workingtogetherThe Bush regime has done, and continues to do, enormous damage to America as a civil state. Almost everything has been corrupted: balance of powers, separation of church and state, fiscal and monetary policy, foreign relations, the electoral process, civil liberties, government openness, the rule of law, limitations to corporate influence, media independence. These are the bulwarks of a functioning civil state, and they are all teetering, threatening to fall and push America into economic chaos, massive civil strife, and right wing totalitarianism. I remain convinced that this disastrous undoing of the American democratic framework in just three short years has come about principally because of Bush’s sheer ignorance of the importance of these critical democratic institutions and balances, rather than from a deliberate desire to subvert democracy for partisan political advantage and hence risk destroying what was once the best model of liberal democracy in the history of human civilization.

But no matter what the cause, there is already a huge task ahead rebuilding the massive damage to the social, political and economic fabric that the Bush regime has wreaked. America cannot afford to wait to start planning the work that needs to be done to undo the misdeeds and errors of the past three year, the seeds of which had already been planted by lazy, greedy, ignorant administrations before the current unelected president seized power.

Here is the tip of the iceberg: the five comprehensive, far-reaching programs that must be instituted quickly and effectively as soon as Bush has been ousted to begin to rebuild the structural damage, restore international credibility to the American politic, and prevent a recurrence of the abuses and ruin that have been inflicted jointly by a small group of ideological psychopaths and their cohorts in big business and in shady right-wing extremist organizations, with astonishingly little outcry and outrage from the American public or those whose job it is to represent and protect their interests.

  1. Returning political power to the people through their elected representatives. That does not mean replacing those representatives with referenda and other quasi-democratic instruments that allow elected representatives to abrogate or ignore their responsibilities to the voters and to the health of the republic. It means introducing quick and effective electoral reform that will strip corporations, churches, pressure groups and other undemocratic institutions of their ability to exert any influence whatsoever over elected officials. It means an end to the outrage of redistricting. It means independent audit of the entire voting, vote-tabulating and electoral dispute resolution process to ensure the candidate with the greatest voter support attains office. It means replacement of Tweedledum Tweedledee first-past-the-post electoral processes that guarantee election of only the richer and less controversial of two often indistinguishable candidates of the mainstream parties, with multi-party processes that encourage grass-roots participation in politics and enable candidates with little money and good, positive programs to defeat candidates who run negative campaigns, offer no ideas or policies, and are indebted to moneyed corporate and ideological funders. It means joint, collaborative, time-limited appointment and regular review of the judiciary to ensure selection of the best-qualified non-partisan judges. It means automatic invalidation of election results where a plurality of eligible voters do not vote. It means massive strengthening of the checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judiciary bodies to ensure than none controls the political agenda. It means making interference in the political process by religious groups a criminal offense.
