For Sale: Slightly Used Country; Needs Work

(Well, I certainly hope macho dentist Walter “Small Dick” Palmer is returned to Zimbabwe to enjoy a few years in one of their prisons or better, shot.)

 

The non-American readers out there may be a bit in the dark concerning the government of the United States, inasmuch as it is virtually unique among the great powers. (Well, in addition to electing some truly stupid people to office.)  Unlike the parliamentary systems in Europe, where the actual head of government, the Prime Minister (or Chancellor), is elected by the members of the assembly, the parliament, the US has a presidential system, in which the head of government (who is also head of state), the President, is elected by the people (well, more or less). The Prime Minister generally remains in power so long as he holds the support of the parliament, either through his party or coalition of parties, whereas the American President serves a fixed term of four years and can be reelected once. There are many variations on these two basic systems, but the result is that the US has a representative democracy very different from those organized along parliamentary lines.

A Chancellor

A Chancellor

The President

The President

A Prime Minister

A Prime Minister

One major difference is the essential separation of the executive from the legislative assemblies, the Congress, which means the President and his party may not control the legislative bodies (as is presently the case). Many feel this is something of a virtue, since the two branches can check one another, and given the composition of Congress these days, getting nothing done may not be such a bad thing.
On the other hand, the system lends itself well to an increasingly powerful executive, who does not depend upon the support of the assembly to stay in power, at least for the next four years. He can veto any legislation, and while his veto can be overridden, it takes a two/thirds vote in both houses of Congress, not an easy task. Congress can impeach and throw out the President, but this is extremely difficult: only two Presidents (Andrew Johnson and Bill “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton) have had Articles of Impeachment passed against them. In both cases the motives were blatantly political, and both were acquitted.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson

Meanwhile, the power of the Presidency has grown steadily, both because of the changing nature of the country and world in the last couple of centuries and because no political institution, particularly an executive, is going to surrender any power if it can help it. And crises like World War II and 9/11 always result in new powers that are virtually never given up – the President can unilaterally send military forces into combat and more recently, execute without trial anyone deemed an enemy, including American citizens. Further, the President can game the system established by the Constitution: Executive Privilege, for example, is routinely abused, and the Executive Order, whose Constitutional basis is vague indeed, allows him to circumvent Congress.
The other big difference is the fixed term, which means loss of popular support has no immediate effect on the incumbent. After the experience of FDR the President was limited to two terms, a wise decision (despite my admiration for Roosevelt), but no such limitation exists for the Congress, and big money, citizen stupidity and the power of incumbency almost guarantee lifetime tenure, especially in the Senate with its six year terms. And regularly scheduled elections mean non-stop campaigning and money-raising.  No country in the history of the world has a campaigning period even remotely as long or expensive as America now does; it is at present more than a year to the general election and the candidates are already out in full force.  Members of the House of Representatives serve only two years, which means these guys are already sniffing out new money and prostituting themselves the moment they are elected. The single most important event in the life of a Congressman is not the vote but the fund raiser.
Along with being familiar with British parliamentary government, the Founding Fathers were also steeped in classical history and looked to Greece and Rome for models of democracy. They rejected the Athenian democracy, in which the assembly had the absolute last word on everything, as too inclined to instability and mob rule and favored the Roman Republic, which was successful over a half millennium. The Republican government was in practice an oligarchy of wealth centered in the Senate, but it was structurally democratic in that the citizens, through their assemblies, elected and legislated. This might actually be a description of the American government, except that the American oligarchy of wealth is not a group within the government but rather individual billionaires and corporations, who are essentially interested in their own concerns. The Roman Senator was of course motivated by enhancing his image and influence, but for four hundred years that came from actually serving the state.

Just right (the Senate did not look like this)

Just right (the Senate did not look like this)

Too democratic

Too democratic

Besides, for all their democratic inclinations the economically successful men who wrote the Constitution did not completely trust the common folk. They knew what had happened to Athens. So, there would be a “people’s” assembly, the House of Representatives, where members would serve only two years, mimicking the amateur assemblies of Athens and Rome and insuring the body reflected the changing ideas of the common folk. The Senate would be more akin to the like-named body in Rome (and not so much the House of Lords), and serving for six years, the Senators would constitute a wiser and more capable group of legislators. (And also a somewhat less than representative body: every state has two Senators regardless of population.)
Further, the President (and Vice President) would not be directly elected by the often uneducated and easily misled people, but by electors selected in some manner by the states, presumably from the pillars of the community. There was apparently also some anticipation that the process would not always produce a clear winner, allowing Congress to make the final decision.
Finally, there was the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, which essentially states that there are areas where even the theoretically sovereign will of the people cannot go – at least without incredible difficulty. This of course limits the power of the people and makes the state less democratic, unlike fifth century Athens, where a majority in the assembly, which any citizen could attend, could pass any law it pleased. Period. Now, that is really putting your faith in the political wisdom of the people. I am, however, unwilling to trust my free speech to religious zealots, politically correct airheads, professional patriots and above all politicians.

