Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harm continuing (it never ends) ...

Two recent episodes illustrate the misdirection your government can take when partycrats control matters -- which right now is always and everywhere.

First, we have Alberto Gonzales, a March 2004 emergency meeting with congressional leaders, and leaked documents that indicate the subject of the meeting was supposedly the terrorist surveillance program (TSP). No matter which way the wind blows for you on this subject, somebody is lying. (AP story today - Documents contradict Gonzales' testimony).

Second, we have the revelation that Democratic New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's first and second righthand men were using the state's resources to run down evidence that his primary Republican opponent -- one Joseph Bruno, the state senate's majority leader -- was taking trips and tricks on the state dollar. We have these guys in government (like GWB's Karl Rove) whose sole purpose apparently is politicalthink. Are they really doing the people's business? Why are the taxpayers paying for these peoples' salaries?

In the Gonzales case, we have a meeting. Everybody agrees that it happened in the White House Situation Room. Gonzales says the TSP was not discussed in the meeting. Apparently some new leaked documents contradict that. Well OK. But the truly incredible thing is the "memory" of the congressional leaders in the meeting. Wanna guess how their memories break down? You got it. From the AP story by Lara Jakes Jordan:

House and Senate lawmakers who attended the Situation Room briefing are divided on the accuracy of Gonzales' account of that meeting ... Three Democrats — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle — dispute Gonzales' testimony.

Rockefeller called it "untruthful," and Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the speaker disagreed that it should be continued without Justice Department or FISA court oversight.
On the other hand, former GOP House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, "does not recall anyone saying the project must be ended,' spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck said. And former Senate Republican leader Bill Frist stopped short of confirming or denying the meeting's outcome.

"I recall being briefed with the others about the program and it was stated that Gonzales would visit with Ashcroft in the hospital and that our meeting was part of the administration's responsibility to discuss with the leadership of Congress,' Frist said in a statement.


Back to Spitzer and company.

So Spitzer's henchmen "investigated" a political opponent on the taxpayer's dollar. Now Bruno is perching for investigations by the senate body his party controls. Even the state's Inspector General, Kristine Hamann (a governor appointee) has been co-opted. What in government business is going begging meanwhile?

According to the N.Y. Times: "The controversy appears to be taking a toll on the governor’s agenda. Lawmakers are to return to Albany on Thursday, but a deal announced last week to tighten the state’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws appears to be in limbo and is not expected to be taken up. Lawmakers are expected to vote to create a study commission to consider Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan and other approaches to traffic reduction."


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harm? Lies ... Psychosis

In an AP story today (7/25/07) called Democratic hopefuls snub party moderates, party insiders explain in such a matter of fact way the process of candidates "playing" to the base during primaries and then "moving to the center" for the general election ... as though doing so was nothing less than lying.

AP writer, Ron Fournier, asks: "How do they win their parties' nomination without appearing hostage to the kind of base politics that turns off swing voters?"

He continues: "The DLC would like to help the Democratic candidates, but none are listening. While no Democratic presidential hopeful wants to be associated with the centrist group, most of the candidates will be in Chicago on Aug. 4 to attend a convention of liberal bloggers." The DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) is an offshoot of Democrats working against the natural polarizing direction of their party, the natural direction of party (to the extreme).

DLC founder Al From is quoted in the article: "It's sort of like you play on one end of field to win the nomination, but if you want to win the game, you've got to play on both ends."

"Candidates have their own interests. I don't blame them in a sense" for blowing off the DLC meeting, From said. "They have to get the nomination, and we're not one of the interest groups parading out there in Iowa and New Hampshire ."

If Democratic politicians and activists (Republican ones as well) were small-d democrats, they would put forward their beliefs, straightforward and truthfully. And then they would accept the results of the election on the merits of the campaign. But they don't really believe in democracy, in the marketplace of ideas. They obviously don't have enough confidence in their ideology to be honest to all potential voters, primary and general election ones. I can understand that ... because their ideologies are each representative of such a small sliver of the electorate.

So, instead, they lie. The question arises: Are they lying to the primary or the general election crowd. By their actions, it is clear they lie to the general election voters because, after the election, they lurch to the left or right to please their base ... since, of course, they were elected with a mandate to carry out their message, right?

Right ...

The same article exposed another psychosis suffered by partisans.

