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The Failure of America

There is a group of so-called Americans that is so sharply focused on their own power and self-importance that they are destroying American democracy to satisfy their quest for power. The Tea Party is not only holding the country hostage, they are even doing the same to more sensible members of the Republican party. There is nothing they can hope to gain that justifies the damage they are doing to Americans and American democracy.

Their obstructive behavior is bringing down our once-powerful nation. Our enemies are watching with glee as our country implodes. We have already lost the respect of our international trading partners. China has suggested that the world economy step away from America-based financial standards. The once-mighty American economy is rapidly approaching a point of becoming a drag on the world economy instead of a powerful foundation. All this is happening just so a relatively small group of extremists can pretend to be in charge. It is terrorism without visible bloodshed. The victims are the people of the United States of America. The winners will not be the Tea Party. The winners will be the enemies of the United States that will gather up and fight over the remains of our country after the implosion.

We CAN take back OUR government!

Over the last 20 years we have quietly been taken out of the process of choosing our leaders and elected representatives. Sure, we still vote (some of us) and the elections are determined by our votes (mostly) but are we really in control? I say we are not in control. We are not in control because we are being controlled by the big money behind major political parties. Both major parties use similar methods. Elections are won or lost based on the number and effectiveness of political advertising. This money influence often flows down to state and even local elections. State and local advertising can be particularly vicious. Name calling; misrepresentation of “facts”; out-of-context sound bytes and many other subtle (and not so subtle) tricks are all part of the toolkit used in these ads. The end result of any but the smallest local elections is a reflection of the skill of the producers of these ads. Producers use public opinion professionals to make their messages more effective. Scientific research has provided these professionals with knowledge of how to control the minds of the voting public. As citizens, we respond to the manipulations of the “spin doctors” with negative opinions of the opposition and/or positive opinions of their chosen candidates. The group with the biggest war-chest will hire the most proven effective public relations organization. Money equals votes – money buys votes – big money buys elections.

One side effect of this public opinion war is voter indifference. Many voters loose interest in elections because they are offered no real choices. If two candidates continually call each other liars and point to each other's evilness; many (too many) voters start to believe to ads. The voters see both candidates in negative light – neither deserves a vote. This is one type of success for the opinion professionals – removing votes from that could have gone against them. The remaining active voters fall into two categories. One set of voters has a strong loyalty to a party or candidate and is not easily influenced by advertising. The other set of voters can be reached by effective marketing. This is the target of the opinion professionals. Increasingly, elections are very close. The differences in votes reflect the influence of the spin doctors on the susceptible public.

The public opinion professionals know all this. They are highly trained to see the way each statement's value is influenced by word choice, inflection and context. The most effective weapon in their arsenal is the video editor. With proper editing a candidate's own words can be used against him/her. Taken out of context and inserted into an unrelated context, a candidate's public utterances become deadly to the candidate's campaign. It is apparently easier to produce effective negative perception of the opposition than to make a candidate look better. If a candidate cannot be made to look good, the next best approach is to make the other guy look bad.

As voters or prospective voters we can take steps to immunize ourselves to the public opinion manipulators. The most important step we can take is education. We cannot make informed decisions with out becoming informed. Becoming informed starts with the automatic rejection of all political advertising but especially the rejection of slickly produced; highly funded advertising. We must recognize these advertisements as the propaganda they are. Once we accept without question ANYTHING presented in a political ad, we are succumbing to the mind control of the opinion makers. Not everything said is a lie but without real proof, we cannot make a determination. The greatest information tool ever produced is available to everyone in this country. If you do not have your own connection to the internet, some of your friends might share theirs and almost all public libraries have free access available. Knowledge is power and knowing the truth is a shield against mind control by political advertising. But remember: the opinion makers exist on the internet as well as print and broadcast media. We have to keep our guard up even online. Follow the sources. Follow the money. Try to find the real goal of any person or organization presenting information. By exercising your bullshit detector, you increase its strength and effectiveness. The more you do it the better you get at it.

That is action at the personal level. While it is important to become better informed voters it is equally important that as voters we work together to force change. Recent events have dramatically demonstrated the failures of the party-based structure of Federal government. Free-thinking independents with new ideas and a fresh approach to the country's issues are virtually denied an opportunity to reach public office. Meanwhile the parties in charge wage a war of obstructionism and prevent modern progress. Party leadership has the power to force party members to vote the party line instead of voting their conscience or the wishes of their constituents. The threat of withholding financial support and party recommendations in the next election is enough to keep party members in line. The big money contributors also hold power and influence over party members' lives after their terms in office end. All this power makes all elected officials simple-minded thralls to the party leaders resulting in dysfunction.

There has been a recent public outcry to take away officials' salaries as long as government shutdowns and dysfunction continue. This sounds like a good idea at first but it is meaningless in practice. The real attraction in public office is not the salaries and official benefits. Almost all elected officials consider their offices as a doorway to a future enhanced by the gratitude of the big money supporters whose interest they represent. They will gladly forfeit their government salaries to get the power and privilege of private sector positions. There is no hope of stopping or preventing this support so we need to both expose it and exploit it to our benefit.

I suggest eliminating all benefits of elected office except security and expenses of office. There should be no government paid salary or benefit package. If there are constitutional requirements we can meet those requirements but not a penny more. We know the financial support of contributors drives the election process. Let the same supporters pay officials' salaries and benefit packages. The only requirement would be that every candidate declare where his/her support comes from and where his/her salary and benefit package originates. As voters we will then know with near certainty how the candidate will act in office. Once in office every elected official will be required to make the same public declaration annually. This will poke some holes in the curtains between elected officials and the money that backs them. There should be no limits on contributions or on benefits paid to officials. More popular members (the better politicians) will get more money. Small contributors will be able to put their money into funds for causes or positions they support. These funds can then be shared with elected members supporting the fund's cause. Any member can receive support from any organization willing to publicly declare their support.

The most significant failure of the American democratic process is the alienation of the American voter. Voters loose interest because they see no real difference between candidates. When a voter is convinced all his options are liars and cheats (as declared by political advertising) there is no value in voting. I propose the inclusion of “None of the Above” (NOTA) as an option in any Federal election. If a candidate can not garner enough votes to win over NOTA that candidate is both eliminated from the election and prevented from running again for two terms of office of the sought position. If support for all candidates fails against NOTA a new election is required and the limitations connected with NOTA apply. This election reform will reinvigorate the electorate and give the voting public the power to actually influence the direction of the government. A major failure of government like we are seeing now will result in a wholesale flushing of the Washington DC cesspool and an influx of fresh minds.

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