intermittent interactions are not sufficient to establish a CAS pattern with its complex patterning of feedback loops and reinforcements that maintains the CAS at “the edge of chaos.”

Sixth, CAS agents self-organize to produce emergent global behavior at the CAS level. This is one of the most important features of a CAS. The key idea is that agents comprising it act in accordance with their own purposes and motives, in pursuit of their own goals, and that their actions produce self-organized emergent global patterns that identify the CAS.

Seventh, CASs behave and learn partly in accordance with knowledge which can be modeled as ‘rules.’ Eighth, they also adapt by creating and using new rules as they continuously attempt to fit themselves to their environments. The process of arriving at new rules is “creative” or “evolutionary” learning. It involves “blind” generation of rules and recombination of components of old, well-established rules. Once new rules are formulated, they are subject to selection through interaction among CAS agents and interaction of the CAS with its environment.

Ninth, the ability of CASs to successfully learn and develop new rules, or knowledge, is greater to the extent that their constituent agents are operating in problem-solving and distributed knowledge processing environments marked by relative “openness.” “Openness” must apply across various phases of the problem-solving process. It has at least two important dimensions. The first is internal transparency (availability and accessibility of information across CAS agents); the second is epistemic inclusiveness, equal opportunity for all autonomous CAS agents to participate and interact in the problem-solving and distributed knowledge processing of the system, so that it can be more effective. Both are always found in high-performance CASs. An example taken from outside the human domain helps illustrate a pattern of (uncontaminated) epistemic inclusiveness.

Ant colonies illustrate ‘native’ CASs that rely on distributed knowledge processing informed by the individual experiences of their members, and global behaviors at the CAS level determined as a consequence of information flow among these members. There is no centralized planning or control producing collective behavior in such systems. All knowledge created by individual ants contributes to the pattern of collective knowledge reflected in changed behavioral predispositions of the ant colony, and in the pattern of pheramone trails emerging at the level of the collective. Knowledge at the global level is entirely distributed or “bottom-up” in origin, as is the learning that produces it.

Social CASs created by humans are unlike ant colonies. Agents in human CASs distinguish, to a much greater degree than ants do, power, authority, or influence relations, and concentrations of such relations, and of the resources that are at the basis of them. These are an emergent reality affecting human CAS interaction. The existence of such relations is an important factor distinguishing social CASs comprised of human agents, and their interactions, from other types of CASs.

Human CASs are Promethean

Human CASs, are subject to human attempts to change the patterns of interaction and outcomes that their CASs are predisposed to produce. In fact, politics, management, and leadership is frequently about attempting to treat organizations as though they were, or ought to behave like, mechanical systems, subject to determinate cause-and-effect relations, rather than as CASs whose adaptive global behavior results from self-organization and distributed knowledge processing.

Such attempts produce continual conflict between predispositions produced by interacting agents within self-organizing processes, and other predispositions produced by efforts of the powerful and influential to realize their own visions of the future through command-and-control interventions. So, human CASs constitute a type we will call Promethean CASs (PCASs), because, their normal predispositions toward behavior and distributed knowledge processing are subject to the “god-like” intervention of powerful and influential agents. That’s why Michels’s “Iron Law of Oligarchy” is often predictive of politics in political parties and democracies.

PCASs, the Movement Toward Oligarchy, and Open Society

The movement toward oligarchy in human-based systems happens because powerful people and institutions don’t like continuous self-organization, and the appearance of new ideas, ideologies, and power structures that come along with it. So, they intervene to stop or regulate it, and, in doing so, destroy the essence of democracy; the ability of people to always organize anew and disturb and even displace the policies, power structures, elites, and institutions of the past with new ones, more adaptive in solving the problems of the present and future.

The task of any CAS system is to maintain itself at “the edge of chaos.” This is difficult enough in the face of environmental influences that tend to transition PCASs either to chaotic dynamics, or to closed systems inexorably driven toward a sterile mechanical equilibrium. It is even more difficult in the context of continuing political or management interventions that frequently may amplify the strength of tendencies toward one extreme or another by changing the internal environment affecting self-organization. management, leadership, and politics.

In the context of Open Enterprises and Open Societies, the task is about implementing policies and programs that will support self-organization in distributed knowledge processing and problem-solving by maintaining openness in problem recognition, developing alternative solutions, and error elimination, as well as openness in communicating and diffusing new solutions across the enterprise or across society. Conversely leadership, management, and politics in such systems that undermines self-organization by repressing or otherwise manipulating it, will transition human PCASs away from openness and democracy, and towards extreme conflict systems, or authoritarian or totalitarian oligarchies.

So, for democratic societies today, an important question hangs in the balance: How can we counter tendencies toward oligarchy in our democracies by restoring self-organization and distributed knowledge processing to their proper place in reinforcing open society, democracy, and adaptiveness to environmental and societal change?

Many are looking to e-participation innovations in democracy to provide an answer to this question. But if e-participation is to serve that purpose, rather than the purpose of elite astro-turfing manufacturing consent within a totalitarian oligarchy, then e-participation platforms must fulfill certain requirements. We’ll turn to those in the second part of this series.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

Enhancing Democracy or Strengthening the Emerging Oligarchy: Which Will It Be?

7:59 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) raises the issue of emerging oligarchy, based on wealth inequality, taking control of democracies worldwide through a small global elite composed of the very rich, powerful corporate executives in financial multinationals and other global conglomerates, and their allies in international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).

To get out from under the domination of these elites, the 99% have to counter the influence of extreme wealth in manipulating perceptions and constructions of social, economic, cultural, and political reality, and electoral processes. Enter new web-based platforms as a possible democratizing force that could provide the ability to defeat manipulation and self-organize without recourse to massive financial resources. But do the new platforms offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the fifth in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). The second focused on AE. The third analyzed No Labels (NL), and the fourth covered Ruck.us. Here, I’ll explore in more detail the question of the relationships among AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us, and explicitly consider the possibility of some combination of the three organizations, whether formal or informal, working together to impact the political system. I’ll also discuss the likely implications of such a combination for the American body politic.

The Lay of the Land

AE wants to get a candidate on the ballots of all 50 States who is nominated using its Internet-based process without involvement of the major parties. No Labels wants to create a nationwide movement that will place people in office who are committed to bipartisan or non-partisan political and legislative decision making. Ruck.us thinks:

“. . . The real question is, why do we need parties at all? The support for an alternative showcased in this poll is real. The energy around Americans Elect, Ruck.us, and other outlets is proof that technology, not parties, is the future of political activism.“

So, all three organizations share a hostility to the party system. They do so because of the “partisanship” apparently responsible for the “legislative paralysis” that we’ve seen for a very long time; but also, very plainly, because that paralysis has interfered with passing legislation implementing the current Washington consensus that the growing national debt, and deficit spending are problems that must be solved with a combination of tax reform and austerity in Government spending.

Both Progressives in the Democratic Party, and Tea Partiers among the Republicans are blocking “the centrist agreement” on governmental austerity that many of the prime movers in back of these three efforts support so strongly. So, at some level, it is likely that these attempts at changing the political process are not being undertaken simply to remove legislative paralysis, and improve the functioning of the US Government. After all, that can ultimately be done by a disgusted public who comes to realize that it must deliver overwhelming majorities for one of the two parties, to give one or the other a chance to legislate their preferred programs without the need for compromise.

However, the people behind these three alternatives don’t want “the people” making that kind of decision. Instead, they want to change the political system so that centrists like themselves will always hold the balance of power to eliminate either “right” or “left” solutions in favor of solutions that maintain the economic and political positions of current establishment elites while imposing austerity on others. In order to do that they have to outflank the parties in the short, rather than the long run. That’s what organizations like AE and No Labels, and perhaps Ruck.us, as well, are really about, rather than any desire to improve Government or restore democracy.

