You are hereElections
I know you like the elephants and the acrobats, but we really do not have time for this.
The U.S. presidential election is very far away. There's a measurable rise in the ocean, the construction of numerous new military bases, a decision on peace or war with Iran, a push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, intense antagonization of Russia, and more than likely another month-long bombing of Gaza between now and then.
We should be engaged in intense, all-out, creative, nonviolent resistance. We should be reforming or revolutionizing the election process, among much else. Even when elections have not been financed and reported on primarily by a wealthy elite with debates run by two parties, they haven't tended to be the means by which important social change has come.
We need radical change, and the election process isn't even advertising it. One of the chief sources of U.S. election funding, Sheldon Adelson, dismisses the idea of democracy because it's not in the Bible. And of course Adelson is up-to-date compared with some of the people he funds. At least 32 Republicans are running, apparently with a collective IQ that hardly reaches three figures. For them I'd be willing to revive the Confederacy, give it lots of flags, and locate it in the portions of the Southeast expected to fall below the rising ocean (as long as Donald Trump is charged extra for beach properties!).
Of course Jill Stein has great positions, but let's face it, the Democrats are not up to the task. Hillary Clinton has replaced FDR's four freedoms with "the four fights." It turns out she's in favor of families, America, democracy, and economics (who knew?), or at least she wants to fight with them. Oh, and she also wants to fight with Iran, ISIS, China, and Russia -- each of which is apparently somehow harming our "values." Then there's Bernie Sanders who pretends that the 54% of federal discretionary spending that goes to militarism just doesn't exist. Military? What military? Martin O'Malley has the same approach. Lincoln Chafee claims very briefly and vaguely to oppose wars. Jim Webb adds a bit more to his claim to oppose wars, but makes clear that he wants to fund militarism while expecting doing so not to produce more wars. Chafee and Webb are the worst on non-war issues, unless you compare Clinton's and O'Malley's actual records to their stated desires. Sanders is the best on non-war issues but might do little to slow the rush toward bigger and more frequent wars.
A decent candidate with a basic grasp of the problem of war addiction would say something like this, and no Democrat or Republican is anywhere close to saying it:
As president I will work to change U.S. relations with the rest of the world to relations of respect, cooperation, and demilitarization. A Gallup poll at the end of 2013 found the United States widely believed to be the top threat to peace in the world. One reason for that could be that the United States spends far more on militarism than any other nation, engages in more military actions abroad than any other nation, and maintains many times as many foreign military bases as all other nations combined -- all at great human, financial, and environmental cost.
Preparing for wars does not need to be the primary thing we do. In the analysis of the National Priorities Project military spending is 54% of U.S. federal discretionary spending. In 2001, U.S. military spending was $397 billion, from which it soared to a peak of $720 billion in 2010, and is now at $610 billion in 2015. These figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (in constant 2011 dollars) exclude debt payments, veterans costs, and civil defense, which raise the figure to over $1 trillion a year now. We need to return to 2001 levels and reduce from there.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, did not happen because military spending was too low. Thousands of nuclear weapons were of no value against an attack that used box cutters. In fact, the increased spending has been increasing dangers rather than reducing them, as former President Dwight Eisenhower warned it might, and as our experts say it has. Former Directors of National Intelligence Michael Flynn and Dennis Blair have called the drone wars counterproductive, as has an internal CIA report. Michael Boyle, Former Counter-Terrorism Adviser, agrees, as does General James Cartwright, former Vice-Chair, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. Flynn has said the same of the war on ISIS and the war begun in Iraq in 2003. Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer says the more the United States fights terrorism, the more it creates terrorism. Statistics seem to bear that out. Numerous other former top officials agree.
The United States is spending at least $100 billion a year on over 800 bases in 70 nations, not counting permanent ongoing trainings and exercises, even though airplanes now allow the U.S. to get troops anywhere in the world without keeping them permanently stationed abroad. We need to close these foreign bases, beginning with the large ones in Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
As president I will put a stop to the practice of giving free weaponry to Egypt, Israel, and other nations -- which are not benefitted by increased militarism. And I will put a stop to the sale of weaponry to foreign nations, beginning with those guilty of serious human rights abuses.
As president I will abolish the presidential kill list, propose a global treaty banning weaponized drones, cease the practice of launching wars not authorized by Congress or the United Nations, maintain peace with Iran, remove the missile defense systems from Europe that were justified by the idea of a threat from Iran, propose a global treaty banning nuclear weapons, remove the United States from NATO, and initiate a process of democratizing the United Nations.
