Morning Report 2/15/05 Parliament? Funkadelic!


If only the U.S. were as democratic as Iraq

Pick your puppet: Dick Cheney and Dennis Hastert flank Bush (left) in 2001 and Ayad Allawi (right) in 2004. Can you spot the strings? (White House photos)


In many ways, Iraq’s January 30 election was a joke, a sham. After all, it was conducted under a severe lockdown by U.S. troops, and the Bush regime runs Iraq’s economy.

But at this very instant, Iraq’s nascent parliamentary system is more democratic than our own.

No alliance or coalition got a clear majority in last month’s vote. So the pols are scurrying around, meeting, swapping, trying to put together coalitions for sharing power. Whether they have power to share, under the eye of 150,000 U.S. soldiers, is another question, of course.

But our own democracy has often been conducted at the point of a gun, as the brave black kids at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 can attest to.

I’d like to see George W. Bush try to handle even the weekly 30-minute Prime Minister’s Questions that Tony Blair has to face (and that C-SPAN regularly airs). Parliamentary democracies have shadow cabinets, regular grillings, lots of arguments, plenty of juice for journalists to cover.

There’s more debate and argument in Israel’s stormy Knesset over U.S. policy toward Israel than there is in the U.S. Congress.

But right at this instant, even though the whole Iraq democracy thing may wind up being an illusion that can be maintained only at gunpoint or the country may descend into full-fledged civil war, the best parliamentary game on the globe is in Baghdad.

Contrast the multi-party politicking that’s going on in Iraq right now with our two-party joke, which is really only one plutocratic party. Most seats in the U.S. House aren’t even seriously contested because of undemocratic gerrymandering.

As the Center for Voting and Democracy has noted, “over 90 percent of Americans live in congressional districts that are essentially one-party monopolies.”

Think about our own Congress, which is basically under lockdown by the Run-D.C. crackas like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, not to mention Dick Cheney and Dennis Hastert (see photos).

The GOP has the thinnest of margins of control of Congress and the Presidency, yet liberal voices are quelled; so are the interests of working people, unions, right-wing isolationists, libertarians, all types of people. Natural cross-party coalitions involving the numerous moderate or pragmatic pols—people like, say, Chuck Grassley of Iowa—are discouraged by the rigidity of the current two-party system.

Corporations, the most powerful citizens of 21st century America, have figured out this undemocratic system; their money has helped make it happen. Like the Borg, they have assimilated the Republican Party and are working on the rest of us. We’re heading toward that corporate state that Mussolini only dreamt of.

The Democratic Party has little leverage, and its national leaders are practically as conservative as the Republicans. No wonder the Democrats, reduced to trying to out-pander the Republicans, produced a presidential candidate as pusillanimous as John Kerry.

I’ll get back to Iraq in a minute, but don’t tell me about Bill Clinton: He not only promoted NAFTA globalization without insisting on protection of workers and union rights, but he also helped re-create monopolies by embracing the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (the FDR Era law that had prohibited banks from merging with securities firms), and by signing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which further deregulated phone companies and allowed even more mergers. It’s their monopoly game, and they’re the ones on Park Place. You’re stuck on Baltic Avenue, at best, and your children will be renting, not buying.

And don’t even mention Hillary Clinton: Placed in charge of reforming health care, she immediately took off the table any hope for a national health care system and made sure that insurance companies would wind up running things.

Here’s what Harvard M.D. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, told Counterpunch‘s Nancy Welch in a must-read interview last fall:

[Bill] Clinton made a political calculation in not championing national health insurance and in trying to strike a deal with the private insurance industry. And the end result of the deal was two things. One is that the Democrats abandoned their four-decades-long commitment to national health insurance, so that by the time Al Gore ran for president, national health insurance was struck from the Democratic Party platform for the first time since the 1940s.

The second is that the Democrats endorsed managed care as a strategy for health care, which said to investors that investment in managed care was safe, stimulating an enormous growth of the power of the HMOs and a reconfiguring of the health care system to one dominated by corporate giants.

Clinton, maybe inadvertently, gave the go-ahead for the corporate transformation of the health care system.

Our corporate citizens, thanks in no small part to the late 20th century Democrats, are now Godzillas, and we humans are merely underfoot.

Today’s U.S. Congress is practically as toothless as Ahmed Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress. But that doesn’t apply to individual members of Congress, like Byron Dorgan of North Dakota or California’s Henry Waxman. The latter notes our own undemocratic process regarding the brewing oil-for-slush scandal:

The United States controlled Iraq’s oil proceeds from May 2003 until June 2004. Yet Congress has not held a single hearing to examine the evidence of mismanagement, overpricing, and lack of transparency in the successor to the Oil-for-Food program: the Development Fund for Iraq. The DFI was run by the Bush Administration through the Coalition Provisional Authority. Under U.S. control, it received over $20 billion in Iraqi funds and spent over $14 billion.

While Congress has been ignoring the DFI, a series of reports by both U.S. and international auditors have raised serious red flags about the Administration’s stewardship of the Iraqi funds.

Meanwhile, Iraqi pols are tasting democracy, as the intrepid IWPR reporters Zaineb Naji in Baghdad and Talar Nadir in Sulaimaniyah explain today:

Each bloc list or party will be awarded seats in the 275-member transitional National Assembly in approximate proportion to its share of the national vote. That means the United Iraqi Alliance will get at least 132 seats, the Kurds 71 or more, and the Iraqi List at least 38 seats.

A two-thirds majority, or 183 seats, is needed to approve crucial issues before the National Assembly, including the approval of a prime minister and of a draft constitution, which will be the parliament’s main duty.

Under the interim constitution, the National Assembly has to appoint a president and two vice-presidents. In turn, the president and his deputies will choose a party or coalition to nominate a prime minister and form a government. The assembly also has to approve the cabinet.

And under a parliamentary democracy, that means maneuvering. You know, politics. It’s not perfect, but it’s more than what we currently have. The two IWPR reporters continue:

Although the final results have only just been announced, parties and coalitions have been angling for positions in the new government since the January 30 election. In the last two weeks, the main Shia, Kurdish, and Sunni parties have been meeting to hammer out deals.

The United Iraqi Alliance says it wants the post of prime minister, and has suggested current finance minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and vice-president Ibrahim Jaafari as candidates for the job. The two men belong to the two main Shia political forces—Mahdi is from the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, while Jaafari belongs to the Islamic Dawa Party.

“There is no competition between the parties, but there are negotiations,” said Rubai. “The issue is not individuals, but politics and strategies. So the strategy for the new Iraq is a federal and united Iraq that covers everybody.”

It’s no surprise that the Bush regime got good press for conducting the election: The urge to make yourself heard, to even think about playing a role in deciding your own future, is strong in humans—by this point in our evolution there may even be a genetic predisposition for wanting to vote.

For many Iraqis, the urge must have been enormous, because they’d been living under Saddam Hussein’s harsh dictatorship—especially the Kurds. So, it’s no wonder that practically every Kurd voted.

The frustrating facts about our own democracy show that we have reason to envy the Iraqis.

The U.S. still controls Iraq, and Cheney’s gang wants to keep control of the oil underneath it and establish a permanent beachhead in Asia, so perhaps we always will. But under the U.S. thumb, the Iraqis are putting together at least the kind of parliamentary system that Americans, stuck in a two-party/one-plutocracy setup, desperately need.