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Omniarchy

Omniarchy describes the principals and positions of a new political philosophy in the United States. The originality of the political positions espoused by the essays contained on the following pages is matched by the novelty of the name used to define them: Omniarchy. If anarchy is the rule of none, monarchy is the rule of one, and oligarchy is the rule of some, then Omniarchy is the rule of all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reform Campaign Finance Reform

"Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first."

Ronald Reagan - 1977

The free choice of private individuals and organizations to support candidates for public office is intrinsic to the very nature of representative democracy. Any private entity must be permitted to donate its time, labor and capital to the candidate of its choice. While no one who believes in democracy would advocate limiting the amount of time or effort private individuals or organizations may contribute to political candidates or their parties, well intentioned but erroneous reformers have made strenuous efforts to severely limit their monetary contributions.

These attempts have proven to be extremely problematic for two reasons. First, they have been largely ineffectual. In the spirit of the post-Watergate reforms, Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1974 by limiting the amount of money individuals and organizations could donate to candidates for federal office. By employing unregulated "soft money" and bundled campaign contributions, however, candidates, their parties, and a myriad of special interest groups have circumvented these and subsequent restrictions. As a result, the Congress passed the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Bill and President Bush signed it into law on March 27, 2002. Although this law limits the amount of soft money individuals and organizations may contribute and increases the transparency of issue advertising, it actually doubles the amount of "hard money" contributions that may be bundled into purchasing influence.

Second, restrictions on political donations raise important constitutional issues by inhibiting the freedom of political expression within the public arena. Although most of the provisions of the Campaign Reform Act were upheld by the Supreme Court by a majority vote of five to four, as Justice Scalia wrote succinctly in his dissent in McConnell vs. FEC,
"… an attack upon the funding of speech is an attack upon speech itself."

Thus, both practice and theory compel opposition to recent congressional efforts to promulgate these futile and unconstitutional limitations upon the ability of individuals and organizations to express their political opinions by contributing their time, effort, or property to candidates for public office.

Because it plays a vital role in campaigns for public office, private capital has been, is and will be an essential element of the democratic process. Nevertheless, massive political contributions may be accompanied by an actual or tacit quid pro quo. In so doing they transmute from the expression of political opinion, which is protected by the First Amendment, to bribery, which is not.

The Supreme Court recognized the difference between protected speech and bribery in its 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo. In this decision, it held that although portions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 were unconstitutional, Congress could place restrictions upon most political donations because doing so is one of the,
"… primary weapons against the reality or appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions."

Simply put, in attempting to differentiate between a donation and a bribe, the Court distinguished between political contributions that do not purchase influence and those that do. It then maintained that that former is protected speech, and that the latter is not. Thus, the Court permitted reformers of campaign financing to reduce the corrupting influence of large campaign contributions by limiting their size. Conversely, their opponents contend that these limitations place unreasonable and unconstitutional restrictions upon the freedom of donors to express their political opinions financially. Unfortunately, both sides in this dispute have missed the crux of the issue: they are arguing about the money when the real problem is not the money but the influence it purchases.

The proper resolution of this issue can be found in the famous standard espoused by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his opinion in Schenck v. United States in 1919. This standard permits a prior restraint against free speech, such as political contributions, when they exhibit a "clear and present danger" to bring about "substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent". Bribery and improper influence clearly meet this standard. As Justice Holmes observed crucially, however,
"It is always a case of proximity and degree."

Thus, when the proximity of the private donor to the public candidate is high and the degree of the donation is large, corrupting influence is likely to ensue: political favors will be bought and sold. When either the proximity or the degree is reduced so that improper influence is eliminated, political donations become a benign form of free speech.

Campaign finance reformers have focused their efforts upon reducing the degree of political contributions by limiting their size. Rather than restricting improper political influence by limiting the degree of the donation, Congress must reduce the proximity of the donor to the recipient instead. By doing so the size of political contributions may be increased significantly without incurring the de facto bribery of corrupting influence. To appropriate Justice Holmes's famous example of pernicious speech, campaign finance reformers have sought to silence the man shouting "Fire!" in a crowed theatre. Instead, they should remove him from the theatre so that he can shout "Fire!" to his heart's content.

