Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Interview with Thomas Wills (part 1)

You are planning on running as an independent. Given the reluctance of American politics to fully embrace a three-party system, why did you choose to avoid a political party rather than committing yourself to the Democrats or Republicans or any other political party?

The answer partly lies in the question: America is reluctant to embrace a third party. And while party loyalty is still strong, I think it is safe to say that most Americans are dissatisfied with their government—on the federal, state, and local levels, all. Running as an independent is a subtle reminder to the people that my goal is reject the idea of “politics as usual” and work for change.

Rejecting “politics as usual” makes for a great soundbite, and it's one we've heard from the lips of more than a few candidates. How do you plan on making your soundbite sound better than anyone else?

(Laughing) Or to put it bluntly, why should you trust my line any more or less than the line of anyone else?

Yes, exactly. Is there a reason we can expect your rejection of “politics as usual” to be anything other than the usual (pardon the expression) bullshit?

(Laughing) Bullshit is a very apt way of describing politics as usual.

Part of the problem is we claim to be a government run by the people, but really it's a government run like a business. It's a clever deceit, too. We treat tax payers like investors—investors expect a return on their investment. Money out, equals money back. As long as the government looks like they are upholding their promise to put money back into the pockets of its citizens, the mob stays quiet, and the ways the government puts that money into their pockets is not examined too closely. But then look what happens when we're hit with an economic crisis: the health of our economy is determined by the fluctuations of a gambling system, legislators are more likely to listen to groups who fund their re-election campaigns rather than rest confident in their good performance. Essentially we've become a government propped up by the mere possibility of wealth and the thin illusion of good behavior.
One way I want to be different; well, let's start with one of the foundations of a political campaign: fund-raising. I really am going to run a campaign based solely on the internet. Obama showed us all how effective a tool the internet can be as a political tool. Unfortunately, Obama was tied down with the burden of being part of a major political party with their own expectations and demands. You can pay $5,000 dollars to be part of a breakfast and listen to the candidate speak, or you can just log on to a site and watch a web stream of the speech for free. While the money that goes into the campaign coffers keeps the machine moving, one side-effect is that it creates a class divide. “You too can hear the candidate speak in person, but only if you can afford it.” That sort of glad-handing feels like prostitution to me.


Well, you pay a call-girl for the pleasure of her company for an evening they same way you pay $5000 for the pleasure of a candidate's company during breakfast. Both are about as socially useful.
My idea is that I don't want donations. From anyone. What I suggest to anyone who would like to donate to my campaign is to send that money instead to a list of charitable organizations I have on my website as a gift from the Thomas Wills Campaign.
That way, even if I lose, at least some public good has come from my campaign.

And, no doubt, having the backing of those organizations won't hurt.

Word of mouth advertising is absolutely a better endorsement than a 30-second spot.

Don't you think those 30-second spots have a profound impact on the polls?

Another instance of politics as usual. Candidates always promise to run a clean campaign, but invariably they spend more time tearing each other down rather than promoting the benefits of their campaign. He Said/She Said political bullshit doesn't interest me, and I would hope it wouldn't interest my constituents neither. There is a dangerous implication in lowest-common-denominator advertising, which is the assumption that the majority of the people watching are idiots. No one likes to be called an idiot.

Even if it happens to be true?

I neither said that nor implied it. Call me an idealist, but I think our country would be a lot better off if our legislators and executives assumed the best, rather than the worst, of people.

Okay, you're an idealist. So how would you respond to a character or policy attack from a commercial?

I'm running as an independent; do you really thing the Democrats or the Republicans are going to waste any of their “precious” airtime attacking a third-party candidate? If I'm doing well enough in the polls for them to focus on me or my campaign, anything they would have to say would be free advertising. If they insist on holding onto their “politics as usual” style of campaigning, they are better off doing their best to ignore me.

What other differences are you planning for your campaign?

The media pretty much ignore third-party candidates, and you might think that a large struggle would be to gain media attention. The internet, however, changes all that. Rather than struggle for media attention, I can choose to embrace the lack thereof.
For instance, third party candidates are not included nor invited to town-hall debates and forums. Rather than clamor to be included, a video camera and a clever film editor can splice any of my responses to questions and candidate's opinions into the debate, and then I can post it on YouTube. Suddenly my participation in the debate is seen any time you do a Google search for the previous evening's debate. As long as my answers are good enough, word-of-mouth will do most of my work for me.