Looking at the three alternative organizations and their web-based efforts, we can note the following:

– AE claims that they are not a political party, but a 501 (c)(4) “social welfare” organization, and in addition, that their national nominating convention will not, by itself, produce a party apparatus that can deliver votes in the general election. However, AE calls itself a party when it applies for ballot lines in States that require organizations applying for them to be political parties. Because of this clear contradiction, Democracy 21 has written to the IRS asking for an investigation of AE and possible denial of its claim to 501 (c)(4) status.

– AE may be able to accomplish its goal of nominating a centrist candidate with a Petersonian austerity agenda, by using the rules of their closed corporation to manipulate the nomination process at the on-line convention to deliver votes for a centrist. If the Republicans fail to nominate Mitt Romney, for example, he might well be available to AE’s delegates as their nominee. Or as many have speculated, AE may be a stalking horse for Michael Bloomberg, who could never win in either the Republican or Democratic primary process, but who can possibly be nominated in AE’s process and be simultaneously placed on ballot lines across the country; provided, of course, he hasn’t already transformed himself into a latter day Mayor Daley by violently repressing the OWS protestors, while violating their first amendment rights; something he has been doing almost since day one of the protests in New York.

Or as currently seems to be the case, AE board members, in violation of corporate by-laws, are pushing boomlets for Jon Huntsman, and/or Buddy Roemer.

– On the other hand, if AE does succeed in nominating a centrist, that won’t automatically mean that he/she will get elected, since AE will have little in the way of a party organization to back the nominee at the time of the nomination. The specific nominee may also have little in the way of a personal organization depending on who is nominated. Romney would have a nationwide organization; but if the convention goes for Bloomberg, David Petraeus, Jon Huntsman, Buddy Roemer, or some other “centrist,” then perhaps not so much.

– Now, that’s where No Labels comes in. No Labels is building a national organization to influence candidates and office holders to support bi-partisanship and avoid “extremes” in legislation. Both AE and No Labels have big money behind them. They don’t disclose their donors and the amounts they’ve contributed. But, David Walker, former head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and current head of the Comeback America Initiative is one of the co-founders of No Labels, making it very likely that Peter G. Peterson’s money is behind the No Labels effort. In addition, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild has been a booster of No Labels and may very well be a major financial backer, while at the same time also being a member of the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect.

– No Labels is spending a considerable amount of effort, and, most probably, money, to organize across the country, in every State and among millennials on and off-campuses. They’re using the negative image of the ”do-nothing” parties “gridlocking” Congress, and the myth of a non-partisan, non-ideological orientation, to get people involved in No Labels. They’ve also announced that they’re hiring political operatives in every Congressional District. It is likely that by the time a centrist ticket is delivered by AE in the late spring, a national No Labels organization that can organize and deliver votes will be able to back the AE nominees and also candidates in both parties that back a centrist/austerity agenda.

– As for coordination between AE and No Labels, in addition to the link provided by de Rothschild, mentioned above, Mark McKinnon, the strategist who formerly served Republicans is a co-founder of No Labels. He is also listed as one of “the leaders” of AE. So, he, too, clearly provides a way of coordinating between the two “bi-partisan” centrist organizations. In addition, there are many other personal interactions among people in the two organizations, as Jim Cook documents here.

– So, where does Ruck.us fit into this picture? Both the No Labels and AE organizational efforts are targeted on tasks other than building social networks. AE is about nominating a centrist candidate and manipulating the consent of voters who become delegates. No Labels is about aggregating people disgusted with the major parties into a movement and political organizational force that can operate at local, State, and national levels, and influence Representatives, Senators and Presidents to give up what they think are the right solutions to problems in order to enact solutions that involve “shared sacrifice,” and fiscal/economic austerity.

– Both efforts use the Internet to pursue their goals; but they don’t organize people through using social media to form group social networks on a continuous day-to-day basis, as Ruck.us does. Social network formation among Millennials was shown to be vital in mobilizing electoral support by the Obama and Dean campaigns. And so, in short, what Ruck.us can offer to the other two efforts is the social networking component of a modern political party — a component that may be able to create social networks and enable their co-optation by the on-line nominating convention seeking a right-centrist candidate, and the right-centrist movement looking for workers and supporters to staff a political party-like organization that can deliver votes to “bi-partisan” candidates like AE’s.

– And for coordination among AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us, there is, once again, a convenient link provided by the ubiquitous Mark McKinnon. McKinnon, is one of the leading advisors of Ruck.us. In addition, Bradley Tusk, Campaign Manager for Michael Bloomberg, is a booster. Also, one of the early stated purposes of Ruck.us was to provide a social networking service for third parties. Lastly, Lady de Rothschild already related to both AE and No Labels, has currently been boosting Ruck.us on twitter.

A Political Troika?

All the pieces are in place for Ruck.us coordination with AE and No labels, to form a troika of organizations that, if they chose to unite, either formally through a merger, or informally through a loosely coupled alliance, can serve either as a functional substitute for a political party, or as an emerging 3rd major political party itself. AE supplies the candidates and ballot lines, Ruck.us supplies the social networks, and No Labels provides the organizational and much of the funding muscle necessary to deliver the votes. It is the organization that is at the center of the whole effort. It is the organization that can provide a home for Democrats who are corporatist or fiscally conservative, and not progressive; and who can also provide one for Republicans who find tea party market and religious fundamentalism, and social issues positions, either insane or morally distasteful.

So, what these three non- or bi-partisan organizations is likely to do is to either create a formal new third right- centrist party, or, alternatively, at least an informal third force loosely coupled aliance that will empower right-centrist elements in both parties and free them from the influence of tea partiers, progressives, and anti-corporatists alike.

It is likely, in other words, to further enable the triumph of corporatism and the continued emergence of plutocracy on American soil. What it is not likely to do is make the party system, or the Government, any more representative of working and middle class Americans, the 99%, for whom the OWS movement is currently demanding social and economic justice, and restored political primacy in American Democracy.

Even more importantly, what the troika also is not likely to do is to provide a way for people to become politically active through a web-based system in a way that can overcome the iron law of oligarchy, by producing activities that will renew democracy on a continuous basis. On the contrary, the characteristics of the organizations that may comprise the troika are very likely to reinforce the tendencies to oligarchy in the United States.

Since both AE and No Labels are clearly closed oligarchical structures managed from the top-down, and funded in non-transparent ways by wealthy donors and corporations, they will produce mass support only by manipulating and co-opting support from delegates and members. They will not allow their platforms and activities to be generated from the bottom-up by delegates and members, unless those happen to be consistent with the programs of their oligarchies.

One can easily disagree with these views, of course. But for such a disagreement to be credible, I think it has to be based on changes to the by-laws of each organization that prohibit their boards and Executive staff from over-turning majority rule decisions made by the votes of delegates or web site members, and pledge these same Boards and Executive staffs to pledge under penalty of perjury that they will not change these by-laws without a 2/3 vote of members or delegates, and will also be open to personal liability law suits, without corporate indemnification, if they break that pledge. In other words, no one should believe the assertions of either of these two organizations that the will of their participants expressed in votes will be controlling for these organizations, unless there are internal constitutional arrangements preventing the organizational elites from overturning decisions of their members or delegates, or from manipulating these decisions through elite controls of the internal mechanisms of counting the votes on their web platforms.

In short, given the state of our present political system, there can be no question of trusting leaders of organizations with ideological agendas to maintain the internal democracy they are marketing to potential participants in their processes. Their asking people to trust them isn’t good enough! They need to demonstrate that trust is not necessary because their institutional arrangements guarantee that their web-based voting or collective decision processes cannot be overturned, or manipulated, or suddenly and quietly changed by their board or managerial elites.

As for Ruck.us, the capabilities for social networking it provides aren’t comprehensive enough to overcome the tendencies toward oligarchy existing in the other two organizations, or in a combination of the three. In fact, to the extent, that Ruck.us does support bottom-up social network formation, it will only expose networks it enables to co-optation by the other two organizations, if it collaborates with them in any way, as Ruck.us moves down the road.

