Reconsidering Age Humor
Happy Father's Day Redux

Publicly Funded Elections

category_bug_politics.gif [This is a long, serious essay, so in case you don’t make it to the end, today at The Elder Storytelling Place, E.L. Lee writes of passing down stories through the family generations in Wisdom.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: There was something technically wrong with this post that produced a 404 error when Comments and Permalink were clicked. So I'm reposting it from scratch and including within the post below the four comments that did manage to make it through the glitch. Let's hope this fixes the problem because like the four commenters below, I think this is an important post and I'd like to read what others have to say.]

Every day, I become more alarmed at the direction our country has taken in recent years. Not only the debacle of the Iraq War, but the growing disparity between rich and poor, an educational system gone awry, lack of any serious consideration of global warming, dead bees which are needed to pollinate our food and the near absolute power our current president has granted himself. And that is just for starters.

I am not alone. Aside from the diehard right wing, everyone in the U.S. believes the country is “off on the wrong track.” 75 percent say so, according to the most recent AP-Ipsos poll [pdf] dated 7 June 2007.

It is not just ordinary citizens who believe this. Three experienced and distinguished political thinkers have published books recently analyzing what has gone wrong and suggesting solutions:

  • President Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski - Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower
  • Middle East envoy for President H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross - Statecraft and How to Restore America’s Standing in the World
  • Political scientist Chalmers Johnson - Nemesis: the Last Days of the American Republic

If anyone thinks I’ve hacked my way through a total of 972 pages to bring you today’s post, you’re wrong. For some reason I have less time to read at length these days than I ever did. Instead, I often rely on The New York Review of Books - in this case, an extraordinarily lucid review of these three books titled, “Bush’s Amazing Achievement” by Jonathan Freedland.

The “achievement” Freedland refers to is this:

“…the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker.

“This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America’s standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated.

“Paid-up members of the nation’s foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.”

Many of us have been doing this with our friends for several years now. Even if we do not have the knowledge and expertise to lay it out in clear, unequivocal text as these three writers and their reviewer do, we know in the depths of our being that the citizenry of the U.S. has been deceived, lied to and stripped of important Constitutional rights.

It is not news that our government has long been held hostage to corporate power at the expense of the people. Nor is it difficult to figure out how that has been accomplished. But I liked reading how it works in detail. From Freedland’s review:

“What's driving this is a nexus of military, political, and financial interests, all of whom benefit from ever-increasing military spending. [Chalmers] Johnson provides an anatomy of one particularly egregious example, the expansion into space weaponry represented by the so-called National Missile Defense program (NMD).

“Patiently he demonstrates why a system aimed at intercepting nuclear bombs before they can land on America does not and could not work. For one thing, no one has yet worked out how to identify a hostile launch and no interceptor has yet been designed that can tell the difference between an incoming warhead and a decoy.

“The result is that NMD is nothing more than a boondoggle in the sky, at last count pulling in $130 billion of American taxpayers' money, a figure which on current plans would reach $1.2 trillion by 2015.

“But the NMD pork-in-space project is far from exceptional. Seeking fat contracts, the big defense companies give donations to those politicians who will pay them back by commissioning expensive defense projects; the contractors then reward the politicians by locating their firms in their districts; finally the voters, glad of the jobs, reward the politicians by reelecting them.

“Johnson offers dozens of examples, including Florida's Democratic senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, who in the 2006 federal budget ‘obtained $916 million for defense projects, about two-thirds of which went to the Florida-based plants of Boeing, Honeywell, General Dynamics, Armor Holdings, and other munitions makers.’ Since 2003, Nelson has received $108,750 in campaign contributions from thirteen companies for which he arranged contracts.

“It's a cycle perpetuated by everyone involved: contractors, politicians, voters. Everyone benefits from this untamed form of military Keynesianism - except the next generations of Americans who can be expected to drown in a debt that now measures $9 trillion and grows daily.”

Of course, it is not just military contractors who gouge the public treasury in this manner. It is the healthcare industry, agribusiness, financial services businesses, the Fortune 500 companies, etc. and so forth.

