Thursday, June 23, 2011

A survey of America's third parties and Independents and the 2012 general elections

I find it newsworthy, that there has been little published in many of America's important news periodicals and recent research about roles or influence third parties may exert in the 2012 general elections.

From Friedman, Thomas L, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times  |  100 Days (June 21, 2011)  |
Maybe it is just my friends, but I find more and more people completely disgusted by this situation and looking for a serious Third Party candidate who could run in 2012 and deliver the shock therapy to the corrupt, encrusted, two-party duopoly now running the show in America.

Such a Third Party would have a simple agenda: 1) Inject a short-term stimulus. 2) Enact Simpson-Bowles. 3) Shrink our presence in Afghanistan. 4) Raise automobile mileage standards. 5) Impose a gasoline tax to pay for a massive increase in government-supported scientific research and a carbon tax to pay for new infrastructure and stimulate clean-power innovation.

Do I think such a Third Party can win in 2012? Not likely. But it doesn’t have to win to be effective. If such a party attracted substantial voters on such a platform, it would shape the agendas of the Republicans and Democrats. They would both have to move to attract these voters by changing their own platforms and, in so doing, might even create a mandate for the next president to govern for an entire term — not just 100 days. 

From Charlie Rose  |  Interview with US Senator Evan Bayh (March 1, 2010)  |
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you believe that a third party candidacy -- not for you, but a viable third party candidate could win in 2012?
EVAN BAYH: Well, let me be clear, because there are all sorts of rumors running around. I support the president, and I think he’s got a good chance of being reelected for a number of reasons.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you will not run as a third-party candidate?
EVAN BAYH: No, I will not. But I do think the level of frustration among the American public is such that following the last administration, there was a big vote for change, as we know. If Washington remains stuck, even though it’s not the president’s fault, even though most of this may rest at the doorstep of Congress, that frustration may fester and grow, particularly in the economy remains somewhat sluggish. And it would create an opportunity for someone with the sort of resources that Ross Perot, for example, had a decade or decade and a half ago to make a case to the American public that, look, we need someone from just completely outside of all this to come in and really shake things up. So there is that potential.
CHARLIE ROSE: How about someone like Michael Bloomberg?
EVAN BAYH: Well, he might fit that bill. He certainly has the resources.
EVAN BAYH: He’s been a thoughtful mayor of New York City.
CHARLIE ROSE: Resources and public experience.
EVAN BAYH: Correct.
CHARLIE ROSE: And an appeal to both Democrats and Republicans because of some positions he has which are Democratic, some -- certainly on fiscal issues, some positions that are conservative.
EVAN BAYH: Correct.
CHARLIE ROSE: So that’s the profile of somebody, a lot of money and an appeal to independents. And it’s in your judgment knowing politics doable if certain convergences take place?
EVAN BAYH: If you look at our history it’s unlikely. And I still believe the president will be reelected. But under the right set of circumstances, if the economy is sluggish and Congress remains stuck, someone with those sorts of resources and an executive back ground of proven accomplishments, that’s always attractive to the American public.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

US constitutional amendments on election reform proposed thus far this congress

H.J.Res.28 - Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding the right to vote. 

Official Summary 2/14/2011--Introduced.Constitutional Amendment - Grants all U.S. citizens who are 18 years of age or older the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. Prohibits the United States, any state, or any other public or private person or entity from denying or abridging the right to vote, but allows regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections. Requires each state to:
(1) administer public elections in the state in accordance with election performance standards established by Congress, and
(2) provide any eligible voter the opportunity to register and vote on the day of any public election. 

H.J.Res.7 - Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States waiving the application of the first article of amendment to the political speech of corporations and other business organizations with respect to the disbursement of funds in connection with public elections. 

Official Summary 1/5/2011--Introduced.Constitutional Amendment - Waives application of the First Amendment to the political speech of any corporation, partnership, business trust, association, or other business organization with respect to the making of contributions, expenditures, or other disbursements of funds in connection with public election.

H.Res.156 - Calling for an environmental and social responsibility amendment to the United States Constitution. 

Official Summary 3/9/2011--Introduced.Calls for the amendment of:
(1) the Constitution to subordinate the political rights of corporations to the rights of individuals; and
(2) U.S. laws to include a public federal election campaign finance system, a social and environmental responsibility education initiative, and a new federal corporate charter statute to facilitate environmentally and socially responsible corporate practices

H.J.Res.65 - Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to prohibit candidates for election to Congress from accepting contributions from individuals who do not reside in the State or Congressional district the candidate seeks to represent.  

Official Summary 5/24/2011--Introduced.Constitutional Amendment - Prohibits candidates for election to Congress from accepting contributions from individuals who do not reside in the state or congressional district the candidate seeks to represent.

S.J.Res.11 - A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to limiting the number of terms that a Member of Congress may serve to 3 in the House of Representatives and 2 in the Senate.  

Official Summary 4/14/2011--Introduced.Constitutional Amendment - Limits Members of the House of Representatives to three terms and Members of the Senate to two terms.

H.J.Res.53 - Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to limit the number of years Representatives and Senators may serve.  

Official Summary 3/31/2011--Introduced.Constitutional Amendment - Limits Members of the House of Representatives to nine terms and Members of the Senate to three terms.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A survey of corruption in the USA government

Willoughby, Nikki, Common Cause  |  Video: "I smell corruption on the high court" (March 3, 2011)  |
On Tuesday, March 1, Common Cause Vice President Arn Pearson spoke with journalist Thom Hartmann about proposed legislation that would hold Supreme Court justices accountable to the same code of ethics that apply to other federal judges.

From Kennedy, Elizabeth and Skaggs, Adam, Brennan Center for Justice  |  The People’s Business: Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors (June 16, 2011)  |
By bringing sunlight to the political spending of government contractors, the Obama administration’s draft executive order will give the public and watchdog groups a powerful tool to ensure that corruption in government contracting does not corrode the legitimacy of the federal government.  Doing so will save taxpayers money and not only fight corruption, but prevent the appearance of corruption and political favoritism that undermines confidence in the government.  Significantly, a long and unbroken chain of U.S. Supreme Court precedents has upheld disclosure of political spending, and the draft executive order stands on rock-solid constitutional ground.  President Obama should sign the order without delay.

