Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Of The Conference On Presidential Powers, And Stealth Immunity For Bushman

October 24, 2006

Re: Of The Conference On Presidential Powers,
And Stealth Immunity For Bushman.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

As written of here in advance, on October 14th and 15th a conference on ever-increasing presidential powers was held at the Massachusetts School of Law, in Andover (MSL), where this writer is Dean. The conference was even better than had been hoped. Many leading scholars in the field delivered speeches or remarks that ranged from the historically analytical to the spellbinding. At the end, this writer was supposed to deliver a summary of what was said, a summary of themes and future paths. But it could not be done. There was simply too much that had been said, too many ideas, both historical and future oriented, that had been discussed or floated.

A true summary of the proceedings has to await the availability of DVDs of the proceedings or perhaps even the transcript of them. The possibility of a true summary is thus at least some weeks off. But it is possible even early on to list a few of the important ideas that surfaced, sometimes repeatedly. They would include:

· The framers intended Congress, not the President, to be the powerful political branch. They greatly feared a powerful Executive. But the founders’ intent is at the opposite pole from what now exists.

· Congress, contrary to what the founders believed would occur, does not protect its institutional prerogatives against Executive encroachments.

· The commander-in-chief power was not intended by the framers to give the President the powers that Bushman, Johnson and others have claimed (usurped under it).

· The existence of a large standing army has been a major contributor -- possibly the major contributor -- to the growth of presidential power since 1950.

· Executive secrecy has contributed to the President’s overwhelming power. Many of the reservations claimed in Bushman signing statements are designed to foster Executive secrecy.

· The number of oversight hearings held by Congress has declined. This too contributes to increasing presidential power.

· The Executive has been engaged in manifold abuses of power.

· It is crucial to find some ways to put more power into the hands of the minority in Congress. Perhaps there should be some American equivalent of the Prime Minister’s question time in the British Parliament. Or (better yet, I think) perhaps the minority in Congress should have subpoena power.

· The Executive, and George Bush in particular, were hell-bent on using the recent act relating to habeas corpus and military tribunals as a vehicle for gaining immunity for the illegal torture that they had long authorized and perpetrated. It was generally felt that the clauses of the act providing such immunity were a serious blot on America.

· One must listen to the Nixon tapes to really grasp how rotten a human being he was. (Speaking personally, one wonders how many decades it will take for America to wake up to the same realization about the second Bush).

· The question of increasing Executive power is thought by some to be the most fraught and important issue facing the country. This is a point with which I agree, for reasons that will become clear below.

I believe this summary is reasonably accurate though very incomplete. A fuller summary, like access to the entire proceedings themselves, must await the preparation of DVDs of the conference, transcripts of it, and/or the publication of the proceedings in book form. The DVDs, which will not only be available as DVDs, but will also be put on the internet by MSL for viewing by computer and will be made downloadable by iPods, should be available in a matter of weeks. Transcripts, which will also be placed on line by MSL, will take a bit longer, and a book longer still. But these various means of modern communication will make the proceedings available in several ways for teachers, classes, and citizens who are interested in the subject of growing presidential power and want to know what some of the leading experts think.

One would especially hope that the materials will be used in colleges and universities. War, particularly long protracted wars, are the most affective upon this nation of all human events. What the Civil War and World War II meant for the daily lives of millions of citizens should be known and immediately comprehensible to any American who knows any history (a qualification which, I gather, would exclude most citizens these days, which is disastrous for the nation). Even wars that are less cataclysmic, though nonetheless long and major, have the most serious effects. Perhaps I can do no better in this regard than quote the opening paragraph of a book I wrote 36 years ago about the Viet Nam War:

“Vietnam.” The very name is associated with crisis. For as even the least perceptive among us must know, the war in Vietnam has contributed a goodly share to several of the highly serious and deeply troubling crises which have been plaguing the United States. Most of the crises which have been caused or exacerbated by the war have been very noticeable to the public, and the war’s effect upon them has been no less noticeable. For example, it is difficult to escape knowing that America has faced serious economic problems, such as inflation and balance of payments difficulties, which have resulted at least partly from our vast war expenditures. Equally apparent is the fact that the war has fueled a generation gap which has pitted many of our young people against many of their elders: the contending groups are locked in mutual lack of understanding, mutual distrust, mutual dislike, and mutual immoderation. It has been only too obvious that energy and money which have been poured into the war might otherwise have been spent to combat the poverty and urban decay which so plainly threaten our cities. By this diminution of the efforts to combat poverty and decay, by leading many blacks to bitterly, and perhaps even rightly, believe that the white man is perfectly willing to let them die for America in Vietnam but is not terribly willing to let them have adequate jobs or schools or houses in America itself, and by raising other difficulties both practical and ideological, the war has clearly heaped fuel upon the fire of an obtrusive racial crisis. The climate for lessening explosive international tensions plainly has suffered because of the war. And, unfortunately, this list of examples does not exhaust the catalogue of highly noticeable crises to which the Vietnam war has made a high noticeable contribution.

