Re: What Should Now Be Done: Creating The American Internet And Reform Party
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Sent: Tuesday, March 21, 2006 11:46 AM
Subject: What Should Now Be Done: Creating The American Internet And Reform Party.
March 21, 2006
Re: What Should Now Be Done: Creating The American Internet And Reform Party.
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
This blog will be one of the longer ones ever posted here. For it deals with a subject that this writer has been ruminating about for a while, and about which some people have asked me of late. It deals with the question of what should now be done if, like so many Americans, one is unhappy with the warmongering, the extreme rightward thrust in both foreign and domestic affairs, and the rampant dishonesty which have come to extensively characterize much of American policies and politics, especially since the days of Nixon but also since the days of Johnson with regard to war and dishonesty.
In certain respects, with regard to certain principles and ideas, extensive autodidactic reading of history and more than forty-five years of observation seem to have yielded some answers as to what should be done. In other respects one is substantively at sea but feels it possible to set forth the process that should be followed to develop answers. And, as one bottom line, it seems to this writer that, as in the 1850s, when the Republican Party was created, it is now necessary to create a new political party. For the prevailing two parties suffer from a disease that could be called corrupt sclerosis of the intellectual and financial arteries. They are played out.
In trying to create a new party, one can use the already existing, and the soon-to-be-existing, features of the internet in ways that may as yet be undreamed, that are certainly not yet the subject of discussion, and that in some respects would likely be anathema to current pols and officials because of their oft prevalent mania for as much secrecy as possible, not just in governmental policies, but also in regard to what they do to advance themselves, i.e., in regard to the unseemly, often immoral and sometimes illegal actions they take for personal advancement.
* * * * *
Lincoln once said that the battle of today is not for today alone, but also for a vast future. Those of us who take issue with much of what has occurred in this nation for many years confront a similar situation. Whether left wingers, liberals, or even sometimes middle of the roaders, those who are unhappy about American politics and policies face a battle whose outcome will affect generations yet unborn, generations that perhaps will not even be born for the better part of a century or longer.
And just as Lincoln said of his own generation, we cannot escape history. Indeed, history has worked on us longer than it had on Lincoln’s generation. The history they faced began in 1787 and ran to 1861. As will be discussed here, the history we face began in 1787, ran to 1861, then resumed in 1876 and has run until the present day.
But this is not all. To change American politics and policies, to disenthrall the nation from elements of its history that have led to terrible policies in the present, we must exercise idealism and pursue the moral. Use of the very word idealism, or being tagged with its variant (idealist), causes one to be derided, scoffed at, treated as not a serious person and certainly not a person fit for politics. Likewise, to say that one pursues the moral causes one to be derided as impractical, as heedless of realities. America, a land that knows little or no history -- most Americans seem to know virtually none -- forgets that the abolitionists and the civil righters were idealistic and pursued the moral, forgets that Martin Luther King pursued the moral though he understood realities, forgets that Eugene McCarthy, the dethroner of Lyndon Johnson, said that sometimes morality is the only practical politics.
Nor is this all. For to turn around this aircraft carrier of a nation will likely take years, decades, maybe scores of years. It took the abolitionists 30 years to win the day. It took the civil righters somewhere between 20 years and 85 years, depending on how one dates the beginning of the movement and why. It took the women’s righters about 75 years. It took the old labor movement anywhere from 40 years to 120 years, again depending on how one dates the beginning of the movement and why. So great speed, though a boon to be wished, cannot be expected.
It is a plain fact that those who seek fundamental reform must be long term thinkers, whether the long term be considered ten years or twenty or fifty. They cannot be, as our current politicians always are, seekers of the quick fix, the kind of fix that fails, is even counterproductive, in the long run.
* * * * *
What, then, are we to do? Well, let me first state some of the things we must stand for. Some of them are not in and of themselves substantive policies. They are, rather, basic principles, long flouted in this country, without which no substantive policies are likely to work, except perhaps as short term fixes doomed to long run failure.
The fundamental principles in mind are ones elaborated here many times (as well as in books I’ve written). Therefore they will only be quickly cited now, not lengthily elaborated yet again.
The principles predominantly include honesty -- the most important of all principles because nothing good, nothing competent, can come from dishonesty and associated misinformation, at least not in the long run. Viet Nam, Iraq, and economic disasters aplenty are macrocosmic proof enough of that.
None of us being perfect, none of us is completely honest all the time even though we should strive for the maximum amount of honesty -- and, at minimum, should eschew deliberate dishonesty (and should say nothing rather than lie or mislead when telling the complete truth is foreclosed for one reason or another).
In our current society it will in many people induce skepticism and rolled eyes, not to mention charges of naivete, to say that honesty must always be sought. (Although one does think that people increasingly are coming to realize what its absence is costing us in many ways.) So be it. Let the supposed sophisticates scorn if they wish. Their sophistication will not alter the fact that, unless we are to be further and further mired in disaster, this society must change from a significantly dishonest one to one where honesty is sought in fact, and is not just the subject of empty, hortatory oratory. Those who want to change the society must understand this.
They must also understand a related point. If one is to be honest, one must be willing to lose, no matter how desperately he wants to win. In the short run, it is often, even usually, easier to succeed by dishonesty and lying than by the truth, to succeed by saying what sounds good and what people want to hear rather than the unconventional. But in the long run dishonesty and lies are seen for the disaster they are and cause. Again, do we really need examples aside from macrocosmic ones like Viet Nam, the inflation occurring because of policies based on the lies associated with that war, the war in Iraq, and the economic disasters which have occurred because of dishonest statements of earnings by corporations?