From People for the American Way  |  Report: Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy  |
Unlike actual voters, who can bring not only self-interest but an interest in the broader community and the common good to the ballot box and the campaign, private corporations that intervene in politics are bound by law to spend corporate resources to promote only those candidates whose election will serve to increase company profits and serve the company agenda.   As Justice Stevens put it in his passionate dissenting opinion in Citizens United, “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”  But they do have a legally defined purpose to follow, which is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders.  Expenditure for any other purpose constitutes “corporate waste” in all of the states.  For the first time in our history, the Court has thus transformed single-minded profit-making corporations into full-fledged political citizens armed with the rights of the people.

Based on the election results, it looks like the first wave of investment of corporate political venture capital has paid off handsomely for major investors.  In an economy still reeling from the mortgage crisis and trillion-dollar collapse on Wall Street, at a time when millions of citizens are still out of work and millions more are facing home foreclosures, when big bail outs for big banks and budget austerity for everyone else is the order of the day, mere citizens proved to be no match at all for the organized wealth of large corporations and the negative ads the companies underwrote.    Even in the wake of corporate disasters like the BP oil spill, the collapsing West Virginia coal mines of the Massey corporation, and the trillion-dollar subprime mortgage debacle provided by AIG, Goldman Sachs and others, will either of the two major political parties and their elected officials now have the courage to stand up to the awesome economic might of our largest corporations?

This edifying and often horrifying report names the names of the key players who channeled the corporate cash, received it and spent it on building a wall of propaganda in the 2010 campaigns, freely mixing truth and falsehood along the way, as is the right of citizens--and now corporations--under our First Amendment .  Beyond known facts, the report also tells us what we do not know, and cannot know, about corporate political spending unless and until Congress moves to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which is the very least that can be done to give the public a sense of who is paying for the wall of propaganda that just got erected across America.

From Pearson, Esq., Arn H., Vice President for Programs, Common Cause  |  Letter to the US Senate Rules Committee regarding responses to Citizens United court case  (February 1, 2010)  |
Common Cause supports a comprehensive package of reforms to address the effects of the Citizens United decision – and the preexisting condition of big money dominance in federal elections and the halls of Congress. We believe that a reform package should:

1. Prohibit political spending by foreign-owned domestic corporations. The Citizens United decision opens a loophole that would allow foreign-owned corporations chartered in the United States to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections. That loophole must be closed.

2. Require shareholder approval of political expenditures.

3. Prohibit political expenditures by corporations that receive federal government contracts, earmarks, grants, tax breaks or subsidies.

4. Strengthen coordination rules, to ensure that “independent” expenditures are truly independent.

5. Strengthen disclosure rules. Independent expenditures should be disclosed electronically within 24 hours in a manner accessible to candidates, the media and the public. CEO’s should be required to “stand by their ads” just like candidates, and corporations that collect money for political expenditures should provide attribution for their top three donors, in order to prevent evasion of disclosure by “Astroturf” entities. FCC advertising logs should be made available on the Internet.

6. Pay-to-Play reforms. Congress should move quickly to dispel the public’s perception of special interest dominance in Washington by enacting low contribution and solicitation limits for lobbyists and lobbyist employers, and banning earmarks for campaign contributors.

7. Fair Elections. Congress should enact a new system for 21st Century elections that allows candidates who agree to low contribution limits to run competitive campaigns on a blend of small donations and limited public funds.

The problem is not so much the amount we spend on political campaigns – columnist George Will likes to remind us that we spend more on potato chips than elections each year – as it is who pays for them, what they get in return, and how that distorts public policy and spending priorities. Keeping our elected officials dependent on the very same wealthy special interests they are supposed to regulate undermines public confidence in their government and its ability to tackle the tough issues that face the nation. And letting the interests who stand to gain from billions in federal spending and bailouts give politicians campaign cash undermines public faith in government’s ability to spend money wisely.

From Ronayne, Kathleen, Center for Responsive Politics  |  Some Super PACs Reveal Barest of Details About Funders (June 17, 2011 8:00 AM)  |
Super PACs, a new breed of political action committee that may raise unlimited sums of money to fuel political advertisements known as independent expenditures, are subject to one major condition: they must disclose their donors.

Or are they?

Federal Election Commission rules allow super PACs to legally avoid disclosing individual donors by attributing donations to nonprofit organizations, which are not required by law to reveal their donors.

During the 2010 election cycle, five super PACs utilized this little-used route, attributing all or nearly all of their contributions to nonprofit organizations organized with the Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(4) or section 501(c)(6) of the U.S. tax code, the Center for Responsive Politics finds.  Most of these non-profit groups are directly affiliated with the super PACs to which they donated money.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A survey of judicial campaign finance reform in America

  • Kang, Michael S. and Shepherd, Joanna, The Partisan Price of Justice: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions (May 27, 2010). Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-115; Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 10-74; New York University Law Review, Vol. 86, No. 1, 2011. Available at SSRN:
Do campaign contributions affect judicial decisions by elected judges in favor of their contributors’ interests? Although the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. relies on this intuition for its logic, it has been until now largely a proposition that has gone empirically untested. No longer. Using a dataset of every state supreme court case in all fifty states over a four-year period, we find that elected judges are more likely to decide in favor of business interests as the amount of campaign contributions that they have received from those interests increases. In other words, every dollar of direct contributions from business groups is associated with an increase in the probability that the judges will vote for business litigants. However, we find surprisingly a statistically significant relationship between campaign contributions and judicial decisions in favor of contributors’ interests only for judges elected in partisan elections, not nonpartisan ones. Our findings suggest an important role of political parties in connecting campaign contributions to judicial decisions under partisan elections. In the flurry of reform activity responding to Caperton, our findings support judicial reforms that propose the replacement of partisan elections with nonpartisan methods of judicial selection and retention. 

A new national poll commissioned by the Justice at Stake Campaign shows that a bipartisan majority of Americans believe elected judges deliver favored treatment to their campaign backers, and similar majorities support reforms to curb the perception that justice is for sale.  Harris Interactive surveyed more than 1,000 voting-age citizens between June 9 and 13 about potential conflicts of interest arising from judicial campaign contributions; the survey results overwhelmingly indicate that a majority of Democrats and Republicans believe judicial campaign contributions impact courtroom decisions; favor public disclosure of campaign expenses; and support recusal rules, among other reforms proposed to reduce special-interest influence in the courtroom.

A commentary in Newsworks echoes the concern that the influence of money and political connections on judicial elections undermines public confidence in the judiciary and argues that [the state of] Pennsylvania should adopt a process of merit selection.