An added benefit would be that while I can respond to my opponents' positions, they have no defense against mine other than to pretend I don't exist.

If people see that you are important enough to respond to, then perhaps you are important enough to listen to.

Yes, exactly. Which is why their best tactic would be to ignore me. But the voice of a third party is exactly what those debates, those Diane Sawyer interviews, those major media coverages need, and I think word of mouth will make a big impact when I start posting videos.

How so?

Well, to be fair, President Obama is one hell of an orator, so I'm not sure the critique applies to him, but what we see in these campaigns is back-biting, bickering, finger-pointing, and a general reluctance to answer direct questions. Politicians know if they answer a direct question bluntly, they feel they are going to alienate some portion of their supporters. All their language twists around so that it can somehow be seen as a plus for conservative, moderate, and liberal bias groups all at the same time.

And you are not afraid to answer bluntly?

Why should I be? It's not like I'll be running for office without any realistic sense that I stand a chance in hell of winning. But that's not the point, for me. The point is that I'm doing what I think is right and needs to be done, and I hope that I can make enough of an impact to raise expectations of other candidates, that maybe voters won't be satisfied with the politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouths.

And an example of talking out of both sides of the mouth would be...

“Read my lips: no new taxes.”

You know, technically there weren't any new taxes...

That's fair, but then that quote was the topper for a pledge to not raise taxes either, which is exactly what happened.
Another example would be public condemnation of the war, even though you are voting to support it while in session.
Or, say, can you really make the claim you are “Pro-Life” if you oppose abortion but support the death penalty?

Oh goody, issues time! Time to see how different you really want to be. How do you feel about Roe v. Wade?

All the problems this country faces and you start with Roe v. Wade? (chuckling)

Okay, first you have got to recognize that Roe v. Wade doesn't encapsulate the abortion issue. How I feel about the one is not necessarily determined by how I feel about the other.
Firstly, I
am pro-choice—let's make that clear. And I support the use of abortion as a medical procedure to save the life of a woman or up-hold the choice made to not have a child. More on that in a second.
Second, because I believe in that abortion should be and remain legal, I don't support over-turning Roe v. Wade.
But! But I do not think that necessarily invalidates certain criticisms about the ruling. Coming to the right decision the wrong way is a dangerous way to interpret law and I strongly support narrow rulings on specific cases.

So, back to the pro-choice issue.

Right. Look, the choice to have or not have a child doesn't happen when the pee hits the stick. Many people make the choice to not have children before they even have sex, and they uphold that choice by using some form of contraceptive. Since birth control is not 100% effective, shouldn't those couples who chose from the get-go to not have children be allowed to make that choice again if, in the random spin of fate, their birth control fails and their choice is taken away from them?

Should a woman who has made the choice to not be sexually active not be allowed the choice to bear a child or not if that woman is a victim of rape?

Laws are not designed to make people slaves, incapable of making their own choices and decisions. I cannot support a law that would entrap citizens as victims of circumstance, regardless of their choice.

You can't have it both ways, though. I do not think it is fair to say that only some women can be allowed to terminate pregnancy, but others must be forced to go through it.

Would I like to see less abortions? Absolutely! I mean, hell, in my idea of a perfect world, birth control never fails, only people who are planning on children get pregnant, and the life of the mother is never in danger.
I think it's great that people advocate for the life of the child, but I think that abortion as a medical procedure has more benefits than abortion as a moral issue has detractions. And I would like to see less abortions due to a greater sense of personal and social responsibility on the part of our citizens, and not due to any sort of enforced legal morality.

Does that mean that you are against the law enforcing morality?

Of course not. It is pretty well established that murder is not useful or healthy in society, and therefore has been criminalized for as long as there has been the idea of civilization. I support making murder illegal: of course I do. But murders continue in spite of its illegality, and I don't think that murders will diminish just because we make harsher laws against it.

Are you equating murder with abortion?

Not hardly, though there are lots of folks who do. Prior to Roe v. Wade, most states allowed abortion if the woman's life was in danger because of the pregnancy, and there were also several states that had made abortion legal.

Most people will concede there is at least some instance where abortion would be okay, even if the only instance they concede would be to save the life of the mother.
I can't think of a single case where someone has successfully argued an instance of acceptable murder.

I think I could play devil's advocate here, but I see what you mean.

When I hear a person argue that there are too many abortions, I always respond that maybe it's because there are too many pregnancies, and perhaps there are too many pregnancies because too many people are having irresponsible sex.