Political Implications

There are two kinds of political implications I want to consider here. First, what is likely to happen to the substance of policy if the Troika is successful in getting a a substantial number of electoral votes for the presidential ticket winning the AE nomination, and also a number of seats in both Houses of Congress for candidates supporting the policy agenda of No Labels. And second, what the implications of troika success are for reinforcing the trend toward oligarchy.

On the substance, I’ve pointed out that Americans Elect and No Labels are clearly very strongly in favor of what they call fiscal responsibility, by which they mean long-term deficit reduction through cutting spending and increasing tax revenues and also substantial reduction in the ratio of the public debt subject to the limit, to GDP. In concrete terms this means cutting spending and entitlement programs intended to benefit the 99%, while cutting tax loopholes and “broadening the tax base,” which means different things to different people, but which over the history of “tax reform” since the 1960s has never meant increased pain for the 1%.

Right now, Congress hasn’t been able to come to agreement on something like the Simpson/Bowles plan, or the Rivlin/Domenici plan or any of the other “centrist” proposals aimed at long-term deficit reduction, because the Republicans can’t get tax increases on the wealthy through their caucus, while the Democrats are understandably reluctant to betray their constituents for the sake of the abstraction of fiscal responsibility. They might do it, if they can get the Republicans to walk the plank with them, but not otherwise.

The leaders of AE and No Labels (NL) believe that a centrist coalition advocating fiscal responsibility, that says it is non-partisan, led by a president pledged to support fiscal responsibility, not beholden to either of the major parties, would be able to break the logjam in Congress, because that coalition would hold the balance of power in relation to organizing both Houses, and allocating leadership positions and committee chairpersonships.

In return for its votes on these matters, the new “centrist” coalition is supposed to be able to force the two major parties to abandon what their bases want and to all come to Jesus on fiscal responsibility, and other positions which the AE and NL elites appear to support such as: a moderate foreign policy relying on “realism,” a “high-tech” expensive military, active anti-terrorism efforts, and first rate diplomacy; a policy of strong support for Wall Street and the big banks; globalism and free trade; active discouragement of populist political activism from either the tea party or the OWS direction, even if that entails violation of constitutional rights; strong gun controls; and “fairly liberal” social policies relating to Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, and other disadvantaged groups.

The new coalition, if it could establish itself, would pick up support from “blue dog” Democrats in the Senate and Northeastern and Midwestern “moderate” Republicans, who would then become “non-partisan.” The “free spending,” anti-Wall Street, “peace-loving,” pro-regulation/anti-business, and strong civil liberties, and civil rights progressives, and evangelical Christians, small government, low taxes, anti-wall street, and bellicose right wingers would remain in the Democratic and Republican Parties, ready to be outflanked on all the major issues depending on where the “centrists” come down. So, the expectation here, is that American politics would be dominated by one “centrist” coaltion, a virtual, but perhaps never actual, political party, always retaining power, and always capable of getting its own pro- 1% policies through the Congress.

In the beginning, when that “centrist” third force is getting established, it can grow quickly by winning the fiscal responsibility fight. And perhaps also by either getting its presidential candidate elected in a three-way race, or failing that, at least throwing the presidential election into the House of Representatives where those who favor the “centrist” coalition may be able to get its candidate elected, or, at least, to extract major concessions, right off the bat, in return for giving its critical support to the presidential candidate from the major party that is willing to pay for it with the most substantial concessions to its platform.

Will things happen that way? I think it’s very hard to say. In a three-way presidential race, a “moderate” pro-Wall Street “centrist” may pull more votes away from a Republican than a Democrat running as a progressive. In state level and local Congressional races, anything can happen, including splitting the moderate vote in such a way that very “right-wing” Republicans are elected. Or in some districts, splitting what otherwise would be the Republican vote, allowing Democratic progressives to win. In short, in different races we may have very different results from having such a third force in the process, including hardening positions in both the major parties facilitating their transformation into “small” government and “big” anti-corporate parties, that may work together to frustrate the pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street legislation favored by the Austerian “centrist”, “non-partisan”, “non-party” coalition.

Whatever the result of this “non-partisan” course would be, I think we can confidently say that if AE and NL joined with Ruck.us and succeeded in their fiscal responsibility objectives, then the result of the new coalition’s insistence on “fiscal responsibility” through long-term pro-cyclical deficit reduction would be disastrous for the economy. And its other policy positions would only reinforce the economic position and dominance of the 1%.

I’ve examined the reasons why I think we should expect economic collapse from a contractionary long-term fiscal policy in many previous posts. But the basic reason is that when the private sector of one’s economy is broken, the only sector that can restore aggregate demand by transferring net financial assets to it by deficit spending is the Federal Government, because it is the only sector that can create new net financial assets to be placed in the private sector. That is an economic fact, not merely a theory.

The “centrist” Austerians leading the way to the new coalition, are, in the main, proposing decreasing public deficits and increased taxation on some part of the private sector. That means either increasing private debt, or increasing private austerity over time, with no hope of real economic recovery and full employment unless there is a big debt bubble. That is not sustainable policy and it will only exacerbate the inequality problems we already have in the US each time a debt bubble bursts.

Moving now, to the issue of the trend towards or away from oligarchy, what AE, NL, and Ruck.us have in common is their goal of replacing traditional political parties using on-line forms of interaction — the equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Democratically-run political parties can and should play a constructive role in democratic political systems in aggregating voters’ preferences – provided voters control the parties, their platforms, and their nominating and electoral processes.

The solution to the problem of oligarchy in political parties and political systems, more generally, is not to apply web technology to abandon them, along with the hard-won reforms introduced by progressives over many years. Instead, it is to apply web technology to drive those reforms further and to defeat political party oligarchies, open the way for third parties, neutralize the influence of money in politics, and provide for a continuous and much higher level of activism that will overcome the iron law of oligarchy for good.

Conclusions

AE and No Labels are top-down efforts controlled by a relatively small number of social and political engineers interposing themselves between voters and the nation’s electoral processes. If Ruck.us allies or otherwise joins with them, then the combination of the three, whether formal, or informal, would lead to a corporate-controlled digital infrastructure for the dis-intermediation of political parties and self-government by a small elite “guiding democracy.” In other words, it will only reinforce the trend toward oligarchy through manipulating the discontents and perspectives of the 99%, and co-opting their energies by directing them toward imaginary problems sustained by myths, stereotypes, and ideologies that don’t fit the real world and the real needs of people.

If we value democracy, then we must stop assuming that if something is web-based and formally participatory, then it is automatically democratic. And we must firmly reject efforts to use our hopes for online democracy, and our willingness to seek it, to be co-opted by the 1% to consolidate their control over our lives. The web is ours! We must occupy it and make it a bulwark of democracy, and not just another means to enslave us for the benefit of the 1%. But how can we do that?

We can do it by working through a web platform that will enable the U.S. electorate to use the collective action power of the Internet to create a new 21st century form of self-government, that cannot be corrupted by special interests or political parties and politicians beholden to these interests. Such a platform must empower voters to bypass the current system and circumvent the institutions that have corrupted it. It must do this by enabling voters of all persuasions to build voter-controlled online voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get control of all the vital processes that determine what the nation’s legislative priorities are, who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are enacted.

The platform must facilitate these blocs and coalitions working together outside its boundaries, on the ground, prior to elections, to democratize political parties so that their supporters control them rather than special interests. The blocs and coalitions must be able to form alliances with democratically-run parties while supplanting all parties as the driving forces of U.S. Politics, by providing them with a self-organizing foundation of participation and activism that renews and reinvents democracy and regulates and contains the tendencies for oligarchies to form, little-by-little, every day. In this way, the iron law of oligarchy can finally be overcome and true democratic, self-government can be achieved.

So, where does this leave us? Certainly not with the emergent political troika we see taking shape before us, because fortunately, there is an alternative. That alternative meets the requirements for a platform I just outlined. It is called the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) and it is currently in development. In my next posts, I’ll analyze the social network forming among the elites of AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us in more detail. I’ll also discuss the IVCS, and explain why it can put a stop to the emerging oligarchy and instead create an emerging 21st century democracy for the 99%.

