A Practical Plan to Get Big Money Out of Politics
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”--Henry David Thoreau
November 24, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- Clearly, our government is deeply corrupted by moneyed special interests. Just look at the immense wake of destruction left by our government and its policies in the last 10 years alone. The resulting human misery worldwide is immeasurable.
The buying and selling of political influence is the driving force of our political system. The Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United has opened the floodgates for legal bribery—our government is now officially for sale to the highest bidder.
What’s even more sinister, a government for sale to the highest bidder forces both moneyed special interests and members of Congress to not only participate in an obvious con game, but to compete among themselves (thus raising the stakes and ruthlessness) in this massive influence-peddling scam that robs the American people of billions each year.
Moneyed special interests would be at a competitive disadvantage if they didn’t buy political influence. Likewise, our "representatives" would be at a competitive disadvantage (getting elected and staying in office) if they didn’t sell political influence. Thus each year, lobbyists transfer millions in legal bribes from moneyed special interests to our "representatives" in return for billions of our taxpayer dollars.
We, the American people, are mere fodder for profit, exploited by both moneyed special interests and our "representatives" in Congress.
The plutocrat buyers of our government maintain strict political control over what they've bought and paid for. Members of Congress who oppose moneyed special interests are promptly punished, ostracized, or replaced (if their offense is great enough).
Big money corrupting our political system dwarfs every other political issue by far because it underlies and thus dominates every other political issue. It’s foolish to expect rational legislation or real reform of our corrupt government as long as our "representatives" are bought and paid for by moneyed special interests.
As long as big money is the driving force of our political system, our government will continue to support patently unfair domestic and foreign policies that not only cost us billions, but also cause vast human suffering worldwide. As long as big money is the driving force of our political system, government "of the people" is impossible.
Getting big money out of politics is the necessary first step in a peaceful, people’s revolution to take back our government.
The beginning of the end of big money in politics
Big money has been in politics since day one. Every legislative effort to significantly diminish its power has failed (e.g., the feeble McCain-Feingold bill). How can we succeed now when so many earnest people before us have failed? By cleverly utilizing the power of the Internet.
We can establish a simple, easy to use, Internet-based system of accountability (using off the shelf software) that will greatly diminish the value of the political-influence "products" now being sold by our "representatives."
Rather than futilely trying to limit how much moneyed special interests can give to members of Congress, we should concentrate on strategies that will make what our "representatives" have been selling virtually worthless. We can do this using the power of the Internet.
The essence of influence peddling is deception
Moneyed special interests are willing to spend millions buying political influence because those millions return billions. Corporations would be betraying their shareholders if these millions weren't wise investments. But what are moneyed special interests actually buying?
They’re buying unfair government policies (or protection from unfair government policies bought and paid for by competitors). Philanthropic groups aside, moneyed special interests don’t pay much for fair government policies - those serving the best interests of the American people as a whole.
The only way our "representatives" can pass and/or sustain unfair government policies and thus be able to sell their political influence for millions is through deception. They must try to deceive us with specious justifications that hide the truth of the unfair policies (e.g., "aluminum tubes," "mobile weapons labs," "mushroom clouds," "vials of anthrax" as justifications for invading Iraq).
The mechanics of deception in Congress
The most powerful tool of deception used by our "representatives" is the lackey mainstream media (essentially the propaganda arm of our government). Mainstream media are supposed to keep us informed about our government's activities. But as profit-driven corporations that receive billions from our "representatives," they're much more motivated to promote and perpetuate government deception than to expose it. It's simply smart business.
Our "representatives" use various tools to deceive us. But all tools boil down to one thing: evasion. Those supporting unfair government policies cannot possibly defend these policies with clear, rational arguments. So they offer shallow, specious justifications (dutifully passed on to the American people by mainstream media) and then simply evade responding to the obvious flaws in their justifications.
Our "representatives" are never forced to defend their justifications using clear, rational arguments. All we ever get are deceptive, evasive snippets of "arguments" and appeals to emotion, never anything remotely resembling a clear, cogent, rational fact-based argument. But usually this is good enough to deceive a sufficient number of Americans to pass and/or sustain unfair government policies.
Demand our "representatives" post a clear, rational argument defending their positions on the Internet for all to scrutinize
Our political system's many entrenched mischief mechanisms (e.g., powerful standing committees, filibusters, earmarks) are regularly exploited by our "representatives" to evade clear, rational argument and open debate on their positions. What would happen if we, the people, no longer tolerated evasion from those who are supposed to be looking out for our best interests? The influence peddling market would crash.
