Saturday, April 23, 2005

Hal O'Boyle

Hal O'Boyle is a resident libertarian in our community. (You may say he's a dreamer, but he's not the only one.) Hal writes a weekly column in Key West the Newspaper -- the blue paper -- and posts his columns at his web blog sometime later.

I read this column contemporaneous with its appearance in the paper in March, but lost track of it until recently. It is supportive of my belief that there is a real estate bubble out there, so naturally I think it's brilliant, well-written, and right on point.

I don't always agree with Hal, but I do admire his ability to write clearly and passionately about things.

Similarly, Dr. mark Whiteside is an eloquent commentator from the other end of the philosophical spectrum. Since his medium is Solares Hill, and because that paper is published as a PDF file, I'm taking the liberty to reproduce his latest offering here. It won't be available on line after next week's Solares Hill publishes.

"Democracy on the Ropes
by Mark Whiteside, M.D.

Democracy is defined as government by the people, especially rule by the majority, either directly or indirectly by representation. In the last U.S. presidential election, G.W. Bush won 51 percent of the voting population that was 60 percent of the eligible voters ? in other words he won approval of 31 percent of the eligible voters compared to John Kerry?s 29 percent. You had a choice between the two richest candidates in U.S. history, both from a Yale Skull and Bones background. Bush and Kerry were both sponsored by large corporations and special interest groups who had the money and media access to purchase and advertise their candidates.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is the most influential of all the private policy planning groups in the United States. In the last presidential election, both Bush and Kerry drew most of their backers and advisors from this organization. The CFR had already decided that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was not going to be a subject for debate, since the geopolitical stakes were considered too high. Thus, both presidential candidates offered their vague and only slightly differing versions of staying the course in Iraq. It wasn?t a decision left to the candidates or the American people. The poster child for a candidate outside the mainstream who was left in the dust was Howard Dean, whose antiwar campaign was crushed by CFR-linked media corporations.

The majority of Americans opposed to a foreign war based on false premises and which remains unconstitutional (the war was authorized by Congress only if Iraq posed an imminent threat), ended up without a major candidate who represented their views. Most of the people I know voted not so much for one of the candidates but against the other. So we the people, not consulted or represented in matters of war and peace, no longer decide the cause or dare stand up against it in protest. Our leaders strive to carry out actions divorced from the will of the people, using increasingly desperate strategies of deceit and persuasion. In a true democracy the most important issues that affect our lives remain open for debate.

In his book ?Democracy Matters,? author Cornell West identifies the rise of three dominating dogmas that pose the greatest threat to our democracy. These dogmas, promoted by the most powerful forces in the world, include free market fundamentalism, the aggressive militarism that characterizes U.S. imperial policies, and escalating authoritarianism at home. The glorification of the free market has led to the illicit marriage of corporate and political elites.

The free market in the form of crony capitalism is antithetical to democracy. Powerful corporations are delegated magical powers of salvation rather than the democratic scrutiny of their business practices and treatment of workers. The overwhelming power and
influence of corporate giants terrorize strapped workers and render politicians deferential to goals of profit, often at the cost of the common good. Corporations were designed to be our servants, not our masters.

Multinational corporations by definition owe no allegiance to sovereign nations or democratic principles. Free market fundamentalism leads to an obscene level of wealth inequality, along with its corollary of intensified class hostility and hatred. It redefines what we should be striving for in life, glamorizing materialistic gain, personal pleasure and pursuit of individual aims isolated from the larger community. It promotes the pervasive sleepwalking of the population, who see that the false prophets are richly rewarded with money, status and access to more power. Freedom is reduced to pursuing wealth and narcissistic pleasures. A democratic nation does not exist to hog the world?s resources. A profit-driven vision is sucking the life out of American democracy.

Free market fundamentalism would have you believe that global unrestrained capitalism is the eighth wonder of the world; that there should be no interference with the wisdom of the free market. Unfortunately, the free market has no wisdom. It allows all practices to compete to see who comes out on top. It results in the strong
preying on the weak and takes no responsibility for the consequences.

Unbridled capitalism, the handmaiden of environmental degradation, has become a runaway process no longer amenable to control. A democracy promotes those things that are beneficial to society based on scientific principles and universal truths. It relies on a system of checks and balances with defined legal boundaries. The second prevailing dogma of our time is the
aggressive militarism in which the policy of preemptive strikes against potential enemies is but an extension. This dogma suggests that might makes right, a world in which the country with the biggest and deadliest weapons must be the most moral and masculine, thus worthy of policing everyone else.