There are other basic principles to which reformers need be committed. Fundamentally, they include competence; its closely associated handmaidens -- hard work and diligence; concern for others as well as oneself; and modesty. That competence is needed should be obvious, and not less so after the Bush administration. Hard work and diligence are verities -- though increasingly disrespected. The increasing disparity between rich and poor, the fact that CEOs of large corporations make about 450 times the amounts made by their average workers, and the increasing squeeze on the middle class are in major part the result of a lack of concern for others arising from greed spurred ever higher by the tax policies of Reagan and Bush II. “Greed is good” is a horridly selfish, devil-take-all-but-me idea that turns capitalism from a desirable economic structure into an engine of oppression. We need capitalism because socialism, Communism, and related systems and entities are incompetent, but it must be tempered by at least some concern for others a well as oneself.
As for modesty, well, it simply is an old fashioned idea that people grew up with for perhaps the first 150 or 160 years of the country’s existence, and which prevailed in the Midwest when I was a kid, but which has become a farce because in this self-horn-blowing, celebrification worshiping society the modest inherent not the earth, but nothing, while the self promoters forge ahead. This is a recipe for an obnoxious society from show business to politics, to business, to the professions. No surprise, then, that such an obnoxious society is pretty much what we have and that, as part of blowing their own horns, people learn to lie on a regular basis from lying on resumes to lying about almost anything you can think of. Even people who believe modesty is desirable, who grew up where modesty was practiced and had it inculcated into them, find that survival sometimes -- even often -- requires immodesty. This is terrible. The society needs to change.
That the society needs to change with respect to the principles just discussed is, one notes, only the more true because of a matter becoming clearer after scores of years of active, and activist, government. Government activism has, to be sure, improved this country greatly. But not because government is competent. Government is largely incompetent at almost everything it does. Even our military, which regularly speaks of principles that one wishes all would follow -- honesty, duty, honor, concern for one’s men, etc. -- has shown itself to mainly not be competent in war after war; we do win conventional wars like World War II, Gulf I and the beginning of Gulf II, but only by virtue of overwhelming resources, and when it comes to non-conventional wars -- Viet Nam, subsequent phases of Gulf II -- we do badly. One writer’s view is that it is simply symptomatic of massive governmental incompetence at every level if even our military is inept, particularly since the military, unlike most of government, at least talks the talk of desirable principles -- although, on the other side, it is unhappily true that the military, while talking the talk, often does not walk the walk.
Exactly why government is massively inept is not something that is immediately obvious. Perhaps it is because, as conservatives think with much merit, there is no profit motive to gauge competence. Perhaps it is because of government’s bureaucratic mindset, or because people in government get no benefit from taking risks and can be greatly harmed by taking them. Perhaps it is because the principle of unified command is rarely followed. Perhaps it is all of these things. Who knows? All that one does know is that for whatever reason or combination of reasons, government usually is not competent. (One notes, incidentally, that a reasonable number of business leaders who attended the most recent World Economic Forum at Davos agreed that politicians are not competent.)
So, if government is not competent, if it is usually incompetent and grossly wasteful at almost every level, as this writer believes, why is it that activist government has improved the country greatly? -- has helped avoid post depression economic disasters, has been instrumental for civil rights and women’s rights, at one time was a great aid to education, and so on. Well, one of the fundamental reasons for this, in this writer’s judgment, is that government, bad as it is, was a counterweight to an often overly greedy, corrupt, humanly insensitive private side, was an antidote to a capitalistic system and human hatred run amok. And why had the capitalist system and human hatred run amok? Because too many people, including ones in positions of economic power, followed lousy values. They ignored, or cared little for, honesty, a reasonable concern for others, a brake on personal greed, or even competence and diligence if they could succeed without them (as CEOs personally have in spades in the last ten or fifteen years).
There is, in all of this, a lesson for those who seek reform. It is one that some writers on economics have drawn -- but that far too many reject -- when discussing why one country advances and prospers but another does not. It is the lesson that culture is all. If a nation’s culture is one of striving for competence, honesty, hard work, concern for others, etc, you are going to have one kind of country. If a nation’s culture is the opposite, as seems to be extensively true throughout most of what is called the third world, throughout much of the mideast, major parts of Asia, much of Africa and elsewhere, you are going to have a different kind of country.
That culture is all cannot be stressed enough. It likely is the single most important idea in this posting. It is an idea that is race-free, ethnicity-free, gender-free, and economic-class-free. It applies to everyone. It is its culture that mainly or even exclusively determines a nation’s fate, and that certainly does so far more than any other single element.
This all has great importance for those of us who wish to see a better America. Especially because of government’s incompetence, it is crucial that those on the private side do the right thing if we are to have a better, reformed society. And for a better, improved society it is therefore key that bad cultural values and practices, and those who follow them, come to be looked down upon, reviled, anathematized, be seen as bad ideas and people. It is likewise key that good values and practices, and those who follow them, be looked on as exemplars. Psychological pressure, in the form of how people view practices and persons, will be all important, because how people view practices and persons is the key to how individuals and nations act. Those who seek reform must commit to pushing desirable values and reviling bad ones, and to doing this even though it will not bring quick victory because the triumph of better values is necessarily a long term business.
