CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Redistricting: by deceitfully moving a line, I can rule forever

In America, most — but probably not all — citizens who seek public office do so with initial good intent. They wish to perform a public service.

That quaint, altruistic notion lasts, on the national level, perhaps 10 minutes after the swearing-in ceremony.

Lobbyists descend. Party leaders demand fund-raising success now. The novice lawmaker is partnered with veteran D.C. good ol’ boys (and girls). And before casting a single vote, the political novitiate begins the daily grind of hours spent dialing for dollars.

And the new titles — Congressman, Senator — and their apparent conferred respect edge into the psyche. I like this, think the freshmen. People stand up when I enter a room. People with money — lots of money – offer me not-so-subtle favors. I like this.

The discovery of power breeds the lust to retain it. An individual politician may be a decent human being. He (or she) may not end up in sexual disarray or keep $90,000 in his freezer. But as a species, politicians place preservation of power at the center of their communal altar.

National politicians cheat, steal, connive, and kiss babies to stay in office. That we can live with. But we should no longer stomach the mind-numbingly boring — so mind-numbing far too many journalists ignore it — and tainted process of redistricting. We must demand its reform.

That’s because Machiavellian maneuvers in redistricting — manipulating lines on a map — is how these charlatans keep the power they use so ineptly and unwisely.

It’s no secret that re-election rates to Congress are astonishingly high. But too many of us in the governed class, myself included, have focused our attention on the ungodly sums of money these indeliberate deliberators raise.

It’s not, so much, the money anymore: It’s who draws the lines of congressional districts, how they are drawn, and with what motive.

Redistricting is the legally required process of equalizing the numbers of people in districts following the decennial census. This is done to ensure that House seats are fairly distributed. But gerrymandering — the redrawing of district lines with the motive of ensuring a “safe” district for an incumbent — has corrupted the process. Consider these few bizarre, convoluted examples of gerrymandered districts scattered through this post.

It’s quite simple, really. Legislatures in 34 states control redistricting. In other states, “independent” and “bipartisan” commissions draw the lines. It’s always been a partisan process, but in this era of childish political tantrums, the process serves only to maximize the power of those who rule, not distribute fairly the power of those who are ruled. Districts are packed, using unimaginable boundaries, with voters of one party to the maximum extent possible.

Now do you see why the re-election rates of incumbents in Congress are so damn high?

Despite the few successes in ’08, ’10, and ’12, voters find it difficult to “throw the bums out.”

Imagine the United States, if political wrangling over redistricting and unfettered spending on campaigns by millionaires and billionaires remains unchecked. Will the day come when members of Congress simply cannot be removed through the ballot box?

If that happens, it will make the doomsday-prepping wingnuts seem absolutely prescient.

Cast your eye over history. What has been the fate of nations when citizens could not peacefully remove their government?

As boring as it is, demand transparency in redistricting efforts. And demand media organizations cover them as ardently as they do the tragic OJ-Lite™ drama under way in South Africa.

Our hardworking folks in Congress: more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs

When voters elect members of Congress, they are hiring them to do a job. Voters, through their taxes, compensate those politicians well — $174,000 a year, and more if they have committee or leadership roles.

Many, if not most, voters — unless they are among the 12.5 million without jobs — work about 35 hours a week for a median income of about $32,000. They get perhaps two weeks of paid vacation each year. But a member of the House of Representatives this year was scheduled to show up for only 89 days from January to November. He (and it’s generally “he,” not “she“) is taking off a week in February, another in April, still another in May, and — get this — the whole of August and the first week of September. “It’s too hot in the city in August,” he tells you, then takes off for week-long conventions in the hot, humid Deep South before working only eight days in September. That’s 89 days out of the 172 days voters will be at work (minus a few paid holidays) before Nov. 6. Continue reading

Time to revisit high-school civics lesson: Does your vote matter any more?

I first voted in an American national election in 1964. Lyndon Baines Johnson ran against Barry (“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”) Goldwater, the elder-statesman conservative who later successfully persuaded Richard Nixon to resign.

I voted for LBJ. The landslide swept Goldwater into a conservative backwater.

I have voted in every national election since then. But not voting this November has crept into my mind. And it’s not because I believe both candidates for president are hapless morons incapable of governing with some degree of effectiveness. (Yeah, I’ve got my doubts about both of these guys. They’re not that different.) And it’s not because I’ve grown weary of my own senator, the estimable three-termer Chuck Schumer, glomming onto every microphone and minicam he can find.

