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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 23rd, 2009 - 01:40:47

A practical proposal for real change: An open letter to President Obama
By Carmen Yarrusso
Online Journal Guest Writer

Feb 23, 2009, 00:18

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Dear President Obama: Congratulations on your extraordinary accomplishments. You�ve generated a new wave of hope that continues to reverberate around the globe.

In these exceptionally trying times your message has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of human beings. Your historic inauguration has brought new hope to America. But you�ve also inspired vast numbers of the disadvantaged and oppressed throughout the world to have the audacity of hope for a better future, one that promises a new world order, where peace and prosperity is the standard for all humanity.

This enormous response emphasizes just how important U.S. Government policies are to the well-being of people everywhere. Mr. President, for better or worse, the policies of our government impact the lives of every human being on earth. Thus it�s not surprising your call for real change has struck a deep chord among all the citizens of this planet.

But real change won�t be easy. Those in power will strongly resist any real change. They�ll resist by exploiting our political system�s built-in mechanisms that can thwart change and obstruct reform. But without real change, without changing the basic way our government does business here and around the world, the inequality and injustice that saps the spirits of so many of our fellow human beings will continue unabated.

We privileged few can�t afford to ignore the unjust suffering of our fellow human beings here and around the world. Their suffering is our suffering. Mr. President, their misery is our misery, especially when it�s our own government�s policies that cause or contribute to that misery. We are all one race, the human race. When one of us suffers unjustly, we�re all degraded. Real change isn�t just needed, it�s desperately needed.

But real change can�t happen unless we change the engine of change. Mr. President, if we Americans expect real change, if we want to make our world a better place, not just for us but for all people, in all nations, then we must start by coming together in mutual respect and radically reforming the engine of change, our intellectually dishonest political system.

Real change

This engine needs much more than a tune-up. It needs a radical overhaul. It�s become all too obvious that our political system is deeply corrupt and has been for many years. Mr. President, unless we fundamentally reform the system, we�re sure to get more of the kind of �change� we�ve endured over the past eight years�or much worse.

It�s very important to understand that the vast human suffering caused by the unending, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast human suffering caused by the meltdown of our financial system and economy, and the vast human suffering caused by a host of other entrenched U.S. government policies, does not represent a breakdown of our political system. Quite the contrary. These extremely destructive situations and policies are the natural products of a political system working exactly as it is designed to work. A deeply corrupt system is bound to produce deeply corrupt results.

It�s clear from the non-results of the 2006 elections, that merely changing personnel is not the solution. Like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, electing new politicians, who are then forced to work within the same deeply corrupt system, will accomplish little real change in the long run.

From your experience in the U. S. Senate, you know there are many highly intelligent, honest politicians with well-reasoned, progressive ideas for real change. But they are rendered powerless by a political system with entrenched policies and procedures specifically designed to protect the status quo.

Our political system has a virtual tool chest of policies and procedures that are regularly exploited to not only unjustly tilt the playing field, but more important, to diminish or effectively eliminate careful scrutiny and honest debate about virtually any issue, including and especially reform.

Mr. President, the change we need (and we need it now) is an open, careful, critical analysis of our political system that produces a specific, detailed plan for radical reform. It must focus primarily on these entrenched, blatantly dishonest, policies and procedures that are regularly exploited for unjust, special-interest advantage.

We need a political system that seeks truth, instead of one that often hides, manipulates, and even manufactures �truth.� We need a political system that creates legislation and policy using rational argument and open debate, instead of one that creates legislation and policy using wheeling and dealing and coercion.

Mr. President, you have advocated transparency in our government. We need a political system that operates in plain view of the American people, one that provides a level playing field where all ideas can compete openly and fairly.

In short, we need a political system that enforces intellectual honesty, instead of one that rewards deceit by providing a plethora of policies and procedures that can be easily exploited to evade careful scrutiny and open debate.

Money and intellectual dishonesty

The driving force of our political system is money and intellectual dishonesty. Like the chicken and the egg, money and intellectual dishonesty create each other. Like the chicken and the egg, both are manifestations of the same process. Money provides the incentive and intellectual dishonesty provides the means (in the form of built-in, dishonest policies and procedures), which then provides more money, and so on.