The greatest political document ever

The greatest political document ever

Well, a marvelous and incomparable document, but it did not all work out as the Fathers had hoped. Parties rapidly emerged and the growing need for money followed, gradually producing more or less professional politicians (but not necessarily good rulers), even in the so-called people’s House. Gerrymandering, party power and economic clout conspired to make even a seat in the House a potential life-time job, for which one needed to continually campaign. Incidentally, in Republican Rome once the candidates were formally announced – only twenty-four days before the election! – a candidate seeking votes identified himself (as if the huge entourage were not a clue) by wearing an artificially whitened toga; it was candidus (lustrous white), and he was a candidatus.
For reasons not entirely clear to me – the winner takes all rule and the broad ideology of the parties are certainly important – the United States has essentially developed a two-party system. It is extremely difficult to achieve federal and even state office if you do not run as a Democrat or a Republican, and third party challenges seem only to guarantee one or the other of the two major parties wins the White House. This locks out differing ideas, since although there are factions within the major parties, they after all are parties, with a national party line. The parliamentary system provides a venue for new groups to appear and influence decision-making in the legislature, and the need to form coalitions schools the representatives in comprise, which is desperately lacking in the American system.
In the United States it is almost as if the Democratic and Republican parties were part of the governmental structure. They are the only parties to regularly hold state primaries, which are paid for by the taxpayers, even though many of those citizens will not be permitted to vote in them. Further, the two earliest primaries, which attract immense media attention, are in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are primarily rural, white and well off, hardly representative of the country as a whole. And Iowa is apparently packed with Tea Party and Christian screwballs, compelling the Republican Party to make stupidity part of its platform.
In fact, in some ways the United States is a one-party state. True, the underlying ideology of the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans is different, especially when their less moderate members are considered, so their legislative agendas differ. Yet, the basic concern of the vast majority of the politicians of both parties is getting reelected, which means raising money. There are a few, like Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, whose money comes primarily from the small folk, but this is extremely rare, and most all candidates are going to head for the big teats, which means billionaires and corporations, especially the latter. Granted, George Soros is not going to give serious money to a conservative nor Rupert Murdoch to a liberal, but corporations are not so fussy and will dish it out to anyone who might aid their business environment, which appears to include people in both parties.

Sheldon Adelson - part owner of the Republic Party and Israeli agent

Sheldon Adelson – part owner of the Republic Party and Israeli agent

Koch brothers - majority owners of the Republican Party

Koch brothers – majority owners of the Republican Party

George Soros

George Soros

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

The American democracy is being bought and sold every election cycle, while candidates who have accepted millions from this or that individual or business are claiming such does not make them beholden to the donor. Sure, multi-nationals love to throw away money.
How did it come to this? The Fathers created a wonderful document in the Constitution, one that with some revisions has carried the nation through two centuries of dramatic change in the world. They were on the verge of the industrial age and knew serious developments were afoot, but one thing they apparently did not completely fathom was the potential impact of marketing. In the eighteenth century marketing was hanging a sign outside your pub or placing a simple ad in a newspaper; candidates marketed themselves with rallies, speeches and broadsheets. As mass marketing developed in the twentieth century, especially with the advent of radio and television, politicians had no choice but to take advantage of it – and the cost of trying to get elected skyrocketed.
Further, large corporations began emerging in the nineteenth century and businessmen certainly appreciated the advantage of political influence, especially when the government began attempting to regulate them in the late nineteenth century. The development of multinationals has made matters worse, inasmuch as they control huge amounts of wealth and are to a good degree stateless. They consequently have even less reason to be concerned with the interests of any host county, and buying politicians, however self-serving, ignorant or destructive to the country they might be, is now part of doing business. What’s good for General Motors (or Exxon or Goldman-Sachs or Bank of America) is clearly not what’s good for America, but since the Supreme Court decided corporations are “persons” they are entitled to contribute staggering sums of money to candidates who will help them makes America a better place – for shareholders.

Some of the good folks whoPfizer.svg[1] are bringing you America:200px-Boeing-Logo.svg[1]Apple_logo_black.svg[1]250px-Bank_of_America_logo.svg[1]300px-Lockheed_Martin.svg[1]Microsoft_logo_(2012).svg[1]250px-Time_Warner_wordmark.svg[1]Koch_logo.svg[1]Halliburton_logo.svg[1]New_Walmart_Logo.svg[1]ING_Group_N.V._logo.svg[1] Monsanto_logo.svg[1]194px-General_Motors.svg[1]222px-Exxon_Mobil_Logo.svg[1]150px-Goldman_Sachs.svg[1]150px-General_Electric_logo.svg[1]
My mother country is screwed.

