A practical proposal for real change: An open letter to President Obama
By Carmen Yarrusso
Journal Guest Writer
Feb 23, 2009, 00:18
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
U.N. Resolution 242 (Israel�s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is
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
- 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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Carmen Yarrusso lives on a river in a small town
in New Hampshire and often writes about uncomfortable truths.
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