Ruck.us and the Emerging Oligarchy

12:28 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) raises the issue of emerging oligarchy, based on wealth inequality, taking control of democracies worldwide through a small global elite composed of the very rich, powerful corporate executives in financial multinationals and other global conglomerates, and their allies in international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).

To get out from under the domination of these elites, the 99% have to counter the influence of extreme wealth in manipulating perceptions and constructions of social, economic, cultural, and political reality, and electoral processes. Enter new web-based platforms as a possible democratizing force that could provide the ability to defeat manipulation and self-organize without recourse to massive financial resources. But do the new platforms offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the fourth in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). The second focused on AE. The third analyzed No Labels (NL). This one will deal with Ruck.us.

Description

Ruck.us’s web platform is more explicitly targeted at social networking than either Americans Elect’s or No Labels’s. The developers of Ruck.us say they are concerned about American democracy. They say that institutions hold more power than people, and also believe that our two political parties:

“. . . have outgrown their usefulness and become a distraction. The result is less participation, poorer dialogue, and an unhealthy democracy.

“We believe that we can do better, and the trick is simple – give you more power. No matter who you are or what your political ideology is, Ruck.us will 1) match you to politically like-minded people; 2) enable you to exchange information; and 3) take collective action on the issues that matter most to you. It’s that easy: Connect. Engage. Change your World.”

When engaging with Ruck.us you begin by answering questions about your views, politics, and values. Based on your responses, you are matched with others who have similar views to your own and are assigned to “a ruck” by the web site, automatically.

“. . . You can follow your Ruck’s political activity across Ruck.us, facebook and twitter, see what issues they’re discussing, and which petitions they’re signing. Ultimately, Ruck.us is about taking action. Think of your Ruck as a megaphone that lets you super-charge your ideas by instantly getting them into the hands of people who are most likely to be passionate about them.“

A “ruck,” a term from Soccer, is:

“. . . an informal and spontaneous coming together of people, of no fixed duration, for a strategic purpose. Applying that concept to politics, a ruck is a group of like-minded people who have come together to create change on the issues they’re most passionate about. What’s interesting about Ruck.us is that your ruck is in constant flux; as more members join the site and we learn more about them, your ruck will be automatically shifted and refined to match you better. Rucks give you an innovative way to act collectively with people who think like you.”

Members of rucks can exchange information via open forum and dialogue on various issues. They can also plan and take collective actions of various kinds.

A person can join Ruck.us anonymously, according to the web site. A user can also specify on her/his settings page what part of his/her survey answers or other personal information she/he wants others to see. In addition, the ability to communicate with other users of Ruck.us, one-on-one, was added in early November 2011.

Also, the stated Ruck.us privacy policy is to be very protective of personal information its users entrust to them. Details of the policy are here,, and Ruck.us also makes the following statement:

“The sole purpose of our data collection efforts is to get to know you better so that we can match you up with like-minded people and introduce you to collective actions you may support. We will never sell, rent, or trade your personally identifiable information. Data privacy is very important to us. For more on this important subject, please read our privacy policy.”

But the terms of use of the site contain statements saying that Ruck.us reserves the right to exploit “user generated content” which would appear to include the voluminous and highly sensitive personal information about voters’ political views that Ruck.us collects. According to these terms of use, one must agree to allow Ruck.us to re-package, publicize, share, and exchange such information with third parties in order to use the site. Specifically:

”As between you and Ruckus, you shall retain all of your ownership rights in and to the User-Generated Content. However, by submitting User-Generated Content to Ruckus, you hereby grant Ruckus a worldwide, non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, edit, modify, translate, reformat, prepare derivative works based upon, display publicly, perform publicly and otherwise exploit (including but not limited to over the Internet, broadcast television or any other uses or media), the User-Generated Content, in whole or in part, including future rights that Ruckus (or its successor) may otherwise become entitled to that do not yet exist, as well as new uses, media, means and forms of exploitation throughout the universe exploiting current or future technology yet to be developed to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law. . . .“

These aspects of the terms of use are similar to the terms of use of Americans Elect, and seem, on their face, to belie the claims made in their privacy policy.

The principals of Ruck.us are:

– Nathan Daschle, CEO

– Ray Glendening, Chief Strategy Officer

– Assaf Weinberg, Chief Technology Officer.

Its Board of Advisors includes:

– Mark McKinnon – Senior Advisor, George W. Bush for President (2000, 2004); John McCain for President (2008)

– Joe Trippi – Chief Strategist, Dean for President (2004)

– Bradley Tusk – Campaign Manager, Michael Bloomberg for Mayor (2009)

– Rich Tafel – Founder, Log Cabin Federation

– Doug Ulman – President and CEO, LIVESTRONG

– Peter Choharis – Attorney and former Executive Director, 2004 Democratic Platform Committee

– Tom Davidson – Founder and CEO, EverFi

– Aaron Earls – Co-Founder and VP, New Media Strategies

The principals and advisors are a centrist establishment group, some slightly left of center, some right of center. No one is associated with the emerging politics of OWS and the 99%, and none are associated with opposition to the current Washington consensus on austerity, as OWS appears to be. Both Bradley Tusk and Mark McKinnon are closely associated with partisans of fiscal sustainability/responsibility, which appear to be euphemisms for austerity and deficit reduction, as these ideas are viewed, but never really defined, or fully explicated, in the Washington consensus.

Evaluation

Like AE and No Labels, Ruck.us reflects the common view that the two-party system has failed us. Unlike them, however, its primary emphasis is on on-line social networking. Like the precedent-setting Interactive Voter Choice System, it involves a continuous effort to bring together like-minded groups of people and to facilitate their collective action.

The founders of Ruck.us believe that political parties in general aren’t needed today and that political organizing through social media and related technologies can replace them. But Ruck.us doesn’t explain how political parties can be replaced as institutions that aggregate diverse interests into policies, and they are also unclear about how people can move from their Rucks, which are relatively small groups of hundreds of people, to a critical mass large enough to counter the electoral and legislative influence of the two major political parties.

Further, they haven’t considered at all how the protections for democracy that are present in the current party system’s primaries and caucuses can be transferred to an online environment in which unregulated private corporations such as AE, No Labels and Ruck.us may become dominant. The rules and laws governing intra-party participation have evolved painfully, over many years, through countless progressive efforts to open up political parties to the influence and will of the people.

Do the current flaws of the two major parties justify the loss of the benefits of these hard-fought past victories by giving over control of our electoral processes, to private, unregulated, web-based corporations? Somehow, I doubt that when people find out that this is the kind of trade-off that Ruck.us is envisioning, that they will find it an attractive alternative.

In addition, the ability to self-organize in ruck.us is fairly limited and one’s initial engagement is top-down. When you sign up, you’re given a set of issues to rank according to their priority. You begin by selecting your important issues from the set. The issues are defined so vaguely (e.g. The Economy, Children, Taxes) that only a few stand out as unimportant. Then you rank order the issues, but you have no way of indicating how important you think the issues are, apart from your ranking.

You’re also given an opportunity to add issues you think are important, and then to rank them in the context of the others. The issue or issues you add, aren’t added to the standard issues list presented to everyone. So, ruck members aren’t determining the list of important issues. Ruck.us management is doing that — top-down.

Then there are many specific questions presented to members to get at their “political DNA.” These questions were initially formulated by Ruck.us, and each question is multiple choice. Many reflect a progressive framing, and such a framing is much more frequent than one finds at AE or No Labels. But, there are also questions that incorporate conservative or tea party framings, either in the over-all question, or in the choices offered.

These different framing biases don’t render the set of questions objective. What they do is to ensure more diversity of bias in the set of questions, but each question carries its own bias by excluding certain choices and imposing a frame on respondents that may differ greatly from their own ways of thinking about an issue.

Bottom-up influence is allowed here. Members can add possible answers to the questions and these answers are shared with other members of one’s ruck. You can add and share with your ruck additional questions that other members can answer. But it’s not clear from the web site whether the new questions are shared with everyone going forward, or only with one’s ruck.