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Pssst! Wanna Buy a Country?

(Now that there are a lot of you I would like to conduct a survey.  Read one of the chapters from the novel I am writing (look for Hear, O Israel) and let me know: 1)great stuff, keep writing or 2)don’t quit your day job.  Thanks)

 

Ads have now begun appearing on these posts, which I suppose is a sign of having arrived.  I could prevent the ads from appearing by buying that service from Word Press for $30 a year and allowing them to pocket the income or I could establish a private domain for $18 a year and request a share of the income.  This did not seem a hard choice, especially since outside the rainforests and high Himalayas everyone on the planet is well accustomed to being bombarded by advertisements.  I am, consequently, now www.qqduckus.com.

 

Advertising, or more generally, marketing, is almost a made-in-America product.  Sellers have been touting their wares and services for millennia, but until recently that marketing was confined essentially to hawking and very limited and primitive signage at the place of business.  It was the United States, with its booming free market economy and emphasis on freedom of speech, that developed modern marketing in the nineteenth century and exported it to the world, especially with the globalization of business after the Second World War.  With the emergence of electronic media and sophisticated information technology advertising now extends into virtually every nook and cranny of our lives, and marketing has become, I believe, perhaps America’s greatest problem, more pernicious than the incredibly exaggerated threat of terrorism.

 

Marketing inherently involves the distortion or outright elimination of truth, particularly when the product, such as toothpaste or gasoline, is essentially the same as that produced by competitors.  Unfortunately, advertising serves as a sort of educational medium for an increasingly uneducated and ignorant populace, especially television advertising.  For many television cloaks everything it presents in at least a minimal air of reality, particularly when an attractive personality, like a sports or movie star, is involved, and the viewer’s understanding of the world, in most cases already filled with gaps and distortions, is further detached from reality.

 

There is clear and simple evidence that many people believe what they see and hear via advertising: it works.  Companies would hardly spend millions on marketing if it did not sell products; Procter & Gamble would not have run all those ads for so many years if Mr. Whipple did not move the rolls of Charmin off  the shelves.  Of course, many – I hope most – will buy the product not because they believe it is truly softer than other brands, but because when confronted with a choice among similar products they remember the amusing Mr. Whipple and grab his brand.  Assuming all travel websites to be essentially the same, I chose Priceline because I like Captain Kirk, not because I thought they were any better than the others.  Perhaps this is the reality for most consumers, but then what is “brand loyalty” based on?  I suggest that many begin to believe their choice is better when using the same brand year after year.  (Am I being too cynical here?  Listen to popular talk shows or read letters to the editor to see just how stupid many of our fellow citizens are.)

real person

real person

Permitting pharmaceutical companies to advertise was easily the biggest mistake the FCC has ever made, and every doctor I have asked agrees.  Seeing a drug touted on television leads many a patient to ask or demand that drug from his physician, making the latter’s  job harder.  The drug companies no longer have to bribe doctors with free stuff; they now in effect persuade the patient to sell the drug to the physician.  Big pharmo constantly justifies outrageous pricing on the grounds that research and testing is so time and money consuming (and the government contributes to this), yet for the past several years the major companies have spent more on PR than R&D.Without question the second most pernicious advertising is that produced by major international corporations, most especially those, like the oil companies, that engage in activity certainly, probably or possibly damaging to the environment or other public interests.  British Petroleum is not attempting to sell you a tankful of gas with its endless ads about the Gulf but rather to convince you – against all evidence – that despite the spills and obvious lies they are just as environmentally and socially conscious as any other global corporation (which of course is not at all).  The point of the millions spent on such marketing is not to sell a product but to create a more attractive (and generally false) image, one that will move public opinion away from any thought of regulation and limits on their business.  It is propaganda, inevitably deceptive propaganda, and apparently people believe a lot of it or why would they bother?  Remembering the state PR of the old Soviet Union, I am minded to call this corporate advertising “capitalist realism.”

"we care."

“we care.”

The most pernicious advertising?  That found in our elections.  With their splendid understanding of humanity and society the Founding Fathers created in the Constitution a document flexible enough to accommodate inevitable change yet difficult enough to alter that stability and basic principles were not threatened.  At the end of the eighteenth century, in the early morning of the Industrial Revolution, it was clear to all but the seriously dense that the world was steadily and fairly rapidly changing, yet marketing was still pretty much what it was in antiquity, despite the development of cheap paper and the printing press.  As a result, the Fathers could not possibly have comprehended the incredible danger it posed to the system.