A new poll indicates that an overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters believe campaign contributions to judicial candidates can affect a case’s outcome in the courtroom, and that judges should not hear the cases of major campaign contributors.  The poll found that 94 percent of North Carolina voters believe campaign contributions have some influence on a judge’s decision in a case involving a donor, and 85 percent believe judges should step aside from hearing cases that involve major campaign contributors. A joint press release by the organizations that sponsored the poll, the Justice at Stake Campaign and the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, says that these findings explain why public support for North Carolina’s judicial public financing remains high, since “voters want to preserve a program that keeps campaign cash out of the courtroom."

Public financing plays a particularly valuable role in judicial elections, where it not only helps to prevent quid pro quo corruption, but also protects elected judges against the appearance of bias in the courtroom.  As Wisconsin federal judge William M. Conley recently observed (in a ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Impartial Justice Act), “judges—even when popularly elected—are not representative officials, but rather are expected to be, and to appear to be, impartial and independent in applying the rule of law.”  Judge Conley is right.  We need elected judges to treat all parties equally, regardless of whether they’ve offered campaign support. 

The Caperton case—in which Massey Coal CEO Don Blankenship spent $3 million to elect Justice Brent Benjamin while he was seeking to overturn a $50 million jury award—sparked national publicity on the potential conflicts caused by special-interest spending on judicial elections.

Citing the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, which grants every litigant the right to an impartial trial, the Court said a “serious risk of actual bias” was created when Justice Benjamin cast the tie-breaking vote to overturn the jury’s decision.

Since Caperton, most states have failed to take any meaningful action [reforms].

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A survey of voter identification election administration in the USA

From Common Cause  |  Voter ID -- The Solution in Search of a Problem
The battleground for the 2012 elections is spreading beyond swing states and running mates and into the wallets and handbags of voters, who’d better be carrying some ID in there if they want to cast their ballots. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that eight states -- Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, and South Dakota --currently require or request that voters present a photo ID at the polls [this 2011 article is dated]. Another 20 or so states ask for some form of identification but do not require a photograph. And new, restrictive laws have been proposed in more than 30 states, include provisions that require voters to provide proof of citizenship.

Regardless of the specific identification requirements in each state, the end result is greater barriers to eligible voters and significant expense to the states.

From Brennan Center for Justice  |  Debunking Misinformation on Photo ID  |  by Keesha Gaskins, Senior Counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program  |  June 9, 2011
The Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed (“The Case for Voter ID”) by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.  In the piece, Kobach touts restrictive voter ID bills, including the Kansas “Secure and Fair Elections Act,” which he drafted and Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a few weeks ago.  Kobach argues that (1) voter ID laws will not actually prevent any eligible citizens from voting; and (2) they will prevent in-person voter fraud, which he claims is a substantial problem.  But his arguments are built on inaccuracies, unsupported allegations, and flawed reasoning.  Because Kobach takes direct aim at the Brennan Center in this op-ed, we thought a thorough review of his claims was in order. We sent a letter to the editors at the Journal rebutting some of his claims, but the paper did not publish it.

All Things Reform  |  "Your papers, please": Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud!  |  March 27, 2011
From a ThinkProgress article, which includes reader commenting -- for a short history of the century-long conservatives' anti-voter agenda in the USA, please read the article.

Brennan Center for Justice  |  Research and Publications on Voter ID

From  |  Voter ID debate could change 2012 landscape  |  by Tom Curry, National affairs writer  |  5/25/2011 2:45:43 PM ET
“It’s very difficult to trace the precise effect of ID laws on actual turnout, since there are so many things that can affect participation,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

But, he said “there is considerable evidence about who doesn’t have government-issued photo ID, which shows that certain groups – such as elderly, disabled, minority, and poor voters — are likely to be especially hard hit.”

From National Conference of State Legislatures  |  2011 Elections Legislation Database: Voter Identification

This database contains state legislation related to the administration of elections for voter identification that was introduced in the states in 2011.

From OpenCongress  |  H.R.108

  • Short: Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2011 as introduced.

  • Official: To protect voting rights and to improve the administration of Federal elections, and for other purposes. as introduced.

  • All Things Reform  |  Five ways to fight North Carolina bill on voter ID  |  March 10, 2011

    From Rock the Vote blog, which offers reader commenting:

    "A restrictive photo ID bill was introduced in North Carolina today, making it harder to vote for more than 500,000 currently-registered voters who do not have a state-issued ID." ...

    Here’s five things you can do to take action around the bill.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    A survey of American democracy

    From San Francisco Chronicle  |  Nothing to fear but democracy itself  |  by John Diaz  |  August 3, 2008
    Democracy and change can be scary. But they are scariest to those in power who derive their power from suppressing change by any means necessary.

    From New America Foundation  |  Internet wasn't real hero of Egypt  |  by Rebecca MacKinnon  |  February 14, 2011
    Wael Ghonim, the Google executive whose anonymous online activism helped bring people into the streets for those fateful protests on January 25, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "the revolution started on Facebook," and "if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet."

    Ghonim is modest. He rejects the label of "hero" and prefers to deflect credit to others. But let's be clear: He and hundreds of thousands of other Egyptians are the heroes, whether they were inspired to join the protests in Tahrir Square in the new way through Twitter or the old-fashioned way thorough their neighbors and co-workers.

    From The Heritage Foundation  |  How the Internet is Strengthening Democracy  |  by Israel Ortega  |  May 10, 2010
    Of course, members of Congress and politicians will continue enacting public policies, whether they hear from us or not. Consequently, it is up to us to seize the endless possibilities of the Internet and technology to influence public policy.

    If we are to ensure that future generations can reap the benefits of prosperity and technology, we cannot afford to stand on the sidelines as history is being made.

    From Democracy  |  Democracy  |  by Michael Waldman  |  Issue #11, Winter 2009
    The key is to press for bold reforms that tap the participatory spirit of the age. Far too often, democracy reforms bog down in technical arcana, tangled in acronyms and technical fixes. Nobody ever marched for sound election administration; they have marched for democracy, and can do so again. Reforms cannot be expected to purify politics, to “clean up Congress” or impose rational order on a necessarily messy political system. Rather, all the reforms should point in the same direction: more participation, especially designed to boost the voices of those who are too often drowned out. ...

    Barack Obama enters office burdened with rare high expectations, at a time when the economy is reeling, and there is little money for immediate spending on other priorities. He could push for reforms that would institutionalize the surge of voters and small contributors that brought him to the White House. If he does, he will change the country, and usher in a new era of democratic aspiration and energy. Once again, as so often in the country’s past, democracy itself will be at the center of our politics, where it belongs.