If our "representatives" couldn’t evade, it would be much more difficult for them to deceive us about unfair government policies and thus much more difficult to pass and/or sustain such policies. The market value of political influence would plummet.
Aspects of an Internet-based (wiki) system of congressional accountability
We'd be able to visit an Internet site and view clear, rational arguments for all Congressional proposals (pro and con side by side for easy comparison). We wouldn’t need mainstream media pundits to interpret government policies for us; we’d be getting both sides right from the horse’s mouth. Evasions and flawed reasoning by either side would be made very apparent. A search capability would allow us to find the current best arguments - pro and con - for any bill in Congress.
When a bill is introduced, those "representatives" initiating the bill would post a clear, rational argument explaining the merits of the bill. Those opposing the bill would then post their corresponding clear, rational argument explaining why the bill is unfair and shouldn't pass.
What makes this Internet-based (wiki) system of accounting such a powerful weapon against evasion and falsehood is this: the individual arguments are dynamic. As you will see, using dynamic arguments (referred to as wikiarguments) prevents lots of mischief and tends to punish liars and reward truth-tellers. The individual wikiarguments would be managed very much like Wikipedia entries except there would be multiple entries per subject (pro and con arguments) instead of the one entry per subject in Wikipedia.
Thus all members of Congress would be able to edit – improve and update - the arguments they favor. Both sides of any issue would be free to update their respective wikiargument as new facts emerge or to correct mistakes. In this manner, arguments for both sides - pro and con - would evolve as collaborative efforts, which would converge toward a best argument (consensus) for each side of any given issue (bill).
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: a current best argument for each side. Like robot competition, the emphasis would be on building a superior rational argument for a given position, which would then openly compete with its corresponding – opposing - argument on the Internet.
The American people would get to watch as arguments for each side evolve and do battle on the Internet. We would watch our "representatives" slugging it out using their best rational arguments instead of using deceptive TV sound bites.
But unfair policies are often supported by both political parties because both are typically bribed by the same big money. How would a wikiargument system force our "representatives" to post honest arguments against such unfair policies? By providing two additional - pro and con – "shadow" wikiarguments for each issue that could be edited by anyone on earth, like Wikipedia entries.
A visitor to the site would view two pairs of pro and con wikiarguments per issue, one pair maintained by members of Congress and one corresponding pair maintained by the public at large. If our "representatives" weren’t providing strong wikiarguments against unfair policies, the public at large would make those arguments for them. The two (public) shadow wikiarguments would quickly expose weak or disingenuous government arguments when both political parties support unfair policies.
All four wikiarguments would be free to borrow from each other. The four would evolve and converge toward a consensus. The most cogent argument would quickly become apparent, which would then expose which side is supporting big money and which side is supporting the people's best interests.
Demand accountability from those who claim to represent us
We have every right to demand our government "representatives" provide us with clear, rational arguments that explain and justify their positions. If their positions on any given policy, procedure, legislation or action are fair, it should be easy for them to present clear, convincing wikiarguments.
This wikiargument plan has one simple requirement: our government "representatives" must subject their ideas to careful scrutiny by posting their best rational arguments on the Internet. 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. Careful examination can only hurt unfair ideas and arguments.
Using a wikiargument system, our "representatives" would no longer be able to rely on many of the deceptive practices so prevalent under our current political system. By requiring them to post wikiarguments 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 corresponding (opposing) arguments where the American people would always be watching.
Using 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 to the Internet and check out the given issue's opposing wikiargument where their deceptions would be quickly exposed. A political system using wikiarguments would punish dishonesty and reward honesty - exactly the opposite of our current political system.
Our current political system makes it easy for our "representatives" to deceive the American people. It's not about finding truth; it's about playing a political game of hiding truth. Our current political system often allows our "representatives" to make demonstrably irrational decisions without any accountability whatsoever.
A wikiargument system of accountability would not stop all political mischief. But it would significantly hamper the effectiveness of the many built-in mischief mechanisms our government representatives now exploit to evade careful scrutiny and open debate.
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 policy using rational argument and open debate, instead of one that creates policy using wheeling and dealing, coercion, and deception.
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 using clear, rational argument.
In short, we need a political system that enforces intellectual honesty instead of one that punishes intellectual honesty while rewarding deceit.
Wikiarguments is a first step toward that political system.
Carmen Yarrusso, a software engineer for 35 years, designed and modified computer operating systems (including Internet software). He has a BS in physics and studied game theory and formal logic during his years with the math department at Brookhaven National Lab. He lives in New Hampshire and often writes about uncomfortable truths.