Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- December 2, 2008

Act Two: The Struggle Continues

Ernest Partridge, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers

Barack Obama is President-Elect, the Democrats have significantly increased their majorities in Congress, the Supreme Court drift to the right has been halted and may soon be reversed, and the Republican Party is in disgrace and disarray.

So is it time, at last, for the Obamaphiles to retire from politics, return to their private lives, and just let Barack be Barack?

If that is to be the prevailing attitude among the millions of ordinary citizens who fell into line and powered the Obama bandwagon to victory last month, then the drive to restore our Constitution and to reestablish economic justice and the rule of law will stall, and the “change we can believe in” will prove to be an empty promise.

For while the right wing oligarchy has been set back by the Obama victory, it has not been defeated. The public-relations/media/think-tank juggernaut that bedeviled and crippled the Clinton presidency is still intact and in operation. The regressive ideology has been repudiated for the moment, but the regressives still have the resources to restore it.

It has happened before. Even though Barry Goldwater was trounced by LBJ in 1964, 60/40 in the popular vote, four years later Richard Nixon reclaimed the White House for the GOP. Bill Clinton’s 1992 triumph was crippled just two years later, when Newt Gingrich engineered a Republican take-over of the Congress, followed by the unrelenting harassment and eventual impeachment of Clinton.

A regressive resurgence? It has happened before, and it will happen again, unless a broad-based and persistent progressive movement consigns regressivism to the dustbin of history.

This is a battle that must be waged on many fronts. Here are just five of them:

Election Reform

The incoming Obama administration will put an end to the massive Justice Department campaign to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters, and this welcome development will substantially enhance the prospects of future Democratic candidates.

But the larger problem of election fraud by the private electronic voting industry remains.

On its face, the continuing use of direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines is absurd and indefensible in a nation claiming to be democratic. The crux of this scandal is compellingly simple: these machines, built and programmed by politically biased private individuals, use secret software and are designed to allow no independent audit of their accuracy.  Similarly, the computers that compile (add up) the separate vote totals operate with secret software and report election returns that can not be independently verified.  Thus there is no direct means to determine whether or not the reported vote totals are the same as the votes actually cast. However, there is an abundance of indirect statistical, anecdotal and empirical evidence that DRE machines have stolen elections, most significantly the presidential election of 2004. (For references, see my “Election 2008: Who Decides? The People or the Programmers?” and follow the links.)

Despite this evidence, the corporate media and the Democratic Party have expressed virtually no concern whatever about a technology that has quite probably robbed the Democrats of several congressional and at least one presidential election.

Will the next Congress revisit the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA) and mandate independent verification of election returns and the publication of computer source codes? Given the lack of interest in the issue to date, the prospects are not promising. And yet, if the congressional Democrats were to propose such legislation, they would have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Accurate or not (and again, who knows?) widespread doubts about “black box” DRE voting machines have eroded public confidence in election results, and with the loss of confidence comes a loss in the legitimacy of public offices and legislation.

Draft legislation to require verifiable voting methods would put the onus of doubt upon those who opposed it. How could a legislator justify opposition to verifiable elections. Expense?  But electronic voting is more costly by far than paper ballots.

Election reform, including the abolition of secret source codes and non-auditable voting machines, is a no-brainer. The public deserves nothing less.

The Media Problem

In the presidential campaign just completed, Barack Obama was treated much more fairly by the corporate media than were Al Gore (“inventing the internet”) and John Kerry (“Swift Boat Vets”). The Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers issues, though hammered repeatedly by the GOP, were not amplified by the media. Perhaps, with the major economic storm gathering, the owners and managers of the media conglomerates figured that the nation’s economy would be better managed by grown-ups, even if they were of “that other party,” than by self-confessed economic ignoramuses.

But now, with the election over, the corporate media have reverted to form. Once again, Republicans and conservatives greatly outnumber liberal Democrats on the Sunday TV gab-fests. And, once again, GOP talking points are being repeated endlessly, in particular the meme that “this is a center-right nation,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary from polling and the election.

Media fact-checking continues its extended leave of absence. Case-in-point: the oft-repeated viral falsehood that the average auto worker earns $70 an hour. This figure is reached by including, as part of a worker’s compensation, payments to retirees and their survivors. In fact, the average auto worker earns $28 an hour, plus health and retirement benefits, which raise that figure to about $40.

This is the same mass media which, for a long time, convinced a majority of Americans that Saddam Hussein (a) had weapons of mass destruction, (b) was in league with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and (c) was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

I will not extend this list of transgressions by the corporate media. (But visit mediamatters.org and see my “The Wayward Media”). Suffice to say, that at long last the public is beginning to wise-up -- “fool me once” and all that. So-called “mainstream media news” is losing its audience along with its credibility, as more and more of the public turns to the internet and to independent and foreign sources for news.

The GOP is well aware of the damage that it has suffered at the hands of a free internet, and thus open access to the internet might not have survived a McCain/Palin victory last month. Fortunately, that concern has been lifted. The free internet will be safe during the administration of Barack Obama, who is presumably well aware that he owes his office to the internet.

With this media resource thus secured, the liberal and progressive communities must continue to use the internet to exert constant pressure on the President to keep to his promises. He might, in fact, welcome that pressure. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s reported plea to a supporter might apply as well to Barack Obama: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.”

Containing the Military-Industrial Complex

During the presidential campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama spoke repeatedly of the need to cut government expenses. But somehow, the very idea of trimming the military budget never came up. In fact, McCain stated explicitly that the Defense budget was not to be touched.

In fact, the military budget might be cut at least in half with no significant effect on our defense capabilities, except perhaps to improve those capabilities. For the $300 billion plus in annual savings might then be invested in education, in physical infrastructure, and in the restoration of our industrial base, all of which are the foundations of national security.