As president I will propose dramatic increases in investment, using funds withdrawn from military spending, including new investment in foreign aid, green energy, infrastructure, education, housing, tax cuts for the lowest incomes, and payment of debts. I will introduce a program of transition to assist communities and workers deprived of military industry jobs.
As president I will reward whistleblowers, end unconstitutional mass surveillance, forbid the transfer of war weaponry to local police departments, and appoint a Secretary of Peace to advise me and my cabinet on alternatives to war in resolving conflicts.
See if you can spot the mistake in this activist email I received recently:
"In 2001, the Clinton Administration handed George Bush peace, prosperity, and record budget surpluses. Eight years later, Bush handed Barack Obama two disastrous wars and a global economic crash that destroyed over 8 million American jobs. Now that President Obama has finally brought those jobs back - in the face of vicious GOP opposition - Bush's brother Jeb is now blaming American workers for not working hard enough. If you're as outraged as we are, please click here to sign Hillary Clinton's petition telling Jeb Bush that Americans need a raise, not a lecture."
OK, it was a trick; there's more than one mistake. Let's list a few:
Here are things Bill Clinton is now apologizing for: mass incarceration, Wall Street deregulation, the drug war, and corporate trade agreements. Here are a few of the things he should also be apologizing for: destroying welfare, creating media monopolies, expanding NATO toward Russia, creating a precedent for illegal NATO wars without Congressional or UN authorizations, and 500,000 children killed by sanctions in Iraq.
Here are a few little-known facts about President Barack Obama: the war on Afghanistan is more his than Bush's by any measure, he had regularly voted to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a senator, he broke his promised schedule for ending the war on Iraq and never fully ended it and soon revived it, he's supported coups in Honduras and Egypt and Ukraine, he's claimed the power to murder anyone anywhere by drone, he's expanded the military into numerous nations laying the groundwork for future hostilities, and his war on Libya followed the Clinton model of blatant illegality rather than the Bush Jr. approach of at least bothering to lie to Congress and the United Nations.
Another activist group sent me an email this week reading, in part: "The truth is, Republicans don't want diplomacy to work. They want another costly war like the one they started in Iraq in 2003." In reality, a Republican House and a Democratic Senate voted for the war on Iraq in 2002. The same parties hold the same branches now. There's a wise saying that goes something like this: those who convince themselves of a bullshit version of history may be condemned to repeat what actually happened.
Those who study what actually happened may be less shocked to discover how grotesquely corrupt Hillary Clinton is, how murderous, how fervently she promoted that war on Iraq, how very long she has been so disastrous, how she out-hawks almost any hawk, how awful she is for feminism, how brutal she can be, how close she is to Wall Street Republicans and oil barons and Henry Kissinger, how hard it would be to actually elect her, how she used the State Department to market weapons and fracking and pushed weapons on governments she called soft on terrorism while waiving restrictions on sales to brutal governments that donated to her foundation, how she backs mass surveillance, how she believes in representing banks, and how greedy she is.
So long sad times, go long bad times
We are rid of you at last
Howdy gay times, cloudy gray times
You are now a thing of the past
Clinton days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So lets sing a song of cheer again
Clinton days are here again
A reporter asked me what to ask candidates re military. I suggested:
In the analysis of National Priorities Project military spending is 54% of U.S. federal discretionary spending. In 2001, U.S. military spending was $397 billion, from which it soared to a peak of $720 billion in 2010, and is now at $610 billion in 2015. These figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (in constant 2011 dollars) exclude debt payments, veterans costs, and civil defense, which raise the figure to over $1 trillion a year now. Is that too high, too low, or just right?
If it's too high, how much money would you move away from it and where would you move that money to?
Eisenhower said military spending would create pressure for more wars, not fewer. Does he not seem to have been right?
In the analysis of a new book by American University professor David Vine, the United States is spending at least $100 billion a year on over 800 bases in 70 nations, not counting permanent ongoing trainings and exercises, even though airplanes now allow the U.S. to get troops anywhere in the world without keeping them permanently stationed abroad. Does the United States have too many, too few, or just the right number of troops and bases abroad?
Should the United States continue to give billions of dollars in free weapons to Israel, Egypt, and other nations?