 

An election campaign is essentially the marketing of a product – the candidate.  In the late eighteenth century this would involve some advertising – broadsheets, leaflets and support in newspapers – but for the most part the candidate had to sell himself by making the rounds, giving speeches and engaging in debates.  He was bound to stretch the truth sometimes, but deception is much more difficult when you are in such close contact with the voters and most of the issues can be fairly easily understood.  In a nation of over three hundred million people and mass electronic media this is no longer the case, and the candidate has become a carefully groomed and  presented product, generally unavailable to the average voter except as an unapproachable speaker at the end of the hall.  He is marketed exactly like laundry detergent or fast food: simple phrases, compelling imagery and a complete lack of any meaningful content.

 

The perfect political marketing storm came in the wake of World War II when television joined radio and spread rapidly and when international corporations began seriously evading the regulation of any single nation  The candidate could now theoretically reach every voter in the country and sell himself over and over and over without ever being challenged.  As the modern dictatorships have demonstrated, repetition and saturation is the key: it works in commercial advertising and it works in political advertising.  Thus, one result is that the candidate is elected more on the basis of ignorance than  knowledge – look at the number of astonishingly, embarrassingly stupid people in Congress, especially the on the extreme right.

 

The second and more fatal result of the marketing storm is the enhanced power of money in our political system.  Economic power is political power, and it consequently must always find access to the political apparatus, regardless of whether it is a kingship or a democracy.  As a result, through most of history the wealthy class has been the political class, but in an age of democracies and corporations this is no longer the case.  Granted, most of the people in Congress are rich, but the real economic power in society is now in the hands of international corporations and a few unbelievably wealthy individuals.  And marketing has provided them with an easy and legal mechanism for dramatically influencing, almost to the point of controlling, the political apparatus.

for sale

for sale

It is simply impossible to launch a credible campaign for national office (or even most state offices) without a huge amount of money, inasmuch as you cannot get elected without television advertising and that is fabulously expensive.  (It is also virtually impossible to do it without representing one of the two established parties, thus helping to preserve their shared monopoly.)  It now costs a billion dollars to run for President, a billion dollars.  But there are equally fabulous sources of money out there: wealthy individuals, organizations with a cause, lobbying groups and most of all, corporations.  All these entities will have some interest in influencing the government, and there is a perfectly legal way for them to do that – campaign contributions.  Political action committees can expedite these transfers of money, and of course the recent laughable Supreme Court decision that corporations are “persons” allows the really big boys to pour in as much as they want.

 

Regarding these “contributions,” the notion is frequently expressed, generally by the recipient, that this money comes with no strings attached.  Is there actually anyone who believes this?  Successful businesses do not give away millions unless something is coming in return.  It is clear and oh so obvious bribery, and we get the best government money can buy, which is of course one not at all beholden to the people.  Our present government may seem a collection of incompetent fools, but you may rest assured that the big donors will still get their exemptions, contracts, favors and whatever.  This is the way it has worked since the beginning of civilization, and the only difference now is that the economic elites are completely vulgar.

What a Choice!

Why is there no Democratic Policy Guide to match the Republican version?  Well, most simply, while Democrats are as self-serving and dependent on big money as their Republican friends, their party is not nearly so blatantly anti-science, pro-Christian, heartlessly pro-wealth and abusive of females as the GOP.  The Democrats may not do as they say, but what they say – with some glaring exceptions – generally makes sense for an industrialized society in the 21st century.  Their geopolitical thinking of course appears firmly rooted in the 20th century, but even that is attractive contrasted with the Republicans, all of whose policies seem appropriate for the Gilded Age (excepting of course that the Robber Barons of that time actually produced goods and services for the country).  The economic ignorance – or dissimulation – of the GOP is breath-taking, especially considering that even a superficial knowledge of the last hundred years of American history reveals that laissez-faire capitalism can only damage a modern society and generate massive economic inequality.  They are classic extremists, who have set the bar very high.  What positions would Democrats need to take to be as radically to the left as the Republicans are to the right?  Stalinism?  Maoism?

Now, candidate Obama.  Granted, he actually knows (or has people who know) some basic economics (e.g., austerity and deficit pay-off are the worst thing to engage in during a recession) and granted, he inherited a mammoth mess and has lately faced a hostile Congress (including his own party).  But his actions bespeak a man who cannot be bothered to exert himself to fight for his promises and who is just as enamored with the apparatus of national security and the power of the government, especially the Presidency, as any red-blooded conservative.  In fact, this may be the one area where the Democrats outdo the Republicans: hypocrisy.

Being a “progressive” politician apparently does not mean any more commitment to the truth than being a conservative does.  His campaign lies are not as staggering as those of Paul Ryan, but the lies are there (Obama: 1 of 50 statements false; Romney, et al.: 1 of 10), and he avoids the serious media as diligently as Mitt.  After all, they check facts.  Better to talk to People magazine and friendly local radio stations than the White House Press Corps with their annoying regard for facts.  Better the social networks, where disregard for truth is pretty much part of the system.