Even a war like Iraq which does not on an immediate level engage most Americans, a war whose burden falls on relatively few, a war which the President reprehensibly and for political purposes has “responded” to by telling people to go on living their lives in the ordinary way, creates havoc despite its lack of practical effect on most people. Our politics, our civil liberties, our now longstanding, well warranted disdain for government have all been worsened by the present botching by Bush.

Plainly, the causes, reasons for, and ways of avoiding and getting out of war are subjects which the colleges and universities of this country should study and teach. One of the most affective phenomena in getting our country into one war after another has been precisely the growth of presidential power that was discussed at the conference at MSL. Such growth is, for this reason as well as others, one of the crucial subjects for colleges and universities. Thus, to reiterate, one hopes that they will make use of what will soon be the wide availability of the materials from the conference held on October 14th and 15th.

* * * * *

The matter of the immunity provided to criminals in the recently enacted Military Commissions Act of 2006 raised especial ire at the conference. For the first time in American history, the Congress has provided immunity for the perpetrators of torture -- even murderers by torture -- and other horrible crimes, e.g., kidnapping even innocent people off the streets and delivering them to countries like Syria and Uzbekistan for torture.

The provision which immunizes this awful conduct, you know, did not receive nearly as much media coverage in advance as did the habeas corpus and military tribunal provisions of the bill. That, at least, is one man’s opinion, and in fact I think it received but little coverage. It basically was snuck in and enacted mainly by stealth - - not exclusively by stealth, but mainly by it. No doubt the stealth served the Executive’s purposes perfectly. For were it to have come extensively to public notice that for the first time the Congress was granting immunity to serious crimes, there might have been an outcry. Indeed, there almost surely would have been a vast outcry on the left and perhaps in the center as well, had most persons on the left and in the center known what was happening. (Maybe I am wrong but, as you can see from the foregoing remarks, my view is that there was relatively little public comprehension of what was occurring. This view seemed borne out even at the conference of experts on presidential power: even experts did not know what was going down.) Bush, having desired, authorized and known about torture from the beginning, and therefore being guilty of felonies under the domestic American law known as the Anti-Torture Statute, must have been perfectly delighted that the immunity provision was able to fly under the radar. One of the points made at the conference was that evil, like mushrooms, grows in the dark. Secrecy is, for certain, the handmaiden of evil. Flying under the radar is perhaps next best to enforced secrecy itself.

But now that the immunity provision has been enacted, just what does it mean. That is, exactly whom does it cover, and for what acts. I confess to not understanding it completely. It is written in lawyerese, with exceptions delimited by numerical references to other statutes entirely. The media seem generally to say the act gives immunity to the CIA but not the military. Maybe that’s right, although the wording would seem broad enough to cover the military and all other relevant persons too (unless the exceptions clause at the beginning of the relevant section means the military are not covered). But search me as to who’s covered. It would be nice if someone knowledgeable would explain exactly who is, who isn’t and why.

To given you more information of relevance, the Act says that (with exceptions that are unclear to me) “no court” “shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider” any action against the “United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.”

This language would not seem to give complete immunity to Bushman and his fellow gorillas in the Executive, as will be discussed below.

Let us start with something the language does not do. It does not say that what Bushman and his tribe of gorillas authorized, desired and/or did is not a crime. Torture of persons abroad remains a felony under federal law, although the new Act removes the jurisdiction of courts to hear cases on the crime and has thus eliminated courts’ ability to punish perpetrators. For the layman it will doubtless be hard to grasp how there can be a crime when an act cannot be punished. Such legal absurdities are common; they occur, for example, when a statute of limitations has run, even on murder. Beyond this, there will remain, as we shall see, certain situations in which it seems the gorillas are chargeable with crimes and punishable -- and can be made defendants in civil actions too. As well, authorizing torture, as Bushman did -- and which led to murder -- of course remains an impeachable offense. “All” that is lacking in this regard is political will and native intelligence: Apparently it was no good for Bill Clinton to receive fellatio in the oval office -- which surely was a disgrace -- but it is alright for Bushman to authorize torture and murder there.