    Tuesday, June 07, 2011

    A survey of US political power and attempts at reform

    From Common Cause  |  The Political Process: New Game Please  |  by Helen Grieco  |   May 11, 2011

    During most of my 25 years as an activist, I advocated for women’s rights. Once again, I was disheartened by the small number of women in elected office. To answer the gender inequality in France, the people there went so far as amending their Constitution to require political parties to select the same number of women and men candidates.  With one change in the law, dramatic governance transformation ensued.

    From Cato Institute  |  The Military-Industrial Complex at 50 (policy forum)  |   March/ April, 2011
    “We the people” need to understand: it’s no longer our army—it hasn’t been for years— it’s theirs and they intend to keep it.  The American military belongs to Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, to Admiral  Mullen and General Petraeus. They will continue to employ that military as they see fit.  If Americans don’t like the way the army is used, they need to reclaim it. This can only happen by resuscitating the tradition of the citizen-soldier.

    From  |  Principles before heroes  |  by Robert Reich
    Once the financial crisis seemed to have passed, the public lost interest, with the result that the Street’s lobbyists played a major role in fashioning the resulting legislation. ...
    It will not be easy to devise and sell policies—more progressive taxes, stronger unions, universal access to high-quality education through college, adequate public funding of elections, for example—that respond directly to the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and power in America. But without a fight, progressive ideals will never be met. No president and no administration can do it on its own. Obama is already being labeled a “socialist” for his efforts to expand access to health care. The fight will take a generation, and it will require a progressive movement willing to push its elected leaders, to educate the public, and to organize and mobilize Americans to achieve the nation’s most basic ideals.

    From Common Cause  |  State Political Party Reform: A political army in need of a few good soldiers  |   By Diane C. Walsh  |  April 9, 2006
    Rachel Pittard, an education coordinator for the Citizens' Campaign [of New Jersey], said, "Our goal is to teach regular folks with limited time and limited funds how to access the political power levers."

    From Cato Institute  |  The Poison Of Professional Politics  |  by Mark P. Petracca  |  May 10, 1991
    Professionalism and careerism dominates American politics; it poisons the prospects for political representation in America and threaten the promise of democratic government. ...
    In response, a national movement to limit the terms of congressmen and state legislators is gaining momentum.

    Saturday, June 04, 2011

    A survey of US non-governmental organizations on the issue of public trust in government

    Brookings  |  Public Trust in Government
    Public trust in government levels are rising from their all time low point in 2006.  Presenting public trust levels dating back to 1958.

    From Pew Research Center for People & the Press  |  Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology: Section 5: Views of Government, Constitution, American Exceptionalism

    From Brookings  |  In Government America Must Trust  |  By William A. Galston, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies  |  March 3, 2010
    Economic inequality in the United States stands at levels not seen since the 1920s, and polarization between the two principal political parties is deeper and more pervasive than at any time since the 1890s. Scholars have linked both these trends to intensified public mistrust. 

    From Brookings  |  Trust in Government Ethics: Measures in OECD Countries (paper text)
    Public service is a public trust. Citizens expect public servants to serve the public interest with fairness and to manage public resources properly on a daily basis. Fair and reliable public services inspire public trust and create a favorable environment for businesses, thus contributing to well-functioning markets and economic growth. Public ethics are a prerequisite to public trust and are a keystone of good governance.

    From Center for American Progress  |  Better, Not Smaller: What Americans Want From Their Federal Government  |  By Guy Molyneux, Ruy Teixeira, John Whaley  |  July 27, 2010
    New research shows people would rather improve government performance than reduce its size. And they are extremely receptive to reform efforts that would eliminate inefficient government programs, implement performance-based policy decisions, and adopt modern management methods and information technologies.

    From  |  H.Con.Res.274  |  Sponsor Representative J Forbes R-VA 
    Official: Reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the official motto of the United States and supporting and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions. as introduced.

    From  |  S.123  |  Sponsor Senator David Vitter R-LA 
    Short: Social Security Lock-Box Act of 2011 as introduced.
    Official: A bill to establish a procedure to safeguard the Social Security Trust Funds. as introduced.

    From Cato Institute  |  The Case for Gold, an e-book by Rep. Ron Paul and Lewis Lerhman   |   by Mark Calabria, Director of Financial Regulation Studies, Cato Institute
    Paul and Lehrman remind us that the ultimate purpose of a monetary standard is not price stability, but "trust and honesty." A gold standard is an avenue, among others, to restore our trust in government, by appropriately constraining the discretionary power of government. In an era when five unelected bureaucrats on the Federal Reserve Board can spend over $2 trillion, and deny the rights of the people and their representatives to audit such spending, we know we are again in a time where "trust and honesty" in government is in short supply. It is my hope that re-releasing The Case for Gold will help to bring public accountability back to monetary policy. Its re-release will also expand and raise the level of public debate surrounding monetary policy.

    From  |  TRUST PAC, Affiliate: Fred Upton (R-Mich)

    Wednesday, June 01, 2011

    Brookings survey of US political polarization

    From Brookings  |  Political Polarization:
    Budget and debt debates, filibusters over judicial nominees, and partisan posturing in Washington occur amid growing concerns about heated political rhetoric across America. Brookings experts have tracked and examined how growing political polarization has become embedded in American society with results that are damaging to the political process.

    Our selections:

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Video: Signed petitions are delivered to the US Department of Justice concerning US Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas

    Uploaded to by on Mar 22, 2011:
    Common Cause delivered more than 32,000 petitions to the Department of Justice on March 22 calling for a Justice Department investigation of US Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. We want to know whether Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the Citizens United case because of their participation in secret political strategy meetings with Koch Industries.

    - or view directly -

    Sunday, May 29, 2011

    Care for our nation's homeless veterans and consider these House and Senate bills

    Bill S.1060

    Official: A bill to improve education, employment, independent living services, and health care for veterans, to improve assistance for homeless veterans, and to improve the administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. as introduced.

    May 25th    Sponsor introductory remarks on measure. (CR S3341-3343)
    May 25th    Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

    Bill H.R.1133

    Short: Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011 as introduced.

    Official: To amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into agreements with States and nonprofit organizations to collaborate in the provision of case management services associated with certain supported housing programs for veterans, and for other purposes. as introduced.

    Mar 16th    Referred to House Financial Services
    Mar 16th    Referred to House Veterans' Affairs
    Mar 16th    Referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and in addition to the Committee on Financial Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.

    Bill S.411

    Short: Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011 as introduced.

    Official: A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into agreements with States and nonprofit organizations to collaborate in the provision of case management services associated with certain supported housing programs for veterans, and for other purposes. as introduced.

    Feb 17th    Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
    Feb 17th    Introduced in Senate

    Bill H.R.806

    Short: End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2011 as introduced.

    Official: To amend title 38, United States Code, to make certain improvements in the services provided for homeless veterans under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. as introduced.

    Feb 18th    Referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
    Mar 15th    Referred to the Subcommittee on Health.

    Bill H.R.136

    Official: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans, and for other purposes. as introduced.

    Jan 5th    Referred to House Veterans' Affairs
    Jan 5th    Referred to House Ways and Means
    Jan 5th    Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, and in addition to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.
    Jan 5th    Introduced in House
    Feb 18th    Referred to the Subcommittee on Health

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    Spiritual leader Thomas Merton says it best: What matters is love

    While doing a daily office prayer from Thomas Merton's "A Book of Hours," I read a very sensitive, realistic spiritual account of the American society he saw in the mid-twentieth century.  It is relevant just as much to today's America, and to much of the world.  It comes from deep in his heart, it is under his sub-heading of "Lesson;" the daily office's "Collect" is next.  God bless America and the world.


    It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness.  And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money.  We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.

    No matter what happens, I feel myself more and more closely united with those who, everywhere, devote themselves to the glory of God's truth, to the search for divine values hidden among the poor and the outcast, to the love of that cultural heritage without which man cannot be healthy.  The air of the world is foul with lies, hypocrisy, falsity, and life is short, death approaches.  We must devote ourselves with generosity and integrity to the real values:  there is no time for falsity and compromise.  But on the other hand we do not have to be greatly successful or even well known.  It is enough for our integrity to be known to God.  What we do that is pure in His sight will avail for the liberty, the enlightenment, and the salvation of His children everywhere.


    Let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in "my" ways.  What matters is love.

    Merton, Thomas. A book of hours. Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Press, 2007.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    The federal budget negotiation panel needs broader interest representation

    From  Understanding Government  |  Too male to fail: Budget negotiations missing fifty percent of the population  |  By Marci Greenstein  |  May 26, 2011:
    Where are the women?

    Nowhere to be seen in discussions on the nation’s financial future, reports Kate Ackley of Roll Call in an article about the lack of women on the White House-Congress budget negotiation panel.  15 women’s organizations have asked the White House to include women in negotiations on the national budget between the White House and Congress. ...
    The women’s groups who wrote to President Obama, including the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the National Women’s Political Caucus, cited Cabinet secretaries Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services) and Hilda Solis (Labor) as high-level officials who should be at the table to represent women’s priorities.

    Today's issue of "open government" mostly centers around the degree to which the government makes accessible its documents and other communiques to the general public.  However, open government can also mean the degree to which elected government officials avail critical decision making opportunities to all interested segments of the population.  The critical nature of the nation's budget negotiations is one case in point-- if only a fraction of the country is represented in these meetings, its final agreement may very well be skewed in favor of the representation present at the meetings.  All interested voices need to be kept in mind when making important decisions.

    State of Minnesota Governor gives undisputed reason for his veto of 'Voter ID' bill

    From Minnesota Public Radio  |  Dayton vetoes Voter ID bill  |  by Tom Scheck  |  May 26, 2011:
    Governor Dayton has vetoed a bill that would require Minnesotans to show photo identification to vote.

    Dayton said in his veto letter that the so-called Voter ID bill would be an unfunded mandate for local units of government, that it didn't receive broad bipartisan support in the Legislature and that it would violate the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.

    Supporters of the bill said it's needed to prevent fraud at the polls. Dayton said he didn't believe voter fraud was a problem in the state. He also said the Voter ID law would not prevent felons from voting illegally.

    In addition to the veto, Dayton issued an executive order that would create a task force to modernize the state's election system and work on ways to prevent illegal voting.
    Nationally, Republican legislators are misguided, that there is a voter fraud problem during our elections.  Time and time again, the vast majority of voter's rights activists have conclusively stated so.  The reasons given by Minnesota Governor Dayton for his veto against anti-voter fraud legislation are not new to this continuing debate on the topic.

    *UPDATE*: Project Vote issues a Statement following the recent successful passage of a strict Voter ID bill in the state of Texas.

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Washington elected officials are neglecting their jobs by fundraising for their own election campaigns at the same time

    From The Party Blog  |  Lawmakers continue to fundraise around health care and financial reform  |  by Patrick Simmons  |  May 23, 2011
    The 111th Congress may be over but that doesn’t mean the major issues that defined the historic session are settled. Health care reform and financial services regulation, topics that dominated the debate in the 111th Congress, are still being debated in Congress and used as fundraising draws. From January to June of this year, Party Time has received 16 events centered on the financial services industry and 18 concerning health care. Many of these events are being hosted by health care or financial services industry PACs.

    Many of our representatives in Washington, DC, are abusing the legislative process by fundraising for their own election campaigns during their terms; they are also creating a conflict-of-interest by fundraising from special interests that will be affected by that same legislation.  The are listening to some bills' interested parties during their own fundraisers!

    Their job of representing us should, of course, always comes first; however, the time and energy needed for the work of legislating and helping their constituents is much too often neglected in favor of their own personal lives.  The campaign finance system of Public Financing is a good solution to this critical problem; presently, presidential nominees may qualify for Presidential public financing.

    campaign financing, Presidential   The Presidential Election Campaign Fund is an account administered by the U.S. Treasury that provides funds to Presidential candidates in the nominating contest and the general election. The fund is authorized by the Revenue Act of 1971, which allows each taxpayer to allocate a dollar of his income taxes to the Treasury's Presidential election account. The allocation does not increase the amount of tax a person pays. The law went into effect with the 1976 election.

    To be eligible for federal funds, candidates must agree to abide by the reporting requirements and spending limitations of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the amendments of 1974. Candidates qualify for federal funds during the nominating contest if they raise $5,000 in each of 20 states through individual contributions of $250 or less. Once qualified, they receive matching funds from the Treasury for all contributions of $250 or less, up to the limits established by law.

