Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Monday, November 17, 2008

10 Goals for the Obama Administration

I struggled with the title of this piece. I was going to call it "10 things I expect from the Obama administration," but I don't actually believe Obama will do even half of these. Nevertheless, they are all vital to the health of our nation and necessary if we are going to truly get on the right track. I considered calling it "10 things the Obama administration should do," but that minimizes the necessity of these steps. I considered calling it "10 things the Obama administration must do," but in reality, many of these things will probably not be accomplished in eight years. Nevertheless, they are the direction we must be moving.

This is my personal manifesto on the most important goals for our nation. As you read this opinion piece, remember, I don’t believe I'm asking for too much. I'm demanding the minimum I believe we all deserve from our leaders. The fact that many of these goals seem far off and nearly impossible for Obama to achieve is only evidence of how badly our previous leaders have failed us. I’m not saying these will be easy for Obama, or that he will achieve them. I’m saying they need to be goals he has clearly in sight and he must work persistently toward them.

  1. Restore our Constitution. After eight years of the Bush administration, I don’t recognize this country anymore. We’ve seen things happen that I didn’t think could ever happen in America --- very bad things.

    We’ve seen the probable theft of two elections. We’ve seen people arrested and held without due process of law and without their right of habeas corpus. We’ve seen a mockery made of our right to peaceably assemble, with protestors being confined to fenced-in “free speech zones” that look a lot like makeshift prisons. We’ve seen the phones of American citizens bugged, dissidents and journalists harassed and arrested.

    We’ve seen the Patriot Act attempt to codify many of these abuses into law, although a sane Supreme Court (which we don’t have right now) could not help but find some of its provisions unconstitutional. We’ve seen the president assert a right to dictator-like executive powers and make preparations that would allow him to declare martial law and deploy the national guard against American citizens.

    Those of us who have been paying attention to real events not necessarily reported by the corporate media have seen those things, anyway.

    We need action to restore the Constitution in the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

    We need a resounding return to the rule of law. We need Obama to give up the excessive executive powers claimed by Bush. We need an immediate legislative review of all national security legislation enacted during the Bush administration with a strict eye to restoring the Bill of Rights and the checks and balances in the Constitution.

    We need an end to the nonsense about sacrificing our liberties for national security. Without our liberties, where is our nation? The truly valuable aspects of America only ever existed as revolutionary ideas about liberty and human rights in the first place. Without those ideas, America has nothing much of real value to offer the world. There is no law higher or more sacred in America than the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. We need to affirm that, cherish it, restore it, and uphold it.

    Is the Constitution perfect? No. It certainly wasn’t when first enacted and, though amendments have vastly improved it, it isn’t perfect now. I can certainly see the need for additional amendments to spell out the right of each citizen to vote and have their vote counted accurately, the equality of rights for all citizens, and the facts that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. But those potential amendments largely fall into the category of “spelling things out for people who are too dim to get it and have obviously been tragically deprived of the use of a good dictionary, unfortunately including some Supreme Court Justices.”

    Even in the imperfect state where it stands, the Constitution is the highest law of the land and a good basis for our society. Nobody should be above that law, including the president.

    If you agree that restoring the Constitution must be step 1, please sign People for the American Way’s petition.

  2. Kick the lobbyists out of Washington. Ask yourself how we got into this mess, how we got so far off track, how government officials stopped serving the public they are supposed to represent. If you think about it for long and you know how Washington works, you can’t help eventually coming to the conclusion that much of the fault lies with corporate lobbyists who are allowed by current laws to essentially bribe our elected representatives to do whatever suits their corporate clients.

    Lobbyists have far more access to our elected representatives than we do. Much of the legislation enacted by Washington is written by them. Campaigns are funded by them, with the clear expectation of a return on the investment once the candidate gets elected. Lobbying firms promise well-heeled clients access to our representatives, and they can promise that because they can get it.

    Former lobbyists go to work for elected officials. Former elected officials and their staff members go to work for lobbying firms. The closeness is incestuous, and it’s destroying our democracy.

    Obama made a major campaign promise to clean up this mess. He needs to do that with real reforms, not just the appearance of reform.

  3. Guarantee election integrity. In 2000, the Supreme Court prevented Florida from having a meaningful recount so the theoretically impartial Court could throw the election to their preferred candidate. In 2004, systematic voter suppression resulted in legitimate voters being thrown off voter rolls or prevented from registering, as well as absurdly long lines in Democratic precincts in Ohio. In addition, there was probably voting machine tampering in several key states.

    In both cases, the election seems almost certainly to have gone to the wrong candidate. Together, these two election thefts resulted in the disaster that was our eight year long national nightmare of the Bush administration. We are in the horrible mess we’re in now because of depredation by a president who was most likely never legitimately elected --- in America, a country which prides itself on its democracy.

    We must never allow another election theft.

