CAN WE HAVE MAJORITY RULE?
POSTING OF AUGUST 5, 2016
In a September 2014 Gallup survey, 81 percent of us said most members of Congress are out of touch. 69 percent said most members serve special interests. 54 percent said most are corrupt. These figures are consistent with an earlier Gallup poll that shows Congress with a 7 percent approval rating.
As poll respondents we have plainly said we understand how bad things are. The people who give Congress a 7 percent approval rating are the people who understand the problem of Congress working to serve only a few special interests, and are the people we need to elect in order to get Congress working to serve the majority of us.
If we hope to salvage what is left of representative government in America, we need to understand that such election efforts are not optional, not things we are free to decide to do or not to do. Unless we want to allow a few wealthy Americans to continue controlling nearly all our lawmakers, nearly all our policy decisions, and nearly all our elections, using the influence of their money to serve their purposes at the expense of the rest of us, our proposed independent nomination and election process is mandatory.
We see a persistent determination of the majority in Congress to let government continue serving the few at the expense of the many, with one bad policy after another that is a bonanza for the campaign donors but terrible for the rest of us. An example is the determination to do almost nothing about the estimated $1.6 trillion backlog in repairs to the infrastructure, including fixing crumbling highways, helping people get from here to there without also getting flat tires and bent wheels. Congress may let the Highway Trust Fund run dry. Repairing roads and bridges should be a routine service, part of making government work to serve taxpayers.
The standard lame response from Congress is that we don’t need more money from those who can afford to pay higher taxes, and we certainly can’t afford “make-work stimulus spending” on infrastructure unless we “cut spending elsewhere.” The U. S. spends 1.7 percent of GDP on infrastructure while Europe spends an average of 5 percent and China spends 9 percent. Congress chooses to preserve tax breaks for the rich instead of using the money to start fixing our roads and rails. Big-bucks donors are the true constituents for most members of Congress, so they care little about bad things happening to the country as long as nothing bad happens to them or to their true constituents.
Too many in Congress delight in seeing to it that government doesn’t work, so they can say government doesn’t work. They enjoy seeing government agencies and departments so underfunded they can’t function, partly because they oppose regulation that might burden their true constituents. They oppose government involvement in much of what government needs to do. We need more people in Congress who want government to work. Voters who generally want government to work (on those potholes, for example), will have to step up. Who else who can do this?
There is corruption when donors funding the re-election campaigns of lawmakers ask for and get policies contrary to what is in the best interests of the general public. The best way to stop this corruption is to have the interests of those financing election campaigns in alignment with the interests of the general public. Our fourth branch of our government, our electorate, our registered voters, can finance the campaigns of the candidates we have screened and we trust and have nominated for election to Congress (for details see Section A. of June posting).
These candidates would be pledged to serve the majority of us and pledged to reject money from special interests. We can finance their campaigns with millions of Bernie Sanders-type small donations at hundreds of Websites in every state and congressional district. The alternative is a Congress with a 96.4 percent re-election rate (2014) despite a 7 percent approval rating, so that we keep getting more bad government we don’t like but bad government we deserve as long as we are neglecting our duty, failing to replace “those politicians” in Congress who openly serve everybody but us.
Most voters will probably jump at the chance to vote for candidates who are not running as members of any political party, given our low approval rating of all those party-loyal incumbents in Congress. There is no need for all candidates in an election to be members of a political party. Fourth branch lawmakers we nominate, fund, and elect would be free to make decisions independently of frequently damaging political party ideology (“tax cuts pay for themselves”) that can lead to even bigger budget deficits.
0ur fourth branch of government, our electorate, our registered voters, are the only ones who can reinstate majority rule in actual practice, not just in well-meaning proposed “campaign finance reform” legislation on paper. No other branch or combination of branches can and will do this for us. Only committed intervention by fourth branch registered voters, using the resources of a fourth branch service organization to get elected in sufficient numbers, can begin restoring long-lost, sorely-missed, and often-mourned majority rule to America. Nobody but us can stop us from doing this.
A DUTY TO SERVE IN CONGRESS?
POSTING OF JULY 27, 2016
If the politicians in Congress are as bad as we say they are, we need to replace them. There are at least five reasons why our fourth branch of government, our electorate, our registered voters, need to form a service organization to enable us to nominate, fund, and elect our own candidates to Congress to serve us, instead of serving special interests (for details see Section A. of June posting).
A. WE HAVE TO GET CONGRESS TO WORK
If we can’t afford two more years of a non-functioning Congress, the only way to get Congress to work is to replace lawmakers who don’t want Congress to work with lawmakers who do. When we give Congress a 7 percent approval rating, or 93 percent disapproval, we are saying very plainly to the world, and more importantly to ourselves, that we are well aware Congress isn’t working and that we need to do something about it.
For example, lawmakers have let a dozen spending bills needed to fund the federal government pile up in the Senate with no action. The bill to fund the fight against the spread of the Zika virus is laden with unrelated ideological riders calculated to set up a fight with those who object to them. Those who refuse to accept “poison pills” are then blamed for the impasse and for the resulting inaction on the bill. Too many in Congress would rather push their favorite ideology than reach agreement on urgent public health matters.
The result is that badly needed emergency funds will be delayed at least five more weeks, risking a worse Zika epidemic, while Congress is scheduled to be out of session until after Labor Day. This is what happens when lawmakers aren’t interested in getting Congress to work, and shows why those who want Congress to work have to get involved by getting elected.
The fourth branch of our government, the electorate, the registered voters, no longer have a choice. Nobody else can rescue Congress from what we say in opinion polls are special interests wanting favors-for-dollars, and from what we say are ideologues out of touch with reality (for details see second paragraph of June posting).
Are we ever going to do more than complain? Or will we finally act in the interests of the country, and decide to do something that only the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government can do? Not the courts. Not the White House. And Congress least of all. Only the 93 percent who don’t approve of Congress’ performance, and understand and declare that Congress isn’t working, can ever get Congress to work. That excludes nearly all current members. We need to get busy nominating our own candidates for the election. November can be a seismic event if we defeat and replace the deadwood incumbents ensconced in office, not really interested in policy, interested mainly in serving special-interest campaign donors in order to get their next campaign bankrolled so they can perpetually get re-elected. But doing very little on the hard work of solving the country’s problems.
B. WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH CORRUPTION
One definition of corruption is “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” Polluters are allowed to buy permission from lawmakers to pollute the rest of us, contrary to existing law.
For example, Congress has kept the deep-pockets natural gas hydrofracking industry exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, heedless of the public outcry against the resulting pollution. Polluters contributing big money to lawmakers’ re-election campaigns can often get favors that enable them to avoid the expense of cleaning up their act, a result which is directly contrary to what is in the general public interest, a clean environment. By contrast, fourth branch donors making small contributions will have interests aligned with those of our fourth branch candidates, a common interest in a clean environment.
An increase in the federal minimum wage would be impossible in current circumstances because too many businesses would use too many campaign contributions to “persuade” (bribe?) lawmakers to oppose it. An increase will be possible when fourth branch lawmakers and the millions electing them to office have a common interest in enacting a higher minimum.
Only by nominating, funding and electing our own lawmakers, pledged to serve us, and pledged to refuse money from special interests, can we curb the corruption in Congress, along with all the bad policy decisions based on which special interests gave and which lawmakers got big bucks, instead of based on outcomes favorable to the general public.
C. WE HAVE TO SHED OUR WORST HABIT
The Center for Responsive Politics has been trying for decades to tell us why money is so important in politics. But nobody is paying attention. Election after election, they have reported that voters choose the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns roughly 80 percent of the time (the percentages vary by election year and between House and Senate), regardless of the candidates’ party, ideology, or positions on the issues. The Center ceased updating these reports in 2012, but the corruption continues.
Should anyone be surprised that every campaign donor wants to give the most in order to get their candidates elected, and make them grateful and willing to do favors? Or that every incumbent wants to do more favors for campaign donors to raise more money to buy more campaign ads to collect more voters than challengers can in the next election?
This innocent voter habit is the relentless driving force behind the fund-raising frenzy in every election. Every campaign donor wanting favors from lawmakers knows, and every lawmaker accepting donations for favors knows, that voters elect the biggest spenders, the unmentionable reason for all the giving and taking. Every journalist reporting on the huge amounts of money changing hands knows, or should know, it is due to voters electing the biggest spenders, but never dares to say so. No matter how conspicuous the corruption, or how severe the damage, nobody is willing to tell it like it is, willing to say the voter habit is the cause of the corruption,
Voters have not the faintest clue about their innocent habit because our venerable news media won’t say a word about it. Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without anybody telling them, and without being corrupt.
D. WE HAVE TO STOP THE DAMAGE
We have to understand that the voter habit causes harm. The reason our lawmakers can get re-elected by keeping student loan interest rates high in order to preserve tax breaks for wealthy donors is that regardless of the plight of students, voters reliably re-elect lawmakers who spend more on negative ads than challengers do. Lawmakers’ ads are paid for by contributions from the grateful rich. Students facing huge burdens of debt find their predicament made worse.
Members of Congress are able to push for rolling back hundreds of federal regulations that protect consumers, investors, employees, borrowers, students and the environment, while ignoring solutions to problems about jobs, wages, investment, trade, inequality and other pressing economic issues, and still survive. This is because by outspending challengers in elections they can be perpetually re-elected by voters whose interests will be directly harmed not only by various deregulation efforts but also by the legislative lapses. To change that we have to change lawmakers.
Much of what we perceive as going wrong in the country is the result of shooting ourselves in the foot by electing the biggest spenders. If we were consciously voting according to their actions, instead of unconsciously voting according to how much they spend, we wouldn’t keep re-electing them.
E. WE HAVE TO FIND A SOLUTION
There may be only one way to fix the voter habit problem. In the November elections we can take a unique opportunity to shed our worst habit by voting for third candidates we nominate and fund, instead of voting for whichever of the two party-nominated candidates is spending the most. We can do this instead of reinforcing the influence of money, instead of reinforcing the rampaging favors-for-dollars corruption in Congress by electing the biggest spenders.
We can finally at last deal with the root cause of most of the corruption that leads to most of the dysfunction in legislatures all across America. There isn’t any kind of “campaign finance reform” legislation; there isn’t any set of “government rules,” that can accomplish what we can do by “voluntarily” changing our voting. There is a simple, easy, practical solution. We can shed our bad habit by deciding we will vote for our own fourth branch small-spender candidates we know we can trust and have nominated for Congress.
Our fourth branch of our government, our electorate, our registered voters, have the duty to form and fund a service organization that will empower our candidates to make good use our vast communications resources to run for office and take control of the House and part of the Senate in the November elections (for details see Section A. of June posting).
If the incumbents in Congress really are as bad as we keep saying they are, we have a duty to replace them. If we are all empty talk and no effective action, and continue to deserve all the bad government we will keep getting, we have made a decision by default to abandon our country and abandon ourselves to passively letting corruption, paid for with mountains of millions, get worse. And inexcusably making this all-important decision by default, without any public discussion of preferable alternatives.
If we have concluded that a Congress only 7 percent of us approve of is hopeless, if two-thirds of us say the country is on the wrong track, we need to take initiatives that will give us hope for positive change. We can. We should. If the way is open, if there isn’t anybody or anything that can stop us, there is no time to waste. November will soon be here.
CAN WE FIRE THOSE ENTRENCHED POLITICIANS?
POSTING OF JUNE 30, 2016
An abysmal approval rating of Congress requires a response from the electorate, the registered voters, the fourth branch of our government. Why? Because we have said in polls how well we understand that we are not the true constituents of “our” lawmakers in Congress. Special-interest campaign donors who help them get perpetually re-elected have brushed us aside.
In a September 2014 Gallup survey, 81 percent of us said most members of Congress are out of touch. 69 percent said most serve special interests. 54 percent said most are corrupt. These figures are consistent with a separate poll that shows Congress with a 7 percent approval rating.
Decisions in the Supreme Court that reinforce the influence of money in politics work against the majority of us, and favor the privileged few who can afford to pay to be represented by making ever bigger campaign contributions to members of Congress. A proposed fourth branch service organization, formed and funded by registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, can enable us to take on a corrupt regime.
Seeing how consistently the current system favors the few big campaign donors, the only way ordinary voters will ever get represented in Congress is to get elected. Our top priority must be to elect fourth branch candidates to Congress who can draft laws that serve the many and not just the few who can afford to buy favors. There are a few things we can begin doing.
A. USING OUR RESOURCES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Fourth branch nominating committees in each state can screen and put forward candidates for Congress from the ranks of voters, including members of think tanks and the numerous “good government” groups such as Common Cause. We can consider authors of articles, op-ed columnists, educators, lawyers, and other professionals. Medical doctors have left their practice to serve very capably in Congress. Once we take the initiative, the process of nominating fourth branch candidates will gather steam, attract press coverage, and generate enthusiasm as we anticipate having viable alternatives to “those politicians” in a Congress that we have (correctly) told ourselves in polls mostly serve special interests.
There is still time to nominate fourth branch candidates for the November elections so we can have third choices for Congress in every state and district, to compete with the two major party candidates, who we have said in polls we know are committed to serve those who finance their campaigns. A proposed fourth branch service organization will enable us to finance our nominees with millions of small Bernie Sanders-type donations made at Websites in each state and district, to elect senators and representatives who are committed to serve us and committed to reject campaign contributions from special interests.
Did anybody ever explain why we voters aren’t already electing our own people to represent us in Congress? Better late than never. If we have fourth branch candidates nominated for every state and district, we can replace most or all House incumbents and one-third of Senate incumbents with people who will serve the many of us instead of serving just a few special-interest campaign donors. If we can elect people like us, how many of us will vote for the incumbents in a Congress that has a well-deserved 7 percent approval rating? If about 93 percent of us will vote for our own candidates, to serve us, the question isn’t “Why do this?” The question is “Why not?”
If the odds may seem stacked against us, we can give ourselves the chance to find out there is nothing to keep people like us, the fourth branch of our government, from taking control of the House and part of the Senate in November. We have the wide-open opportunity to make the discovery that we don’t need to keep re-electing “those politicians” who want to continue making bad policy decisions based on their fossilized ideology (“tax cuts pay for themselves”) and/or on rampaging favors-for-dollars corruption, policy decisions based on who gave and who got big bucks.
Instead of elections with just two candidates getting big money from very few donors, with the winner serving mainly those few, our third candidates, getting small contributions from the millions of the electorate, can serve everybody. Our candidates can press their “unfair advantage” over the other two, by saying in campaign ads that “while we are self-funding, and are free to serve everyone equally, those party-nominated candidates have no choice but to favor their big donors, in order to keep their campaign dollars flowing.” Most voters will understandably support our own nominees.
The ideologues in Congress are never going to give up their ideology, because it is easier than thinking, easier than examining evidence and reported facts and figuring out what they demand of us. Their ideology is more pleasant than messy, stubborn reality, so they are unwilling to stay in touch with what is going on around them. They insist that “cutting taxes on wealthy job-creators” will lead to a fabulous budget surplus and unlimited economic growth, conveniently ignoring how many times tax cuts have yielded bigger deficits and anemic economic growth. That they are cutting taxes on campaign donors, who help them get re-elected, just might cloud their vision and affect their judgment, assisting them in seeing only what they have decided they want to see.
But many of those “wealthy job-creators” say they want to see more federal tax revenue. CEOs of more than 80 big-name U. S. corporations banded together to press Congress to overhaul the tax code to reduce or eliminate deductions, credits and loopholes so as to bring in more revenue than the existing code, without raising tax rates. Business people have complained that our crumbling infrastructure, such as bad roads and shaky bridges, which need $1.6 trillion in repairs, makes us less competitive as a nation. However, there is no indication that these do-the-right-thing CEOs, asking to pay more in taxes, are likely to withhold campaign contributions from lawmakers who are determined to maintain all those deductions, credits and loopholes for the big donors they see as their true constituents.
It is unlikely that lawmakers and business people who are in touch with reality can limit the influence of fashionable ideology in Congress. It will be up to voters to use their ballots to replace the incorrigible ideologues.
B. ACCEPTING OUR DUTIES AND OBLIGATIONS
Special interests own and operate Congress because the rest of us can’t be bothered getting organized so we can use our numbers against their dollars. We need to understand that such efforts are not optional, not things we are free to decide to do or not to do, if we want to rescue what’s left of representative government in America. Unless we want to allow a few wealthy Americans to continue controlling nearly all of our lawmakers and nearly all of our policy decisions with their campaign contribution dollars, our fourth branch efforts are mandatory. Without these efforts, there isn’t any kind of “campaign finance reform” legislation; there isn’t anybody or anything else that will enable us to break the iron grip special-interest campaign contribution money has on “our” lawmakers in Congress and on the political process.
If we have a remedy for what is going wrong and fail to use it, whose fault is that? It’s not “those politicians.” It’s us, for failing to make good use of the best opportunities our bruised but still vital political system offers us. If we can have our own independent “public financing” of campaigns (described in Section A. above), to elect our own independent candidates to Congress, free to do what’s best for all of us, rich and poor, without fear or favor, and without any legislation, we have an obligation to our country to do it.
We not only have the motive and the means to replace the recalcitrant incumbents in Congress, we have the responsibility. It is our duty to replace those in Congress who don’t understand the problems confronting our country, or act as if they don’t, and it doesn’t matter which. Most senators imagine they are bashing the president by refusing to confirm dozens of his non-controversial district court and appeals court nominees, and don’t care if they are bashing thousands of taxpayers who are denied their day in court. 83 vacant federal judgeships have created such backlogs that the court system has classified 30 of them as “judicial emergencies.” The Senate majority cares not in the least that justice is delayed and denied.
Somebody has to care. So far we are failing to meet our obligations as citizens of this country. Our fourth branch has to initiate policies that take care of our country’s future. Since no other branch or combination of branches of our government is both willing and able to do that, it’s up to us.
C. PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT WE ARE SAYING
We aren’t listening to what we keep telling ourselves in opinion polls. And paying a price. Does a 7 percent approval rate of Congress translate to 93 percent disapproval? It probably comes close. Either way, it tells us we are about to re-elect a Congress we have said as poll respondents is somewhere between unacceptable and intolerable. It tells us things have gotten so bad we need to do something to bring about change, but we aren’t even listening to what we are telling ourselves, let alone responding.
The people who give Congress a 7 percent approval rating are the people we need to elect to Congress because unlike the incumbents, we understand our problems. Our only hope is our electorate, our registered voters, our fourth branch of our government, who worry more and care more about what’s going wrong in America than 80 percent in Congress, judging by their stubborn, intransigent inaction on a long list of festering problems.
If we aren’t paying attention to what we are telling ourselves, we shouldn’t be surprised that 67 percent of us say the country is on the wrong track, which is just one more problem we have to deal with, and which makes gaining fourth branch control of Congress all the more urgent.
D. ADDRESSING OUR NEGLIGENCE
Perpetually, eternally re-electing a Congress we have disowned, election after election, and hoping somehow we will get a different result, is gross negligence. Without any public discussion of our failing, we keep re-electing lawmakers we know are owned and operated by big campaign donors, their true constituents, who care not in the least about the future of the country. Yet they control far too many national policy decisions that favor the interests of polluters, for example, who can pay lawmakers to be allowed to break environmental rules. We can break this blind re-election habit that is neglect of our civic duty and opens the way for bad policy decisions.
For example, when fourth branch candidates replace lawmakers in Congress who are owned by special interests, we can stop legislation in the form of “riders” to important bills, riders that are so bad they have no chance of being enacted on their merits. So they have to become law by extortion.
The legislation to fund dealing with the Zika virus has been loaded down with “provisions” to cut $540 million from the Affordable Care Act, to reallocate money from Ebola programs that may still need the money, and to restrict the role of Planned Parenthood in providing contraceptive services related to fighting the Zika virus, which can be transmitted sexually.
One definition of extortion is “forcing someone into giving you something through threats.” Does this include attaching bad “provisions” to essential spending bills? If opponents of the changes won’t “give in” to the riders, there is “the threat” of being unable to fund the efforts to stop Zika. The definition of extortion is a perfect fit.
Extortion is illegal everywhere except in Congress. We need to call it extortion if that’s what it is, and then decide to treat extortion as illegal if that’s what it is. With our fourth branch lawmakers in charge, we can have a simple rule in Congress that says all non-germane provisions must be considered as separate items of legislation, required to stand or fall on their own merits. It would be hard to find anything more non-germane to funding the effort to stop Zika than cutting the budget of the Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, as Congress obstructs, thousands of pregnant women in America have contracted the Zika virus. Five babies with microcephaly have been born in the United States. Lawmakers who draft legislation for the purpose of seeing how much extortion they can get away with aren’t really interested in serving the country. They infest Congress due to voter negligence.
E. PREPARING TO SERVE THE MAJORITY
Once we elect lawmakers who serve the majority, we can have “Medicare for Everybody,” covering more people at less cost, as do many other countries.
We can cut greenhouse gas emissions without politics getting in the way, to control global warming, which is intensifying droughts, floods and storms.
We can raise taxes on the undertaxed rich to get the $1.6 trillion needed for infrastructure repairs, which would bring us jobs and stimulate the economy.
We can reverse the crippling budget cuts on important government agencies by ironclad ideologues generally opposed to all government regulation.
We can stop the re-deregulation of banks that will set all of us back to 2008.
We can do many things that will enable government to serve the majority.
For example, the United States is trying to take the lead in encouraging other countries to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. If most lawmakers in Congress are out of touch with reality (as 81 percent of us have said in the Gallup survey) and deny the serious threat of climate change, and keep blocking attempts to deal with it, and torpedo our attempt at leadership in reducing carbon emissions, that is a crisis. We have to start replacing them in the November elections because if we wait until 2018 or 2020, world warming can spin out of control. If senators not up for re-election in 2016 see colleagues being replaced, they may change their policy positions to try to fend off a similar fate in 2018 and 2020. We need to restore a majority in Congress that is in touch with reality, that will serve constituents who are in touch with reality, that will serve an 80 percent majority of taxpayers who understand the need to address the problem of climate change.
There is no reason we can’t rescue Congress from special-interest campaign donors. Voters can and should elect lawmakers chosen from the vast majority of us, who unlike most incumbents, whose sole concern is getting re-elected, taking special-interest money in exchange for bad policy to enable them cling to power at all costs, we are concerned about what bad policy is doing to the country. Our electorate, our registered voters, are the only ones who can save what’s left of self-government. Only with our committed intervention can we restore majority rule in America.
We have to free Congress from the polarizing power of those party primaries in which candidates vie with each other to see who can promise most sincerely to make sure government stays paralyzed. Fourth branch candidates who are determined to make government work will have to dislodge incumbents who have survived primary challenges by promising to continue to keep government from working. As our government is currently constituted, with policy so heavily influenced by ideology and by the money of the few, replacement of “those politicians” is the only workable remedy available to those of us who want a government that serves the majority.
We have a clear choice. We can keep the Congress we have that serves the special interests. Or we can choose a better Congress that serves the rest of us. There is nothing to keep us from making this change. Opportunity continues knocking. How much longer do we keep opportunity waiting?
CAN WE MENTION OUR HIDDEN HABIT?
POSTING OF MAY 31, 2016
Can we ever deal successfully with our problem of corruption in government without understanding the cause nobody ever mentions? The influence of money in politics continues to give us, for example, polluters bearing campaign contributions to persuade lawmakers to allow them to continue polluting the rest of us. But no one dares to say that the main cause of corrupt practices in government is an unconscious voter habit of electing the biggest spenders in local and congressional campaigns. It reinforces the influence of money in politics and enables the big campaign donors to bend elections and policy decisions toward serving their own private purposes.
A. ELECTIONS WITHOUT THE HABIT
If we were to stop electing the biggest spenders, and begin electing candidates based on their party, ideology, or positions on the issues, it would end the political power of the big donors. Their contributions couldn’t buy favors from lawmakers, because money couldn’t help lawmakers get re-elected, if voters were no longer electing whoever spends the most.
If voters stop electing the biggest spenders, it will be a calamity for a large segment of the corruption industry. It will torpedo the smooth-sailing favors-for-dollars money machine that special interests and their lawmakers rely on. The big-bucks campaign donors want to continue owning and operating lawmakers, who want to continue serving special interests to keep the dollars flowing, so they can continue to outspend challengers and get re-elected by voters, who continue choosing the biggest spenders in the campaigns, unwittingly sustaining the continuing corruption.
B. THE PROBLEM FOR INCUMBENTS
The Center for Responsive Politics has been trying for decades to tell us why money is so important in politics but nobody is paying attention. Election after election, they have reported that voters choose the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns roughly 80 percent of the time (the percentages vary by election year and between House and Senate), regardless of the candidates’ party, ideology, or positions on the issues. The Center stopped updating these reports in 2012, but the corruption continues. Should anyone be surprised that every campaign donor wants to give the most in order to get their candidates elected, and make them grateful and willing to do favors? Or that every incumbent wants to do more favors for more campaign donors, to raise more money and buy more campaign ads than challengers, to gain the most voters in the next campaign?
This innocent voter habit is the relentless driving force behind the fund-raising frenzy in every election. Every campaign donor wanting favors from lawmakers knows, and every lawmaker accepting donations for favors knows, that voters elect the biggest spenders, the unmentionable reason for all the giving and getting. Every journalist who reports on the huge amounts of money changing hands knows, or should know, it is due to voters electing the biggest spenders, but never dares to say so. No matter how conspicuous the corruption, or how severe the damage, nobody is willing to say the voter habit is the cause of the corruption, willing to call it what it is.
Given the habit voters have, it is difficult for a lawmaker to raise enough money to get re-elected without doing specific favors for dollars, which is corruption, and not merely “the appearance of corruption.” Do we have an election process in which incumbents have little choice but to be corrupt, if they are willing to “do whatever it takes” to get re-elected? If this is the predicament we impose on our lawmakers, can there be any cause other than the voter habit? Voters have not the faintest clue about their innocent habit because lobbyists and lawmakers will never tell them (nor will our most respected ex-lawmakers or our venerable news media). Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without anybody telling them, and without being corrupt. What can our registered voters, our electorate, our fourth branch of government do to shake off such a damaging habit?
C. VOTERS AS CANDIDATES
Reforms such as “repeal” of the Citizens United decision, public funding of elections, limits on campaign spending, that would give the majority more voice in government, aren’t happening. Seeing how the current system consistently favors the few big campaign donors, the only way ordinary voters will ever get represented in Congress is to get elected.
Fourth branch nominating committees in each state can screen and put forward candidates from the ranks of voters, including members of think tanks and the numerous “good government” groups such as Common Cause. We can consider authors of books and articles, columnists, educators, lawyers and other professionals. Once we take the initiative, the process of nominating and funding fourth branch candidates will gather steam, draw news coverage, and generate excitement at the prospect of having viable alternatives to “those politicians in Congress” that 69 percent of us say (correctly) mostly serve special interests (for details see Gallup survey results in March posting). Our top priority must be to elect fourth branch majorities who can propose laws that serve the many instead of serving just a few big campaign donors.
Instead of the usual 95 percent attack mode content in campaign ads, (which some observers call “a form of voter suppression” along with all the notorious voter ID laws), we can hear what “our” fourth branch candidates intend to do if elected. Perhaps large numbers of eligible voters are staying home on election day because what they see on television is two equally bad candidates bashing each other with negative ads, and don’t like being told who to vote against. Would they be glad to come to the polls if they had third choice candidates to vote for, even if they have to write in names on ballots, to represent all of us for a change, instead of every special interest, every campaign donor, everybody but us? Probably.
With our fourth branch candidates getting nominated, funded, elected, and eventually gaining majorities in Congress, we would be able to raise the necessary taxes to deal with a $1.6 trillion backlog in infrastructure repairs, with the wealthy paying their fair share. We won’t keep student loan interest rates high in order to preserve tax breaks for the rich. And we would be able to fund the government departments and agencies that have been deliberately crippled with budget cuts by lawmakers ideologically opposed to all kinds of government regulation. We will finally have a chance to elect candidates who want government to succeed, instead of fail.
Most of us favor fixing our dilapidated infrastructure. Business leaders complain that our bad roads and bridges make us less competitive as a nation. Governors of both major parties are critical of Congress for letting highways deteriorate. The U.S. spends 1.7 percent of GDP on infrastructure while Europe spends 5 percent and China spends 9. When fourth branch voters become lawmakers we can boost that 1.7 percent.
D. A CONTENTIOUS CARBON TAX
Voters who become lawmakers can propose laws based on polls which show solid popular agreement. Twice as many favor a carbon tax as are opposed to it. Especially when used to reduce income taxes. Even Big Oil favors such a tax, if it is predictable and efficient. We could also cut the Big Oil subsidy of $37 billion a year and shift it toward renewables. We could use tax and subsidy changes to improve our responses to the growing threats associated with climate change.
The Canadian province of British Columbia has had a tax of 30 Canadian dollars per ton of carbon since 2012. The tax reduced emissions by 5 to 15 percent. British Columbia’s economy grew faster than economies of neighboring provinces. Despite price increases, voters increasingly accept the tax. Last year only 32 percent of British Columbians opposed the tax, compared to 47 percent in 2009. Big business is apparently persuaded that a carbon tax may be the most efficient, market-friendly means to deal with climate change. Corporate income taxes were cut from 12 to 11 percent; the bottom two personal income tax rates were cut, and low-income families got a tax credit.
Christopher Knittel, an expert in energy economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said a properly calibrated carbon tax in the United States could effectively replace all the climate-related regulations businesses hate so much, including renewable fuel mandates and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, such a carbon tax would have zero chance of getting past a majority of the ironclad ideologues in Congress, who oppose any increase of any tax of any kind at any time for any reason, especially if it reduces carbon emissions. This is just one more sign of the need to have a majority in Congress that wants government to work, to replace the current majority that wants to keep government from working. Several states are considering some form of a carbon tax.
E. OUR THIRD CANDIDATES
Instead of elections with just two candidates getting big money from very few donors, with the winner serving mainly those few, our third candidates, getting small contributions from the millions of the electorate, can serve everybody. Our candidates can press their “unfair advantage” over the other two, by saying in campaign ads that while they are self-funding, and are free to serve everyone equally, “those party-nominated candidates have no choice but to favor their big donors, in order to keep their campaign dollars flowing.” Most voters will understandably support our own nominees.
We can decide to confront our worst habit by using our abundant communications resources to have public discussion of what to do about it. And then do it. For example, if we are nominating, funding and electing our own third candidates, our own small spenders, we are no longer electing the biggest spenders in the campaigns, no longer reinforcing the influence money and its distorting effects on our elections and on our policy decisions.
Our new fourth branch service organization can enable us to deal with a serious problem of our own making. Only the people who cause the corruption can end the problem. How? By electing lawmakers who press for policies that serve the many as well as the few, restoring our founders’ original vision of government of the many, by the many and for the many, direct democracy free of disruptive self-serving intermediaries.
CLIMATE ACTION FROM THE BOTTOM UP?
POSTING OF JANUARY 31, 2016
We need to understand that we have made a decision, by default, to tolerate the continuing degradation of the atmosphere that has sustained us for a thousand years, and that we need to change that decision. The worst thing we can do is put our own comfort and convenience ahead of making essential, expensive policy changes in the interests of preserving our climate to serve future generations as well as it serves us.
Experts say the December Paris accord will barely bend the trajectory on climate change. No caps on emissions were set, no national allocations for emissions reductions were established, no legally binding treaty resulted because the U. S. Senate had promised to reject it.
Our growing climate problem can only get more expensive. Our decision to let the climate spin out of control is bad economics and bad policy. If our continuing delay pushes a greater share of the cost on our grandchildren and on our unborn, how ethical and principled is that? Have we by our inaction decided not to deal with what is showing itself as an emergency? A decision by default to do almost nothing, to just let things keep getting worse, isn’t merely dumb. It’s reckless.
A. ENCOURAGING CORPORATE EFFORTS
The December Paris meeting sought support and help of investors and corporations. But the hesitant, uncertain outcome of these talks will not encourage significant investments to replace dirty power with clean power. There was no firm decision that would justify a switch. The climate pact didn’t say how countries would monitor, verify and report levels of pollution generated by their industries, let alone control the pollution.
There are efforts to invite business and investors to get engaged in climate problems. A full-page ad in The New York Times of December 11 said, in part, “The World Economic Forum, We Mean Business, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the UN Global Compact have mobilized considerable business action on climate at COP21 (the Paris meeting). This includes jointly identifying a list of partnerships that offer business and investors the greatest collective impact on climate action.”
In addition, 154 companies have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to demonstrate their support for action on climate change and the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris “that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.” These companies have operations in all 50 states, employ nearly 11 million people. We need to hope that such initiatives will start a bottom-up effort to limit greenhouse gases since the U. S. Senate won’t tolerate any top-down effort.