Mr. President, there wouldn�t be thousands of highly paid special interest lobbyists if our political system didn�t provide the means to their ends. Our political system is essentially entrenched intellectual dishonesty. Here are just a few examples:

  • So-called logrolling (where politicians trade favors) allows unjust special interest legislation to flourish, �If you vote for my wasteful earmark, I�ll vote for yours.�
  • Punishing politicians who resist coercion and put conscience above party loyalty.

  • Forcing a yes or no vote on bills containing unjust special interest amendments attached to worthwhile legislation.
  • The especially egregious standing committee system that provides powerful means to push unjust special interest legislation and to thwart worthwhile legislation.

An intellectually honest political system would encourage politicians to always put conscience above party loyalty; it would require all provisions of a bill and all markups (amendments) to be related to a single issue; it would make it easier to bypass committee chairs or to circumvent the semi-autonomous standing committee system altogether when a committee withholds bills from open debate and majority decision.

Considering our blatantly dishonest political system, why should anyone be surprised by the rampant waste in our government, or by the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or by the current financial and economic meltdown, or by the perpetual violence in the Middle East? A blatantly dishonest political system is bound to produce blatantly disastrous results.

Mr. President, you are well aware that our political system�s entrenched mechanisms are regularly exploited by skilled politicians to evade rational argument and open debate. By tolerating these evasive tactics, our political system often passes bad legislation, often prevents good legislation and effectively precludes any real reform. Why should anyone expect any real change until we radically reform our intellectually dishonest political system?

If these dishonest mechanisms were replaced with rational policies and procedures that enforce intellectual honesty, it would be much more difficult to pass unjust special-interest legislation and to prevent reform. An intellectually honest political system would require opposing positions to openly compete using rational argument and open debate and would provide a fair, level playing field to accomplish this.

An intellectually honest political system would no longer be a magnet for nefarious special-interest money. Thousands of lobbyists pushing unjust special-interest legislation would have much less incentive to offer mounds of money to politicians who no longer had easy means to evade the truth. The chicken and egg cycle of money and intellectual dishonesty would be broken.

Under a political system that enforces intellectual honesty, truth would trump political expediency. Reason would rule. Evasion would not be tolerated. Politicians who try to evade rational argument and open debate would no longer be taken seriously by the American people. Our political system would take a giant step toward fairness and sanity.

Intellectual dishonesty produces an insane political system

Mr. President, we Americans continue to practice the same politics, expecting beneficial change will somehow come from a deeply corrupt system. We keep doing the same thing and expecting different results (a common definition of insanity). The insanity of our political system becomes particularly clear when we compare our practice of politics to our practice of science.

Unlike our political system, where intellectual honesty is an obvious sham, our science system�s policies and procedures enforce intellectual honesty. Rational argument and open debate are mandatory. Lying or evasion is punished not rewarded. Dissent is welcomed not silenced. Why? Because, unlike our political system, our science system places a very high value on truth and reflects that value in its policies and procedures.

Does our political system regard the nature of truth differently than our science system? Not at all. Our science system recognizes that no amount of scrutiny or debate can harm a position that is true or right or fair�only false or wrong or unfair positions need to hide from careful scrutiny and open debate. Our political system acknowledges precisely the same thing about the nature of truth.

But our political system recognizes there�s much more money to be made enacting wrong or unfair legislation than enacting right or fair legislation. Therefore our political system protects the various built-in evasion mechanisms that effectively prevent careful scrutiny and open debate on certain issues. If our politicians could no longer evade careful scrutiny and open debate, they would have little to offer most lobbyists. Special interest money would dry up. The chicken and egg cycle would be broken.

Mr. President, surely the conclusions of our political system are just as important to people�s lives as the conclusions of our science system. Truth should be just as important in politics as it is in science. The policies and procedures for both systems should reflect a standard of truth. Intellectual honesty should be mandatory for both systems. Allowing politicians to create their own version of reality by evading rational argument and open debate is patently insane�just look at the products of our political system.

An insane political system produces insane results

Mr. President, politicians tied to unjust special-interest groups (where the big money is) know very well only false or wrong or unfair positions need to hide from careful scrutiny and open debate. These politicians know very well that billions of dollars in special-interest profits would be lost if our political system didn�t provide them with various mechanisms to evade careful scrutiny and honest debate.