* * * * *
Let me turn now to consideration of some underlying factors of long standing that are behind much that is wrong today. One wishes to discuss, first, an idea that even a few weeks ago might have struck me as without support, yet now has some serious backers. The idea is that we should get rid of the electoral college or, at minimum, find a way around it. Whatever reasons existed for it in 1787-89 no longer exist, and it is in fact a disaster. Were it not for the electoral college, the Hayes/Tilden imbroglio of 1876 might not have occurred, with its corrupt political bargain that enabled the South to institute 90 years of Jim Crow. Were it not for the electoral college, Al Gore would have won in 2000 beyond peradventure, and, whatever one may have thought of Gore -- and this blogger thought so little of him and the Democrats that he did not vote for Gore -- it is inconceivable that Gore would have been as horrible as Bush. (Curiously in 2004 Bush won by 3 million plus popular votes, but a switch of only 60,000 votes in Ohio would have caused him to lose in the electoral college. Can you imagine the Republican outrage if that had happened? If it had occurred, Republicans would be leading the charge to get rid of the electoral college.)
There are other important reasons too, electoral reasons, to get rid of the electoral college, e.g., because of it, only about 18 states are in play in a presidential election, with the rest of the states being sure things for one candidate or the other. So the candidates ignore the 32 or so “sure thing states,” and citizens there have less incentive to participate in the campaign or to vote. Participation in politics decreases -- today it is, indeed, fairly minimal, due partly to the “sure thing state” phenomenon. For all these reasons, then, we should get rid of the electoral college, which is a disaster continuously waiting to happen, as in 1876 and 2000 (albeit not in 1824). Of course, there can also be subsequent disaster when a president wins both the popular vote and the electoral college vote (e.g., Buchanan, Hoover). But in the latter circumstances, when disaster has struck it can at least be said that this was not because of a perversion that made a mockery of the popular vote.
As said, until recently this writer would have thought – perhaps ignorantly-- that a claim that the electoral college should be eliminated, or worked around, would have been ridiculed. But near the end of February, a new organization announced that it was publishing a book, and working, to do that very thing. At its jumping-off press conference, the supporting speakers included John Anderson, Birch Bayh and the head of Common Cause, Chellie Pingree. The organization has developed a relatively simple idea that will result in the popular vote winner becoming President even though the electoral college is retained. (I don’t yet know how the idea will work if nobody wins a majority of the popular vote, so that one of, say, three candidates obtains a plurality not a majority of the popular vote.) Subsequently, in mid-March, The New York Times ran a lead editorial supporting the new group’s idea. The existence of the new organization, and the support of people and institutions like Anderson, Bayh, Pingree and The Times indicate that the idea of getting rid of or working around the electoral college is no longer so far out.
An idea related to getting rid of the electoral college is that we should in some way alter our single member district method of election (in effect our winner take all method of election) for the House of Representatives. Like the electoral college, single member districts discourage the entry into politics of people who have important ideas not consonant with the conventional wisdom of Republicans and Democrats. It discourages the formation of new, independent parties -- a result which is of course approved by our politicians, pundits and political scientists, but one that can surely be debated, as can the conventional wisdom that there would be instability if third parties or independent candidates had a chance. One notes that the system of winner-take-all single member districts has resulted in 95 percent of the seats in Congress being “safe” seats, being seats for which there is no real contest -- a result that creates entrenched corruption.
There are lots of suggestions about what kind of multi member districts or proportional representation should replace single member (winner take all) districts. There have been some alternatives in the past, and there are some alternatives being used now in local elections. What alternatives should be used can properly be lengthily debated. At this point, the only thing this writer is sure about is that there should be some changes -- at minimum, there should be some experiments with alternatives in some places, as a prelude to widespread change.
Let me turn now to another matter which, like the electoral college, goes back to 1787-1789.
This country was conceived in original sin in 1787-1789. Without mentioning the word, the Constitution supported slavery: it said the importation of slaves could not be stopped until 1808 (most Americans do not know it did this), it required fugitive slaves to be returned (even fewer know this), and -- the heart of what I wish to talk about here -- it provided that every slave should be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of a state’s representation in Congress and the electoral college. (Can you believe it? A slave was three-fifths of a person!) What this meant was that the South had a disproportionately high number of Congressmen, and a disproportionately high number of electors in the electoral college, because slaves -- who could not vote, were not allowed to learn to read, were whipped and beaten, were hunted by patrols at night, were ruthlessly separated from families, and were made to work like dogs for relatively short lives -- were used to increase the South’s political power. (Of course, one is cynically tempted to say, it could have been even worse -- the South’s power would have been increased still more had each slave been counted as five-fifths of a person, as a whole person.)
This increase in the South’s representation in Congress and the electoral college had dramatic consequences. From 1789 until 1860, the South always had vastly disproportionate political power and usually controlled the Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court, either by dint of Southerners themselves being in the pertinent seats or by such seats being filled by so-called doughfaces, who were “Northern men with Southern principles.” It was not an accident that the first Congress to sit after the Southerners walked out in 1861 passed three laws which dramatically altered the country but could not be passed while the Southerners were still around: Congress passed the Morrill Act, which provided for land grant universities, now long a crucial part of our system of higher education; it passed the Homestead Act, which provided western land free for those who would work it and thereby opened the west; and it passed the transcontinental railroad bill, which knit the country together.
Because it walked out in 1861, the South lost its power until the corrupt bargain of 1876, when it began its march to resumed hegemony in national councils. For scores of years it controlled Congress through the seniority system. Southerners were appointed to the Supreme Court, and, starting with Woodrow Wilson, we began to once again get Southern Presidents, especially since 1964, a 42 year period when, depending on how you look at it, either four or five out of seven elected presidents (and either four or five out of eight overall) have come from the old Confederacy (i.e., over half of those elected and half or more of all have come from the old Confederacy, including Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Bush II. Bush I could also be included if one wants, because he made his career in the old Confederacy though he was born a Yankee.)
