Category Archives: Politics

USA 2.0: Towards the #NextRepublic

There’s a certain amount of hand wringing going on regarding the possibility of a new Constitutional Convention.

The concern is understandable. An “Article VConstitutional Convention would indeed open a can of worms, as various individuals, organizations, and interests strive to bend the new system to fit their particular political peculiarities. But nonetheless, it’s a can that needs to be opened.

As I wrote a couple of years ago:

Governments are kinda like [automobiles]. For one reason or another, you have to get a new one every once in a while. They wear out, or break, or some calamity comes along and makes them unusable, or the cost of maintaining them becomes unsustainable…

It’s time to call for the Next American Republic. This one is broken, worn out, obsolete, and too expensive to maintain – and furthermore, it has been vandalized and tampered with, its safety mechanisms and pollution controls deliberately disabled.

Of course, we can’t go to a new government dealer, or even get a certified “pre-owned” Republic for a replacement. We’ll have to build it ourselves. We can use some of the old parts, maybe, the ones that still work – but before we get to that, we have some design work to do.

Rather than try to maintain the status quo, I would like to suggest that we progressives need to create our own parallel efforts for Constitutional reform. There are too many things about our system that desperately need to be upgraded and updated. We are dealing with social, environmental, and economic conditions that the Founders never could have imagined, and we need to change accordingly.

For example, here are some features that I’d like to build into the Next Republic.

  1. Clarify the rights and responsibilities of citizens – not only with regard to firearms ownership, but political participation, taxation, etc.
  2. Create a better system of checks and balances, not only between branches of government (Executive/Legislative/Judicial), but between the Market, the State, and the People. Prevent power from becoming centralized.
  3. Ensure that all levels/classes, not just the wealthy, have meaningful representation in government, and the opportunity to make their concerns heard and acted upon.
  4. Rescind “corporate personhood,” making clear that corporations do not have the same innate “rights” as citizens
  5. Make clear that political donations are not “free speech” and can be regulated; enforce total transparency in political influence (no more “dark money”).
  6. Make true multiparty democracy possible – institute voting reforms such as Instant Runoff or Ranked Choice.
  7. Make Congress and state legislatures more reflective of the population; get rid of “winner take all” systems and institute proportional representation.

That’s just for starters.

It’s not such a big deal, really – many countries have reinvented themselves from time to time.  South Korea is in its Sixth Republic now, France and the Philippines their fifth, Nigeria its fourth. Some historians say that we’ve actually had three or four distinct republics in American history already, though none of them manifested in a complete Constitutional overhaul.

I think the discussion needs to happen. We need to redefine who we are as a nation, and what we think our goals and purpose as a nation should be. We need to make strong cases for progressive reforms. But we also need to make sure that we design a system where people from across the spectrum – from progressives and liberals to conservatives and traditionalists – feel they have a stake.

 

SONG FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL

Take a look at the sky
Take a look at the sea
Take a look in the faces
And you might start to see
That the old ways of working
Just don’t work anymore
That the time’s come for changes
More than ever before

(chorus)
We gotta have a GREEN! NEW! DEAL!
We gotta make it real
Or else the thieves will steal
Everything they can
We need a GREEN! NEW! DEAL!
We need some hope to feel
We’ve got a world to heal
While we still can
Gotta rise up and stand
For a Green New Deal plan

So much work to be done
And the people are willing
But we’ve got to stop
All the hatred and killing
Gotta change our priorities
Let green values lead
Put the future of our planet
Above shortsighted greed

(chorus)

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: GREEN, AND RED, AND WHITE

I’m writing these words on the 17th of March, the day when Chicagoans make their river run green.

So let me ask: Does anyone out there who’s not Irish themselves feel ethnographically challenged, personally offended, or existentially threatened by St Patrick’s Day and its celebration of things Irish? Are you afraid of being overrun by O’Reillys, finding your cold Coors Light replaced by warm, dark Guinness, or being elbowed off your local dance floor by brigades of straight-armed step dancers?

No, of course not. The notion seems absurd on its face now, doesn’t it? (How you might feel about the holiday’s perpetuation of certain stereotypes is a different question entirely.)

But as you may know, it was not ever thus. Irish immigration following the Potato Famine in the mid 1800’s was seen as a scourge, a veritable plague, a calamitous threat to the existing social order. Certain folks were convinced that the waves of Catholic refugees fleeing ecological catastrophe and political mistreatment in their homeland were in fact only the advance troops for a Papal plot to overthrow the United States government, enforce Canon law, and set up a new Vatican in Cincinnati.