According to Fournier, From "said Bush's low approval ratings give Democrats a chance to build a lasting majority in the 2008 election..."

Interesting ... didn't the Republicans say that in 1994 when they took control of Congress and then again when they ridded themselves of the troublesome Clinton and put Republican GWB in the White House? Wasn't the RNC periphery, like Rush Limbaugh, talking about sticking the knife in deeper and eliminating the Dems forever?

They just don't get it. A majority of Americans really don't want either of them, but since we as a working majority haven't figured out how to take control and bring about change, we vote one of them into control and, when the excesses build up, we elect the other.

As long as we allow them both, neither will go away. But there is a way that we can rid ourselves of both of them -- at least from operational control of our elections and government function:


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Culture War? So, Pick One !!!

Morris Fiorina's book, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, explodes the red state/blue state paradigm we constantly hear from the political class and the silly, unthinking media. When a presidential election occurs, do some states' electoral votes go to the candidate of one party and others to the nominee of the other party? Yes, and in that narrow view, one can paint a map with reds and blues. But given the fact that only two "viable" choices are offered, a polarized result is inevitable.

What do these results tell us about the electorate? NOTHING!

Fiorina clarifies for us. One set of graphics says it all:

The top graph demonstrates a "Closely and Deeply Divided" electorate, most of whom identify with either Democratic or Republican platform/candidate. The bottom graph demonstrates a "Closely but not Deeply Divided" electorate, most of whom DO NOT identify with either party's platform/candidate, but who feel compelled to choose one of them because ... well, those are our choices, right?

If I vote for some other candidate, I'm, what, throwing my vote away or helping one of the major party candidates win, right? Remember -- those Perot voters put that scumbag Clinton into office and, well, if it weren't for Nader, Gore would have won in 2000, right?

Fiorina's book clearly shows that the electorate is more like the bottom graph. For instance:
  • Did you know? ... that when asked to respond to "Too much power concentrated in large companies," 64% of "blue" state folks responded yes AND 62% of "red" states responded ... yes!
  • "Immigration should decrease" -"blue" 41%, "red" 43%
  • "Make English official language" - "blue" 70%, "red" 66%
  • "Favor school vouchers" - "blue" 51%, "red" 54%
  • "Favor death penalty" - "blue" 70%, "red" 77%
  • "Tolerate others' moral views" - "blue" 62%, "red" 62%
  • "Abortion--always legal" - "blue" 48%, "red" 37%

That's only a smattering of issues. A full reading of the book makes perfectly clear that most American citizens, no matter the state, are rather moderate or at least in fairly close agreement, whatever the majority position.

Fiorina writes: "The most plausible explanation is that culture wars, two nations, and similar exaggerations make an excellent story line for the media, so differences are systematically exaggerated to support the story line."

The culture war line also perpetuates control in the two major parties' hands. It's either them or us.

Fiorina quotes David Brooks: "Although there are some real differences between Red and Blue America, there is no fundamental conflict. There may be cracks, but there is no chasm."

And this from Fiorina when analyzing data about purported polarization in the electorate: "For some people a 10 percent difference in the preferences of a state or a socioeconomic group on abortion or gay rights may be sufficient to conclude that the American electorate is engaged in a culture war. Our judgment differs. Certainly, in a majority rule electoral system 10 percent differences that occur in the neighborhood of 50 percent may be politically very consequential. A jurisdiction with a small right-of-center majority may elect a hard-right Republican representative while another with a small left-of-center majority may elect a hard-left Democrat. But to infer from the polarization of election outcomes that voters in the first jurisdiction overwhelmingly disagree with voters in the second jurisdiction is both a logical error and an inference at odds with the data."

Fiorina's book is filled with supporting data. I highly recommend reading it. You will understand the American electorate a lot better than listening to Wolf Blitzer, Britt Hume or Tim Russert, or by reading the New York or L.A. Times. The "polarization" of the electorate, in other words, is more a result of the choices we are presented on Election Day than a severe division in views by the voters.

The Primacy of Voting?

Time and again, we have all seen the newspaper editorial or heard the broadcast bombast about how important the act of voting is. An election is nigh and of course ...

Now is the time for all good citizens to come to the aid of their country ... right?

Too many times, I have leapt to my computer to launch yet another letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper correcting yet another of these oversimplifications about the "most important duty a citizen has -- voting."