Candidate Obama said a president could not launch a war without Congress. President Obama has launched a war in Libya, a war in Iraq/Syria, and a number of drone wars without Congress. Who was right, the candidate or the president?
Does a president have the right to murder people with missiles from drones?
There has been little coverage of U.S. aggression in Ukraine: Bush's withdrawl from the ABM treaty, the past decades of NATO expansion, the $5 billion invested in the coup, and unproven accusations against Russia. What in your view has the United States done wrong? Should the United States propose the global elimination of nuclear weapons? Should NATO be disbanded?
Will your administration continue to defend Israel at the United Nations from any legal consequences for its crimes against Palestinians?
June 28 will mark 6 years since the U.S.-backed military coup in Honduras took the people's government away from them. Thousands of people are still in the streets every week demanding that the wrongful president step down.
"Whoever's not jumping supports the coup!" is the shout as a sea of people leaps repeatedly into the air. The makers of an amazing new film called Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley, will be allowing anyone to view it online for free for two weeks. I recommend you do so.
Honduras has not simply turned into the worst home of violent crime. And the people have not simply fled to the U.S. border (much compassion they'd receive there!) -- No, thousands and thousands of people in this little nation have taken back their land, occupied it, created communities, and built a future, with or without the coup.
President Manuel Zelaya had said he would help. Oligarchs had seized land, or bought land and then devalued the currency. Miguel Facussé took over palm oil plantations, evicted people from their land, got richer than rich, and allowed cocaine flights from Colombia to land on his plantations with U.S. knowledge.
The U.S. for years had been funding, training, and arming soldiers for the oligarchs of Honduras. The leaders of the 2009 coup that overthrew Zelaya had all trained at the School of the Americas in the United States. The U.S. assisted in the coup and in recognition of the coup government. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were part of and are part of this ongoing crime, and U.S. military supply shipments to Honduras are at record levels now as the military has merged with the police and turned its weaponry against the people.
The coup was followed by phony elections. The people knew to look elsewhere for answers. They looked to themselves. In the Aguan Valley in the north, thousands of families took over thousands of hectares by squatting, building, and farming. And they created communities of such camaraderie that they found themselves saying thanks for the coup.
They faced, and still face, regular attacks by killers on motorcycles, but they have nowhere else to go, and they have made the most of it, creating self-sustaining centers of life in the countryside, replacing palm oil monoculture with farming that cares for the land. The dead in the film are of such a different type from the dead in Hollywood movies, that I wonder if people can really see these dead. I hope so. There is never any police investigation, never any charges brought. The people have lost a lawyer and a journalist as well as numerous of their own; the oligarchs have lost a few guards.
The people have also organized local and national assemblies. The men have learned to include women in positions of power. This popular resistance movement always backed the return of Zelaya, who finally negotiated his return to Honduras in 2011. He returned to a people demanding more democratic participation. He joined their movement and encouraged them to participate in the 2013 elections that they had determined to boycott.
During the meeting in the city at which the decision to participate in the election was made, the police in Aguan burned and bulldozed 90 houses, plus churches, and schools. The tears and the eloquence of the people affected must be watched; I cannot tell them to you.
You should watch the scenes of the people meeting with their ousted president, Zelaya, the rightful president of Honduras, and then watch the scene of President Obama meeting with his usurper in the White House. As Facussé threatens to evict everyone from their land, we see a U.S. State Department official meet with some of the campesinos. They tell him that they are offered land at 14% interest, while the World Bank offers it to the big corporations for 1%. He replies that his only area of work is human rights. So they tell him they have been gassed, imprisoned, tortured, and shot. He replies that he just wants to talk about peace. Or maybe he said "piece" of the action, I don't know.
The people see the United States as working on behalf of Dole, formerly the Standard Fruit Company, the same people for whom the U.S. military has been overthrowing governments since that of Hawaii in 1893. Is there any good reason anyone should ever buy Dole products?
The struggle, and the movie, goes on -- filmed over a period of years. Leaders are forced into exile after murder attempts. The burned and bulldozed buildings are rebuilt. And the November 2013 elections arrive, and are blatantly stolen. Zelaya's wife runs on the people's platform against the "law and order" candidate of the military. Observers from the EU and the OAS declare the election legitimate, but individual members of those commissions denounce that conclusion as corrupt and fraudulent. Students lead the protests, and the protests continue to grow.