The statute also grants immunity only when the tortured person is an alien. Now, this may be of little practical import because most of the people we tortured were aliens. But perhaps not all. It is possible that a few people whom we tortured abroad were Americans. (Did we torture John Walker Lindh abroad? There are some who in effect claim so, I think.)

Then there is also the question of actions by states, or by individuals, under state laws if torture was authorized, conspired about, or committed within a given state. (The federal Anti-Torture Statute only applies to torture abroad; punishment of acts committed in the United States was, I have read, left to state laws against assault, battery and murder. No doubt the Executive gorillas and their lawyers would argue that, when Congress said that “no court” shall have jurisdiction to hear torture cases, it included state courts as well as federal ones. But whether this argument could withstand serious legal analysis is very questionable (for much the same reasons that a federal law overriding state “tort” laws against deliberate or negligent misconduct by manufacturers that injures or kills people -- the kind of law sought by big business’ tort lawyer shills -- is questionable). The founders of this country would never have dreamed that a federal law could override state laws against assault, battery and murder, and their view certainly ought to prevail here.

The question regarding state court actions is not in truth one of law. It is more a question of what state prosecutors and state courts would or would not do as a political matter. Practically speaking, it seems a safe bet that, at least today, state prosecutors would not act against American torturers and murderers, nor would state judges fail to find some reason, however spurious, to dismiss cases brought by the tortured or by heirs of the murdered. Whether or not all this will be equally true ten or twenty years from today – indeed, whether the federal immunity law will still be on the books ten or twenty years from now -- remains to be seen. For what people’s views will be when Bushman is long gone remains to be seen. There have been major turnarounds in view previously -- Massachusetts, Illinois, California (and perhaps some other states too, if memory serves) ultimately tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to assert state jurisdiction in order to put an end to the Viet Nam War, attempting this in the face of decades of belief that it could not be done. As the Attorney General of New York, Elliot Spitzer began bringing successful cases against Wall Street, cases of a type that had long been thought the exclusive province of the federal government. One never knows what people might be moved to do in future decades if moved to utter disgust, as they likely will be, by what Bushman and his gorillas did in the early years of the new century.

You know, it is possible that even today, and even in the federal courts, the Bushman wall is starting to crack. There is, of course, the deep, ever widening disgust with Bushman’s incompetence and malperformance that is threatening the Republicans’ current hold on both houses of Congress. There is the media’s willingness to call Bushman the inept that he is -- and always was. (Just yesterday one read two comments by Richard Cohen, in The Washington Post’s National Weekly Edition, that echoed points which have been made here for years: Citing the recent book by Bob (The Egomaniacal Bore) Woodward, as well as “everything else I’ve read about the 43rd president,” Cohen said it was “apparent” that Bushman “had no accomplishment to his name that did not stem from premogeniture.” He also cited Bushman’s “steadfast belief that his is a divine mission.”) And even the courts are not rolling over and playing dead quite so rapidly. Recently a number of federal judges, in addition to Anna Diggs Taylor, who has been written of here previously, have refused to immediately and with no questions throw out cases challenging the electronic eavesdropping on the governmental claim that the publicly admitted eavesdropping is a state secret. The other judges don’t have Judge Taylor’s background (also written of here previously), so their views have a more tentative, cautious, well-maybe-the-president-is-the-king quality to them, and maybe they will ultimately throw out the cases, but the fact remains that they did not dismiss them out of hand, as one would have thought likely.

So what will happen years from now, what people will think and do then, remains in the womb of time.

Then there is the point which one thinks the most important of all with regard to the wording of the immunity statute. The law says no court shall have jurisdiction to hear any action relating to the treatment of a past or present alien detainee who “has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.” (Emphasis added.) This looks to me to possibly be a hole big enough to drive the proverbial truck through.

Now, I don’t know any of this for certain, but aren’t there a lot of people who were detained, tortured or rendered for torture, and then released because ultimately considered to be innocent of any misconduct against the United States? Were these people ever “determined” “to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant”? If so “determined,” by whom, where and when? -- weren’t there in fact a lot of captives who never went before any tribunal? Or, if they did go before a tribunal, lots of them were found innocent, weren’t they? -- Otherwise why have they been released? Were all of them released because they all had suddenly become a threat no longer, even though they had once been properly determined to be enemy combatants? Why do I doubt this? The bottom line here is that it is entirely possible, it may even be very likely, that there are lots of people who were tortured and will still have a right to sue, despite the new immunity statute, because they were never properly determined to be enemy combatants and/or were even found innocent.