These initiatives may be limited to countries where groups and industries can take action independently of governments. That excludes Russia, China, and many others. India, supposedly with a free press, has cracked down on efforts by Greenpeace and other non-governmental organizations to spread the word about greenhouse pollution in India. We will have to shun short-sighted views taken by some governments, including India for example, that say during the next ten years it is more important to get electricity to 300 million poor people than to deal with climate change. India conveniently forgets that what is going to happen to poor people, and eventually to most people, if they continue to invite a climate calamity, is probably a hundred times worse then going without electricity. China’s emissions pledges are undercut by investments in 92 new coal-burning power plants in 27 countries, coupled with assistance in building them. The free world may have to put stiff tariffs on goods from China and India to try to persuade them to finally get serious about cutting carbon emissions. China and India can push all of us over the cliff, past the point of no return.
B. THE TROUBLE WITH GOVERNMENTS
Our Senate majority has effectively sabotaged any possible U.S. government leadership toward getting a binding and enforceable international treaty on the climate. It is doubtful that any other government would be willing to step up to the task, knowing the United States would be a holdout, which would severely weaken any agreement. “Our” Senate brushed off two-thirds of the Americans it is supposed to represent, who say they back a binding global treaty on greenhouse gases.
The dismal truth is that our governments world-wide are highly unlikely to take the necessary actions to save us from catastrophic warming. We will have to rely on ourselves if we want to save our climate. We need to get busy coordinating the efforts of the voters/citizens/taxpayers of the world with a vast array of international industries and corporations, most of them already on our side, that “get it,” that understand the climate problem, and the need to do something about it.
The International Energy Agency estimates that a $53 trillion investment in energy supply and energy efficiency is needed by 2035 to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, roughly $2.65 trillion per year. From the top down, our governments are never going to tax us enough to make such investments. We are going to have to volunteer. Citizens of the various countries along with businesses and other public and private enterprises are going to have to support arrangements to meet the challenge from the bottom up. If the bill for saving our only atmosphere seems daunting, we have to keep in mind that whatever the cost, it will be less than continuing to do next to nothing to slow our descent into a disaster from which there is no return.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that global fossil fuel subsidies amount to $5.3 trillion. Taxpayers, businesses, industries, associations need to band together and lean on their governments to shift subsidies away from fossil fuels toward all kinds of renewables that need funding.
Pollution comes from utilities, industries, public and private enterprises, now loosely regulated by national and local governments. In the absence of adequate regulation, these enterprises will have to voluntarily agree to accept effective bottom-up emissions reductions in order to save themselves from the effects of climate change, as the effects become harder to ignore. 2015 was the hottest year on record. The need to deal with the problem couldn’t be clearer; the motivation (survival) couldn’t be stronger.
C. A WORLD CLIMATE COUNCIL
Instead of governments monitoring industries, a newly created World Climate Council could specify sufficiently strict pollution reduction targets for all the various types of industries in all countries. Newly-formed climate bureaucracies in national governments struggling with deficits may be understaffed and underfunded and vary widely in competence. Bureaucratic procedural delays and ideological disputes can hinder governments’ efforts to solve the climate problem. Any binding international treaty delegating compliance and enforcement to governments will probably result in arbitrary top-down mandates that are less carefully crafted and less effective than guidelines coming from a proposed World Climate Council. It can become the bottom-up solution we have been looking for.
A Climate Council could act more effectively than a hundred-plus individual governments, needlessly duplicating their efforts at great cost. Climate Council experts could write sample compliance proposals and goals tailored for all the various major industries, and have the industries and the larger municipalities (with their incinerators, sewage treatment, and landfill methane that needs to be captured and sold as energy) submit their compliance proposals and goals.
Industries that support the Council could urge governments to do the same. If most governments of the world support the Council, it could become their stand-in, accepting emissions reduction plans from polluting industries and large municipalities. This procedure would allow latitude to experiment with innovative means of reducing emissions. New and better ideas could be posted on a Council Website. It may be better to have compliance monitored by a body that can uniformly apply technical expertise and answer technical questions. Actions of a Climate Council could be monitored by all governments, which could make any complaints to a prestigious, highly-qualified independent committee overseeing the Council.
Such focused efforts, together with taxes on carbon emissions, used to reduce income taxes, would encourage shifting investments from fossil fuel producers and users to clean energy sources. A World Climate Council could raise funds in most countries, plausibly making the “self-interest” case for donations, explaining the long-term effects of climate change (if there is anybody who doesn’t already know) and how it will affect every business, industry, association and individual, cradle to grave, and the urgency of taking immediate action because we are decades late in getting started.
We can probably persuade most of the 154 companies mentioned in Section A. above, with $4.2 trillion annual revenue, various funds and foundations, the multimillionaires in many countries, to chip in a share of the money the Council needs to provide for investments in energy supply and energy efficiency. All qualified enterprises that submit compliant emissions reduction plans and goals would get funds, but based on information received, the Council would grant more funds to those that document local costs of compliance that are higher, if their renewable energy, and/or upgrades in efficiency are relatively more expensive, to assure achieving maximum emissions reductions.
The Council would make monthly reports of amounts received, on hand, and invested, with details about which enterprises received money for their investments. The monthly reports can appear at a Website so anybody can watch the Council at work. Donors will be able to see exactly where their money is going. Recipients would owe the Council an accounting that shows how the funds are spent.
We have all the motivation and communications resources we need to act independently of governments. The only thing lacking is forming and funding the new organization that empowers us to make the required decisions. The several business groups and the emissions-heavy companies among the 154 mentioned in Section A. above, would probably welcome uniform science-based compliance requirements from a World Climate Council, and the sooner the better.
DO WE NEED A THIRD POLITICAL PARTY?
POSTING OF NOVEMBER 30, 2015
A majority of Americans, 60 percent, say a third major political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” of representing the American people, according to a September 2015 Gallup survey. 7While attack ads continue warning us against voting for either of the two major party candidates, we can nominate a third candidate for every state and district, one that we choose, committed to serving us, committed to rejecting special interest campaign donations, one we can trust, one we can vote for. If there is nothing to keep us from doing this, why do we need a third political party in order to have third candidates, essential third choices, in our elections?
The September posting describes our unconscious habit of electing the biggest spenders in the campaigns, requiring lawmakers to serve big donors instead of us, to raise the most money to get the most votes. We know who they serve. In a September 2014 Gallup survey, 69 percent of us said most members of Congress serve special interests. 54 percent of us said most members are corrupt. In view of what we have told ourselves in the polls, will we voters tend to favor our own fourth branch candidates over the big spender candidates nominated by the two major parties? Very likely.
Most members of Congress have pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist, caving in to his demands never to raise any taxes at any time for any reason regardless of the need. Strong primary challenges await those who fail to pledge, or who sign up and then break their word. So government starves.
With our fourth branch candidates getting nominated, funded, elected, and eventually gaining majorities in Congress, we would be able to raise the necessary taxes to deal with a $1.6 trillion backlog in infrastructure repairs, with the wealthy paying their fair share. We won’t keep student loan interest rates high in order to preserve tax breaks for the rich. And we would be able to fund the government departments and agencies that have been deliberately crippled with budget cuts by lawmakers opposed to any kind of regulation. We will finally have a chance to elect our own candidates, who will want government to succeed, instead of wanting government to fail.
Most in Congress want to hinder important agencies, or even abolish them. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under attack for moving to preserve our right to sue wrongdoers. Customers, employees, investors, patients are being required to agree to arbitrate any disputes that arise in their dealings with a company, hospital or nursing home instead of suing in court. These arbitration requirements, these denials of the right to legal recourse, are buried in the fine print of increasing numbers of agreements we are required to sign in order to obtain goods and services. Businesses and institutions are shielding themselves from legal action not only over money, but also over discrimination, elder abuse, fraud, hate crimes, medical malpractice and wrongful death.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering a first move toward supporting consumer rights by forbidding arbitration clauses that ban class actions in cases involving financial services and products. This brazen, provocative effort to restore fairness may have prompted new efforts by some lawmakers to clamp down on CFPB actions. They want to keep their big campaign donors, their true constituents, from being sued. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and candidate for president, went a step further by introducing a bill calling for the abolition of CFPB.
Adequate taxes enabled by Congress can bring us the good roads and safe bridges that the country has sorely needed for decades. A bonus benefit is the hundreds of thousands of infrastructure jobs to stimulate the economy. A new prosperity would once again become possible. A well-financed CFPB, supported by a Congress representing a majority of us, has the power to assure the preservation of many basic consumer protections and rights, including our day in court.
These are just two examples that illustrate the need for having third candidates in the 2016 elections, and the need for those who don’t make big campaign contributions to vote in support of their own candidates against candidates owned and operated by special interests. If we effectively use our numbers against their dollars, numbers are going to win. We can have the benefits of a third party without the disputes and difficulties involved in creating a third party, such as how to assure that it won’t become as corrupt as the other two. We are better off not having it if we don’t need it.
We have to empower our fourth branch because there is no other branch of government we can rely on to be willing and able to consistently do the right thing for the country. If we continue business-as-usual re-electing those we know (and have said) we can’t trust, and then complain that government doesn’t work, whose fault is that? It’s not “those politicians.” It’s us. It’s not trusting ourselves, not daring to accept opportunities our political system offers us that are wide open, obvious, and waiting for us to engage them. Is anybody or anything except us keeping us from doing this?
CAN WE DISCUSS OUR WORST PROBLEM?
POSTING OF SEPTEMBER 14, 2015
We talk about the need to reduce the influence of money in politics, the need for laws to achieve campaign finance reform, or public funding of elections, or a rollback of the Citizens United decision, to diminish the impact of campaign contributions on elections and on policy decisions. Most members of Congress would oppose such changes, being intent on coddling their true constituents, the big donors funding their election campaigns.
Just imagine that we have an absolutely terrible problem and we refuse to even mention it. That’s where we are. Did anyone ever explain how money got so much influence in our political system that we think we need new laws? Because of a problem almost nobody ever mentions? The culprit is an unconscious voter habit of electing the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns roughly 80 percent of the time (percentages vary by election year and between House and Senate), regardless of the candidates’ party, ideology or positions on the issues (for details see January posting).
The Center for Responsive Politics has been reporting this problem for 20 years. But it is ignored and never becomes a major issue, even though it is the blind, relentless, driving force behind the fund-raising frenzy in every election. Every campaign donor wanting favors from lawmakers knows, and every lawmaker accepting donations for favors knows, that voters elect the biggest spenders, the unspoken reason for the giving and taking. Every journalist who reports on the huge amounts of money changing hands knows, or should know, it is due to voters electing the biggest spenders, but never says so. Despite the ruinous damage it is doing, nobody wants to mention the voter habit by name, to call it what it is.
With their unconscious habit, voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without anybody telling them, and without being corrupt. If we were to stop electing the biggest spenders, and begin electing candidates based on their party, ideology, or positions on the issues, it would drain the political power of the big donors. Campaign donations couldn’t buy favors from lawmakers, because money couldn’t help them get re-elected, if voters were no longer electing whoever spends the most.
Special interests and lawmakers worry that voters will find out about their bad habit, and might decide they don’t want to cause corruption, and decide they want to stop electing the biggest spenders. A calamity for the corruption industry! This change would torpedo the smooth-sailing favors-for-dollars money machine, the something-for-everybody system that special interests and lawmakers rely on. The big campaign donors want to continue owning and operating lawmakers, who want to keep serving special interests to keep the dollars flowing, so they can outspend challengers and get re-elected by voters, who unwittingly but reliably vote for the biggest spenders in the elections, thus driving the whole rotten process.
The only “campaign finance reform” that is ever going to work is to end the voter habit. We can make reform laws unnecessary by reforming ourselves, by doing something that is the equivalent. For example, if we are nominating, funding and electing our own candidates for Congress from the ranks of registered voters, our electorate, our fourth branch of government (for details see July posting), we are no longer electing the biggest spenders, but casting votes not influenced by campaign contributions and campaign advertising. If we are intent on getting our own elected, we will ignore the two major party candidates, bashing each other with attack ads that keep telling us who to vote against. We can have candidates to vote for. By electing our own candidates we have nominated and funded, we can shed a bad habit without knowing we had one.
We don’t talk about the problem that causes most of the corruption, only about the resulting bad policy that favors the few at the expense of the many. Polluters can and do buy permission to pollute from lawmakers (for an example see Section B. of August posting). Electing the biggest spenders reinforces the influence of money. It empowers those who can use money to buy elections and buy policy decisions. It causes us to obediently re-elect “our” lawmakers who can and do serve campaign donors at our expense.
Should we feel disappointed that we aren’t solving our worst corruption problem when we carefully avoid any public mention of it? What the politicians and special interests don’t want us to do is what we most need to do. We will have to start talking publicly and loudly about our unmentionable voter habit, and about how to stop the damage it causes. We can solve our worst corruption problem whenever we can decide to talk about it, so we can decide what to do about it, and then decide to do it.
Til then, we are deciding by default to let special interests continue running the country. If we are paying a price for policy decisions based on fossilized ideology and/or on who gave and who got big bucks, coming from a Congress with a 7 percent approval rating (which shows we understand the extent of the corruption), why aren’t we fixing it? Are we deciding things aren’t bad enough, and we need to let them get worse? What else has to go wrong? How many more calamities will it take to persuade us to finally decide to do something?
DO WE NEED TO GIVE UP?
POSTING OF JULY 31, 2015
Do we need to sit and watch the television, newspaper and other media reports as they keep getting worse, without doing anything? Do we need to sit and watch Congress get even more dysfunctional, and even more oblivious of the problems confronting the country, without doing anything? If we have the will to do something, and the means to do something, why put up with what we see happening?
This Website overview is a summary of the substance, using paragraphs that appear elsewhere at this site. The substance is that (1) we have said in opinion polls that we know there is something we have to do to fix Congress, and (2) we have the means to do it, so there is no excuse not to.
Our legislative branch is tied in knots. Our judicial branch is making things worse by repeatedly reinforcing the influence of money in politics with dumb decisions such as Citizens United, the last thing we need. The executive branch is shackled by a Congress that doesn’t want to do anything about a long list of crucial issues, and tries to stop the president from doing anything when he tries to use limited powers.
The only hope left for this country is the electorate, the registered voters, the fourth branch of our government, who seem to worry more and care more about what’s going wrong in the country than any of the other three, judging by their lack of action. In nearly all congressional elections, we have a choice between two bad candidates, both of them owned and operated by the special interests who fund their campaigns and expect favors that benefit the few donors, usually at the expense of the many. Polluters can and do buy permission from lawmakers to continue polluting the rest of us.
Agencies and departments of government are chronically underfunded and hindered, partly because so many members of Congress have pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist, agreeing to his demands never to support raising any taxes at any time for any reason. Strong primary challenges await those who don’t sign the pledge, or sign up and break their word. Which leaves only the option of even more crippling cuts in spending. More than half a million people who used to get help preparing their income taxes, and can’t afford to pay for help, have to wait on the phone up to two hours to talk to a depleted IRS.
Some influential people describe us in the fourth branch as being distracted, indifferent, uninformed. But this may not be an accurate picture.
If, as opinion poll respondents, 81 percent of us say (correctly) that most members of Congress are out of touch (beset by deaf and blind ideology that leaves them separated from reality?), and 69 percent say (correctly) that most members serve special interests (because they are getting paid to do it?), and 54 percent say (correctly) that most members are corrupt (finding it difficult to ignore the persistent reports of favors-for-dollars transactions that bend policy decisions out of shape?), this helps explain why 67 percent say the country is on the wrong track.
Are we all on record as saying, publicly, just how bad things have gotten? Are we in effect telling ourselves that the existing state of affairs is somewhere between unacceptable and intolerable? If so, we need to pay attention to what we are telling ourselves, and start considering doing something drastic, taking bold new steps, such as looking among ourselves to find candidates for Congress to serve us, to replace those who don’t.
These opinion poll results say we are anything but distracted and uninformed, but in the majority keenly aware of how bad things have gotten, and probably worried about it, and probably ready to vote for alternatives to the incumbents we criticize, if alternatives are available. The figures on being out of touch, on serving special interests and on corruption are entirely consistent with a 7 percent approval rating of Congress. We get the picture. These poll respondents are not the intellectual elites. They are selected to be representative of the general population. The outcome of this poll is a sign that we are telling ourselves, as a matter of public record, it has gotten so bad we need to do something about it. We can give ourselves the means.
We can begin by nominating candidates who are willing to serve the fourth branch, our electorate, the registered voters, in Congress. A national election committee, consisting of registered voters, could be assembled to formulate a set of standards and requirements to be met by our fourth branch nominees for Congress.
Fourth branch nominating committees in each state could apply the standards, screening and putting forward candidates from the ranks of voters, including members of think tanks and the numerous “good government” groups such as Common Cause; authors of books, columnists, lecturers, scholars, lawyers, and other professionals. Medical doctors have left their practice to serve very capably in Congress. With the help of a well-financed fourth branch service organization, “voter candidates” would get a manual that explains what will be expected of them as candidates, and as incumbents, such as keeping sufficiently well-informed to be able to engage in debates and handle interviews and news conferences on short notice. The service organization could establish Websites in every state and congressional district that would enable voters to make donations to the campaigns of their Senate and House nominees.
If we take these initiatives, the process of nominating and funding fourth branch candidates will gather steam and get news coverage and generate excitement and anticipation at the prospect of having alternatives to the usual incumbents that large majorities of us, as opinion poll respondents, have plainly said can’t be trusted. Instead of the usual 95 percent attack ad content in recent campaigns, which some experts call a form of “voter suppression” (along with all the notorious voter ID laws), we can hear what “our” candidates intend to do if elected. Perhaps large numbers of eligible voters are staying home on election day because what they see on television is two equally bad candidates bashing each other negative ads, and don’t like being told who to vote against. Would they be glad to come to the polls if they had third choice candidates to vote for? To represent us for a change instead of (as we have said in polls) every special interest, everybody who buys a favor, every campaign donor, everybody but us? Probably.
A well-funded fourth branch service organization can give our candidates all the necessary campaign money and communications resources to get elected and to begin the process of outnumbering all those incumbents in Congress who like to boast about seeing to it that nothing gets done in government, because they don’t like government, and want it to fail. Our candidates won’t need as much money as the major party candidates because they can gain free publicity by, for example, making a point of rejecting special-interest campaign money, and mounting high-profile newsworthy challenges to the other two candidates to do the same.
Lawmakers who are voters elected by voters can enact laws based on polls which show solid agreement. Twice as many favor a carbon tax as are opposed to it. Especially when used to reduce income taxes. Even Big Oil favors such a tax, if it is predictable and efficient. We could also cut the Big Oil subsidy of $37 billion a year and shift it toward renewables. We could use tax and subsidy changes to improve our response to the growing threats associated with climate change. Most of us favor fixing our dilapidated infrastructure. Business leaders complain that our bad roads and bridges make us less competitive as a nation. Governors of both major parties are increasingly critical of Congress for letting roads deteriorate. Truckers have to drive extra miles to go around all the shaky bridges that are too weak for big rigs. Time and fuel and money wasted. The U.S. spends 1.7 percent of GDP on infrastructure while Europe spends 5 percent and China spends 9.
To become more competitive again we have to change that, and we will never persuade anywhere near a majority of the current incumbents in Congress to touch it. If we ever hope to fix what’s wrong with Congress, we will have become lawmakers. There is a long list of things that urgently need to be done or undone and redone and that most of us can agree on, that the vast majority understands we need to support.
We not only have the motive and the means to replace the incumbent obstructionists in Congress, we have the responsibility to do it. It is our duty to replace those in Congress who don’t understand the problems confronting our country, or act as if they don’t, and it doesn’t matter which. If we see the need to do something about that, and have the will, and the means, what are we waiting for? At some point, our inaction not only becomes an embarrassment, it becomes a failure to meet our obligations as taxpayers/citizens/voters of this country. We will have to initiate policies that take care of our country’s future simply because no other branch or combination of branches of our government is willing and able to do it.
Is there anything wrong with government that electing our own to represent us wouldn’t fix? Would it eliminate money corruption of our political process? Would lawmakers elected from the ranks of voters, with campaigns financed by voters, be willing and able to do what is best for their own, for the majority, and for the country? Would this change make government work to serve the many instead of just a few special-interest big donors?
Considering how the system is now rigged in favor of campaign donors, the only way ordinary voters will ever get represented in Congress is to get elected. We have all the means we need to elect our own to serve us. But we lack the will to get our act together and form a service organization that will enable us to make a decision to use the vast communications resources that are available to us, to use our vast numbers to overmatch special-interest dollars. We can’t afford further delay. If we, the fourth branch, can bypass Congress by implementing, with millions of small donations, our own “public financing of elections,” why are we missing this opportunity?
We can’t afford a Congress where the repeated failure of “trickle-down” ideology: “tax breaks for wealthy job-creators will grow the economy,” continues to starve our country of badly needed resources. We will eventually learn that the only way to deal with fossilized ideology in Congress is to replace the fossilized ideologues, who will never voluntarily get out of the way. Until we put that lesson into practice, nothing changes for the better.
VOTERS AS CANDIDATES?
POSTING OF APRIL 30, 2015
Would registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, be able to nominate candidates from their own ranks and support them in getting elected to Congress? This notion, offered in earlier postings, has generated valid questions. Without campaign funding equal to that of the major party candidates, would they be able to succeed? Probably, if we also inquire about the advantages they will have, by asking:
Will candidates nominated and funded by voters, who can generate free publicity by rejecting special-interest dollars, and by challenging other candidates to do the same, be able to win against the party-nominated candidates? Will such candidates be burdened by newly focused attention to how dependent they are on special-interest money, and to their donors who will continue getting special favors as usual?
Will candidates nominated by voters who say in their campaign ads what they want to accomplish if elected, be able to win against the party-nominated candidates, who are too busy demonizing each other with attack ads to tell us what they will do, or change, or fix, if elected, or re-elected?
Will voters who are tired of being badgered and pestered by dueling negative ads on television, insisting they absolutely must vote against both of the equally bad party-nominated candidates, welcome having a third choice they can vote for? One of their own, someone they can verify as being independent, willing, able, and publicly committed to serve them? In these new circumstances, will the other candidates find that news media and the blogosphere compare them unfavorably to fourth branch candidates? And that big campaign contributions to buy attack ads can’t help them?
A. ELECTING OUR OWN
Did anybody ever explain why registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government don’t elect our own members of Congress if we don’t like “those politicians” who now hold those seats? Instead of just complaining about Congress, why not get an organization, get a plan, and do something about it? If we don’t like “our” lawmakers representing campaign donors, don’t like the results of the disastrous favors-for-dollars lawmaking we have now, why not form and finance a fourth branch service organization that would give us the resources we need to elect voter/taxpayer/citizen candidates (they would need to be all 3) to represent us, for a change?
If, as opinion poll respondents, 81 percent of us say most members of Congress are out of touch, and 69 percent say most members serve special interests, and 54 percent say most members are corrupt, this helps explain why 67 percent say the country is on the wrong track, and why Congress has a dismal 7 percent approval rating. Assuming poll respondents are selected to represent the general public, are we all on record as saying, publicly, just how bad things have gotten? Are we in effect telling ourselves that the existing state of affairs is somewhere between unacceptable and intolerable? If so, we need to pay attention to what we are telling ourselves, and start looking among ourselves to find candidates for Congress.
B. CHANGING THE ASSUMPTIONS
We will never get a Congress we want, that serves the majority, the best interests of the country, until we challenge common assumptions so we are able to discover:
There is nothing to keep registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, from forming and funding an organization (for details see February posting and August 2011 posting) to serve the voters, to enable us to coordinate our actions. And then form committees to screen and nominate and fund the candidates of our own choosing in their campaigns for Congress. We can have our own do-it-yourself public funding of our campaigns, no legislation required (for details see Section B. of March posting). Should our nominees be able to succeed against candidates nominated by the two major political parties? If we take one look at their campaigns, financed by the usual suspects, the special interests who are energetically enhancing the dollars-for-favors culture in Congress, the same corruption we denounce in opinion polls, why would anybody vote for either of them, if there is a better choice?
There is no reason why we couldn’t become literally self-governing by electing voter candidates to represent voters, instead of habitually re- electing candidates who spend the most on their campaigns, and represent campaign donors wanting special favors, as we have been doing for decades (for details about shedding our bad habit of electing the biggest spenders see January posting). Should our candidates be successful in campaigns against incumbents, who in opinion polls we have already said are owned and operated by those who can afford to pay to be represented? Why not?
There is no reason why voter-supported candidates shouldn’t press their advantage by pointing out that they are the only candidate in the race who is free to represent the many who don’t make big campaign contributions. And that the party-nominated candidates are saddled with self-imposed obligations to represent mostly those few who finance their campaigns. By maintaining this focus, our fourth branch candidates will set an example other candidates can’t match, and remain worthy of broad-based small-donation financial support from their registered voter peers.
C. CHANGING THE MEMBERSHIP
There is no reason we couldn’t, shouldn’t, or wouldn’t replace most of the current incumbents in Congress with new lawmakers who serve the many, the general public. This is the only way we are going to deal successfully with problems such as decisions based on who gave and who got campaign contributions, or on brain-dead, fossilized ideology, or on some combination of both, instead of on what circumstances require, on what is best for the country. No other branch of our government is as consistently capable of shunning the partisanship and ideology that we criticize in other branches, and putting the best interests of the country first among our priorities.
To effect essential change, there is no substitute for using our abundant communications resources to get ordinary taxpayers elected to Congress in sufficient numbers that we gain control over policy decisions, outnumbering those who are bent on pursuing bad choices in nearly every category of policy. Such as lawmakers giving polluters permission to violate laws, and continue polluting the rest of us, in exchange for campaign contributions.
D. MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK
We are burdened with a persistent determination of Congress to let government continue serving the few at the expense of the many, with one bad policy after another that is a bonanza for the few but terrible for the rest of us. An example is the determination to do nothing about the estimated $1.6 trillion backlog in repairs to the infrastructure, including fixing crumbling highways, helping people get from here to there without also getting flat tires and bent wheels. Congress is letting the Highway Trust Fund run dry. Repairing roads and bridges should be a part of making local, state and federal government work to serve everybody.
The standard lame response from Congress is that we don’t need more money from those who can afford to pay higher taxes, and we certainly can’t have “make-work stimulus spending” on infrastructure unless we “cut spending elsewhere” without saying where. Making a choice, Congress chose to preserve tax breaks for the rich instead of using the money to start fixing our infrastructure. Big-bucks donors are the true constituents for most members, so they reflect the views of their constituents, caring little about bad things happening to the country as long as nothing bad hits them or their constituents. We need fewer people in Congress who delight in seeing to it that government doesn’t work, so they can say government doesn’t work. They enjoy seeing government agencies and departments so underfunded they can’t function, because they oppose government involvement in much of what government needs to do. We need more people in Congress who want government to work. Voters, who generally want government to work (on those bad roads for example), will have to step in. Who else is going to do this?
We don’t need to persuade ourselves we have to get more involved in government. As poll respondents, we have already said so. The test for us is whether we can decide to act as if we believe what we have correctly told ourselves in opinion polling, time and again. Our recent opinion polling (in Section A. for example) seems to be telling us that we understand the magnitude of the problem, and it should be our civic duty to get an out-of-control Congress under control.
We can bypass the need for legislated campaign finance reform or legislated public funding of campaigns. We can have independent, state-by-state, do-it-yourself public funding. We can do what was originally intended, make government serve the general public. The Constitution contemplates that voters will be the ultimate arbiters of policy in our government, by choosing and re-electing presidents and lawmakers who are responsive to what most of us agree on about policy. A proposed fourth branch service organization Website can keep us advised of various news reports, and various informed opinions, relating to proposed changes of policy, and, preferably after public discussion on televison, poll us to see how many agree, for the guidance of challengers and incumbents. And without any new laws or regulations.
We can plainly see the deadlock that is suffocating Congress, and the need for voter intervention to replace those lawmakers who want government to fail, as shown by their voting records in Congress. These records could be made available on our proposed fourth branch Website. We could see, for example, which 33 senators and 94 representatives voted against a bill intended to prevent another government shutdown.
At some point, our refusal to intervene becomes a dereliction of duty in our role as voters/taxpayers/citizens of the United States. We need to make good use of the vast communications resources a proposed fourth branch service organization could provide. The only branch of our government that can effectively intervene, needs to get its act together, and intervene. The only way we will ever get represented in Congress is to get elected.
WILL VOTERS HAVE TO LEAD?
POSTING OF MARCH 30, 2015
We complain about corruption, about lawmakers doing favors for dollars, about government for the few who make big campaign contributions at the expense of the many who don’t. What else has to go wrong? What will it take? When will we be willing to try an alternative? For example, what if there was a source of campaign money other than the usual rampaging flood of election-year special-interest dollars?
The postings of December, January and February offer initiatives, or solutions to problems, that would require public discussion on television to see whether they can stand questioning, can be explained. For example, we need to know if there is any reason why registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, couldn’t transform our political landscape by recruiting candidates from their own ranks to run for Congress. Public discussion may reveal serious problems with this notion. Or enable us to discover there is nothing to stop us; there is no reason not to do it. The worst thing we can do is what we are doing: failing to find out (for details about registered voters nominating and electing candidates to Congress, see December posting).
A. TWO DYSFUNCTIONAL BRANCHES
Registered voters, our electorate, the fourth branch of our government, can found and finance a fourth branch service organization that will enable voters to secure a place in our political system that makes us the co-equals of the 3 other branches. One of the main reasons government doesn’t work is that at least 2 branches are dysfunctional most of the time. Our fourth branch doesn’t assert itself in a way that will enable us to gain parity with the other 3. We need to exert the influence we aren’t using, to bring our 4 branches into balance, so they can interact and function as envisioned in the Constitution.
One result of our fourth branch failure has been that other branches have learned they can make policy decisions that are not in the best interests of the fourth branch, and usually without any effective pushback. The lawmakers we hire have learned they can ally themselves with special interests to the detriment of ordinary taxpayers. Polluters can use campaign contributions to buy permission from lawmakers to continue polluting, favoring those few at the expense of the rest of us (for an example see Section A. Paragraph 3. of September 2013 posting). Unfortunately our electorate must also be faulted for perpetually re-electing these same lawmakers, term after term.
By habitually electing candidates who spend the most in their campaigns, voters have made lawmakers dependent on special-interest campaign donors (for details about voters electing the biggest spenders, without even knowing it, and how this unconscious habit drives the election fund-raising frenzy, see January posting). This is an example of one branch unknowingly but directly causing malfunction in another branch. Fixing a problem in the fourth branch can also fix a major glitch in Congress.
B. OUR OBLIGATIONS AS VOTERS
With a fourth branch service organization facilitating election of voter candidates to Congress, we can have what we need most: lawmakers who aren’t for sale. We can have fourth branch candidates who don’t accept or need money from special interests. We can have candidates who are free of obligations to anyone except their supporters, making potentially half a million $10 or $20 contributions in each congressional district, with high-income people joining in with higher amounts, that candidates can use for their campaign advertising. We can have lawmakers who represent the great majority, the many, and not just the few who can afford to pay to be represented.
Instead of the usual 2 candidates, who we all know will serve the big-money campaign donors instead of serving us, no matter who wins, we can have a third candidate to vote for, who by staying strictly independent of special interests, will have a good chance of defeating the professional politician incumbents who engage in high-profile, big-bucks campaign fund-raising in efforts to outspend challengers. Why? So they can pursue their highest priority: getting re-elected at all costs, and without any need to do anything that might be good for the country. Just holding office, just clinging to a seat, just raising money by doing favors for donors, trumps nearly everything they need to be doing for the country. Certainly there are exceptions but for most lawmakers, this conduct seems dismally routine.
The registered voter candidates will have a distinct advantage because they won’t have to gather donations that make them indebted to special interests. And once in office, they can attend to the needs of the people who support them. They won’t be obliged to spend half their waking hours on the phone raising campaign funds. And their campaign ads can say what they will seek to accomplish if elected instead of mindlessly attacking opponents. Negative advertising is an estimated 95 percent of the content of campaigns in recent congressional elections. If evidence supports this picture, is there any reason why registered voter candidates wouldn’t be successful in their campaigns, and effective when serving in office?. We can do all this in spite of the big bad Citizens United decision; even the Koch brothers’ Niagra of dollars can do little to slow us.
When in the opinion polls 81 percent of us say most members of Congress are out of touch, it shows we are aware how many of them rely on fossilized ideology that separates them from reality. When 69 percent say most lawmakers serve special interests, it means we understand they represent everybody but us. When 54 percent say most lawmakers are corrupt, it means we understand the favors-for-dollars transactions, that policy decisions are based on who gave and who got campaign money, instead of on what circumstances require, what is best for the country. These opinions seem to be well-supported by a steady drumbeat of news reports. So it isn’t surprising that we give Congress an approval rating of 7 percent. This means poll respondents thoroughly understand exactly how bad things have gotten. People who take such a dim view of “our” lawmakers really do need to replace them with lawmakers who will represent our fourth branch.