And the people in the country go right on taking back more of their land and reclaiming it as a source of life rather than death. These people need no aid. They need simply to be allowed to live. All immigrants should be welcomed everywhere by everyone, with no hesitation. Obama should immediately cease deporting children back to a nation he's helped to ruin. But I think most people would be shocked by how little immigration there would be in the world if the corporations and the killers stopped migrating, and people were allowed to live peacefully and equally in the place they love: their land.
Presidential elections should be limited to as short a time period as possible and are generally the biggest drain and distraction going. I have two excuses for looking into Jeb Bush. One is that I've been collecting the evidence that Hillary cannot be a lesser evil than any living human, and campaigning for No More Bushes or Clintons. The other is that I only read Jeb Bush: Outed because I've long liked the author, Stephen Goldstein.
People such as Molly Ivins and James Moore gave the U.S. lots of warning, from the wisdom of Texans, before the Supreme Court falsified the 2000 election results in what will always be falsely remembered as the American public electing George W. Bush president. Here comes Goldstein from Florida to warn us about Jeb. I don't see any reason why knowing about Jeb should make us take any interest in the election, as Hillary is just as bad. But I still see a problem with not knowing -- when it's all so easily known.
I'm also not sure Jeb won't end up making it all clear on his own. At the moment he's running around praising the U.S. war on Iraq (the last one, not the new one), antagonizing the president of Russia, and proposing public shaming for unwed mothers.
Yet the corporate press is complicit in the baseless idea that Jeb Bush is someone worth paying any attention to at all. It knows it was complicit in George's stolen election in which Jeb was complicit. It knows of the efforts it has gone to over the decades to uphold the acceptability of all the crimes of the brother, the father, the grandfather, and the great grandfather (Walker). The press has a lot invested in the pretense that Jeb Bush matters.
In case it matters to anyone, Goldstein lays out the record from Florida: giant giveaways to corporations and cronies, a pension fund invested in Enron, average wages plummeting, services for the elderly slashed, a drug plan that failed to reach 97.5% of the population, a high-school graduation rate that fell to the worst in the United States, anti-environmentalists appointed to boards, commissions, and judgeships, a mad power-grab rewriting of the state constitution to allow public funding of religion, welfare for Arthur Anderson while it evaded taxes, the opening of religion-run prisons ("I can't think of a better place to reflect on the awesome love of our Lord Jesus," quoth he), a crazed power grab to allow the governor to appoint all judges and the whole state university board of regents, and the repeated, undemocratic, blocking of public decisions expressed through referenda -- including killing public preschool by underfunding it.
One might think the Florida record was of limited value, as the number one thing the federal government does is make war, and Florida merely harbors terrorists who kill Cubans. But in fact Jeb Bush is not just a proven crony-crapitalist which pretty well guarantees wars (just like Hillary), but he was also a signer of the June 1997 Statement of Principles of the Project for the New American Century, along with Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Libby, Cheney, and the rest of the same crowd he still keeps with him. Jeb is not clinging to Dubya's warmongering record out of family loyalty. Jeb was pushing for those policies some 20 years ago and was only not part of his brother's disastrous regime because of the Florida gig and perhaps a bit of family disloyalty or political calculation.
But is anyone really ignorant of this? We're dealing with a Bush, and a Jeb for that matter. We're dealing with a system in which the most servile sycophants before corporate power are praised in the press as the most skilled money raisers, but nobody is entirely fooled and a majority of people ignore the single largest ad campaign of the year (and more) and refuse to vote at all.
Goldstein clearly leans Democratic Party, and his lesser-evil argument against Jeb rests primarily on speculation as to the sort of person he would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court, combined with speculation about the sort of person a Democrat might appoint. It's a guessing game that cannot alter the fact that either Jeb or Hillary would run the war machine into apocalyptic crises and the natural environment into collapse. Still, as far as deck-chair rearranging goes it's as good a game as any.
In the years I've been voting at Key Recreation Center on Market Street the procedure has changed as a result of popular mythology. Despite no known problem of people voting under false identity, one must now display an ID and tell the polling place attendant the name and address on it. This fixes a nonexistent problem called voter fraud.
An election that won't happen for a year and a half and is likely to pit two disastrously bad presidential candidates against each other dominates the news, but here in Charlottesville there's a local election on June 9th worth bothering with. It's a Democratic Primary, but you don't have to take a loyalty oath to that party and can proceed to vote against it in the general election -- but based on past experience this really is the election and if you skip it you don't get a vote.
