Wednesday, September 05, 2007

In defense of reason

"The Republic of Letters is more ancient than monarchy, and of far higher character in the world than the vassal court of Britain; he that rebels against reason is a real rebel, but he that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny has a better title to 'Defender of the Faith' than George the Third." - Thomas Paine, American Crisis II

"The Republic of Letters" Paine referenced was the Enlightenment belief that self-government is made possible by reasoned communication; the "republic" thus consists of citizens taking part in a rational public discourse. It was from this idea that American democracy was born, and it is that idea that is now in danger.

So argues Al Gore in The Assault on Reason. (The introduction is available here.)

We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason—the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power—remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.

American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong.
The rest of the book is Gore's attempt to answer the following question:"Why do reason, logic, and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?"

Gore's central premise is that The Republic of Letters - the marketplace of ideas - has been replaced by a one way street: television.

Our Founders' faith in the viability of representative democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry, their ingenious design for checks and balances, and their belief that the rule of reason is the natural sovereign of a free people. The Founders took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas so that knowledge could flow freely. Thus they not only protected freedom of assembly, they made a special point—in the First Amendment—of protecting the freedom of the printing press. And yet today, almost 45 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers. Reading itself is in decline. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by the empire of television.
The use of tv commericials and polling data has led to voters consent being a commodity that can be manipulated and purchased according to Gore, with a subsequent disappearance of legitimate public discourse. He believes that the internet can possibly spark an intellectual revolution similar to what the printing press was able to accomplish, but that it must be protected so that it remains an open access commodity where knowledge is democratized.

As I read The Assault on Reason I typed up an outline of the general arguments, so my "review" of it is going to mostly just be me regurgitating the outline. Here we go.

Gore offers multiple factors for the decline of reason in public discourse, but the most looming cause that he sees in the central role that television has in our lives and the way that the marketplace of ideas has shrunk as a result of the concentration of the media in fewer and fewer hands. Under such circumstances, the marketplace of ideas is dissappearing and being replaced with a marketplace of products to be sold ... a commericialization of knowledge

The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas describes what has happened as “the refeudalization of the public sphere”. That may sound overly complex of obscure, but the phrase packs a lot of meaning. Feudalism, which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played almost no mediating role. The great masses of the people were denied acces to knowledge and, as a result, felt powerless.
Also, Gore delves into cognitive research into the way our brains process information, and believes that tv as a medium lends itself to demagogery

I believe that the vividness experienced in the reading of words is automatically modulated by the constant activation of the reasoning centers of the brain that are used in the process of cocreating the representation of reality the author has intended. By contrast, the visceral vividness of portrayed on television has the capacity to trigger instinctual responses similar to those triggered by reality itself – and without being modulated by logic reason, and reflective thought.
It should be no surprise that the current administration comes in for much criticism in contributing to the assault on reason. He explains that the Bush administration has used fear to short-circuit rational debate about the issues facing us as a nation. This is contrary to our national heritage, seeing as the founders understood fear perfectly well, yet established a Bill of Rights even after having fought a war in which their lives were at stake.

It was because fear was dominating our national discourse that almost 3/4 of America were led to believe that Saddam was behind 9/11 and it is why 40 percent of the country still thinks that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The press is supposed to have prevented that, but its failure to do so if further evidence that something is not right.

From here Gore goes into a description of neuroscience research on fear and then explains how tv can be used to generate vicarious fear experience that shortcuts reason by activating the emotional centers of the brain (see this excerpt - scroll past the interview - for more). He proposes to connect tv to the net to make it an interactive medium that involves the brain more.

He points out that the White House used fear-mongering to pursue a truly partisan agenda, listing as an egregious example of this Tom Delay using the Department of Homeland Security to track down Texas Democratic legislators who had fled the state to prevent a quorum in order to force redistricting. In part due to using a department supposed to catch terrorists to catch Democrats, Delay and Bush got 7 new Republican seats.