In practice it takes the form of threat or use of military force over diplomacy, unilateral intervention, colonial invasion and armed occupation abroad. It has spawned a foreign policy that shuns multilateral cooperation of nations and undermines international laws and agreements. The use of naked force to resolve conflict often backfires. The arrogant hubris that usually accompanies this use of force tends to lead to instability and destruction in the regions where we have sought to impose our will. It guarantees perpetual war and resorting to the immoral and base manner of settling conflict in the manner of the sick and cowardly terrorism that it claims to combat. It allows political elites, often against the will of the
people, to sacrifice American soldiers in adventurous crusades. The moral certitude of our leaders excuses the loss of human life and barbaric treatment of prisoners.

The third prevailing dogma that threatens U.S. democracy is escalating authoritarianism. This dogma is rooted in our fear of terrorism, our traditional fear of too many liberties, and our isolation and distrust of one another. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 increased the credulity of the American public and gullibility to seize more power, spend more money and violate more rights. The Patriot Act is the tip of an iceberg that has widened the scope of the repression of our hard-earned rights and hard-fought liberties. Fear of terrorism has provided the excuse for moving beyond democratic constraints and abrogating international protocols.

Since 9/11 the executive branch of government has further consolidated its powers to the level of virtual dictatorship. It has used executive order and wartime powers to crush dissent in Congress and among the American public. Today the system of checks and balances is threatened by single party dominance of all three branches of government. The Founding Fathers were determined to create a system of government with safeguards to protect ordinary citizens. The Bill of Rights in particular sought to secure American freedom by imposing binding limits in perpetuity on government power. The loosening of legal protection and closing of meaningful oversight of government is rationalized by the myopic view that safety trumps liberty and security dictates the boundaries of freedom.

Our current system of democracy is broken as we have moved from republic to empire.We already live in a post-democratic age in which the very democratic rhetoric of an imperial America hides the waning of a democratic America. The question is can we win democracy back given the overwhelming power of these dominant dogmas that fuel imperial America? If not, the United States will surely go the way of the empires that came before us.We will suffer what Chalmers Johnson calls the sorrows of empire; i.e. endless war, loss of democracy and constitutional rights, truthfulness replaced by propaganda and finally bankruptcy, as we pour our resources into every more grandiose schemes of global domination, and short-change the education, health and safety of our citizens.

A democratic awakening is not without precedent in this country. During the Gilded Age, the late 19th century period dominated by the robber barons and forgettable presidents, there was a huge gap between rich and poor, terrible insecurity of the middle and working class, wholesale political corruption, corporate thievery and an executive branch dedicated to helping the rich get richer. Sound familiar? Fortunately the pendulum would swing back and a nationwide movement of citizens, fed up with corporate excess and greed, rebelled and took action. Legislation was passed limiting work hours, improving work conditions, bringing government regulation to food and drug production and taxing the wealthy. The Progressive Era committed millions to the notion that we are one country rather than two.

According to Cornell West, three crucial traditions fuel the democratic energies that will be needed to take back our country from the imperial elites. The first tradition is the Socratic questioning that requires rigorous self-examination as well as critique of authority, motivated by intellectual integrity and moral consistency. This tradition is characterized by fearless speech that unsettles, unnerves and awakens people from their uncritical sleepwalking. The weapon of truth is essential in these times of rampant sophistry on the part of our politicians and their media pundits. The second tradition is prophetic commitment to justice, central to all of the great religions of the world. Prophetic witness calls attention to and addresses unjust causes of human suffering and unnecessary social misery. The final tradition is tragicomic hope: the ability to stare painful truths in the face and persevere without cynicism or despair.

Our founding fathers understood that democracy was a work in progress, a system subject to manipulation, and one where eternal vigilance was necessary. They understood that freedom was not the freedom to do as you please, but the freedom to do as you ought. Freedom and virtue were considered the same. Samuel Adams said, ?We may look to armies for our defense but virtue is our best security. It is not possible that any state should remain free where virtue is not supremely honored.? Jefferson believed that the tree of liberty needed to be nourished by the blood of revolution from time to time.

Benjamin Franklin saw our future most clearly in 1787, when he urged the convention to accept the new constitution, despite its faults. He said, ?This form of government is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.? I hope and pray that we prove Mr. Franklin wrong.

True reform becomes possible only if we are willing to return to the root of our democratic experience. To this end we must wake up from our collective sleepwalk, confront our comforting illusions and break out of our self-absorbed lives. There can be no democracy without active participation of its citizens. You don?t hear the term posterity much these days; perhaps that is because we are mortgaging our children?s future. We must put on our democratic armor if we are to resurrect the legacy of Jefferson and Madison and combat the antidemocratic trends so prevalent today.

If we lose our precious democratic experiment, let it be said that we went down swinging, so that our children and the rest of the world will remember our gallant efforts.

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