A brief visit to my local library and a chance perusal of the 25cent sales shelf reminded me of this critical fact: voting is worthless if one has no real choice.

From the sales shelf -- the 1963 political science book, The Consent of the Governed:

In a fully developed mass democracy, candidates and parties would go to the public on the basis of bargains struck among interest groups. Campaign appeals would not be based on rival principles or policies; elections would tend, therefore, to be personality contests with candidates packaged and merchandised by professional experts in public relations. The campaign and the electoral process would be exercises in mass manipulation of the electorate, planned by consent engineers.

What makes the impact of mass society on elections alarming is the new light in which electoral processes have been put by the rise of modern totalitarian regimes. It used to be commonly assumed that the act of voting was a primary, perhaps even the most important, test of whether a government is democratic. The rise of modern totalitarianism shattered this easy assumption. Beginning in the 1930's, in fascist, nazi, and communist regimes, voters began to troop to the polls in large numbers (often over 90 per cent). Nor is it enough to argue that they do so under compulsion. Apparently, they vote often with enthusiasm and feeling. The question we have now to face is, what is the significance of the voting act? What criteria must be met before the act of voting can be held to have genuinely democratic significance?

One solution commonly offered for this question is the simple distinction between a totalitarian vote cast for or against a single candidate or slate and the democratic provision of options or choices between two or more candidates or paties. But does this distinction carry us far enough? What is the significance of the vote in a totalitarian society? What does it mean to the millions of voters who cast their ballots for the single slate of candidates? The best answer seems to be that voting in a totalitarian society is primarily a social and psychological, rather than a political, act. It seems primarily to be a way of securing the psychological comfort of conformity, of expressing one's solidarity with the nation, one's integration into the basic values of the society, one's emotional oneness and belongingness in the total community.

A political act, as that term is used here, is distinguished by the fact that it is part of a procedure for settling differences and for allocating power, prestige, and influence. In this sense, only the ruling elite in a totalitarian society performs political acts; the remainder of society performs the social acts which sanctify, legitimatize, and bind the political decisions of the elite. It would seem to be crucial to the idea of democracy, at least in its historical meaning, that the civic roles of citizens should have political, as distinct from social, meaning and that the act of voting should be a political act. The existence of two or more candidates or parties in no way insures that the citizen is a participant in political decisions, as we have defined that word. Voting, even in nominally two party politics, may be an act that has primarily social rather than political significance.

Whether the vote is a political act will clearly depend on the extent to which the options, provided for the citizen at the polls, offer the possibility of genuine choice between alternative principles, programs, and policies. Unless they do -- if, for example, political competition for the vote is personality-oriented rather than issue-oriented -- then the voter's choice will at best reflect his preferences for such personal qualities as sincerity, friendliness, amiability, leadership, grooming, and charm. It will not reflect his judgment about what policies are in the public interest or how the competing claims to increased wealth, status, prestige, and power in society are to be weighed and accommodated. A nominally and formally competitive political system, under the conditions of mass society, may serve to conceal the fact that citizens are participating socially in the legitimatizing of decisions rather than politically in the making of them.


How many recent presidential elections have riden on the concepts of "Leadership in a Dangerous World" or "Put Integrity Back in the White House" or what was it "Morning in America" ??? Is there any doubt that we have been for quite a while in the era of manipulative politics? Is there any wonder why so many citizens have receded from the political forum because they refuse to be a social legitimatization of political decisions already made by party organizations.

Think about the statements I've heard from partisans:
  • Democrat: "What's with this business of Republican poor people? I just don't understand why so many blue collar workers continually vote against their own economic interests by voting Republican !" (Because the RNC waves the social culture war carrot in front of their noses or point to the moral weakness embodied by the amorous Bill Clinton, etc.)
  • Republican: "Democrats are so big on 'choice.' You know, like, Pro-Choice. But every chance they get, they want to regulate and restrict." (Because the DNC waves the abortion/coat hangar specter.)
These paradoxes are created by parties that coagulate unlike interest groups (factions) under only two banners and, because of election laws that limit choice, provide only those choices on Election Day. Thus reducing the vote to a social action, rather than a true political action that controls the direction of government -- i.e., democracy.

More on choice next ...