Now the South, the old Confederacy, is largely a one party area. This was somewhat true even before the Civil War, when it was largely Jeffersonian and Jacksonian and has of course been totally true since 1876, when it was exclusively Democrat from shortly after 1876 until Nixon, and since then has been exclusively Republican. It has also been, since perhaps 1840 or so, a highly conservative, often reactionary region (except when voting for New Deal laws that would give it money). Because of the conservatism and reactionaryism of the old Confederacy, coupled with its disproportionate political power, before the Civil War we got slavery, militarism, suppression of speech, and an impairment of what were then called internal improvements -- the canals, roads, railroads, etc. needed for economic growth. Ditto regarding public education, which was absent in the South. After 1876 the states of the old Confederacy, with their backwards and racist views, gave us a Jim Crow social and economic system, denial of blacks’ right to vote though blacks were again counted (this time as five-fifths of a person) in calculating Southern Congressional delegations and electors, rampant militarism, a violent, lawless domestic society, anti-laborism, and extreme poverty with little or nothing done to alleviate it. Beyond this, many of the worst ideas that prevail in America today, because of Reagan and Bush II, are in their origin and initial backing Southern (notwithstanding that Reagan was a Midwesterner by birth and a westerner as an adult) and receive vastly disproportionate support from Southern politicians today. This includes our gigantic 400 or 500 billion dollar per year armed forces, our stupid belief in military means to solve problems, shortcomings in education, welfare policies and labor policies (Walmart is a southern company, you know, and reflects the local views of its place of origin, which remains its headquarters), and suppression of civil liberties (together with the religious fundamentalism which spawns this).
It is decades past time that those who desire to reform our system become willing to face facts and say, though it is considered impolite and tactless to do so, that we have a major problem called the South, the states of the old Confederacy. The people there, at least those who are not the nasty crackers of Jim Crow mentality whose governing idea was to club, shoot and lynch at the drop of a hat, are said to be very nice, polite and courteous, to place a high value on truth, to believe in duty. That has largely been my own personal experience of them (a comment that right wing opponents of the views expressed here are absolutely certain to overlook or ignore), and such characteristics are ones that this writer wishes all people shared. But these very desirable characteristics do not allay the fact that the South’s political views, coupled with the disproportionate power it has enjoyed, at first because of the three-fifths rule and later because of its one party nature, have been and remain pretty disastrous for this country. Today, of course, this is played out by the old Confederacy being the very heart of Red State country, the very heart of Bushian reactionaryism and militaristic thinking.
What, then, is to be done about this problem? What can be done about it? Frankly, this writer doesn’t know -- except for one idea that clearly would make a difference. It would seem virtually certain that getting rid of the electoral college, and altering our system of single member districts, would be crucial steps in the right direction because they would help create a two party or even a multi-party South by helping to give voice to the many southerners who do not agree with the views that have dominated down there for over 200 years, but whose voices have been drowned out by the majority or at least by the politicians. (The same kind of thing would happen in all the currently “safe” states (about 30 plus) and Congressional districts (about 95 percent), north or south, east or west.) For instance, there are millions of African Americans in the South. It is really hard to believe that most of them favor the kinds of reactionary policies favored by those currently in charge down there. Overcoming the electoral college and the single member district would help give a serious political voice to those people, and would help overcome what is still the solid (now Republican) South (just as other “solid” or “semi-solid” states, whether they are mainly Democrat or mainly Republican, would become more two party or multi-party (e.g., Massachusetts, California, New Hampshire, maybe even a place like Kansas.)
What other ideas or changes might help to overcome the problem is beyond me. The subject needs extensive consideration and discussion, a subject I shall come back to later. But there is one thing that one can be pretty sure about. The problem cannot be solved by reformers continuing to live in denial, and continuing not to admit and talk about the fact that the disproportionate political power of the South under our current electoral system has caused a political problem since 1787 (with the exception of 1861-1876). Realizing and considering the fact that the one party, vastly disproportionately powerful, and conservative to reactionary old Confederacy has been and is a serious hindrance to America’s well being is a necessary first step to solving the problem, if indeed it can be solved. As well, reformers have to face unhappy practical facts. Unless and until serious inroads are somehow made on the solid, one party, current and long standing conservative to reactionary political power structure of the old Confederacy (serious inroads that probably could be made by getting rid of single member districts), reformers will have to lay plans without expecting or planning for much or any success down South. Unless and until there is a big, big change, it will remain Bush II red country long after Bush II is gone (which can’t happen soon enough to suit me -- impeachment anyone?). That is the lesson of 225 years, and we’d better realize it, admit it, and plan accordingly.
There is yet another matter of long standing of which to be wary, a matter that seems almost a permanent part of the human condition. In a word, it consists of overpromising. Overpromising what reform will or can accomplish. Overpromising which often is done to overcome unreasoning and/or obstinate resistance to change, but which leads in the end to dejection and disappointment. (One cannot stress enough that it often is done to help overcome obdurate resistance – and then leads to disappointment.)
This is a subject that has been on my mind lately because of the two recent Supreme Court nominations, which brought to the fore yet again the major change in thinking -- politically, legally and economically -- which occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A question on one’s mind is, how is it that a period when so many people believed in social reform (the 1960s) gave rise to a now 35 year period in which, ultimately, a wing nut on the right like Barry Goldwater came to seem somewhat of a reasonable man, especially if judged against the Bushian wackos who control the country today? Of course, today’s wing nuts on the right, and even some moderates, see the philosophy of the ’60s as being the problem. One cannot accept this, however. If it were right, it would mean that periods when reform and human decency are in the air are the problem. It would mean that the abolitionists, not the Southern slaveocracy, were the problem, that the civil righters, not the Jim Crow South, were the problem, that the laboring men, not the greedy capitalists who gave them miserable lives, were the problem, and so on.