Obama promised the most transparent White House ever.  That used to be emblazoned on the official White House web site, but I can no longer find it.  Wow!  Are they being honest about their need to be opaque?  All governments want to control their image and avoid letting the public know anything embarrassing, but the present administration might be considered the most opaque ever had it not been preceded by the Bush administration.  Actually, in one area of image control Obama is outdoing his predecessor.   In 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act, which, as the name suggests, was designed to provide the government with the tools to prosecute those supplying American secrets to a foreign power, i.e., spies. In the 95 years since then the Act has been used on nine occasions to prosecute Americans responsible for leaking classified information not to a potential enemy state but rather to the American media, and thus the American public.  Of those nine instances of the Espionage Act being thusly misused six fall under the Obama administration.  And now he is apparently putting incredible pressure on London to get Julian Assange in a position where he can be extradited to the United States.

Only one aspect of the Bush security apparatus has been eliminated, torture in interrogations, which probably still goes on in the back rooms and undisclosed locations of our countless intelligence agencies. Otherwise, Guantanamo remains open, detainees will receive military trials, we still have detention without trial and none of the provisions of the Constitutionally questionable Patriot Act have been rescinded.  On other fronts, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger, and the financial industry appears to be no more regulated now than it was when the economy collapsed.  We are still in Afghanistan, and despite the fact that both the American and Afghani peoples do not want us there, despite the increasingly obvious evidence that the war is a failure, we will be keeping – and losing – our troops there for another year.  Is he afraid of “looking weak” or perhaps the huge collection of war contractors have been on the horn to their purchased congressmen?  To be fair, however, were the Republicans in control, we would be sending more troops to Afghanistan and would still be in Iraq.

Oh, the drones.  Clearly, Bush was a piker when it came to blowing up people around the world, and if anything, Obama is even more oblivious to international law than Bush was.  He has no concern for national sovereignty beyond our own, and while his rhetoric on the Middle East was promising, he has done absolutely nothing in that area except to get more entangled in Israel’s plans to wage a war of aggression.  Perhaps I am unfair here, because who knows what is going on behind the closed doors of diplomacy?  On the other hand, his Attorney General has publically assured us that all of his boss’ activities around the globe are perfectly legal according to international law, a staggering expression of self-serving nonsense.

There seems to be something wrong with Barack Obama, something that goes beyond just being another politician, but for all his faults he and his party are so much better than the increasingly screwball Republicans that were the economy in slightly better shape he would not have to campaign at all.  Nevertheless, I am sick of voting for the lesser of two evils and will drop out of the system.  I am tempted to think in Baader-Meinhof terms and hope that Romney and friends have their chance to ruin the country and demonstrate how utterly wrong they are about most everything, but it is after all my country, and all they are likely to produce is extremism from the other end of the political spectrum.  The nation is in serious trouble.

Ryan Shrugged

Paul Ryan was clearly selected as his Vice Presidential candidate by Romney in order to appeal to the Tea Party and other denizens of the extreme right, territory that the moderate Romney is, to his credit, unfamiliar with.  The briefest look at Ryan’s political career will immediately illustrate just how extreme he is, but his self-serving and uncaring approach to life is summed up in two words: Ayn Rand.

The Little Objectivist

Most educated people consider Rand’s philosophy, “objectivism,” to be intellectually shallow and in its rejection of social responsibility morally bankrupt.  I always considered it something that young college students espoused and then rejected when they were more mature and better educated.  Not Paul Ryan.  Several months ago, in response to criticism from the Catholic Church regarding his fiscal policies he asserted that he did not follow Rand, whose philosophy was atheistic and contrary to his Catholic beliefs and his hero Thomas Aquinas.  This is quite a turn-around, considering that only three years ago he was touting objectivism in his campaign ads, and his sincerity is in question since he has also claimed that the notion that he was ever a Rand follower is an “urban legend.”  I guess that is some other Paul Ryan in those videos.Actually, there is a certain thruthiness in his denials, since while he adopted the socially ruthless and self-serving parts of objectivism, he rejected Rand’s social libertarianism, presumably because that would conflict with one of his core convictions – that a woman should not have complete control over her own body.  In this regard he is the same sort of hypocrite as the Pauls, the father and son libertarians, who feel that the government should stay out of just about everything, except a woman’s reproductive system.  For this reason the Ayn Rand Institute has declared that Ryan is not a follower of their beloved mentor.