Nevertheless, this fire-shouting man, even if he was standing outside the theatre, could amplify his voice loud enough to panic the patrons within, and in so doing speak in a manner that causes a substantive evil that Congress has a right to prevent. Hence, Congress must determine that point at which the degree of this incendiary speech itself is sufficiently loud so as to necessitate a prior restraint against its expression, notwithstanding its reduced proximity. As this theory pertains to private political donations, if the proximity of the donor to an individual candidate is diminished significantly or eliminated completely, at what point, if any, does the mere amount of the contribution itself transform it from the financial expression of political opinion, which must be protected, into an inherently corrupting bribe, which must be proscribed? It is at this point that a prior restraint against this form of political expression becomes both desirable and permissible because the size of the contribution does not simply corrupt any individual candidate for public office; it corrupts the democratic process itself.

Therefore, in restricting the size of political donations, Congress must adopt the following seven regulations:

1) A maximum amount of $100,000 per election cycle, either given or received, must be established regardless of the public or private nature of either the recipient or the donor.

2) Candidates for federal office and advocacy organizations must be prohibited from soliciting or accepting contributions of any kind directly or indirectly with a value in excess of $100 from any individual or organization within any thirty-day period.

3) Offering, accepting, soliciting or disclosing political contributions in excess of $100 per month must constitute the felony of bribery, pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code.

4) Individuals and organizations that wish to contribute between $101 and $100,000 to any candidate for federal office or any political advocacy organization must do so through an independent third party, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which shall guarantee their anonymity.

5) Donors must be permitted to direct the FEC to disburse their contributions to the specific individuals or organizations of their choice, and the FEC must deposit these donations into a general advocacy account that distributes these assets weekly.

6) The FEC must create and maintain a comprehensive database of donors and recipients, thereby ensuring that the $100,000 maximum limit for political contributions is not exceeded.

7) As the legal advocate for the electorate at large, the FEC must be prevented from releasing any information about the identity of a donor or a recipient or the amount donated for at least twenty years after the death of the individual or dissolution of the organizational recipients or donors. Notwithstanding a specific warrant from a court of appropriate jurisdiction, violating the public's right of attorney/client privilege must constitute a felony commensurate with the disclosure of information that has been classified as secret for national security purposes.

Charitable political donations are a form of protected speech, but the use of private financial assets to purchase actual or tacit political obligations is a form of bribery, regardless of whether it is an individual candidate or the public at large that is being influenced monetarily. Treating political influence as a commodity to be bought and sold in an open market is antithetical to the principles of democracy and cannot be allowed to continue unabated for three reasons. First, it inhibits the free flow of information into the political marketplace of ideas, thereby creating a self-perpetuating status quo. Second, it induces our public officials to act as little more than articulate and telegenic prostitutes. Finally, it exacerbates the cynicism of a disaffected electorate.

As Sophocles wrote in Antigone, Americans must embrace the sentiments of Creon when he said,
"For me, whoe'er is called to guide a state and . . . as worthier than his country counts his friend, I utterly despise him."

Using money to purchase the "friendship" of public servants is reprehensible. Private money cannot and should not be excluded from politics, but the private influence it purchases can and must be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Curse of the Second Term

I think we might want to seriously consider rescinding the Twenty Second Amendment.

Personally, I would support replacing this amendment with one that creates a single presidential term of six years. Why? Because second term presidents seem to have worse luck than the Chicago Cubs.

But isn't luck is just really destiny for the superstitious?

Is Karl Rove guilty? Is he innocent? What did he say and when did he say it? Who are Novak's sources? What did Rove tell Bush and when did he tell him? Was Bush just kidding when he said he'd fire the person responsible for outing Plame?

Who knows? Who cares? If recent history any the guide, Rove is going to go from the White House to the big house for lying to either the grand jury or the FBI or both, not for planting a vindictive story in the newspapers.

Most importantly, however, am I the only one to notice how incredibly similar this incipient scandal is to all of the other second term scandals since the Amendment was adopted? (Notwithstanding Eisenhower, of course, who was one of the least partisan Presidents in American history.)

Don't they all seem to go something like this?

1) President is up for re-election.

2) President does something that would hurt his chances for re-election. He:

A) Authorizes a "dirty tricks" campaign against his opponents and bugs their headquarters
B) Cuts a deal with terrorists to trade spare military parts for hostages & then uses the profits from those sales to fund an illegal insurgency.
C) Screws around with an intern
D) Wants to finish a job his dad started, so he invents some phony reasons to start a war.

3) Opponents get suspicious and sic a special prosecutor on him or his key aides

4) President and/or key aides lie their asses off to cover up the peccadillo

5) President gets re-elected

6) President and/or key aides accused of obstruction of justice and/or perjury

7) Opponents act like the Claude Raines character in Casablanca by being "Shocked! Shocked!" that the President and/or his aides would stoop to lying about something they didn't want the voters to know.

8) The President and/or his aides are indicted or convicted or impeached or forced to resign.