No, it’s because I’ve come to believe massive amounts of money from very few people have trumped my individual vote. And that money — much of it political largesse from billionaires — has made my individual vote a largely ineffective tool with which to dislodge an incumbent.
Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Presidential polls: Much ado about nothing 17 months early

Egads! News flash from pollster Gallup Inc.:

PRINCETON, NJ — Mitt Romney (17%) and Sarah Palin (15%) now lead a smaller field of potential Republican presidential candidates in rank-and-file Republicans’ preferences for the party’s 2012 nominee. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain essentially tie for third, with Cain registering 8% support in his initial inclusion in Gallup “trial heat” polling. Notably, 22% of Republicans do not have a preference at this point. [emphasis added]

Yawn. This poll conducted May 20-24 with a random sample of 971 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents tells me nothing I want to know or need to know. I’m not necessarily picking on pollster Gallup; my objections apply to most of these almost weekly presidential preference polls. They mislead and misrepresent more than enlighten. In sum, they represent manufactured noise with little signal.
Continue reading

Presidential preference polls: how media create a fake horse race

You can smell that foul odor wafting through the air — presidential politics. Wannabees who won’t say they wannabee are peddling books. Sharply dressed and coiffed “I haven’t decided yet” politicians descend on Iowa and New Hampshire. Explorations of exploratory committees are explored. Websites and Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts multiply like lobbyists at a fundraiser.

And, if it’s the beginning of the presidential campaign season, then it’s the beginning of the presidential polling season as well. Newspapers and broadcast entities partner with polling organizations to tap likely voters’ preferences for candidates. Even though this is early in 2011 and the election is in late 2012, poll respondents are expected to know now whom they’ll pencil onto their ballot.

So the horse race begins. But it’s fixed. All because of one question:

If the election were held today, who would you vote for?
Continue reading

Kansas rep, a friend of industry, axes product-safety database

A neophyte freshman representative from Kansas who slipped into Congress on the strength of hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations from heavyweight industries does not want you and me to see a product-safety database compiled by a federal consumer agency.

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Among its mandates: Consumers will have access to a public database to report and learn about hazards posed by unsafe products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled that database, and it’s ready to launch next week.

But Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) doesn’t want consumers to see it. He does not want them to see “reports of defective products from a wide range of sources, including consumers, health-care providers, death certificates and media accounts,” reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. He does not want consumers to change how they make purchasing decisions. He does not want them to see a database that is “limited to complaints about safety and does not deal with product reliability or performance,” reports Layton.
Continue reading

For 20 years, big-time political money still flowing from the same sources

We do not know the amount of invisible money injected into politics that resulted from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January that permitted anonymous corporate political spending.

But we can count the visible money, campaign contributions that the law requires be reported. No matter what the hot-button issue is on the public’s (er, media’s) agenda at any given time, the big money given to congressional candidates comes from the same sources.

More than three years ago, I analyzed data from the Center for Responsive Politics, looking at donations since 1990. Here were the top givers:

Since 1990, lawyers and law firms have made nearly $781 million in campaign contributions, ranking them No. 1. (Adding in the lobbyists makes that nearly $900 million.)

At No. 2 are the retired folks who want to protect what they spent a lifetime accumulating. The AARP faction has made nearly $662 million in campaign contributions since 1990.

At No. 3 is the securities and investments industry (which the AARP set leans on to protect its wealth), which has made $463 million in campaign contributions since 1990.

At No. 4: Real estate at $456 million.

At No. 5: Health professionals at nearly $360 million.

Nothing’s changed. The same groups are still pushing more money into congressional campaigns than another other special interests. But the game is different now: This is only the money we can see. Citizens United permits anonymity: Now we worry about political money we cannot see or count.
Continue reading

Presidential candidates’ date with destiny: Ethanol subsidies expire Dec. 31

Sooner or later, they will all obediently troop to Iowa. Presidential wannabees of all stripes will march through diners and farms, pressing the flesh and taking the ethanol pledge. Flip-flops may occur, depending on whether someone is 1) leading in the polls, 2) trailing badly, 3) outside Iowa, or 4) speaking after the Iowa caucuses.

We need to support ethanol. Al Gore said that. In fact, he’s always saying that.

I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects. John McCain said that in 2006.

But in a 2000 debate with George Bush, McCain said: We don’t need the subsidies and if it wasn’t for Iowa being the first caucus state no one on this stage would support ethanol. To which Bush replied: I support ethanol, I completely support ethanol, John. And I’d support it whether or not Iowa was first. But McCain elsewhere said this: Ethanol makes a lot of sense.
Continue reading

Running for president? Accomplish these tasks — but quietly

If you wish to run for president in 2012, you must accomplish several tasks designed to magnify your influence before your formal announcement.