So they exploit these mechanisms to protect vast special-interest profits. The American people (with lots of help from a lax mainstream media) are intentionally kept in the dark about many extremely important issues. If mainstream media don�t cover it, it doesn�t exist. Certain government policies and actions are de facto immune from careful scrutiny and honest debate. In fact, there are no rational arguments to support these policies and actions because they are patently false or wrong or unfair.

Mr. President, rational argument and honest debate is prohibited on certain issues precisely because there is no rational justification for a long list of destructive U. S. government policies, procedures and actions. The following products of our political system are stunning in their irrationality and destructiveness. But they are exactly what we should expect from an intellectually dishonest (thus insane) political system:

  • A two-party system that colludes to effectively lock out competent independent or third-party candidates despite the merits of their ideas. This collusion drastically limits our choices of candidates to those pre-chosen by the two major political parties (which have essentially become two sides of the same coin). If a restaurant gave us only two choices for dessert (when there are hundreds out there), would we honesty believe we get to choose our dessert? It�s clearly pre-chosen for us. When Saddam was re-elected president there was one choice on the menu, we get only one more �choice.� HONEST DEBATE PROHIBITED.
  • Despite a long list of well-documented examples of obvious lying, systematic deception, and misinformation from the Bush administration in the lead up to the Iraq invasion, our government representatives did nothing (except take impeachment �off the table�). Several hundred international law professors from several countries publicly claimed President Bush�s invasion of Iraq unambiguously violated international law (could all these experts possibly be wrong?). There�s strong evidence President Bush illegally spied on American citizens. There�s strong evidence the Bush administration deliberately tortured people, which violates international law, our Constitution, and our nation�s core moral principles. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, �If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.� Mr. President, we can�t just �look forward� when something that ominous is lurking behind us. HONEST DEBATE PROHIBITED.
  • The drug �war� is futile by design (thus never-ending) because it doesn�t �fight� drugs�quite the contrary�it strongly encourages both production and distribution of prohibited drugs by guaranteeing extremely high profits. Is it remotely sane to believe a policy that guarantees massive profits for any activity could possibly result in less of that activity? But the most insidious aspect of the insane drug �war� is it utterly manufactures its own enemies by criminalizing the most basic of human rights�the right of sovereignty over your own body. Mr. President, does any other human right have any meaning if you don�t have sovereignty over your own body? Sick and dying people using marijuana can be jailed for claiming this sovereignty. Olympic champion, Michael Phelps, was harassed and called a criminal for putting something into his own body less dangerous than a glass of wine or a cigarette. Mr. President, our government creates and sustains the extremely violent $500,000,000,000 illegal drug industry by arbitrarily declaring it�s a crime to put something into your own body. Mr. President, is there even a speck of sanity in this enormously destructive and clearly counterproductive policy? HONEST DEBATE PROHIBITED.
  • To create the State of Israel (U.N. Resolution 181), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were evicted (often violently) from land they legally owned and worked and occupied for generations. Many intelligent, respected people regard this �creation� as an obvious moral abomination�plain and simple land theft. Mr. President, didn�t we create the United States in an eerily similar way? Didn�t we evict the indigenous people (often violently) from land they worked and occupied for generations? Didn�t we partition the land we took from them (keeping most for ourselves) and forcibly assign them certain territories to live on? Didn�t we then evict them, violently oppress them, and occupy and settle their territories when we needed more land, or more water, or some other resource? Didn�t our far-superior army slaughter those who fought back with their meager weapons? Didn�t we demonize and dehumanize those who bravely fought this obvious injustice, calling them savages (terrorists)? Mr. President, is taking other people�s land by force ever justified? The same United Nations that passed U.N. Resolution 181 also passed:

    U.N. Resolution 194 (Palestinian refugee�s right to return to their homes in Israel)

    U.N. Resolution 242 (Israel�s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is illegal)

    U.N. Resolution 3236 (Palestinians have the right to self-determination)