It’s some fascinating, if sordid, history, and well worth learning more about. (There’s a good introductory summary on the History Channel’s website. Also see this article from Common Dreams.)

But today is also the 17th of March, 2019. Two days ago, an Australian gunman made the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, run red with blood when he attacked two mosques, killing at least 50 people and injuring dozens more.

There’s a straight line connecting these events. In fact, they’re just different manifestations of the same curious and deadly phenomenon. Nowadays we call it “white supremacy.”

White supremacist philosophy, as I understand it, seems to hinge on a paradox. On the one hand, its adherents believe in the innate genetic superiority of their “race.” In fact, in one of its more bizarre flavors, the so-called “Christian Identity” movement, this supposed superiority is actually ordained by no one less than God Himself.

But somehow, this unassailable primacy, this supernatural endowment, is incredibly fragile and vulnerable. It could all be lost at any time, or so these folks declare, and the great edifices of European civilization could come crashing down around our ears. Only through vigilance – and violence – can the dark tide of multicultural “contamination” be kept at bay.

Never mind that DNA and ethnographic studies now suggest that not only is there no such thing as “racial purity,” the entire concept of “race” as we have previously known it may be completely invalid. To these unfortunate folk, all the advances of humanity are the work of their ancestors, and under constant and pernicious assault by their savage inferiors.

It seems to me that this philosophy is in fact a philosophy of self-loathing and fear. It attempts to defend what does not exist, something that never has existed. It looks back longingly to a illusory past, rather than thinking about how we might all construct a mutually beneficial society together, one that allows us to celebrate both our commonalities and our diversity. It is self defeating – in trying to engender pride, it brings shame upon the very people it supposedly wants to exalt.

Its followers are dangerous to be sure, as the string of white supremacist terrorist attacks loudly attests, but they are relatively few. The folks who are really dangerous, who are the real threat, are the political, religious, and media leaders who cynically manipulate and encourage such beliefs for their own ends.

(PS: Here is an excellent article about the American roots of white nationalism. )

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: CIVIL WORLD WAR?

Reports of the recent death of Lyndon LaRouche prompted a flurry of responses on the Internet, most asking the same question:

“Are they sure??”

You may not have heard of LaRouche, but you might have seen some of his followers camped out in front of your local post office at one time or another over the past few years, sharing their conspiratorial views on the world with anyone who would listen. LaRouche spun an elaborate and ever-shifting narrative about politics, finance, history, and current events, one that managed to encompass everything from the British royal family to fusion reactors.

One of his biggest bugbears, of course, was something that has been a common trope among conspiracy theorists since probably the time of John of Patmos – the imminent establishment of an overarching one-world government that would eradicate religion, squash freedom, and enslave humanity. Organizations from the Catholic Church to the United Nations, and individuals from Napoleon and Nero to George Soros and Barack Obama, have at one time or another been depicted as the evil masterminds behind this dastardly scheme.

But here’s the funny thing: during all this time, and despite all these frantic warnings, a real transnational government has slowly been establishing itself – not as the result of any bizarre occult conspiracy, but “right out in front of God and everybody.”  If by “world government” you mean an entity more powerful than any nation-state – one that could tell otherwise sovereign nations what to do, enforce its will, and expect to be obeyed – then I submit that the international finance system fills the bill. This system can not only punish those who try to defy it, it has managed to make itself practically immune to outside control.

A recent article on a website run by the Transnational Institute goes into more detail. Entitled “Offshore Finance: How Capital Rules the World,” the article explains how this system evolved – one might say inevitably – from the basic imperatives of capital: to endlessly expand itself, and exploit whatever resources are available. So it does everything it can to remove “stifling” government regulations at every level. In democracies, this means controlling political discussion as much as possible, influencing elections, lobbying and pressuring elected officials, and dangling the hope of rewarding employment at the end of one’s time of “public service.”  And when these means don’t provide the desired effects, it just moves somewhere else. “Offshore finance,” say the authors, “is not solely about capital moving beyond the reach of states, but involves the rampant unbundling and commercialization of state sovereignty itself…. Capitalism only triumphs when it becomes identified with the state, when it becomes the state.”

Such a system would seem at first glance to be invulnerable. But it isn’t.

And that is because there is another “world government.”