Instead, we are now building a tenth aircraft carrier (the George H. W. Bush) at a cost of $4.5 billion, to fight an enemy without a navy. And we pay $368 million each for the F-22 fighter (that’s three for more than a billion) to fight an enemy without an air force. The United States military budget exceeds that of all the other countries of the world combined, including of course all of our allies.

All this in a country that is, effectively, bankrupt and in desperate need of cash to prop up a collapsing economy.

How is this possible? Simply because the military-industrial complex (MIC) effectively owns the Congress. What the MIC wants, the MIC gets. It has accomplished this control through the ingenious expedient of placing military sub-contractors in virtually each and every congressional district. Thus budget cuts threaten local jobs, thence Congressional seats.

With this kind of political control, I submit that the MIC simply cannot be stopped. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it can be re-directed by expanding the scope of “defense.”

In the fifties, when the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, the Eisenhower administration successfully urged Congress to appropriate funds to higher education. The name of the program? “The National Defense Education Act.” At about the same time, the interstate highway system was approved, “for national defense.” Both projects were worthy in their own right, but to sell them to the Congress and the public, the magic moniker “defense” was added.

Today, our national security is endangered by a substandard system of education, by the lack of high speed mass transit, by an aging physical infrastructure, and most of all by dependence upon foreign sources of oil. Under the rubric of “national defense,” at least half of the existing military-industrial complex might be converted to research, development and manufacture of these acutely needed national assets. For example, the same technologies that produce rocket bodies and air frames could produce state-of-the-art railroad cars. All this could be done, for the most part, without moving facilities out of key congressional districts, and with the loss of few workers – indeed, this conversion would doubtlessly create more jobs.

Impossible? Impractical? On the contrary. Consider the conversion of the American economy to war production in 1942, and then back to consumer goods in 1945. All that is required this time is public support, political will, and the inspiring leadership of a new president.

Restoring the Rule of Law

Under the Bush/Cheney regime, almost all of the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights were effectively scrapped (the Second Amendment excepted of course). International treaties, which have the status of law, were violated. Habeas corpus, an eight-hundred year old right of citizenship, explicitly mandated in the Constitution, was casually set aside. Under the guise of “signing statements,” George Bush announced his intention to ignore acts of Congress at will.

In effect, the status of ordinary Americans was transformed from that of citizens to subjects of the arbitrary exercise of executive power.

Yet the erosion of the rule of law was scarcely mentioned in the presidential campaign.

The new President, a former professor of constitutional law, must announce clearly, unequivocally and immediately that the rule of law has been restored to the United States. He must demand the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and the Military Commissions Act, and he must, as promised, close down the Guantanamo facility. And he must announce that violations of the law by any members of his administration will result in prosecutions and punishments to the full extent of the law.

It should go without saying, that as citizens of the United States, we are all entitled to the protection of the rule of law. And yet, tragically, after eight years under an outlaw regime, this entitlement must now be demanded, persistently, until all our citizen rights and the rule of law have been fully and securely restored.

The restoration of the rule of law raises a daunting question: What is to be done with the outlaws who have occupied high offices since January, 2001? Will George Bush summarily pardon the culprits, including perhaps himself? If so, what then?

Full pardon and comfortable retirements for all the malefactors will be an affront to justice from which our legal system and our body politic may never fully recover. For we will then have set a precedent of crimes and misdemeanors in high office without accountability.

Barack Obama has had little to say about how he might deal with the crimes of his predecessors. Perhaps he is prudent to withhold comment before he takes office. He needs to know, as do we all, just what Bush might do in his final days in office. In addition, it might be wise first to accumulate additional evidence of malfeasance before taking action.

So it is probably too early to tell just what to do with the criminals of the Bush/Cheney regime. The facts must first come forth and events must play themselves out.

But somehow, sometime, the criminals must be held accountable for their crimes against the state and against the American people. For if not, what assurances do we have that they will not be repeated?

A Progressive Capture of the Democratic Party

For most progressives, the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils. So much so that many progressives could not bring themselves to vote for the Democratic candidate, and so they either abstained or voted for a minor candidate.

I count myself among those who are extremely dissatisfied with the Democratic Party. The dismally low public opinion of the Democratic Congress, which has approval ratings lower even than those of Bush and Cheney, is well-deserved.

What to do?

One option is to support a minor party, such as the Greens. However, history offers little encouragement. Throughout the history of the United States, only one minor party, the Republicans in the 1850s, grew to major status.

The better course of action is to capture an established party – the Democrats, of course -- and then to transform it into an instrument of progressive change. Unlike the minor parties, the Democrats have financial and organizational resources at hand.

To this end, progressives should begin immediately to target “blue dog” (conservative) Democrats in Congress. These “DINOs” (Democrats in name only) must put on notice that if they fail to support progressive legislation in Congress, they will be opposed in the primaries.

Progressives should also get involved in local Democratic Party politics, where they might have voice in the nomination of candidates. In this respect, the progressives can learn a few lessons from the religious right, which succeeded in capturing the GOP.

Barack Obama’s nation-wide “organized community” of volunteers that played a decisive role in the recent election, should be kept intact and active, yet separate from the Democratic party. (Similar to the autonomy of “Move On,” “People for the American Way,” and other political interest groups).

In short, the Democratic Party establishment must be shown that there is a price to be paid for ignoring the issues, proposals and objectives of the progressive left.

This past week, I was reminded by several retrospective broadcasts of the euphoria that broke out at home and abroad over the election of Barack Obama. It was a celebration of “audacious hope.” We must never forget that moment, and we must see to it that President Obama does not forget it.

Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge

Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications

Conscience of a Progressive:  A book in progress. 

Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".   His e-mail is: gadfly@igc.org .




Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .