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posted September 27, 2009 5:49 pm
Tomgram: Arundhati Roy, Is Democracy Melting?
ShareThis (Click to E-mail this Tomgram, or post to Facebook, Digg, Reddit and many others) So you, as a citizen, want to run for a seat in the House of Representatives? Well, you may be too late. Back in 1990, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website of the Center for Responsive Politics, the average cost of a winning campaign for the House was $407,556. Pocket change for your average citizen. But that was so twentieth century. The average cost for winning a House seat in 2008: almost $1.4 million. Keep in mind, as well, that most of those House seats don't change hands, because in the American democratic system of the twenty-first century, incumbents basically don't lose, they retire or die. In 2008, 403 incumbents ran for seats in the House and 380 of them won. Just to run a losing race last year would have cost you, on average, $492,928, almost $100,000 more than it cost to win in 1990. As for becoming a Senator? Not in your wildest dreams, unless you have some really good pals in pharmaceuticals and health care ($236,022,031 in lobbying paid out in 2008), insurance ($153,694,224), or oil and gas ($131,978,521). A winning senatorial seat came in at a nifty $8,531,267 and a losing seat at $4,130,078 in 2008. In other words, you don't have a hope in hell of being a loser in the American Congressional system, and what does that make you? Of course, if you're a young, red-blooded American, you may have set your sights a little higher. So you want to be president? In that case, just to be safe for 2012, you probably should consider raising somewhere in the range of one billion dollars. After all, the 2008 campaign cost Barack Obama's team approximately $730 million and the price of a place at the table just keeps going up. Of course, it helps to know the right people. Last year, the total lobbying bill, including money that went out for electoral campaigns and for lobbying Congress and federal agencies, came to $3.3 billion and almost 9 months into 2009, another $1.63 billion has already gone out without an election in sight. Let's face it. At the national level, this is what American democracy comes down to today, and this is what George W. Bush & Co. were so infernally proud to export by force of arms to Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why we need to think about the questions that Arundhati Roy -- to my mind, a heroic figure in a rather unheroic age -- raises about democracy globally in an essay adapted from the introduction to her latest book. That book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, has just been published (with one essay included that originally appeared at TomDispatch). Let's face it, she's just one of those authors -- I count Eduardo Galeano as another -- who must be read. Need I say more? Tom
The World According to TomDispatch
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) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies. idealistic phase can be quite heady. So. It's meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy -. and a New Cold War in Kashmir By Arundhati Roy While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death. and its variants. is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin. someone in the room will say: "Afghanistan. neither beast nor prophet. Feral Howls. It's flawed.. will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly -." --Studs Terkel Nation Books TomDispatch Video Chalmers Johnson Nick Turse Howard Zinn Mike Klare Ann Jones Tom Engelhardt Rick Shenkman Andrew Bacevich Websites After Downing Street Alternet Antiwar. The question here. is that what you would prefer?" Whether democracy should be the utopia that all "developing" societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. It isn't perfect. we are confronted by Rebecca Solnit and her astonishing flashlight. combined with our inability to see very far into the future. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate.. unfathomable thing that we have lost. is there life after democracy? Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance. Chaos. makes us strange in-between creatures. short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy. and end with a somewhat prickly. Inevitably. discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. is long-term vision. (I think it should. for the sake of the survival of this planet. or in countries that pretend to be democracies. bereft of hope. constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit? Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? What we need today. UNTOLD HISTORIES.our nearsightedness? Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do). combative defense of democracy. The early. Saudi Arabia. Pakistan. WILD POSSIBILITIES BY REBECCA SOLNIT "Seemingly lost in the woods of deceit and banality. Consensus. as we stubbornly stumble out of the darkness. the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams. Somalia. we say. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. It isn't meant to suggest that we lapse into older.Tomgram: Arundhati Roy.com Atlantic Free Press Black Agenda Report Buzzflash Commondreams Cursor.com/post/175119/arundhati_roy_is_democracy_.org Electronic Iraq Fabius Maximus Foreign Policy in Focus History News Network Iraq Slogger Juan Cole's Informed Comment Lew Rockwell Open Democracy PEJ The Smirking Chimp Talking Points Memo TomPaine TPM Muckraker Truthdig Truthout War in Context Working for Change 2 of 7 2009-10-03 20:21 . can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By "democracy" I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. extractive. In a jewel of a book that is poetic in substance as well as style.too much representation.tomdispatch. too little democracy -. Is Democracy Melting? http://www. the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers. where we are and the step-by-step advances that have been made in human rights. Hope in the Dark What Have We Done to Democracy? Of Nearsighted Progress.needs some structural adjustment.. she reveals where we were. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy. really.. such as they are. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. but it's better than everything else that's on offer.