Three of five city council seats are up for grabs, and there are five candidates. Wes Bellamy lost a previous election by a single vote, which gives you an idea of how valuable your vote can be. He's been leading Black Lives Matter actions in Cville. While his website seems to lack any substantive policy proposals, he has come up with some good ones that are absent there, including on policing and housing and schools.
Here's the Daily Progress:
"With a renewed vision of how he would like to govern, Bellamy said he wants City Hall to keep the housing market affordable while encouraging economic development. As an African-American male and a school teacher, he said he also wants to address issues of public safety and education. Bellamy supports a policing model that will embed officers in specific neighborhoods they would regularly patrol on foot and encourage them to build relationships with residents. Expanding pre-K education and improving the infrastructure of aging school buildings are two of Bellamy's priorities for city schools."
Bellamy stresses his dedication to following popular will.
Incumbent Kathy Galvin has a different attitude. Typical of my experience with her was an occasion three years ago when the city council passed, despite her opposition, a resolution opposing any U.S. war on Iran. "The council was scheduled to vote at its January 17th  meeting," I noted at the time, "and on the morning of the 17th made public a proposal from Galvin to radically revise the resolution, omitting any reference to war on Iran or to the existence of both ground and drone wars, claiming the military is protecting our rights despite the erosion of our rights facilitated by war, inaccurately describing the powers the Constitution gives the President, expressing support for the office of the President less than a month after the power to imprison people without trial was made a part of that office, asking the President and Congress to 'continue' working to redirect military spending to domestic priorities which falsely implied that such work was already underway, eliminating a paragraph pointing to the tradeoffs our wealthy nation makes in comparison with other countries by funding the military so heavily, and claiming that reducing military spending might endanger the safety of troops."
Mike Signer knocked on my door yesterday asking for my vote. He has professional brochures and website. But his proposals are pretty vague and noncommittal. And he stresses above all his experience working for such corrupt figures as Mark Warner, Tom Perriello, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb. If city council is a stepping stone to one of their jobs, one can assume he intends to behave roughly like them. He described Perriello to me as "brave" -- yes, this Perriello.
Lena Seville strikes me as a far more interesting candidate than Galvin or Signer. Her website describes her work on police racism, bridge replacement, and getting pesticides out of parks.
Then again, incumbent Dede Smith has proven herself far above average on the city council already. If anyone deserves to continue there it's she.
I think I'll vote for Bellamy, Seville, and Smith.
You decide! And let me know what you think! I'm open to being persuaded.
Katrina vanden Heuvel says there's an emerging populist agenda. Of course populist agendas tend to emerge in times of demobilization for election distraction -- that is to say, in moments when huge political party and NGO resources are being dumped into focusing attention on a distant election instead of on the crises and work at hand. Witness all the efforts to get Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, to oppose the TPP.
And of course the agendas don't actually emerge. There's nothing new about them. Millions of us have favored a living wage and free education and breaking up the banking monopolies for years. The point of having such ideas "emerge" is to create reservoirs of patience for not getting them and not even demanding them, but rather diverting one's interest into cheerleading for future saviors who will later treat campaign promises like, well, campaign promises.
But what interests me about what's "emerging" is what's missing from it, even in the rhetoric. Vanden Heuvel links to six reports or platform statements. Each deals with economics, the public budget, spending and investment priorities. Virtually absent from them all, by some coincidence, is any mention of military spending, despite its taking up a majority of the discretionary spending budget every year, and despite its swallowing far more wealth than goes to the billionaires who are so rightly upbraided for hoarding it so immorally.
Five of the six populist agendas propose nothing related to military spending. It might as well not exist. One of them includes as number 11 of its 12 points: "We should reduce military budgets and properly support humanitarian programs."
Was that so hard? It used to be the norm in Democratic Party platform promises. Where has it gone
too to? The other five organizations will not attack the sixth with sharp critiques for including this, of course. Their preferred tactic is silence.
The new normal seems to be PEP. Usually PEP means Progressive Except for Palestine (we all know people who are generally against murdering babies but not when Israel does it). But I'm using PEP to mean Populist Except for the Pentagon.