    To date, there is no nationwide voting system. The task of holding elections has been left up to states and municipalities by the Constitution. This is probably as it should be, since it prevents nationwide implementation of a fraudulent system just as much as it prevents nationwide implementation of a good system. I think, however, that it is time for some national guidelines on the minimum requirements for reliable, transparent elections.

    If voting machines are to be used, they must allow the voter to vote on paper and the paper ballot must be saved in case of a recount. In case of a discrepancy, the paper ballot must be the official record, which means the paper ballots must be carefully guarded and preserved. Ballots may be counted by a machine, such as in an optical scan system, but there must be a way to verify that the counting is done correctly, otherwise the count can be changed within the machine and you’d never know it unless a manual count of the paper ballots is done.

    The best way to allow verification that the counting algorithm is working correctly is to disallow proprietary source code and require open source code that can be inspected by interested parties. Proprietary source code means that a private company can keep the method they use for counting votes secret. The danger of privatization of our elections is illustrated by the incident with the chief executive of Diebold, Walden O’Dell, who in 2003 pledged to deliver Ohio to Bush. Diebold keeps its source code secret, so this could have easily been accomplished using an algorithm that would switch votes within the computer.

    Open Voting Consortium is on the forefront of developing open source, voter verifiable voting systems. They should be sought out for their input on voting system implementation.

    Citizens over 18 must be allowed to vote.

    There need to be some stiff penalties created to punish people who deliberately prevent voter registration, purge voter rolls, and try to suppress the vote. Voting rights laws need to be given some teeth so that crimes involving voter suppression are actually punished. The right to vote can be guaranteed nationwide, and the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened.

    Some citizens have trouble getting to the polls on election day because they must work. We should make it easy to vote by allowing early voting nationwide. Other measures to encourage participation should also be considered.

    Of course there need to be safeguards to ensure that each citizen only votes once, but such safeguards must be implemented without suppressing the vote. Checking to make sure that new registrations are for real people who are citizens over 18 and then having some sort of poll book system that prevents voting twice should be sufficient to prevent fraud by ballot stuffing. Some groups have sought to suppress legitimate voting under the guise of “preventing voter fraud.” This kind of anti-democratic activity must not be tolerated.

    America’s highest value is democracy. We must live up to that ideal by actively encouraging all citizens to vote. Deliberate interference with the democratic process must be punished as the worst kind of crime.

  4. Stop the war profiteering. If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the past eight years, it may be the shattering of our illusions that American military operations are generally conducted for noble reasons like spreading democracy and releasing people from oppression. I know my own remaining illusions about this have been shattered.

    The sad reality is that America too often goes to war to create economic opportunities for American corporate interests. This has been the case for many years, but the Bush administration has taken war profiteering to a whole new level by increasingly privatizing the military so that private military contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater can get an even bigger slice of the death and destruction pie.

    America is a nation that kills people for profit. Yes, it’s a nasty and shocking thing to say. It’s also true. Let’s change that. Please, America, let’s collectively change that, because I can’t bear the thought of what this evil is doing to our national soul.

    I know that if you haven’t already understood the fact of American war profiteering, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Some folks are no doubt in denial about it. You may want to watch Robert Greenwald’s recent documentary Iraq for Sale, or in case you just can’t take it without some sick, dark comedy, check out John Cusack’s War, Inc. If you opt for the fictional, satiric version, though, just remember that though the details may be changed for comedic effect, at a basic level, War, Inc. is telling the truth.

    Obama, like presidents before him, will be under tremendous pressure to continue the war for profit racket. It will take extreme courage and persistence to put an end to it. Nevertheless, this must be done.

  5. Level the financial playing field and restore our nation to economic health. Rampant deregulation and letting corporations run wild in the name of a “free market” has been the Republican mantra for at least 30 years or so. It hasn’t worked. In fact, it has caused the financial crisis we’re in right now.

    Let’s get one thing straight: the idea that corporations are going to naturally look out for the good of the entire nation instead of merely their own bottom lines is just silly. Nevertheless, it has been the basis of Republican policy for decades. We’re paying for that folly now.

    Obama needs to lead the way to a saner economic policy that includes sensible regulation of the financial industry to rein in corporate greed. He needs to help America’s financial picture to get back in the black by working from the bottom up this time. That means finding ways to put people back to work and help them save.

    He should take a cue from FDR, whose WPA policies helped end the great depression, began the work of getting America back on a sound financial footing, and lifted millions of Americans out of poverty.

  6. Commit to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. This is a target that should prevent the worst effects of global warming, although we are already too late to prevent all the effects of global warming. Major side benefits of this goal are the creation of green jobs and getting our country off its dependence on foreign oil. Add the fact that it seems unlikely many of us will survive without this commitment, and you’re left with no coherent argument against this goal.

    The Obama Administration must make a major investment in developing clean and safe alternative energy sources, and that means major scientific research grants.