If the problem then, is that too many people are having irresponsible sex, then the fact that there are too many abortions would be a symptom of the problem. You can't solve a problem by only going after its symptoms. It's foolish to try.

Yet, again and again, we see our government going after the symptoms of the problem rather than meeting the problem itself head-on.

Can you provide any other examples?

Look at all our bailouts with TARP money. The stock market collapsing wasn't the problem, and the banks getting stuck with bad debt wasn't the problem. But that's where we are throwing all the money, and ignoring the relaxed oversight on Wall Street and the blatant unaccountability of Credit Default Swaps. All TARP is doing is trying to get us back to business as usual. And business as usual is a debt economy, where people borrow money—in the form of loans or credit cards—in order to go from day to day.

Or look at how we're dealing with Iran, and by extension the Muslim world in general. We're so set on preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, but do you think Iran would feel it necessary if Israel didn't have any nukes? Besides, Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel hasn't. How many of the troubles in the Middle East stem from the aggressive tactics of the Zionists in Israel? Which is the problem, and which the symptom?

Would you be okay, then, if Iran had a nuclear weapon?

In a perfect world, I'd be okay if no one would have a nuclear weapon, but I can definitely understand why Iran would want one. But I'm not totally convinced they are tying to make one. Iran has been fully compliant with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and fully transparent with the uranium-enrichment program as well. The last report released by the IAEA states that all nuclear material at Iran's fuel enrichment plant remain “under Agency containment and surveillance”. At this point, the IAEA would have to be helping Iran create a nuclear weapon for it to be possible.

Why do you think this and the previous administrations continue to claim a weapons program exists?

Why did they claim one existed in Iraq? Fear is a great motivator to get the mob behind you in support for war.

Do you think this administration wants war?

If it doesn't it has a funny way of showing it. Our fighting forces show no sign of coming home any time soon. Troop presence continues to rise in Afghanistan. Guantanamo remains open. We're still not out of Iraq. I know Zionist Israel would just love it if we attacked a few more countries in the Middle East, and the Israeli Lobby on the Hill is as strong and influential as ever.
Biden is a staunch supporter of Israel and the same week Obama won the democratic primary he was assuring the Israeli Lobby that American support for Israel would remain undiminished.

You seem pretty critical of Israel.

I'm all for the establishment of a Jewish State, but they have such a horrible grasp of diplomacy. When you are surrounded by neighbors who may or may not appreciate you moving in, the best course of action is accommodation, not belligerence. Yet the entirety of Hebrew history in the region—if one is to believe the Old Testament—demonstrates the only way they know how to greet a neighbor is with violence.
You don't criticize a rabid dog, you put it down. Israel is hardly rabid, so they deserve every ounce of criticism directed towards them.
But criticism is not what our leaders seem to be doing. We levy sanctions against countries that defy U.N. Resolutions, except Israel, which has ignored more than sixty. We react strongly and harshly against countries with weapons of mass destruction, except Israel. We'll invade Iraq because, we claim, the government is terrorizing its citizens. Our response to Israel's treatment of Palestine is much more supportive.

Yeah, I'm critical of Israel. They are a massive destabilizer in a region which helps provide much of the world's oil. I expect better from them.

You mentioned the usage of TARP funds as treating a symptom and not the problem. What's your plan to rebuild the health of the economy?

Okay, look, wealth is only useful if there is any substance to it. Wealth without substance is called a bubble, and when it pops you're left with nothing. We viewed home equity as a source of wealth, but then we borrowed all the substance out of it with mortgages, and when the housing bubble popped, look what happened. There wasn't any value to the wealth, do you know what I mean?
The stock market works the same way. Your investments can make you money, but that wealth only exists as long as the market bubble doesn't pop.

So it makes little sense to attempt to rebuild an empty economy by saving the Wall Street and credit companies; you're just inflating another bubble.

To truly have a healthy, thriving economy, we must be able to accumulate wealth that has actual value to it. One way, I suppose, would be to suddenly find a gold mine worth five trillion dollars.

What this economy needs is production. We can't be satisfied with merely creating jobs, they have to be production jobs. Service jobs are great, but providing a service does not have any tangible, solid value. Not the way actually making things to be sold does.

I'm not sold on the idea that corporate off-shoring of production is better for the economy. Sure, it drives down prices, and for a while, we got away with measuring our economic health by people's willingness to by, as long as we didn't look to closely at how they were buying. Is our economy really that healthy if our buying power is propped up solely by our willingness pay by credit? I don't think so. It's another illusion of wealth.