    In the general election, candidates who agree not to accept any private contributions are eligible for Treasury funding of their campaigns, up to the legal limits. In addition, the two major parties receive $11 million each for their national conventions. They may accept private donations for “party building” activities such as voter registration drives, which in reality go toward Presidential campaign activities.

    Candidates who choose not to accept public funding for their primary or general election campaigns have no spending limits. Since the law was enacted, the only two serious contenders for the Presidency who did not accept federal funds were John Connally, who spent millions in 1980 and won just a single delegate to the Republican national convention, and independent Ross Perot, who spent $60 million of his own funds and received almost 20 percent of the popular vote in 1992.

    "campaign financing, Presidential"  The Oxford Guide to the United States Government. John J. Patrick, Richard M. Pious, and Donald A. Ritchie. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  David Weller.  23 May 2011  <>

    • For information from a federal public finance advocate, see Public Campaign.

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Democracy is degraded by the passing of a regressive North Carolina electoral law

    From The Voting News | Election Bills give 2012 edge to GOP in North Carolina | | May 22, 2011
    All of these efforts are likely to hurt Democ­rats more than Repub­li­cans, said Mike­Mu­nger, a polit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Duke Uni­ver­sity, who was also the Lib­er­tar­ian Party’s can­di­date for gov­er­nor in 2008.

    “It’s safe to say that if any­body ben­e­fited, it was the Democ­rats,” Munger said of early vot­ing. “I did a fair amount of cam­paign­ing at early-voting sta­tions, and I watched the buses pull up, and I watched peo­ple hand out pieces of paper explain­ing how to vote Demo­c­rat. I didn’t see any Repub­li­cans doing that. That is what pol­i­tics is about. Pol­i­tics is about mobi­liz­ing your peo­ple. The Obama cam­paign was bril­liant at that.

    “This is some­thing Democ­rats did very well,” Munger added. “This is the Repub­li­cans respond­ing to make it a lit­tle bit harder to do that.”

    Is it ethical for elected officials to legislate a bill giving them an advantage in future electoral campaigns?  No-- it is a conflict-of-interest.  Yet, this is exactly what a political party's member legislators did in the State of North Carolina.

    ALSO, it is regressive democracy for elected officials to pass laws that degrade candidates' freedoms to productively conduct election campaigns.  This is one more systematic roadblock for candidates for office, especially the third/ minor party and Independent candidates.

    Instant Runoff Voting in San Francisco is upheld by a US federal appeals court

    From North County Times  |  Appeals court upholds SF's ranked-choice voting  |  Associated Press  |  May 20, 2011
    A federal appeals court says San Francisco's "instant run-off" elections are constitutional.

    The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court's ruling that the city's ranked-choice process approved by voters in 2002 offers the electorate a more nuanced process than traditional elections without disenfranchising anyone.

    instant runoff voting; noun  chiefly (US)
    another term for alternative vote.

    "instant runoff voting noun"  Oxford Dictionary of English. Edited by Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2010. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  David Weller.  23 May 2011  <>

    alternative vote; noun 
    an electoral system whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference. In the event that one candidate fails to achieve a sufficient majority, the candidate with the fewest number of first-preference rankings is eliminated and these votes redistributed, the process being repeated until one candidate achieves the required majority.

    "alternative vote noun"  Oxford Dictionary of English. Edited by Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2010. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  David Weller.  23 May 2011  <>

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Today's US politics is more about winning than solutions

    Today's 'conservative movement' in the U.S. is NOT conservative, but crass money politics.  The other night, I watched an interview with Mexican President Calderon, and he is a true conservative, the kind we used to have in the US-- a serious, sober analytical mind that, although is pro-business, puts overriding country problems first, even if his solution is against his ideology.

    Most incumbent candidates of the major political parties here got voted in by only being 'winners', instead of being most qualified to solve the nation's problems.  And 'winning' is a sorry reason for 'success'.

    I don't know why we can't all wake up to this fact before money politics totally regresses this country into a black hole.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Reflections on political reform in America

    • So, is the US Constitution relevant to today's politicians / journalists?  'Tis a nation of laws, not men!
    • So, is there a balanced scale of justice for contributors to judicial campaigns?  'Tis a nation of laws, not men!
    • So, should incumbents spend one-third of their working hours raising money?  'Tis a nation of laws, not men!
    • So, should people spend on pricey lobbyists in order to help representatives draft legislation?  'Tis a nation of laws, not men!
    • So, should general election debates include the nominees of all legal political parties?  'Tis a nation of laws, not men!
    • So, should the states' highest election officials be partisan political party members?  'Tis a nation of laws, not men!

    Saturday, May 07, 2011

    Check out All Things Reform political poems!

    For your entertainment, you might like to see all of this blog's poems, 19 in all at this point.  Of course, they are about government reform; I hope you enjoy.  It's at


    Thursday, May 05, 2011

    Survey of the USA Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection

    Obama is president and Warren has been transformed from mild-mannered Harvard professor to the sharp-shooting, feisty head of the Congressional Oversight Committee, with the difficult task of tracking how the bailout funds have been spent. She has also been urging politicians to create an independent agency to protect consumers from predatory lending by making financial contracts shorter and more comprehensible. (Obama has supported this, though the bill that passed in the House is now, frustratingly, stuck in the Senate.) Warren is concise, logical, and angry about the lack of transparency in Washington; the lack of accountability on Wall Street; and how Americans are more, not less, vulnerable as a result of the trillion-dollar bailout.

    Opponents of the legislative proposal received an average of 20 percent more in contributions from financial interests over the past two-and-a-half years than the bill's supporters, a Center for Responsive Politics review has found.

    The Center found that $527,500 is the average amount a committee member who voted "no" received from these financial groups' PACs and employees. The average amount a member who voted "yes" received was $438,900.

    255 unique organization(s) has/have registered to lobby on this bill (H.R.3126 - Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2009) [a database].

    Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), who chairs the House Financial Services subcommittee that oversees the Securities and Exchange Commission, says he finds the idea of giving financial regulators more funds “troubling,” since the agencies failed to prevent the 2008 financial crisis. “It’s only in government, especially in Washington, where you have agencies that failed in their core assignments in the past, and yet they are rewarded with more authority and bigger budgets,” Garrett said.

    Actually, it’s only in Washington where one can, with a straight face, blame the federal government’s regulatory agencies for being ineffective after implementing conservative policies rendering their effectiveness impossible. Conservatives spent years pulling the threads out of the financial regulatory framework and appointing regulators who actively ignored their agencies’ mission. This led to the massive financial regulatory failure that caused the U.S. housing and financial crises. And now these same conservatives are using that failure to deny the agencies funding.