Perhaps Bushman and company will claim that people were determined to be “properly detained as an enemy combatant” just because Bushman publicly said years ago that they were “enemy combatants” (although we now know that lots of these people never were combatants, but merely innocent guys who got swept up off the streets). Such a Bushmanian claim would, of course, make a mockery of the statute’s apparent bow towards proper procedure. (In fact, the whole military tribunals aspect of the statute is a bow towards proper procedure.) In any event, we shall see what the Bushman gorillas claim and what the courts do.

It is conceivably worth mentioning in this regard that the case of the Canadian whom we snatched and sent to Syria for torture (Arar) and the similar case of a fellow named Khaled El-Masri would seem to fit the situation. These guys were finally, in practical effect, declared innocent and released. Did somebody ever “determine” that they were “properly detained” as enemy combatants? If not, shouldn’t they be able to sue Bushman and company for the torture they suffered, notwithstanding the immoral District Court decisions dismissing their cases?

* * * * *

As the reader can see, there is a fair amount about the statute that this writer does not understand. This is in part because of the way statutes are often written, and the way this one is certainly written. Instead of clearly stating what they mean, for example, statutes will, as this one does in several parts, obscurely say that some other statute is amended by substituting some new word for some other word in some section of the other statute. Or statutes will say that certain sections of some other statutes constitute exceptions to the new one. Or they will trick things up in some other way. It is all very confusing to the layman, and equally to a lawyer who does not know and does not have time to read and study all the other statutes and the particular sections of them referred to. One frankly wonders about the morality of this method of writing statutes, a method that seems designed as much to hide the ball as anything else. (Of course, lawyers will give you lots of reasons why these convoluted ways of writing statutes are the only possible methods -- which I doubt, which I in fact think plainly untrue.)

In any event, it would be useful for someone to write some plain, easily comprehensible, knowledgeable piece about what the immunity statute means -- who it applies to, whom it doesn’t apply to, and when. Right now some of this seems unclear -- and one wouldn’t be shocked if it had been deliberately kept unclear lest lots of people learn what was being done and react against it. But until I learn that my understanding of the statute is wrong for some reason or is incomplete -- both of which are entirely possible -- it will be this writer’s opinion that the statute has some loopholes which lawyers and some of their clients can use in an attack on Bushman, the Yale flunk-out, the Winnetka wrestler, and others of the utter bums, the truly bad human beings, who have been running this country.

In one man’s judgment it is of the utmost necessity that this nation begins looking for leaders who are honest, smart, open minded, and moral, instead of being gorillas, thugs in suits, bums, like our current leaders. The Kissingers of this world (and we now have learned that the original Kissinger played a role in the current debacle as well as the last one), the Bushmen, the Winnetka wrestlers, the Yale flunk-outs -- none of these are honest or moral, maybe none of them are open minded, a couple are not even smart, and the one or two who are smart are evil – smart and evil being a truly awful combination. Americans probably don’t like to think about it -- instead we mostly like to think that any regular guy can do a good job -- but this country had better start looking to elect people who are honest, competent, smart and moral. Otherwise, we are just headed for ever more trouble.

Frankly, the need to elect much better people, especially to the highest offices, a need which is not often discussed, did not to my recollection obtain mention, except for one brief comment, even at the recent conference on presidential powers. That even such a conference would not consider this need is a measure of how far we have fallen in connection with the needed traits. It strikes me that this need, too, is something which should be the subject of inquiry, research and thought at colleges and universities.* **

R:\My Files\Blogspot\Blogltr.PresPowerConf.ImmunityBush.doc

* Perhaps I should note, for the many readers who may be innocent of the knowledge, that the original Bushman was a famous gorilla in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in the mid 20th Century. In those days gorillas were not presidents.
** 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@mslaw.edu. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at www.lrvelvel.libsyn.com

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Comment on Blog

From: charlie ehlen
To: Velvel@MSLaw.edu
Sent: Sunday, October 15, 2006 9:49 PM
Subject: Your blog