So the other thing we need to do to fix the economy is start behaving much more conscientiously and intelligently when we shop. The government can only do so much. If people want the economy to get better they have to work just as hard as their government to fix it. The government can't control the buying habits of consumers, all we can do is do our best to make sure companies are not taking advantage of their customers or tax laws.

How do you feel about taxes? What's your plan?

Taxes are necessary for a government to function. That's the plain, simple truth. You can't even call them a necessary evil, unless you feel like government is a necessary evil, and I guess there's people who do. That being said, I think people don't understand what taxes are for, including the people who propose new taxes.

Taxes are like an investment in the community. Do you want your community to be better able to fight and prevent crimes and fires? That comes from your taxes. Do you want your streets free of trash? Do you want your sewage properly disposed of? Taxes. Do you want your country able to present itself effectively in commerce and diplomacy with other nations? The people doing it have to be paid somehow.
Now, I know no one likes paying taxes. I get that. But I think part of that comes from the idea that you're giving the government a portion of your paycheck, but you don't see what they are doing with it that benefits you somehow. I think an infinitely more transparent budget will satisfy some of that reluctance.

My other main idea about taxes is that they should be fair. I know this sounds like a given, but when I say fair, I mean they apply to everybody equally. The Democrats have this mantra lately: raise taxes on the rich. They can afford to pay more taxes so maybe they should. I don't like that idea. For one thing, it clarifies a class difference between citizens, and one of the founding tenets of our country was one of equality. Additionally, most of the “rich” worked hard to get where they are, and it doesn't seem right to penalize them by forcing them to pay more than the average citizen.

So, here's my plan, and I know it won't be very popular. Our tax law is a mess. Loopholes abound. I'd love for two things to happen: 1) Close the loopholes. Tax write-offs aren't bad, but lying and cheating to get them is. I'd like to work to limit the type and amount of write-offs that citizens can utilize to balance their life and work. Also—and here is where the “rich” come into play—is that the richer you are, the more write-offs are available because you can find more loopholes. So closing the loopholes would in a sense raise taxes on the rich without actually singling them out. 2)Flatten out the income tax rates from a progressive tax towards more of a fixed one. This idea is highly unpopular in America, which always struck me as ironic given that we wave the “we're the land of equality” flag around.

These two ideas obviously will run into a lot of opposition, and I'm more than willing to debate about them, but you can't ignore the fact that my plan is designed to ensure everyone pays their fair share.

It then falls on the government to use that money responsibly. And this is another reason people are reluctant to pay their taxes: they don't trust their government. And no wonder, given the kind of partisan bickering you see on the Hill. We need a vast restructuring of our spending so that our budget can properly handle the needs of the people.

Can you name a few examples?

A big one we can start with would be our military spending. It's a hot button issue, I know. You mention you want to lower military spending and people think you're trying to weaken America. The problem is they are equating an amount to how safe they feel. The higher the amount, the safer they feel. But what they don't realize is how much wasteful spending occurs. We could cut that amount in half and still be the top country in military spending. You could combine the military spending of the next three countries below us, and we'd still spend more. We need to spend smarter; if we do that the public will realize how many billions of extra money suddenly appear that the military doesn't need.

Look at the F-22. Billions were being spent on a fighter less efficient and performing worse than fighter planes built twenty years ago. Thank god they killed that program, but that is merely one example of many that need looking at.

We need to either disband NATO or invite Russia to join. The Cold War is over, and both disbanding or Russian joining would help lower our overseas military spending. We don't need military bases in every country. Especially in NATO countries. What makes sense to me is each NATO country being responsible for the housing and care of a NATO base. Troops would mix together, helping to establish not just a sense of alliance, but a better idea of global community. That would mean, of course, that we would need to establish a base here in America, and once again, you'd hear the moans from a double-standard populace who feel it's necessary to house our soldiers in bases on Allied soil but inappropriate for Allies to do the same.

I could go on and name more examples, but it's all available on my website. What sums it up, I think, is that I recognize that as far as nations on Earth go, America is a baby. We're merely two hundred years old, and we kind of act like were in our “terrible twos”. It's all “me me me” and “mine mine mine”. My goal is to get America to grow up a little. We need to learn to share. We're old enough that we should be held accountable for our actions. This expectation falls not merely on our government, but also on our citizens.

Up next, Thomas Wills on the “3 Gs”: Guns, God, and Gays.