And you must be careful about it. You don’t want the public to know. That’s because while you’re doing these often ethically spurious but entirely legal acts, you want the public to believe your political intentions are altruistic. You would be president, you will publicly and loudly proclaim, because you wish to do the work of the American people.

Let’s use former Massachusetts governor and Olympics savior Mitt Romney as an example. Why Mitt? Because he so badly wants to be president of these Disunited States, and because he’s ahead of others in doing the tasks.

Task one is obvious: Raise money. Gobs of it. But direct public contributions to candidates regulated by the Federal Election Commission will not produce enough money to really make a run for the presidency. About two-thirds of the $1.64 billion raised by House and Senate candidates for the 2010 midterms came from individuals, the rest from PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s lots of money, but expect serious presidential candidates in 2012 to each raise a billion dollars — or more. After all, President Obama raised $745 million in 2008.

So where will the money come from?
Continue reading

Tracking independent political spending harder since Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — striking down bans on independent spending by unions, corporations, and individuals — continues to ripple through American politics, especially at the state level.

A new blog — The Money Tale — at the National Institute on Money in State Politics makes this abundantly clear. Writes researcher Anne Bauer:

Prior to the ruling, 24 states banned independent expenditures by unions, corporations, or both. Since the ruling, all 24 have dropped their bans following court challenges, rulings by attorneys general, or through legislation.

That means it’s even harder to find publicly accessible data on independent political spending in state races.

Campaign cash for federal races — the presidency and members of Congress — has been tracked for a decade by the Center for Responsive Politics (recently named to the inaugural list of institutions comprising a new journalism ecosystem). But the interpretation has often been done by people like me — using the CRP’s opensecrets.org site. Similarly, I’ve used reports at followthemoney.org as background for commentary on state elections and referenda.

But that was before Citizens United. Now, at either the state or federal level, can we calculate which is larger: The total of publicly accessible, legally required reports of contributions to candidates — or the the total of anonymous, unreported, publicly unaccessible spending legitimized by the Supreme Court?
Continue reading

The root of all evil will rule mid-term elections

Come Tuesday, Nov. 2, it will not matter whether you vote Democratic, Republican, Independent, Green, Tea, or write-in. That’s because the winning entity will not be on the ballot — and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Come Wednesday, Nov. 3, anchors and pundits alike will announce, pronounce, anoint, or castigate individuals wearing the colors of the Red or Blue parties. Few, if any, will comment on the real winner. The newly elected or re-elected will mouth platitudes such as “the people have spoken” or “we’re here to do the work of the American people.”

Nope. The winners will have been chosen, as they have been on average for half a century by less than half of the voting-age population, to serve the corporate dollar.

That’s because come Nov. 3, the winner of the mid-term elections — and statewide races across the nation — will have been well-hidden corporate and billionaire money.
Continue reading

Speaker wannabee Boehner recycling platitudes of speakers past

The three pillars of any democracy are the rule of law, transparency, and a functioning civil society. Over decades, all three of these pillars have been chipped away in the people’s House.

A wonderful sentiment, don’t you think?

House minority leader John Boehner, R-OH, spoke these words to conservatives in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this week. I was moved: If I could be convinced he would adopt the solutions he offered in this speech in a fair, even-handed manner, I’d vote Republican in November. (Well, maybe not … he and 434 other people actually still call their congressional pay-to-playground the people’s House despite their average annual median income of $650,000.)

If the GOP takes control of the House, Boehner would displace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. (There’s even a Boehner for Speaker website.) Given that pundits of many political persuasions believe a GOP takeover is within reach, some of his ideas merit inspection — but he is not their most credible advocate.
Continue reading

Sarah Palin: Tweeting to the top in a $12 million year

Dr. Laura: don’t retreat…reload! Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence ‘isn’t American, not fair.

This is a political communication from a woman whom her supporters wish to be the leader of the free world. That’s the title generally accorded to the president of the United States.

The quote, a tweet from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and self-proclaimed chief Mama Grizzly, offers advice to conservative talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger who quit her job after using the word nigger 11 times in a call from an African-American listener, prompting numerous protests.

Palin’s advice consists of six letters — “reload.” Her explanation of the advice — consisting of a treatise on the First Amendment, the conditions under which that amendment does not appy, the existence of activists politically opposed to Schlessinger’s conservative ideology, the means of silencing a political opponent, the definition of “American,” and whether the contretemps between Schlessinger and activists is “fair” — consists of 91 characters, not counting spaces.

Palin has mastered the art of remotely operated and ideologically congealed political dialogue that includes inventing words.
Continue reading