By coincidence (or not), Multinational Monitor editor Robert Weissman last week reviewed another important book at counterpunch.org - The United States Since 1980 by Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research which analyzes corporate power and influence on policy in the past 25 years.

“He concludes,” writes Weissman, “by identifying the U.S. political system's failure to address three overriding problems: provision of healthcare to all at an affordable cost, the spiking trade deficit, and global warming…

“Indeed, by far the most serious barrier to addressing each of the three overriding problems that Dean Baker highlights as challenges for the United States…is overcoming entrenched corporate practices, privileges and prerogatives.”

Weissman provides an easy-to-understand list from Baker’s book detailing the means by which the corporatocracy, which has no interests beyond short-term profits, has bought the United States out from under the citizenry.

And it will only get worse unless corporate influence is removed from politics and government. It will not be easy – if it can be done at all. But if it is not, the republic is doomed and we will have nothing left but tyranny to leave coming generations.

Returning to Jonathan Freedland’s review of the three books:

“Most radically, [Brzezinski] advocates for a shift in the American social model, away from excess consumption and income inequality toward a more ecologically sustainable pattern that would appeal internationally.

“One of Brzezinski's most striking observations is that an ‘awakening’ is underway around the world, a stirring, if vague, sense of injustice - and that the United States can only succeed if it is held to be on the right side of the divide. ‘In today's restless world, America needs to identify itself with the quest for universal human dignity,’ he writes. What that will take, he adds provocatively, is both ‘a cultural revolution and regime change.’

“Necessarily, it is Johnson, who has diagnosed a more radical problem, who has to come up with a more radical solution. He cannot merely call for greater powers for Congress, because by his own lights, ‘the legislative branch of our government is broken,’ reduced to the supine creature of large corporations, the defense contractors first among them.

“Instead, he urges a surge in direct democracy, ‘a grassroots movement to abolish the CIA, break the hold of the military-industrial complex, and establish public financing of elections - but he has the grace to recognize how unlikely such a development is.

“So he is left offering not an eleven- or twelve-step program, but rather a historical choice. Either the United States can follow the lead of the Romans, who chose to keep their empire and so lost their republic. Or ‘we could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire.’ That choice was neither smooth nor executed heroically, but it was the right one.

“Now much of the world watches the offspring of that empire, nearly two and a half centuries later - hoping it makes the same choice, and trembling at the prospect that it might not.”

To accomplish this is an enormous undertaking against almost impossible odds; global corporations have, among themselves, trillions – perhaps quadrillions – of dollars at their disposal to purchase any government they need to meet their goals, which are not yours and mine.

I cannot begin to think of how to control the corporatocracy in other countries, but here I believe the one solution is to remove them from politics and government. That means outlawing lobbying and most of all, creating publicly funded elections.

Many experts believe the latter is unconstitutional and they may be correct. The reason is complex having to do with corporations having won “personhood” in the courts (there is a fairly clear explanation here) and therefore having the same rights to free speech as you and I. But unless we can remove – or at least control – corporate financing of candidates, there will never be universal healthcare.

Nevertheless, I cannot live with myself without speaking up however small my voice is. There are some organizations that work toward establishing publicly financed elections or at least educating the public about them. They are timid and they are not making much headway where it counts, in Congress. But here are a few:

Public Campaign

Fair Elections

Campaign Money

Citizen Works


PREVIOUS COMMENTS

Have you ever heard the folk song "We, the People" by Schooner Fare of your own fair state of Maine? It speaks of a time when We, the People must take back control.

C-Span recently broadcast a speech by Al Gore talking about many of the same things you mention. He spoke of how our President is outright lying and how the media is allowing the lies to go unchallenged for fear of loss of revenue. And he spoke of how the public is more concerned with Paris Hilton antics than concern about the direction our country is taking. His was a call to action that Americans must take to heart.

Keep at it, Ronni. Blogging may be our last stab at hearing truths.

Ocean

Amen! Oh, amen!

This is huge.

Here in Texas, a small group of us are fighting this battle on a grass-roots level. As well as all the industries you mentioned, raking in our tax dollars, the is also the Prison Industry. The country is becoming studded with for-profit prisons, charging taxpayers an arm and a leg to confine (in the case of the one near us) whole families awaiting deportation. There are little children in prison scrubs 15 miles away from me. These prisons are proliferating far faster than the demand would indicate, and the biggest losers are taxpayers. $7000 per month per person.