9) The public's attention is distracted from the important issues confronting the nation; President's second term falls apart; and the country suffers by

A) Losing the war in Vietnam
B) Supporting Saddam Hussein after he uses nerves gas against his own people
C) Ignoring the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and thinking that lobbing a couple of cruise missiles at him will intimidate him
D) TBD

Well, I for one am beginning to get the hint, and recall words of George Santayana:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

When it comes to re-elected Presidents, that old Skeptic Santayana certainly nailed it.

All right, enough already. The Twenty Second Amendment is turning into the worst example of The Law of Unforeseen Consequences since the Volstead Act created the Mafia. Well, we repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, and I say that it's high time that we do the same thing with the Twenty Second. We've had five two-term Presidents since it was adopted. We're 1 for 5 and 0 for the last 4. How many of these consecutive scandals is it going to take for us to realize that they aren't coincidental?

My personal preference would be for one six-year term. Six years and out. Go write your memoirs, jump out of airplanes, build your library, or help your wife get elected President. (My God, does Hilary Clinton really want to become the Lurleen Wallace of the new millenium?) This way the President (and/or his/her overzealous aides) would be less tempted to use the vast powers of the executive branch of the federal government for partisan political purposes or to act as if he/she was above the law in order to maintain political power.

In short, I think that the stakes are so high (or at least they're perceived as such) and the temptations are so great that mere mortals cannot resist the expediency of lying to retain the office of the Presidency. And, like other mere mortals, they always think that they can get away with it. And because the office is so powerful, they're always right, at least until after the election. Although the wheels of justice may grind slowly, they do grind and (notwithstanding Ronald Reagan's senility) the truth will out eventually. That's why God invented special prosecutors in the first place.

So fasten your seat belts, boys and girls, here we go again. If history is any guide, it's going to get a lot uglier before it gets any better. My question is, after September 11th can we really afford it this time? Is a weakened and distracted presidency in our nation's best interest? Does our implacable rancor really know no bounds? And most importantly, do we really want to see how much worse George Bush governs the United States without his brains?

Friday, July 08, 2005

London: Dress Rehearsal for a Dirty Bomb?

Although the horrors and agonies endured by the victims of Thursday's bombings in London were tragically heart rending, the British should be thankful that al-Qaeda's butcher's bill wasn't bloodier. Al-Qaeda murdered thousands of innocent people on September 11th, more than 200 in Bali and nearly as many in Madrid. In Baghdad, a bomb attack that kills 50+ civilians and injure hundreds of others is just another bad day - front-page news, but below the fold.

So what's Osama up to? Is he getting soft in his old age? At the risk of being stigmatized as an alarmist, I don't think so.

I'm afraid that London might have been a dress rehearsal for detonating one or more dirty bombs in the US. With the cooperation of Pakistani or Iranian sympathizers, there may be a very good chance that al-Qaeda operatives could get their hands on a significant amount of radioactive isotopes and smuggle this material into the US. If those responsible for detonating the devices in London get over here as well, I think we could be in real trouble. Does the name Jose Padilla ring any bells?

Because of its relatively low level of lethality, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls a dirty bomb a "Weapon of Mass Disruption" that would cause more emotional and economic damage (from the mandatory clean-up), than human carnage.

Thus, I would prioritize al-Qaeda's three top targets for a dirty bomb attack, in order, as:

1) Wall Street - If at first you don't succeed . . .
2) The Capitol - "This Tuesday's committee meeting will be at Senator Lugar's house. BYOB."
3) A major international airport - probably JFK, Newark, LAX, or Dulles.

(Actually, Hartsfield or O'Hare would probably cause more economic damage to the US, but al-Qaeda's attacks are intended to rally their troops as much as dishearten their opponents. How many mujahideen could find Chicago on a map or have even heard of Atlanta?)

The bottom line is that we can't afford to wait around for the second catastrophic shoe to drop on George Bush's watch. Moreover, short of putting bomb-sniffing dogs on every street corner in lower Manhattan, spending more money on domestic security isn't likely to make our civic institutions or us any safer. That's Congress's knee-jerk reaction to every problem: throw money at it to make it go away.

What we need instead is a coherent anti-terrorist campaign. In short, we need a plan, not platitudes; we need to act instead of react.

Iraq is a problem, but solving it won't end domestic terrorism. (I'm sure that the families of the victims of the London attacks are grateful to Bush and Blair for taking their "war against terrorism" to Iraq so that we didn't end up fighting the terrorists here at home.) Let's face facts, Saddam wasn't the problem, al-Qaeda was and is. Bush's reaction to 9/11 was as if a co-worker had shot him in the leg, so he punched the guy in the nose but then went home and burned down his neighbor's house because he was still pissed off. That may make you feel good and look tough, but you've still got a dangerous nut job with a grudge out there looking for you.