A very silly woman

Well, whatever his lies (don’t these people realize that everything they say in public is recorded?), three years ago at least he was out-Randing Rand.  He praises her for doing the best job ever in “building a moral case for capitalism,” that is, the “democratic capitalism” that helps secure the individual and his freedom from the attacks of “collectivist government,” as personified by the Obama administration.  The idea that unregulated capitalism has a moral quality is already approaching National Socialism on the nonsense meter, but he goes further and equates this simpleton and self-centered philosophy with the “moral foundation” of America.  This is somewhat of a surprise since the writings of the Founding Fathers (and they deserve capitalization in order to distinguish them from the bozos we now elect) constantly emphasize the importance of social responsibility as a facet of individual freedom.

Ryan is one of those social Darwinists who believe that the glory of America is that the competent individual can succeed in the capitalist system, while those who do not are by definition losers, and they of course do not deserve any social safety net at the expense of the winners.  And thus the purity of capitalism cannot be sullied by regulation, the conspiracy of losers looking to limit freedom and undermine American values.  Let business do its thing and the general welfare will improve.

This is of course absolute destructive nonsense that one should not have to argue against, but apparently more than ever the electorate responds to nonsense if it is aligned with their beliefs, even to the point of declaring false what the rest of the planet accepts as scientific fact, such a climate change.  It is absolutely and perfectly clear from the last century and a half of American history that unregulated capitalism DOES NOT contribute to the general welfare and is in fact ultimately destructive to it, inevitably widening the gap between rich and poor.  And if the invisible hand of the market actually exists outside of textbooks, uncontrolled capitalism will inevitably produce monopolies and conglomerates that will do whatever they please in the marketplace.  This is especially true in the world of a global economy and a computer-driven financial industry, where unregulated capitalism can actually compromise the entire world economy in order that a handful of people profit.

This is not a judgment call.  The economic history of the modern world clearly demonstrates that even regulated capitalism is dangerous.  Thus, one has to conclude that Paul Ryan – and all those like him – is either incredibly ignorant or, more likely, beholden to the businessmen and corporations that support his campaigns.  His own Church did not criticize him because it is anti-business, but because his policy positions are ruthlessly harsh on the weaker members of the flock.  But that is objectivism.  To label any of this “moral” is a gross insult to the intelligence of every voter, but then many, many voters seemingly are not intelligent enough to recognize this.  Is there anything so pathetic as a non-wealthy person supporting such policies, which ultimately mean that this person and his family will suffer?

Of course, none of this really matters, since if Mitt Romney is elected President, the global economy is likely to collapse and all of us suffer, making the actions of the little objectivist irrelevant.

A 2012 Wish List

This Wish List involves changes that might conceivably be made, though I suspect it will be a frosty day in the nether regions, since most of them would have to be implemented by politicians, and they and the interests that own them would face losing the most.  But they nevertheless may be distinguished from the truly impossible, such as altering our political system to break the grip of the Democratic and Republican parties or requiring an intelligence test for holding national political office (good-bye GOP).

 

GET US OUT OF AFGHANISTAN (AND IRAQ) NOW

Why wait another two years?  Iraq is actually a country with an infrastructure, albeit damaged, and a serious potential revenue source in the form of oil, yet it is already collapsing, only weeks after the departure of our military.  Afghanistan is less a country than a space defined by the nations surrounding it, and virtually every one of the four major ethnic groups would like to lord it over the others or create its own country.  The last national election was a farce, corruption is an embedded Afghan tradition and any sort of real loyalty can be found only at the tribal level.  The only time Afghanistan has come even close to a national entity is under autocratic strong men, and while the locals might appreciate the odd school or clinic, they clearly do not like foreign military on their soil, especially when that military tends to be a bit casual about collateral damage.  Yes, we have pulled most of our military out of Iraq, but do we need a “diplomatic” presence of some ten thousand, guarded by five thousand of the mercenaries the locals have come to love?  What will all these people be doing as Iraq slides into civil war and/or Iranian control?  With Kuwait (and to a lesser extent Bahrain) being little more than a giant American military base, why do we need Baghdad?

 

REGULATE THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY

This should be simple.  A relative handful of people almost brought down the global economy, yet very little has been done to correct this liability.  There remains a dangerous lack of transparency, especially regarding arcane financial instruments, and major banks are still finding ways to dodge what little regulation exists, especially given the increasing globalization of banking.  The EU is considering a tax on financial transactions, which would help against the growing number of parasites whose manipulation of markets produces nothing except wealth for themselves and helps distort the relationship between supply, demand and price.  But unless all the industrialized countries participate, this activity will simply move to New York.  Meanwhile, the income gap in America is reaching unprecedented levels.