    U.N. Resolution 446 (Israel�s settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are illegal)
  • Our government condones Israel�s snubbing of these and many other U. N. resolutions. If a U.N. resolution creates Israel, it�s legitimate. But if it benefits the Palestinian people, it can simply be ignored. Is it sane policy to give billions of our taxpayer dollars and billions more in weapons year after year after year to a government that illegally occupies Palestinian land, violently oppresses the Palestinians living on that land, and continues to expand its illegal settlements? Mr. President, how does our uncritical support of Israel�s violent actions serve America�s best interests? HONEST DEBATE PROHIBITED.
  • Is it rational to believe people hate us because of our freedoms or lifestyle and not because of our foreign policies that cause them great harm (as their leaders have often publicly claimed)? Mr. President, intelligent people have convincingly argued the �war on terror� is futile because by ignoring the predictable consequences of our blatantly unjust foreign policies; it literally creates more �terrorists� than it eliminates. Our government representatives have threatened violent action against regimes that provide aid and protection to our enemies. But our country continues a long tradition of giving billions in dollars and weapons to regimes around the world that openly oppress millions of people under their control. Mr. President, why do we have a moral right to attack people that aid and protect our enemies, but expect others not to attack us when we purposely aid and protect their enemies? It�s good when we do it, but bad when they do it? How does the �war on terror� serve America�s best interests? HONEST DEBATE PROHIBITED.

There are many areas of our political system where honest debate is �off the table.� Mr. President, how can real change happen using a blatantly dishonest political system that can effectively prohibit honest debate on virtually any issue?

Can we change our political system to enforce intellectual honesty?

Yes we can!

Our political system has evolved into a dangerous, high-stakes game of wits. Policy is often determined not by truth, but by deal making, by intimidation, by threats, and by clever exploitation of a complex maze of policies and procedures. Rational argument and honest debate are optional and easily evaded by those who can traverse this maze with agility. Truth is secondary. Being right is simply not enough in our political system.

Our political system encourages politicians to create their own version of reality with virtual impunity. As we have seen over and over again, Washington�s version of reality eventually crashes into actual reality with predictable, dire results. We cannot continue down this destructive path. We need to replace our political system with a system that enforces a standard of truth (akin to our science and court systems), where rational argument and open debate is not only facilitated, but mandatory.

Your campaign for President was brilliant. You showed the world how the Internet can be used as a powerful campaign tool. Mr. President, the vast power of the Internet can also be used to radically reform the basic operation of our intellectually dishonest political system.

Basic philosophy of this proposal

The Internet would be used to facilitate a simple, fair, easy-to-use, transparent, �free market system to manage political ideas and arguments. Our government representatives (with input from the public) would be required to explain and justify their positions by posting their best rational arguments on the Internet. This would include government representatives from all government agencies as well as from Congress. The system would create a mechanism where political ideas and arguments compete and collaborate openly (free market).

Competition and collaboration would not be just between opposing arguments, but also between arguments on the same side of any given issue. This second level of competition (among agreeing arguments), would improve and refine these arguments making them better able to compete against their opposing arguments. Since there is substantial knowledge and expertise outside our government on any given issue, this �free market� system would also facilitate public input and collaboration on any given issue.

This competition and collaboration would produce an evolving, converging consensus for �best� arguments (one for each side of any given issue). By simply going on the Internet, the American people would be able to examine and compare our government representatives� �best� arguments for any given issue.

Our government is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people. Mr. President, we the people have a right to ask our government representatives for a clear, convincing explanation and justification for what�s being done in our names.

Features of this proposal: introducing political wikiarguments

[Note: A detailed design for this system is in the works, including its basic operation; rules; argument structures; dispute resolution mechanisms; Internet resource estimates; etc., which will be submitted in a future document.]

This Internet-based, �free market� system for managing political ideas and arguments would borrow features from Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia. Like Wikipedia entries, the current �best� arguments (one for each side of any given issue) would be the product of many minds collaborating to form an evolving, converging consensus.

For any given issue (legislation, policy, procedure, action, proposal, etc.), those within the government branch or agency initiating the given issue would start the �free market� (wikiargument) process by providing the initial �best� argument that explains and justifies the position of the initiators. From then on, that initial �best� argument and the opposing �best� argument (if anyone disagrees) would evolve (in a Wikipedia fashion) as authorized government representatives edit/modify the two arguments.

In addition to the above two (government-maintained) �best� arguments, there would be two additional shadow (public-maintained) �best� arguments (for any given issue) that would also evolve in a Wikipedia fashion. This would allow those outside government to share their (often more extensive) knowledge and expertise on the given issue, which would not only enhance our understanding of the issue, but also tend to keep the corresponding government-maintained arguments honest. Government representatives would be encouraged to borrow anything from the two corresponding public-maintained (shadow) arguments and vice versa. Everything is done out in the open.