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Open Debates

No discussion of the presidential debates sham would be complete without mentioning Open Debates (, an organization headed by George Farah. Farah is an energetic, well-informed, articulate attorney (I think) who has been nothing but a thorn in the side of the CPD for years.

Starting in 2003, Farah has used a multi-pronged approach to expose and attack the CPD debate monopoly. He's appeared on many radio and TV news programs and he's sued the CPD for greater openness in their agreements between the Dem/Repub campaign organizations. He's been marginally successful in the federal courts due to the obvious (but unoriginalist) support of parties by the judiciary. And in the "court of public opinion," he's had much more success as, according to his web site, "citizens, academic, civic leaders, commentators, and newspaper editorial boards across the nation expressed outrage at direct candidate manipulation."

What Open Debates discovered is that previously secret agreements between the Dems and Repubs campaigns have santitized the debate formats in such a way as to stifle any real discussion of issues.

Pre-1988 campaigns began abusing the previous hosts of the debates, the League of Women Voters. The League invited Independent candidate, John Anderson, to the debates in 1980 against the wishes of President Jimmy Carter. The 1984 Dem/Repub campaigns "vetoed 68 proposed panelists in order to eliminate difficult questions," causing the League to publicly proclaim the major parties were "totally abusing the process."

In 1988, Bush-Dukakis dictated the debate format through a secret contract that the League would not accept. "The demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter," wrote the League as it bowed out of the process.

The CPD, an arm of the DNC and RNC, took over the debates, ensuring efforts to exclude third-party and Independent voices, shielding candidates from criticism about debate formats, and helping to perpetuate the control of government by the two major parties. That is their true purpose.

What has the CPD wrought? For instance ...

  • In 1996, Ross Perot was excluded from the debates despite having received $29 million in taxpayer money and even though 75% of eligible voters wanted the little man in the debates. Ralph Nader got the same treatment despite overwhelming support for his inclusion in the debates.
  • Followup questions were prohibited.
  • Two of the Clinton-Dole debates "were deliberately scheduled opposite the World Series," an obvious attempt to reduce viewership. The incumbent, Clinton, demanded these restrictions because he was leading in the polls.
  • Response times are severely limited.
  • Screening occurs of town hall format participants.
  • The campaigns choose panelists and moderators.
As Open Debates notes, "The result is a series of glorified news conferences, with the candidates superficially glazing over the issues while reciting memorized sound-bites to fit 90-second response slots."

"It's too much show business and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debates. They're rehearsed appearances."
-- Former President George Bush

Why would the parties place such restrictions on the debates? Fundamentally, because they are not interested in informing the American electorate. The least amount said, the more uninformative and image-centric the campaign ads and rally photo ops, the better.

Compare that to European campaigns which are shorter and more informative. I'm no big fan of the French government, but have you ever watched the grilling of French presidential candidates by the media? Question, followup, followup, followup ... There is no escaping any issue and providing a full explanation of your position. The same with British campaigns and debates.

Open Debates has offered an alternative to the CPD -- an independent Citizens' Debate Commission. It deserves our support.

As their web site states, "The Citizens' Debate Commission consists of national civic leaders from the left, center and right of the political spectrum who are committed to maximizing voter education. Following in the footsteps of the League of Women Voters, the Citizens' Debate Commission will operate with full transparency, employ challenging formats, include popular independent candidates and sponsor presidential debates that serve the American people first."

Please go to their web site and offer your support.

Candidacy for the Average Citizen

Only when competent, average citizens run for office will there be a remote possibility that campaigns and elections will air all of the public's business and all potential solutions. Surely, the party-dominated system and the media won't make it easy. But without the input of Independent citizens, the lesser of evils will continue to be the choice.

As demonstrated by the previously-mentioned southeast Louisiana candidate, Independent nonpartisan voices can bring important ideas to elections. It wasn't easy for him; for instance, many people immediately associated him with the sliminess of the political class. All spare time away from work was devoted to the campaign. The media's resistance and the incumbent's snubs were not easy to take. But nearly 15,000 people voted for him, and who knows how many "disciples" carried his message forward.

To improve our democracy and public policymaking, in general, we must incorporate these Independent voices in the electoral mainstream.
  • Demand the media cover all candidates.
  • Require public debates that include all candidates and provide open-ended discussion formats.
  • Provide for some public funding of campaigns so that those who choose the non-prostitution path can be heard too.
  • Vote out incumbents who don't cooperate.
  • And above all ... Run for office!