This is important because one is assigned to a ruck based on one’s answers to questions. It’s important that a person can’t choose a ruck based on his/her sharing views with others, because even though a person’s membership in a ruck is initially based on their answers to questions, the assignment to a ruck is automatic. It’s not up to the person involved.

It’s based on the Ruck.us profile similarity algorithm selected by management. Different similarity algorithms, based on different assumptions can lead to different results. Why did Ruck.us select the algorithm it uses in preference to another? We don’t know, because that information isn’t provided on its site.

In other words, once you’re assigned to a ruck, then you can trim its membership by following some of its members and unfollowing others. You can also add members from a list suggested by Ruck.us by following them. You can also search for Ruck.us members, and by following them, add them to your ruck

Even though this is a bottom-up element in Ruck.us, it is a bottom-up element that may well lead to the proliferation of unstable and constantly changing rucks rather than to building one’s own ruck. Or it may lead to adding people to one’s ruck whose political preferences don’t really agree with one’s own. In short, there are no tools in the platform to counter instability and possible political fragmentation. It’s just assumed that social networking in rucks will lead to political integration, but this view is unrealistic, as any substantial experience with Facebook and/or Twitter, makes clear.

Finally, the “political DNA” metaphor doesn’t fit here. People’s positions on policy issues are not fundamental and unchanging the way DNA is. And they haven’t evolved the way DNA has. Instead, people’s positions on policy issues are learned, and sometimes unlearned, as people encounter different life experiences.

Learning is a lot quicker than evolution, and the political beliefs expressed on a site like ruck.us can change much more quickly than DNA. What we’re talking about here isn’t DNA, it’s the political beliefs and ideologies people hold. And it’s very doubtful that when they fully understand what personal information organizations like AE and Ruck.us are gathering from them, that many people will want to reveal their personal ideology to a third party like Ruck.us, which reserves the right to use these revelations in many different ways.

Conclusion

Ruck.us is most clearly understood as a tool for giving people with similar issue and answer profiles a chance to create social groups and exchange political opinions with members of these groups while joining together with some of one’s own ruck members to take small scale actions, such as having meet-ups, signing petitions, and coordinating visits to representatives. It has only very limited facilities for going further down the road of political organization than that.

Unless its current capabilities are greatly magnified and diversified, then, Ruck.us will not revolutionize politics in the 21st century, as it claims it will do. So the question is, will it operate as an alternative by itself, or will it work in collaboration with others? And if it does work in collaboration with others what does it have to offer to them? I think the answer to this question is that it can offer identified, already formed, but artificially constituted social groups that other organizations can use for their own purposes.

Consider, what are the key ingredients of a powerful political party? First, there’s membership and delegates who will participate in a nominating convention. Second, platforms, and individuals willing to volunteer and provide “boots on the ground.” And third, social networks that can hold the volunteers together in common efforts organized around group identity.

It’s this third element that Ruck.us may be able to create through its web site. And the result of that may be a set of isolated “rucks” composed of people with similar views, ripe for co-optation, by social movements and/or political parties. These may ally with Ruck.us, buy it, or simply buy either the “transferable license” or a “sub-license” to the “user-generated content” its users gave Ruck.us the right to “exploit” when they signed up at the site and began to generate answers to questions. (See the earlier quote from the Ruck.us terms of use statement above, but also keep in mind the conflicting quote saying that it will never sell personally identifiable user information.)

The questions then are, which social movements/parties may be interested in co-opting these rucks and how? Will Ruck.us make user-generated content available to outside parties? Will these outside parties then choose to use that content to co-opt or recruit from the rucks? If so, will these outside parties represent the 1% or represent the 99%? Or will these outside parties just acquire Ruck.us and then co-opt the rucks for their own purposes?

How these questions are answered will determine whether Ruck.us ends by reinforcing the emerging oligarchy, or whether it accomplishes its stated purpose of making people more powerful by connecting them with other people who have similar views, and creating the conditions which enable them to retain that new-found power without it being co-opted/aggregated by a movement representing the 1%.

In my next post in this series I’ll explore in more detail the question of the relationships among AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us, and explicitly consider the possibility of a merger of the three organizations. I’ll also discuss the likely implications of such a merger for the American body politic.

No Labels and the Emerging Oligarchy

9:16 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) raises the issue of emerging oligarchy based on wealth inequality taking control of democracies worldwide through a small global elite composed of the very rich, powerful corporate executives in financial multinationals and other global conglomerates, and their allies in international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements.

To get out from under the domination of these elites, the 99% have to counter the influence of extreme wealth in manipulating perceptions and constructions of social, economic, cultural, and political reality, and electoral processes. Enter new web-based platforms as a possible democratizing force that could provide the ability to defeat manipulation and self-organize without recourse to massive financial resources. But do the new platforms offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the third in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). The second focused on AE.This one will deal with No Labels (NL).

Description

No Labels is an organization whose stated purpose is to build “a movement” that will save the United States from the “hyper-partisanship” it believes has crippled the two-party system.
http://nolabels.org/approach It wants Congress to adopt and implement a particular code of conduct that will moderate “extreme partisanship” and it also has a number of specified goals for 2011 – 2012. These are:

“To build, organize and activate the No Labels movement so that it becomes a powerful voice and counterweight to the ideological extremes.

To do that we will:
Organize all 435 congressional districts with Republican, Democrat and Independent leaders.
Organize No Labels “Generation” chapters on at least 150 college campuses where Republicans, Independents and Democrats can meet together.
Organize a National Day of Action in 2012 where volunteers from around America will travel to states where Independents can vote in the primary, going door-to-door in support of candidates who reflect the No Labels attitude.
Host a National Conversation—bringing together our leaders for a live webcast where citizens from across the country can ask questions of our nation’s leaders and actively participate.
Host No Labels Community Gatherings in at least Citizen Leaders’ homes to recruit more leadership in key states.
Monitor and track the activities of all members of congress to ensure they are not playing hyper-partisan games.
Recruit new Citizen Leaders to be part of No Labels effort.”

No Labels also has a list of actions people can take to build the movement.

The public faces of No Labels are Kiki McLean, and Mark McKinnon, both long-time political operatives and strategists well-known in Washington, DC and in the media. McLean has been associated with the Democratic Party, and McKinnon with the Republican Party. Both have been promoting No Labels as a movement taking a non- or bi-partisan approach focused on problem solving.

No Labels, in addition to its stated goals of wanting to reduce partisanship and encourage a problem solving orientation marked by civility among our elected political leaders, and in contradiction to its claim that it is committed to no ideology, is also committed to particular partisan stances on political issues, and problems that its leaders want our representatives to solve. On its web site, No Labels provides “fact” briefings on: “Debt Deal Options”; “The Super Committee”; and the recent credit downgrade of the US by Standard and Poor. Its selection of “fact briefings” and its selection of “facts” used in these briefings reflects a particular orientation on substance, rather than just political process issues.

Looking at No Labels’s web site as a whole, suggests that at least part of the motivation for its co-founders’ desire to increase “bipartisanship” is a desire to advance particular partisan stances on specific policy issues or problems, beyond just “excessive political polarization,” solved. They include: the Federal Deficit; Election Reform; Energy Policy; and Trade and Globalization.

Evaluation

While Americans Elect is primarily focused on the process of supplying ballot lines and selecting a presidential candidate to give people a choice beyond the nominees of the two major parties, while claiming its utter non-partisanship, and non-ideological character, No Labels, focuses on building a nationwide movement of people who will work against “hyper-partisanship” and for bipartisan deals in politics. But as I’ve pointed out above, contrary to its claim that No Labels:

“ . . . is not a political party and does not have an issues platform. We represent a new voice for our citizens. As the movement expands there may be issues that the movement embraces and advocates but we will not prescribe what they will be in our formation and launch“ . . . “

No Labels is frankly committed to specific positions, apart from reducing partisanship. These positions are surely ideological, and No Labels is quite partisan about them, in the sense that the “movement” will support only candidates for office who share the positions expressed on their web site.