Gore views the absence of reason from the public sphere as opening the door to the mobilizing passions that are poisonous to democracy and the rule of law (I'm sure the reader will have an historical example come to mind)

If dogma and blind faith rush in to fill the vacuum left by reason’s departure, they allow for the exercise of new forms of power more arbitrary and less derived from the consent of the governed. In simple terms, when fear and anxiety play a larger role in our society, logic and reason play a diminished role in our collective decision making.

Unfortunately, the new expressions of power that surface in such circumstances often spring from the deep, posined wells of racism, ultranationalism, religious strife, anti-Semitisim, sexism, and homophobia, among others. And the passions thus mobilized are exploited most of all by those who claim divine authority to restore security and order.
But the absence of reason was not just exploited by the administration alone, no. There was also the noise machine

The progressive abandonment of concern for reason or evidence has required the administration to develop a highly effective propaganda machine with which it attempts to embed in the public mind mythologies that grow out of one central doctrine upon which all the special interests agree: government is very bad and should be done away with as much as possible - except the parts of it that redirect money through big congrtracts to industries that havewon their way in the inner circle.

This coalition gains access to the public through a cable of pundits, commentators, and "reporters" - call it the Limbaugh-Hannity-Drudge axis. This fifth cloumn in the fourth estate is made up of propagandists pretending to be journalists. Through multiple overlapping outlets covering radio, television, and the Internet, they relentlessly force-feed the American people right-wing talking points and ultra-conservative dogma disguised as news and infotainment - 24 hours a day, 7 days a wekk, 365 days a year. It is quite a spectacle.
What's more, Gore seems to have an understanding of the eliminationist current that runs through the conservative movement.

What is most troubling to me is the promotion of hatred as entertainment. Moreover, they [the conservative movement propagandists] have actively conspired to fan the flames of viscious hatred aimed at one group in particular: Americans with progressive political views. They speak of "liberals" with the kind of dripping contempt and virulent hostility that used to be associated with racism and sectarian strife. One of the best known right-wing commentators, Ann Coulter, advised her audience that she was in favor of executing an American citizen who had joined the taliban "in order to physically intimidate liberals by making them realize that they could be killed , too."
Gore then goes on to cite lawyer Edwin Viera's reference to the Stalin quote "death solves all problems: no man, no problem" in regards to "Satanic" Supreme Court Justices and Tom Delay's ambiguous threat of violence against judges (as backlash to the Schiavo affair.)

The emergence of an ultraconservative, antigovernment dogma that increasingly relies on the encouragement of mass hostility toward nonbelievers is an extremely troubling new development in America's public forum. As we've seen, it turns James Madison's prophesy on its head: A political faction has degenerated into a quasi-religious sect. It is a sect that sounds as if it believes America is in the early stages of an ideological civil war. It promotes its core beliefs as if they are impervious to reason. And it is is unleashing and encouraging ugly and violent impulses.
For readers that have been following along and/or reading Orcinus, that should sound quite familiar. It's nice to see this finally being said by someone with the prominence of Gore. But I digress ...

America, blinded by fear and left ignorant by a news media that did not inform them, did not even seem to notice the grave transformations that was changing the face of the nation.

The disclosure that our government had been cruelly and routinely torturing captured prisoners – and was continuing to do so as official policy – provoked surprisingly little public outcry, even though it threatened America’s values and moral authority in the world. Similarly, the disclosure that the executive branch had been conducting mass eavesdropping on American citizens without respecting the constitutional requirement that it obtain judicial warrants – and was continuing to do so – caused so little controversy that the Congress actually adopted legislation approving and affirming the practice. Yet this action threatened the integrity of the Bill of Rights, which is at the heart of America’s gift to humanity.
And a majority of Americans had endorsed attacking an illusory threat, seeing as Iraq did not attack us on 9/11. Gore finds it deeply troubling that so many Americans actually find President Bush's certainty even in the face of such adverse reality to be an admirable character trait

There are many people in both political parties who worry that there is something deeply troubling about President Bush’s relationship to reason, his disdain for facts, and his lack of curiousity about any new information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.