It is the duty of those who understand our problems to take political power from those who don’t, or act as if they don’t. This can happen with voters electing voters. We not only have the ability to gain a majority in Congress, we have an obligation. It’s our only chance to get policy decisions based on what is happening in the real world, the kinds of decisions we need to insist on. We can place ourselves in a position to insist. If voters really want to be represented in Congress, they need to get elected.
C. FINALLY, MEANINGFUL CHOICES
We have to overcome a long shadow of cynicism and doubt hanging over our political system. If there is a bad mood in the country, but public discussion can show us we have the means to deal with our problems, we have a vast array of varied, flexible, adaptable communications resources for every imaginable purpose. Some of them can be used for the dialogue we need to have. As long as we continue letting these valuable resources go unused, refusing to discuss the alternatives before us, we will continue making bad decisions, either by choice or by default, by accepting things as they are.
We need to know what we don’t know and what a series of dialogues can tell us. We need to find out what options we have. If ordinary voters aren’t represented in Congress, we need to decide what to do about that. If there is no reason not to elect registered voters to Congress, we need to step up and do it. The dialogue needs to be about asking why not. We need to keep asking questions that get all of us wondering if there may be no reasons, no barriers to discussions, or decisions, or actions, leading to essential changes.
Electing voter-financed voter candidates would give us an end-run around the worst money-in-politics problems we have, especially the favors-for-dollars corruption of lawmakers. If we have political campaigns financed by grass-roots supporters of registered voter candidates, the contrast with party-appointed candidates, with campaigns financed by deep-pockets donors, extracting favors for their dollars, will be glaring. If, for the first time ever, we voters can have meaningful choices in our elections, beyond the two major party candidates, both of them probably owned and operated by special interests, we have an obligation to give ourselves those choices.
D. STARTING OVER
The two-thirds of senators who will be spectators in the 2016 elections, in which there will be voter-funded challengers, will have to adapt if they see they have little choice but to serve the many instead of the few special interests. They will need to seek funding from individuals and organizations who are willing to support their new agenda of serving all voters equally.
If attack ads that identify lawmakers as sponsors offend voters, and become a liability, these senators will need ads that tell voters what policy changes they will support if re-elected, and that identify them as sponsors. The transition to majority rule through elections may transform incumbents who in effort to survive, become independent of special-interest money, and make their campaign ads more informative. Such adaptations will eventually benefit rich and poor, the few and the many.
Our refusal to have public discussion about alternatives to how we are governing ourselves is what got us where are, and is keeping us where we are. We need to start asking ourselves in ongoing public dialogue how we can justify continuing to tolerate special-interest control of our government when we have all the unused resources we need to take control.
Voters have waited far too long for any of the other 3 branches to take the lead in giving us government that serves the general public. Things continue moving in directions that favor the few at the expense of the many. The other 3 had their chance. Now it’s up to voters to take the lead, to develop and deploy a new resource (for details see February posting) to enable us to press directly for deep and wide changes in how Congress works.
DO VOTERS NEED AN ORGANIZATION?
POSTING OF FEBRUARY 26, 2015
If the country is being run for the benefit of the special interests instead of for the rest of us, it is because every special interest has an organization. If we registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, had a service organization that enabled us to publicly discuss and agree on what we need to do about pressing problems, and then use our resources to react, the weight of our coordinated numbers would give us an edge over the clout of special-interest money. For example, the only thing a candidate needs more than the most dollars is the most voters. We can find a way to stop voting for candidates who we know represent special interests.
The fourth branch of our government could form and fund a service organization that would enable voters to:
A. NOMINATE AND ELECT OUR OWN LAWMAKERS
Perhaps the worst problem in government for voters is the lack of choice of candidates for Congress other than those nominated by the two major political parties. In nearly every case, both candidates for an office are financed by, and beholden to, special interests who persuade lawmakers to make policy decisions that disregard the broad interests of the general public, of the rest of us, and serve the few instead of the many.
There is no need to wait (in vain) for Congress to enact public financing of congressional campaigns. We can have adequate public financing of campaigns for candidates other than from the two major political parties, without an act of Congress (for details about registered voters nominating, funding, and electing candidates for Congress from their own ranks, see December posting and Section B. of October posting).
There is no need to wait (in vain) for Congress to enact serious, workable campaign finance reform. Most of our lawmakers, their special-interest friends, and the Supreme Court, that have conspired to water down any effective campaign finance reform legislation, can’t do anything to delay, or change, or stop our proposed independent, open, direct initiative to elect registered voters to represent registered voters.
B. LOBBY AND SUPPORT SOME MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Some lawmakers of the major parties, lobbied non-stop by special interests, can also be lobbied by registered voters (for details about how voter lobbying would work see November posting). Again, voters can have more lobbying clout than special interests have because campaign donors can only give or withhold dollars. We have the votes.
A fourth branch service organization can help coordinate the actions of voters to enable them to give or withhold votes according to what circumstances require, based on lawmakers’ official actions that constitute their record in office, which could be made available to everybody at a proposed fourth branch service organization Website (see Section D. below). If registered voters have an organization that gives them growing influence in elections and in policy matters, some lawmakers will recognize the need to serve voters instead of donors, especially in those policy areas where voters have lobbied lawmakers for changes, and are inclined to come to the polls, hoping to “retire” reluctant, biased, uncooperative incumbents.
C. DRAFT AND SUPPORT LEGISLATION
Some editorial and op-ed writers in respected news media have mentioned the need for such things as (1) restoring adequate banking regulation so it can once again prevent another 2008, (2) incentives for using renewable energy, such as taxing the carbon content of fuels to reduce pollution, and using the proceeds to reduce personal income taxes, (3) closing corporate tax loopholes to get enough federal revenue to begin a long-overdue $1.6 trillion overhaul of our crumbling infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, which would provide jobs and stimulate economic growth, and (4) action on the multiple, growing threats of climate change. The current Congress won’t budge on any of these items. If we are ever going to get government action on such matters, the initiative will have to come from voters drafting laws and lobbying incumbents, and if incumbents won’t get out of the way, replacing them with newly minted members of Congress, the registered voters nominated and elected by registered voters, to press for policy changes that serve the many as well as the few.
We could also give our lobbying support to other important matters such as the pending immigration law overhaul, permanently extending the charter of the Export/Import Bank, and replenishing the Highway Trust Fund. These measures are favored by the United States Chamber of Commerce and most businesses, and are probably good for the country in the long term.
D. VOTE ACCORDING TO HOW LAWMAKERS RESPOND
We the electorate are the branch of our government that wants government to work. Time and again, Congress won’t even vote on various measures that would help make government work better (for examples see Section C.). With the support of a well-funded fourth branch service organization, voters will have all the communications resources we need to (1) have public discussion on television about legislation we should consider (such as “Medicare for everybody” single-payer universal health insurance), (2) take an opinion poll to see if 3/5 of us agree it is what we want, and if so, (3) tell our lawmakers in Congress what we want (for details about voter lobbying see Section B.), and (4) hold lawmakers accountable for doing what we have asked them to do. By using the Internet to track their votes on major issues, we can award them “term limits” if they ignore the expressed wishes of their employers, the voters who hire them and pay them. And can decide to fire them by nominating and electing replacements who will be more voter-friendly, especially if the replacements are registered voters.
The 4-step process would make us better-informed and more inclined to vote based on our lawmakers’ performance in office instead of based on party or ideology or attack ads against a challenger in the next election. It would encourage voters to get more engaged in the process of making policy and would likely be matched by enhanced voter turnout for elections.
E. FUNCTION AS A FOURTH BRANCH OF OUR GOVERNMENT
The proposed fourth branch service organization would enable voters to operate as a separate, independent, co-equal branch of government that could raise funds, provide communications and opinion-polling resources, and write procedures, subject to approval by a proposed fourth branch governing committee, to enable voters to (1) nominate candidates from the ranks of voters and elect them to Congress, (2) see at our fourth branch Website the standards set by the governing committee that voter nominees for election to Congress should meet, (3) see which candidates are named by fourth branch state nominating committees, to run for Congress in each state and district, and (4) find at our Website key votes of lawmakers that indicate whether they heed our lobbying, and monitor other votes that show whether they are in Congress to serve the few or the many. And then decide whether they deserve re-election, or whether a new candidate, representing our fourth branch, one of our own, should get a chance.
F. MAKE THE RESPONSES THAT ANSWER THE CHALLENGES
An organization that serves our fourth branch of government will enable us to do as special interests do: make the best use of available resources to exert maximum influence on policy. Items A. to D., executed with help from a proposed fourth branch service organization, will enable us to answer the challenges from special-interest dollars which are supporting policies that favor the few at the expense of the many. For example, polluters who are able to use campaign contributions to buy permission from lawmakers to pollute the rest of us. The lawmakers who accepted donations and voted to support such transactions can be shown at our fourth branch Website for voters to consider. We can gain the ability to identify individual offenders and vote them out of office. It will be necessary for us to implement all five items, A. to E., for the benefit of the many, and to benefit the country.
With a fourth branch service organization we can do all these things. Without such an organization we can’t do any of them. Which means we continue to allow the special interests to remain dominant in controlling who gets elected and controlling policy decisions. In view of the damaging choices they are persuading Congress to make, we can’t afford to let that continue. As long as they have organizations and the rest of us don’t, we will keep losing to the special interests for another 100 years.
Can we correct our disastrous lapse? Can anyone fail to see what is missing? Does a lopsided double standard explain why we don’t have clout and “they” do? Have we turned our government over to their smooth-running, efficient special-interest organizations because we can’t be bothered forming our own? Would a fourth branch service organization level the playing field? It’s not complicated. The only way to gain the clout special interests have is to do what special interests do, such as lobby lawmakers. The way is open.
We need to finally start talking about what we are deciding by default, about what got us where we are, without even knowing it, let alone discussing it. And what will keep us where we are unless we decide to form and fund a service organization that will enable voters to function as the only branch of government that consistently favors doing what is best for the country. We voters are the only branch of our government, not the White House, not the Congress, not the courts, that can use our numbers to start opposing policy decisions based on favors for dollars, on who gave and who got big campaign contributions, based on what policies favor a particular political party, and/or based on fuzzy theories, on fossilized, far-out, unexplained ideology that separates us from reality. We can’t afford it.
We will have to enlist our vast, potent (and currently dormant) communications resources to push back against all these forces that give us bad policy that leads us to keep doing everything except what we need to do, everything except what circumstances require. Continuing failure is not an option. Because the continuing perils are too great.
CAN WE SHAKE OUR WORST HABIT?
POSTING OF JANUARY 27, 2015
How did money get so much influence in politics that it is the Number One concern of candidates running for Congress? To anyone announcing their candidacy, the first question is not why they are running, or what they aim to accomplish if elected, but how much money they can raise. Because if they can’t raise enough, other questions hardly matter.
A. THE HABIT
The Center for Responsive Politics has the answer to why money is so important, and has had the answer for decades. But nobody has been paying attention. Election after election, they have been reporting that voters elect the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns roughly 80 percent of the time (the percentages vary by election year and between House and Senate), regardless of the candidates’ party, ideology, or positions on the issues. Should anyone be surprised or offended that every campaign donor wants to give the most in order to get their candidates elected, and make them grateful for the money, and willing to do favors? And that every candidate wants to spend the most in order to win the election, and to be able to do favors for campaign donors, in order to raise more money than challengers, to get a war chest filled up for the next election?
Given the habit voters have, it is difficult for an incumbent to raise enough money to get re-elected without doing specific favors for dollars, which is corruption, and not just “the appearance of corruption.” Do we have an election system in which lawmakers have little choice but to be corrupt, if they are willing to “do whatever it takes” to get re-elected? If this is the predicament we impose on our lawmakers, can there be any cause other than the voter habit? Voters have not the faintest clue about their innocent habit because lobbyists and lawmakers won’t tell them (nor will our venerable information media). Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without anybody telling them, and without being corrupt.
B. FINDING THE REMEDY
If the voter habit sets off the campaign spending wars that rage on during our elections, what can voters do to shake it? If, for example, they suddenly decided to vote for candidates based on their party, or their ideology, or positions on the issues, or some of each, instead of based on who spends the most, the tide of money would dry up. Money couldn’t buy any favors from lawmakers, because it couldn’t help them get re-elected, because voters wouldn’t respond favorably to big spending, by electing whoever is spending the most.
What can registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, do about their habit? They can lobby their lawmakers for legislation they want (for details about how voter lobbying would work, see November posting). And they can nominate and support their own congressional candidates from the ranks of voters, (for details about how nomination of voters by voters would work see December posting). If voters can’t break a habit they don’t even know about, doing useful things will enable them to simply shed it.
For example, if voters could have a means of lobbying, telling members of Congress the policy changes we agree on, and voting according to how members respond, we would no longer be habitually electing the biggest spenders. Which reinforces the influence of money, and leads to favors-for-dollars corruption among lawmakers trying to outspend challengers.
If voters are nominating candidates for Congress from their own ranks, and funding their campaigns, these candidates won’t take or need money from anybody, won’t need to do favors for anybody, and will be able to support legislation that benefits the many who nominate and elect them. While candidates from the two major political parties are getting and spending big bucks from campaign donors, so they can pummel each other with attack ads, a third candidate, modestly financed by a proposed fourth branch service organization (for details about formation of such an organization see August 2011 posting), has a message about being independent and willing and able to serve the many and not just the few. Voters may decide to turn away from both of the big spenders. They may decide they prefer a third choice, a relatively small spender whose real constituents are not the megabucks campaign donors but ordinary voters/taxpayers/citizens.
Voter-nominated candidates would be willing to serve the voters who pool millions of small donations to finance their campaigns. Their campaign ads could say what they will do or what they will change if elected, which will give them an edge over the major political party candidates, who are so busy slandering each other they forget to tell us what they will do or change if elected or re-elected. An estimated 90 percent of campaign advertising in congressional races consists of attack ads. Fourth branch candidate ads, offering their credentials and legislative aims that serve the broad general public, will provide abused, beleaguered voters with welcome relief from the loud noises of the assault advertising blitz.
C. BREAKING THE SILENCE
Every lawmaker and every campaign donor knows that voters elect the biggest spenders. Lawmakers, donors, and the major political parties have kept this secret from voters because nobody wants to rock the boat; nobody wants to put the smooth-running, something-for-everybody, favors-for-dollars machinery at risk. Voters might suddenly realize they are causing corruption, and decide they want to change their behavior. That would be a calamity for the insiders in the money game. If voters were no longer electing the biggest spenders, but electing candidates on their merits (!!), special interests wouldn’t be able to buy candidates, buy elections, buy policy decisions from Congress, buy all the favors and privileges they have been able to take for granted by owning and operating lawmakers who are on the take. Constantly raising the campaign funds that will buy them votes.
If we were having the public discussion we fail to have, we would be able to discover that what has turned our election process into such a shambles is an innocent voter habit. Until we do that, a shambles will remain. Voters can deal successfully with the scramble to spend the most, the corruption carnival, the greenback tidal wave, the big bad Citizens United, the big bad billionaire donors, only by neutralizing their own bad habit. Only the people who got all that money into politics can get the money out. How? Just stop doing what’s drawing the money in, as explained in Section B.
If we were having the public discussion we fail to have, we could explore the novelty of nominating candidates who aren’t already getting big donations as payment to represent everybody but us. If we want more lawmakers to represent ordinary voters instead of campaign donors, voters will have to nominate and elect fellow voters to Congress, as explained in Section B.
D. ELECTING OUR OWN
If we need more people in Congress who are concerned about the damaging policy decisions that favor the few at the expense of the many, we are rarely going to find such people among candidates nominated by the two major political parties. And supported in their campaigns by platoons of special-interest lobbyists focused on spreading dollars to press their own self-centered agendas that brush aside the public interest.
We will have to find such people among voters/poll respondents who demonstrate that unlike most of our lawmakers, they are concerned about what is happening to the country. For example, when 81 percent say most members of Congress are out of touch, and 69 percent say they are focused on the needs of special interests, and 54 percent say they are corrupt (all of which helps explain why 67 percent say the country is on the wrong track) these poll respondents are representative of those who clearly understand our predicament and are truly and justifiably worried.
Probably two-thirds of these people would be willing to press for changes if we gave them the opportunity. What our poll results are telling us is that we need to be in charge, that we can’t afford a Congress full of members who can brush off these poll responses, who don’t care if most constituents think they are out of touch, serving special interests, corrupt, or have put our country on the wrong track, as long as they are accumulating enough special-interest campaign donations to get re-elected. The focus, objective, purpose, and mission of most lawmakers is re-election at all costs. If the resulting favors-for-dollars policy decisions plainly serve the few who contribute money at the expense of the many who don’t, so be it. Big polluters can and do buy permission to pollute from “our” lawmakers.
We need to understand that we really do have choices, that no locked-in destiny or fate compels us to continue as we have been, tolerating what becomes increasingly intolerable. We need to understand that nobody except voters/taxpayers/citizens can do this, and that there is nothing to stop us, that right now we are missing opportunities for cooperative, coordinated action that a proposed fourth branch service organization could offer us. Such an organization will enable us to press for changes based on the weight of public sentiment that is repeatedly, sincerely, unhappily expressed in the public opinion polls.
Our system can be saved only by the great majority who see things going wrong and, unlike most lawmakers, want to fix them. Considering the evidence that we can’t rely on our lawmakers, because as we have correctly said in opinion polls, they generally serve special interests, we need to resolve to rely on ourselves. If we want fewer lawmakers who serve special interests, and more of them who serve the rest of us, we have the resources we need to begin shifting the balance, to begin replacing them.
Many of our most influential lawmakers take refuge from reality in ideology, which they have discovered is much easier than dealing with all those annoying, stubborn, unpleasant reported facts. They can decide they don’t want to believe the abundant evidence about pollution damage. Those of us who insist on dealing with reality have to take responsibility for the country by lobbying, and becoming, members of Congress. A fourth branch service organization will enable motivated voters to beat back the damage that the influences of money and ideology are doing to our process of making national policy decisions. Nobody is going to do this for us. It’s up to us.
CAN VOTERS NOMINATE LAWMAKERS?
POSTING OF DECEMBER 30, 2014
A. WHERE WE ARE
Lawmakers in Congress routinely make policy decisions based on rigid ideology, or on who gave campaign contributions, instead of on what circumstances require. Polluters can make donations to pay lawmakers for regulations that permit pollution, benefitting the few who contribute dollars at the expense of the many who don’t. We have a Congress dominated by ideologues who consistently favor their ideology over evidence and reported facts in policy matters. Conservative lawmakers insist they are opposed to “make-work stimulus spending,” on fixing the infrastructure, that would create jobs and make life easier for people who drive cars and ride trains. Repairing roads and bridges is part of making government work. But too many lawmakers put their ideology ahead of making government work, and brush aside basic needs of the country.
Other initiatives that would be good for the country, such as reducing carbon emissions, which reduces the resulting pollution, which reduces the resulting illnesses, which reduces the resulting health insurance costs, is denounced by ideologues as “war on coal,” threatening coal producers and coal-related jobs in the United States.
If we keep re-electing lawmakers who think that what we need is more air pollution, don’t we need to find a way to avoid doing that? Although according to Gallup, 58 percent of us worry about climate change, and 67 percent support Obama’s proposed limits on carbon emissions, most in Congress abandon us and cling to their ideology. It is probably for such reasons that 67 percent of us also keep saying, perceptively, that the country is on the wrong track. Probably because that’s where we are.
B. WHERE WE NEED TO BE
We need “Medicare for everybody” single-payer health insurance because it has no deductibles and no co-payments; 97 percent of premiums go to coverage compared to only 85 to 90 percent in private health insurance.
A carbon tax (called “politically impossible” in the current Congress), is deemed one of the most effective ways to control emissions because it would motivate individual and business consumers to move to cleaner sources of energy. The proceeds of the carbon tax could be used to reduce personal and corporate income taxes. Even though we could do it without an overall increase in tax revenues, Congress keeps saying no.
The electorate, the registered voters, the fourth branch, is the branch of our government most likely to do what is best for the country instead of serving the special interests. What is best for the country are changes toward government of the many, by the many, and for the many, as a substitute for government of the few, by the few, and for the few, who can use the influence of their money to sway election campaigns to determine who gets elected, and who will be favored by policy decisions the other 3 branches make. It will be the few who are favored.
The Internet provides us with resources to partly replace reduced news coverage from television, radio and a dwindling number of newspapers. It will also give us the means to communicate with each other and coordinate our reactions to what we see happening. When confronted with lawmakers who care more about their ideology than about evidence and reported facts, voters, who need to care about reality for the good of the country, can make good use of a proposed fourth branch Website. It can provide information to counter the ideological brainwashing that comes from Congress, and enable us to support essential moves toward where we need to be.
C. HOW TO GET THERE FROM HERE
The registered voters, the electorate, will have to form and finance a service organization which will enable voters to use our vast, flexible communications resources to function as a separate, co-equal fourth branch of our government, that is completely independent of the other three. This will enable voters to effectively oppose the special-interest paid lobbyists, by doing what special interests do, lobbying lawmakers for changes, but for such things as Medicare for everybody, a carbon tax, and infrastructure repair that creates jobs (for details about how voter lobbying would work, see November posting).
This effort will put us in conflict not only with special interests, but with a Congress that is dedicated to serving special interests in exchange for campaign contributions. This is why only voters/taxpayers/citizens can rescue our country from the suffocating grasp of deaf and blind ideology, and from policy decisions based on who gave and who got big bucks, instead of on what circumstances require.
We voters need to listen to what we are telling ourselves. In a recent Gallup survey, 81 percent of Americans see most members of Congress as out of touch (lost in ideology perhaps?). 69 percent (correctly) see them as focused on the needs of special interests. 54 percent (correctly) see them as corrupt. The best evidence that we understand the meaning of what we see happening is that we give Congress a 7 percent approval rating, entirely consistent with the foregoing figures. This abysmal 7 percent says we can’t keep ducking responsibility, we can no longer pretend we don’t know how bad things have gotten, because we are on record as saying, publicly, as opinion poll respondents, how bad things have gotten.
What we are telling ourselves in the opinion polls is that even if we don’t pay close attention to the news, we are well aware that we can’t rely on our lawmakers to serve us or serve the country, that we need to act as if we understand that our government’s free-fall descent into dysfunction can’t continue, that we have no choice but to intervene in the legislative process. We need to finally start paying attention to what our polls keep telling us.
D. ELECTING VOTERS TO SERVE VOTERS
In addition to lobbying our lawmakers to serve us instead of special interests, we can begin nominating candidates who are willing to serve the fourth branch, our electorate, the registered voters, in Congress. A national election committee, consisting of registered voters, could be assembled to formulate a set of standards and requirements for our fourth branch candidates (for details see Section B. of October posting).
Fourth branch nominating committees in each state could apply the standards, screening and putting forward candidates from the ranks of voters, including members of think tanks and the numerous “good government” groups such as Common Cause; authors of books, columnists, lecturers, scholars, lawyers, and other professionals. Medical doctors have left their practice to serve very capably in Congress. With the help of a well-financed fourth branch service organization, “voter candidates” would get a manual that explains what will be expected of them as candidates and as incumbents, such as keeping well-enough informed to be able to engage in debates. It could include a small dictionary of “inside Washington” terms and phrases, such as “war on coal,” they will be hearing. Then the state nominating committees can finance their campaigns.
Candidates who take no money from special interests, and have no obligation to them, are free to represent the fourth branch, the voters, themselves. Only then can we have government by and for the many, free to do what serves the general public. We voters need to trust ourselves to make bold moves out of sheer necessity, simply because no other branch of government has both the will and the ability to do the right thing for us and for the country. It is imperative to sideline and neutralize the deaf and blind ideologues in Congress as soon as possible because of the multiplicity of economic, environmental, infrastructure, and other pitfalls they are dragging us into, that we will have great difficulty escaping, even at great expense, if we ever do. It is already very late.
Ideologues can’t be trusted to make policy because they don’t learn from experience, but keep railing against “job killing” tax increases, for example (for details see September posting). However, Bruce Bartlett, former advisor to Ronald Reagan and Treasury official in the George W. Bush Administration, has said that tax increases in 1982 and 1993 were followed by expansions of the economy. Confirming this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average annual job growth rate in the Clinton years, 1993-2001, was 2.4 percent and in the Bush years, 2001-2009, 0.2 percent. In the Clinton years, 23 million jobs were created after tax increases, compared to 3 million jobs created in the Bush years after tax cuts.
Experience in the form of such facts and figures matters not in the least to the willfully deaf and blind. Those who want to roll back parts of Dodd-Frank, for example, and drag all of us back to 2008, qualify as genuine, certified, ironclad ideologues, incapable of learning from experience. No real events in the real world are sufficiently horrific to impress them or change their thinking. Their minds are made up. They cling to ideology that separates them from reality. Many of them take pride in their conservative convictions, boldly ignoring or disregarding evidence, regardless of how important the evidence may be. And showing disdain for lily-livered liberals who worry about reported facts. Nervous Nellies. No guts.
This means that in entirely too many policy matters, we are flying blind. The only people who can change that are the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government. Voters need to elect their own if they want any semblance of reality to be represented in Congress,
We are out here by ourselves. Nobody is going to help us. Not the White House. Not the courts. And Congress least of all. And because nobody else is making a move toward turning around the things that are going in the wrong direction, it’s up to us to use our abundant information resources, to be sufficiently informed and disciplined, so we can demonstrate that the only thing a candidate needs more than the most dollars is the most voters. That the power of voter numbers can overmatch the power of special-interest dollars. And that we can elect candidates to Congress to replace those who have shown, over the decades, that they will continue to serve special interests, and have no interest in making things better instead of letting things get worse. We can identify them partly by their voting records, which they themselves have made, and that show whether they serve the few or the many (for an example see Section B. of October posting). We can make this information readily available at our proposed fourth branch Website, that voters can put to good use when preparing to go to the polls in the next congressional election. And give people who see no reason to go and vote for candidates they don’t like, at least some candidates worth voting for.
If Congress is wrapped in mummified ideology, deaf and blind ideologues are still in the minority among voters. Polls show 81 percent of us are still able to see through the brain-washing far-right word-clutter and detect that most lawmakers have only a tenuous hold on reality. Our proposed fourth branch Website can let us see how economic growth is being suffocated by an obsessive focus on reducing the deficit (which isn’t a threat, and is diminishing anyway), regardless of the damage in the form of neglecting our crumbling roads and shaky bridges, and many other serious problems.
We need to finally have the public discussion on televison that enables us to see that those who are observing and making perceptive comments in the polls from the sidelines should be governing, and those who are governing based on fossilized ideology and on favors for dollars, should be observing from the sidelines. We have all the resources we need to engineer that reversal. We need the determination and the cohesion to get it done. Those who have taken our country from us intend to keep it. If we want to own our country again, we will have to take it back. And we don’t have plenty of time to intervene in our legislative proceedings to stem the swelling tide of disastrous policy decisions.
We can have what we need most of all: candidates who aren’t for sale. This would solve nearly all our money-in-politics problems. Nominating from among ordinary taxpayers is the only way to avoid getting two candidates who aren’t already bought by special interests. Many big donors will contribute to both candidates in one race so they can influence whoever wins. Challengers are eager to gratefully start serving those who financed their campaign the minute after they get elected, to pick up where the defeated incumbent left off, without missing a beat.
If we voters want lawmakers who are independent of campaign donors, and are in touch with reality, we are going to have to nominate them and elect them. And replace those who are owned and operated by special interests. Or afflicted with rigor mortis ideology. Or in the extreme worst cases, both.
CAN VOTERS TRUMP THE SPECIAL INTERESTS?
POSTING OF NOVEMBER 5, 2014
The unspoken, unsubstantiated assumption underlying many books and articles about government and politics is that voters can’t achieve political influence on par with the campaign donors and paid lobbyists. The tacit assumption, that ordinary taxpayers will never be able to effectively push back against the influence of the special interests, is rarely challenged.
What is it that gives campaign donors and lobbyists more influence over lawmakers in Congress than the people who hire them and pay them, their employers, the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government? We may find the answer is that voters lack what every special interest has: an organization. We may also find that a proposed fourth branch service organization can put voters in a strong position to oppose paid lobbyists and campaign donors, if we give ourselves the chance to form it and fund it. We leave ourselves at an unnecessary disadvantage compared to lobbyists and campaign donors. And then we complain about the bad things “those special interests” persuade “our” lawmakers to do, such as enact tax policies that reward the rich at the expense of the rest of us.
If the special interests use their resources and we don’t use ours, it’s not their fault. We voters shouldn’t blame them for the bad results. They’re doing everything they can think of to show us how influence works. If we don’t learn the lessons, we will fail to use our resources. They use their influence so effectively we complain about how much clout “those special interests” have. The disparity in influence comes down to a basic, simple truth; they use the resources available to them to exert influence and we don’t use resources available to us to push back with our own influence. What a fourth branch service organization can do is enable voters to make the maximum use of our communications resources, and the resulting influence, toward protecting our interests. Voters can:
A. HAVE TELEVISED DISCUSSIONS OF POSSIBLE POLICY CHANGES
A well-financed fourth branch service organization would enable us to buy television time for public discussion of the pros and cons of single-payer “Medicare for everybody” health insurance, for example.
B. USE POLLING TO FIND AGREEMENT ON WHAT CHANGES WE WANT
Our proposed service organization would enable us to buy telephone polling to see how many favor the tested and proven health insurance system that would cover everyone for a lower cost than the current complicated, wasteful, refurbished relic that leaves far too many people uninsured. If 2/3 of us favor the single-payer system, we could proceed to the next step.
C. TELL OUR LAWMAKERS WHAT CHANGES WE HAVE DECIDED WE WANT
After reading a summary of H. R. 676, the “Medicare for everybody” House bill on our fourth branch Website (summary is attached to August 2011 posting), discussing it on television, and taking a telephone poll, registered voters can lobby for or against it with messages to lawmakers.
How can we lobby our lawmakers, easily send waves of coordinated messages to produce the maximum effect, to counter the clout of big campaign contributors and paid lobbyists for insurance companies that want us to keep employer-based group health insurance? And how can lawmakers easily process millions of messages in order to sort out and understand the wishes of all these unpaid lobbyists who will be voting in the next election?
First, lawmakers need to be confident that lobbying messages would come only from registered voters. The 2002 Help America Vote Act requires that each state have a computerized statewide voter registration database so that poll workers can determine who is eligible to vote. Use of this list would give the necessary assurance to lawmakers.
So that each message sent to lawmakers doesn’t need to be individually read, the subject line of the message could say, for example, Subject: “Yes to H.R. 676 Single-Payer” or “No to H.R. 676 Single-Payer.” From standardized subject line information, a software program prepared for lawmakers could generate a tally of the number of voters for and against.
Registered voters could go to the proposed fourth branch service organization Website, enter their ZIP Code and complete name and address, which would be compared to the registered voter database. If the match is made, voters would get a dialogue box and choose the pro or con standardized subject line (required, as is), add party affiliation (optional), and e-mail address (optional). The program would select the lobbying message that corresponds to the subject line (“I favor/oppose congressional action to implement government-sponsored universal single-payer health insurance” or voters could erase this text and substitute their own message). Then put check marks in boxes next to the names of their senators and representative, click on OK, click on SEND to complete the lobbying process.
Lawmakers could go to the fourth branch service organization Website, view the list of states and lawmakers, click on their name, and download their personal program that would make a tally of pro and con messages. These messages could be saved or automatically deleted after being counted.
All of the pro and con results of voter lobbying on every issue in every state could be seen by every lawmaker and every voter at the same Web address. If needed, coordinated waves of voter follow-up e-mails to their lawmakers would put Congress under pressure to bring H.R. 676 to a vote. They will be motivated to act when they get tired of having their in-boxes clogged.
With successive postings of new proposals on the Web, and preparatory public discussions for polling and unpaid voter lobbying, we will become increasingly well-informed, less likely to be swayed by politics and ideology. We will be more inclined to pay attention to the options presented, for the most effective and efficient health insurance system, for example.
D. MAKE RELUCTANT LAWMAKERS ACCOUNTABLE TO VOTERS
At election time we can vote against lawmakers who ignored our lobbying and voted against H. R. 676. We can also lobby for measures that many in Congress routinely vote against. Against raising the minimum wage. Against lowering interest rates on student loans, in order to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest. Against extending expired food stamp and unemployment benefits. This would enable us to vote against those who have been obsessively opposed to help for those most in need of help. These are a few things a fourth branch service organization, formed and funded by voters, would enable us to do with the resources available to us.
E. LET OUR NUMBERS GO UP AGAINST THE CLOUT OF DOLLARS
If we ever decide to have the public discussion we fail to have, and use the resources we fail to use, we would give ourselves a chance to discover that there is absolutely no need for special-interest campaign donors and lobbyists to have more influence on policy decisions than the registered voters, the electorate, if we use our resources to function as a separate, independent, co-equal fourth branch of our government. A service organization would enable us to do each of the things, A. to D., that we need to do. Without an organization we can’t do any of them. Is the country headed in the wrong direction (as 67 percent of us keep saying) because voters aren’t pressing Congress for new directions, when we have all the communications resources we need to discuss, agree on, and lobby for changes? And then hold our lawmakers accountable at election time?