So why was there a major change after the ’60s? Johnson’s God-awful war in Viet Nam, which ripped the country apart and terminated the reform impulse, was obviously one major reason. Another was the fact that there were always people who did not accept or believe in the reform impulse of the 60's, people who sometimes were themselves harmed by the reform and/or who, as historian William Chafe recently has written, Nixon skillfully united into a conservative coalition of the haters. And then too, this writer believes, there was the fact that by claiming that their policies would accomplish so much, claims that had to be made in order to overcome obdurate resistance, the liberals of the ’60s set the stage for disappointment and backlash when the programs achieved less than hoped, or achieved far more slowly than was hoped and predicted.
One must always be conscious that even the best laid plans will not work out quite as hoped, or will not achieve what it is claimed they will achieve or at the speed claimed for them. (Iraq anyone? Viet Nam anyone?) It is only over time, usually, and over a long time at that, that reforms will be truly successful.
Relatedly, rarely are arguments entirely one sided, as politicians like to pretend via spin, and as judges like to pretend by saying that arguments contrary to their holdings “have no merit.” When one pretends that a matter is entirely one-sided, or that the other side “has no merit,” one sets the stage for bitter argument by those who in effect are being blithely dismissed or accused of stupidity, as well as for long range disappointment on the part of those who believed the spin. This is a matter of common personal observation. It also was the lesson of a few pages in Elliot Richardson’s autobiography. He mentioned at one point that, when he was an official in the Eisenhower administration, his office was faced with a hotly contested issue on which there were strong feelings on both sides. Rather than claim all the merit was on one side and there was none on the other, Richardson and his people explained that there was much of value to be said on both sides, though they had come down on one side rather than the other. The otherwise expectable fracas therefore did not materialize, since people felt their views had been heard and considered rather than derided and dismissed. And what a difference this was from the modus operandi of menaces like Johnson or Bush II.
Those who seek long term reform should heed this. Do not promise nirvana, or that immense good will arise immediately, and don’t refuse to recognize merit on the other side. All of that just creates backlash and disaster. Desired reform is a long term affair, and one where both sides usually have something worthwhile to say (even though I confess to having little comprehension of what the slaveocracy South or the Jim Crow South had to say that was, upon analysis, truly worthwhile. As these examples show, there are exceptional situations where a point of view is utterly worthless -- David Irving’s denial of the holocaust would be another illustration.)
* * * * *
When it comes to determining the specific substantive policies that reformers should support, one must honestly say that, to a thinking person, a fair amount of this ought to be somewhat uncertain just now. There are, of course, some notions, some policies, that we can be certain should be eschewed. Reasons of history and morality dictate this. History because it shows that the policies don’t work, even when commonly resorted to despite their repeated failure. (They are like baseball, football and basketball coaches, and university presidents, who get recycled over and over again despite failure after failure. The establishment-minded give up neither their pet people nor their pet policies.)
Preeminent among the policies which do not work is America’s traditional ready resort to war. Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, Iraq II, perhaps Korea -- our readiness to jump into war, practically an addiction since 1950, has created disasters at home and abroad. It is not too much to say that since 1950 our longest and severest problems have arisen because of war -- war again and again and again. This addiction to war threatens national and global well being unless we rid ourselves of it. From the time of Martin Luther King (and others of his time and persuasion) until today, America has been far and away the largest purveyor of violence on the planet – violence which we hypocritically perpetrate in the name of supposed peace. Though most Americans are in total denial on this, it is a very sobering thought that to most of the world it is America, not Al Qaeda and its ilk, that is regarded as the world’s biggest terrorist. Nobody else, after all, drops millions of tons of bombs on people with at least some regularity. Bob Herbert recently said, very trenchantly, and with all of American history on his side, that “there is nothing more American than brutal violence. The country was built on it, revels in it and shows every evidence of clinging to it with the crazed, destructive strength of an obsessive lover.” If we do not cure ourselves of the American addiction to violence, then, in the international arena, it is only a matter of time until much of the world gangs up on us, with results that nobody can foresee. Such as been the fate of all empires, and history says it will befall us if we remain (far and away) the world’s most violent, terror-producing nation (all in the name of peace, of course).
This matter of the American addiction to war raises an interesting question, one that at first glance may seem bizarre, but in reality isn’t. Can there in fact be a national addiction? Addiction is a word that is usually applied to an individual, not a policy, and is normally reserved for things like tobacco, drugs and maybe alcohol. Yet recently people have been speaking of addiction to sex -- the excuse given for John Kennedy’s misconduct -- and even addiction to work -- the great, incessantly working Harvey Cushing, the early 20th century father of neurosurgery, is said to have been addicted to work, for example. So possibly we should extend use of the word addiction beyond its ingesting categories to more things that people do continuously, incessantly, and are helpless to stop themselves from doing. (Was Gertie the Cleaning Machine, in Philip Roth’s early book of short stories entitled Goodbye Columbus, addicted to cleaning house? Were a lot of our Jewish mothers? Are lots of us, not just Harvey Cushing, but anyone who is a workaholic, addicted to work? Has any scientist ever investigated whether there are brain changes or brain “symptoms” of people who may be addicted in these ways, as there are in people who are addicted to tobacco or drugs? If there are, it would be even more appropriate, one thinks, to expand use of the word addiction.)