Yet Bush’s incuriousity and seeming immunity to doubt is sometimes interpreted by people who see and hear him on television as evidence of his conviction, even though it is this very inflexibility – this willful refusal even to entertain alternative opinions or conflicting evidence – that poses the most serious danger to our country.
Gore can not recall anyone questioning Bush's pronounced utopian goal to "rid the world of evil," nor did hardly anyone challenge the conflation of Bin Laden with Hussein. Using the language of religion and national security, Bush was able to bypass reason.

Anyone who questioned the President's assumption were accused of lacking patriotism or of supporting terrorism. Dissent was silenced within the Executive; General Shinseki and Major General John Batiste testified that anyone in the Pentagon who asked about postwar planning was threatened with being fired, and Gore finds it astonishing that the Iraq Survey Group actually had to recommend that the White house allow the military to speak with candor while giving honest recommendations without fear of retribution.

The CIA was under pressure to link Saddam and Al Qaeda under the threat of losing their jobs or promotion. Meanwhile, Bush had called the war on terror a "crusade" and General Boykins had stated that we are waging war with Satan, yet he was not fired for his remarks.

The entire enterprise was colored with deceit and deception, including the excuse that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the fault of "a few bad apples" when in fact it was the result of a top down "enhanced interrogation" program authorized at the highest levels of government. Bush has tried to fabricate reality in regards to Iraq as if reality is a "commodity that can be created and sold with clever propaganda and public relation skills."

Wondering if Bush believes his own bullshit, Gore states that is it difficult to know but quotes Orwell saying:

We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
Too true. But that hasn't stopped Bush yet.

Time and time again Gore sees reality giving away to illusion in the Bush administration: Iraq, climate change, budget surplus going from plus 5 trillion to minus 4 trillion all resulting from rejection of best available evidence in favor of accepting ideological premises.

Another factor that he identifies as being dangerous to democracy is the dogmatic and quasi-religious nature of the conservative movement.

I’ve alluded to James Madison’s warning .. that "a religious sect may degenerate into a political faction.” Now, with the radical Right, we have a political faction disguised as a religious sect, and the president of the United States is heading it. The obvious irony is that Bush uses a religious blind faith to hide what is actually an extremist political philosophy with a disdain for social justice that is anything but pious by the standards of any respected faith tradition I know.
It is from Bush's "rigid right-wing ideology" that his absolute certainty is derived, and Bush chooses policy in advance of the facts in order to benefit friends and supporters, and to enrich the wealthy.

Gore sees the conservative movement as a coalition of:
1. Economic royalists who want to eliminate their own taxation and remove regulatory obstacles. For them there is no such thing as public interest, laws and regulations are bad unless they serve the group which is why positions should be assigned to people who share their ideology. They want to eliminate the economic blueprint that established the middle class in 20th century. This group funds the think-tanks and foundantions that make up the noise machine.
2. Foreign policy hawks who believe they are waging an ideological war against dovish liberals in order to be able to put the United States military might to good use.
3. Fundamentalists who want to roll back the 20th century progressive and civil rights era

These three factions are united by the desire to turn the United States into an authoritarian banana republic.

What makes their zeal so dangerous to our country is their willingness to do serious damage to our American democracy in order to satisfy their lust for a one-party domination of all three branches of government and the enactment of dogma as policy.

They seek nothing less than absolute power. Their grand design is an all-powerful executive using a weakened legislature to fashion a compliant judiciary in its own image. They endeavor to break down the separation of pwers. And in place of the current system, they seek to establish a system in which power is unified in the service of a narrow set of interests.
Gore quotes Hannah Arendt as an answer to the above, “The only remedy against the misuse of public power by private individuals lie in the public realm itself, in the very light which exhibits each deed enacted within its boundaries, in the very visibility to which it exposes all those who enter it.”