  2. Revitalization and retrenchment of civil liberties.  Personal civil freedoms must never again be removed or threatened by legislation under any circumstances. The myriad of invasive laws and regulations brought in by the Bush administration under the flimsy and fraudulent pretext of fighting ‘terrorism’ are an abhorrence to any democratic state. Such laws must be declared unconstitutional in perpetuity. The definition and legal pre-eminence of personal rights and freedoms must be clarified and extended, to prevent future trampling by unscrupulous administrations, and to encompass the additional rights and freedoms included in the UN Charter such as the right to a set minimum standard of living. The outrageous granting of ‘personal’ rights and freedoms to corporations and other undemocratic institutions must be undone, and the powers of corporations drastically curtailed and rolled back to their original intended function: the efficient raising of capital. Corporations are not persons and are not entitled to rights, period, and the granting of rights to corporations is always and inevitably at the cost of rights of individuals. And no one should be able to hide behind a corporation in the commission of criminal acts and civil misdeeds.
  3. Limitations on government spending authority. Governments should not be permitted to impoverish future generations or discriminate against the poor and disadvantaged in their fiscal and monetary policies. Government debt levels should be capped at a set, responsible percentage of GDP. Governments need to have charters that clearly lay out minimum levels of service that they must provide, consistent with their constitutional authority, and they should be subject to annual independent audits to assess whether they have provided these levels of service and identify remedial actions where they have not. The combined effect of these three limits: Strengthened civil liberties (including the right to a minimum living standard), Limits on government debt, and Audited minimum levels of service provision, would be to severely restrict reckless, predatory, discriminatory and irresponsible government spending. Governments must become once again stewards of the public purse for the public interest. Payment of most of government revenues to political supporters, pressure groups and moneyed interests is an abuse of power, a threat to economic stability and an affront to justice and democracy.
  4. Reinstatement of the rule of law. In America, the rule of law has been largely replaced by the ‘rule of man’. That means that enforcement authorities now have massive powers to make personal judgements and exercise personal discretion about what is and what is not legal and acceptable behaviour by citizens. As a result, people can be deported on a whim, kept in prison and denied basic constitutional freedoms based on one anonymous individual accuser’s discretion. Laws have become so vague and enforcement powers so vast that there is no longer any inalienable standard of legal and illegal. If you have money and expensive lawyers, you will almost surely get off scot free for crimes that a poorer citizen will equally certainly be executed for. And being right and law-abiding is no longer as important to your peace and security as not offending bureaucrats and not getting your name in arbitrarily-populated databases.
  5. Re-educating the electorate. The shabby state of Americas public education system, and the massive concentration of media control, have combined to produce what is probably the greatest ‘dumbing down’ of the electorate in America’s history. As a result, most Americans are not current on any of the critical issues facing the country, other than those jointly hand-picked one at a time by the administration and the subservient media who were substantially responsible for the administration’s election. Nor does the average American have even a base level of knowledge of the history of democracy, of civics, of global geography or history, of economics, of the function and workings of government, of any of the subjects essential to the meaningful expression of their voting franchise. The media must take responsibility to educate and inform the public, not merely pander to the results of the Neilsen ratings. And everyone needs to make the effort to learn more, to talk with each other more about issues that matter, to raise the level of public awareness and discourse, to reverse the ‘dumbing down’ of America and start a generation of ‘smartening up’.