There is nothing to prevent a proposed service organization from enabling us to gain an advantage over the special interests. There is nothing to stop us from outnumbering and outlobbying them. Special interests can withhold dollars. We can withhold votes. We need to do this to enable us to change lawmakers and to change policies, to rescue a quadriplegic Congress, a dismal K-12 education system, a crumbling infrastructure, a degraded environment, a polluted atmosphere, from those who act as if they think these conditions are perfectly acceptable, or need to be made worse.
We voters have an obligation to lobby our lawmakers, and vote according to lawmakers’ responses, as an alternative to habitually and unintentionally electing the biggest spenders, boosting the influence of money, and letting the flow of dollars from campaign donors to lawmakers determine which policy decisions will go into effect (for details see June posting). When we are stating our wishes and voting according to lawmaker responses, we are no longer electing the biggest spenders. We will have broken free from a bad habit we didn’t even know we had (for details see February 2013 posting). Voters can and should win certain policy decisions by lobbying, as every other major “interest group” in America has been doing for the last 100 years. Why not us, if nobody is stopping us? Do we unfairly discriminate against ourselves?
Our necessary confrontation with special interests will require us to play our trump card; the only thing a candidate needs more than the most dollars is the most voters. If we tell our lawmakers we want bills that serve the many, and become sufficiently informed and disciplined so we can withhold voter support from lawmakers who serve everybody but us, those lawmakers will eventually find they need to serve us. If we pressure them to act based on the public interest, instead of based on who gave and who got big bucks under the current system, political power begins drifting away from campaign donors and toward voters, from the few toward the many, as long as the many can stay united to insist on it, and keep up the pressure.
Until we can decide democracy is worth the effort, we will have a democracy in name, on paper, but not in practice. Special interests will dominate the rest of us as long as they use their resources and we fail to use ours. Using proposed online sources of information about lawmakers who show by their votes they oppose our best interests, voters can engineer a gradual “turnover” in Congress until it serves the many as well as the few. We have the means to require lawmakers to serve everybody if they want to remain in office. If this is what a simple, humble fourth branch service organization can enable voters to do, what is our excuse for not doing it?
F. MAKE EFFORTS TO REVERSE A DAMAGING TREND
Some lawmakers are unwillingly driven to the extreme right in primary election challenges, where they are more in danger of losing than in a general election. Getting less attention are the extreme positions of voters. A recent news story says the Pew Research Center reports that in the past 20 years, the number of Americans holding extreme conservative or liberal views has doubled from 10 percent in 1994 to 21 percent in 2014. The number of Americans taking a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions has shrunk from 49 percent to 39 percent since 1994.
If extreme views include ideology, these reports could mean more reliance on fantasy and less reliance on what circumstances require when considering decisions on policy or electing lawmakers. There are probably fewer ideologues per hundred among the general public than among lawmakers, but a growing number of ideologue voters will be more easily detached from reality, more easily manipulated by special interests, less likely to challenge or question policy decisions based on ideology and on who gave and who got big bucks. If more and more lawmakers feel safe in taking more and more extreme positions, now we know who is backing them up.
Only voters taking the responsibility to implement steps A. to E. listed above when deciding to influence policy decisions, can turn the country in a better direction. Taxpayers who aren’t mired in politics and ideology will have to get more involved in making government work, to offset the influence of those who don’t care whether government works as long as their party or ideology is in control of policy, no matter how bad the policy is. The only thing worse than not knowing what is going on is not wanting to hear about any reported facts or evidence that interfere with ideology. Either way, smug ignorance controls both policy and who holds elected office.
Extreme views and ideology are tempting and comfortable because they are easier than thinking. Many of us may be in danger of reaching for the lazy, easy escape from responsibility (for details see September posting). A fourth branch service organization Website with easily accessible evidence and reported facts can offer an alternative to ideology, information voters can use if they see the need to get serious about preparing to vote lawmakers in and out of office or lobbying for a policy change. If incumbents need to be mired in extreme views and ideology in order to get re-elected by the ideologues who are the most eager to vote, that’s bad enough. If the rest of us sink into the same swamp, who is going to rescue our government?
The registered voters, the electorate, is the only branch of our government that can initiate a reversal of such adverse trends. Not the White House. Not the courts. And Congress least of all. It will be up to us. A responsive, workable government will depend on it. We have work to do.
CAN ELECTIONS HAVE BETTER OUTCOMES?
POSTING OF OCTOBER 1, 2014
There are things voters can do to improve the results in our next two elections.
A. 2014; MODERATES CAN GO TO THE POLLS
Everyone seems to agree that control of the House of Representatives will not change in the next election. A recent newspaper column noted that many voter districts are already “gerrymandered” by demographics, because conservative voters tend to live in less densely populated areas, giving them an advantage in elections. What is unknown, however, is the effect moderate voters would have if more of them came to the polls.
It is reported that at least 50 percent of eligible voters stay home on midterm election days. These voters, who let the other half of the voters do their voting for them, need to get involved in their own government and do their own voting. The people who complain that government doesn’t work, and cite this reason or similar reasons for not voting, are the main reason government doesn’t work. If the people who want government to work finally come to the polls and have more influence, those who want to keep government from working, by for example underfunding key government programs, agencies, and departments, will have less influence. Voters who are in a fog of ideology re-elect like-minded lawmakers. We need more voters who are in touch with reality, who are concerned about government not working, to support candidates who want government to work, and to unseat lawmakers who are separated from reality. Some of them are perfectly happy to continue obstructing, blocking, paralyzing, doing everything they can think of to see to it that government doesn’t work.
The conservative takeover of the House in 2010 didn’t happen because there were more conservative eligible voters than moderate eligible voters. A recent newspaper editorial explains that the takeover happened because the conservative voters came to the polls while most of the moderates stayed away.
The conservative ideologues aren’t to blame for what happened in 2010. The moderates, the people who are in despair at the malfunctioning or non-functioning of government, and don’t vote, and let ideologues do their voting for them, are to blame for the outcome in 2010 and the resulting permanent paralysis in the House ever since.
We complain about voter registration limits and voter ID regulations as “voter suppression” schemes. But we can’t blame “those politicians” for what amounts to a massive, conspicuous, egregious example of do-it-yourself voter suppression. Nobody did this to us. We did it to ourselves. If all the voters who stayed home in 2010 come out and vote in 2014, we can probably rescue the House from oblivion. But if the turnout doesn’t happen, if moderates again make excuses for not showing up at the polls, we’ll never know. However, we can always rely on the conservatives to be there, early and late, pulling the levers. Even worse than not having the right to vote is having it and not using it. Oppressed people all over the world would be willing to fight and die for what we have, a meaningful right to vote.
If we fail in our civic duty to vote in elections, we forfeit the right to criticize “those politicians” for the paralysis in D.C. Whenever moderates decide they care more about making government work, by voting for example, than the conservative ideologues care about using opportunities to make government fail, things will change for the better. Til then, things will only get worse.
B. 2016; WE CAN HAVE CANDIDATES WE CAN VOTE FOR
Wouldn’t it be strange and wonderful if campaign advertising urged us to vote for the candidates instead of against them? Previous postings have suggested that registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, form and fund a service organization to enable voters to do what every other major “interest group” in America does: lobby lawmakers for legislation. Voters should be active in lobbying members of Congress because they need to oppose the special interests by asking lawmakers to enact legislation that serves the general public, the many and not just the few.
But we need to go further in order to have new candidates for Congress we can vote for because they serve us. A fourth branch election committee could choose candidates and provide funding for their campaigns. These candidates will have to be independents, or Republicans or Democrats who can not only become independents, but who can declare, and demonstrate, their personal independence of partisanship, deaf and blind ideology, campaign contributors, and special interests. Candidates must also support the goal of the fourth branch service organization, which is good management in government as well as in business (for details see September posting). These fourth branch candidates will in most cases be running against a Democrat and a Republican, with an advantage over both: they won’t have to raise money in a way that makes them indebted to campaign donors who will expect favors in return.
We will have to raise money for television ads for fourth branch candidates but plenty of people fed up with negative advertising would be willing to financially support an alternative, the fourth branch model of candidates who have no connection with, and take no money from, special interests looking to make campaign contribution investments in owning and operating lawmakers. Voters will be able to elect fourth branch candidates who have a positive legislative agenda (for examples see July posting) intended to benefit the many, to replace incumbents who make policy based on fossilized ideology or on who gave and who got campaign contributions. A legislation agenda, and a means of accepting contributions, could be included at a fourth branch Website.
There are too many lawmakers who will never be swayed by lobbying. This is why we need to replace lawmakers who keep saying, “whatever it is the answer is no,” who don’t want government to work, with lawmakers who want government to work. Fourth branch candidates for Congress will have an advantage over partisan/ideological candidates who depend on attack ads, only occasionally saying what they will do or what they will change if elected or re-elected. It has been estimated that 90 percent of campaign advertising in congressional elections now consists of attack ads. Fourth branch candidates will be able to say what they will do or what they will change, what legislation they will seek to enact (for examples see July posting), legislation the fourth branch, the electorate, the registered voters will be able to support with lobbying efforts (see resources and methods described in August posting).
This change will offer voters an alternative to the usual campaign cacophony that tends to make them disgusted and even stay home on election day. Negative advertising relentlessly tells them who not to vote for. One observer has said negative advertising is “a form of voter suppression” along with strict voter ID regulations. It turns away voters who aren’t iron-clad ideologues or partisans, who will re-elect iron-clad ideologue and partisan incumbents, who will boast of continuing to see to it that nothing gets done in Washington. Voters should be entitled to the novel, rare, priceless opportunity to vote in favor of somebody, anybody, instead of being badgered and pestered by television ads to vote against one or the other of two candidates who are busy sliming each other with assault advertising.
There will be attack ads against fourth branch candidates. But most voters, already fed up with negative advertising anyway, will be able to see through the defamation as big-spending efforts to defeat any candidate representing a group dedicated to serving the many along with the few. Once in office, fourth branch lawmakers won’t have to spend half their waking hours on the phone raising money. They won’t need to make policy that favors big campaign donors. They will be free to make law based on what is best for the country, the many as well as the few.
Voters will come to trust candidates representing the fourth branch because, for example, they will come to appreciate the proposed fourth branch service organization efforts to provide them with online voting guidance based on incumbents’ voting records in Congress. This non-political, non-ideological, tell-it-like-it-is record that incumbents have made by their own actions, showing how often they vote to serve campaign donors at the expense of the rest of us, will tell voters who is free to serve them and who is owned and operated by special interests.
For example, a majority of senators voted to raise the minimum wage, an initiative that is not popular with businesses. Some corporations might be less inclined to make contributions to the campaigns of these senators. But these lawmakers demonstrate a willingness to serve the many, even if it is at the expense of the few, the campaign contributors, and puts campaign dollars at risk. The names of such lawmakers is the kind of information the proposed fourth branch service organization could make available to voters at its Website, to assist them in the informed exercise of their responsibilities in the voting booth.
Fourth branch candidates will probably have to be write-ins due to the difficulties of getting names of unofficial third-party candidates on ballots. We will need to guard against unintended consequences such as conservative candidates getting more votes than either of two moderate candidates. Where fourth branch opinion polling shows this will probably happen, the fourth branch candidate should publicly announce withdrawal from the race. The fourth branch Website would confirm the withdrawal.
To reduce corruption, we can offer the option of electing candidates not indebted to campaign donors. Instead of candidates chosen by wealthy and influential special interests, we can have candidates chosen by a committee of registered voters. And without getting authorization or approval from any of the other 3 branches, or from any of the special interests, voters can take a giant step toward encouraging government that serves the many and the few, and not just the few at the expense of the many. It will eventually result in better management in government, in policy decisions based on what circumstances require, instead of on deaf and blind ideology, or on who gave and who got big bucks. And we’ll have at least some candidates we can actually vote for.
WHY NOT TELL THE VOTERS?
POSTING OF JUNE 2, 2014
Why should the notorious multibillionaire campaign donors have such dominating influence? If we were having the public discussion we need, we would find that the iron grip of money on politics is the result of a simple, obscure habit that nobody except The Center for Responsive Politics ever mentions, and only on their Website.
An innocent, unconscious voter habit of electing the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns is something every frantically fund-raising candidate knows about. But never mentions. This habit is probably the main reason why voters are unintentionally giving so much political power to so few people with so much money. We need to finally pay attention to what the Center has been telling us for decades, election after election.
A. THE STEALTH HABIT
Did anyone ever explain exactly what it is that gives money so much power in politics, why every candidate for office strives to raise and spend the most? If money is the prime evil, the scapegoat for nearly everything that’s wrong in politics and government, why hasn’t anyone explained the reason? Is everyone ducking this question because evidence points to voters, who might be offended? If we would have televised public discussion about this problem and let the chips fall, which we fail to do, we would probably find that the trail leads to voters, that the problem is us.
Suppose there is evidence that a wealthy class of big campaign donors, that wields enormous political power, depends for its influence on an innocent voter habit of favoring the biggest spenders in congressional elections, regardless of their party, ideology, or positions on the issues. Then suppose this habit has the unintended side effect of reinforcing the influence of money, because (1) every candidate understandably wants to raise the most money and be the biggest spender, and (2) every special-interest campaign donor understandably wants to give the most money, to exert the most influence, in pressing their agenda items on lawmakers.
Every lawmaker knows that voters elect the biggest spenders, because they know they will probably need to spend half their waking hours dialing for dollars, to make sure they are raising more money than challengers, to be able to win the next election. But they will never mention the reason for raising so much money; never mention the voter habit. The main priority, apparently dictated by the voter habit, has become less to legislate policy for the public good than to get re-elected, to cling to office, which requires serving special interests. Any principled lawmakers who dare to serve ordinary voters instead of campaign donors will get one term in office. They will lack financing from special interests, who will finance challengers, and who by definition have priorities which vary from those of the majority of voters, who don’t offer candidates very much money for funding campaigns.
Then suppose further evidence shows most voters aren’t aware they elect the biggest spenders, and worse yet, nobody wants to tell them. So they have no way of knowing they have an innocent habit that serves to reinforce the influence of money, to enhance the power of the wealthy ruling elite, which voters themselves complain has spun out of control
Then we need to acknowledge signs that much of what voters criticize lawmakers for doing is in reaction to their own habit of electing the biggest spenders. If this leads to bad government policy based on favors-for-dollars corruption, raising campaign money from special interests wanting special items of legislation, there is nothing lawmakers can do about that, if they want to continue raising the most money, to continue getting re-elected.
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, voters elect the biggest spenders in the campaigns more or less 80 percent of the time (the percentage varies with elections). And although the Center doesn’t say so directly, evidence hints that voters choose unconsciously, due to an innocent habit. Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without being corrupt. The dismal outcome is that most voters have not the faintest clue about how their unconscious habit enables big campaign donors to manipulate the outcomes of elections and bend policy decisions out of shape. They reliably, cheerfully, obediently vote to reinforce the influence of money, to elect the biggest spenders, without ever knowing it, and without anybody ever telling them.
B. THE UNINTENDED OUTCOME
What voters need to learn is that they are unintentionally, unconsciously sustaining the money-driven machine they themselves so loudly deplore, where dollars buy elections and policy decisions, nearly always to benefit a small, affluent, influential class, and nearly always at the expense of everybody else. Big-time polluters can and do use campaign contributions to buy permission from lawmakers in Congress to pollute the rest of us.
Neither lawmakers nor campaign donors want voters to know their innocent habit feeds corruption because both givers and takers benefit from the flow of dollars-for-favors generated by the corrupt system. This is consistent with lawmakers’ refusal to cite the voter habit, to say exactly why they need to spend so much time raising campaign funds. They don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. If voters find out about their bad habit, they might decide they want to do something about it, which might disrupt a smooth-running dollars-for-favors operation. Better to just leave the public in the dark.
Some of the major changes will have to come from the bottom up instead of from the top down. For example, we tried top-down solutions such as McCain-Feingold as means of campaign finance reform. This effort of best intentions ran afoul of a majority on the Supreme Court, which insists that money is speech, and freedom of speech is for money and those who have it, with no limits on the right to drown out everybody else. Since voters have an innocent, unconscious habit of electing the biggest spenders, of supporting money and those who have it in elections, the solution to this problem can only come from the bottom up. Voters will have to become aware of their habit, so they are motivated to shed it, to devise a means of choosing candidates that doesn’t result in reinforcing the influence of money, with all the unintended results. We the electorate, with the help of a proposed new service organization, will have all the resources we need to enable us to elect candidates based on merit instead of on spending. And neither the Supreme Court nor the Koch brothers can do anything about it.
C. TOWARD CHANGING OUTCOMES
With the resources of a newly-formed fourth branch of government service organization, one of the first things registered voters, the electorate, needs to undertake is to deal with climate change. And enlist the help of the voting public in other countries where elections have any meaning. We will have to both inform ourselves and motivate ourselves, using abundant plain evidence that suggests it will cost less to stop climate change than to continue letting the climate spin out of control, and attempting vain efforts to adjust to chaotic consequences.
The voting public of the world is allowing our governments to decide, by inertia and by default, to choose the most expensive and the most perilous of the two courses before us. Voters/taxpayers/citizens will end up paying the near-term added costs of sustaining our agriculture, businesses, and professions. Independent public discussion, where it is allowed, will probably lead to the conclusion that the world can’t afford the most expensive answer to the climate question.
Without world-wide public intervention, the problem that dwarfs every other problem in the world will continue to take a back seat to every other problem, the priority assigned to it by politicians who could provide leadership but think other initiatives are more important. They often have the support of a public worried about jobs and a slow economy. Are we willing to have public discussion about the ethics and morality of what many people recommend: simply disowning and abandoning our posterity? We have to meet all the challenges and objections with growing stark evidence that the most expensive decision is to do nothing. Recent floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, a growing number of billion-dollar weather events, aren’t even the beginning of the price we will pay for turning our back on reality and responsibility.
The preceding postings offer additional evidence and details about how we got ourselves into the money box and what we have to do to get ourselves out. So let’s form a fourth branch of government service organization, dedicated to serving the needs of the electorate, the registered voters, and have the public discussion on television that will inform us of what we need to find out that we don’t know, and what we need to do that we aren’t doing. For example, we can establish a fourth branch Website with a searchable database showing which candidates for Congress have a record of serving the many and which serve only the few; who wants to get government to work for everybody and who wants to keep government working only for those who can afford to buy it. When voters re-elect lawmakers who vote in Congress to reward the rich and punish the poor, either they approve of these votes or don’t know about them. We can make sure they can find out if they want to. Such information will have the bonus benefit of helping us break our bad habit of electing the biggest spenders.
The burden of making essential changes falls on the electorate, on our fourth branch, due to the error-prone disarray, dysfunction, and ideological self-delusion displayed by the other 3. There is no reason we voters can’t get ourselves from where we are, with 64 percent saying the country is on the wrong track, and Congress with a 5 percent approval rating, to where we need to be. And where is that? Making good use of our vast, flexible communications resources, which will get us to where we can vote for lawmakers according to who they serve instead of how much they spend.
This change will enable us to declare our independence of the crippling, paralyzing, suffocating effects of campaign contribution money, of the related attack ads, of the related who-gave-and-who-got corruption, and related bad policy decisions. With our new-found independence we can change outcomes of elections, change policy decisions, change prospects for the future. Opportunities are wide open and waiting for us to claim them.
CAN WE STOP SUPPORTING OUR RULING ELITE
POSTING OF MAY 1, 2014
A small and privileged class assures that the power of money manipulates the results of elections and will prevail over the popular will in matters of policy. Our aristocratic system benefits the wealthy campaign donors and the lawmakers they own and operate, nearly always at the expense of the ordinary voter/taxpayer/citizen. Big polluters bearing dollars can and do buy permission from lawmakers in Congress to pollute the rest of us.
A. WHERE WE ARE
What began with electing the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns has ended with a moneyed elite that is firmly in control of the country. And not by threats, force, or intimidation, things that happen in an autocracy, but by lawmakers indebted to special-interest donors, who want favors, who exert influence over policy. In our benign oppression, there is no need for threats, as long as the American public will tolerate the dominating influence of money over Congress and the White House, over the results of elections, and over national policy decisions.
In our system of soft oppression, minority rule prevails. As long as the public doesn’t go beyond complaining or petitioning or demonstrating or blogging about the influence of money, with its stranglehold on government, with all its directly related corruption, there is no threat to the control of the securely ensconced moneyed aristocracy. If the public isn’t actually doing anything about corruption that will make any real difference, there is no real threat to the iron grip of the established minority rule.
A benign oppression is maintained through a strict discipline which conceals the fact that voters have an unconscious habit of favoring the biggest spenders in election campaigns, reinforcing the influence of money, and innocently supporting the corrupt culture of favors for dollars that enables the few in the aristocracy to buy policy decisions from lawmakers in Congress. The privileged class is careful not to allow voters to become aware of their bad habit. Voters might decide they want to do something about that because by electing the biggest spenders, voters unintentionally reinforce the influence of the ruling elite, of those who give the unlimited dollars and get the big favors that benefit the few at the expense of the many.
The control by those who use money to manipulate our elections and policy decisions is nearly as absolute as the control of an autocrat. Wealthy donors in the oil or coal industry and opposed to any carbon tax, for example, can use campaign contributions to manipulate elections, to buy a majority in the House, a majority that is grateful for the funding and also happens to be opposed to any tax on carbon. Astonishing, but this is where we are.
B. WHAT GOT US WHERE WE ARE
What is it that makes a benign oppression by a ruling elite possible here in the United States, where we pride ourselves on our freedoms and liberties, the voice of the people, elections by secret ballot?
The driving force behind the ruling elite system is something voters don’t even know they are doing. Every challenger knows about the voter habit and wants to be the biggest spender and wants to have the biggest campaign fund. Incumbents are willing to do favors in exchange for campaign contributions from special interests, willing to serve the dominant aristocracy. The benign oppression is propelled by voters’ being kept in the dark, being blocked from understanding that they are unconsciously electing the biggest spenders, and therefore unable to do anything about it.
Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without being corrupt, and without having the faintest clue about their innocent habit, or how it enables big donors to manage the outcomes of elections, or bend policy decisions out of shape. The voter habit of electing the biggest spenders means some lawmakers have no choice. Many of them have to do favors for dollars, have to be corrupt, if they want to raise enough money to be sure of outspending challengers in the next election. Being sufficiently corrupt has become part of the job description for many who undertake the demanding task of getting re-elected to Congress, term after term.
The entire campaign-finance juggernaut, which was temporarily restrained by McCain-Feingold, which was unleashed again by the Citizens United case, which has been the subject of articles and columns and debated on talk shows, rests on an innocent voter habit. The controversy, the corruption, the damage continues not only because of a voter habit, but because so few who know about it want voters to know about it, and are willing to tell them. Any ex-lawmaker at the federal level, who has had to dial for dollars while in Congress, has the clout to break the news to voters, having seen first-hand the damage their habit is doing. But there have been no reports of any of them making any public announcement directed at voters, warning them of the ongoing unintended harm. Ex-lawmakers all seem content to sit back and watch the damage inflicted on the many by the few, in the rampaging political corruption we can trace to the hidden habit.
C. HOW VOTERS CAN CHANGE THE RULES
If voters suddenly began consciously choosing candidates based on their political party, fashionable ideology, or positions on the issues instead of unconsciously on the amount of spending, what would happen to the impact of campaign money? The Center for Responsive Politics says that voters elect the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns roughly 80 percent of the time (without mentioning the related issue of campaign advertising). This probably means the amount of campaign spending determines the outcomes of elections roughly 80 percent of the time. Much more often than party, ideology, or candidates’ positions on issues.
This also means that if voters did a switch, and began electing candidates on the basis of party, ideology or positions on issues 80 percent of the time, and on the basis of campaign spending 20 percent of the time, the importance of money to candidates, and to campaign donors, would take a steep dive, because campaign spending would be overshadowed by other considerations 80 percent of the time. The influence money buys, and the power big donors exercise, would shrink to the vanishing point. But voters can find other means of changing the game.
D. DOING WHAT SPECIAL INTERESTS DO
Voters could overhaul the entire political landscape simply by following the special interest example, by lobbying lawmakers for what they want and then supporting lawmakers according to how they respond to lobbying (for details about voter lobbying see Section D. of April posting). If voters were doing that, they would no longer be voting according to who spends the most, but according to lawmakers’ positions on the issues, for example.
Would the voter habit problem be solved if we were doing what special interests do? We could thumb our nose at big bad Citizens United and the related big bad flood of dollars, by ignoring them, by declaring our independence of them, and by staying busy lobbying our lawmakers so persistently, they will no longer be able to ignore us, especially when we start holding them accountable at election time. As a bonus benefit, we would end up getting our lawmakers working for us instead of for the special interests. A welcome, long overdue, and essential improvement.
We voters have all the resources we need to “repossess” our country. All it takes is a decision to make the required effort to do so. If it’s not easy, it’s relatively simple. To regain majority rule, to shrug off the gentle oppression by the few, voters have to (1) stop electing the biggest spenders, which we can accomplish by (2) lobbying our lawmakers and voting according to how they respond, and (3) start treating them as our employees, by insisting that they serve us instead of the special interests, or else we’ll stop hiring them and paying them (for details about voters as employers see November posting). The ruling elite can’t do a thing to block these changes.
These changes will enable us to make policy decisions independently of what special interests want. We can decide policy based on what circumstances actually require to benefit the many, instead of based on who gave and who got, to benefit the few who gave. All the changes that for decades have been unthinkable will become possible once they are based on doing what circumstances require, what is actually needed to solve problems. For example, instead of protecting tax breaks for the super-rich, voters can lobby their lawmakers to invest the money in repairing our crumbling infrastructure, with many new jobs, and see how lawmakers respond. A special Website set up to guide the electorate could show which incumbents reliably vote in Congress to favor tax breaks for the wealthy few, or to serve the middle-class many by creating jobs, so we can choose not to re-elect those who are blindly obedient to the ruling class, if we want to.
Our privileged wealthy few could never have accumulated so much power without the help of our bad habit. Electing the biggest spenders is exactly what our ruling elites want us to do, what keeps them so firmly in control. Once we have the public discussion that enables us to understand that the much-criticized ruling class in America is almost entirely a creature of the voters’ making, we will have an incentive to stop doing what we’ve been doing that keeps it alive and well and relentlessly plaguing the rest of us. So that we can take the various essential actions, we may need sufficient motivation. For an example, see Section E. of February 2013 posting for a glimpse of what life in America, post-habit, would look like.
Yes, we can pull the plug. Voters can stop supporting our ruling elite. What will they do without us? Who or what else can or will help them stay in control, if voters no longer cooperate by reinforcing the influence of money, by helping them to buy elections and policy? They might have to live with their worst nightmare: majority rule in America. No doubt there are some who would rather go hide in a cave than watch unpaid voter lobbyists outnumber and outlobby special interest paid lobbyists, for spending on infrastructure and jobs, and admit there is nothing they can do about it.
ARE WE PROTECTED FROM THE TRUTH?
POSTING OF APRIL 14, 2014
It is a strange circumstance indeed if money corruption in government is due to a voter habit that every lawmaker knows about, but their constituents don’t, and it is simply ignored. But that may be the case.
A. OUR PROTECTIVE SHIELD
There is evidence that what makes money so important in politics and political campaigns, and so often blamed for corruption, is an innocent voter habit that nobody ever mentions. Not a word is written or said about it. So we need to discuss what every lawmaker knows about voters (but never mentions) which is also what voters need to know about themselves.
If lawmakers know voters elect the biggest spenders in the campaigns, and know they need to spend half their waking hours on the phone raising more money than challengers, why shouldn’t voters know that, so they can become aware of the ill effects of their thoughtless habit? Electing the biggest spenders, regardless of party, ideology, or positions on issues, reinforces the influence of money, which leads to more corruption, all without voters knowing it, and without anybody telling them.
Voters should be permitted to find out that their unconscious habit, by reinforcing the influence of money, also makes lawmakers indebted to big campaign donors, the main cause of a type of corruption that is based on doing favors for dollars. And influences lawmakers to make bad policy that favors the few who give money, nearly always at the expense of the many who don’t. Big polluters bearing dollars can and do buy permission from lawmakers in Congress to pollute the rest of us. Although we can trace many problems to this hidden habit, voters remain protected from an awkward fact that results in harmful consequences for the workings of government.
Anyone can google “voters electing biggest spenders” and look at hundreds of results without finding anything that deals with the damaging consequences of this strictly unmentionable tendency voters have. It seems incomprehensible that nobody is saying anything about a problem that millions need to know about in order to enable them to stop doing such extensive unintended harm.
B. OUR SILENT PROTECTORS
Is there any political reporter, columnist, or editorial writer who doesn’t know that lawmakers raise money to outspend challengers because voters elect the biggest spenders? What other reason is there to pile up those megabucks? Why such a strict code of silence? Why aren’t voters allowed to understand about themselves what lawmakers understand, especially when reporters, columnists, or editorial writers could break the news?
Political science professors, and journalists who deal with political matters, are aware and often critical of the frantic fund-raising, the frenzied antics of lawmakers, scrambling to raise the most money. But saying not a word about the cause. Every columnist, and every professor who writes columns, has decided not to warn voters to look at the evidence, to inform themselves, to change their voting behavior, to end the distorting damage done to the election process and to policy-making, that we can trace directly to their bad habit.
How much longer do professors and journalists idly watch while the swelling tide of dollars rampages around us? How much longer will commentators who condemn the influence of money on our political system refuse to offer a plan to deal with the cause? Pundits must be afraid of offending voters who very much need to know that their innocent habit is to blame for most of the political corruption that voters like to criticize.
Our sheltered, coddled habit helps us to shoot ourselves in the foot. By unintentionally electing the biggest spenders in the campaigns 80 percent of the time, regardless of other considerations, such as party, ideology, or positions on the issues, voters unintentionally exclude candidates who want to serve the many instead of the few, but lack campaign dollars for ads to attract enough voters, who tend to elect the biggest spenders. Even worse, they unintentionally elect candidates who are owned and operated by the special interests, and have the backing of special-interest campaign dollars, and win nearly every time. The main reason for voters justifiably criticizing Congress for being controlled by money, is the hidden habit voters don’t even know they have (for details see Section A. of February 2013 posting). Only by becoming aware of their habit will they be able to shake it off.
C. OUR ULTIMATE REFORM
There is something we voters need to learn about ourselves before the next election, so we can avoid the mistakes we made in the last election (for details see Section C. of March posting). The answer to the perpetual corruption festival is not legislation to “repeal” Citizens United and “resurrect” McCain-Feingold. If we voters can’t find a way to stop electing the biggest spenders, with the corruption that causes; if we can’t get “campaign finance reform” at the voting booth, there isn’t going to be any.
Why not have televised public discussions that reveal what voters don’t know and need to know about their harmful unconscious habit? Awareness is the first step. If we give voters a fair chance to decide they want to make the effort to shed their habit, they have the means to do it (for details see February 2013 posting).
Corrupt politicians sincerely appreciate an uninformed public that enables them to serve the few at the expense of the many and still get re-elected in perpetuity. They rely on voters to remain uncritical of their bad performance in office, and to keep electing the biggest spenders (who are usually incumbents). We need to disappoint them. Voters need a Website for the benefit of the electorate, with a searchable database that has information lawmakers don’t want us to know about them, such as votes in Congress for policy decisions that reward the rich and punish the poor. We can’t afford to continue casting uninformed votes, especially if we aren’t rich.
Nobody except voters is going to represent the interests of voters. Lawmakers are more interested in getting re-elected than representing us, which means they represent campaign contributors. Most lawmakers hope we continue voting against our own best interests, by re-electing those who favor the few at the expense of the many. This is how Congress gets an approval rating of 5 percent. This means voters understand what’s going on, but need to be able to vote as if they understand.
An outline of steps voters need to take is in Section D. of December posting.
Mistakes voters need to learn to avoid are in March 2012 posting.
Details about a proposed fourth branch service organization to coordinate the efforts of registered voters, the electorate, are in August 2011 posting.
Details of how voters will have to lobby lawmakers for what we want, to do what special interests do to get what they want, are in June 2008 posting.
The most important single thing voters need to do is break through to an awareness about our hidden habit. This change will enable us, for example, to put unpaid voter lobbyists who serve the general interest in a strong position to oppose paid lobbyists who serve special interests. We have them outnumbered. Millions lobbying our lawmakers for the many changes most of us can agree on, and then voting according to how they respond (our newly acquired capability since we are no longer electing the biggest spenders) is our best chance of countering the clout of the special interests.
To get the respect special interests get, voters need to do what special interests do. They lobby lawmakers to get what they want and sometimes shift support to challengers in the next election if the lawmakers don’t perform. Informed, coordinated, committed voters, with the help of an effective fourth branch service organization, will have to do the same. The electorate, the registered voters, have a duty to become a separate, independent, co-equal fourth branch of our government in order to initiate changes we need to make that none of the other branches would propose.