The position of No Labels as reflected in their Federal Deficit issue briefing assumes that the Government’s deficits are a problem, and that the accumulation of the national debt creates a problem of solvency for the Government. There is an apparent consensus in both parties, and in Washington, that there really is a Federal Government solvency problem. However, among many economists, there is strong disagreement about whether there is any solvency problem at all.

I’m not going to debate this point here, since I’ve done so many times before, but instead to point out that No Labels’s embracing of the idea that the Federal deficit and the rising national debt is a problem requiring a long-term deficit reduction legislative solution, is an issue position that No Labels doesn’t debate, but simply assumes is true. Its discussions related to the problem are about how it can be solved. The question of whether such a problem exists, is just considered outside the range of non- or bi-partisan discussion. In fact, it’s even fair to say that the No Labels position follows the deficit hawk line of the Peterson Foundation, Peter G. Peterson, and David Walker, one of the No Labels co-founders, in presenting the issue. Now, that’s ideological, whether No Labels is willing to admit it or not.

Similarly, the No Labels discussion of the Trade and Globalization issue isn’t neutral; it’s clearly favorable to increasing international trade and furthering the process of globalization. Again, our purpose here is not to dispute what No Labels says about this issue; but just to point out that it is not neutral. It takes a position. It argues for that position. And the position it argues for is ideological; specifically that free trade and globalization as they have been practiced so far, are good for America. Tom Friedman and other neo-liberals may believe this, but a majority of Americans (see here, and here) disagree with this ideological position today; and that disagreement is growing, not shrinking!

Similar remarks can be made about its treatment of election reform, and energy policy. No Labels has definite positions on these issues, and its Management states what these positions are, from the top-down, rather than letting the position of the No Labels movement self-organize from the bottom-up. So, is No Labels really a “movement,” or is it a top-down oligarchical organization falsely claiming, but hoping to “astro-turf,“ wide-ranging support for a Center-Right political agenda that is now facing both right and left anti-Wall Street movements?

Conclusion

If my analysis of No Labels is correct, then the answer to the question I just posed seems pretty plain. No Labels agrees with Americans Elect, that a centrist balance wheel supporting austerity economics is the solution to our immobilist politics and its inability to solve problems. It doesn’t see politics in terms of a 99% versus 1% divide or as a problem of emerging oligarchy. It sees it instead through the right-center-left prism and so its solution is to strengthen the center, giving it the balance of power, and allowing it to broker bi- or non-partisan solutions on which centrists of both parties can agree.

So, if the problem the United States is facing is to counter the emergence of oligarchy and to restore a government that is “. . . of the people, by the people, and for the people . . .” then it’s pretty clear that like AE, No Labels won’t help us do that. It won’t help us to repeal Michels’ “Iron Law of Oligarchy” and give the 99% a continuing influence in creating policies that serve them, rather than enriching the 1%. Instead, it will simply provide a way for the discontented to vent their feelings through another political organization that is guided and managed from the top-down by people representing the oligarchy.

Like AE, NL shares the Washington beltway and global consensus that the cure for our economic problems is austerity in public expenditures and restoring private solvency through savings. So, if it’s successful in building its movement we’ll have yet another force in American politics working toward a second great depression. Of course, NL doesn’t see it this way; but neither did Herbert Hoover, who paved our road to hell with good intentions.

If NL’s centrist balance wheel had been in place this past fall, it would have imposed a “centrist solution” to our economic problems in the form of a long-term deficit reduction plan such as the Bowles-Simpson proposal, which would have raised more tax revenue from the wealthy, but also cut entitlement and other Government programs for the middle class and the poor. This is exactly what I concluded about AE. Again, this is a 1% solution, not a 99% solution. It doesn’t represent what the 99% want. It is what the well-off people who run NL and AE, and many of the 1% want.

So, the “non-partisan” solution to two-party polarization that both AE and NL are trying to bring about won’t fix the political system by restoring popular control. But it will place that system even more firmly in control of the oligarchy by imposing austerity economics and impoverishing the 99% even further, while providing the balance of power in national politics to a third political force that is dominated by centrist establishment figures. In short, like AE, NL, isn’t offering a way out for people, it’s offering them a way to dig a deeper hole than they find themselves in now.

Considering the close agreement between the elites who run AE and those who run NL, we have to wonder whether the two organizations might merge in the future. AE is focusing on getting on the ballot in 50 States and on holding an online nominating convention. NL is trying to create a 50 state movement that will support centrist “non-partisan” ideology, and also provide “troops” on the ground to promote activism in support of the positions of centrism including fiscal austerity, neo-liberal “free market” economic policy, a national strong defense, and “shared sacrifice.” The two together would provide the infrastructure needed for a new political party. In a future post in this series, I’ll take up this issue of merger in more detail.

Americans Elect and the Emerging Oligarchy: Update

10:53 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

1%-ers Playing Their Tunes (Photo: fattytuna/flickr)

1%-ers Playing Their Tunes (Photo: fattytuna/flickr)

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has made many more Americans aware of the issue of an emerging oligarchy based on wealth inequality taking control of American Democracy. There are a number of ways to look at this:

– the growing economic inequality in the United States and around the world,
– the increasing control of politics both in the United States and most industrial nations by the wealthy and the giant multinational financial, energy, pharmaceutical, and other corporations which are viewed as having either the same, or in certain respects more rights than human citizens,
– the fact that neither of the two major political parties is preparing to run someone who is likely to represent the interests of the 99% (the President’s recent noises notwithstanding),
– the control of all the major media outlets by corporate interests promoting public debt hysteria,
– the persistence and growth of different standards of law enforcement for the 99% compared to the wealthy and well-situated (the 1%), and
– the increasingly powerful legal/quasi-military apparatus suppressing the constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and assembly in the name of order and defense against terrorism.

All of these perspectives come together to support a narrative and an image of the increasingly rapid takeover of democracies, including the United States, by a small global elite composed of the very rich and very powerful corporate executives. Most Americans and many more people around the world are recognizing this reality of an emerging oligarchy and are looking for ways to get out from under its domination and to re-affirm democracy and open society. But to do that they somehow have to counter the influence of wealth in manipulating the perception and construction of social, economic, cultural, and political reality by the 99% and in dominating electoral processes even though they are vastly outnumbered.

To accomplish that, people are increasingly looking to the Internet as a democratizing force that could provide the ability for people among the 99% to self-organize and create their own reality and political movements without recourse to massive financial resources. Web-based organizations are now creating web sites/platforms that claim to offer people the possibility of having a greater voice in politics and in determining its impact on their lives. But do these new efforts offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the second in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). This one will offer a more detailed analysis of AE.

Description

AE is organizing people to participate in a national on-line convention that will nominate Presidential and Vice presidential candidates and place them on ballot lines in all 50 States. People who sign up as delegates will decide the issues, select the candidates, and nominate the President through participating in the on-line convention. According to its web site, any constitutionally eligible citizen can be a candidate, provided they meet AE’s eligibility and qualification criteria. They have ballot lines in 11 States at this writing, and are currently working on 16 more.

AE states that it is “non-partisan” in its approach, and also claims that it is not a political party. However, to get a ballot line in some States you have to identify as a political party. Also, their draft by-laws contain this section:

“Section 7.2. Transition to National Organization. Pending the formation of state committees, the Board of Americans Elect shall be deemed to be acting in each state as an authorized state committee and to perform and exercise all duties, powers and responsibilities of a state committee as may be required by state law. In states where Americans Elect has met all statutory requirements to form a minor political party, such organizations shall be considered separate legal entities from Americans Elect, and shall be governed by the Board pending qualification as a national political party in accordance with law in the 2012 election. Nothing in this section shall prevent the Board from appointing persons to act as local governing bodies or agents consistent with these Bylaws in any state where Americans Elect has met such statutory requirements.”

So, there is some gray in the position AE is staking out. Are they aiming to become a national political party? If not, then what does this section of their by-laws envision?