But even if we can expand the coverage of the word addiction when applied to individuals, can there be such a thing as a national addiction? There is no physical national brain or nervous system, after all. Yet it seems to me the word addiction can be applied on a national basis too. To begin with, what is the national “mind,” or what are the “national characteristics,” that are often spoken of with regard to one country and another (as we used to -- and to some extent still do? -- speak of Germany as being a country characterized by orderliness, cleanliness, hard work, and respect for authority)? Well, it is obvious, is it not, that national characteristics are nothing but the summed total of characteristics of individuals, of individuals’ actions and beliefs? With the Germans, the national characteristics spoken of above were national characteristics because they were the characteristics of so many individuals, were the beliefs and actions of so many individuals. Why would it be wrong to say individual Germans, and through them Germany, were addicted to such characteristics just as we now say John Kennedy was addicted to sex and Harvey Cushing (and lots of us) to working. Equally, why would it be wrong to say that, given the pervasive, historically longstanding belief in this country that violence and military actions are needed to solve problems, given the remarkable extent to which individuals and the country have in fact engaged in violence over the course of literally hundreds of years, and given the extent to which we keep repeating the same violent mistakes (just as a cigarette smoker keeps taking the next cigarette) -- as in Viet Nam we replicated and did not even remember what happened in the Philippines from 1898-1904, and in Iraq II we ignored Viet Nam -- given all of this, why is it incorrect to say that our people and politicians, and through them the nation qua nation, suffer an addiction to violence? And if one does not like to call this an individual and a national “addiction,” then surely it is at least an individual and national “characteristic.”
One can be absolutely certain, of course, that anyone who espouses the views on the continuous use of military violence set forth here will be viciously assailed by the right wing wackos as soft headed, not understanding reality, cowardly, pacifistic, “soft on terrorism” (to use a favorite bovine-defecation-canard of the right wing), etc., etc. This is so even though a few icons of right wing militarism -- Francis Fukuyama (a big foot for the media), is one example -- apparently are changing their minds about crucial aspects of the matter, and apparently are no longer believers in widespread unilateral use of military force by the U.S. It also is so even though the right wing attack is the furthest remove from truth, since people like me can and do believe in strong military forces, but simply think our forces have too often been used at the wrong time, in the wrong places and ways, and for the wrong purposes (a view which a lot of leading military men, now and historically, have agreed with. (Historically, U.S. Grant, by way of one little known example, reviled the Mexican War, in which he fought very bravely.)) Nonetheless, the attacks from the addicted will come, and the addicted will, in addition, ask the Madeleine Albright question, the question she put to the military when she wanted to go into the Balkans and others didn’t. Why, she asked the military, do you have this vaunted army if you are unwilling to use it? She might as intelligently (or as unintelligently) have asked why do we have hydrogen bombs mounted on intercontinental missiles if we are loathe to use them? In both cases -- in all cases -- the answer is the same: we have them so that we won’t have to use them. The word is deterrence, Madeleine. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? So, too, to the militaristic right wing wackos of today.
What, then, should replace what this writer believes is our addiction to force, our readiness and willingness to use force at the drop of a hat? Should it be efforts to try to work things out peacefully through the UN? Through NATO? Should it be new conceptions under which we do not get involved at the drop of a hat in events in the Middle East and other places? At this point, this blogger does not pretend to any certainty regarding the answer(s) to the replacement question. To me, it is a matter that requires extensive consideration and study in the way discussed below in connection with the creation of a new political party. There are only two things that one believes we can be certain of at this point. One is that the readiness to use force all the time and virtually everywhere -- the addiction to force -- has been, is, and will continue to be a disaster. It should cease.
Secondly, we must begin putting in the docks the criminals who have been behind America’s use of force (and torture) and its correlative violations of both domestic and international law. Bush II, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cambone, Addington, Yoo, Bybee, Rice -- all these evil people and their ilk should be brought to justice. But bringing people to justice is not limited by age. It should apply as well to the still living criminals of Viet Nam, no matter how ancient they may now be. Kissinger and McNamara, for example, should go into the dock. We have never let age dissuade us from bringing Nazis into the dock -- into their 80s they have been held responsible before the bar of law, and this even when a given Nazi, however horrible his crimes, is responsible for many fewer deaths than the three million or so who died because of the policies of McNamara and Kissinger ( or five million if you count the Cambodian fallout).
Putting our own criminals in the dock regardless of age, so that aspirants to such criminality will know they will never be safe, is essential (and at minimum is highly desirable) to stopping our addiction to force. For now the leaders of this government suffer no possibility of liability if they engage in criminal acts, nor is it members of their own families whom they send to die, but members of other people’s families (a phenomenon which Bob Herbert recently called, poignantly, a form of depravity). It is hard to say, it cannot in fact be said, that a leader must send members of his or her own family in harm’s way -- the family members may not even be members of the armed forces. (Can you imagine sending the Bush twits to fight in Iraq? The closest they get to danger is at the local bar or speeding drunkenly in a car.) (It is notable that in the war which cost more American lives than any other, but which was worth fighting, the Civil War, four members of the Cabinet had family members – children or brothers -- in the front lines facing enemy fire. The cabinet members -- Seward, Welles, Bates and Blair -- worried like hell, but kept on with a war that had to be fought. How different from today’s cowards in office, who fight useless wars while their own family members remain in safety.) Since we cannot expect the leaders’ family members to be placed at risk, it is all the more imperative that we place the leaders themselves in the dock for criminal acts, as we placed Nazis and Milosevic in the dock, in order to both punish crimes and to deter future criminal resort to force at the drop of a hat, resort that leads to scores of thousands or more of deaths in wars that need not and should not be fought.
