Tuesday, December 30, 2008


These suggestions have, more often than not, steered toward pragmatic problem solving and away (mostly) from partisan matters. Frankly, I dislike having to line up with a particular party on all issues and very often seek themes that cut away at unusual angles. (I even once keynoted a Libertarian Party National Conference!)

And yet... can there be any doubt who has to win, in the near-term, if the treason called “culture war” is to be cured and sensible negotiation resume in America? Until decent conservatives gather the courage to perform their own “Miracle of 1947” and reclaim their movement from the loonies who hijacked it, we really have no choice (alas) but to offer help, advice and passionate support to the Democrats... and to hope that this will be one of their better (less flaky) eras.

And so, to politics!  Let’s start with some ideas I posted back in December 2006 -- Suggestions to The New Democratic Congress. 

Alas, the first term of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House featured almost no accomplishments at all. Sure, it is convenient to blame Senate GOP filibusters and presidential vetoes, but we have to insist that the 2008 Congress will show more guts, verve, imagination and hard work.

Here’s a brief remise of some of those 2006 ideas (with others set aside for my “crackpot suggestions” segment, at the very end.):

* Adjust house rules to limit "pork" -- the earmarking of tax dollars that benefit special interests or specific districts. Wasn’t this a favorite issue of Jophn McCain?  Terrific!  Then steal this issue out from under Republican noses. (I’ll have more to say about this, next time.) Some ways to do this:

- reduce pork allocations from 15,000 down to 1,000 (the number allocated last time Democrats ran Congress)... or even a symbolically redolent limit of one earmark per member, per year.

- require that all future earmarks come from a single pool, no larger than one tenth of a percent of the discretionary budget.

- insist they be placed in clearly-marked and severable portions of a bill, weeks before it’s voted on.

* Spread the power of subpoena -- and include the minority party.

Here’s a note to Congressional Democrats; remember, a day will come when you’ll be back on the outs. Now is the time to set permanent precedents, that ensure you’ll still have a little power to poke after truth, when that happens. Establish processes NOW so that even a congressional minority can hold some future Bush-like administration at least somewhat accountable!

One way would be to give today’s GOP minority what they never had the maturity to give you -- the general power to summon witnesses and demand some answers, even when a party is out of power.

There is no way that Speaker Pelosi and the leadership will want to do this, now that the GOP is reduced to an irksome nuisance.  Still, please think about it.  Just giving them the right to grill a few people won’t let them do much mischief to an open and honest and competent Obama Administration.  Meanwhile, such a precedent could guarantee we’ll never again have an era as dark as the Bush years, without the other side getting to light some candles.

Here’s an idea. Allow any three representatives to jointly issue one subpoena per year, beyond those voted by committees -- and provide a venue with some staff support. One for every three members -- that's 140 member-chosen testimonies... maybe sixty a year from the minority party. A large enough number to make sure that pokes-at-truth will keep going on, even during eras when a single party machine dominates every branch of government. And yet, it's small enough not to disrupt House business too much.  See details.

* Do something ruthless about K Street.   For about fifty reasons.  And you know them all.  Above all, to make sure the old “revolving door” turns into ashes in their mouths. Enough said.

* Take a sensible next step toward public financing of elections. Of course, it has to be in stages.  But respected scholar Lawrence Lessig makes a strong case for a method that would free all Congressmen and Congresswomen from the hundreds of hours of fundraising they must do, every year, making their lives more livable and allowing them to go back to deliberation, instead of relentless sucking-up.  Lessig’s proposal seems plausible and within reach.  Indeed, something like it may be necessary, if a gerrymandering reform takes place (See next time.)

* Reduce secrecy. Say it.  Do it.  Stand by it.

* The Henchman's Act has a provocative name, but the aim is simple. A permanent office might be created, outside the justice or intelligence communities, that will confidentially and securely advise any person, in America or around the world, who may be thinking about revealing information about bad activities, including those that are illegal or harmful to the people, or that impair the effective operation of justice, democracy, or fair markets. According to each individual's needs, the informant may be steered toward intelligence or law-enforcement services, or toward open source networks, or even toward mass media.  Judiciously, some varying types of protection and/or rewards would be made available to brave whistleblowers. Yes, this one will confuse some people.  But I hope it will percolate in the minds of some.

* An Elections Reform Act will ensure that the nation's voting take splace in a manner that citizens can trust and verify. Political interference in elections will be a federal crime. Strong auditing procedures and transparency will be augmented by a requirement that all voting machines and associated software belong to the People and shall be subjected to relentless open-source testing. States will be encouraged to try a variety of incentives to encourage greater (and more secure) voter registration and participation in elections.  Negotiate a compromise with decent conservatives, so that their fears over voter fraud are addressed, too.