My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold. intricate. calculated violence of the world's favorite new superpower." "deregulation. including buying and selling "futures.com/post/175119/arundhati_roy_is_democracy_. and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. they say. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors." and "privatization. bureaucratic. it's all I have. Is Democracy Melting? http://www." "anti-reform. Repression "through proper channels" sometimes engenders resistance "through proper channels. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods. "apply-through-properchannels" nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. file-bound.org Jim Lobe's Interpress Archive The National Security Archives Natural Resources Defense Council Noah Schachtman's Danger Room Right Web Secrecy News USC Center on Public Diplomacy Wikipedia Comics Doonesbury Life During Wartime 3 of 7 2009-10-03 20:21 . But for now.. "Don't you believe in progress?" To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs. has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. Today. and social security. factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl. deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being "anti-progress. I know.com Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches Dan Froomkin's White House Watch Direland The Dreyfuss Report Econowhiner Eric Alterman's Altercation Firedoglake Gristmill Blog Inter Press Service Lobelog The Notion at the Nation Scott Horton's No Comment This Modern World A Tiny Revolution Tony Karon's Rootless Cosmopolitan The Utne Reader William Arkin's Early Warning Foreign AlArab Online Agence France Presse Asia Times BBC Foreign Press Review The Guardian Haaretz The Independent Middle East On-Line LeMonde Diplomatique Le Monde Diplomatique (English Language) Outlook India Watching America Magazines American Prospect Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Grist Guernica LA Weekly The London Review of Books Mother Jones The Nation The New York Review of Books Salon. and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and Blogs The American Empire Project Barbara's Blog Democrats. desperate underclass." Justice has come to mean human rights (and of those. Market no longer means a place where you buy provisions. I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise. "Do you have an alternative development model?" To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education." and of course "anti-national" -. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl." And who except a cretin could be against markets? To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span. Something about the cunning. This theft of language. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic. "a few will do"). to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. "You're against the market. a fiction writer.Tomgram: Arundhati Roy. health care. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. ZNET A Clerk of Resistance As a writer. The "market" is a de-territorialized space where faceless corporations do business. as they say. of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant. much vaster. or the transformative power and real precision of poetry. words like "progress" and "development" have become interchangeable with economic "reforms. they say.. and whose homes are being bulldozed. Two decades of "Progress" in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it -and a much.tomdispatch. this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons. Brahmanical. Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say." Freedom has come to mean choice. droughts." "anti-development." As resistance goes this isn't enough.com Media Criticism Editor and Publisher The E&P Pub FAIR Media Bloodhound Media Matters The News Dissector Neiman Watchdog PressThink Romenesko Resources Arms Trade Resource Center Defense Tech Global Security.negativists of the worst sort.