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Reformers of today find themselves in a position that is something like the one in which the Republican Party found itself in 1860. In those days there was one overriding issue: slavery, or even more accurately, slavery in the territories. But the Party could not win if it were a single issue party, because there were other issues too that concerned people in the North, that concerned many, perhaps even most, of them far more than slavery (with the South being, of course, a totally lost cause for the Republicans). These other issues included internal improvements, opening of the west for settlement, tariffs, and immigration. So the Republicans had to have positions on those issues too, and only by doing so were they able to win the presidential election.
As it was then, so too today for reformers. There is an overriding issue: America’s constant resort to force and fighting of wars. But this issue may not in itself be sufficient to win elections, because people have a deep interest in numerous other issues as well and, besides, those other issues are critical ones. Let me briefly list some of the more major ones, and tell what, if any preliminary or inchoate thoughts this writer currently has. Subsequently, we will get to the question of how fully fledged position on these (and other) issues should be worked out. (One notes, too, that people who call themselves progressives often have firm views on these other issues, and it is possible, even likely, that a thorough process of working out fully fledged positions may result in adoption of much, even most or all, of their views on given issues.)
Among the other crucial issues that reformers will have to address are these:
1. Health insurance and medical care. Plainly, a new program is needed here. Given the statistical (actuarial) bases of insurance, it is currently hard to see how we can succeed without a single payer system (which means governmental insurance), but we also know that government is incompetent and too often, both at home and abroad, has been as incompetent in this area as any other. There is also the problem that the fantastic rise in medical prices is often caused by advances in new technology, which one does not want to stifle, and by the creation of new drugs, which one equally does not want to stifle (albeit many new drugs are merely what are called me-too or copycat drugs, are merely de facto copies of what already exists and thus provide no new benefits, but are developed merely to allow more drug companies to get in on a gravy train). We can be sure that, unlike Bush and his henchman Leon Kass, we wish to encourage, not stifle, stem cell research. It seems pretty clear that we should also train a lot more health professionals who are not full fledged MDs but can do lots of the work that otherwise has to be done by MDs (e.g., preliminary screening, treatment and prescribing for ordinary illnesses like colds, etc.) In a similar vein, one wonders why we do not get new medical schools -- the static number of these schools is one of the reasons, one believes, that there is a shortage of doctors in various areas and excessive prices for physicians in others. And beyond any doubt, we need to find ways to lower the obscene drug prices that are so harmful to so many and exist mainly, or solely, to enable drug companies to make unbelievable profits.
2. Globalization has to be rethought to some extent, perhaps even considerably. On the one side, there can be no doubt that it has been of great benefit to much of the middle and upper classes, and sometimes even the lower classes, in America and abroad by giving them access to a greater variety of products, sometimes wholly new and/or better products (sometimes far better products, e.g., Japanese cars), and cheaper prices, often much cheaper prices. On other hand, as we have now seen, globalization has resulted in vast losses of jobs for the American working class, large losses of outsourced jobs for the American middle class and increasingly the professional classes too, and serious injury to small businesses and farmers in a host of third world countries in Africa, South America, etc. The longstanding principle (or at least idea) of international economics that everyone is ultimately better off if there is totally unfettered trade may well be true (or at least true for lots of people), but is of no never mind to persons whose lives, and whose childrens’ and descendants lives, are or will be ruined by the current incarnations of globalization.
3. The energy problem must be attended to.
4. I know little about it, but it surely does seem that the problem of global warming must be given energetic attention.
5. Much or most of the American education system is a disaster, from the first grade right up through college. People have all kinds of ideas on how to cure the problem, but to this educator the answer seems fairly simple, and dependent on that most important aspect of any society, its culture. Which is by way of saying that at any level there is and never will be any substitute for demanding, from students and teachers alike, discipline, hard work, extensive study, and close attention to the fundamentals -- to the development of good reading, good writing and numeracy. Without attention to the fundamentals, all the no-child-left-behind-type standardized tests in the world (at any level of schooling) will not make any difference, and with close attention to the fundamentals, no such tests will be necessary.
6. If the Supreme Court and the other federal courts turn out to be as bad as liberals fear now that Bush II has put Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court (a fear that may not prove to be well founded), thus carrying forward the conservative court packing started by Reagan, the reformers should seek to borrow a leaf from Franklin Roosevelt’s book but, unlike Roosevelt, should do it honestly. They should seek to pack the Supreme Court and the other federal courts.
Roosevelt’s court packing plan failed for two reasons. There was still, in those days, a tremendous amount of veneration for the Supreme Court. As well, Roosevelt lied about the reasons for his action, claiming it was because the Justices, being old, could not keep up with their workload. The lie was exposed, with bad consequences for Roosevelt.
Today, on every side, the veneration for the Court is less, as it continuously refuses to do the right and moral thing, as people now increasingly think that the Justices are simply nine people picked for their political views and often act like mere politicians in black robes -- as when a majority of them made George Bush president by a decision whose logic was abysmal. (And the animus against them will be phenomenal if they abolish the right of abortion.) As well, reformers should not lie about why they are packing the Court, or courts. They should tell the unvarnished truth. If horrible decisions make it desirable to pack the Court, reformers should say they are packing it to change the horrible decisions. And besides, they should add, those decisions will have been the result of conservative and reactionary court packing and activism from Reagan to Bush II.
7. To the enormous injury of the ordinary guy in the street, this country is infested by secrecy. Secrecy is massive and everywhere. It is hegemonous in the federal Executive, is prevalent in corporations, is a feature of state and local governments, is a major factor in the professional world, e.g., law, is too frequent by far in academia, and so forth. It has made possible torture, other government crimes, secret wars and military actions, a fraudulent economic bubble that burst in the early 2000s, misconduct by lawyers on behalf of corporations, and what not.