AE claims that it doesn’t represent any special interests, and it also welcomes any registered voter, whether party-affiliated or not, who wants to become a member and participate in their on-line national nominating convention coming up in the Spring of 2012. In addition, AE says that it is not committed to any ideology, and that it will not promote any candidate or platform before its on-line nominating convention. Nor will it promote the nominee selected by its convention delegates to run on the ballot lines it secures in the 50 States.

AE is run by a closed corporation whose funding sources haven’t been made public in the main. The corporation sets all the rules for its national convention, determines who can and cannot participate, which candidates can and cannot run, and then it registers and tallies all votes in secret and without any monitoring to prevent tampering with the vote for candidates.

Evaluation

As I pointed out earlier, AE says that it is non-partisan, and is not committed to any ideology or political party, and that it is not a political party itself. Well, it certainly isn’t a branch of either the Democratic or Republican Party. However, we’ve already seen that in getting on the ballot in many States AE declares that it is a political party. So is it or isn’t it? It seems that when it wants to get a ballot line in some State it says that it is a political party; but when it wants to raise funds it relies on its status as a 501 c(4) organization to secure contributions as needed with no specified limits and also to refuse to disclose its contributors as political parties must legally do.

Is AE really non-partisan? Well, it is in the sense that it doesn’t subscribe to the platform of the two major existing political parties, but that doesn’t mean that its Managers, Leaders and Boards of Directors haven’t agreed on definite positions that they are partisan about, and that are definitely ideological.

Their ideological bias is reflected in the framing and structure of the hundreds of multiple choice questions that it asks registrants to answer to define their “true colors” from a political perspective. I won’t review those here and suggest that you go to their site, take their “true colors” survey and see for yourself whether you think there is a clear framing bias in their survey instrument. I think there is, and that this ideological bias is illustrated very well by the “core questions” that every prospective delegate to their national convention must answer.

“To date, Americans Elect delegates from the across the political spectrum answered 5 million questions on AmericansElect.org. The 9 core questions that every DELEGATE has already answered include:

ECONOMY: What is your stance on the US budget deficit? Are in you in favor of more spending cuts, more tax increases or some combination of both?

ENERGY: What is your stance on America’s energy needs? Do you favor investment in renewables or more drilling or some combination of both?

HEALTHCARE: What do you think the government’s role in health should be?

IMMIGRATION: What is your stance on illegal immigration? Do you think that all or most illegal immigrants should stay in the country or all or most illegal immigrants be deported?

FOREIGN POLICY: When you think about the US pursuing its interests abroad, to what extent should the US listen to other countries?

EDUCATION: What is your stance on educational curriculae? Should it be set by the local school boards, by national standards, or some combination of both?

SOCIAL ISSUES: When you think about the rights of same-sex couples, do you believe they should be allowed to marry or only allowed to form a civil union?

ENVIRONMENT: What is your stance on our use of Natural Resources? Do you think it exists for the benefit of humanity or should it be completely protected or a combination of both?

REFORM: Should we make this country great by returning to the values of our forefathers or keep building and adapting for the future?”

Every one of these core questions has an obvious framing bias leading the registrants in a particular direction. The question on the economy assumes the deficit hawk framing of fiscal irresponsibility. It assumes that one should have “a stance” on the budget deficit, that one should want to cut it, and that the only alternatives are cutting Government spending, raising revenue through taxation, or a combination of both. This is not true, of course.

The question on energy issues is framed in terms of the present partisan split, implying that the center is a position following both approaches the question frames. The framing of the health care question doesn’t provide a preamble explaining the difference between the options provided to respondents. It assumes that people know the differences between Medicare for All, and and other types of Government intervention in health care, when there is plenty of survey evidence that there is no clear understanding of these differences.

The framing of the immigration question in terms of “illegal immigrants” isn’t even centrist, but biases replies toward a rightist view. The foreign policy question assumes that listening to other nations and pursuing the national interest of the US are in conflict. This is a nationalistic “framing” of the issue. The education core question frames the issue in terms of local vs. national control; but not in terms of the issue of excellence in education.

Social Issues are cast in terms of same sex marriage vs. civil unions. But there are many other social issues of importance such as those affecting Federal rules about a woman’s right to choose, continuing racial discrimination various areas, the role of religion in American politics, etc. Why select same sex marriage vs. civil unions as a “non-partisan” non-ideological social issue?

The environmental issue frame is very abstract in philosophy. There are a dozen other ways and more to frame this issue. Why is this framing the “non-ideological one” that all must respond to in order to elicit a “centrist position”?

Finally, the question on political “reform” is highly abstract, and it’s very hard to tell what responses might mean to the members. Why is this not framed in terms of issues like Congressional paralysis in the context of the filibuster, or reform of the electoral college, or the highly unrepresentative nature of the US Senate; or the gerrymandering of Congressional Districts; or whether greater regulation of Supreme Court Justices is needed to ensure that they disqualify themselves from hearing cases where they have an obvious conflict of interest; or the role of money in politics?

AE has many other questions people can answer that go beyond the core questions in dealing with some of the above issues. But 1) they are not the core questions that all must answer, and 2) even when many other questions exploring these issues are posed, they are posed with a definite ideological “centrist” bias. Whether or not, or by how much, it differs from major party formulations, these questions aren’t either non-partisan or non-ideological unless you mean, by those terms, formulations different from major party formulations.

One of the most important issues arising in evaluating AE is the discrepancy between the claims it makes about its purposes and processes, the scope it is trying to provide for people to influence the political process, on the one hand, and the reality of its structure and operation, on the other. AE says that people who choose to participate in its process will decide the issues, select the candidates, and nominate the President; but its actual functioning, both current and projected, as described on its web site and in its bylaws, belies these claims.

– So far, the issues embodied in AE’s questions are framed by its staff and leadership, not by the people who sign up as members. We’ve already written about the ideological biases present in the AE core questions, and also indicated that if one takes the trouble to answer the remaining hundreds of questions they ask of willing registrants, there are biases present in the comprehensive set of questions amounting to the staff and leadership framing “a centrist agenda” of issues to regulate the priority choices of members. The whole process of agenda selection occurs in the context of a “top-down” framing of the issues. There is no ‘bottom-up” influence on the framing of the agenda, even though the members/delegates can respond in ways favorable or unfavorable to the specifics of the centrist framing.

– When it comes to selecting the candidates, AE says that delegates will be able to nominate American citizens they favor. However, the AE leadership will review all candidates to see if they’re “qualified’ to run for the presidency. AE leadership may or may not specify explicit criteria, but whether they do or not, and whether a candidate meets them or not, AE reserves the right to eliminate candidates they judge as “unqualified.”

In other words, the leadership of AE is able to make sure that all candidates nominated by the delegates are acceptable to the leadership, and that the delegates won’t have an opportunity to vote on candidates that the leadership thinks is “unqualified.” the leadership can ensure that all candidates remain within a particular of range of opinion that the leadership finds acceptable. This seems like a selection of candidates by the leadership of AE rather than by the delegates.

– Going further to the on-line nomination contest itself, the AE leadership guarantees a completely secure and honest process. However, the delegates have no way of verifying that the process is secure and honest. AE mentions an independent evaluation mechanism to ensure the honesty and integrity of the nominating process. But it is the AE Board and leadership who will select the “independent evaluators,” not the delegates to their national convention.

So, the bottom line is that the delegates will have no control over the process, and no way of monitoring its honesty and integrity. The only thing delegates will have is the word of AE, an organization that has been very reluctant to implement transparency at this writing, that it will accept the actual nomination of the delegates rather than manipulating the results of the selection process in secret. Is AE’s word enough? None of us know. But we do know that deception in politics, in marketing, and in the financial sector is the order of the day.

The President promised change when he ran in 2008, but the change most of us see is certainly not the kind of change we think we voted for. The Republicans ran on creating jobs in 2010. But, no jobs have been created through programs passed by House Republicans. Corporations routinely offer ads about all they are doing for the environment; but the reality of their practices is very different. Local governments say they are trying to keep order; but then they engage in what appear to be little more than police riots violating the first amendment rights of Freedom of Speech, Assembly, and the Press. Systematic dishonesty and fraudulent behavior seems to pervade our culture in every aspect of it, and it is no big deal for our leading politicians and business leaders to look directly into the camera and lie to the public.