Using the Internet, the American people would be able to compare the two sets of �best� arguments (one set maintained by the government the other by the public) for each side of any given issue and watch as these arguments evolve (presumably improving as they mature). If mistakes or logical flaws are found, or new facts arise, each side would simply correct its arguments as appropriate. There is little need to define or restrict the content of these �best� arguments because the �free market� collaboration and open competition would determine that.

A wikiargument system would differ significantly from a forum-type venue (where people argue back and forth) because the emphasis is on an evolving, converging final product (the current �best� arguments for each side). Like robot competition, the emphasis would be on building a superior rational argument for your position, which would then compete with opposing arguments openly on the Internet. The American people would judge the competition.

Deciding which government representatives would be authorized to edit/modify a particular �best� argument entry would be determined (perhaps restricted to members of the initiating agency, branch of Congress, etc.). Like Wikipedia, a history of all modifications to the two sets of evolving arguments would be kept openly to provide a complete record of an argument�s evolution. Simple mechanisms similar to Wikipedia would be defined to resolve editing disputes.

Mr. President, under a wikiargument system, the American people would be able to examine their government representatives� best arguments for any given issue by simply logging onto the Internet.

Why this proposal would enforce intellectual honesty

Our government representatives would no longer be able to evade rational argument and open debate because they would be required to post their best arguments on the Internet. If their positions on any given policy, procedure, legislation or action are rational, it should be easy for them to present clear, convincing arguments. Conversely, if their positions are irrational, they won�t be able to present arguments that aren�t easily faulted by their opponents (both government and public).

Mr. President, this wikiargument proposal has one simple requirement: our government representatives would be required to subject their (presumably) well-thought-out ideas to careful scrutiny by posting their best rational arguments on the Internet (to explain and justify their positions). That�s it. One simple requirement: respect the intelligence of the American people; give us your best rational arguments so we can carefully examine them for flaws. Remember, careful examination only hurts irrational ideas and arguments.

Under a wikiargument system, our government representatives would no longer be able to rely on many of the deceptive practices so prevalent under our present political system. By requiring them to post their best arguments for their positions, they would no longer get away with making false claims or misrepresenting facts or ignoring evidence against their positions because their Internet opponents would quickly expose this intellectual dishonesty within their own respective (opposing) best arguments where the American people would always be watching.

Under a wikiargument system our government representatives would be reluctant to make false or deceptive statements on TV or in other public venues. Why? Because they would know anyone could go on the Internet and check out the given issue�s opposing best arguments where their deceptions would be quickly exposed (thus lowering their �honesty quotient� in the eyes of the American people). Unlike our present political system, a wikiargument system would severely punish intellectual dishonesty.

Our government representatives would still have the power to sell favors for special interest money, but they would be required to do it transparently. For example, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency would still have the political power to subvert the interests of the American people by simply ignoring the recommendations of his scientific staff (as was done recently). But, under a wikiargument system, he would be required to explain and justify his position and post it in a �best� argument, which the American people could then compare to opposing arguments (by dissenting scientists and the public). He would still be able to sell his political influence, but it would be much more difficult than it is now.

Mr. President, our current political system makes it easy for our government representatives to deceive the American people. It�s not about finding truth; it�s about playing a game of hiding truth. Our political system allows our government representatives to make demonstrably irrational decisions without any accountability whatsoever. A wikiargument system would not stop all political mischief. But it would significantly hamper the effectiveness of the many built-in mechanisms our government representatives now exploit to evade careful scrutiny and open debate.


Thoreau wrote, �There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.� Mr. President, real change won�t happen unless we the American people strike at the root�our intellectually dishonest political system.

The proposed wikiargument system would establish the initial mechanism to enforce a minimum standard of truth in the operation of our political system. The wikiargument system itself would evolve using the same mechanism and the same standard of truth.

Our present political system derives its power from deceit and evasion. There�s no standard of truth. Dishonesty is rewarded; honesty is punished. In a wikiargument system, political power would shift to those presenting the most compelling arguments. Evasion would be quickly exposed and punished.

In your Inaugural address you said, �And those of us who manage the public�s knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.�

Mr. President, you can restore that vital trust by striking at the root. If you bring truth to our political system, the vital trust will soon follow.

Carmen Yarrusso lives on a river in a small town in New Hampshire and often writes about uncomfortable truths.

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