In view of the growing dysfunction afflicting our other branches, voters/taxpayers/citizens need to understand that as the only branch of our government showing real concern, for example, about our country being on the wrong track (64 percent in a poll of April 2nd), we have a civic duty to become engaged in policy matters, a responsibility to assert ourselves politically, to use our abundant communications resources to coordinate and focus our efforts on changes that are in the best interests of the country.
We have all the resources we need. All it takes is a decision to make good use of them. We need to (1) vote with an understanding of which lawmakers are for or against us, which will (2) make lawmakers more responsive to the interests of voters, which will (3) boost Congress’ approval rating above 5 percent. This is what we have to do. Nobody except the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, can make these changes. Not the White House. Not the courts. And Congress least of all.
What needs to happen isn’t complicated. If voters don’t know they have a habit of electing the biggest spenders and reinforcing the influence of money, learning about its damaging effects will enable them shed it. This will remove the biggest cause of money corruption, of elections and policy decisions based on who gave and who got, which is the main obstacle to political equality, to a system that serves the many as well as the few.
There is a way to get there from here. The opportunity is wide open and waiting. Only a bad habit is blocking the way.
A DEMOCRACY WITHOUT MAJORITY RULE?
POSTING OF DECEMBER 30, 2013
In the old days, the House was able to vote on any bill and the majority would prevail. Until an important bill recently passed by a wide margin, a Tea Party minority could usually intimidate other members, especially the Speaker, and prevent legislation that would easily pass from even getting to the floor. The minority party in the Senate routinely blocks action on bills because minority rule is built into Senate procedures. 60 votes are needed, with the help of a fickle minority, to pass legislation.
A. WHY GOVERNMENT DOESN’T WORK
One reason government doesn’t work is because we don’t have majority rule. Special-interest money is often behind the willingness to obstruct, or use delaying tactics in the House, to block or shelve nearly every proposal from the Senate. The quick, agile, unified few who don’t want government to work, consistently outmaneuver the slower, clumsier, more diversified majority who do.
In America we have a tradition of forming organizations and starting movements in order to give women the right to vote, to get civil rights that ban racial discrimination, to get workers’ rights to fair wages and fair work rules, for example. But by far the biggest test for American voters/ taxpayers/ citizens will be to reinstate majority rule in our government. For that we will need an organization (for details see August 2011 posting) that serves the electorate, the registered voters, the fourth branch of our government, to enable us to better serve the country.
A fourth branch service organization can enable the registered voters, the electorate, to function as a separate, independent, co-equal fourth branch of our government, and to take initiatives independently of the 3 other branches, and independently of the special interests, which have an iron grip on Congress. This is why we can’t turn to Congress for help. The special interests don’t hesitate to go so far as encouraging, funding and rewarding minority efforts to shut down government, and/or force government default, while intimidating self-respecting lawmakers who resist being radicalized, who dare to want government to work, by threatening them with primary challenges in coming elections. Important bills pile up in the House, with no action taken, mostly due to minorities’ rigid ideological disdain for the negotiation and compromise needed to make policy and run a government.
B. TO GET GOVERNMENT WORKING
Our fourth branch of government, unlike Congress, hasn’t been taken over by partisan politics, dollar corruption and ideological gridlock. Unlike Congress, the fourth branch is free at all times to support actions that are in the best interests of the country. Somebody has to be able to do that.
A well-funded service organization could provide a fourth branch Website that has an online database of voting records and other information that voters who want government to work (and not all do) can use to inform themselves about which incumbents in Congress do and don’t want government to work, who is helping and who is blocking, which of their employees in Congress that voters hire and pay need to be rehired, or fired, in the next election. For example, the 94 representatives and 33 senators who voted against a House bill intended to avoid another government shutdown, would probably qualify as people who don’t want government to work. At election time we could mention their names at our fourth branch Website, along with others who might be good “candidates” for “term limits.”
50 percent of eligible voters stay home on election day, they say to protest attack ads and/or government that doesn’t work. With a Website, we can make an appeal to voters who generally want government to work to come to the polls and help outnumber the voters who want government to fail. Chronically AWOL voters have a responsibility to vote, and to support lawmakers who want government to work, and to oppose lawmakers who don’t. Otherwise, too much of our election process will consist of politically active radical ideologue voters, in many districts, who don’t want government to work, re-electing radical ideologue lawmakers who don’t fear any backlash from moderate voters. Because too few of them vote.
C. RESTORING MAJORITY RULE
If recovering majority rule is the prerequisite to making government work, a fourth branch service organization is the prerequisite to regaining majority rule, to giving adequate influence to the majority of voters who will support lawmakers who want to see government work. Only the voters, by lobbying (which a fourth branch service organization will enable us to do, for details see Section B. of September posting and June 2008 posting), and selective voting, can push back, can loosen the iron grip of the special interests, and the toxic ideology too many of them embrace. Who else will do this? It’s up to the registered voters/taxpayers/citizens.
When we set for ourselves the goal of regaining majority rule in government, this will motivate us to take on the special interests, who by definition oppose majority rule, but this effort will require us to do some of the things they do, such as lobbying lawmakers, and then supporting or opposing lawmakers based on how they respond to lobbying, as many special interests do. By using our vast communications resources to enable us to coordinate the lobbying power of our vast numbers, a focused fourth branch effort can grow potent enough to overmatch the legendary clout of the special interests. We will need to outlobby them.
The only thing a candidate needs more than dollars is voters. When organized, coordinated voter numbers, lobbying lawmakers for specific changes, finally at long last go up against special-interest dollars contributed to lawmakers’ campaigns to keep things the same, dollars are going to lose. Lawmaker candidates who bet on dollars to save them will be defeated.
Is there anything more vital to democracy than majority rule? Is this what distinguishes democracy from autocracy? Is this what a democracy needs in order to succeed? We have elections, we do what we normally associate with a democratic process that is supposed to guarantee a will-of-the-people majority rule. Candidates elected by the majority of voters are supposed to heed the wishes of the majority, as seen in opinion polls, for example. But in practice we elect the biggest spenders (for details see Section A. of February posting), who must do favors for the biggest donors, if they want to be able to outspend challengers, and get re-elected. The result is a tenacious minority rule, by special interests spreading dollars, and using lawmakers they own and operate, to exercise control over legislation in Congress.
We reassure ourselves by going through the motions of democracy. But as the stubborn trends in Congress so rudely remind us, we can have the structure, the trappings, the proceedings, the appearance of democracy without having majority rule. Fortunately we have the means to get it back.
To succeed in dealing with our most serious problems in government, we need to:
FIRST regain majority rule, which requires us to
SECOND break the innocent voter habit of reinforcing the influence of money, by unconsciously electing the biggest spenders in the campaigns 80 percent of the time. To shed this habit we need to
THIRD treat our lawmakers as employees (for details see November posting), which requires taking government as seriously as business, telling our employees in Congress what we want, with registered voters, the electorate, lobbying lawmakers, and then voting based on their response to our lobbying (which means we are no longer reinforcing the influence of money by habitually electing the biggest spenders). Taking steps to diminish the clout of dollars will enable us to
FOURTH reduce the corruption that is a form of bribery, the policy decisions based on who gave and who got big campaign contributions, the main cause of rampant corruption that leads to bad policy. Corruption enables polluters bearing dollars, for example, to buy permission from Congress to pollute the rest of us. Using money, special interests can buy election results and buy policy decisions, the worst effects of minority rule. Gradually winding down corruption, by learning to re-elect only lawmakers who can’t be bribed to serve the few who don’t want government to work, who have a record of serving the many, will enable us to reach our ultimate goal, making policy decisions based on what circumstances require. This change will enable us to
FIFTH reduce partisan politics and ideological gridlock, which aside from corruption are the main reasons Congress does so many things that have nothing to do with what circumstances require. By lobbying, pushing back against paid lobbyists, voters can oppose policy decisions based on partisanship and ideology, while voting the rigidly partisan and ideological incumbents out of Congress. It is essential to create a fourth branch service organization because of the things it can enable us to do.
It is our duty, as the fourth branch of our government, to take the ability to do damage away from those who will never voluntarily cease doing damage. Only informed, determined voters, who want government to work, can purge lawmakers who show by their actions, according to news reports or official records regarding votes in Congress (which we can summarize and display at a Website), that they are slowing or blocking or sabotaging the government process. These include the ones who act based on ideology that is detached from reality, and those who act based on who gave and who got big bucks, and favor the few who give at the expense of the many who don’t. The two categories can overlap; both are equally damaging. We have all the information resources we need to enable us to identify those who undermine government, intentionally or not, and vote them out of Congress.
This is what it will take to create conditions that enable us to reinstate majority rule, and as a result, allow government to resume functioning. We need to engage in the public discussion that will enable us to envision the opportunities we are missing, the resources that go unused, what we can do about our bad habits, about what is going wrong and how to fix it.
CAN VOTERS BE BETTER EMPLOYERS?
POSTING OF NOVEMBER 18, 2013
In a business or a professional association, we could never tolerate a workplace where employees get no instruction, no supervision, and no penalties for poor performance or non-performance of work. But this is the sort of workplace we have in Congress, where the people who hire and pay lawmakers fail to tell them what they need to do, or what they need to stop doing, and fail to discharge lawmakers for poor performance or non-performance of legislative duties.
A. THE ENDURING VACUUM
We lack an organization that enables the registered voters, the electorate, to function as a separate, independent, co-equal fourth branch of our government, and to take initiatives independently of the 3 other branches. Such an organization would enable us to accept our responsibilities. To become effective, competent employers, the people who hire and pay our lawmakers will have to do what every other employer does: tell our employees what we want, watch them to see whether they comply, and fire them if they don’t. If the employers of our lawmakers aren’t doing these things, who is to blame for the continuing dreary, dismal performance in Congress? Our employees, or their employers?
One reason Congress doesn’t work for us is because we do in government what we would never do in a business. As employers of our lawmakers who fail to monitor our employees, we don’t take government as seriously as business, even though government is arguably far more important. We don’t want to take the trouble to use television to discuss what things we want our lawmakers to do. We don’t want to be bothered taking polls to see if 2/3 can agree on things we want them to do. We don’t want to make the effort to use our abundant communications resources to tell our lawmakers what we want them to do (for details see June 2008 posting), and then we complain when they understandably fail to do what we want them to do.
All the signs are that we’ve decided, by default, without any debate, with no public discussion, that becoming the hiring, supervising, firing, involved employers of our lawmakers isn’t worth the effort. Is that one of the reasons why government doesn’t work? The indifference of the employers?
B. A FESTIVAL FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS
If we voters don’t insist that our employees serve us, they will tend to drift away and serve other people. If there are few penalties, and lots of rewards (starting with campaign contributions), for serving paid lobbyists instead of serving us, when lawmakers can’t serve both, the special interests can and do take control of “our” lawmakers and the making of “our” policy decisions.
We practically invite those who know very specifically what they want from lawmakers to press their own agenda. The result is that “those special interests” have “entirely too much influence” over “those politicians” in Congress. The result is that everybody except the majority of voters is busy telling Congress what they want. So we have acquired the habit of blaming “those politicians” for not serving us, for not doing what we want. Given our stubborn, sullen, ongoing silence, should we be surprised or outraged or have hurt feelings at the result?
Certainly lawmakers should of their own volition do what is best for the country, best for the majority. But lawmakers also know what voters don’t, that voters elect the biggest spenders in the campaigns (for details see Section A. of February posting). If they want to get re-elected, they need campaign contributions from special-interest lobbyists who want favors for their dollars. Understandably these special-interest favors will not be in the best interests of the rest of us. For this reason the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government will need to push back against the special interests, to lobby lawmakers for what we want (for details see Section C. of February posting).
There is no need for the fourth branch of our government to have any less clout than the special interests have. But if we don’t learn from the special interests, and their methods, they will continue getting the best of us. They aren’t winning because they’re beating us. They’re winning because we aren’t doing what they’re doing, because we’re letting them, because they are active and we are passive. We need to make a decision to push to become a truly pro-active electorate. A fourth branch service organization (for details see August 2011 posting) will enable registered voters to do all the things the employers of our lawmakers need to do to get our lawmakers to serve us. Without an organization we can’t do any of these things.
We need to discuss the possibility that a simple, basic inconsistency is doing the damage, that all we need to do to get government to work for us is to take government as seriously as business, to do what we do to get our businesses to work, to tell our employees what we want, monitor them, and replace them if necessary. If we were doing that, our lawmakers would be serving us instead of serving “those special interests,” or else they would be gone. Only voters can impose “term limits” on wayward lawmakers. And special interests can’t bring them back.
We already know what to do to get government to work. We do it in our businesses every day. If we know what to do to get business and government to work, and we do it in business but not in government, does this explain why business works and government doesn’t? What is our excuse for not doing it in government? A fourth branch service organization will enable us to do in government what we do in business, to finally at long last make good management the overriding goal of government as well as business. Our goal as the electorate, the fourth branch registered voters, with the resources of a service organization, should be to learn to function successfully as employers of our lawmakers, to get government to work as well as business to the extent possible.
What a fourth branch of government service organization can do is provide routine procedures that enable voters to form a habit of being engaged in government through the process of lobbying about the many issues 2/3 of us can probably agree on (for examples see Section B. of September posting). Our decision by default, without any discussion, to be without the resources of an organization, puts us at a disadvantage when opposing those who have organizations, as nearly all special interests do.
A fourth branch service organization will empower voters to lobby lawmakers to get things done, track their responses, identify and replace lawmakers who fail to support other lawmakers at getting things done that serve the many as well as the few. We can’t duck our responsibilities by claiming ignorance. Our recently reported 5 percent approval rating of Congress means 95 percent of us understand that Congress has far too many lawmakers who don’t want government to work. Only the voters, the employers who hire them, can identify them and fire them.
A service organization can provide us with all the financial and communications resources we need to become the much-needed, effectively functioning fourth branch of our government. It is essential that we unpaid lobbyists take our lawmakers back from the swarms of paid lobbyists hired by special interests. It is our responsibility and our duty to insist that our lawmakers serve us. We have the ability; we have the opportunity; we have the means; we have the motive to do it. The only thing we lack is a reason for not doing it.
WHY LET THE SPECIAL INTERESTS WIN?
POSTING OF OCTOBER 28, 2013
We registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, can learn what special interests do to exert their influence. By definition, special interests serve the few instead of the many, and most often at the expense of the many. For example, polluters can lobby Congress to roll back environmental protection rules in ways that serve the few big campaign donors at the expense of the rest of us who get even more pollution.
Special interests have so much more clout than the rest of us only because we refuse to do the things they do that we are able to do. For example:
A. VOTERS CAN HAVE A SERVICE ORGANIZATION
The fourth branch of our government could form and finance a service organization that would enable us to deploy our vast, unused resources as effectively as the special interests use their resources and organizations (for details see Section B. of September posting and August 2011 posting).
B. VOTERS CAN LOBBY LAWMAKERS
With the financial and communications resources a service organization would provide, we can lobby Congress as effectively as the special interests (for details see Section C. of February posting and June 2008 posting). Voters need to be able to lobby lawmakers for changes, for individual items of legislation. How can we expect to get what we want from Congress without doing what special interests do to get what they want?
C. VOTERS CAN HOLD LAWMAKERS ACCOUNTABLE
When special interests lobby lawmakers for certain favors and fail to get what they want, they can shift support, usually in the form of dollars, to a challenger in the next election. Voters can learn a lesson. If, after lobbying lawmakers for legislation, we are disappointed when they ignore us, we can shift votes to a challenger in the next election. A well-funded service organization would enable us to afford a fourth branch Website we could use to track our lawmakers’ votes in response to our lobbying, so we can administer “term limits” to those laggard lawmakers who fail to support our publicly debated, duly considered, polling-backed legislative proposals.
D. VOTERS ALSO NEED TO SHED A HABIT SPECIAL INTERESTS RELY ON
How much longer do we sit and watch voters habitually elect the biggest spenders without knowing it, and reinforce the influence of money (by making candidates scramble to raise the most) without knowing it, and boost the favors-for-dollars corruption that distorts our national policy decisions without knowing it, before we finally tell them?
We can see the regular Center for Responsive Politics reports (for a sample see Section A. of February posting) but there have been no high-profile articles or books about the unconscious voter habit of electing the biggest spenders in congressional elections. That doesn’t mean we can assume it’s not a problem. If this innocent habit isn’t the driving force behind the influence of special-interest money in politics, what is? What else is going on that gives dollars such awesome clout? If the special interests cheerfully continue giving dollars and getting favors, all dependent on a reliable voter habit, it leads to continuing bad policy based on who gave and who got.
Why not have televised discussions that tell voters what they don’t know and need to know about their harmful unconscious habit? Awareness is the first step. If we give voters a fair chance to decide they want to shed their habit, they have all the resources they need and there is plenty they can do about it (for examples see Sections B. and C. of September posting).
Politicians who thrive on corruption want to keep voters in the dark, never mentioning the voter habit, or the corruption and resulting bad policy it causes. If they would like to see all this continue, what is more urgent than offering voters a means of breaking this damaging cycle? When we learn to vote based on lawmakers’ responses to our lobbying, we no longer habitually elect the biggest spenders, or allow ourselves to be used by the special interests, to obediently re-elect their favored candidates, because they can nearly always outspend challengers.
A recent poll showed Congress’ approval rating at 5 percent. Can we trace this low rating to our innocent habit of re-electing the biggest spenders? We like to criticize “those politicians” for serving “those special interests” instead of serving us. We understand the problem. But by habitually electing the biggest spenders, we elect the candidates who are most deeply indebted to the special interests, who will continue wanting big favors in exchange for generous campaign contributions, favors that are usually at the expense of the rest of us. The lawmakers who are the biggest getters and spenders of campaign money will never get high approval ratings from voters, only from the special interests who own and operate them.
To cope with the voters’ unconscious habit, many lawmakers in Congress have no choice but to be corrupt, to do favors for dollars, if they want to be sure of raising enough money to outspend challengers, to get re-elected. This is why the most important qualification for winning elected office is having the most money. The biggest spenders win about 80 percent of the time, regardless of party, ideology, voting records, or positions on the issues. We can break that pattern only by changing our voting habits.
With a fourth branch service organization, voters would be able to educate themselves. Some people might be vexed when confronted with the evidence that their bad habit causes corruption. But they’d probably want to break the cycle. What if they found out they could shake off their harmful habit by lobbying lawmakers (see Section C. of February posting), simply by doing what every other major “interest group” in America has been doing for the last 100 years, and therefore what voters should have been doing all along? They would probably jump at the chance to join millions of others in using their numbers to push back against special-interest dollars. The only thing a candidate needs more than the most dollars is the most voters. If we finally at long last let our numbers go up against their dollars by lobbying, numbers are going to beat dollars (for details see Sections D. and E. of February posting).
If we were having the discussions on television that a fourth branch service organization could facilitate, we would discover that special interests keep winning because we keep letting them. If voters ever hope to gain parity with special interests and be represented in Congress as effectively as those relatively few are, we will have to discuss the disparities on television, and decide to take the initiatives that phase the disparities out, initiatives such as lobbying our lawmakers in Congress, to level the playing field. As long as we fail to counter what special interests are doing, there will be constant loud pressure on one side of the issues and a silent vacuum on the other.
It is more than likely that all we need to do is make the electorate, the registered voters, aware that the long-standing, unchallenged influence of the special interests on elections and on national policy decisions is entirely unnecessary, and motivate them to support challenges by joining in the lobbying for specific measures. We have the ability to discuss, agree on, and coordinate legislative efforts to counter the crippling effects of the various special-interest agendas that most often serve the few at the expense of the rest of us. For the good of the country, we are obliged to make the maximum use of our abilities and our resources.
CAN WE MAKE THE ESSENTIAL CHANGES?
POSTING OF SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
New demands of a new millennium will require us to do things differently. Our future depends of forming a fourth branch organization to serve the electorate, the registered voters, the fourth branch of our government, to enable us to think and act independently of the other 3. Our new service organization will provide the financial and communications resources needed to enable us to make the necessary changes. These will include:
A. SOLVING OUR CORE PROBLEM
If we examine the evidence, we will find that we can draw a straight line from an unconscious voter habit to most of the bad policy in government, that harms nearly all of us, and that we so often criticize.
1. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, voters elect the biggest spenders in the congressional campaigns 80 percent of the time.
2. Lawmakers, trying to raise the most campaign money, to be the biggest spenders, often resort to favors-for-dollars corruption, enabling special-interest big donors to help them outspend challengers and get re-elected.
3. When grateful lawmakers make policy decisions based on who gave big campaign contributions, the decisions result in bad policy for most of us, and generally favor the few special interests who donate to lawmakers’ campaigns, at the expense of the rest of us who don’t. For example, Congress has kept the deep-pockets natural gas hydrofracking industry exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, heedless of the continuing public outcry against polluted air and water in many of the homes near fracking operations. One memorable image that illustrates the problem is water flowing into a kitchen sink, emitting fumes that can be ignited with a cigarette lighter.
If voters are inadvertently causing corruption which brings bad policy, it is because they are kept in the dark about their involuntary habit, which is well-known to every lawmaker. But no ex-senator is willing to break the strict code of silence around the habit, and warn voters about the harm it does to themselves and their country, in the form of bad government policy.
Most lawmakers seem happy with the current system. They know they can disregard the interests of the majority, that 80 percent of the time voters will re-elect incumbents who outspend challengers, election after election, regardless of party, ideology, votes on legislation, or positions on the issues. If there is enough campaign money to buy enough campaign ads, voters don’t penalize incumbents for serving the few who donate at the expense of the many who don’t. Lawmakers don’t seem to mind the resulting bad management in government as long as they get re-elected.
This process may be a major cause of income inequality in America. The taxation and regulation policies favor the few. Big campaign donors favor income inequality and would like to see more of it. In New Jersey, for example, the governor vetoed a tax increase on the wealthy, blocked an increase in the minimum wage, and cut back an income tax credit for low-wage families, in effect raising their taxes. Poll respondents expressed their satisfaction with these moves by the governor, giving him a high approval rating. He will probably get re-elected, not because he serves ordinary taxpayers in New Jersey, but because he serves the big campaign donors, because he will probably be able to outspend everybody else in the campaign. That the governor (along with many other governors) is motivated to represent the elites, who give generously, to represent everybody except ordinary taxpayers, who keep electing the biggest spenders, is an example of how the voter habit is feeding income inequality. The poor habitually and unwisely reward the biggest spenders with re-election, encouraging them to continue taking from the poor, giving to the rich, getting big donations, and getting re-elected.
To let voters know about their habit, and how their habit is harming themselves, and motivate them to join in doing something about it, we need columns and articles describing what is happening and why. These would lead to public discussion of what to do about it. Otherwise, we tolerate the habit we need to shed so we can escape its harmful effects. Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without being corrupt. Corruption isn’t merely immoral or illegal. It causes policy distortions that do real and lasting harm.
Other initiatives required of us, described in B. and C. below, will help us in solving our core problem.
B. USING OUR RESOURCES
As Congress descends ever deeper into dysfunction, it becomes more urgent for those of us who care what happens to the country to gain influence. Bills classified in the full range from trivial to important to essential to urgent pile up without being enacted into law. As unfinished work languishes, we can expect more “who’s to blame” argument and less legislative results.
A service organization would provide the funding and the television time to enable the fourth branch to discuss relevant reported facts the other 3 branches tend to ignore. The organization would enable the fourth branch to discuss supporting specific items of legislation on television, take a poll to see whether most of us favor a bill, and if so, enable registered voters to lobby our lawmakers for enactment, using a special procedure and a specialized software program (for details see Section C. of February posting). We need to use our abundant resources to enable voters to do what every other major “interest group” in American is doing by using their resources. It is essential for the fourth branch to lobby Congress in order to gain parity with the other 3. The way is open.
If we are ever going to get government action on adequate banking regulation; on taxing the carbon content of fuels to reduce pollution, using the proceeds to lower corporate and personal income taxes; on background checks for gun buyers; on added federal tax revenue for a long-overdue $1.6 trillion overhaul of our crumbling infrastructure, which would provide jobs and stimulate economic growth; on incentives for using renewable energy; on climate change (which dwarfs every other problem and currently takes a back seat to every other problem) voters will have to lobby our lawmakers in Congress.
Public discussions followed by polls will probably show 2/3 of registered voters can agree on most of these items. A few have already polled at above 75 percent in favor. We need to identify the “or else” issues for our lawmakers, our employees in Congress that we hire and pay, and use a fourth branch Website to keep track of their individual responses, or non-responses, to our lobbying. And then vote on which of our employees we need to keep, or need to let go.
Due to the effects of campaign contributions, most lawmakers are owned and operated by the people they are supposed to be restraining with laws and regulations. Exhibit A is the banks, that are still able to do most of what they were doing that got us into the current financial crisis, and will bring us the next financial crisis much too soon. To get what we want, voters will have to lobby, to do what special interests do to get what they want. All the resources we need are already in place. A branch of our government that is capable of putting the country first, that hasn’t been taken over by partisan politics and money corruption, will have to step into a gaping void and lobby for the legislation that circumstances require.
Using our resources to lobby our lawmakers, and then voting according to their responses, means we are no longer habitually electing the biggest spenders, and are therefore solving the biggest part of our core problem.
C. ACCEPTING VOTERS’ RESPONSIBILITIES
We’re good at talking as if we understand the problem. We voters complain as if we understand that government doesn’t work. We give Congress a well-deserved approval rating at or near single-digits. But who is it that keeps re-electing all those lawmakers who boast of seeing to it that nothing gets done in D. C.? We did it again in 2012. It wasn’t their fault we re-elected them. They did everything they could think of to warn us. But voters who don’t pay attention, who ignore warnings, will keep getting bad policy, or no policy.
In 2011, by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling, lawmakers extorted $2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, slowing economic recovery. Voters expressed their approval of extortion by re-electing the same crowd in 2012. So now we know who is to blame if the same thing happens in 2013. If some lawmakers don’t know or care that extortion is illegal, voters should know, and care, and impose adult supervision by purging those lawmakers.
What we really need to do is vote as if we understand the problem. That means the one-half of eligible voters who stay home and let the other half do their voting for them, will have to get involved in their own government and do their own voting. The people who complain that government is broken, and cite this reason or similar reasons for not voting, are the main reason government doesn’t work. If the people who want government to work finally come to the polls and have more influence, those who want to keep government from working, by defunding key government programs, agencies, and departments, will have less influence. Voters who are uncompromising ideologues re-elect like-minded lawmakers. We need voters who are in touch with reality, who are concerned about government not working, to unseat lawmakers who are separated from reality, who are perfectly happy that government isn’t working.
The public discussion connected with the preparation for lobbying for various bills will make voters better informed. A searchable database at the fourth branch Website, showing the voting records of incumbents, would enable voters to identify those with little interest in governing. For example, lawmakers who vote 40 times to repeal Obamacare, while neglecting so many other issues that need attention, are telling us unmistakably they are playing games. They are not serious about their legislative responsibilities. Voters need to be aware of such information if they want to take their voting responsibility seriously. Businesses also might want to reconsider supporting lawmakers who oppose immigration reform, favor continued sequestration, oppose raising the debt ceiling, and favor shutting down government, all bad for business. “Sacking” lawmakers who don’t want government to work is our best chance at getting government to work. Only voters can do it.
Voters have an obligation to lobby their lawmakers and vote according to lawmakers’ responses as an alternative to habitually electing the biggest spenders, as an alternative to habitually boosting the influence of money, as an alternative to habitually letting money determine who gets elected and which policy decisions will go into effect. Voters can and should decide certain policy matters by lobbying, as every other major “interest group” in America has been doing for the last 100 years. Why not us if nobody is stopping us? Do we unfairly discriminate against ourselves?
We are missing opportunities to find out how many changes 2/3 of fourth branch members can agree on, and join in lobbying for. Most voters will probably jump at the chance to finally at long last join millions of others in pushing back against the special interests. When we let our numbers go up against their donations, candidates will realize that to win, the only thing they need more than the most dollars is the most voters.
By now it should be obvious that the essential changes we need to make aren’t coming from the top down. They can only come from the bottom up. Therefore we voters have a duty as American citizens to become a separate, independent, co-equal fourth branch of our government, pressing our own agenda, free from the corrupting influence of who gave and who got big bucks, free from the ideological obstruction that hobbles Congress and ties legislation in knots. Our only obligations are to ourselves and to making our government work. The country can’t afford to have us keep losing in policy matters to every other major interest group that is lobbying Congress on behalf of a few and at the expense of the rest of us. We voters need to lobby so we can function as a branch of our government, so we can declare our independence of the other 3.
We have all the resources we need to enable us to have public discussions, to do polling, to agree on legislation, to lobby for significant changes. If we also have an organization that enables us to use our resources, many important goals are in reach (see second and third paragraphs under Section B.). We the electorate, the registered voters/taxpayers/citizens, need to start forming a fourth branch organization (for details see August 2011 posting) that will serve us and enable us to better serve our country.
CAN WE LEARN TO MANAGE OUR HABIT?
POSTING OF MAY 29, 2013
Instead of talking about the cause of corruption in government, we talk about our reactions to it. We talk about limiting the flow of money, about McCain-Feingold, and then complain about Citizens United, which reopened the floodgates. We need to talk about what causes the money to flow.
A. THE HABIT VOTERS HAVE
How did we come to the place where a few polluters can use campaign contributions to buy permission from lawmakers to continue polluting the rest of us? The unconscious voter habit of electing the candidates who spend the most, which sets off the scramble by lawmakers, to raise more campaign money than their challengers, so they can get re-elected, is what causes the money to flow, in this case from the polluters to the lawmakers.
By unintentionally electing the biggest spenders in the campaigns 80 percent of the time, regardless of other considerations, such as party, ideology or positions on the issues, voters unintentionally exclude candidates who want to serve the many but who lack enough campaign dollars for ads to attract enough voters. Even worse, they unintentionally elect candidates who want to serve the few, the special interests, and therefore have the backing of special-interest campaign dollars, and can spend the most, and usually win.
By habitually, blindly voting according to spending, instead of according to candidates’ positions on issues, for example, we not only reinforce the influence of money, we elect the candidates who are the most heavily obligated to serve special interests instead of serving us. The main reason for voters correctly criticizing Congress for being controlled by money, is the habit voters don’t even know they have (for details see Section A. of February posting).
B. THE ENDURING SILENCE
Has there ever been public discussion, or books, or articles about the habit of electing candidates who spend the most? Voters can and do cause corruption without knowing it, and without being corrupt. If we were having the televised public discussion we need in order to fill a vast void, we would be able to ask: (1) whether evidence of the bad voter habit is undeniable, (2) whether the unconscious habit is generally unknown to voters, (3) whether the innocent habit has distorting and damaging effects on elections and on policy decisions, and (4) whether the hidden habit needs to be discussed publicly so we can decide what to do about it, decide how to shed the habit and stop the damage. How much of our current government dysfunction arises from our failure to get answers to these questions?
Can there be any hope of controlling the overwhelming influence of money with voters cheerfully electing the biggest spenders? Is there anything other than the voter habit driving the perpetual corruption festival of bad policy decisions based almost entirely on who gave dollars and got favors from lawmakers busy accumulating a war chest for the next election? So they can buy more campaign ads to attract more voters than a challenger can?
All such answers are denied us by the resounding silence. Every ex-lawmaker has been a candidate, trying to raise the most money, and knows voters elect the biggest spenders most of the time (evidence of the habit). They know this habit is what drives the frantic fundraising and the dollars-for-favors corruption. But will any of them ever break the news to voters? It’s almost as if they don’t want to be accused by incumbent lawmakers, former colleagues, of spoiling the fun. Most well-funded, firmly ensconced lawmakers are happy. Most lobbyists and big donors are happy as long as the incumbents they own and operate get re-elected. So why tell voters about their unintentional key role in supporting the corruption carnival? Just leave them clueless. No telling what could happen. Voters might decide they want to quit their role, and stop the music, and get off the merry-go-round that is totally dependent on voters who keep electing the biggest spenders. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?
Evidently nobody feels an obligation to sponsor and start public discussions featuring the “outing” of a bad voter habit. No ex-lawmakers, none of their staff or advisors, who watched them spend 1/2 or 2/3 of their waking hours on the phone raising money, to be the biggest spender. The result is that voters are kept in the dark. We may need a fourth branch service organization financed by registered voters, by the electorate, to have our own televised public discussions.
For 100 years, voters have been electing the biggest spenders, which enables big donors to manipulate the outcomes of elections, and enables generous polluters to bend policy in their favor. The innocent voter habit dictates terrible policy decisions, based on who gave and who got big contributions, which serve the few who give at the expense of the many who don’t, the opposite of the equal treatment that circumstances require.
We may need to have our own plan for escaping the long shadow of Citizens United. We need to envision elections and government policy decisions free from the sway of dollars (for details see Section E. of February posting) and then decide we are going to do whatever it takes to get there. Until voters decide to support a fourth branch service organization, and use its resources to shift from electing the biggest spenders to lobbying their lawmakers for changes they want (see next paragraph), what every other major “interest group” in America has been doing for 100 years, it’s hard to see how things can get better for those of us who don’t pay lawmakers to be represented.