So, why would anyone take what a new organization intending to intervene in and change the electoral process says at face value? Why shouldn’t warning bells go off whenever an organization has a discrepancy between what it says are its goals, and its actual structure and practices? Why shouldn’t people question discrepancies between an organization’s claim of non-partisanship, and its clearly partisan and biased framing of issues?

Why shouldn’t people be skeptical when an organization says that it is subject to no special interests, but is clearly funded by $22 Million in contributions from a very small number of people, and then doesn’t disclose the contributors? Why shouldn’t people demand demonstrations of transparency and proof of sincerity and absence of elite control, before they commit any support to an organization that purports to give the public a greater voice in decision making?

– In addition, AE’s goal of holding an online presidential nominating convention that automatically puts the same ticket on the ballots of all 50 states simultaneously appears to be headed in a dangerous direction because it is seeking to eliminate the face-to-face primaries and caucuses at the state level that are one of the cornerstones of the U.S. electoral process, hard-won by progressives over many years in their efforts to create open and honest elections that escape for the old ‘smoke-filled’ rooms.

Again, AE is run by a closed corporation that is secretly funded and sets all the rules for the convention, determines who can and cannot participate in the convention, which candidates can and cannot run, and registers and tallies all the votes. Whether the substitution of a closed corporation run in this way as the source of electoral nominations is a democratic improvement over the U.S. political party system is, to say the least, an arguable proposition, whether or not its delegates can select a presidential candidate within the constrained parameters AE’s leadership chooses to impose.

Conclusion

So, if the problem the United States is facing is to provide a way of changing the political process to counter the emergence of oligarchy and to restore a Government that is “. . . of the people, by the people, and for the people . . .” then it’s pretty clear that AE won’t help us do that. Given its rules, governance, the lack of transparency in its funding, and the “guided democracy” style of its functioning organization, it won’t help us to repeal Michels’ “Iron Law of Oligarchy” and give the 99% a continuing influence in creating policies that serve them rather than enriching the 1%. Instead, it will simply provide a way for the discontented to vent their feelings through another political organization that is guided and managed from the top-down by people representing the oligarchy.

Now, to be entirely fair about this, it’s pretty clear from AE’s web site and interviews with some of their principals that Its purpose was never specifically to save the US from an emerging oligarchy. AE’s view of the US’s political problem is that it is legislative paralysis, caused by the two-party system and its excessive partisanship, in passing legislation aimed at our real problems. So, AE proposes a non-partisan President nominated through the AE online process and then elected, as a way of breaking partisan immobilism through a unity Administration that can broker consensus solutions among centrists in both parties. Its view of the world is through the right-center-left prism and so its solution is to strengthen the center giving it the balance of power, and allowing it to broker bi- or non-partisan solutions on which centrists of both parties can agree.

AE may succeed at developing a “centrist” balance wheel for the political system. But if this leads to legislative solutions that support or enhance the interests of the 1%, then how does that help the 99% and its problem of breaking the power of the emerging oligarchy?

For example, these days there is a Washington beltway consensus, and to a great extent a global consensus on the notion that the cure for our economic problems is austerity in public expenditures and restoring private solvency through savings. But how does that “old-time fiscal religion” help the 99%, especially since its short-term effects are likely to be a second and probably much deeper downturn than we have now?

If AE’s centrist balance wheel had been in place this past fall it would have imposed a “centrist solution” to our economic problems in the form of a long-term deficit reduction plan such as the Bowles-Simpson proposal, which would have raised more tax revenue from the wealthy, but also cut entitlement and other Government programs for the middle class and the poor. But, this is a 1% solution, not a 99% solution. It doesn’t represent what the 99% want. It is what the well-off people who run Americans Elect and many of the 1% seem to want.

So, the “non-partisan” solution to two-party polarization that AE is trying to mid-wife won’t fix the political system by restoring popular control, but instead will place that system even more firmly in control of the oligarchy by imposing austerity economics and impoverishing the 99% even further, while providing the balance of power in national politics to a third political force that is dominated by centrist establishment figures. In short, AE isn’t offering a way out for people, it’s offering them a way to dig a deeper hole than they find themselves in now.

A 99% solution is one that, according to the polls, would re-create full employment, punish the banksters, stabilize the financial system, bring order to the housing sector while keeping people in their homes, provide consumer protection against the financial sector’s predatory practices, provide Medicare for All, repair the nation’s infrastructure, create a first class educational system open to all, and strengthen the social safety net, while taxing the rich, if necessary, to allow those things to happen. This 99% solutions could possibly be facilitated by AE, if it were set up to allow people to self-organize in whatever ways they choose. But its guided democracy structure won’t let that happen. But the main point is that this 99% can only be brought forth by a change that undermines the emerging oligarchy and creates bottom-up accountability to the 99%.

You can also safely bet that whatever AE’s delegates want, there will be no AE platform coming from its nominee that doesn’t reflect the fact-free Hooverian perspective of fiscal responsibility = Government austerity, the current Washington consensus about what Government should do about the economy. And you can also safely bet that Bernie Sanders, Bill Black, Jamie Galbraith, Matt Taibbi, Dennis Kucinich, or Warren Mosler, provided it looks like they will be nominated by AE convention delegates, will then be disqualified by AE’s governing committees before the convention is convened. This will happen because it is the job of AE committees to keep the world safe for the emerging “centrist” oligarchy, and out of the hands of people who might bring about the renewal of bottom-up democracy.

Update: Day in and day out, the best coverage of Americans Elect is provided by Jim Cook at his Irregular Times site. Here are three recent entrees that collectively drive home the point that Americans Elect’s claims of being non-partisan and non-ideological have little, if any credibility, and that AE is primarily a marketing effort claiming these qualities, but belying these claims with almost every action it takes.

“Christine Todd Whitman Goes on TV and Promotes Jon Huntsman a Sixth Time, Violating Americans Elect Bylaws”

“Having Obtained Predictable Result, Americans Elect Erases Most of its Rating System”

and:

“Americans Elect introduces new “Priorities” Ranking System… Contradicting its Old System”

These three posts fit into the pattern of manipulation, systematic dishonesty, and the huge gap between AE’s stated policies and actual behavior that I point to in my post above. In addition, there is a strong suggestion in the ratings system errors and sudden changes in the system and resulting ratings, reported by Jim Cook, that there is more than a bit of political bias, confusion and perhaps even incompetence, either on the part of AE’s contractor “On the Issues” who handled the processing of data to obtain the ratings “matching” the candidates positions to the quiz choices given to Americans Elect “delegates,” or on the part of AE employees who used their results.

AE is an organization that has raised $22 million for its project. If it is true, as its apparent rating system problem suggests, that it hasn’t been able to get organized well enough to ensure that its process is unimpeachable, then that provides very little confidence that its online nomination process will be a reliable one that won’t be subject to manipulation by its contractors and/or staff.

If it has its way, then hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of people would be participating in that process. Shouldn’t those people have a nominating process whose integrity, reliability, and accuracy is beyond either reproach or the possibility of fraud by its administrators? How will AE ever be able to guarantee that? And how, given what they’ve done thus far, and appear to do on an everyday basis, in bringing centrist ideological bias to their web site and opinion instruments, can they guarantee to their delegates a non-partisan and non-ideological nominating process?

Perhaps AE needs to come clean and admit that it is not non-partisan, but actually a nascent political party with a definite centrist, austerity agenda, which it thinks is in opposition to the agendas of the two major parties. Then it won’t have to claim that it has no framing biases, or that, incredibly, it is nonpartisan and non-ideological, or that it is anything other than another political party representing the 1% and its full-on austerity, globalist agenda for the US. That might not be unpopular, or get many people involved in its activities. But, at least, it would be refreshing.

Think of it, a political organization that is honest about its intentions! That should be worth at least a few points for its nominee at the polls on election day!