If you don't want to take the time to watch the video of Bernie Sanders' 12 proposals, here's his list:
1. major investment in infrastructure
2. reverse climate change
3. new economic models, no more huge tax breaks to corporations, but support for worker-owned coops
4. Employee Free Choice Act (remember that?)
5. make minimum wage a living wage
6. pay equity for women
7. end NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China
8. affordable college
9. break up the Wall Street banks
10. Medicare for all - single payer healthcare
11. expand Social Security
12. progressive taxation
All wonderful stuff. Some of it quite courageous outside-the-acceptable stuff. But what do you spend on reversing climate change? And do you also keep spending on the single biggest contributor to climate change, namely the military? What do you invest in infrastructure? It's not as though Sanders doesn't know about the trade-offs. In between listing items 1 and 2, he blames "the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq" for costing $3 trillion. He says he wants infrastructure instead of wars. But routine "base" military spending is $1.3 trillion or so each and every year. It's been far more in recent years than all the recent wars, and it generates the wars as Eisenhower warned it would. It also erodes the economy, as the studies of U-Mass Amherst document. The same dollars moved to infrastructure would produce many more jobs and better paying ones. Why not propose moving some money? Why not include it in the list of proposals?
In Sanders' case, I think he's partly a true believer in militarism. He wants good wars instead of bad wars (whatever that means) despite the belief in "good wars" requiring ongoing military spending. And partly, I think, he comes at it from a deep habit of "supporting" the troops and veterans for both sincere and calculating reasons. He's also a PEP in the Palestine sense.
But people will be thrilled just to hear Sanders mention "the bad Bush-Cheney war," when their standard is set by such war hawks as Hillary Clinton, whose love for war, rather than some collective fit of amnesia, explains the absence of the military from most of the emerging populist agendas.
We should be clear that this degeneration of the Democratic Party platform does not represent a shift in public attitudes, but rather an increase in the corruption of the political system. No polls support this. Many campaign funders do.
Yes, Bernie Sanders would be a far superior president to Hillary Clinton.
That requires a bit of elaboration. Something I just scraped off my shoe would be a far superior president to Hillary Clinton, but Sanders would actually be good in a whole lot of ways. He has numerous imperfections, but the contrast with Clinton is like day to night.
I'd rather have him running than not.
But please do not give him or Hillary or the wonderful Jill Stein or any other candidate a dime or a moment of your life. Instead, join the movement that's in the streets of Baltimore opposing police murder, that's in the halls of the United Nations pushing to abolish nukes, that's blocking mountaintop removal, divesting from Israel, advancing renewable energy, and struggling to create fair elections through steps like automatic registration in Oregon, and pushing legislation to provide free media, match small donors, give each voter a tax credit to contribute, or take the power to establish plutocracy away from the Supreme Court.
I'm not against elections. I think we should have one some day. At the presidential level we do not currently have elections. That office is not up for election; it is up for sale.
The point is not that we should abandon all hope or that when the going gets tough we should just give up. The point is that there is a huge opportunity here. Hillary Clinton expects to bring in billions (with a B) in bribery for her campaign (primary and general). To begin to compete with Hillary, Sanders would have to bring in a big chunk of that, at least some hundreds of millions of dollars.
For that kind of money we could create a television network dedicated to peace and justice and democracy from here on out. Or we could open a counter-recruiting office next-door to every military recruitment office in the United States. Or we could organize and bus people in for the largest and longest march on Washington against racism, militarism, extreme materialism, and the corruption of our elections ever seen, complete with food supplies and bail funds for as long as it takes. Instead of a march for nothing, how about an occupation for no more Bushes or Clintons or anyone like them?
The complete breakdown of the presidential election system is made obvious to some by the pairing of another Clinton against another Bush. Sanders muddies that clear picture, but only if you imagine he actually has a chance. On that basis, some will now propose to take a year away from policy-based principled activism, after which, the thinking will go, what's another half a year for hold-your-nose lesserevilist Clinton campaigning? And, please understand, by entering the Democratic primaries, Sanders has committed to supporting the Democratic Party nominee and to encouraging his supporters to support her.
Activism gave women the right to vote. Activism got kids out of factories. Activism got the Navy out of Vieques. Activism won the last civil rights movement. Activism has always been the driving force for change. Two years of "registering voters" busy work out of every four years, and the reliance on corrupt figures that it creates, drains away our activism. It was activism that forced President Bush in 2008 to end the war on Iraq as of 2011 in a treaty signed by himself and Iraqi President Maliki. It was the antiwar uproar of the Bush years that led Congress members to think twice about voting for a new war in 2013 and has left them incapable of formally supporting the new war in Iraq that President Obama launched in 2014 despite the feelings of any number of people who believed that voting for him was somehow a significant act.