Who is next? Dissenters?

We are in a very dark cycle, and most of us don't know it. I used to wonder how Nazism got started in Germany in the 30s, and I think we may be about to find out.

Ronni Prior

It does look seriously sick from out here. Most non-USians think the USA is self-destructing.

The only way to fight the big money is at grass roots with a serious citizenry using little money to support young candidates so that by the time they get into the halls of power they've not had to sell their souls to get elected.

Election reform should also demand a shortening of the election period so that the first job of every elected politician isn't positioning himself to win his next election! Sometimes it looks like Congress needs to abolish itself so that reasonable rules, reasonable pay and benefits and reasonable responsiveness to the public can restart with a whole new elected body.

They no longer seem like the elected head of anything, but the big greedy mouth of a monster eating itself.

Judith in Umbria

Yes to everything you said. One of your most important posts ever. Three cheers for Ronni.

Election funding and lobbying are not systems that will self-correct. Too many pockets get filled from keeping it the way it is.

I see hope from the blogosphere and internet. More and more the internet makes television news seem like a freak show. I'd like to see a candidate run an entire campaign on $100,000 using only the internet. A success, or near success, from a candidate like that would create a tipping point that could lead to change in the US election process.

Virginia

Comments

I see you've anticipated my summer reading: I've set myself the goal over the summer months of wading through all three of Chalmers Johnson's trilogy: Blowback, Sorrows of Empire, and Nemisis. A dire prospect, but it feels responsible.

In re campaign finance "reform": as a person who works in campaigns, let me say that fiddling at the margins -- disclosure, contribution limits, etc. -- don't have the desired result. They ensure employment for elections lawyers and actually disadvantage poor candidates who have less resources and skill at getting around them.

Public funding does seem to work. Keep us posted on how it works in your new home state please, Ronni. Maine is for many the model.

Long before the public began to wake up to what this corrupt Administration was up to I read an article comparing the way Hitler duped the populace and the way the Bush crowd were following his script. It was truly terrifying to see how easily a country could be hijacked because the people were so gullible. Thank God for the Internet because you never read this in your morning paper or heard it in the media. I have feared for our country ever since Dick Cheney came to power. While Bush is probably not a stupid as some make him out to be, he certainly isn't an intellectual and he bases his decisions on his religious ideology. Cheney and the other ideologues played his lack of intellect like a well tuned violin. The people have allowed this through their indifferent laziness. Now it is up to those same people to save Democracy. What will it take to light a fire under them because I fear that is the only thing that can overcome the power of the big corporations. It will take a mass movement, but big movements start with one person. Thank you, Ronni, for being one of the people who can awaken the masses.

I think one of the worse things this administration has done to America is to make the people of the U.S. afraid. Anytime they want support on something or want to trample on our rights, they come up with "the terrorist will win, or we will be fighting them over here". If we had spent the money on securing our borders that we have in Iraq, we would be in a lot better shape.

The popular vote didn't put this guy in the WH in the first place. How he got re-elected after that is beyond rational explanation. Let's hope people better inform themselves about the candidates in the future, before they vote. I hope we all vote in greater numbers in upcoming elections than in the past.

Glad to see the analogy between the U.S. and Rome being brought more to the forefront, as I and others have long had that same perception. I think it's important to give consideration to that thought and what it means for our country and each of us. Also vital is keeping the constructive ideas flowing, as you've done here.

I strongly agree with what has been said here in assessing the state of this Union. I believe many of the remedies suggested here are long overdue. I sincerely hope the words of this post and those of many other supporters in this blogging world will come to the attention of voters throughout the land.

I would especially like to see lobbyists eliminated. I would like to see some truly courageous congresspeople willing to take a stand against corporations, to instead act in our best interests as constituents. We need to keep telling those who work for us our expectations of them.

If we can make certain there are no loopholes allowing funds other than public funds to come to candidates for election spending, then I can support that plan.

Keep writing, Ronni.

This post will be the topic at our dinner table today. Thank you for writing this.

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