the Indian establishment declares that India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir. After every election. House-to-house Polling Donkey Rising Pollster.com Daily Casualty Update Iraq Body Count Iraq Coalition Casualties Mainstream Media Christian Science Monitor Los Angeles Times Newsweek New York Times Washington Post Tom Engelhardt's articles from around the web Why the US Military Loves Ron Paul July 23. they have constructed and destroyed political careers at will. and even Bollywood. guides. the city reverberated to chants of "Azadi! Azadi!" (Freedom! Freedom!). And that only helps to enhance the image of the tolerant. The Nation website We Count. It enforced the harshest curfew in recent memory with shoot-on-sight orders. crushed militancy in Kashmir. everybody shouted "Azadi! Azadi!" The protests went on for several days. mines.com Casualties Page Antiwar. and. that voices raised in warning just become part of the noise.tomdispatch. Elections in Kashmir have had a long and fascinating past. they generate such confusion. They provide each other cover to promote the larger interests of Union and Progress. TomDispatch. The Indian state panicked. of course. carpet sellers -. 2007. It cuts across every section of the establishment -.000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation. and they were nonviolent. making it the most militarized zone in the world. for the most part. They Don't October 4. The protests were massive.far from working as a system of checks and balances. dams.com ProfessorPollkatz's Pool of Polls Program on International Policy Attitudes Real Clear Politics Zogby Iraq Casualty Figures Antiwar. hundreds of thousands of people defied soldiers and policemen -. the bureaucracy.Tomgram: Arundhati Roy. But does military domination mean victory? How does a government that claims to be a democracy justify a military occupation? By holding regular elections... Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley. the intelligentsia. elections -. For the first time in decades fissures appeared in mainstream public opinion in India. The Nation website Order 17 September 24. The hoary institutions of Indian democracy -. The Nation website Tom's Review of Books December 11." women have been raped. They were democratic.everybody was out with placards. it virtually caged millions of people. Perhaps that's true. 4 of 7 2009-10-03 20:21 . But so is the consensus. doctors. colorful. somewhat chaotic democracy. The war in the Kashmir valley is almost 20 years old now. lumbering. for days on end..000 lives.the judiciary. 2007. such a cacophony. The major pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest. of course. there's the small and ever-present matter of Kashmir. quite often do the opposite. the "free" press. A New Cold War in Kashmir Speaking of consensus.and thronged the streets. The Nation website Medal Inflation October 9. the police.who fired straight into the crowds. The blatantly rigged state election of 1987 was the immediate provocation for the armed uprising that began in 1990. tens of thousands widowed. Intelligence agencies have created political parties and decoy politicians. Tens of thousands have been tortured. several thousand have "disappeared. In the process. and Special Economic Zones.) The Indian Army now claims that it has. nonviolent uprising. Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World massive infrastructural projects. 2007. In the summer of 2008.com/post/175119/arundhati_roy_is_democracy_. but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy. it ordered a crackdown. several others were jailed. a dispute over land being allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board coalesced into a massive. In effect.including the media. Day after day. Fruit sellers weighed fruit chanting "Azadi! Azadi!" Shopkeepers. From early morning to late in the night. Since then elections have become a finely honed instrument of the military occupation. All developed in the name of the poor. When it comes to Kashmir the consensus in India is hard core. (The United States had about 165. weavers. a sinister playground for India's deep state. The chaos is real. Is Democracy Melting? http://www. 2007. killing scores of people -. houseboat owners. It is they more than anyone else who decide what the outcome of each election will be. and has claimed about 70. 2007. Unsure of how to deal with this mass civil disobedience.
to take up their cases.Indian nationalism (corporate as well as "Hindu. Where had they come from? Who was financing them? No one was curious.its attempt to destroy people's self-esteem -.are arguably the worst aspect of the occupation. is caught in the vortex of several dangerous and conflicting ideologies -. the lockdown of constituencies that were going to the polls. It was the biggest voter turnout since the armed struggle began. (Even I. The minute elections were over." shading into imperialism). imperialism (made 5 of 7 2009-10-03 20:21 . the government did something extraordinary -. journalists. "Never trust a Kashmiri.roads. should have suddenly changed their minds. Almost everybody believed the elections would become a huge embarrassment for the Indian government. Pro-independence leaders called for a boycott. None of the high-profile scholars of the great festival of democracy -. people began to parrot their colonizers' view of themselves as a somewhat pathetic people who deserved what they got." several Kashmiris said to me. and embedded journalists began to buzz with renewed energy. to represent them.tomdispatch." Psychological warfare. No one speculated about the mystery of hundreds of unknown candidates who materialized out of nowhere to represent political parties that had no previous presence in the Kashmir valley.who practically live in TV studios when there are elections in mainland India..) Calling for elections was a huge risk.S. has been an instrument of official policy in Kashmir.talked about what elections mean in the presence of such a massive. including bullets and shoot-on-sight orders. which they insisted were only about municipal issues -. technically known as psy-ops. Its