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Can American Democracy be Revived?

By       Message Stephen Unger       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   10 comments

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/64900302@N04/5909489052/: Tom Paine
Tom Paine
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"These are the times that try men's souls."  [1] Tom Paine wrote these words in December, 1776, when the success of the American revolution was highly questionable. They apply today, as the fruits of that revolution are clearly in great jeopardy. Here is an incomplete list of current soul-stressors:
  • Huge unemployment and under-employment, driven, in large part, by the de-industrialization of America

  • Gross, and growing, inequality in income and wealth, exceeding that in all other industrialized nations

  • A criminal "justice" system that has resulted in more Americans being imprisoned than people of any other nationality, including Russian and Chinese [2]

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  • Inadequate and excessively expensive medical insurance, exposing most Americans to substantial risk of physical and/or financial ruin

  • Exposure to a growing list of inadequately tested chemicals, in our food, medications, and general environment

  • Utter failure to take effective action to deal with the problem of impending disastrous climate change driven by excessive emissions of greenhouse gases

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  • Unending, undeclared wars

  • A bloated military establishment including hundreds of military bases in other nations, including Germany, Japan, Italy, Australia, Bulgaria, Bahrain, and Djibouti [3]

  • Americans, labeled as terrorists, and killed by their own government without a semblance of due process

  • Massive spying on Americans (and others) by the NSA and other government agencies, in gross violation of the Bill of Rights

  • Unprecedented number of prosecutions of government whistleblowers, with long sentences imposed [4]

  • A variety of constitutionally questionable methods for restricting people from traveling freely by air within or across our borders [5]
  • The above list implies a government operating with little regard for the wellbeing of the general population, and for the democratic principles that motivated the founders of our country.

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    The problem is not simply with the individuals currently in office, or with the particular political parties they represent. For the period encompassing at least the last three or four decades, perhaps since the Roosevelt administration, politicians from both major parties have been increasingly serving the interests of the corporate elite [6]. They differ only in rhetoric, and on a few issues that this elite has no particular position on (such as abortion rights, gun control, and gay marriage).

    Pleas versus demands

    A great many people are very unhappy about items on the above list. There have been numerous demonstrations and petitions protesting the wars, fracking, corporate greed, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, offshore oil drilling, drone attacks, and NSA dragnet snooping. Other such actions are in support of positions such as increasing the minimum wage, enacting single-payer health care, and taking effective action to substantially reduce the production of greenhouse gases.

    Such petitions and demonstrations serve several useful purposes. They educate the general public about the issues. They are important organizing tools, bringing together people with compatible views. They can help deepen understanding and commitment. But, though valuable, having numerous people publicly urge that government act in same specified manner is rarely sufficient, by itself, to produce the desired result.

    The fate of the Occupy movement illustrated the weakness of relying on demonstrations unconnected to electoral action. It focused entirely on issues and, in some cases, on direct action to address specific situations involving certain issues. For example, a group of occupiers might physically block the eviction by a bank of a family from their home. But Occupy refrained from active participation in the 2012 election, thereby rendering itself irrelevant to the process that determined who would be in position to do something effective about the issues

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    I am an engineer. My degrees are in electrical engineering and my work has been in the digital systems area, mainly digital logic, but also computer organization, software and theory. I am a Professor, Emeritus, Computer Science and Electrical (more...)
     

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