That’s just the start. There’s a lot more to be done. But these five programs would go a long way to re-building America, a land today horrendously divided, obsessed with fighting the wrong enemies, paralyzed with fear, abandoned to narrow, cynical special interests, politically corrupted, and crushed by economic mismanagement. Bush is probably the worst president in American history. But he’s merely been the accidental spark that has set off the tinderkeg of political, moral, legal, social, educational, and economic indifference, neglect and incompetence that has been building in America for more than thirty years. It’s time to start again, to return America to the greatness that once made it the world’s most admired nation, rather than its most feared.

(The drawing above, entitled ‘Working Together’, by Sioux artist Ioyan Mani, is one of a stunning collection of drawings available for viewing and purchase here)

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  1. Tell it bro! The only change I’d make in your list is to move 5 (Educate the Electorate) to 1. A citizenry with a solid grounding in the humanist sources that underpin the idea of self-government was always the ballast that kept us steady when extremist ideas proved tempting. That’s being eroded from both the left and right, for very short-sighted and self-serving reasons. People with good minds will see through bad ideas. People who don’t take the trouble don’t deserve to govern themselves.

  2. David Jones says:

    I believe one of the serious challenges in the US milieu is the existening – and possibly widening gap between the real meaning of certain key issues / concepts as defined by US Founding Fathers, and matters as they are understood today. Driving change, in my view, will be problematic for anyone not understanding that certain key definitions have undergone a transformation. Examples:1. The gun ownership thing. I think most reasoned people understand that the “right to bear arms” referred to the apparent need for a militia to protect the homeland: not to establish an armed camp. There is, at this time, little dialogue around these widely divergent understandings.2. Separation of church and state. The overwhelming evidence indicates that the US government was to be non sectarian and distant from organized religion of any sort. But it appears that the country is heading towards state religion, beyond what the Anglican Church ever was, or conceivably ever will be in England. 3. “Freedom” in the articles of independence referred to freedom from things: from oppression, from outside control and from the tyranny of politics and religion. I was surprised to note in a discussion group, a US citizen articulate this contemporary definition of “freedom.” He said it means the right, based on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to do what I wish. On the environmental front, among others, that seems to be borne out. Without making any real value statements about this, I think a couple of things are clear:1. Internally within the US, and externally within a global environment, one needs to watch very carefully just one what is addressing on the level of meaning. You could find yourself way down the road in a discussion or relationship before you realize that you are not speaking the same language at all.2. Closer to home, I’d argue that what was historically perhaps a superficial gap between the US and Canada is now, or is the processof becoming substantive.Finally, I think some of Michael Moore’s appeal (in this country) and the disdain some hold for him (in the US) stems from the fact that he is dealing with these issues of perception and meaning.

  3. Pete says:

    Wow! What an oustanding piece. Really hit a nerve with me, and articulated well some of the major challenges that need to be faced. All we have to figure out now, is how to accomplish these. Certainly the political parties have a vested interest in preventing most of these reforms.I guess in a way I agree with Rob — doing #5 first may be the only way to accomplish 1-4.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Rob: Thanks. The only reason I put it last is that it’s the hardest, because it’s going to take everyone to make it happen.David: Completely agree. And the issue of ‘freedom from’ versus ‘freedom to’, although discussed often in the blogosphere, is rarely broached in general public dialogue. And let’s not forget Michael Moore’s book is a smash best-seller in the US as well, although personally I thought it was terrible (right message, entirely wrong, acrimonious, unconstructive way of delivering it).Pete: The problem, as you note, is that there are entirely too many vested interests in the US, all along the political and economic spectrum. The more bandwidth that these vested interests get (generally, what they want, or all they can afford), the less bandwidth is left for those without such ‘representation’, and the less is left for intelligent debate.

  5. Mark DeWolf says:

    Good discussion, this. I too would probably put education first (well, I’m a teacher, so I would, wouldn’t I?) as it seems the other reforms hinge on an electorate that is familiar with the issues and is prepared to support the changes suggested. A nation in which the majority of the people believe in such foolishness as UFO abductions, conversing with the dead, and the prophecies of Nostradamus / Jean Dixon / you name it is hardly likely to distinguish between the constitution’s intention in guaranteeing the right to bear arms and the NRA’s interpretation. The US was founded by a bunch of thinkers, and at the time of its founding, had a relatively high proportion of educated citizens. I get the impression that today far too many Americans (1) don’t think clearly about important issues, and (2) don’t have the information that would help them think clearly. I correspond by e-mail with an interesting guy – an electrician – in Ohio who despairs at the ignorance of his neighbours and who finds that he, as a reader and thinker, has little in common with most of his fellow citizens. So there seems to be a huge divide in American life, between those who do think and who worry about the state of their country (my Ohio friend is no friend of Mr Bush) and those who have been numbed, dumbed and entertained into a state of mindless consumerism. Ah, but it’s easy to go on about how dreadful everything is getting, but hard to plot a course for improvement. Where could one start in a campaign to get Americans informed and thinking? I’m pretty sure it would be necessary to step on a lot of toes that heretofore most political leaders have stayed well away from; those religions that preach claptrap that went over well in the Middle Ages would vigorously oppose (perhaps with violence) any efforts to bring the average American up to speed on what has been learned about the universe, human evolution and the prevalence of halucination in any population. In my view, little real progresswill be made in social change until people grasp the essential fact that we are products of our genetic backgrounds, wrapped up in social conventions that can and should change as conditions change. If this view of human life was more widespread, there would be less opposition to gay marriage, for example, and the US might not have so many people in prison. It will take real courage on someone’s part to advocate true education. ‘Nuff said. I look forward to other responses concerning this topic.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Nicely put, Mark. Ever considered setting up your own blog? You seem to have some interesting ideas worth their own forum.

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