The Bush administration seeks to eliminate this "only remedy" by cloaking the actions of the Executive in secret. Increasingly, these actions are designed to benefit a select few - the ultra wealthy who have the money necessary to win influence with our elected officials. Plutocracy is replacing democracy.

Members of Congress feel pressured to campaign year round to raise money, as the person with the most money and the best ads usually wins. As a result, we get wealth substituting reason with propaganda.

That leads to the following occurring:

The elimination of the estate tax (which effects the super rich) was viewed as a higher priority than health care for millions of poor Americans. The insult to intelligence which is Bush's "clear skies" iniative and the appointing of lobbyists to regulatory positions over their own industries and letting Ken Lay (of Enron) write national energy policy. Bush lets corporations write his policy. Halliburton's no bid contract even though Cheney was receiving payments from them until 05. Billions disappeared from Iraq with no record of where they went. Terrorism recommendations were rejected because special interests didn’t want to do them (chemical, port security, etc.)The Medicare bill was written by pharmaceutical companies. Et cetera.

This is also antithetical to the founding principles of the nation. The Founders worried about "monopolies of commerce" that Jefferson wanted to ban in the Bill of Rights, states Gore.

Moving on, Gore contrasts how the United States regulated radio with the fairness doctrine and public service requirements meant to ensure that radio remained a democratic medium versus totalitarian regimes who used radio to consolidate power, which then lead into Gore relating the history of p.r. starting with Edward Bernays and the art of mass persuasion, then points out Walter Lippman saying elites should use propaganda to “manufacture consent" and concludes that a shrinking number of media voices yielding increased power for those remaining is indeed contributing to the manufacture of consent in this country.

President Bush himself chooses policy in advance of reasoned discussion and then uses Lippman-eque strategies to market those decisions to the public with propaganda while ignoring and supressing facts. Gore points out here that the White House doesn't seem to care at all about forged documents being responsible for a falsehood - that led to the US going to war -stated before a billion people in the 2003 State of the Union address or the aluminum tubes claim used to sell the invasion also being complete bunk.

After the attack of 9/11 Rumsfield tried to link al Qaeda to Iraq and the day after Bush tried to get Richard Clarke to do the same even after being told that there was no link. The White House while marketing a war with Iraq propagated the myth of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda which 70 percent of the country ended up believing despite there being no such link.

According to Gore, either Bush and Cheney et all believed their lies or they flat out lied – in either case they aren’t fit to lead the nation.

Gore sees the same distortion of facts in other areas of policy; the suppression of info, phony news and paid pundits, and the fake journalist Jeff Gannon used to sell policy decided irrespective of reality. In order to accomplish this the administration must actively seek to curb democratic discourse.

Thankfully, though, blogs are starting to act as a check on an inaccurate and servile media, but they aren't the answer, at least not yet, given that the administration has succesively rolled back individual liberties without backlash.

President Bush declared for himself the right to throw Americans in prison by calling them “unlawful enemy combatants." Gore compares the situtation of those detained by the US as suspects of terrorism to Kafka's The Trial in which the accused's condition is almost comically arranged to assure his/her guilt.

In the name of pursuing terrorism, the administration has attacked civil liberties by spying on peaceful citizens, checking mail, violating FISA, etc.

However, none of this is necessary to combat terrorism, as Gore builds a case that 9/11 could have been prevented without breaking any laws, given that the information necessary to stop the plot was available but ignored. He cites the Markle Foundation analysis which found that better analysis of existed data -rather than increased data - would have led to the hijackers having been tracked and identified.

Gore points out the warnings of upcoming terrorism that were ignored. Ashcroft told the FBI that he didn’t want to hear any more about it, Director Pickard alleges. The CIA also worried and tried to warn, yet Codoleeza Rice blew them off.

Bush was shown the CIA report “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” Gore recounts how when Clinton received similar type warnings about the Olympics and other possible attacks they convened immediately meetings with agencies to discuss preparation measures. Gore states that this is what any “reasonable person” would do. In contrast, what did Bush do? He told the CIA officer who briefed him dismissively, “All right. You’ve covered your ass now.”