    Proponents of financial deregulation may have a strong ally within the White House, now that President Obama has named Bill Daley his new chief of staff.

    There has been much debate over whether the law will accomplish its stated intent, but there are also growing concerns about its constitutionality, primarily due to separation of powers, vagueness, and due process issues. Central to that discussion is the fact that Dodd-Frank grants administrative agencies — including the newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council and Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection — broad and unchallengeable discretionary authority. Does Dodd-Frank provide effective oversight by any branch of government — Congress, the president, or the judiciary? How can constitutional concerns about the law's grants of regulatory power be resolved? Please join us for a discussion of these important issues.

    Today, we have a chance for a fresh start with real accountability for consumer financial protection. The new bureau can set the rules of the road for consumer finance and make sure American households have the information they need to make their own choices.

    One agency will enforce the law across the consumer financial marketplace. No more races to the bottom in lending practices. No more sneaking through loopholes or hiding behind fine print. No one can point fingers because one agency is in charge.

    Contrary to the critics’ claims, the agency is fully accountable to the American people. And importantly, it is insulated from the kind of industry or political pressures that might undermine its independence.

    Official: To amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to move the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection into the Department of the Treasury. as introduced.

    Official: To replace the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection with a five person Commission. as introduced.

    Official: A bill to replace the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection with a 5-person Commission, to bring the Bureau into the regular appropriations process, and for other purposes. as introduced.

    Whether Warren or someone else takes the helm when the agency officially opens on July 21, the director will exert enormous power: consolidated and expanded regulatory authority over credit cards, mortgages, and a host of other consumer financial products previously wielded by seven federal agencies.

    In place of a lone director, H.R.1121 would establish a five-member commission, also nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, for staggered five-year terms. No more than three commissioners could represent a single political party, and a commission chairman would be appointed by the President. A similar structure exists at the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Introducing the bill on March 16, Representative Spencer Bachus (R–AL), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, characterized the bureau as likely “the most powerful agency ever created.” Consequently, the change in management is necessary, he said, “to ensure that a non-partisan, balanced approach to consumer protection prevails.”

    Recommended Action [for the BCFP]. Repeal. If not repealed, this new agency will wield far-reaching and vague regulatory powers, as well as lack accountability.

    Monday, May 02, 2011

    Survey of the USA national debt and accountability

    It is urgent that the president and Congress reach a bipartisan agreement on spending and revenue policies that can reverse and stabilize our growing debt.

    Our experience demonstrates that a serious commitment to fiscal restraint and process reform, combined with political will, can produce bipartisan legislation that will serve the country well.

    Grossman [a student] worries about the impact of federal red ink on her own generation. "We will be the people that deal with this huge debt. Our parents' generation might not be able to retire, so we're looking at coming into a job market where we thought we'd move up the chain quickly. But then - 'Oh, wait, the baby boomers can't afford to retire, so where does that leave me?' "

    "This is something that affects our day-to-day lives, and that's something that needs to be understood. How is this going to affect me? How will it affect me getting a job now, or in five years?" she wonders. "I am astonished that people don't realize the magnitude of the situation we're in."

    In this book, I look at the nature, scope, causes, and history of America’s national debt. I will explore the consequences of our 14-digit debt on the nation’s economy and for individuals, if we continue on our current path of fiscal recklessness. I will examine the political torpor that has allowed our debt to grow like some alien life form out of a 1950s science-fiction movie. And, finally, I will consider what politicians have done in the past and what could be done to rid our nation of its potentially ruinous debt.

    Solutions must be found - and soon. As our debt mounts, the risk grows that our creditors, especially the foreign creditors who own half our debt, will lose confidence in our ability to get our house in order and will demand dramatically higher interest rates to lend us more. Rapidly rising rates would derail the economic recovery and balloon the cost of servicing the federal debt. Escalation of the debt has made near term action to reduce deficits more urgent than it would have been at lower debt levels. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for several years until we are sure the economy is growing strongly before taking action to stabilize the debt. We have to take action very soon to arrest the debt build-up before it threatens the confidence of our creditors. Moreover, while there are persuasive economic reasons for curbing the increase in our debt, the moral case is even stronger. It is unconscionable for today’s Americans to live persistently beyond our means and pass our bills on to future taxpayers.

    One of our problems lies largely with the fact that it is much easier to spend other people's money than one's own. I am afraid that the Congress is not nearly as scrupulous as it ought to be when it comes to spending hardworking taxpayers' dollars. It is absolutely essential that we prioritize and rein in spending. ...

    In closing, the use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars on duplicative, inefficient, and failed federal agencies and programs is a serious problem facing our nation today. Over and over, we see congressionally authorized programs become institutionalized, and then--although no longer necessary--they become permanent fixtures receiving more taxpayer dollars year after year.

    The Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies (CARFA) Act (S. 1668) would change this. The CARFA Act establishes a commission to review federal discretionary agencies and programs, making recommendations for the elimination of unnecessary programs. The Congress would subsequently take an up-or-down vote on these recommendations. The CARFA Act is the antidote to the Congress's general unwillingness to end politicians' pet projects. It is based on the proven model of the military base closing commission (BRAC), and it will work.

    Official: A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow individuals to designate that up to 10 percent of their income tax liability be used to reduce the national debt, and to require spending reductions equal to the amounts so designated. as introduced

    Official: To require any amounts remaining in a Member's Representational Allowance at the end of a fiscal year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt. as introduced.

    Official: To provide that no automatic pay adjustment for Members of Congress shall be made in the year following a fiscal year in which there is a Federal budget deficit. as introduced.

    By 2030, the CBO projects that debt will more than double to 146 percent of GDP. The only good news, if it can be called that, is that the U.S. is not alone. Two recent studies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) highlight the significance of the global debt challenge and stress the need for governments to aim higher than short-term deficit reductions. For the U.S., one of the most poorly positioned countries, addressing the long-term debt challenge must include prompt reform of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. ...

    A short-term focus on deficit reduction, such as G20 nations’ pledges to halve deficits by 2013, will do little to pull nations back from the brink. The U.S. domestic situation is so severe that a fiscal adjustment of 12 percent of GDP would be required to stabilize debt at 60 percent of GDP, which is even higher than Greece’s 9.2 percent adjustment.