elaborate network of spies. Not many talked about the fact that campaigning politicians went out of their way to de-link Azadi and the Kashmir dispute from elections. The security establishment was convulsed with paranoia. and psephologists cared to ask why people who had only weeks ago risked everything.where soldiers could barge into homes and whisk away people at any time of the day or night -. People turned out to vote in droves. They were rearrested. Pakistani nationalism (breaking down under the burden of its own contradictions). electricity. Is Democracy Melting? http://www. The most worrying fallout was that in Kashmir. The Kashmiri freedom struggle. Its depredations over decades -. Once the rebellion was brought under control. was put under house arrest in Srinagar for two days. renegades. with its crystal clear sentiment but fuzzy outlines.com/post/175119/arundhati_roy_is_democracy_.it announced elections in the state.Tomgram: Arundhati Roy..might need someone to listen to them. water. "We're fickle and unreliable. No chances were taken. The trouble is that Kashmir sits on the fault lines of a region that is awash in weapons and sliding into chaos. No one talked about why people who have lived under a military occupation for decades -. the mass arrests. It helped that the polls were scheduled so that the first districts to vote were the most militarized districts even within the Kashmir valley. the establishment and the mainstream press declared victory (for India) once again. who had nothing to do with any of what was going on. searches culminated in the arrests of hundreds of people. No one spoke about the curfew. None of India's analysts. picking apart every forecast and exit poll and every minor percentile swing in the vote count -. But the gamble paid off. U. It's enough to make you wonder whether there is any connection at all between elections and democracy. year-round troop deployment (an armed soldier for every 20 civilians).
Only that the solution will not be completely to the satisfaction of any one party. and uranium reserves in Kashmir and Ladakh. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away. shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun). is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. tents. many have died just from the elements. Right now it has no reason to. Right now. Each of these ideologies is capable of a ruthlessness that can range from genocide to nuclear war. refugees. Is Democracy Melting? http://www. enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius.. However. The glacier has become a garbage dump now. have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers. on the other side of the world. Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India. most intractable disputes in the world. Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed.N. reincarnated Russia. empty fuel drums. India has just concluded a beautiful election. Negotiators will have to be prepared to deviate from the "party line. the highest battlefield in the world. oil. the Republic of Congo. and you have the recipe for a new Cold War (which.. Somalia.com/post/175119/arundhati_roy_is_democracy_. or one ideology. Sudan.thousands of empty artillery shells. humiliated. old boots. concentration camps. let alone negotiate a solution. impatient by a tanking economy). Is Democracy Melting? Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier. where it will find purchase in the anger of the young among India's 150 million Muslims who have been brutalized. as one of the oldest. an aggressive. While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare.) 6 of 7 2009-10-03 20:21 . like the last one. and marginalized. and in human rights.Tomgram: Arundhati Roy. In the midst of all this. we haven't yet reached the stage where the government of India is even prepared to admit that there's a problem. Afghanistan… it's a long list. and the huge reserves of natural gas in the Caspian region and persistent whispers about natural gas. its stocks are soaring. along with Palestine. living the good life. free speech. littered with the detritus of war -." Of course. is cold for some and hot for others). it has shrunk to about half its size. and a resurgent medieval-Islamist Taliban (fast gaining legitimacy. civil war. There is no doubt that the Kashmir dispute ranks right up there. India's temporary. and army mutinies. "demon-crazy" can't fool all the people all the time. Iraq. (And Rwanda. Notice has been given by the series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. because it is seen to be resisting an occupation). one country. perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures. a pristine monument to human folly. and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact.tomdispatch. That does not mean that it cannot be resolved. Internationally. despite its insane brutality. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the U. Of the hundreds who have died there. They're good people who believe in peace. the battlefield has begun to melt. ice axes. Add Chinese imperial ambitions. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there.
Is Democracy Melting? http://www. is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. That will give us even more reasons to fight. Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong. We'll need more weapons..and the glaciers will melt even faster. India. and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. Copyright 2009 Arundhati Roy Printer-Friendly Version 7 of 7 2009-10-03 20:21 . Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life -. She has worked as a film designer and screenplay writer in India. Her new book.tomdispatch. just published by Haymarket Books. Roy is the author of the novel The God of Small Things. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. This post is adapted from the introduction to that book. for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize. The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent.com/post/175119/arundhati_roy_is_democracy_. She studied architecture in New Delhi. where she now lives.Tomgram: Arundhati Roy..