Not only does the Bush administration's approach to terrorism violate the human rights standards that the nation stands for, it's plain counter-productive.

Any policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the United Staets and recruits for al-Qaeda, but also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to the defeating terrorists who wish to harm and intimidate America. Instead of “dominance”, we should be seeking preeminence in a world where nations respect us and seek to follow our leadership and adopt our values.
Problems that need addressing through the sort of world effort that the current administration is undermining include:Global warming, world water crisis, global terrorism, global challenge of drugs and corruption, Hiv/AIDS and other pandemics.

America ignoring the rule of law and turning its back on international agreements gets in the way of dealing with the above issues and it is now imperative that the United States repair its standing in the world and improve global opinion of the U.S.

“The good opinion of mankind, like the lever of Archimedes, with the given fulcrum, moves the world.” - Thomas Jefferson

As I've already mentioned, the book is full of such quotes. Back to the text ...

Our moral authority is our greatest source of strength, and that is precisely what Bush has eroded:

In almost every policy area, the administration’s consistent goal has been to eliminate any constraints – whether by law, regulation, alliance or treaty – on their exercise of raw power. And in the process it has caused America to be seen by the other nations of the world as holding contempt and disdain for the international community.

The disdain that this administration demonstrates in its approach to all international agreements and treaties is similar to its contempt for rational debate based on reason and evidence in our national politics and public discourse. Rather than trusting that the international public forum can produce agreements that benefit all participants, the Bush-Cheney administration has an avowed foreign policy goal of unilateralism: Power is more important than compromise, and dominance is more important than international law.
The U.S. have weakened Article 51 of the U.N. charter making the world a more dangerous place.

We encouraged Afghans to fight the USSR in 80s, but abandoned them after and then the Taliban take root. We have now made the same mistake, diverting our attention from helping to build a democracy in Afghanistan to invading Iraq for ideological reasons.

The administration renounced the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty about which Hans Blix stated, “No single measure would today give greater encouragement to global arms control than an acceptance by all states of the Comprehensive Test Ban Tready.” Instead the administration wants more nuclear weapons – Gore calls this “utter madness” - which will potentialy spark a global arms race.

America announced first strike nuclear considerations – itself an incentive to other nations to procure nuclear weapons.

The U.S. weakened the Non Proliferation Treaty and failed to fund the Nunn-Lugar amendment which would have provided resources to secure loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union.

The U.S. violation of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty and nearing readiness to violate the Outer Space Treaty looks like an effort to military dominate space which in Gore's view should instead be something that allows the planet to set aside differences and work in unison towards new goals (think Star Trek ... that kind of vibe.)

Gore points out how the U.S. didn’t approve of China’s recent shooting down of a satellite, but our fiat is not a substitute for international law. 'Do as we say not as we do' is not law.

Furthermore, terrorists are not going to attack from outer space.

Bush was unwilling to endorse any new verification measures to support the Biological Weapons Convention. The U.S. worked towards sabotage the International Criminal Court instead of particpating in the global debate and leading the world to a beneficial agreement.

Gore says perhaps it is no surprise Bush is opposed to the ICC when he doesn't even want to comply with US laws, much less the Geneva conventions. Bush urged Congress for America to become the first country to repudiate the Geneva Conventions.

All of these unilateral acts have served to erode the good standing of the nation - Gore makes the analogy that this is as grave an error as turning the surplus into a deficit:

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, we had an enormous resvoir of goodwill and sympathy from all over the world. That has been squandered and replaced with great anxiety all around the world, not primarily about what the terrorists might do, but about what we might do. My point is not that other nations are right to feel that way, but that they do feel that way. Squandering all that goodwill and replacing it with anxiety is similar to what was done in turning a projected $5trillion surplus into a projected cumulative deficit of $4 trillion.
Worldwide terrorist attack increased fourfold in 2005. Iraq has been turned into central recruiting office for terrorists. The "war on terror" is not working.