 

IMPOSE TERM LIMITS

An incumbent in Congress, unless he is a complete fool, may essentially keep his seat until he dies, which means he can spend his whole life running for reelection.  In the eighties the turnover in the Soviet Politbureau was greater than that of the American Congress, and even in the unhappy year 2010 the Congressional reelection rate was 97%.  Polls indicate that the public feels that all these political lifers should be thrown out, but the feeling apparently rarely extends to their own Senator or Representative.  This reform is actually talked about, but it is hard to imagine someone in Congress voting to limit their own access to the federal gravy train.

 

PUBLISH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

It is clearly impossible to limit campaign contributions and thus the power of big money to influence elections: even those laws that do not run afoul of the First Amendment are always easily sidestepped.  Instead, allow anyone or any entity, even foreign governments, to contribute money, but all contributions will be published on a dedicated website, on a periodic nationally broadcast television program and in major newspapers across the country.  Any violation would result in the immediate termination of the individual’s candidacy.  Monies spent by advocacy groups rather than by an individual will be treated similarly, and violations will be rewarded with huge fines.  If Americans cannot be bothered to avail themselves of all this information concerning who is buying whom, which is likely, then we get what we deserve.

 

DETERMINE OUR POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST ACCORDING TO AMERICAN INTERESTS

For reasons that have everything to do with domestic politics we have with Israel the sort of “passionate attachment” to a foreign power that George Washington warned against.  The interests of Israel are not always the same as America’s; they are in fact increasingly divergent.  Israel is permitted behavior that would immediately stir official outrage were it any other country, and our unqualified support for a state that routinely violates accepted international law, especially regarding Arab populations, contributes mightily to our reputation as self-serving hypocrites.

 

 

CONFIGURE OUR MILITARY RESOURCES ACCORDING TO REALITY

The size, nature and equipment of our military should be determined by realistic evaluation of the actual threats out there rather than based on outmoded thinking inherited from the twentieth century, the insatiable desires of the Pentagon and the needs of politics and the defense industry.  With economic globalization the chance of a real war with a major industrial and military power like China is becoming vanishingly small and with it the need for $100 million fighter aircraft and more attack submarines.  And any (for the moment inconceivable) war with a power strong enough to require all the systems the Pentagon wants must inevitably go nuclear.

 

HANG PIRATES

For several thousand years the approach to pirates has been summary execution.  Why are these people now being given trials, especially at a time when we are executing from above even American citizens if they are designated terrorists by the government/military?  Any man who attempts to hijack a ship clearly designates himself a pirate and should thus be liable to execution, preferably by the traditional hanging.  Make it clear to the denizens of Somalia and other places that any unidentifiable vessel found in certain delineated international waters will be immediately destroyed.

 

STREAMLINE NUCLEAR POWER

Nuclear fission is a proven non-fossil fuel source of power, requiring nothing more than easily produced fissionable material and water for cooling.  It produces no pollutants, and examined sensibly, the issue of what to do with the radioactive waste disappears.  We already have the technology to bury and secure this stuff for the next several centuries, by which time we will have better technology or more likely, no longer exist.  The imagined need to secure this waste for ten thousand years is simply silly.  Further, the industry must produce standardized designs and streamline the licensing process, as has France, which has for decades successfully generated some 75% of its power through fission.  Other green technologies are not yet developed enough, and nuclear power could easily carry us through until technologies like solar and even fusion are perfected.

 

SERVE THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST

A mature society should indeed look after its disadvantaged, but not at the expense of those who can contribute the most.  A major problem, among others, in our public education system is the waste of resources and time on those who simply will not learn, a waste exacerbated by the tendency of these same people to degrade the education of those who would learn.  There is of course the problem of what to do with the negative element, but keeping them in school is not the answer, inasmuch as they harm the educational environment of others and end up joining the underclass of the uneducated anyway.  And while we should look to the education of those with “special needs,” mainstreaming them clearly comes at the expense of those who have functioning intellects and bodies.  I cannot confirm this, but I have read that for every $1 spent on those who are in some way dysfunctional, about 3¢ is spent on the gifted.  This is no way to secure the future of our country.  Incidentally, it is of course impossible to remove big money sports and its corrupting influence from American higher education, but at the very least the NBA and NFL should be paying for all those athletic scholarships.

TELL THE “GREAT SUCCESSOR” TO PISS OFF

OK, this is emotion-based, but make it clear to the ruthless jerks in Pyongyang that any assault on South Korea or anyone else will result in their capital being turned to glass, China notwithstanding.

Marketing Our Democracy

In the
Constitution the Founding Fathers created an amazingly flexible charter, able
to accommodate the social, economic and technological changes of the next
couple centuries, yet one difficult enough to change that it has been largely
protected from the fleeting whims of society.
But something the convention delegates could not imagine, even standing
at the door to the Industrial Revolution, something that two hundred and fifty
years later has dramatically undermined our democracy is marketing.  Economic power is political power, and
history has amply demonstrated that any economically powerful group must gain
access to the political apparatus or revolution will result.  Traditionally that has meant that the
economic elite are in fact identical to the political elite, but modern
corporations and nations, particularly the democracies, have opened the door to
indirect access to and control of the political system.  Rather than actually occupying the seats of
power, wealth can simply manage those who do.