I worked as press secretary for Dennis Kucinich for president in 2004. I watched him make all the right points and win the most standing ovations in debates with the other Democrats. The reports the next day tended to mention him in the last paragraph as having also been there. And if you asked people in the room cheering for him they'd say "Yeah, I'd vote for him if he had a chance." And inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, I'd rage at them: "Imagine the chance he'd have if all you morons weren't bowing down to your televisions? Why show up and act as if you have an independent brain if you're just going to do what your television told you to do?"
So, here I am in the role of "that jerk" telling Bernie Sanders fanatics that it's hopeless -- a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom if ever there was one. But we have limited time, energy, and money. I don't think saving the planet is hopeless. I just think the best place to put our resources is into uncorrupted, principled, policy-driven, nonviolent, creative activism -- including the activism needed to create fair, open, verifiable elections.
Sure, we now have the internet in a slightly larger way than a decade ago. Sure, a few more people are disgusted enough with Clinton without yet being disgusted with the whole broken system. Sanders is coming to speak in a very small church in my town next week and I'll probably go listen. Any tiny influence the corporate media will allow him on the conversation, so much the better. Maybe with only two Democrats running they'll be forced to allow him a few seconds here and there. Maybe he'll point out that a corrupt corporate hack who voted for the war on Iraq was unacceptable last time and should be again. And yet, she'll be accepted.
The price has been rising. The media has been worsening. Sanders will be skillfully marginalized and mocked. Hillary will avoid debating him. And the election will place either a Democratic or a Republican catastrophe in the White House. Not because I have some sort of wisdom due to having been around a few years. Not because I'm in a bad mood. But because the media monopolies that Clinton's husband facilitated have demonstrably grown more powerful than ever, and elections have grown more corrupted by money -- Just ask Hillary who pretends to oppose it.
Now anything is technically possible. But considering the scandals already known about Hillary Clinton, what sort of new one could make a difference? None that I can even imagine. She could suffer some unfortunate sudden illness or accident, but in that unlikely and undesirable scenario, the media would hand the election to the Republican, even blame Sanders for Clinton's illness or death. You think I'm kidding? The Washington Post just suggested that a victim of Baltimore Police murder broke his own spine.
There's no need for any hard feelings at all among those who mean well. You think the smartest strategy is raising funds for Bernie, we can still be the best of friends. I just happen to disagree. The real question is not whether the next President will be a walking disaster, but what sort of popular movement will have been developed to resist it.
Here's what I think we need:
- No private election spending.
- Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- No gerrymandering.
- Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.
- Election day holiday.
- Limited campaign season.
- Automatic voter registration.
- Full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Voting rights regardless of criminal conviction.
- National popular vote with no electoral college.
- Mandatory voting with an option for "none of the above."
- Abolition of the Senate.
- A larger House of Representatives.
- Direct public vote on important matters (national initiative).
- Ban on war profiteering.
- Ban on secret budgets and agencies.
- Ban on executive power use by vice presidents.
Here's how we could get it: Declare the current system so broken that you will invest not a minute and not a dime in trying to elect anyone president of the United States. Instead, put all that effort and money into a policy-driven nonviolent activist campaign for these reforms and other urgent policy changes (peace, the environment, etc.) at the local, state, and federal levels.
A "Democracy Slam" planned for April 22 at American University is a step in the right direction, mostly. Let's take a look at their proposals:
"Reform #1: Fix current primary election system with ranked choice voting: Rob Richie of FairVote on his paper with Stanford’s Larry Diamond why traditional primary rules and California Top Two model should be fixed with ranked choice voting and forms of Louisiana Top Two model. Rebuttal: Peter Rosenstein"
This is 100% well-intended but conflicts with hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place, except in cases -- such as small local elections or caucuses -- in which there is only one polling place. In those cases, this reform should absolutely be used. In other cases, I think backers of this reform will find that the collection of reforms listed above accomplish most or all of the intended results.
"Reform #2: Shareholders, not CEOs, decide on corporate political spending: Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen on reforms for SEC rules to ensure shareholders have a right to know and engage with how their CEO’s are spending money they invest in politics. Jamie Raskin on his “Shareholders United” proposal."
This is a good partway step toward no private election spending. Here's a place to support it in your state right now.