* Now, while gas prices are low, take an advantage of an opportunity to switch from a cents-per-gallon tax to a percentage tax!  This can be revenue neutral at the time it is enacted!  But when gas prices rise, so would revenues.

Another option, do a tradeoff of higher gas tax vs lowered FICA, since both mostly affect the middle class.

* Start thinking about how to end the catastrophic Drug War.  Start a series of nationwide open town halls to explore whether it is politically possible to do something about this endless quagmire. Make it a matter of medicine and science.  Start building quiet consensus, so that, if Obama succeeds at his first wave of endeavors, this can be addressed in the next wave.  Consider the possibility of state-by-state experiments.

* Reinstate something like the Fairness Doctrine of the airwaves.  It doesn’t have to be the old one.  But something!

My reason is deadly serious and has nothing to do with party politics. Today, you can drive across many parts of the country -- and it is no coincidence that these sections are “red” -- without hearing any breadth of opinion, news, fact or commentary.  Radio, in these regions, feautures only the most bile-drenched and horrific hate fests.

We need to remember what happened in the years that led up to the first American Civil War.
Before the breakout of hostilities in 1861, there was a similar absolute uniformity of rabble-roused opinion, all across the South, where even a slight effort to widen the debate led to the mob-torching of newspapers and the smashing ot their presses.  (In contrast, there were “copperhead” or Democratic Party newspapers and broadsheets available in most Northern areas.)  Remember, also, that Timothy McVeigh lived immersed in such uniformity.  If we want to end this phase of the Civil War, instead of seeing it burst into conflagration, the best tool is to encourage diversity of input and a spirit of peaceful argument.

Continue to Suggestion #18: Time to do something about Gerrymandering...


David Brin said...

See a must-read slide show comparing "Russia's ten year collapse to the coming Collapse in America."


It certainly is daunting and disturbing. In several places, his slides are profoundly on-target.

Of course, there are places where Orlov exaggerates or is deeply wrong. For example, he assumes 13+4 years of education leaves Americans functionally "illiterate". He assumes Americans have no family networks of support.

And he utterly leaves out the greatest disadvantages of the Russian personality: phlegmatic and dour skepticism toward innovation, optimism or hope. The reflex of following the Strong Man certainly exists in America -- it explains redder following Bush-Cheney. But it is overwhelming in Russia and deep-rooted, while it is shallow here, vs a deeply-rooted suspicion of authority and willingness to try new things. (This, BTW is also the answer to those who see us falling into a 20 year Japan-style deflationary malaise.)

Furthermore, corruption in the US is severe but it has mostly been top-down... a conspiracy to take over and loot the Republic at the highest layers.. There is no evidence at all that it has pervaded the Civil Service, local law enforcement, the schools, city services... or become an assumption of daily life.

Nevertheless, Orlov's appraisal is very much in tune with things I have been saying all across the 21st Century (so far)... that robustness and resiliency ought to be key themes for our new leadership, as they should have been all along. I wrote this most recently at:




Alas, while the Russians were kept brittle by a power-elite plus utter secrecy, we are being kept brittle by kleptocratic thieves and (even more so) over-reliance upon a sincere but doggedly self-centered Professional Protector Caste.

See: http://www.futurist.com/archives/society-and-culture/value-and-empowerment/)
"Beleaguered Professionals vs. Disempowered Citizens" http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BY2PRQ

Orlov's suggestions are pretty darned poor and irrelevant to the US... except mild versions like bring troops home, augment the local reserves, limit privatized force, consider some radical reforms of debts... while also doing something about secret removal of klepto-stolen wealth.

My two part defense (DTRA) slide show is all about enhancing resiliency.

The crux. I believe Orlov is driven in part by wishful thinking. SHaedenfreude. Still, if he were top scare enough people, he'd do us a lot of good.

Cliff said...

From Orlov's speech:

The arms race has not produced a clear winner, and that is excellent news, because Mutual Assured Destruction remains in effect. Russia still has more nuclear warheads than the US, and has supersonic cruise missile technology that can penetrate any missile shield, especially a nonexistent one.

The Jails Race once showed the Soviets with a decisive lead, thanks to their innovative GULAG program. But they gradually fell behind, and in the end the Jails Race has been won by the Americans, with the highest percentage of people in jail ever.