Bribing or
buying politicians, functionaries and princes has of course been around since
the birth of civilization, but it is marketing, itself little more than a
century old, that has institutionalized such corruption and carried it to
undreamed of levels in the industrial democracies.  Having money has always helped in attaining
political office, but when campaigning essentially comprised personal
appearances, speeches, debates and pamphlets, getting elected could be achieved
on a very tiny budget.  The geographic
growth of our country made electioneering more difficult and expensive,
especially for national office, but men of modest and even humble backgrounds
could still be viable candidates for state houses, Congress and even the White
House.  And party supporters could help
cover those train rides, rented halls and newspaper ads.

This began
to change dramatically with the development of radio and television and the
concomitant burgeoning of mass marketing.
Access to air time rapidly became the key to a successful campaign,
dwarfing even the character and competence of the candidate himself.  It became clear that you could market a
candidate as easily as you could market a detergent and that the approach was
essentially the same: hammer the voter over and over with a simple
message.  This has resulted in two very
pernicious developments, a continuing and staggering increase in the cost of
election and a continuing and often staggering decline in the quality of
candidates.

Foolish or
stupid candidates are certainly nothing new in American politics, but marketing
now makes it far easier for these people to get elected, which can only
encourage more intellectually unfit candidates.
A candidate can mostly avoid the personal exchange and debate that would
reveal ignorance and instead bombard the voter with slogans and images.  This situation is not helped by the
precipitous decline in American education, which exacerbates the inherent flaw
in democracy: that high school dropout with his pants around his knees has a
vote equal to yours.  Democracy rises and
falls with the educational level of the electorate, and we seem now to be
considering for office some very ignorant and consequently dangerous
individuals.

Having
stupid politicians is bad enough, but having politicians, stupid or otherwise,
who are essentially controlled by the economic powers in the society must be
ultimately fatal to the democracy.  And
this is the price of marketing.  The
incredible cost of a serious campaign, especially on the national level,
absolutely demands that the candidate be funded by others, by the corporations,
banks, unions, organized lobbies and wealthy individuals that constitute the
economic muscle in and increasingly, out of the country.  And their protests notwithstanding, these
donors all expect something in return, and the potential office-holder is
already compromised.  His protests also
notwithstanding, he has been bought.  This is all nothing less than legalized
corruption.

The two
major candidates in the 2008 Presidential election together spent a billion
dollars, most of it on air time.  The
average voter simply can not compete for political leverage in such a fiscal
environment.  All he can hope to buy with
his contribution is the election of his candidate, while the big donors are
buying influence over the candidate once he is elected, which influence
typically pulls the official away from what the voters were led to expect.  The so-called “soft” money
contributed to the party rather than an individual candidate follows the same
rules, the two major parties being concerned less with ideology than electing
their candidates.  Reelection, the
apparent goal of virtually every politician, means the collection of money does
not stop on election night, and the big money sources can thus continue to
pressure the office holder, who in turn gains an advantage as the incumbent,
since unlike the challenger he can offer action instead of promises.   With no term limits the office thus tends to
become a life-time job and the incumbent part of a very slowly changing
political oligarchy.  The American Senate
has become almost a mirror of the Roman Senate, whose members served for
life.  Indeed, during the 1980s there was
greater turnover in the Soviet Politbureau than in the American Senate.

These huge
amounts of money are also one of the reasons that two parties, the Republicans
and the Democrats, have managed to monopolize the political process and become
virtually extensions of our political structure.  Party organization has always provided an
edge in political activity, and now it provides an edge in what has become
perhaps the most important aspect of that political activity, raising
money.  Further, the constant need to
raise ever larger amounts of money has rapidly lengthened campaigning almost to
the eve of the previous election, which in turn fuels the need for money.

Campaign
finance laws have been a complete failure.
Politicians are hardly likely to be enthusiastic about limiting their
own access to funds, especially if their party is better at raising money, and
in any case limiting what an individual or even a corporation can donate
immediately runs afoul of the First Amendment.  Exclusive public funding of elections will
also have constitutional problems, and in any case would never be passed by
Congress.  Perhaps the solution may be
found in the joke that politicians should dress like NASCAR drivers, covered
with patches identifying their supporters: a candidate can receive any amount
of money from any source, even foreign governments, but it must all be
publicized on websites and in major newspapers.
Failure to do this would result in the immediate ejection of the
offender from the race.  If voters
nevertheless still elect candidates bearing suspicious financial strings, then
we deserve what we get.