Harm: Limiting Debate

Most people don't know it, but presidential debates are controlled by a commission that claims to be "non-partisan" but, in fact, is the brainchild of the former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties (Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, respectively).

The mission of this commission, according to its web site is the following: "The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004."

If it weren't so serious a matter, that mission statement would be the best of jokes.

In 1992, Ross Perot single-handedly carried the issue that has dominated Washington politics since: the budget deficit. Then-candidate Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush ignored that issue during those periods when Perot was out of the race. And when he was in, Perot arguably "won" the debates.

But the CPD learned its lesson. As demonstrated by its exclusion of Perot in 1996 and Ralph Nader and others in subsequent elections, the CPD showed that it will never make the mistake again of including in the debates candidates not under their control.

I'm no Ross Perot fan. He often portrayed complex issues in oversimplified illustrations, and some say he demonstrated a true paranoid streak. But he should have been included in the presidential debates because he brought something to the table that the other candidates had to respond to, putting them on record on the issue.

The CPD applies "pre-established objective" criteria to determine who shall be extended invitations. According to the web site: "The goal of the CPD's debates is to afford the members of the public an opportunity to sharpen their views, in a focused debate format, of those candidates from among whom the next President and Vice President will be selected. The purpose of the (selection) criteria is to identify those candidates who have achieved a level of electoral support such that they realistically are considered to be among the principal rivals for the Presidency."

In other words, it's a horserace whose only purpose is to elect someone to the office. According to the CPD, the purpose of the campaign (which the debates are a part of) is:
  • not to bring a wide swath of issues of interest to the public or
  • not to inform the electorate of all potential solutions to public policy
  • but simply to offer the narrow ideologies of the two main candidates.

And who's to say that a non-party candidate, given the opportunity to air different and compelling views, may not achieve that "level of electoral support" required to win the office? It's called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember, before he briefly flaked out of the '92 race, Perot had reached levels of polling support above 40 percent.

The media has culpability in this mess too. New outlets have the duty to help inform the public, but they have bought into the horserace mentality. If a candidate is not considered "viable," they largely ignore him no matter the message, no matter the ideas, no matter the solutions. If you can't win (according to someone's calculation), what's the point of bothering the electorate with this superfluous information?

Well, ask Bill Clinton why he made deficit reduction a primary focus of his presidency. Because the outsider, Ross Perot, forced him to put on record his position on the issue.

In 1996, the Los Angeles Times editorialized that Perot should be included in the debates. But, note its reasoning: "In this campaign, as in 1992, Perot plans to spend millions on taped or carefully edited 'infomercials' that allow him to present, unchallenged, his views on the nation's woes and what he would do to cure them. If he does not participate in the debates, live questioning of Perot may be largely limited to appearances with television's Larry King and other deferential questioners."

So it was Perot's "unchallenged" views that required "live questioning"? What about the views of Clinton and Bob Dole? What about juxtaposing Perot's views against those of major party candidates? Or Nader's views ... or whoever ... ?

What are the media and the political establishment afraid of? The lame anecdotes abound about feeble, weird, abrasive, unattractive "lesser" candidates embarrassing themselves in public. Well, let them make fools of themselves. The process will suffer no injury.

Excluding those candidates, though, might well injure our nation because the precise crystalline answer to the most pressing problem of the day may fall from their lips. And nobody will have heard. So what if the electorate more than likely won't elect them. To coin a phrase, "It's the issues, stupid!"

If we are to be a real representative democracy, the trend must be toward including disparate voices. Remember, the concept of Social Security was co-opted by FDR from the Socialists. Adopting a golden nugget out of a quagmire of dysfunctional political philosophy is not faulty public policy. It does not mean the unattractive candidate with one good idea will be elected.

What it does mean is that one good idea will have a better chance of becoming public policy.

It has become painfully obvious that the Democrats and Republicans don't possess all of the answers to society's needs. In fact, their games-playing often and obviously gets in the way of the public's work. Is it any wonder why more and more citizens everyday are joining the growing numbers of unhappy voters moving to the Independent center?

Isn't our political system supposed to be a marketplace of ideas? Why exclude any candidates, any ideas? In the last century, we let more voters into the process.

Let them hear ... and then choose.