"Reform #3: Guarantee access for a third candidate to presidential debates: Alexandra Shapiro of Change the Rule on guaranteeing third candidate in presidential debates based on ballot access and signature collection. Rebuttal: David Lublin"
Of course, on its own this is not going to fix much. The third candidate will make the debate better or worse but not seriously contend for the election under the current system. What's needed are debates open to more than three candidates, under a system in which the financial advantage of the current big two parties is eliminated. Such a reformed debate system could include a final debate between a small number, perhaps even two -- which makes a certain sense under the winner-take-all system -- but the finalists would have to be determined by fair public voting or polling. (Whether to keep the current system or switch to a parliamentary one is optional, of course. There would be big advantages to de-emphasizing the executive. I don't list that change above because I don't think it's strictly needed to rid the U.S. system of its corruption.)
"Reform #4: Factor women candidates in Voting Rights Act case remedies: Dania Korkor of FairVote on why representation of women candidates of color deserves consideration in decisions about Section 2 voting rights remedies."
Also non-millionaire candidates.
"Reform #5: Reduce impact of money on elections with voting rule reforms: Mark Schmitt of the New American Foundation on his paper with FairVote’s Rob Richie on why reform of voting rules and ballots should be pursued to reduce the demand for money in elections. Rebuttal by Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen."
This may be #1 again.
"Reform #6: Free courts from redistricting thicket w/fair representation voting: Drew Spencer of FairVote on "Escaping the Redistricting Political Thicket" paper, written with Cam Ferrante, on the legal argument for fair representation voting to free courts from choosing among competing redistricting criteria. Rebuttal: Trent England, OCPA."
This sounds like an effort to advance the cause of no gerrymandering.
"Reform #7: Require all citizens to cast a ballot: William Galston of the Brookings Institution makes the case for compulsory voting and the impact of high voter turnout elections. Rebuttal: Sarah John, FairVote."
This isn't necessary, but I think the pros outweigh the cons if there's an option for "None of the Above."
"Reform #8: Best state reform of Electoral College is National Popular Vote: John Koz of National Popular Vote and state senator Jamie Raskin debate Trent England of Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and Sean Parnell of Impact Policy Management, with audience vote on merits of National Popular Vote and final words from participants."
Yes, good idea.
Reform #9: Right to Vote Amendment: Congressman Mark Pocan (WI-2) Rebuttal: Reading of paper excerpt from Heather Gerken, Yale Law School. Rebuttal response: Shuya Ohno, Advancement Project."
Yes and it should be a right that is not stripped away for any reason.
"Reform #10: Government By the People Act Small - Donor Empowerment and Public - Match Financing: Congressman John Sarbanes (MD-3) Rebuttal: Sean Parnell, Impact Policy Management."
This is an attempt to work around the bribery system without simply banning private spending. I wonder if it could have an impact, that is if it could keep up with the soaring pricetags of elections.
"Reform #11: Independent redistricting – Lessons from Arizona and Iowa: Aaron Scherb, Common Cause."
Good: no gerrymandering.
"Reform #12: Fair representation voting – Lessons from cumulative voting in Illinois: Rob Richie, FairVote."
Presumably Richie will argue against cumulative voting, so it's not really a reform proposal.
"Reform #13: Forms of Top Two primary – Lessons from California and Washington: Harry Kresky, Open Primaries."
This seems not to reform anything either.
"Reform #14: Ranked choice voting – Lessons from civility study of local elections: Grace Ramsey, FairVote."
This is a return of #1, again.
"Reform #15: Collaborative legislative policymaking – Lessons from 2014 study: Andrew Douglas, FairVote."
This might be a step in the general direction of national initiative, of greater citizen participation.
"Reform #16: Greater gender parity – Lessons from legislatures with more women: Cynthia Terrell, Representation 2020."
This sounds like a question of whom to vote for (or what to aim for with reforms) more than how to design an election system.
"Reform #17: Fixing primaries by boosting turnout in a national primary: John Fortier, Bipartisan Policy Center."
A lot of these reforms could do some good, but in many cases would not be needed in combination with others. And some important reforms are missing. The package of reforms listed at the top of this article would give us free, fair, open, verifiable elections.
The tricky part is that we won't have the resources to work for these reforms unless people do something that I'll repeat here because it is nearly incomprehensible to many: Boycott the presidential election of 2015-16. Leave it alone. Don't fund it or promote it. Fund and work on real activism instead.