Dean Velvel,
Sir, this is in regards your current blog entry.
I agree that we need a real party of the people. All we have today are the two sides of the same "coin" that is the war party.
This former Marine, Viet Nam veteran is ashamed of what has become of OUR country. When the "decider" declares OUR Constitution, "that damned piece of paper", we are in for much less than anything that might appear to be democracy here in America.
As I have said on another blog, welcome to the new Amerika of W. Gump and company.
Well, we have outsourced just about every meaningful job not related to the government, look at manufacturing jobs as a case in point. We may as well outsource democracy also.
Iraq may get more democratic than America in the near future. At least they have enough people who are willing to fight for it. We have fat, ignorant "tube" watchers.
OK, so I may not be physically at many protests, this disability does limit me quite a bit. Not making an excuse, just a comment on reality.
I will do what I can to help you get some sort of true party of the people up and going. Realize that being physically disabled does not stop me from writing emails, letters, blogs, etc.
If you have the time and inclination, stop by my little blog.
Thank you for your valuable time reading this email.
charlie ehlen
Glenmora, LA
p.s. How does one get "added" to the list to be able to comment directly to your blog?

Friday, October 13, 2006

October 13, 2006

Re: Reposting A Blog On An American Third Party.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

Recently this writer posted a blog entitled Moral Meltdown. The post described the many reasons why this country appears to be in the midst of a moral breakdown, and it appeared to touch a chord. Far more people -- about 30 I would estimate -- emailed me about it than about other posts, which usually get only about three or five responses (at most). And only three of the 30 or so emailers called me a moron, which I would think a low number. The others were approbationary, sometimes very much so. And sometimes the approbationary emails were quite touching.

As some readers will know, the post said that this nation inevitably is experiencing a moral meltdown when you consider, among other things, that its leaders desire to kidnap people off the street, to torture people, to hold them in jail, incommunicado, for years, to try them by courts martial in order to introduce evidence obtained by torture; when it fights war after war and causes the deaths of tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands (and over the decades millions) of people; when it refuses to terminate its horrid mistakes and doesn’t punish the criminals who caused the disasters (e.g., Kissinger, McNamara, Bush, Cheney, etc.); when the Congress eagerly jumps aboard the bandwagons for war after war without seriously questioning the premises, is led by grafters and the otherwise corrupt, cares about nothing except pork and reelection, has jury-rigged the system to insure reelection of almost all members all of the time, and willingly votes to allow the President to continue his immoral conduct in one field after another; when our corporate and financial system support the grafting legislators and are themselves riddled with financial corruption; and when people vote by the tens of millions for grafters and warmongers.

The level and approbationary nature of the email response to the post on Moral Meltdown indicated, as poll after poll also does implicitly or explicitly, that there is great dissatisfaction with the way things have gone and are going in this country. Yet it is this writer’s belief, based on over 45 years of observation, that the country is unlikely to significantly change course under either of the two major parties, and, correlatively, that the only way to obtain major change is for there to be a new third party. Given the high level of public dissatisfaction with the way things are going, and given my belief about the need for a third party, I have decided to repost a blog that was initially posted nearly seven months ago, on March 21, 2006. It is appended below. It discusses the many reasons why a third party is necessary, it presents issues such a party would have to address, and it mentions a few of the mechanics of creating and operating a new third party.

The posting is lengthy, as is perhaps inevitable if all these matters are to be discussed. It is sufficiently lengthy that, if the reader can do so, he or she might wish to print it out in hard copy for reading. The piece is not, I think, what would be called a written “political stemwinder.” It is more, I hope, a considered analysis of an important long-term matter facing the country. As reprinted, it is almost exactly the same as it appeared on March 21st. Alterations are infrequent.

In my view, the moral meltdown in this country makes it imperative that, contrary to the long time view of what might be called the “smart money,” serious consideration must be given by serious people to creating a third party. This must be done despite the many and major obstacles -- e.g., huge petition signing requirements -- that the two existing parties have put in the way of creating such party in order to perpetuate their own oligopoly and its associated immorality. I believe that, if there is a major third party movement, the obstacles will be overcome. I also believe that, unless there is a significant long-term third party movement, the country will long continue in a state of moral breakdown and will long continue to follow bad policies, sometimes policies that are historically proven to be bad but continue to be followed anyway.*

Re: An American Third Party.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

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 awhile, 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 naiveté, 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. AGreed 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 Asure 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 Asure 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 B 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 Asafe@ 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 ANorthern 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 becomes 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 Asafe@ 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 Asolid@ or Asemi-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 B 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 Ahave no merit.@ When one pretends that a matter is entirely one-sided, or that the other side Ahas 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 B 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 Athere 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 Asymptoms@ 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 Amind,@ or what are the Anational 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 Aaddiction,@ then surely it is at least an individual and national Acharacteristic.@

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, Asoft 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). [Lately we have learned, moreover, that Kissinger, one of the worst moral and perhaps legal criminals of the last 50 years, has also been deeply involved in the current disaster in Iraq as a secret adviser to Bush. Oh my God!]

