Category Archives: Democracy

Dark Water: A Much Bigger Question

 

I heard Mark Ruffalo who played Bilott, and Bilott himself on the PBS television show, Amanpour & Company and the real life Bilott. They made some important points.

Commenting on the legal fight that took almost 20 years of relentless endurance on the part of Bilott, Ruffalo had this to say:

“The system is rigged—against the people. They want us to think that it will protect us, but that is a lie. We protect us. Nobody else. Not the companies, not the scientists, not the government. Us We protect us. Nobody else.”

This is the fundamental idea behind the film. The system is rigged. Against us.

Of course, this was just one case. But is in any different in the pharmaceutical sector? Or oil and gas? Or tobacco? Or anywhere else? Not according to Ruffalo.

Ruffalo put it this way in his interview by Amanpour:

“We have a system where the government is not responsive to the needs of the people and where it is slavish to the corporate system. We have a democracy that is in service to an economic capitalist system, instead of that system being in service to our democracy. Yes that system is rigged. It has been rigged because there is so much money in politics. If you wanted to fix the problem, really quickly, you would have the state have a stake in health care. Then this stuff would get cleaned out really fast because right now we’re getting poisoned. We have to pay to get ourselves healthy and the state just keeps taking money from both sides, to keep the vicious circle going.”

In the American legal system the people have to prove the chemical harms them. The corporations can sit back and do nothing other than, of course, block the science of the opponents. This is a fundamental flaw.

According to the film there is still no regulation of PFOSA in America. And PFOA’s are ubiquitous. As Nathanial Rich who wrote the article on which the movie was based, explains,

“But if you are a sentient being reading this article in 2016, you already have PFOA in your blood. It is in your parents’ blood, your children’s blood, your lover’s blood. How did it get there? Through the air, through your diet, through your use of nonstick cookware, through your umbilical cord. Or you might have drunk tainted water…

Where scientists have tested for the presence of PFOA in the world, they have found it. PFOA is in the blood or vital organs of Atlantic salmon, swordfish, striped mullet, gray seals, common cormorants, Alaskan polar bears, brown pelicans, sea turtles, sea eagles, Midwestern bald eagles, California sea lions and Laysan albatrosses on Sand Island, a wildlife refuge on Midway Atoll, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, about halfway between North America and Asia.”

As Manohla Dargis said in a New York Times review of the film:

“But at its strongest, the movie makes you see that the poison that is killing Wilbur’s cows and so many other living things isn’t simply a question of toxic chemicals. There is, Haynes suggests, a deeper malignancy that has spread across a country that allows some to kill and others simply to die.”

 This is the bigger issue. The exploration of this issue is what makes this film, and the article on which it is based, so important and so interesting. Ultimately it comes down to these two closely related questions: is our modern political system democratic and is modern capitalism anti-life? Those are two very big questions. Worth thinking about.

Is Donald Trump a King?

Recently, I learned some astonishing things about the United States. One of my legal heroes, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, made astounding statements in the U.S. Senate in defence of President Donald J. Trump from impeachment charges launched in the House of Representatives.

Susan Glasser a reporter with the New Yorker interpreted what he said as follows:

Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the President can do just about anything he wants.” This is an astonishing claim. It amounts to saying the United States is not a democracy. Dershowitz was asked by Senator Ted Cruz, during the question and answer phase of the Senate Impeachment Trial of Trump whether or not the President’s motivations mattered when he imposed a condition on the release of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid for the Ukraine’s defence against Russian aggression. If the President insisted on a quid pro quo that Ukraine investigate Trump’s leading Democratic Party rival before getting the military aid was that permitted?

Dershowitz, one of Trump’s lawyers, went beyond saying what he needed to say to answer that question. Dershowitz said, Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it. There are no limits on what the President can do. Dershowitz in effect suggested.

 I was stunned to hear this. Democracy is more than counting ballots. Counting ballots is important. It is a vital part of democracy, but it is not all of democracy. A democracy must be a country that permits all citizens to vote and for all their votes to count equally. But there are many forms of democracy. Democracy is more than that.

The majority must be constrained by civil liberties or human rights. In other words, we must have a liberal or constitutional democracy. Even majorities in a genuine democracy cannot impose their will on the minorities in all cases. There must be reasonable limits on what the majority can do. For example, the majority cannot be allowed to ban freedom of religion or freedom of speech.  Another example: the majority cannot be permitted to ban free speech, or the free press, or the freedom to assemble.

In Canada such limitations on democracy are contained in the Charter of Rights and Liberties. Added to that, to have a democracy we must have a society in which the rule of law is respected. We do not elect dictators or kings. Our elected representatives, even our top leaders, must govern by law. Political leaders must be governed by law like everyone else. They cannot do anything they want. This is the flaw in Dershowitz’s argument. Saying the President can do “anything he wants,” amounts to saying the President can be an absolute dictator. That is contrary to democracy.

I am no expert on the American constitution so don’t want to comment on it. But a democratic society cannot be led by a dictator or king, even if the term of the leader is limited for specific years, such as 4 years in the case of the United States.

Dershowitz had something larger and more profound to say, however: Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it.

Dershowitz argued,

“If a President does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” he argued. Dershowitz was offering Trump—and all future Presidents—a free pass. His argument seemed unbelievable: as long as the President thinks his reëlection will benefit the country, he can do anything in pursuit of it without fear of impeachment.”

Really?

Of course, earlier Trump himself made it clear that this was his position. No surprise there. He said “I can do whatever I want.” Trump’s actions and statements, ever since he got elected, make it clear that is precisely what Trump believed. If Trump is right, America is not a democracy! If Trump is right the US has elected a King!

In the impeachment trial in the Senate the House managers who acted as prosecutors, played the video of Trump making this statement over and over again. It was no surprise that Trump believed this. All of his actions and statements since being elected in 2016 made it clear that this was his belief.  Few others have expressed similar views. Therefore is it was shocking to see this position supported by Alan Dershowitz a respected Harvard Law Professor emeritus.

As shocking as all of this is, and it is shocking, what is even more shocking is that millions of Americans agree with this!  Millions don’t challenge his statement. Whatever Trump says or does, he must be right. We will soon see how many Republican Senators agree with this. I suspect almost all of them agree. In my view this means all of these people do not think it is important that the country is democratic! That is shocking!

I wonder how many Americans think Trump is a king?