Having a service organization would enable registered voters, the electorate, to lobby lawmakers for legislative changes, as described in Section C. of the February posting. But even if we can find supporters, or start something ourselves, are there important changes we need to make, independently of legislation (and Congress)?
C. A BOTTOM-UP CLIMATE INITIATIVE
For example, the House or Senate or both will block any bill that has even one line about preventing climate change. If there is to be any progress in this direction, constituents will have to outmaneuver their lawmakers. We have to forget about top-down and go with bottom-up.
Various articles, op-eds and books begin to describe a trend toward installing solar panels on residences and office buildings, moving in the direction of energy independence from an electric grid, and from coal, natural gas and oil heating. There are small beginnings in geothermal energy, using the constant deep underground temperature for heating and cooling.
Such changes would put individual homeowners at less risk in the event of interruptions in the power from the electrical grid or interruptions in availability of coal, natural gas or heating oil. Many experts say sources of electricity will eventually be the targets of successful cyberattacks from terrorists, or from people who are mad at America, or at Americans, for some reason, or for no reason. Thus, homeowners, on their own initiative, can undertake to deal with a security issue, by making the country and themselves less vulnerable to cyberattacks on electric utilities.
Leased solar panels can be installed on homes at little or no cost to homeowners. There is a contract to buy the electricity generated, which may be less than half the price of power they were buying from the utility. But the payments continue, and the homeowner never owns the panels. Some solar panel installers offer homeowners the option to buy the panels, so that when the cost is paid off, the electricity is free.
In a marvelous book, “The Third Industrial Revolution,” Jeremy Rifkin describes several requirements for a complete energy system, in a dramatic change that is well underway in Europe. These requirements include transforming every dwelling into a mini-powerplant; installing technology that separates hydrogen from water with excess energy in the daytime, so the hydrogen can be used to generate electricity in a fuel cell at night; using Internet technology to convert the electricity grid into a network that millions can use to share electricity with others; building a fleet of electric and fuel cell vehicles–cars, buses, trucks, trains; and installing charging stations where people can buy and sell electricity on the distributed electricity grid.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and David Crane wrote an op-ed recommending solar panels for every American home. They cite an 80 percent drop in price of the panels over 5 years. They cite millions of jobs that would be created by turning every American into an energy entrepreneur. They say that a million Germans have installed enough solar panels to provide close to 50 percent of the nation’s power. However, this statement is contradicted by a report from the International Energy Agency, which says Germany is producing 15 percent of its electricity from solar.
The Energy Agency provides the percentages of energy from all renewable sources, for: Israel 1, France 12, United States 13, Germany 21, Spain 30, Denmark 40, Portugal 47, Sweden 55, Canada 63, Norway 97, and Iceland 100. Truly amazing progress in some countries. We can do that. We need to do that.
A new Seattle office building, the Bullitt Center, is undergoing a one-year certification process called the Living Building Challenge, that requires water and energy self-sufficiency among a list of 20 demands. Only three buildings in the U.S. have earned Living Building certification. The Bullitt Center stores rainwater in a cistern and has a large array of solar panels on the roof.
The motivations for saving money and being independent of utilities may take hold among builders and businesses, especially if there are organizations to set standards and provide the expertise. Immunity from water, gas, heating oil, and electricity rate increases can be comforting.
D. DEALING WITH CHINA AND INDIA
But if we get North America and Europe on board in switching to renewables, what do we do about India and China? They are reportedly building new coal-fired electric generators at ten times the rate of the growth of renewable energy. With intermittent levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in Beijing and other cities, and with 1.2 million deaths in 2010 linked to air pollution, and with the cost of environmental degradation at about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of their GDP, the Chinese government might be willing to listen. Mr. Rifkin includes China among nations signing on to the “Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure” but the Chinese may need more coaxing.
Mr. Rifkin tells of persuading officials in San Antonio, Texas to opt for the renewables initiative. At first they were skeptical, so he hit on the idea of inviting them to Spain so they could see the progress for themselves. They went to Spain. It worked like magic. City officials soon agreed to a master plan to make San Antonio the first “post carbon” city in North America. Would it be possible to persuade officials from India and China to take a similar tour of Spain? It would let them see up close a working, practical, clean alternative to building more coal-fired generators. The Chinese might decide to use some of the cheap solar panels they are exporting.
A senior official in southwestern China pledged to cancel a planned petrochemical facility if a majority of residents expressed opposition. Online dissent had led to a demonstration in Kunming. Should the pledge lead to cancellation, it would be the latest project halted in China by public concerns over the environmental and health impact. Due to public protests, petrochemical facilities operations were suspended in Ningbo in 2012, shut down Dallan in 2011, and moved from Xiamen in 2007. New coal-fired generators might begin to stir similar protests. Shifting the emphasis from carbon-laden toward renewable energy could offer Chinese government officials a way to calm growing public fears about growing pollution. We can’t compel India and China to pursue the renewables alternative. But we can deprive them of any excuse not to. If seeing is believing for San Antonio, why not India? Or China? Or both?
Here at home, we need to begin. A solar system for an average house costs about $15,000 and would pay for itself in lower energy costs in 8 to 12 years. If the amount is borrowed, monthly payments would be manageable, about what we might expect to pay for financing a good “pre-owned” car.
America needs to be able to lead in protecting us all from destabilizing temperature changes. Millions of individuals and families have the means, can afford to do their part, in taking care of our planet and setting a good example for other countries, showing it can be done successfully. Leasing solar panels may be a less desirable option than buying, but either way, our atmosphere will be grateful.
CAN WE SHED THE HIDDEN HABIT?
POSTING OF FEBRUARY 20, 2013
For 100 years we have suffered the consequences of a bad habit voters don’t know they have, because the few people who know about it are keeping quiet.
A. MENTIONING THE CAUSE OF SERIOUS PROBLEMS
The following text was copied from the Center for Responsive Politics Website:
“A Center for Responsive Politics analysis of this cycle shows that the winners of House races in 2012 were the top spenders 93.6 percent of the time, which is an increase from 86 percent in 2010 — a year that was abnormally low, according to a previous CRP analysis. In the Senate, top spending candidates won 79 percent of the time, a slight decrease from 2010 when top spending Senate candidates won 81.6 percent of the time.”
(For CRP results from other elections dating back to 2004, see attachment to March 2012 posting.)
The Center has been reporting similar results, election after election, with only minor variations in the percentages, and without any high-profile challenges to their findings. With the percentages nearly always over 80, it is difficult to imagine how party, ideology, or candidates’ positions on the issues, for example, could influence voters as much as the amounts spent. This is remarkable because so few voters are aware they are being influenced, are electing the biggest spenders. Perhaps we can attribute this innocent habit to the subliminal impact of saturation campaign advertising. Every candidate for congressional office is trying to raise the most campaign contributions because of this voter habit. Every ex-lawmaker has been a candidate, and understands that voters elect the biggest spenders most of the time. Yet none has seen fit to warn voters about the consequences.
What this voter habit means, for example, is that regardless of a sterling record, of positive achievements while in office, incumbents will have to outspend challengers or be defeated. They may have to spend 2/3 of their waking hours raising funds for the next election, because the amount of campaign spending trumps all other issues affecting voter choice 80 percent of the time. And all this without voters having the faintest clue about their innocent habit, or how it reinforces the corrupting influence of special-interest campaign contributions, or how it enables the big donors to manipulate the outcomes of elections, or how it bends policy decisions out of shape. How many policy decisions are based on who gave and who got the biggest campaign contributions instead of on what circumstances require? 9 out of 10? 49 out of 50? Voters are kept in the dark about the damage and their part in it. Due to this habit, voters encourage money corruption without knowing it, and without being corrupt. Voters like to think they make careful, considered decisions, choosing candidates based on party, ideology, positions on issues, or similar reasons. Ex-lawmakers seem afraid to break the news, to cite abundant evidence that shatters this illusion.
B. REQUIRING LAWMAKERS TO SERVE SPECIAL INTERESTS
By our habit of electing the biggest spenders, we require our lawmakers to rely on getting more special-interest campaign contributions than challengers get, which they can use to sway our votes with the most campaign ads. We may require lawmakers to favor special interests over the rest of us in decisions on the environment, for example, by making them dependent on the big donors who give them the campaign money that helps them to get re-elected, and to keep doing favors for polluters. They don’t worry about any reaction from voters, who keep on electing the biggest spenders. This is why “our” lawmakers so often need to serve “them” instead of “us.”
C. SHEDDING THE HABIT
Registered voters, the electorate, our fourth branch of government, is the only major “interest group” in America that doesn’t lobby Congress as a group, one issue at a time (for voter lobbying details see next paragraph). By (1) lobbying our lawmakers, telling them what we want, we can (2) hold them accountable, monitor their actions at a Website, vote according to how they respond to our lobbying, which will (3) enable us to break our bad habit of electing the biggest spenders, which drives the campaign fund-raising frenzy, which reinforces the influence of special-interest money on our elections and on our national policy decisions. If we vote based on our lawmakers’ responses, we aren’t habitually electing the biggest spenders. We need to tell voters about their habit and the harm it is doing in order to motivate them to join in a process that involves the 3 steps, or to devise some other initiative, to find some way to shed their habit.
We have all the communications resources we need to enable millions of registered voters to go to a Website and read the summary of H. R. 676, a bill proposing “Medicare for Everybody” for example, then see it discussed pro & con, then take a poll to see whether we agree we need it (the official summary of H. R. 676 is attached to August 2011 posting). If 2/3 agree, at the same Website make it available to registered voters for lobbying our lawmakers to enact it, using a specialized software program. The same site would enable voters to see the pro & con lobbying results our lawmakers receive from us, and track their voting records and public statements to see if they are heeding requests from their employers, who hire them and pay them, and could just as easily fire them.
The entire electorate, all the registered voters, the fourth branch of our government, could lobby our lawmakers with one voice, one subject at a time. There are plenty of other bills pending in Congress, and plenty of new legislative proposals 2/3 of us could agree on (or could agree that we need to oppose). Millions of unpaid lobbyists, who are watching to see how their lawmakers will respond to lobbying, can make it difficult for Congress to ignore a direct request from 2/3 of their voting constituents, especially when the voter lobbying results are solidly for (or against) a proposed change, and on display for the all the world to see (for complete voter lobbying details see June 2008 posting). With 3 simple voter lobbying steps, we can purge the last traces of a bad voter habit.
D. BECOMING BETTER EMPLOYERS
If we voters are failing as the employers of the lawmakers we hire and pay, allowing them to serve every campaign donor, every paid lobbyist, every special interest, everybody but us, and at our expense, don’t we need to fix that? The only way for voters to finally at long last get our lawmakers to serve us is to lobby them. Is our failure to lobby when we have the means to do it a case of gross negligence? Can we voters reasonably expect to get what we want from Congress without doing what special interests do to get what they want?
If there is something we voters have the means to do that will enable us to gain parity with special interests, ending their domination, is that an option or an obligation? Does Congress have a bad performance record and a low approval rating because everybody except voters is lobbying, and getting at least some of what they want, and nearly always at the expense of the rest of us? Polluters bearing campaign contributions can buy permission from Congress to pollute, and the rest of us have to suffer the consequences.
We have to cut through the rigid bias that says registered voters, our electorate, the fourth branch of our government, must not do as special interests do. We are making a terrible mistake by arbitrarily deciding not to let our voters do what every other major “interest group” in America has been doing for the last 100 years. Are we being unfairly discriminatory against ourselves? This huge disparity is the core problem in our government. It allows advocates of special interests to dominate the policy agenda for their own benefit. Most voters would probably jump at the chance to join an effort to push back against the paid lobbyists.
What else needs to happen? What more has to go wrong, before we decide to give our voters a unified voice that speaks for the public interest? If there is constant special-interest lobbying pressure on one side of every issue and a vacuum on the other side, because the collective, coordinated voice of the voters is missing, things can only continue sliding in the wrong direction.
If special interests are using their resources to lobby and we voters aren’t using resources available to us, whose fault is that? If we keep losing by default, by not even trying, do we forfeit our right to complain about “those special interests,” energetically and freely using their resources, virtually unopposed, and therefore perpetually prevailing, in policy matters? If they’re lobbying, why aren’t we? What’s the matter with us? Lobbying is one of our duties as the employers of the 3 other branches of our government.
E. LIVING IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY
Just imagine. What if voters (lobbying and then voting according to lawmakers’ responses) were no longer electing candidates based on who spends the most? What if lawmakers no longer needed to outspend challengers by doing favors for dollars, by making policy under the influence of campaign contributions, and spending 2/3 of their waking hours raising money for the next campaign instead of attending to legislative duties?
What if lawmakers had to earn votes? What if voters were supporting or opposing incumbents based on their voting record and other aspects of their performance in office? And had a fourth branch Website with a database that would provide easy access to that information? Imagine a drastic departure from traditional politics in America. Imagine the unthinkable, the special interests’ worst nightmare, policy decisions based on what circumstances require, instead of on who gave and who got, based on the unburdened-by-dollars judgment of lawmakers and their constituents.
What would be the result if our lobbying efforts changed our basis for choosing candidates in a way that enables us to declare independence of our bad habit of electing the biggest spenders? We could dump the habit that has for 100 years interfered with voting in our own best interests, the habit that gives money so much power, that translates into policy decisions that benefit the few at the expense of the many in our political system, where a few polluters can pay lawmakers for permission to pollute, for bad policy that adversely affects the health and longevity of the many. Without any new laws or regulations, we can implement the ultimate reform: voting based on our lawmakers’ performance. Isn’t this what the drafters of the Constitution had in mind? When we purge our bad habit, it’s within reach.
Once we have public discussion about a proposal to break a voter habit, and then decide to do it by lobbying our lawmakers, the possibilities are wide open. Registered voters, the electorate, our fourth branch of government, can cease being the sole, stubborn, grouchy, Congress-bashing holdout, and be of good cheer, finally at long last joining every other major “interest group” in America in lobbying lawmakers. Better 100 years late than never. And lobbying will bring us better results than Congress-bashing.
Millions of unpaid lobbyists can outlobby the hundreds of seemingly invincible paid lobbyist that swarm over Congress. As formidable as paid (and paying) lobbyists are, the only thing a candidate needs more than the most dollars is the most voters. When private health insurers deploy paid lobbyists against H. R. 676, as they certainly will, we can outnumber them. And monitor actions of our lawmakers, and bestow “term limits” on the big spenders who choose to ignore our wishes and serve the big donors instead.
When we registered voters begin truly functioning as the hiring, paying and firing employers of our lawmakers, and as a separate, independent, coequal fourth branch of our government, we can begin testing political power that has gone unused for at least a century. Our success will depend on getting strong public support for a proposal to rid ourselves of a habit.
A BUSINESS MODEL FOR GOVERNMENT?
POSTING OF DECEMBER 27, 2012
To better understand why government doesn’t work, we need to compare it to something that is similar, and works.
A. THE PROBLEM NOBODY MENTIONS
If government doesn’t work as well as business, can we trace the various reasons to a habit voters have that they don’t even know about, because nobody writes or talks about it? Voters elect the biggest spenders among the candidates in congressional elections 80 percent of the time.
This innocent, unconscious habit, well-known to candidates, understandably causes them to scramble to raise the most money, so they can be the biggest spenders, and win the most elections, which understandably makes them indebted to big campaign donors, who understandably want special favors in return for their dollars. All this leads to policy decisions that benefit these few special interests, nearly always at the expense of the general public, which means bad management in government for most of us.
If voters weren’t reinforcing the influence of money by electing the biggest spenders, the Citizens United case would have little impact. But with the unintended help of an innocent voter habit, the increased influence of more money means greater distorting effects on our elections and policy-making. Without this voter habit of electing the biggest spenders, candidates wouldn’t gain any advantage from spending big dollars, and donors wouldn’t get any favors for giving big dollars. The whole campaign financing system would collapse. Without this habit, voters would be free to do what they should be doing: consciously choosing based on party, ideology, or candidates’ positions on the issues, instead of unwittingly voting for whoever spends the most.
An innocent voter habit can cause corruption without voters knowing it, and without voters being corrupt. This hidden habit may be the hidden cause of the bad management of a government that consistently serves the few at the expense of the many, that has so many people saying government doesn’t work. If an innocent voter habit has established a tyranny of dollars over our elections and policy-making, only voters can stop it, can break their habit of electing the biggest spenders, and break the cycle of corruption.
B. STOP THE BAD MANAGEMENT
We voters need to take a businesslike attitude toward our employees in Congress, an attitude which assumes that good management in government consists of serving the many, and not just the few at the expense of the many. When, for example, big campaign donations persuade lawmakers to favor a few polluters, who can buy permission to pollute, and the many have to suffer the consequences, that’s bad management in government.
In business we decide what we want employees to do, tell them, and then hold them accountable. Why don’t we do that in government? If we voters start telling our employees in Congress what we want), aren’t we more likely to hold them accountable, and stop re-electing lawmakers who ignore us, and serve the special interests instead? As a bonus benefit of telling lawmakers what we want, and then voting according to how they respond, we are no longer voting according to who spends the most. A giant step forward for America.
If we know what to do to get business and government to work, but don’t do it in government, does this explain why business works and government doesn’t? The employers, the registered voters, the electorate, the people who do the hiring and paying, also do way too little firing of “our” lawmakers when they serve every campaign contributor, every special interest, every paid lobbyist, everybody but us. This major voter failure, due mostly to the habit of electing the biggest spenders, is one of the reasons for so much bad management in our government.
C. STOP THE IDEOLOGY AND BRIBES
We need to have public discussion to challenge and question tolerating in government what we would never tolerate in business, such as relying on ideology instead of evidence in making policy decisions.
For example, if a particular business had an ironclad ideology about never raising prices no matter what, and similar, competitive businesses were finding it necessary to raise prices, the inflexible holdout is going to be in trouble. Or maybe gone. Some in that company would rebel and speak up about raising prices. So why aren’t consumers/taxpayers/voters lobbying their lawmakers to drop an anti-tax dogma that wrecks chances of balancing a budget? Who will rescue our country from hardcore ideologues who insist on bad management that threatens workable government? Would we rescue our business, but let our government go under?
We would never try to run a business using two competing sets of facts. But this is how we are trying to run our government. The ideologues in Congress insist they are entitled not only to their own opinions, but to their own facts, to justify their opinions, while trashing any reported facts that interfere with their opinions. Why do we wonder why government doesn’t work? The only remedy is for earthling voters to finally stop re-electing other-worldly lawmakers who reject all the worldly facts they have decided they don’t like.
By allowing campaign-dollars-for-political-favors bribes and far-out ideology to invade the process of making government policy, have we decided government is less important than business, and decided to give up? In business we wisely prosecute bribes and shun ideology; in government we can’t get enough of either. Don’t we need to accept in government some of the same sensible restraints business requires? Could publicly discussing such questions show the need to bring the conduct of government closer to the proven, reliable standards we have established for business?
D. START LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
In government we also need to learn from experience as we do in business. To do that we may need to have public discussion about what we should be learning from our experience in policy matters, that corresponds to the private discussions we have in a business.
For example, members in the House tell us that we must cut government spending and must avoid any “job killing” rise in tax rates. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average annual job growth rate in the Clinton years, 1993-2001, was 2.4 percent and in the Bush years, 2001-2009, 0.2 percent. In the Clinton years, 23 million jobs were created after much-maligned tax increases, compared to 3 million jobs created in the Bush years after highly-touted tax cuts.
If, according to fashionable ideology, tax cuts lead to job creation, there should have been a huge spike in the number of jobs after the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, instead of the anemic 0.2 percent rise over nearly a decade. Opposing “job killing” tax increases seems to be an example of a refusal of some lawmakers to let go of deaf and blind ideology, in order to learn from experience, in the form of reported facts, about what is going on in the real world, essential in any enterprise. To run a business or a government, you need to be able to learn from experience.
Voters also need to learn from experience. Voters who complain about “gridlock” in Washington sat and watched for 2 years while lawmakers who openly declare they want the president to fail, blocked nearly everything the president wanted to do. Voters didn’t learn a thing. In November they re-elected nearly all these same lawmakers. Why do we still have gridlock in D. C.? Because we voted for gridlock. We should know better than to re-elect all those lawmakers who are proud of seeing to it that nothing gets done.
E. START TAKING GOVERNMENT SERIOUSLY
We have all the communications resources we need in order to have the public discussion that will enable us to understand why government is more important than business, not less, because for example, government can do things business can’t, such as use policy tools to create conditions that encourage economic growth (see example in D. above).
We need to have the public discussion that would indicate that we, the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch in our system, have no excuse for not making our own government work to serve us, the many, instead of serving the special-interest few.
Our government will keep failing the majority-rule and good-management tests until the weakest branch of our government has become the strongest, by lobbying lawmakers and then holding them accountable, and providing policy leadership to benefit the majority, what the 3 other branches can’t offer us even if they want to. A voter habit has locked them in to a system that requires bad management, serving only the few. Our elected officials need to get campaign funds from the few, to get re-elected by the many, who have a habit of choosing the biggest spenders, thus perpetuating the cycle of bad management. Without this bad voter habit, would government work as well as business?
If millions of voters were lobbying their lawmakers, more effectively than the surrounded and outnumbered special interests, government would be more businesslike. If voters were lobbying, as special interests have been doing for 100 years, we’d have policy based on what circumstances require, as understood by voters, not based on warped ideology or on who gave and who got big campaign contributions. Voters can and should end the corrupting influence of money on elections and on policy-making, by dropping the bad habit, which will enable them to implement the ultimate “reform,” the end of campaign finance. We can do it at the polling place, by ignoring all campaign ads, and by focusing on our lawmakers’ responses to our lobbying, by supporting only those lawmakers who serve us.
Why don’t voters treat their lawmakers like employees? Why don’t voters decide what they want their employees to do, tell them, and then hold them accountable, as we do in business? We all know what to do to get our government to work. We all do it in our businesses every day. What are we all waiting for?
Comparing government with business may help us to see how we can become better employers of our lawmakers. Money is what persuades lawmakers to serve “special-interest” campaign donors instead of the people who elect them and pay them, their employers. Efforts to stop or limit the money spent on election campaigns will be thwarted, as in the Citizens United case, or will to some extent fail. The permanent remedy is not to limit amounts spent but to remove the incentive for the spending.
If we can trace most political corruption to a voter habit, voters can change the habit by lobbying lawmakers, as every other major “interest group” in America has been doing for 100 years, and by voting according to how lawmakers respond, so we are no longer voting based on who spends the most, the incentive for the big campaign spending. This is how we begin functioning as the true hiring, lobbying, paying, and firing employers of our lawmakers. Carefully keeping track of how they respond will enable us to bestow “term limits” on those who rudely ignore our expressed wishes.
The objectives for business and government should be the same: good management. If lawmakers start serving the voters instead of the special interests, if we get our employees working for their employers full time, as they do in business, that may be as close as we will come to making our government work as well as our businesses. The result may be less than perfect, but it’s worth a try.
CAN WE STOP THE CORPORATE COUP?
POSTING OF JULY 23, 2012
For the first time, there is high probability that corporations and banks can use their “resources” (money) to buy enough seats in Congress to gain control of policy decisions in the areas of corporate and bank regulation. Judging by decisions about policy matters that favor corporate interests, the House and the Supreme Court are already controlled by corporations, or by a political party that is controlled by corporations.
The House wants to cut the budget of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and is seeking ways to cut the budget of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in efforts to keep these agencies from enforcing rules. CFPB is proposing simplified mortgage forms, with the support of consumer advocates and industry groups. Doesn’t matter in the least to the House ideologues who see all regulators as harming businesses.
The Supreme Court may be the biggest deregulator of all. It would be hard to imagine a more corporate-friendly ruling than “Citizens United,” especially when it took such a long overreach, to answer a question that nobody asked, in order to repeal existing law, so as to liberate “corporate speech,” which is now virtually unlimited. The bank/corporate hand on the Senate and on the White House may have less control but is still much too heavy.
A. BACK TO 2008
If large banks and corporations can use unlimited money to elect nearly all the candidates they want, these grateful lawmakers will obediently implement nearly all the deregulation their owners want. Too-big-to-fail banks are even bigger than ever and will resume making bad bets (some of them have never let up), and will need to be bailed out again, at even greater cost to taxpayers.
The big corporation/big bank policy agendas, once implemented, will propel us right back to 2008, as if there were no lessons to learn from the multiple disasters. Some candidates are already promising to work to repeal Dodd-Frank if elected in November, already in the pocket of the banks, and no doubt generously funded by them.
B. VOTERS CAN BLOCK THE WAY
The only branch of government special interests can’t buy up or take over, the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch, will have to push back. But is there a way for voters to block a takeover of some areas of government policy by banks, corporations and other special interests? Yes. Simply by doing for the first time in history what every other major “interest group” in America has been doing every day of the year for the last 100 years: lobbying lawmakers.
One way to proceed is for the fourth branch of our government to form and finance a service organization which would provide necessary resources. Registered voters would be able to read a bill at a fourth branch Website, watch it discussed pro & con at the same site, take a poll to see if 2/3 are in favor of the bill (to determine whether to make it available for lobbying) and if so, voters could use specialized software to lobby their lawmakers pro & con from the same Website (for details see June 2008 posting). The same site would enable voters to see the pro & con lobbying results received by each lawmaker, and track the voting records and public statements of incumbents to see whether they are heeding the wishes of voters.
When corporations and banks lobby lawmakers for further deregulation, with the implied promise of unlimited campaign contributions, voters need to lobby the same lawmakers to maintain essential regulation, with the implied threat to switch votes. If incumbents continue taking campaign money and supporting deregulation, they will lose the election if enough voters switch support to challengers who campaign on maintaining Dodd-Frank.
Voters lobbying for what they want, and backing it up by voting only for candidates who serve them, is very likely the only force that can stem the banking/corporate tide. Only steadfast voters can stand in the way of eventually getting a Congress in which 75 percent of lawmakers represent big banks, big corporations, and other deep-pockets special interests.
C. DOING WHAT SPECIAL INTERESTS DO
Do voters have something to learn from special interests? Absolutely, by doing what every other major “interest group” in America is doing: lobbying lawmakers and then supporting them, or not, depending on whether they respond favorably to lobbying, or not.
If we are voting for incumbents based on how they respond to our lobbying, we aren’t going to re-elect those who ignore our expressed wishes, who disrespect us and snub us, no matter how many attack ads they unload on a challenger. Voters will feel insulted by attack ads that prop up lawmakers who brush off the lobbying of most voters. We will be adequately motivated to dump the incumbents who serve special interests instead of serving us, and at our expense, by pushing us all the way back to 2008, for example.
For each congressional contest, the contrasting positions on issues of the incumbents and challengers; the public statements, amounts of campaign contributions accepted, sources of campaign funding, and the voting record for each incumbent, would be on display at the fourth branch Website.
The availability of this information for all to see, and the willingness of highly motivated voters to use it (in order to avoid a return to 2008) would encourage pro-regulation candidates to run for office, even on low budgets, knowing that concerned and informed voters would favor them, regardless of who spends how much on which kinds of attack ads. By supporting large numbers of candidates who are naturally allied with voters, who are willing to act in the general public interest, voters can keep lawmakers who are owned and operated by special interests from dominating Congress.
D. WE HAVE NO CHOICE
If we are still getting government policy dictated by special interests, because voters have stubbornly resisted joining the hundreds of other major “interest groups” in America that lobby Congress, can we finally decide to do something that is run-of-the-mill routine for everybody but us? Can we trace most of our complaints about “those politicians” to the fact that everybody but us is lobbying lawmakers? And usually getting what they want, and usually at our expense? Polluters can lobby lawmakers, and for a price, buy loose regulations, buy permission to pollute all of us.
Shifting the majority in the House in 2010 was only the beginning of the impact of the Citizens United decision. Changing the majority in the Senate and making the House more lop-sided seem likely if money talks and voters don’t answer. We will have to lobby just to keep from losing more ground. If the procedure described in the June 2008 posting isn’t acceptable, somebody, somewhere, is smart enough to find a way. If we want to preserve Dodd-Frank, we are going to have to lobby Congress to keep it, using a bill or a resolution. Is the bright prospect of voters regularly lobbying, becoming an effective, independent, co-equal fourth branch of our government, worth our effort? Can we afford to duck the challenge?
The only major “interest group” that can be trusted to put the general public interest ahead of the special interests is also the only group that isn’t frequently, systematically lobbying lawmakers. The branch of government our country most needs to hear from will have to intervene in policy matters. Voters, who are getting hurt worst by the influence of money, are the only conceivable countervailing force against it in our government. Not the White House. Not the Congress. Least of all the courts. It’s up to us. The only people we can rely on. There is nobody else left.
CAN VOTERS LEARN TO AVOID THESE MISTAKES?
POSTING OF MARCH 27, 2012
There is no shortage of suggestions about what lawmakers need to do differently to finally get government to work. But American voters need to accept their share of responsibility for our problems. As much as we enjoy blaming “those politicians” in Congress for everything that is going wrong in government, it’s both them and us. But mostly us.
If we can finally resolve to examine the evidence everybody wants to ignore, and see that it is valid, we registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government will have an opportunity to end our continuing mistakes. The first essential requirement is to suspend judgment about who is to blame for malfunctions in government until we consider the evidence carefully. Our multiple serious voter errors include but are not limited to:
A. ELECTING THE BIGGEST SPENDERS
The evidence we ignore shows that the whole campaign finance system is driven by voters electing the candidates who spend the most, 80 percent of the time in the 2010 congressional elections. The Center for Responsive Politics reported this result and has been reporting similar results for 20 years. What the 80 percent means is that every other consideration, including party, ideology, positions on issues, matters less to us in making our decisions than the amount of money spent in the campaigns. And without even knowing we are choosing according to spending. But there are no reports that the evidence has been challenged. We want to believe we decide based on party, ideology, issues. Perhaps we are under the nagging, subconscious influence of persistent, emotionally charged campaign advertising. For details see Section A. of September posting.
B. REINFORCING THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY
Electing the biggest spenders as described in Section A. above has the effect of reinforcing the influence of money on the outcomes of elections. So every incumbent wants to be able to outspend challengers in order to buy the most votes in order to get re-elected. They do favors for donor dollars. The only remedy for the growing power and reach and availability of cash, and the non-stop fund-raising efforts of candidates, is for voters to stop electing the biggest spenders. If we can bring it off, this could be the most important and effective “campaign finance reform” in our history. At the voting booth.
Nobody likes to acknowledge that our innocent voter habit is what drives the candidates’ fund-raising frenzy. But we need to continue asking whether this is what the uncomfortable evidence shows.
C. FAILING TO LOBBY OUR LAWMAKERS
The June 2008 posting describes how voter lobbying would work. Voters fail to do what every other major “interest group” in America is doing. This explains why other “interest groups” have more influence on lawmakers than the registered voters. For details see Section A. of February posting.
As a bonus benefit of lobbying that changes voter habits, voters can push for useful things like H.R. 676, the single-payer “Medicare for Everybody” (not just seniors) legislation. It requires only half the current premiums, with no co-pays or deductibles. And it is the only up-and-running health insurance system the country can afford. After it is discussed on television, most voters will probably jump at the chance to press their lawmakers to enact it. For details see “Families Will Pay Less” and “Business Will Pay Less” in the official summary of H.R. 676 attached to August posting.
D. REQUIRING OUR LAWMAKERS TO SERVE SPECIAL INTERESTS
By electing the biggest spenders and reinforcing the influence of money, we require our lawmakers to rely on getting the most special interest campaign contributions, which they use to buy our votes with the most campaign ads. We require lawmakers to serve the special interests by making them dependent on those who have and give the money. We can insist that they serve us only if we can decide to vote them out for serving everybody but us. A proposed new fourth branch service organization can offer the communications resources needed to enable the registered voters to do exactly that. For details see Sections B. and C. of September posting.
E. FAILING TO MAKE USE OF OUR COMMUNICATIONS RESOURCES
If other major “interest groups” lobby Congress, why can’t we registered voters do that? Whenever we decide to fund a service organization that enables us to read bills, see them discussed, see if 2/3 of us favor them, and then lobby for them, voters can outlobby any and all of the special interests combined. For details see June 2008 posting.
F. FAILING TO FUNCTION AS THE EMPLOYERS OF OUR LAWMAKERS
When we hire, pay, and fire lawmakers without telling them what we expect of them, we fail to do what any public or private employer needs to do. And we leave the door wide open for anybody and everybody but us to tell “our” lawmakers what they want, acting as if they are the employers of the people we voters hire and pay to work for us. The answer is to lobby our lawmakers, then watch them, and then vote them out of office if they don’t work to serve us. For details see Section C. of February posting.