So what should we do? How about the three "I"s?

Isolation

Terrorist organizations are highly motivated cadres that use extreme and extralegal methods to express their philosophic ideals and accomplish their destabilizing objectives. Much like sociopathic criminals, these true believers hew to a moral or ethical imperative that transcends the codified parameters of acceptable social behavior. Unlike sociopathic criminals, however, they are not demons or monsters. They have civic objectives that transcend mere butchery. Thus, we must use every means at our disposal to dispute, discredit and co-opt their claims of a transcendent moral authority.

Conversely, the ethic upon which we base acceptable civilized behavior must be explained cogently and promulgated vigorously among the organization's potential adherents. It must be conveyed by word and deed; mere simplistic slogans will not sway the skeptical. With significant social support, a terrorist organization is mythologized as a vanguard of warriors and martyrs. Without that support, the organization becomes alienated from those elements of society from which it derives its succor. This is the difference between the Red Brigades and the IRA, and why John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry sparked a civil war while the rampages of the Manson "family" in California didn't. Without social approbation, terrorist organizations deteriorate eventually into ineffectual collections of deranged individuals who are perceived as delusional criminals by their former benefactors. Al-Qaeda's ability to conduct coherent operations must be precluded by eliminating its moral authority, thereby isolating it from its bases of social, economic and political support.

Infiltration

Knowledge is power and ignorance is impotence. The prevention of future acts of terror against the United States cannot depend upon either serendipity or clairvoyance. Human and technological assets must be employed to anticipate the terrorists as well as impede their operational effectiveness. Surfing the web for "chatter" will not suffice. Clandestine methods of disinformation and infiltration are essential ingredients of effective counterintelligence.

This makes the repressive and xenophobic elements of the USA Patriot Act and the torture of captured belligerents especially counterproductive. At precisely the time that our military and law enforcement agencies should be recruiting spies and provocateurs they are persecuting and alienating them. The solicitation of intelligence agents must take precedence over a presumption of guilt by association. Without the penetration of terroristic organizations by human and technological intelligence, the domestic efforts of our police organizations and the foreign efforts of our military organizations are stopgap measures; they cannot prevent, they can only punish. As the attacks on September 11th demonstrated, to the degree that the United States is oblivious, it is insecure. Ignorance is not bliss; it's vulnerability.

Interdiction

Finally, the federal government must exercise its military and police powers against this pernicious form of criminality vigorously and decisively. The United States must assert its intrinsic right of national self-defense and exert international jurisdiction over those individuals and organizations that have committed acts of terror as well as those who facilitate them, regardless of their geographic location. After the moral imperatives of the terrorists have been discredited and their methods of operation disrupted, the due process of the law must be employed to capture and punish the guilty parties. For example, those who were responsible for the attacks of September 11th bear a historical social stigma similar to the Japanese and Nazi war criminals of World War II. Like them, when they are captured they must be tried in impartial and international courts of law, not held in perpetual limbo as enemy combatants or executed summarily in the field. Regardless of the horrendous nature of their crimes or the depravity of the criminals themselves, the due process of law must become an essential tool in the war on terrorism. It is essential not merely because it protects the legal rights of individuals who disdain their reciprocal validity, but because it distinguishes civilization from barbarism. It not only facilitates a civic catharsis for an aggrieved democracy; it demythologizes the perpetrators.

As it pertains to global terrorism, due process is a deterrent against future attacks because it subverts the terrorists' claims of oppression and precludes their aspirations of martyrdom. Without due process, prosecution can be stigmatized as persecution and as the expression of might, not right. With it, due process becomes the physical manifestation of the right of a just society to protect itself from malevolent sociopaths. Among the people of the United States, the perception of prosecutorial fairness and honesty is important; among the sympathizers and supporters of terroristic organizations, its reality is mandatory.

In conclusion, we've become like homeowners buying high-tech burglar alarms and door locks because they provide us with the illusion but not the reality of security. We already have enough locks on our doors; we got to start trying to make our neighborhood a safer place in which to live by reducing the causes of crime, keeping an eye on the bad guys and getting them off the street when they break the law. Our war against terror won't be won until our government decides to focus its efforts on eliminating the rationale for the existence of al-Qaeda and neutralizing its adherents instead of increasing the amount of money it expends on Homeland Security and trying to make Iraq safe for democracy.

Until then, you might want to think about stocking up on potassium iodide.