In this case, when I say “world government” I mean a set of laws to which all humans are subject – that everyone must follow. Acting in defiance or ignorance of these laws carries severe and unavoidable penalties, without appeal or mercy. This other “world government” predates the first one, and is inherent in Creation itself. I refer, of course, to the laws of nature – of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, all the rest.

These two “governments” are now on a collision course.  The government of global capital has in effect declared war upon the natural world.  It is a war that spans the globe, but being fought for control of one entity – the planet itself. This is, in a sense, a civil world war.

Three Haiku for DC

(So they’re having a haiku contest in DC – here are my three entries…)

1.

The swamp lies undrained
But dragonflies can still dance
As blossoms emerge

2.

Even the great weight
Of this city – powerless
To hold down the spring

3.

New growth emerges
From the old and decaying
In gardens – and halls

Uncle Sam (Checked into Rehab)

Uncle Sam
Checked into rehab
Finally realized that there was something wrong
Uncle Sam
It took an intervention
For him to realize that there was something wrong

Now he sits in a circle with a cup of coffee
Tries to listen to what other people say
So used to being the center of attention
Now he just has to learn to live life day by day

Uncle Sam
Started to question
Certain assumptions about how he’d lived his life
Uncle Sam
Sought a Higher Power
Lessons in humility cut sharper than a knife

Now he sits in a circle, tries to tell his story
The other addicts listen with attention and respect
Acknowledging the damage, grateful for the blessings
Striving for honesty and life without regret

Uncle Sam
Took an inventory
Made a little list of everyone he’d harmed
Uncle Sam
It took a lot of courage
To lay down his attitude and lower his arms

Now he sits in a circle, older but wiser
Tries to live these principles in all his affairs
Starting to realize that though he’s far from perfect
God will love him anyway and help him through his cares

Uncle Sam
Checked into rehab
Finally realized that there was something wrong
Uncle Sam
It took an intervention
For him to realize that there was something wrong…

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: TOWARDS AMERICAN RECOVERY

(My column for November 2018)

In the past few months, I’ve been trying to make the case that American society in the Age of Trump is very much like an addict – an addict that will soon be confronted with an existential decision: to recover or perish.

So what might that recovery look like?

The genius of the folks who developed “twelve-step” programs for alcoholics and other addicts beginning back in the 1930’s was simple. They saw that in order to recover, the addict couldn’t rely on his or her individual will alone, but needed to find something outside of themselves – they hit upon the term “higher power” – to which they could refer to help guide their decisions.

And the real genius was that they realized that it didn’t much matter exactly what that “higher power” was. It didn’t need to be a deity. In fact, it was better if the addict decided for himself or herself what it was, according to his or her own understanding. This avoided the need to reconcile oneself with someone else’s dogma or theology, and the possibility of destructive disputes or schisms. But th8s “higher power” did need to be something bigger than one’s self… something, in a sense, spiritual.

But if I were to say that the solution to America’s troubles is “spiritual” in nature, I fear that quite a few people would take me exactly the wrong way. The kind of spiritual solution of which I am thinking has absolutely nothing to do with posting monuments to the Ten Commandments, absolutely nothing to do with mandating prayer in the public schools or using the words “In God We Trust” – or, for that matter, with governments using public funds to support religious displays.

It has nothing to do with outward displays of religiosity at all.

It begins instead internally, with a strong dose of humility – a quality in short supply in the American national consciousness. It begins with an acknowledgment, an admission to ourselves that things have gotten out of control. Things are happening that seemingly exceed our ability to cope with them – from gun violence and opioid addiction to inequality and climate change.

To take even this first step would be a huge challenge for the American psyche, even in normal times. It runs completely counter to our treasured national narrative of “can-do” confidence, of “manifest destiny,” of shining cities on a hill.

That’s why this process won’t start – can’t start – until it absolutely has to.

But once it does start… then we will have to find what the term “higher power” means for us as a people. I don’t think that it’s God per se. Rather, it may be the set of values that we have always professed to believe in – things like equality, justice, fairness, freedom, responsibility – but have frequently failed to implement fully.

These qualities are not ours alone, of course. To rededicate ourselves to their service will also mean acknowledging that there is something beyond our own narrow perception of “national self-interest,” and that we are no longer some kind of final authority. Given our historical attitudes towards institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, this will also be a hard pill to swallow… but swallow it we must.

That is, if we wish to recover our collective soul.