Meanwhile, at Walter Reed medical facility nothing was done about the poor conditions injured soldiers were being subjected to until the Washington Post uncovered it – even though administration members had known. That alone should have lost the administration any ability whatsoever to dare to challenge anyone to "support the troops."

General Joseph Hoar, former head of the U.S. Marine Corps, told Congress, "I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss.” And General Zinni said we are “headed over Niagra Falls." The point is that Iraq is a disaster but the administration will not listen, much less, acknowledge reason and reality.

Instead of invading Iraq, we should have stayed in Afhganistan and worked towards building a democracy where the enemies who attacked us on 9/11 actually were. Gore recounts how he felt betrayed when we abandoned Kurds and Marsh Arabs after Gulf War, and feels we have done something similar to the people of Afghanistan.

Gore spoke against Saddam Hussein in 1988 after he used poison gas became the first to break the taboo that had stood since World War I (Bush/Reagan supported him then.) He contrasts the differences between then and now, including that the Gulf War coalition paid for most of the war, instead now America paid for it. Actually, the middle class paid for it, since Bush cut taxes for the super rich.

Bush campaigned basically on the premiese of “give me an AUMF or we’ll die” in 2002 so he could invade Iraq. Needless to say, Gore considers this to be a blatant attempt to use fear to circumvent democratic debate.

Rumsfield shut down a program at the U.S. Army War College that was focused on post-invasion stabilization and blackballed State Department officials planning nation building for the occupation. The administration believed that if it stuck its head in the sand the reality of having to deal with such matters would magically disappear.

The Founders understood human nature and wanted to use reason to rule rather than authoritarian fiat. They implemented checks and balances to prevent too much power concentrating in too few hands, for concentration of power reduces the space for deliberative reason. They understood that war presidents can gather more power which is part of why they gave Congress the sole authority to authorize war. Congress should not have vested its war powers with Bush.

I am convinced that our Founders would counsel us today that one of the greatest challenges facing our Republic, in addition to terrorism, as serious as that threat is – is how we react to terrorism and how we manage our fears and achieve security without losing our freedom. I am also convinced that they would warn us that democracy itself is in grave danger if we allow any president to use his role as commander in chief to rupture the careful balance between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
The Founders knew that democracy ended in Rome when Caesar marched back across the Rubicon still in command of the army. Bush has symbolically done the same, declaring that we are at war for the rest of our lives, with Bush even militarizing domestic law enforcement, turning the NSA against the USA and saying his powers to pursue terrorists apply to US citizens, essentially declaring the Constitution null and void.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our gov’t. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a gov’t of laws and not men. Indeed,they recognized that the structure of gov’t they had enshrined in our constitution – our system of checks and balances – was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: “The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a governmentt of laws and not of men.”
The rule of law has been overturned by Bush's use of signing statements. Bush negotiated passage of laws by allowing certain amendments to be passed, while then issuing signing statements asserting his right to ignore those very amendments rather than have to veto the law and face Congressional challenge.

Bush has packed the judiciary with loyalists and avoids letting it rule whenever he is not confident he’ll get the decision he wants.

Republicans in Congress are now threatening to end the judiciary’s independence. The extremist fundamentalist Tony Perkins met with politicians and discussed defundng courts they don’t like. Gore quotes a former Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, “There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary.”

Gore answers that with a quote from Alexander Hamilton:

The independence of judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the people themselves, and which, though they speedily give place to better information, and more deliberate reflection, have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious opporessions of the minor party in the community.
In addition, the Federalist Society has attacked the judiciary and sought to expand the power of the executive. This is being done with funding from the right-wing Olin, Bradley, Scafe, and Koch foundations.

Congress has addicated its role and elections are now almost formality. Money is more important than the voters. Democracy is in danger.

"If democracy doesn’t work, people become cynical and lose confidence in the ability of the system to meet their needs and desires. What happens when a generation is raised that lacks the confidence in our democratic system?" [I put quotes around that, but I'm not sure if that is what Gore wrote or that was me summarizing his argument, my notes are unclear on that and its been too long since I read the book.]