    Start to make the carbon emissions reduction a reality without resorting to “clean coal" and "safe nuclear," which are currently oxymorons that will result in giveaways to the coal and nuclear industries. Now, I’m not saying that I’m unwilling to be convinced by strong scientific progress on the safety of these technologies, but neither of them is there yet, and any construction of coal-based or nuclear plants must be stopped until the technologies are safe and clean. In the case of nuclear, I doubt very much that it will ever be safe, because the half-life of nuclear waste leaves no room for human error of any kind.

  7. Equal rights for all. Obama could not have been elected without the work done by the civil rights movement in earlier decades. It's time to fulfill the promise of the civil rights movement and guarantee equal rights for all regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, or ethnicity.

    This means making the social and economic changes that will allow historically oppressed African Americans to finally climb out of poverty and disenfranchisement. That means a commitment to affirmative action, guaranteed voting rights, and excellent public education in all public schools.

    It means equal pay and equal opportunity for women. This includes a commitment to women's reproductive rights, so that women can decide for themselves when it's time to make the potentially financially devastating decision to have children. It also means child care and education services to support children who are here and prevent single mothers from falling into poverty.

    It means all consenting adults must have the right to marry as they choose, including all the legal and social benefits that entails. It also means hate crimes laws need some teeth, so we prevent violence against anyone based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

    It means we need to stop discrimination based on ethnicity or creed, too. It is not a crime to be a Muslim, an Arab, Hispanic, an atheist, or any other ethnic or belief background. Our schools need to teach tolerance and understanding of others so that we learn to assess individuals on their merits, not make judgments about them based on their ethnic background or creed.

  8. Universal health care. Health care is a human right. Period. Every person in America needs to be guaranteed quality health care. In the end, this will be cheaper than the snarling Hydra of our current monstrous insurance-based non-system. We can debate about how to do it, but it needs to get done. For-profit health care must end. We are talking about the rights of human beings, and they are not for sale.

  9. Restore the function of a free press. Without a free press, we can’t have an informed populace. Without an informed populace, we can’t make the right decisions about our future. A free press means all points of view can be expressed, not just those of moneyed corporate interests.

    We cannot have a free press when five corporations control almost all of the media in this country and they promote or suppress stories based on what serves their other interests. These corporations are conglomerates, and that means they have financial interests in other kinds of industries besides just media and entertainment. Some of them have financial interests in military contractors, for example. Is it any wonder they conspired to sell us the Iraq war?

    Restoring a free press is going to take rethinking of laws that govern the media to promote independent media outlets. It is going to take grants to develop independent media. And it is going to take some major corporate trust-busting. It won’t be easy, but a free press is a right that is guaranteed to us by the first amendment, and it must be restored.

  10. Reverse corporate personhood. I don't expect this to happen overnight. It will take a reversal of the disastrous, wrongheaded Supreme Court decision that declared corporations are persons in the first place. That means any Supreme Court Justice that Obama picks MUST see the ridiculousness of that proposition. Luckily, they have me and my fondness for noticing absurdity.

    For anyone not familiar with corporate personhood, it is the asinine legal concept that says that a corporation is a person and therefore has the same rights under the law as an individual (but not the same responsibilities, or else our prison system would be filled with tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, and defense contractors convicted of murder). Let me show you how ridiculous the concept of corporate personhood really is.

    If corporations were persons, I'd be trying to get Ben & Jerry's to marry me. After all, they share my progressive values, they taste sweet, and they don't care if I gain weight. On second thought, I don't want to marry Ben & Jerry's. They make me look fat.

    As long as certain members of our society are over-concerned about the gender of people who marry, how do you assign gender to a corporation, anyway?

    Let's pretend for a moment that I care about fashion and I have a particular designer whose corporation makes clothes I love. Let's say it's Vera Wang. Now, I want to marry Vera Wang's corporation, but surely with a name like Vera Wang, it's a female corporation. Looks like the proposition 8 supporters will be against that, although I'm not sure they would be any happier with a man who wanted to marry the corporate personhood of Vera Wang. Come to think of it, I don't want to marry Vera Wang, Inc. This dress makes me look fat.

    There you have it. You can't invite a corporation into your home, feed it ice cream, serve it tea, or seduce it into your boudoir, no matter what your sexual preference, no matter how lucky you get, and no matter how sexy their shoes are. Therefore, corporations are NOT persons.

    Putting an end to corporate personhood is essential. If you read through this list of goals, each one of them has some relationship to the fact that corporations have managed to grab way too much power over our government.

    Some of these relationships are more obvious than others, but even in the case of human rights and equality issues, greedy corporate interests know that as long as we fight among ourselves and as long as our political power is held in check, we the people can’t take back control of our own government.

    Our government is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. People may work for corporations, but corporations are not people and corporate interests should not run our government.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home