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 B 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. [Kissinger’s secret involvement in Iraq is yet more proof, if such is needed, of the disastrous effects of not sending the criminals to jail or to the gallows.]

* * * * *

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 positions 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 defacto 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.

* * * * *

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 to 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.

One especially crucial use of the internet will be to develop positions on issues discussed above and on other issues. The internet, and its expanding full motion video capacity, should be used to trade and comment on papers addressed to issues and to hold real time audio/video meetings with regard to issues. Carefully considered positions can 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, in part, how it will operate. One hopes people will react favorably to the idea, and will work to implement it, notwithstanding the various forms of blockade that the major parties have set up to maintain their oligopoly. For only if a major third party arises, one that is devoted to and insists upon decent principles, will there be a real chance of turning this country around. The two major parties are played out; they care only for winning elections and various forms of graft, and not for doing the right or decent thing. If we do not get a major third party, and soon, then one fears that, as an increasing number of people are saying, we shall in relatively short order go the way of Rome and all the other prior empires. Such an American decline would be something of a tragedy, and not less so because enabled by the moral midgetry and lack of decent principle of the two major parties, a moral midgetry and lack of principle that are not offset nor counter balanced nor slowed nor overcome by the existence of a third party that stands for decency, honesty, competence and other essential principles.

* 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@mslaw.edu. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Comment on Moral Meltdown

To: velvel@mslaw.edu
Date: Fri 10/6/2006 7:16 AM
Subject: Re: Moral Meltdown.

Dear Larry
I'll illustrate my point with three somewhat similar events. First, some years ago, while in Houston, I got into a discussion with a secretary in a law firm who proceeded to tell me about her ex-husband's love affairs (while they were married), her revenge by having an affair, and their messy divorce. After she told me about her two young children, I asked if they had read any of the Harry Potter books. "Oh no," she responded, "those books are against the teaching of the church." Second, this past week, I was in Kansas City and while waiting in the court room (to testify) a woman was telling me about the battle with her ex-husband for customony of the children, again involving affairs, a new wife, step children, cheating, etc. And then she, said, "well, there's only one perfect person and that is Jesus. He reigns." Third, I just hear the leader of "Focus on the Family" (James Dobson) say that waht's wrong with this country is that some people don't believe in absolutes. When asked to name one absolute, he said, "Jesus is the son of God." Ergo, Jews, Muslims, Buddists, atheists, etc., all have no moral compass and are immoral by definition. As you can see, to many people, believing that Jesus is the son of God is morality trumps how one lives their life. I know you know all of this, but shrouding the immorality over the past 6 years in this country is an administration that gets many of its votes by pandering to the theoretical moralists who in reality, have many scurm bags in their midst.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Re: Poem

October 2, 2006

Re: Poem

Dear Colleagues:

A reader of my blog sent me the appended poem.

THE DECIDER *"I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know thespeculation," the president told reporters in the Rose Garden."But I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's bestis for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."* *-------- George W. Bush* Well, it took me awhile, but I finally realized what "I'm thedecider," reminds me of. It sounds like something a character ina Dr Seuss book might say. So with apologies to the late Mr.Geisel, here is some idle speculation as to what else such acharacter might say: I'm the decider. I pick and I choose.I pick among whats. And choose among whos.. And as I decide Each particular day, The things I decide on All turn out that way. I decided on Freedom For all of Iraq. And now that we have it,I'm not looking back. I decided on tax cuts That just help the wealthy.And Medicare changes That aren't really healthy. And parklands and wetlands Who needs all that stuff?I decided that noneWould be more than enough! I decided that schools All in all are the best. The less that they teach And the more that they test. I decided those wages You need to get by,Are much better spent On some CEO guy. I decided your Wade Which was versing your Roe, Is terribly awful And just has to go. I decided that levees Are not really needed. Now when hurricanes come They can come unimpeded. That old Constitution? Well, I have decided- As "just Goddamn paper"* It should be derided. I've decided gay marriage Is icky and weird. Above all other things, It's the one to be feared. And Cheney and Rummy And Condi all know That I'm the Decider -They tell me it's so. I'm the Decider So watch what you say, Or I may decide To have you whisked away Or I'll tap your phones. Your e-mail I'll read. `cause I'm the Decider -Like Jesus decreed. * This is an exact Bush Quote! Now that I think about it, Dr. Seuss anticipated this administration pretty well when he wrote Yertle the Turtle