At any rate, Gore explains

Our political system today does not engage the best minds in our country to help us get the answers and deploy the resources we need to move into the future. Bringing these people in – with their networks of influence, their knowledge, and their resources – is the key to creating the capacity for shared intelligence that we need to solve the problems we face, before it’s too late. Our goal must be to find a new way of unleashing our collective intelligence in the same way that markets have unleashed our collective productivity. “We the people” must reclaim and revitalize the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving our constitution.”
Better education is necessary but not sufficient. Well educated people can fall into ideology - the 20th century taught us that. We must have democratic discouse, citizens must be able to input into conversation. Towards that goal Gore offers the following suggestions:
- We should have real debates in Congress, and they should be scheduled in prime time
- Limit campaign contributions, increase public financing of campaigns and the transparency in funding.
- Protect net neutrality from an encroaching cable duopoly.

Gore concludes that, “The rule of reason is the true sovereign in the American system," and continues:

The question before us could be of no greater moment: Will we continue to live as a people under the rule of law as embodied in our Constitution? Or will we fail future generations by leaving them a Constitution far diminished from the charter of liberty we have inherited from our forebears? Our choice is clear.


Anonymous said...

Good long post & I'll want to re-read it because there's so much in it.

Just for now though, a comment on the transparency of government & media coverage...

I am so sick of the "mere reportage" of the corporate media. "Today in a press hearing, President Bush declared that pigs have wings and fly." And no reporter will challenge any of these statements-- they're all a bunch of yes-men.

Maybe I am not remembering correctly, but I do seem to recall there was a time when (some?) reporters DID challenge their interviewees when discrepansies were found. I was a teenager then but I don't recall the media being like that then (in the mid & late 80s).

Contrast today's media with (for example) New Zealand National Radio (which I've listened to online for a couple years now, and while I was living in NZ as well): These reporters are stubborn as hell, and they refuse to take an evasive answer as an end of the matter. If they have to, they'll back a politician into the corner (liberal or conservative) only to show to listeners that the interviewee in question IS being evasive.

The NZ media is impressive becasue they won't let these bastards get away with ANYTHING. And they need to be watched. Its what we need here in the US. Because if we don't have anyone watching, then they will go to the furthest limit they can to grabbing power for themselves & f*ck everyone else.

And that's exactly what we have today, here in the US. Creeping fascism.

Hume's Ghost said...

I would hazard the guess that media standards were indeed higher in the 80s as the precipitous decline in the diversity of media ownership was just getting started.

In the early 80s about 50 corporations owned the majority of media holdings. Today its around 4 to 5 corporations that own just about everything.

The press in Britain is a lot tougher than ours, also. I recall watching Tony Blair face some blistering questioning after the Downing Street memo was leaked, yet our press never even made a story out of documents that indicated the WH had fabricated a case for war ... itself an impeachable offense.

AxeTheTax./ WatchKeeper said...

I do not pretend to understand American Politics for one moment. But there is one thing that does amaze me.
Just how do you American TaxPayers manage to pay that enormous amount of Taxation every year?
You spend Billions and Billions of $Dollars every year on projects and campaigns that to my small mind, the TaxPayer should never fund.

To that end, I am suggesting that in Gt. Britain, the TaxPayer takes control of Taxation, using Technology and e-transfer. Then take advantage of the Parish and Town Councils to establish a system of Public Service Funding based on essential Services only.
Welfare and Social Benefits are a cause of a multi Billion £Pound fraud in the UK and must be abandoned by Central Government. By reducing them to the smallest possible, Legal Grouping, Parish Council, you can eliminate Fraud completely. My URL. is -:
There are three different blogs posted there, have a look, I know that in the UK, the Law could not prevent any TaxPayer from choosing to remove his income from the system of Taxation and setting up an alternative with the express intention of reducing his payments to a minimum. Regards ATFlynn.