This culture of secrecy should be changed. One place to start is by immediately overturning Bush II’s really quite evil, secrecy-maintaining order that reversed Clinton’s prior order under which millions of pages of absurdly classified documents would have been made available -- a Bush II secrecy order that, many think, has the effect and may in part have been specifically intended to hide misdoings by the Bush family. This would be only a start, however. The whole culture of secrecy must be drastically curtailed everywhere if we ordinary people are to be able to gain control of our destinies, instead of frequently being screwed over a hundred different ways, physically, financially and morally.
8. Finally, there is the matter of money in politics, a.k.a. the current campaign finance system. It seems a no brainer to say the current system should be scrapped in favor of federal financing of campaigns, with only relatively limited federal financing at that. The current system, which is money uber alles, and in which bribery has been legalized by calling it campaign contributions, has led to a crooked Congress, a crooked executive, continual focus on raising money instead of on what should be done to better the country, vast favoritism to the rich and powerful who give money, a correlative effing over of the little man, a corrupt army of lobbyists and lawyers on K Street in Washington, D.C., and disgraceful judicial rulings which protect the massive legalized bribery of politicians by conflating money with speech, when in fact money is only money and speech is speech.
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This brings us to the question of what, concretely, is to be done to obtain reform. In my judgment it is now necessary, as it was in the 1850s, to create a new political party. As when the Republican Party was created, the old parties are played out. As has been shown by Gulf II, they are incapable of doing the right thing. They are too beholden to big money -- money is virtually all that our politicians care about. The pols, far too often, are people who have spent or want to spend their whole lives and careers, or at least 20 to 40 years of them, in politics, with all the kowtowing, hypocrisy, venality and evil that this causes. They have gotten too used to the ethically crooked, morally criminal ways of our system, cannot even envision serious change in the political and electoral system, and even regard the possibility of serious change as not only naive, but also as semi-treasonous. They do not represent the millions of us -- one suspects the tens of millions of us -- who want serious change. If there is to be serious change, it will not come from either of the two existing political parties, who for all their claimed differences are, at rock bottom, tweedle dum and tweedle dee as someone once said (George Wallace? Ross Perot?). Rather, it must come from those of us who are disgusted with the situation, and are idealistic and hopeful enough to think that, at least in the long term, something can be done to improve things. Those of us who share these characteristics must form a new political party to agitate for, to press for, change as fast as possible but certainly in the long run.
But how does one create a viable new political party, and contest elections, given the current power of television, given the associated need, it is thought, for scores of millions of dollars for public relations, ads, campaigning, conventions, etc., and given the size of the country. How does one build a political party and fight electoral campaigns at a cost that is only a small, even a tiny, fraction of the elephantine sums spent on politics today? The answer, to this question is: use of the internet. (Perhaps an odd answer from one who does not even yet know how to turn on a computer, but clearly the answer nevertheless.) The answer is use of the internet far beyond anything discussed by politicians to date, use of it far beyond websites or appeals for money. The answer is use of the internet, especially its rapidly advancing full motion video capacity, to do virtually everything that has to be done in politics: to have small group discussions, to have meetings, to make speeches, to trade writings, to conduct both the written and oral back-and-forthing needed to work out positions, to raise whatever money is needed, to arrange for signing of petitions (one of the requirements that the two major parties use to keep third parties off the ballot), to campaign, to communicate with and to see and be seen by voters. Telephone calls and face to face discussions, and especially in-person conventions at appropriate times, will still exist and be used sometimes. But the main work and the main campaigning will be over the far less expensive internet, often using, as I say, its rapidly growing video capacity. Thus it is that this writer has named the third party in mind “The American Internet and Reform Party,” is in the process of copyrighting and obtaining the domain rights for this name, and has arranged for setting up a website called TheAmericanInternetandReformParty.Org. “Reform” is in the name because reform is the reason for and the substance of the party. “Internet” is in the name because the internet is the vehicle, or procedure, to be used by the party. “Internet” is before “Reform” in the name, even though reform is the raison d’etre, because the word “internet” catches people’s eye in this day and age (whereas reform is old hat verbally although rarely practiced).
The American Internet and Reform Party (AIRP) will have to develop positions on issues discussed above and on other issues. This will mainly be done via the internet, using it, and its expanding full motion video capacity, to trade and comment on papers addressed to issues and to hold real time audio/video meetings with regard to issues. Carefully considered positions will be worked out in this way through lengthy, extensive and highly considered deliberations. Through such decisionmaking made possible by the internet, one can foresee positions and compromises being given much greater and far deeper consideration than they receive from the two present major parties with their in-groups, back rooms, and pressuring lobbyists and money men. As well, the use of the internet to work out positions should be a continuous process, so that any necessary changes can be made as facts and circumstances in the world change.
America will only be the better for the kind of deep and continuous consideration of ideas, problems and possible solutions that is being spoken of here.
There it is then. There is the idea towards which the whole of this lengthy blog posting has been directed. There is the concept of a third party and how it will operate. One hopes people will react favorably, will want to participate and help. Also, it seems quite possible that people, hopefully large numbers of people, will want to comment and/or to put criticisms, questions or ideas. I hope that those of you who do will get in touch with me. Via the internet, of course. If you do wish to be in contact about this subject, please email me at Velvel@AmericanInternetandReformParty.org. I hope to hear from large numbers of you. If I do, there will be no question but that we can and will proceed.*
*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Velvel@AmericanInternetandReformParty.org..