G. ELECTING IDEOLOGUES WHO BRING US DREAMLAND GOVERNMENT
Conservative ideologues don’t want us to rely on reported facts and evidence when these get in the way of their ideology. They would like to suppress all evidence and reported facts that interfere with what they have decided they want to believe. Thus, influential people in the news and information media that rely on reported facts and evidence are called liberal as a pejorative, and treated as the enemy for their habit of telling it like it is, when ideologues want tell it like it isn’t. Brave and bold ideologues can ignore evidence and reported facts when engaging in stout and principled defense of their ideology. Only lily-livered liberals worry about reported facts.
For example, ideologues who deny climate change never explain why, if there is no change in air temperature, 2000 plant and animal species have moved an average of 13.3 yards higher in altitude and 11 miles higher in latitude in the last 10 years, in efforts escape the heat, to adapt and survive. Do plants and animals understand what ideologues don’t or won’t? Evidently. But it is important to keep in mind that only the plants and animals that are liberals are moving to higher ground. The plants and animals that are conservatives don’t believe in climate change and are staying put.
As ideologues get lazier, they become increasingly separated from reality. Shunning evidence and reported facts allows them to live in a land where no tax increases are ever needed for any reason. For details see July posting.
H. TOLERATING IN GOVERNMENT WHAT WE WOULDN’T DO IN A BUSINESS
Evidently we have decided government is less worthy of being taken seriously than business, even though government is more important. We would never attempt to run a business on ideology. But we do it in our government every day. Does this help explain why business works and government doesn’t? For details see Section B. of July posting.
I. ELECTING LAWMAKERS AND LEAVING THEM STRANDED
We send lawmakers to Congress and then cut them adrift, without any direction from the people who elected them. So the special-interest paid lobbyists step into the vacuum with their own agendas. We don’t tell our lawmakers what we want except indirectly by opinion polls. Our lawmakers hear weekly, daily, hourly, directly, from everybody who has a very focused policy agenda. For details see Sections B. and C. of January posting.
We voters are getting in the way of the lawmakers who are trying to do what is best for the country. They are going to have a hard time “making government work” as long as voters persist in a habit that requires policy decisions to be made based on favors for dollars, based on who gave and who got, instead of on what circumstances require.
Understandably, nobody wants to believe that voters could be partly to blame for what is going wrong in government. But if voters were lobbying, and voting according to how lawmakers respond, we wouldn’t be voting for the biggest spenders, reinforcing the influence of money, causing corruption without even knowing it, and without even being corrupt. For the good of the country, we need to be guided by the evidence, no matter how embarrassing to voters. For details see April 2011 posting.
There have been no reports of any serious, high-profile challenges to the election- after-election findings of the Center for Responsive Politics, the evidence that we voters obey a blind habit we aren’t aware of. Electing the biggest spenders triggers a cascade of consequences that is very damaging to our system of government. To break the habit, all voters need to do is what all other major “interest groups” in America have been doing for 100 years. Lobbying. Better 100 years late than never.
If we registered voters were lobbying our lawmakers, and then voting based on whether they respond favorably, we would not:
1. elect the biggest spenders 80% of the time, and consequently
2. drive candidates’ efforts to raise the most money, and in the process
3. reinforce the influence of dollars on elections and on policy decisions,
4. allow money corruption in government to run out of control,
5. allow our lawmakers to serve the special interests at our expense,
6. fail to function as the employers of lawmakers we hire, pay, and fire, and
7. elect lawmakers and then leave them with little or no guidance from their employers, from the people who hired them and pay them.
We have to learn to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Voters do themselves harm by electing the biggest spenders, who have the biggest favors-for-dollars obligations to special interests, which turn lawmakers away from doing what is in the best interests of most voters.
THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT, DESCRIBING RESULTS OF THE 2010 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS, WAS COPIED FROM THE CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS WEBSITE:
In only about 85 percent of House races did the candidate who spent the most experience victory on Election Day, a relative low in recent years, according to a preliminary analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. Candidates’ spending correlated to success in 29 out of 35 Senate races — or 83 percent — that had been called as of Thursday morning.
By comparison, in 2008, the biggest spender was victorious in 93 percent of House races and in 86 percent of Senate races. In 2006, top spenders won 94 percent of House races and 73 percent of Senate races. And in 2004, 98 percent of House seats went to candidates who spent the most, as did 88 percent of Senate seats.
DO WE NEED A FOURTH BRANCH ORGANIZATION?
POSTING OF AUGUST 22, 2011
To reach our goal of getting more involved in the process of government, the registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, will have to form and support a service organization to perform key functions.
Our first effort should be to get H.R. 676, “Medicare for everybody” enacted (for details see postings of April and July 2009). It is the only health insurance system we can afford. An Erskine Bowles/Alan Simpson op-ed in August said bluntly we have to get growing health care expenses under control or the country will go bankrupt. They did not endorse any particular health insurance plan. According to a July report, many businessmen are saying that a health insurance system controlled by private insurers is not sustainable.
Our first step toward forming a fourth branch organization should be to have a meeting attended by people interested in serving the organization, or supervising, in 10 areas of responsibility. We need an individual to:
1. recruit and direct volunteers to raise money to finance activities described in 3. to 5. below.
2. serve as treasurer to establish procedures for contributing money; prepare periodic financial statements which would be posted on our Website.
3. recruit and direct volunteers to assist in building a Website to perform the functions described in the June 2008 posting. It would enable lobbying voters to choose yes or no on a proposed bill and let lawmakers know how each registered voter in their state or district responded. It would have to be very secure.
4. buy television time for discussions (see 9. below), and buy opinion polling, two of the resources needed to make voter lobbying work as described in the June 2008 posting.
5. establish a postal address, an E-mail address, and a phone number, and recruit retired volunteers to handle routine calls and correspondence and get direct messages to the right people.
6. recruit and direct volunteer retired executives to call or visit, as may be required, CEOs or CFOs of large corporations and where necessary, traveling and lodging at their own expense. These volunteers would explain what’s in the single-payer for the corporations (see “Business Will Pay Less” in the Summary of H.R. 676 below), and ask for their support in the lobbying effort. If they agree, we should ask whether we can include the name of their organization in a list of corporate supporters at our Website. Nearly all labor unions support HR 676.
A bonus benefit of changing to a single-payer is that the cost of health insurance will no longer to added to the prices of goods and services. No other country in the world does that. One result is that for a while at least, more American cars were made in Ontario than in Michigan. Why? Canada has a single-payer, and American health insurance adds roughly $1,500 to the price of a car. When America gets a single-payer, those jobs can come home. With our businesses suddenly on a level playing field, exports of everything would get a boost. More jobs.
7. recruit and direct representatives of our fourth branch organization to work the committee hearings in Congress, to reply to the insurance industry representatives and insist on adequate time to present balanced views, get thrown out of hearings if necessary, call a press conference, describe what happened. Hearings on HR 676 will take place if there is a persuasive lobbying effort by voters and corporations. The outcomes of these efforts by volunteers would be posted on our organization’s Website. These would be D.C. area residents.
8. investigate opportunities we are missing, starting with use of public/private partnerships (P3s) to create jobs at no cost to taxpayers. A November 2010 newspaper op-ed says the $180 billion in private capital now available for infrastructure projects would provide over 4 million new jobs. If we have millions of unemployed people looking for work, billions in unemployed capital looking for work, and a $2 trillion backlog in infrastructure repair and replacement that needs work, doesn’t it make sense to start the work, and boost economic recovery?
With advocates of P3s as diverse as labor unions and the United States Chamber of Commerce, they should be off the ground by now. We need a volunteer, who would have several good leads, to find out why nothing is reported happening, who or what is getting in the way. The results of these inquiries would be posted on our Website. The question isn’t why do P3s. The question is why not. Somebody needs to ask why that $180 billion isn’t already going into workers’ pockets.
9. work on televised debate and discussion formats, make recommendations about participants, who and how many, and seating arrangements for each televised discussion about HR 676 and other matters. These are the discussions that would precede a poll, and then making a question available for voter lobbying.
10. make recommendations for all phases of setting up the fourth branch organization, with a list of decisions that need to be made, questions that need to be discussed at a subsequent meeting.
The paid lobbyists are busy telling lawmakers what they want and holding them accountable with the implicit threat of limiting campaign contributions. Some will tell our lawmakers they don’t want HR 676. There are no unpaid lobbyists telling lawmakers oh yes, 2/3 of us really do want HR 676, with the implicit “or else” of withholding votes. There will be unpaid lobbyists if we have an organization.
THE FOLLOWING TEXT WAS COPIED FROM THE WEBSITE OF CONGRESSMAN JOHN CONYERS OF MICHIGAN:
H.R. 676, “The United States National Health Care Act,”
Or “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All”
Introduced by Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
Brief Summary of Legislation
The United States National Health Care Act (USNHC) establishes a unique American universal health insurance program with single payer financing. The bill would create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system that improves and expands the already existing Medicare program to all U.S. residents, and all residents living in U.S. territories. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that all Americans will have access, guaranteed by law, to the highest quality and most cost effective health care services regardless of their employment, income or health care status. In short, health care becomes a human right. With 47 million uninsured Americans, and another 50 million who are underinsured, the time has come to change our inefficient and costly fragmented non-system of health care.
Who is Eligible
Every person living or visiting in the United States and the U.S. Territories would receive a United States National Health Insurance Card and ID number once they enroll at the appropriate location. Social Security numbers may not be used when assigning ID cards.
Health Care Services Covered
This program will cover all medically necessary services, including primary care, inpatient care, outpatient care, emergency care, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, hearing services, long term care, palliative care, podiatric care, mental health services, dentistry, eye care, chiropractic, and substance abuse treatment. Patients have their choice of physicians, providers, hospitals, clinics, and practices. There are no co-pays or deductibles under this act.
Conversion To A Non-Profit Health Care System
Doctors, hospitals, and clinics will continue to operate as privately entities. However, they will be unable to issue stock. Private health insurers shall be prohibited under this act from selling coverage that duplicates the benefits of the USNHC program. Exceptions to this rule include coverage for cosmetic surgery, and other medically unnecessary treatments. Those workers who are displaced as the result of the transition to a non-profit health care system will be the first to be hired and retrained under this act. Furthermore, workers would receive their same salary for up to two years, and would then be eligible for unemployment benefits. The conversion to a not-for- profit health care system will take place as soon as possible, but not to exceed a 15 year period, through the sale of U.S. treasury bonds.
Cost Containment Provisions/ Reimbursement
The USNHC program will negotiate reimbursement rates annually with physicians, allow for global budgets (monthly lump sums for operating expenses) for hospitals, and negotiate prices for prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment. A “Medicare For All Trust Fund” will be established to ensure a dedicated stream of funding. An annual Congressional appropriation is also authorized to ensure optimal levels of funding for the program, in particular, to ensure the requisite number of physicians and nurses need in the health care delivery system.
Families Will Pay Less
Currently, the average family of four covered under an employee health plan spends a total of $4,225 on health care annually – $2,713 on premiums and another $1,522 on medical services, drugs and supplies (Employer Health Benefits 2006 Annual Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey.) This figure does not include the additional 1.45% Medicare payroll tax levied on employees. A study by Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Research and Policy concluded that under H.R. 676, a family of four making the median family income of $56,200 per year would pay about $2,700 for all health care costs.
Business Will Pay Less
In 2006, health insurers charged employers an average of $11,500 for a health plan for a family of four. On average, the employer paid 74% of this premium, or $8,510 per year. This figure does not include the additional 1.45% payroll tax levied on employers for Medicare. Under H.R. 676, employers would pay a 4.75% payroll tax for all health care costs. For an employee making the median family income of $56,200 per year, the employer would pay about $2,700.
The Nation Will Pay About the Same, While Covering All Americans
Savings from reduced administration, bulk purchasing, and coordination among providers will allow coverage for all Americans while reducing health care inflation in the long term. Annual savings from enacting H.R. 676 are estimated at $387 billion (Baker).
Proposed Funding For USNHC Program
* Maintain current federal and state funding for existing health care programs
* Establish employer/employee payroll tax of 4.75% (includes present 1.45% Medicare tax)
* Establish a 5% health tax on the top 5% of income earners, 10% tax on top 1% of wage earners
* ¼ of 1% stock transaction tax
* Close corporate tax loopholes
* Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the highest income earners
CAN WE AFFORD IDEOLOGY?
POSTING OF JULY 20, 2011
Perhaps ideology is so popular, so widely accepted, because it is so much easier than thinking. There is no need to bother with disturbing, annoying, inconvenient reported facts that only get in the way of what really matters. How much more fun to be care-free, happy, and self-satisfied with your intellectual purity!
A. IDEOLOGY V. CURIOSITY
Partisanship and ideology are easier than curiosity, and favored by lazy minds. Have we had a massive failure of curiosity? Have we let partisanship and ideology interfere with a normal and essential human faculty that assures survival: asking what circumstances require, wanting to know what is happening in all our various environments and areas of responsibility in order to preserve our own self-interest? Is ideology producing a curiosity deficit?
Knee-jerk partisans and ideologues need to lack curiosity about anything other than what they consider politically and ideologically correct, but only in these areas. Shouldn’t we know instinctively that there is something really wrong with turning curiosity on and off? Giving it free rein in some of the everyday areas of our experience but not in others? What ideology does is shut down or limit curiosity. Do ideologues deny whatever comes in conflict with their ideology? If there is evidence of climate change that interferes with ideology, they don’t want to hear about it. We are increasingly seeing the triumph of ideology over evidence, which is regularly brushed aside by those who consider it an annoyance. Are some people putting their ideology ahead of reality? Can they have both? Or do they need to choose?
If you have pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist, you don’t need to ask yourself, or him, whether after increasing the national debt $1.1 trillion to pay for the Iraq war, $2.4 trillion to pay for the Bush tax cuts, and $1.1 trillion for Medicare Part D, (all of this done with no objection from many of those still in Congress) raising taxes at some point might be necessary. We are deciding to leave it to posterity to either pay down the monster debt or pay the ballooning interest on a growing debt. Can anyone seriously believe we can deal with a $14 trillion debt by cutting expenses, without getting back some of the tax revenues? And at a time when federal taxes are at their lowest level in more than 60 years? The Congressional Budget Office estimated that federal taxes would consume just 14.8 percent of GDP this year. The last year in which revenues were lower in relation to GDP was 1950, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
If the Bush high-end tax cuts cost the Treasury $700 billion, if these already well-off people are now $700 billion richer, did anyone ever explain why they shouldn’t resume paying their fair share of taxes, if that will help balance the budget? Shouldn’t we exercise curiosity and ask? It is discouraging that so many in Congress allow themselves to be intimidated by Mr. Norquist. But the pledge does offer the benefit of taking the easy way out, taking refuge from the responsibility of asking whether there are any circumstances in which tax increases might be necessary, justified, and affordable. They have pledged to stop thinking in perhaps the most important area of policy, to abandon their responsibility as lawmakers.
Has rigid ideology become an excuse to kick the can down the road? Why does anybody think our grandchildren will be better able to handle this problem than we are? Don’t we need to ask? If we are deciding to make our grandchildren pay the taxes we are unwilling to pay, and it looks as if this is the case, how reasonable and ethical is that? Is it a form of child abuse?
Ideology is the lazy person’s refuge from the responsibility to deal with certain problems, but not all problems, to weigh the pros and cons of their decisions. If you are a true ideologue, you can stop wondering about whether your ideology might do more harm than good. Or whether thinking might be better than not thinking. You don’t have to worry about whether your efforts may have an effect that is the opposite of what you intend. When curiosity is gone, loyalty to ideology is all that is left.
B. BUSINESS V. GOVERNMENT
We do in government what we could never afford to do in a business. We make policy decisions based on ideology rather than on reported facts. You can’t run a business on ideology for very long. Your competition is paying attention to what is happening in the real world. Do these contrasting attitudes toward ideology help explain why business works and government doesn’t? In business we wisely shun ideology. In government we can’t get enough of it. We all understand, maybe even Mr. Norquist, that we can’t allow our businesses to run on ideology. If so, does it give us an important clue as to one of the things we need to change in order to finally at long last get government to work?
In government we also have to learn from experience, as we do in business. To do that we may need to have public discussion about what we should be learning from experience in government, that corresponds to the private discussions we have in a business.
For example, we are told by members in the House that we must cut spending and must not raise “job killing” taxes. However, Bruce Bartlett, former advisor to Ronald Reagan and Treasury official in the George W. Bush Administration, has said that spending cuts slowed economic activity in 1973, and tax increases in 1982 and 1993 were followed by expansions of the economy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average annual job growth rate in the Clinton years, 1993-2001, was 2.4 percent and in the Bush years, 2001-2009, 0.2 percent. In the Clinton years, 23 million jobs were created after tax increases, compared to 3 million jobs created in the Bush years after tax cuts.
According to fashionable ideology, if tax increases “kill jobs” and tax cuts lead to job creation, there should have been a stupendous spike in the number of new jobs right after the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, instead of the anemic 0.2 percent rise over a decade. Did the cuts really help all those “job creators” create jobs? Evidently not. We need to ask the ideologues why that didn’t happen. Since they are betting our country’s future on their ideology that they are forcing on us by threatening a government shutdown, don’t they owe us an explanation? Let’s have it. Isn’t the burden on responsible adults to explain what they are doing and saying?
Ideologues in the House seem to have no desire to learn from any reported fact that interferes with their ideology. They would probably try to discredit Mr. Bartlett and the BLS. A January news report said when Republicans found the Congressional Budget Office supported Democrats’ figures on the health care law, the Republican response was to try to discredit the CBO.
If job losses result from spending cuts Republicans insist on, they will try to blame something else, or somebody else, in order to cling to their precious ideology, literally at all costs, to our economy, to our country, to fellow taxpayers, and to the millions of long-term unemployed. Trying to vindicate failed ideology is no way to run a business or a government.
C. EXPLAINING V. DUCKING
Ideology is what you insist on doing that you can’t explain. When asked to explain “no new taxes” we get vague generalities about killing jobs, that don’t address reported evidence to the contrary. Shouldn’t we expect things to go badly when we accept and implement policy ideas that haven’t been given a plausible explanation that takes evidence into account? We never get an explanation of what is wrong with a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, involving some spending cuts and some new revenues or taxes. How much of what is going wrong in government can we attribute to policy decisions nobody has ever explained?
If you need all available resources to solve a serious problem, and your ideology requires that you exclude use of some resources from consideration, you are deciding not to solve the problem. It’s a copout. It is ducking responsibility, giving up on doing a job, whether you do it in government or business. In business, omitting from consideration what is relevant would be called negligence or incompetence. In government it is accepted as routine and defended by ideologues.
If we had a small debt/deficit problem we might be able to handle it with one hand tied behind our back, as the Republicans insist. But we have a very large problem, big enough and serious enough that we are going to need both hands to deal with it. No Republican will admit that we need a balanced approach, reduced spending and more revenue, both hands, if we hope to get control of deficit spending. Nobody has explained why we don’t need or shouldn’t use all available resources to deal with what may be our biggest, most threatening, most serious problem of all. Somebody needs to explain.
It probably comes down to choosing what is fashionable instead of what is professional, caving in to herd-mentality peer pressure instead of doing the job. Members of Congress allow their ideology to compel them to act unprofessionally.
Peter Wehner, deputy to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, is quoted as saying, “If taxes cannot be raised under any circumstances, we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.” He went on to say, “There is something seriously amiss when the political pressure in a party, any party, is so intense that it prevents serious intellectual conversation from even taking place.”
Can we attribute the whole unnecessary fight over raising the debt ceiling to ideologues acting on their assumptions that have never been explained? Can there be any doubt that failing to get explanations of what we are doing is what got us where we are, and is going to keep us where we are, drifting on slogans instead of steering our course toward defined goals?
Ideologues need to either explain their ideas in the context of reported facts, or explain why the facts are inaccurate or irrelevant. If we require explanations in business, why not in government? We have the communications resources that would enable us to do in government, in public discussion, what we do in business, in private discussion, to make sure policy decisions can be explained. This would give ideologues a chance to blunt the often severe criticism being directed at them. They should welcome the opportunity to tell their side.
Talk hosts and news media reporters should ask to interview these lawmakers and get answers. Make them explain or refuse, and report the results, preferably on Page One. This might encourage voters who are interested spectators to put pressure on ideologue lawmakers they elected, using e-mails and phone calls, adding to a chorus urging them to either explain their ideology or dump it.
If they refuse to explain what they are doing, are they admitting they don’t know what they are doing? Are we missing an important opportunity to put our vast communications resources to good use? If policy is being dictated, forced on us, by people who don’t know what they are doing, we need to have the public discussion on television that will make that plain, so voters can understand why things are going badly in this country.
Unless we press questions, we are giving ideologue lawmakers a safe, comfortable refuge from taking a fundamental responsibility that is essential to making a business or a representative government work. It’s called accountability. Why are we coddling these people by letting them hide behind silence, hide from the responsibility to explain what they are doing? Simply tell us what would be wrong with getting readily available tax revenue in amounts proportional to the size of the national debt chasm, created in large part by the Iraq war, Bush tax cuts, and Medicare Part D.
Unexplained ideology has gotten the remedy for the problem exactly backwards. Experience teaches, with evidence in the form of important examples from history, that cutting spending will generate fewer jobs than raising taxes. But when you have your ideology, you aren’t interested in evidence. You don’t need to or want to learn from experience.
A New York Times/CBS News poll in April found that by 72 to 24 percent, respondents favored raising taxes on those making over $250,000 a year, to lower the budget deficit. A 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll in April said 60 percent favor raising taxes on the rich. A Quinnipiac University poll announced in July asked whether an agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include only spending cuts or also include increases in taxes on the wealthy and corporations. A mere 25 percent said only spending cuts; 67 percent said tax the wealthy. Other polls, such as Gallup, ABC News, Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Reuters showed similar results. If poll respondents can understand what is really needed in the real world to deal with a serious problem, why can’t Republicans?
Ideologues like to keep saying that “the American people demand” that they do whatever the ideologues happen to be doing, such as cutting spending with no new revenue. But that seems to be at odds with opinion polls showing what “the American people” actually say they want. Who are you going to believe?
Print, broadcast and Web reporters should visit or phone or e-mail ideologue lawmakers asking, for example, why they are blocking appointment of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director when the Financial Services Roundtable wants someone appointed. Why they are against an adequate budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission when their friends on Wall Street say they are for it (see Section A. of June posting). Why they are against better vehicle mileage standards that would save drivers money and cut back dependence on foreign oil, and why they want to suppress middle class wages even more by seeking to weaken unions (see Section C. of June posting).
There is a steady stream of words and actions coming from the ideologues that would suggest an infinite number of common sense questions which information media reporters could be asking. They could make a concerted national effort to get the ideologues to either explain what they are doing or stop doing what they can’t explain. If they refuse to stop doing what they can’t explain, ask them why they refuse, and report the result.
They need to be asked about all the things they are doing to keep government from working. It is the responsibility of news media to ask the questions and report the results, to keep reminding voters that they have elected platoons of people to Congress who don’t know or can’t explain or won’t explain what they are doing, if dialogue, or ducking dialogue, indicates that is the case.
How much more power are we going to give ideology, and how much more damage does it have to do, before we get serious about challenging and questioning continued reliance on it? If there were once 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park, how come there are only 25 left if there is no change in air temperature? We need to know. Did Democrats sneak out there at night and pour anti-freeze on the glaciers, to make it look like climate change? Or is there some other ideological explanation?
Ideology is just too easy to be reliable. It causes us to make mistakes in government we could never afford in a business, and can’t afford in government, either. It hinders our curiosity and interferes with learning from experience. If we know we can’t afford ideology in business, why can’t we learn that lesson in government? How did the idea get started that government is less important, less worthy of being taken seriously, than business?
If a particular business had an ironclad rule about never raising prices no matter what, and similar businesses were finding it necessary to raise prices, the inflexible, dogmatic holdout is going to be in trouble. Or maybe gone. Somebody in that company would speak up about raising prices. But how many are speaking up about how ideology is crippling government? Who will rescue our political system from the hard-line ideologues? Would we save our business, but let our government go under?
Jon Huntsman Jr hasn’t signed the Norquist pledge never to raise taxes, or any of the various other pledges circulating out there. That makes him the only Republican candidate qualified to serve as president, which probably explains why, in one recent poll, he was in last place.
He is the only one who has, in effect, pledged not to stop thinking about various subjects, in servile obedience to all the various arbitrary, capricious, intractable (conflicting?) ideologies, such as a series of 5 ultra-conservative mandates that are supposedly binding on Republican candidates. Any of the other GOP candidates, if elected, is going to be on remote-control from outside the White House. If some of us are disturbed or disgusted by the performance of all those blindly obedient ideologue House members, on remote-control from outside Congress, things can get a whole lot worse.
When we look at what ideology is costing us, and how much more it is going to keep costing us, what more will it take to get us to decide we can’t afford it, and use our vast communications resources to begin questioning and challenging it to bring it under control? If we aren’t doing this, we are deciding things haven’t gotten bad enough. What else has to go wrong?
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE REPUBLICANS?
POSTING OF JUNE 28, 2011
To many long-time Republicans, the Party now seems to be distorted beyond recognition. It needs to restore itself to its traditional status as a positive influence in our government.
There was a time when Republicans cooperated with members of other parties to help get government to work. The Republicans now in Congress seem determined to keep government from working. Some of their ideas are so bad they need to use threats, such as shutting down the government, in order to get their way.
A. CALCULATED OBSTRUCTION
They use parliamentary shenanigans to block appointments so that vacancies interfere with the operation of the courts, and the departments and agencies of the government. Exhibit A is Administrator for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans have resolved to oppose any appointment to this post unless the agency is reorganized so it is headed by a committee that can be manipulated into paralysis. They seem to be proud of the fact that they are siding with banks against consumers. It doesn’t matter that the Financial Services Roundtable worries that there is no director for CFPB.
Republicans are dedicated to obstructing the rule-making needed to implement just about everything in the Dodd-Frank legislation. If they can’t do that, they seek to defund the agencies responsible for implementation and enforcement of rules. They won’t actually say they would like to see a recurrence or a continuation of the financial crisis but their actions speak so clearly they don’t need to. They are serving the narrow interests of the big banks that want to bring back their good old days when they could profit by cheating consumers. But Republicans will probably say they regard nearly all regulation as unnecessary, restrictive and too expensive for business. It is as if the financial crisis never happened, or the Republicans slept through the whole thing.
It was reported in March that GOP budget cuts could cripple the ability of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to regulate the multitrillion dollar derivatives market. More threatened budget cuts would leave them unable to enforce current rules, let alone new ones. However, in April it was reported that the SEC budget was increased $74 million. But the GOP wanted it cut by $42 million. A February report said that Wall Street supports the SEC in its request for an adequate budget. Doesn’t matter to Republicans.
B. RELENTLESS OPPOSITION
Republicans seem ready to enforce non-cooperation with Democrats or Independents. Some Republican incumbents in Congress are being singled out for primary challenges because they are “too cooperative” with Democrats. They just don’t have a sufficient level of disdain. They aren’t mean enough. They don’t bare their teeth. Is this really what we have come to in America, to the place where being cooperative, that used to be seen as a virtue, indeed as a necessity, has been deformed and twisted into some sort of an outrage? Isn’t cooperating to get government to work what most voters expect their lawmakers to do? Isn’t this what most Republican voters probably want their lawmakers to do?
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma worked on the bipartisan “Gang of Six” to try to find a solution to the deficit problem. For his willingness to cooperate and negotiate and compromise he was denounced by Rush Limbaugh. For working with Democrats, he was branded a pariah by Grover Norquist. In May there was a report that he was vilified for admitting that some revenue might be needed to balance the budget. Didn’t matter that it was too obviously true. Republicans don’t allow Republicans to be independent-minded. Anybody who doesn’t toe the line is treated as a traitor. George Washington, after throwing off the British tyranny, never imagined that in the land of liberty he gave us, we would ever come to the place where thinking for yourself is treated as a punishable offense.
In August of 2010 it was reported that the GOP was in favor of a deficit commission, until President Obama was for it. Then the Republicans decided they were against it. It didn’t matter that it was a good idea. It didn’t matter that it was a Republican idea. The only thing that mattered was showing disdain for the president. Republicans are letting their anti-Obama rage derail their good judgment, and make them miss opportunities to adopt good policy. It is amazing that they couldn’t seem to understand how juvenile and silly this episode makes them look.
Republicans voted to raise the debt limit 8 times for President George W. Bush with no questions or conditions or attempts to force changes they could never get as stand-alone legislation. No one said a word about sending the bill for the Iraq war, the Bush tax cuts, and Medicare Part D to our grandchildren. By an amazing coincidence, it wasn’t until there was a Democratic Administration that debt and deficits suddenly became very serious problems. Which indicates that picking a fight with Democrats by insisting on draconian budget cuts, and no new revenues, they wanted to generate a purely artificial partisan conflict. They are hoping to use the turmoil to deny Mr. Obama a second term. They would rather have a Republican president so deficits are no longer a problem, and they can revert to cutting taxes on ourselves and raising taxes on our grandchildren. They care little or not at all about the economic consequences for the living and the unborn in America and the rest of the world.
Republicans make it their main goal to see that the Obama Administration fails. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said several times that his primary goal is to make Obama a one-term president. Hence the resourceful opposition to nearly everything the president wants to do.
Mr. McConnell urged senators to vote against the New START Treaty but fortunately several Republicans decided to disobey Mr. McConnell and put the country first. Mr. McConnell’s goal was to deny Mr. Obama a victory, regardless of the consequences. Which raises an important question: how long can you keep whacking the president without also whacking the country in your blind zeal? How do you make the distinction? Failure to support New START would have given the country a hard whack.
In November 2010, even before he became Speaker, John Boehner is quoted as saying about President Obama’s agenda, “We’re going to do everything we can to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.” It’s getting increasingly difficult to accuse Republicans of anything they don’t cheerfully admit.
C. UNDERHANDED TACTICS
1. Governing by Threat
If you can’t get what you want by reason and persuasion, you need to use threats. You only need to use threats when you want to do something you can’t explain. Republicans weren’t able to explain why the burden of deficit reduction should fall on the poor and middle class while asking nothing of the wealthy. So they are using the debt limit to get legislative changes under the threat of shutting down the government.
2. Hitting the Right to Vote
In April it was reported that in 30 states the GOP is preparing photo ID rules which will have the effect of suppressing minority voting rights. Most people who lack photo ID are minorities that tend to vote Democratic. In Kansas, for example, an estimated 620,000 people will lose the right to vote in 2012. But then Kansas decided that wasn’t bad enough. So starting in 2013, Kansas voters will also have to bring proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a passport. That ought to disenfranchise a million more voters at least. And watch out for what Kansas dreams up for 2014.
In a Rasmussen poll, 75 percent of voters favor requiring voter ID. But if poll respondents had been asked whether they favor restricting minorities’ right to vote, the true purpose of voter ID, the percentage might have been different. While defending its photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite one actual case of voter impersonation in its entire history. The ratio of people disenfranchised, to the number of fraud cases that would be prevented by photo ID, may be a million to one. A virtual non-problem is being used as a flimsy excuse to turn millions of eligible voters away from the voting booth. Poll respondents weren’t asked for their opinion about that.
Early voting, allowed in some form in 33 states, is gaining among blacks and Democrats. Depending on the state, people can vote by mail or in person in the weeks before an election. In June it was reported that Republicans are trying to restrict early voting. Are the Republicans really so afraid they can’t win fair elections they need to rig the system in their favor?
3. Hitting the Middle Class
Also at the state level, while headlines say Republicans are making efforts to break the unions, they are really going after the middle class. One commentator after another has said that if it were not for unions, we wouldn’t even have a middle class. In areas where unions are strong, non-union wages are higher because employers want to discourage organizing. In March it was stated that a decline in unions may cause wage stagnation because non-union wages follow union wages. In June it was reported that hitting unions drives wages and consumer spending down, hurting the economy. In 2007, just 20 percent of the people owned 85 percent of the wealth in America, leaving 15 percent of the wealth for the bottom 80 percent. But Republicans seem to think the 20 percent deserves more and the 80 percent deserves less, so they pummel unions directly and the middle class indirectly. They seem bent on having everybody (including some Republicans) earning the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, about $15,000 a year. When everybody who is lower middle class or poor is earning the minimum wage, they will probably try to abolish the minimum wage.
4. Hitting the Environment
Republicans propose to attach a rider to spending bills that would, reportedly, stop implementation of an agreement between the White House and automakers to produce cleaner, more efficient vehicles from 2017 to 2025, by cutting off funding for implementation. When you can’t stop an agreement, the back-door way is stop the funding. This agreement would have cut dependence on foreign oil, saved drivers money, and limited emissions of greenhouse gasses. This is just one of 39 anti-environmental riders the Republicans are preparing to attach to the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environment Protection Agency. If there is anything Republicans can’t tolerate, it’s a clean environment. And they don’t much care for saving drivers money (even though some drivers are non-rich Republicans) and cutting back dependence on foreign oil.