The Hated Evil Empire Race is also finally being won by the Americans. It's easy now that they don't have anyone to compete against.

Ow! Damn! The truth really does hurt.

David Webb said...

While radio is a business, and my impression of the American media is that it sells advertising space and then wraps programs, whether they're TV or radio, around that space in order to get people to absorb the advertising, is there any point to a Fairness Doctrine?

Anonymous said...

The radio/TV coverage issue could be helped by something like the BBC.

In the UK a totally advert free service paid for by a form of tax (license) has a number of knock-on effects.
With the BBC as a comparison other companies do not show as many adverts.
Without the direct commercial pressure some superb programs are produced.
Public broadcasting in the USA seems to simply replace commercial adverts with internal adverts asking for money so the viewing/listening experience is similar.

The number and length of adverts in the USA detract from enjoying the programs but as most channels are like this there is no real choice.

The public channel would have to have significant market share and resources -
What about supporting it by a tax on advertising?
30% would be a good number to start with.

I now live in New Zealand and the BBC is one of the few things I miss

Anonymous said...

All excellent suggestions. Alas, the reality of politics makes most of these impractical, or suicidal, for the party currently in power.

Here is where I'm really going to slam the Democrats hard. David Brin's suggestion that we shut down the war on drugs as it currently exists, and that we re-institute the Fairness Doctrine, are tremendously important proposals. We really need to do these things.

But the Democrats never will. The Democrats benefit immensely from our crazy self-destructive so-called War On Drugs (it's actually a war on the Bill Of Rights, AFAICT) because it lets the Democrats refute the popular meme that liberals are "soft on crime." There is no upside to ending our insane War On Drugs for the Democrats, and a huge downside -- the conservatives can point and scream, "Look! Look! Those hippie degenerate liberals are soft on crime! They love dope dealers! They want YOUR KID to get hooked on heroin! WE CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS will save you from those terrible degenerate liberals who want to sell your children dope!!!"

Likewise, reinstating the Fairness Doctrine or something that does the same thing will go a long ways toward ending our culture war. Does anyone notice that the culture wars cranked up to white heat right about the time Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987? When did Rush Limbaugh appear? When did Dr. Laura become prominent? All these crazies came to prominence soon after the Fairness Doctrine vanished, and Fox News appeared nearly immediately after Reagan killed the Fairness doctrine. Can anyone honestly say that this tidal wave of hate and bile is just a coincidence?

But the problem here, once again, is that Democrats _love_, absolutely LOVE, not having a Fairness Doctrine. Because the Republican party is destroying itself. Right-wing radio show host Michael Medved recently wrote an article lamenting that hate radio is destroying the GOP...and the Deomcrats know this. They love it. They're rubbing their hands with glee while the crazies on hate radio steer the Republican party farther and farther to the right, more and more into the nutty land of Sarah Palin worship and global warming denial and "Barack Obama's birth certifacte is a forgery" and all the rest of that lunacy.

Here is a concrete example of how the Democratic party keeps doing things which are very good indeed for Democrats, but very bad for the country. Because David Brin is exactly right -- across large swaths of the country, you hear nthing but foaming-at-the-mouth right-wing hate on the radio, and it's tearing America apart.

Another example of how the Democratic party benefits itself by harming the country -- Nancy Pelosi and the 2006 Democratic house had a chance to end the war in Iraq. They could've shut off the money spigot. But they chose not to do it. They made a political caculation (this was before September 2008, when Wall Street collapsed, remember, when it was still thought to be a close race twixt McCain and Obama) that keeping the war in Iraq going would weaken the Republicans electorally.

The Democrats were right. But refusing to shut down the Iraq war is grotesque and irresponsible and frankly it stinks of irresponsibility, not to say Machiavellian contempt for the American soldiers are still dying there, and for the destruction of America's image in the eyes of the world.

The Democrats deserve a huge heaping of blame for doing these kinds of things for political reason. The Republican party has collpased, it's dying before our eyes, it's now little more than a collection of fringe lunatics...but the Democrats, in their eager desire to see the Republican party die, are doing dangerous and irresponsible and harmful things like refusing to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine and refusing to shut down the Iraq war and refusing to end our insane War On Drugs because of the Democrats' political calculation that these policies will benefit them in the short run.

I really think the Democrats need to be vehemently and publicly condemned for this kind of behavior. Yes, they're better than the lunatic Republicans who've destroyed America since 1994...but this kind of Democratic behavior is shameful and irresponsible and craven, and we SHOULD NOT TOLERATE IT EITHER.