    Anyone looking for serious fiscal leadership from President Obama in his State of the Union Address could have been nothing but disappointed.

    He had the right narrative: jobs, investment, competitiveness and fiscal responsibility. But when it came to leadership on actually fixing the fiscal situation -- the hard part, as opposed to soft and fluffy wordsmithing -- there was none to be found. ...

    President Obama is still the only one who can use the bully pulpit to set the stage for these tough policy choices and bring all the parties to the table. Here is what he should do.

    Set a fiscal target:
    Make the target law:
    Get into the details:
    Hold a budget retreat:

    If the president doesn't use his upcoming budget to get specific, at the very least he needs to find a way to force the discussion with everyone at the table.

    Congress needs to know these folks are ready for the real work to begin. Here are some lessons from the day.

    Put everything on the table
    Pay for what you spend
    People want tax reform
    House GOP budget
    We need budget fail-safes
    Voters are ahead of many politicians

    The people are willing to make sacrifices as long as they are part of a budget that truly fixes the problem and in which they believe they are treated fairly. If only politicians would follow the lead of the general population instead of the extremes of their parties.

    In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee, Alice Rivlin argues that America's urgent need to reduce future debt is also a major opportunity to make the federal government operate more fairly and effectively. Rivlin focuses on key budget issues including tax reform, entitlement reform (specifically slowing the growth of Medicare), budget process reform and using discretionary spending caps to increase the effectiveness of federal programs.

    The way the government does business with the private sector and how it interacts with the public are two of the most fundamental exercises of a republic, and these initiatives represent the groundwork for a more efficient, open, and transparent government.

    Cutting duplicative or unnecessary programs in the FY 2010 and 2011 budgets
    Eliminating low performing agency programs
    Freezing non-security discretionary spending for three years beginning FY 2011
    Reducing no-bid and high-risk federal contracts
    Obtaining expedited recession authority
    Creating a federal "do not pay" list
    Limiting improper payments
    Reducing high risk internet technology projects across federal agencies
    Creating open government plans for federal agencies
    Bringing more transparency to federal spending

    Friday, April 29, 2011

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Survey of current USA 10-year redistricting and reform processes

    In 2011, each state will redraw the boundaries of its legislative and congressional districts. Common Cause supports redistricting reforms, including the creation of independent commissions to conduct redistricting, establishment of criteria for re-drawing districts, requiring a fair and transparent process for conducting redistricting, and creating independent “shadow” commissions to present their own recommendations.

    Each state decides for itself who draws its district lines, which has led to a few different models: state legislature, political commissions and independent comissions.

    For years, FairVote has highlighted how our nation's reliance upon winner-take-all elections and single member districts for Congressional elections without national standards has left our voting process open to the abuses of unfair partisan gerrymandering. Insiders for decades have known how powerful redistricting can be for elected officials to protect friends and undermine opponents. It's a blood sport that both parties have exploited, thereby minimizing the role of voters in the political process. By gerrymandering the districts, legislators and their political cronies have used redistricting to choose their voters, before voters have had the opportunity to choose them. ... The lessons of our years of research on Congressional elections indicate that resolving the gerrymandering dilemma is only part of the problem. Redistricting reform can minimize the ability of partisan legislators to punish their enemies and reward their friends, but for competitive elections, legislative diversity, and other public interest goals multimember districts with proportional voting are needed to maximize the effectiveness of these reforms – and ensure all voters have choices and no strong prospective candidate is shut out of a chance to participate.

    Resources and Opportunities for Participation in Redistricting Available to Members of the Public.

    Michael McDonald of George Mason University and Micah Altman of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard, working in conjunction with our two think tanks, have created the Public Mapping Project, an open-source software package that enables anybody to create districts for any state that bance such desirable qualities as compactness and the protection of communities of interest with competitiveness and partisan fairness, all while satisfying one-person, one-vote and the Voting Rights Act. ... The best student plans show that it is possible to create more legitimate and responsive districts — and that with the right tools, citizens anywhere can create better plans to choose their representatives than the representatives do to protect their own careers. While politicians may fight to keep the process closed, the tools are available to enable us to do better. Virginia’s college students have demonstrated that. The challenge is to replicate their efforts across the country and to harness informed and empowered public participation to improve the quality of our democracy.

    1/26/2011--Introduced.John Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act - Prohibits a state that has been redistricted after an apportionment from being redistricted again until after the next apportionment of Representatives, unless the state is ordered by a court to conduct such a subsequent redistricting in order to:
    (1) comply with the U.S. Constitution, or
    (2) enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Requires such redistricting to be conducted through a plan developed by the independent redistricting commission established in the state, or if such plan is not enacted into law, the redistricting plan selected by the state's highest court or developed by a U.S. district court. Prescribes requirements for:
    (1) establishment of a state independent redistricting commission (including provisions for holding each of its meetings in public and maintaining a public Internet site),
    (2) development of a redistricting plan (including soliciting and considering public comments) and its submission to the state legislature (with public notice of plans at least seven days prior to such submission),
    (3) selection of a plan, under specified conditions, by the state's highest court or the U.S. district court for the district in which the capital of the state is located,
    (4) special rules for redistricting conducted under a federal court order, and
    (5) Election Assistance Commission payments to states for carrying out redistricting.

    On April 20, Thomas Mann answered your questions on the status of the redistricting process, and efforts for reform around the nation, in a live web chat moderated by David Mark, senior editor at POLITICO. A transcript of this chat.

    For more than three decades, the Institute's research has helped shape [redistricting] policy in California and other states by:
    Providing state, county, municipal, and tribal governments, businesses, media outlets, and other organizations with in-depth studies on issues ranging from elections and demographics to budgets and regulations;
    Delivering sophisticated analysis to the broader public through conferences, academic publications, newsletters, and our blog,;
    Maintaining one of the largest databases of economic data and survey research in the country, the most complete archive of voter-approved statewide ballot initiatives, and the California Political History Digital Library;
    Publishing reports and studies featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN and many other national and regional publications; and
    Giving college students a hands-on opportunity to take on real-world policy problems under the guidance of leading experts in their respective fields.

    The non-partisan Americans for Redistricting Reform is a national umbrella organization comprised of groups from across the political spectrum that recognizes the critical need to reform our nation's redistricting process. With the post-2010 Census redistricting cycle fast approaching, Americans for Redistricting Reform is committed to raising public awareness of redistricting abuses and promoting solutions that benefit voters and strengthen our democracy.