5. Hitting Unemployment Benefits
It was also reported that the House GOP wants to be able to divert unemployment benefits to business tax cuts. A cynical, costly insult to millions of jobless and desperate people who probably have no other source of income. Some Republicans like to say unemployment benefits discourage people from working, and this at a time when there are 5 job-seekers for every job opening. If there are some Republicans who would rather sit home and collect benefits than go to work, they shouldn’t judge everybody by their own standards.
D. THEIR REAL CONSTITUENCY
Republicans seem bent on making sure everyone understands that their true constituents are the big campaign donors on Wall Street and in the big banks and not the people who voted for them. It was reported in May that the GOP readily admits trying to stop financial reform in general by cutting off funding.
Republicans are rock-solid confident they can offend and insult and harm voters all they want to because they can always collect enough dollars from their business constituents to spend circles around challengers in the next election. They are certain that enough campaign ads will make voters forget, yet once again, who these lawmakers really work for. They only rarely lose that bet. Does this say something unflattering about voters? Such as, if we allow ourselves to get stampeded away from challengers by attack ads, we deserve whatever we get?
Republicans who can remember when Republicans were a solid segment of our government need to speak out against those who care not in the least that they are doing everything they can think of to give our once-admired Party a bad name. In a recent poll, 33 percent regard the Republican Party favorably; 59 percent regard it unfavorably. Undaunted, Senator McConnell cheerfully acknowledges that the debt ceiling is “a hostage worth ransoming” in his immortal words. We can’t have a government that works if we have only two major political parties and one of them doesn’t want government to work.
We need to elect more lawmakers who want government to work and fewer who don’t. A news item says that 75 percent of registered voters disagrees with core Republican principles. So it’s not as if we don’t understand the problem.
President Obama said the American people may have chosen a divided government, but didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. Wrong. The American people did vote for a dysfunctional government, by enthusiastically electing such large numbers of those who don’t want government to work, and who can and do block nearly everything on the Administration’s agenda, which, as we are seeing, is quite a few things. In fact we have lost count.
A November 2010 newspaper editorial said exit polls showed people over 65 favored House Republicans over House Democrats by 59 percent to 38 percent, even though 75 percent of registered voters say they disagree with core Republican principles. These voters can’t be pleased with the results because they keep complaining about Congress. But they will probably vote the same way in 2012 because attack ads will make them forget what they should have learned the hard way.
Any November 2010 voter who hadn’t been hibernating knew what Republicans would do if they got control of the House. Voters handed it over anyway; they asked for trouble and Republicans have been giving them what they voted for ever since. Those voters who put Congress’ approval rating at 18 percent need to look in the mirror to find the true culprit.
What sort of an approval rating should voters give themselves when they keep electing people to Congress who proudly proclaim they want to keep government from working? If their words and past behavior clearly tell us they aim to derail government, and we elect them anyway, why are we blaming them for derailing government? Isn’t wrecking the machinery what we voted for, even after Republicans themselves gave us fair warning?
When we have the resources a fourth branch organization would give us, it might be useful to get on television and have a public discussion about that, about how we voters need to clean up our own act, raise our own approval rating to a respectable level. Until we do that, Congress will stay stuck at 18 percent. And whose fault is that?
If voters getting stampeded by attack ads got us into this mess, only voters acting on information can get us out. If voters don’t know and can’t explain what they are doing, such as electing candidates whose core principles they reject, we will keep getting lawmakers who don’t know and can’t explain what they are doing. They will keep following the bad example set for them by their bosses, the voters who hire them.
CAN WE TRUST VOTERS TO LOBBY CONGRESS?
POSTING OF AUGUST 26, 2010
There must be reasons why everybody except voters is lobbying lawmakers, especially when there are so many policy changes 2/3 of voters can probably agree on. Much of the special-interest lobbying is by definition at the expense of, or not supportive of, voters in general, or the people of all ages voters represent when they go to the polls. Registered voters, the electorate, the fourth branch of our government, millions electing candidates on behalf of themselves and other millions, have just as many “interests” as the “special interests” have. But it is the few, not the many, who do the lobbying.
A. THE RELIABILITY OF VOTERS
If voters assert themselves by lobbying lawmakers (for details see June 2008 posting) do voters know what they are doing? If registered voters have a fourth branch organization that will post a summary of a bill on a Website, present a discussion of the bill on television, take a poll to see if 2/3 are in favor of the bill, and if so, make it available online for lobbying members of Congress directly, one-on-one, are these voters qualified and prepared to press lawmakers for policy changes?
Voters might want to lobby for enactment of one of many important bills pending in Congress that are going nowhere. For example, H.R. 4061: Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2010 has been stuck in the Senate since February 9. Newspaper editorials and op-eds keep warning us about cyberattacks that could cause electric power grid crashes and disrupt information networks if we don’t do something. In 2009, a series of unsophisticated attacks crashed Websites of 27 government agencies, including Treasury, Secret Service, and Transportation. The Senate doesn’t consider these facts persuasive. Voters could lobby the Senate. With the resources available to a proposed fourth branch organization, we could focus national attention on the problem with monthly waves of electronic messages so that everyone could monitor the lobbying results. Our Website would show how many lobbying messages for and against the measure went to each senator.
A majority of voters may err about what is the best economic or energy or environmental policy, or about the correct order of national priorities. Public discussion of these subjects would enhance voters’ chances of getting these right. But the moral judgment of voters can be trusted because among all branches of government, only the electorate will consistently refuse to knowingly support policies that serve the few who make big campaign contributions at the expense of the many who don’t. A few air and water polluters, for example, have been able to buy permission from lawmakers to continue polluting. The rest of us pay the price with a degraded environment.
Even the Supreme Court will go out of its way to favor the few, using Citizens United v. FEC as a means, to enable unlimited independent spending by corporations and unions, to support or oppose candidates. Even more assault advertising will pour even more distortions onto television screens, assuring that even more votes will be cast based on vexation and confusion.
For public policy purposes, perhaps we can define right v. wrong, good v. bad, moral v. immoral in terms of policy that benefits the many as well as the few v. corruption in the form of policy which benefits the few at the expense of the many, the special favors special interests traditionally have to pay for with big campaign contributions. Whether voters understand all the issues is perhaps less important than the fact that they understand and oppose corruption, understand the damage it causes when it leads to bad policy, when special interest money succeeds in bending legislation or regulation out of shape.
Only the electorate can push back against corruption in government because the fourth branch is the only branch that can’t be corrupted in the sense of doing favors for dollars. The other branches can be and are being corrupted by, for example, granting favors to corporations in exchange for campaign contributions. The fairness and independence of the courts has been tarnished by money pressures in the 39 states where judges are elected, and where a recent campaign contributor may come before the judge as a plaintiff or a defendant, and put a thumb on the scale. This problem will only be magnified by the Citizens United case. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the decision will make maintaining an independent judiciary much more difficult.
In apparent efforts to avoid offending big donors, Congress and the White House made crippling concessions to the health insurance and banking/financial industry lobbyists in recent legislation. The general outcome leaned too far toward doing what is best for the rogue insurance companies and the rogue banks instead of doing what is best for the country.
Generally, the concessions serve the few. For example, after the dust settles on the new banking reform law, the same regulators will be under the same pressures from the same banks to overlook the same problems that led to the recent bank bailouts at taxpayer expense. Some experts say there is nothing in the new law to prevent a repeat. Newspaper editorials have expressed fears that the law gives too much discretion to unreliable regulators who have failed us so often in the past.
Because lawmakers always have one eye on doing the right thing and the other eye on campaign contributions from people who want them to do the wrong thing, the result is a compromise that falls short of the goal that was set in the legislation. Enhanced voter influence is essential because the electorate is the only branch of government that is willing and able stay focused entirely on what is best for the country.
B. FILLING THE VACUUM IN OUR SYSTEM
If the only branch of government that can be trusted to serve the many, and to serve the country, is also the only branch not involved in initiating policy, this goes far toward explaining why 73 percent in a February poll said the country is headed in the wrong direction. Should we be surprised or have hurt feelings? If we voters don’t initiate policy, how could we expect to be going in the right direction? It’s easier to complain about “those politicians” than it is to get an organization so we can tell them what we want, use the vast means available to us to start pressing for policy changes.
It is the people who can be corrupted that are taking us in the wrong direction. By failing to translate our discontent into lobbying, it is the electorate that is letting the country go off the track. What the public says in opinion polls needs to be translated into policy change. We let opinion polls speak indirectly for us when we should take the initiative to speak directly for ourselves, through voter lobbying, telling lawmakers what changes we have discussed and have decided we want Congress to make.
In addition to lobbying lawmakers directly, there should be unpaid lobbyists speaking for voters in the congressional committee hearings so completely dominated by paid lobbyists for special interests. Unpaid lobbyists for a fourth branch organization should insist on being heard until they get expelled from hearings, and then tell reporters how they tried to offer the taxpayer/voter/consumer point of view but it was unwelcome. We can at least give the Congress cave-in to special-interest dominance some bad publicity, as one more explanation of why we get bad policy, and one more motivation for voters to get involved.
The malfunctioning of national policy decision-making reflects the lack of voter influence. The electorate doesn’t function as an energetic, independent branch of our government. If policy is monotonously churned out to benefit the few at the expense of the many, it is because Congress gets almost no lobbing from the many. As long as all the lobbying comes from the few, things will continue to go badly for the many. Until unpaid lobbyists push back, paid lobbyists will continue to get their way, nearly always at the expense of the rest of us.
C. VOTERS HAVE TO CHANGE HABITS
We have it drilled into our heads from age 5 that we can attribute all our national woes to “those politicians” in Washington and that we are the innocent victims of their bad policy decisions. Any notion that it could be otherwise is dismissed as unworthy of consideration. But these presumptions have caused us to overlook certain frailties in the voters, weaknesses that we need to acknowledge.
Unknown to themselves, our electorate, the registered voters, have formed habits that:
1. make them inclined to elect candidates according to the amount of their campaign spending, mostly on advertising, which in turn discourages them from electing candidates based on their policy proposals (challengers) or on their actual performance (incumbents);
2. make them disinclined to get organized (or to form and fund an establishment that will enable them function as an organization) even though they have plenty of “interests” in common. This in turn renders them incapable of lobbying lawmakers, as special interest groups routinely and effectively do, providing an excellent example for voters to follow, based on observing the successful results.
Voters are captives of habit, formed over decades, that causes them to elect candidates who spend the most. In 2008, we elected the biggest spenders in the House and Senate races over 90 percent of the time, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (for details see link in Section A. of March posting). Nobody says, “I’m going to vote for Smith instead of Jones because Smith spent more money on his campaign.” But when you look at the results, we might as well say that.
This unconscious habit incidentally reinforces the power of money as a corrupting influence in deciding government policy. It turns elections from contests about ideas into competitions to see who can donate and raise and spend the most. But the unfortunate result of a habit that is causing corruption in no way justifies a conclusion that voters themselves are corrupt.
These outcomes put voters (and the country) at a disadvantage when it comes to wielding the share of political power allotted to the electorate by the Constitution.
The result is that well-financed special interest organizations have stepped into a lobbying vacuum left by voters. We need to see the influence of voter lobbying grow strong enough to persuade Congress to enact legislation based on its merits. Til then, we will get policy based on who gave and who got, that favors those who pay to be represented.
D. ONLY VOTERS CAN RESPOND
Voters can begin by dropping the bad habit of electing the biggest spenders to Congress, and do it by substituting a good habit, by doing what every other “interest group” in America does: lobby lawmakers on policy matters. When they lobby, when voters have spoken, made a specific request, they will have new reasons to watch their lawmakers’ reactions, to see if they listen, and be more inclined to vote according to performance in office than they are now.
We will need to withhold votes from lawmakers who disregard our lobbying. We will need to use a fourth branch Website to keep informed and coordinated, to vote with enough discipline to demonstrate to incumbents who ignore us that candidates need voters more than they need dollars. Lawmakers will quickly get the message.
Voters need to finally fill the vast void created by their near-absence from active participation in government. Declaring independence of old habits and fossilized notions will enable voters to go from passive to active, from disgruntled spectators to determined players, to get off the sidelines and onto the field, pushing back against special interests and working effectively to make the many changes 2/3 of us can probably agree the country needs. Some of these might include taking action to deal with air pollution, water pollution, crumbling infrastructure, exposure to cyberattack, climate change, the need for investments in renewable energy resources that pay off in the long run, as will incentives for developing energy-saving products and techniques.
Only voters can insist on the kinds of insurance reform and banking reform that put the country first. Lawmakers can, and do, put their fund-raising and their re-election first. Somebody has to reorder the priorities. The voters.
We are out here by ourselves. Nobody is going to help us make the changes we want, or do it for us. If the only people capable of putting the country first aren’t lobbying, why are we upset and grouchy when special interests keep getting what they want, and what we don’t want, from Congress? How could it be otherwise? By being passive, we issued special interests an engraved invitation to take control of a wide variety of policy decisions that, guess what, serve special interests.
Political power needs to be shifted away from those who can be corrupted and toward those who can be trusted. Voters are the only branch of government that is motivated to bring about this change. It’s up to us to get involved by lobbying.
The people in the 3 other branches of our government who are probably the least personally affected by changes in health insurance, banking, and campaign finance, are the most involved in making the changes. The electorate, the people most affected by such changes in public policy, are the least involved in making them.
This is why we keep getting bad law-making in health insurance and banking, and in campaign finance that allows unlimited corporate spending. We have the motive, the need, the ability, and all the resources to lobby Congress for changes that put the country first, that serve the many as well as the few. The only thing we lack is an excuse for not doing it.
WHAT ARE WE DECIDING?
POSTING OF AUGUST 4, 2009
A. What is Congress deciding about health insurance?
1. It doesn’t matter which option is better.
If our lawmakers will consider only private health insurance as “reform,” they should explain why it is better than the Medicare-style single-payer offered by House Resolution 676. But they don’t explain why, and nobody asks them to explain. They are deciding it doesn’t matter.
2. It doesn’t matter if an option meets requirements.
HR 676 is the only option that will do what the Obama Administration and most lawmakers keep saying they want. It would cover everyone and cost less than the current system; by one estimate $387 billion a year less. But even with the obvious solution staring them in the face, and difficult to ignore, they are deciding the single-payer option isn’t worth considering; they are deciding facts don’t matter.
3. It doesn’t matter if investors pressure insurers.
In the early 1990s, 95 percent of premium dollars went to pay claims. Now, 80 percent goes to pay claims, according to a former health insurance company executive who testified in Congress. Much of the other 20 percent goes to shareholders as return on investment. Wall Street keeps close track of insurer performance by assigning a “medical loss ratio” that can beat down share value. If the “ratio” goes sour, if an insurer isn’t doing a good enough job of raising rates, or denying claims, or both, shareholders flee to competitors who do better.
Congress is deciding none of this matters, that the privatized system will be perfectly satisfactory. But if shareholders keep saying “more” return on investment, insurers have to keep saying “more” rate increases and claim denials. A health insurance system dominated by for-profit, publicly-held insurance companies is, intentionally or incidentally, set up to reward shareholders at the expense of policyholders.
4. There is no need to discuss our options.
Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday recently asked Senator Richard Shelby to explain his comment that we are sliding toward socialism. That should have been the beginning. But there are no reported followup questions, from any host on any program, to Senator Max Baucus as to why he has “ruled out” considering the single-payer, the “socialism” that works to reduce costs (as do “socialist” Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Health Administration).
A co-sponsor of HR 676, such as Congressman John Conyers, could go on television to describe a system with no deductibles, no co-payments, no dollar limits. Senator Baucus might then feel compelled to attempt to defend a private insurance system full of deductibles, co-payments, and dollar limits. Then we could have a basis for choosing. But Congress is deciding there is no need to discuss, either in Congress or on television, which health insurance option costs less and covers more. Congress is deciding it doesn’t matter whether we choose the right one.
5. There is no need to ask what works best.
We make decisions without discussing the relative merits of our policy choices. In business, we see the need to choose policies that work. We are deciding business needs to be serious but government is a game we can play, making decisions based on the rising and falling influences of campaign contributions, left-right ideology, and partisan bias. So we are deciding that in making government policy, it is more important to choose health insurance based on what is politically acceptable, or ideologically correct, or who gave and who got, or a little of each, than to choose what works: a system of the type that is currently operating in the form of Medicare.
Congress is deciding lack of discussion of what needs to be explained doesn’t matter. We see a blind determination to ignore policy options of the type that have proven effective. This probably explains why business works and government doesn’t.
B. How do voter/taxpayers need to respond?
1. We have to lobby our lawmakers.
Some polls show the government-sponsored single-payer with 2/3 approval. This means poll-respondents understand the problem that Congress can’t or won’t understand. This means the 2/3 majority is going to have to lobby lawmakers (for details see June 2008 posting), to push back against the health insurers who control the agenda in Congress. Lawmakers want to enact the “reform” that is best for insurance companies, that requires the uninsured to buy health insurance policies and be at the mercy of unrelenting rate increases and of exclusions, conditions, and definitions that insurers use to deny coverage. Policyholders making too many claims could have their policies cancelled.
Policies covering 48 million uninsured (including dependents; 12 million new policies, assuming families of four) would vastly increase the already excessive paperwork burden on the health insurance system, estimated at $278 billion a year. Insurance company paperwork can cost a doctor in general practice up to $72,000 per year. But our peerless politicians are cheerfully deciding that’s not bad enough, so they need to make it worse.
2. We have to lobby for the option that works.
White House budget director Peter Orszag said, “If we fail to do more to move toward a high-value, low-cost health care system, we will be on an unsustainable fiscal path, no matter what else we do.” For the reasons why this goal is beyond reach in a privatized system, see A. 3. above. Only the single-payer will work. Voters can and should lobby for the health insurance system Mr. Orszag describes but doesn’t name. Congress wants to see us continue on our current course toward lower value (fewer paid claims) and higher cost (rising premium rates) demanded by for-profit health insurers.
3. We have to find lobbying allies.
Voter lobbyists can probably get support from corporations that spend megabucks on lobbying lawmakers in Washington. They might like to see a new law that would (a.) reduce the cost of employee health benefits by 2/3 (somewhat less for the self-insured), (b.) improve their competitive position in world trade, and (c.) do several things to boost economic recovery, which would help businesses of all sizes (for details see April posting).
4. We have to do what other interest groups do.
If there is a lobbying push on one side of an issue, and a vacuum on the other, we all know in which direction things are going to continue. Our interests can be ignored because voter/taxpayers are the only interest group that doesn’t lobby Congress. And that’s what got us stuck where we are, losing nearly every policy fight to the organized lobbyists. But the country can’t afford to lose HR 676, the single-payer “Medicare for everybody” coverage. When Congress decides it doesn’t matter which system is best, we the electorate have to step in and say oh yes it does matter.
If Canadians can rise up and declare independence of Blue Cross and Blue Shield and all the rest, as they did in 1966, what’s the matter with us? Who but voters can do this? Professors, think tanks, newspaper columnists, television reporters? Very few of them are even talking about the only option we can afford. We need to have government that works. If we let Congress continue on course, everything that doesn’t work in the current health insurance system will remain forever locked in place.
5. We have to intervene to save the economy.
An interest group capable of putting the country first has to do just that. Most health insurers act as if they don’t care what happens to the economy or the country. The same applies to all those lawmakers they own and operate, thanks to big campaign donations. The electorate will have to intervene because no other entity has the independence, and the numbers, and the motive, and means to do it. We have to acquire the communications resources that will enable us function as a branch of government.
We have all the necessary means to lobby as effectively as the interest groups that oppose us. All we need is a decision to do it. We should all understand by now that we have a White House, Congress, and private insurers in an alliance that is opposed to the single-payer. We have to lobby lawmakers, and get lobbying help from businesses burdened with the employer-sponsored group health insurance system. It’s up to us because it has to be done and nobody else will do it. We will have to save this country from crises and perils Congress keeps getting us into. Exhibit A. is taking a health insurance system that doesn’t work, that we can’t afford, and making it even more complicated, and even more expensive, while adding to the $278 billion paperwork blizzard, and calling it “reform.” Just extend efficient, popular, user-friendly Medicare to people under 65. Just drop the age.
Or will we decide self-government is too much trouble? These times demand that we do much more than be informed and organize marches and rallies and vote at election time. From here on, self-government requires us to use our communications resources to decide what policy changes the country needs, lobby our lawmakers to enact them, and make sure we impose “term limits” if they try to ignore us. We will have to empower ourselves to be informed and disciplined and coordinated enough to administer highly conspicuous purges that will persuade candidates they need votes more than they need dollars. We have a citizenship duty to get off the sidelines and start using our clout as a separate, equal, independent fourth branch of our government.
If we can’t be bothered supporting an organization that will enable us to get involved, will we deserve to stay mired in all the bad policy decisions that come with government of the bucks, by the bucks, and for the bucks? The simple truth is we can’t afford it. If we want policy to change for the better instead of for worse, we will have to work for it, and deserve it.
SHOULD LAWMAKERS ANSWER QUESTIONS?
POSTING OF JULY 8, 2009
The previous posting compares the group/family/individual private insurance policies with the “Medicare for everybody” single-payer health insurance program offered by House Resolution 676. Single-payer advocates recently got a hearing in the House for the first time. But got brushed off.
Many lawmakers oppose the single-payer but none has ever publicly explained why the current privatized system is better. They need to answer a few simple, obvious questions in public discussion, preferably on television, to help us understand their thinking. Newspaper reporters, television reporters, and talk hosts need to invite them to do so, or make them decline to do so, and tell us their reasons. A few sample questions:
1. Why not have insurance that costs less and pays more?
Why keep an employer-based group health insurance system that is more expensive and gives less coverage than HR 676, which covers medical services with no co-payments, no deductibles, no dollar limits? Why keep the private insurance group, family, or individual health insurance policies which have deductibles, co-payments, and dollar limits? Instead of reading a policy full of exclusions, conditions, and definitions to see what isn’t covered, you could read one paragraph that says “. . . all medically necessary services . . .” are covered. Why not insure everyone fully, from first dollar, while we save money doing it?
2. Why not have insurance that boosts the economy?
A Harvard study found that medical expenses caused 62 percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007. Nearly 80 percent of bankrupted families were covered by health insurance. Unaffordable medical expenses caused more than half the 2.3 million home foreclosures in 2008. Most of those families had health insurance. HR 676 would stop all bankruptcies and foreclosures due to medical expenses because there is coverage for all medically necessary services with no dollar limit. By opposing the single-payer, is Congress deciding we don’t have enough bankruptcies? We don’t have enough foreclosures? Aren’t these a drag on economic recovery? Some experts are saying there can be no recovery while homeowner foreclosures continue to rise. Is Congress stalling economic recovery by allowing all foreclosures to go forward when half of them could be stopped? Why can’t Congress decide to help economic recovery (see April posting) instead?
3. Why not reduce bankruptcies and foreclosures?
Most of the people who buy family or individual health insurance policies, or pay their share of employer-sponsored group health insurance premiums, probably imagine they are getting adequate protection against overpowering medical bills. Employees lucky enough to get a raise will have it taken away by increases in their share of the group health premiums, which go up faster than wages. Those who say they are satisfied with the coverage they have now probably haven’t been seriously ill or injured. In many cases they are in for a shock. A man who was insured for $150,000 in hospital care found that nearly all his hospital treatment was excluded by fine print. He had bills for $200,000 and filed for bankruptcy. Why do we keep an insurance system that doesn’t adequately protect against medical expense-related bankruptcy or foreclosure, when we could have insurance that would eliminate both? And for less than we pay now?
4. Why not choose what works instead of what doesn’t?
Why not broaden the popular, user-friendly single-payer system we use successfully as Medicare, and other countries use so successfully some spend less on health care than we do, and have lower infant mortality rates and better longevity outcomes? Why shouldn’t we do that? We know it works in other countries; we know it works in America. Some say Medicare is costing too much but Medicare has the oldest and the sickest people while private insurers cherry-pick the youngest, healthiest, most profitable insureds. Extending Medicare to bring these people in would improve the balance between healthy and sick. We know the private insurance system doesn’t work for 48 million uninsured. We know it doesn’t work for the additional 50 million underinsured who can’t afford the deductibles and co-payments that would give them access to whatever insurance coverage they may have. They might as well be uninsured. We know it doesn’t work for the 1.5 million families who face foreclosure each year due to overwhelming medical bills. Covering these nearly 100 million (including dependents) would take money we don’t have. Why cling to what doesn’t work?
Medicare has been criticized for paying claims too readily, for having low administrative costs due to failure to screen for waste and fraud. Critics are fond of pointing out that such wasteful ways will likely extend to a universal coverage single-payer. But who is to blame for the waste and fraud? Congress denied Medicare’s request for $579 million in additional antifraud funding, even though the return on investment for antifraud measures is estimated at 13 to 1. How often do you find a payoff like that? Why did Congress decide protecting fraud and wasting money is a good idea? Are some members trying to make sure Medicare doesn’t work so they can say Medicare doesn’t work?
Is “socialized medicine!” still effective in stampeding the public into clinging to a system that doesn’t work? We already have socialized medicine. It’s called Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Health Administration. If all HR 676 does is extend Medicare, that has 44 million generally satisfied users, why is that considered a threat to the continued existence of the United States? We already have “socialized” police departments, fire departments, libraries, and schools, all financed by the local government as the single-payer. Does this turn them into menacing, faceless bureaucracies? Do we need to be afraid of brainwashed, subversive, un-American police officers, firefighters, librarians, and teachers? Or can we afford to run that risk and be brave enough to choose a national system that works?
5. Why not have insurance that can bring back jobs?
HR 676 would give American employers a 2/3 cut in the cost of employee health benefits, and make them better able to compete with businesses in other countries. If Canada chose to adopt a single-payer system in 1966, and if American car-making jobs have been fleeing to Canada to escape our employer-based relic, who is to blame for that? Canada? More American cars are made in Ontario than in Michigan. Isn’t that a message that is trying to tell us something? Shouldn’t we get that message? If Canada can do it, why can’t we, so we can invite our car-making jobs to come home?
Why can’t we take the hint that we shouldn’t be adding the cost of health insurance to the prices of our goods and services (until recently $1500 per car) when we can clearly see what happens when we do it?
6. Isn’t unnecessary spending also disruptive?
We are told eliminating many private health insurer jobs would be disruptive. All persons displaced by implementation of the single-payer would receive current salary for 2 years, and then be eligible for unemployment benefits. Why would HR 676 be more disruptive than making an unaffordable health insurance system even more expensive, disrupting and crowding out essential spending on energy efficiency, infrastructure, efforts to control air and water pollution, climate change, and a dozen other items that urgently need attention and will cost money? By effectively controlling health insurance expenses, wouldn’t HR 676 make dealing with all the other problems easier? Won’t the locked-in ballooning expenses of the employer-based system make dealing with all of them even harder than it is now? Confronted with that kind of a choice, how much longer do we need to dither?
7. Aren’t insurers already rationing health care?
Opponents of the single-payer warn darkly of long waits and rationing of care in the Canadian system. But if Canadians are so terribly abused, how can they get better outcomes in longevity and birth survival than we do in the United States? Is this an attempt to divert our attention from the fact that private health insurance company bureaucracies routinely delay or deny claims payments, or try to offer less than the amount owed, effectively limiting our coverage, rationing our access to insured health care right here and right now?
Clerks in cubicles are paid to ration health care. They argue with doctors over which medicines, consultations, tests, and procedures insurers are willing to approve and pay for, not necessarily based on whether they are appropriate and necessary. One doctor declares that all doctors must now hesitate to even ask about a test due to the hassle involved; a result no doubt welcomed by insurers, but probably not beneficial to patients.
Do we really need the meddling intrusions of a profit-driven system, that in an effort to save money, is starting to demand prior approval by nonprofessionals regarding care and treatment matters that should be left to professional judgment? And that may put patients at risk? If they ration care, are the private insurers asking to be invited out of our health insurance system?
8. Is Congress ignoring the obesity epidemic?
While Congress is only considering health insurance that will cost us much more, we’ve already got a problem that will cost us much, much more. Chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes account for more than 75 percent of the $2 trillion we spend annually on health care. Rates of childhood obesity have more than tripled in the last generation. Childhood obesity tends to continue into adulthood. James S. Marks of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said, “We have a huge wave of obese adults coming that will bankrupt us.”
Using a system of tests which reduce health insurance premiums for employees, self-insured Safeway Inc. has kept health costs flat for 4 years while costs for other employers have risen 38 percent. The plan is voluntary and focuses on tobacco usage, healthy weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Passing all 4 tests can reduce annual premiums $780 for an individual. Many Safeway employees who participate are not only meeting requirements to control the 4 factors, but 78 percent rated the plan good to excellent, and 76 percent asked for more financial incentives to reward healthy behaviors.
We’ll have a hard time dealing with the obesity problem even with the cost-saving efficiencies of a single-payer. If we try to handle it with some variation of our employer-based system, we’ll be even deeper in red ink. Do we need to start talking about whether there is any way to apply some variation of the Safeway incentive plan on a national scale? Has Congress decided to ignore the threat of obesity? Is Congress doing anything about it? What problem confronting Congress is more serious?
Congress seems so determined to enact something, anything, members don’t seem concerned about whether it is better or worse than what we have now. If we would have the long-overdue televised public discussion of how HR 676 stacks up against the employer-based system, we might discover that the question isn’t why have HR 676. The question is why not. With the solvency of the country likely hanging in the balance, failure to have this essential public discussion would be inexcusable, bordering on criminal negligence.
CAN VOTERS LOBBY FOR A STIMULUS?
POSTING OF APRIL 24, 2009
House Resolution 676, pending in Congress, is the “The United States National Health Care Act,” the government-sponsored single-payer so-called “Medicare for everybody” bill. Can the right kind of universal health insurance also be a stimulus to the economy? And can we voter/taxpayers lobby Congress, and get support from business and labor lobbyists, to get it enacted? We’ll never know if we don’t have the televised public discussion that would enable us to find out. We need to understand that we can’t wait for Congress to take such an initiative. Congress is considering details of President Obama’s “health plan” that appears to require huge new expenditures, to consist mainly of pouring even more money into our extravagantly wasteful health insurance system.
The summary of HR 676 says, in part, “This program will cover all medically necessary services, including primary care, inpatient care, outpatient care, emergency care, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, hearing services, long term care, palliative care, podiatric care, mental health services, dentistry, eye care, chiropractic, and substance abuse treatment. Patients have their choice of physicians, providers, hospitals, clinics, and practices. There are no co-payments or deductibles under this act.” There is no mention of dollar limits.
HR 676 would immediately deal with a serious recession problem. More than 2.3 million homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings in 2008. An estimated 1.5 million families per year lose their homes to foreclosure due to unaffordable medical costs. Certainly there are plenty of irresponsible borrowers and lenders. But if families were protected from catastrophic medical expenses, as they would be under HR 676, that protection might reduce by half the number of families losing their homes, reduce the number of empty houses haunting our neighborhoods, and ease the housing crisis. Likely modifications of the current health insurance system wouldn’t adequately protect homeowners.
Median-income families of four now spending $4225 annually on their share of employer-sponsored group health insurance premiums, $2713, plus out-of-pocket health care expenses, $1522, (total should be $4235) would pay about $2700 in the form of taxes for nearly all medical expenses under HR 676. If family budgets are adjusted to expenditures which suddenly diminish, the extra money might be spent, giving a boost to the economy. Money now being saved for medical emergencies by the 48 million uninsured, or by an additional 50 million underinsured to pay $1000 deductibles or high co-payments on group insurance policies, would no longer be needed for these purposes. The money might be spent to stimulate the economy instead.
Employers now spending $8510 on group health insurance premiums for each median-income family of four would also pay $2700 a year, also in the form of taxes, under HR 676. If employers were suddenly paying less than 1/3 of what they now pay for group coverage, if employees became less expensive, there might be fewer layoffs and more hiring. Simply reducing the numbers of unemployed would blunt the effects of the recession. Employers would have plenty of other spending options that could stimulate the economy. We might also reduce business failures by removing 2/3 of the health insurance burden on employers.
The main savings from a single-payer that would enable us to extend coverage to everybody, would be in administrative costs to doctors and hospitals, estimated at $278 billion per year, such as handling paperwork for hundreds of private insurance companies. Each has different coverage and payment rules that have to be painstakingly and expensively sorted out. Salary and benefits for the necessary clerical staff get added to doctor and hospital bills. The paperwork for Medicare is much simpler: one standardized form. This is one cost advantage of Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Health Administration over private insurance. Further, private insurers have their own administrative costs of 20 percent, and health care dollars go to shareholders and big executive salaries. For Medicare, administrative costs are 2 percent. HR 676 would enable us to stop spending so much on an inefficient health insurance system that has become one of the biggest obstacles to good health care.
For example, in an effort to save money, health insurance companies have begun demanding that doctors get prior approval of the use of medicines, consultations, tests, and procedures. One doctor says in a newspaper op-ed that doctors now must think twice about ordering a test or a consultation due to the hassle involved in getting it approved, and says the resulting omissions are potentially dangerous to patients. HR 676 would eliminate the clerks in cubicles who deny payment for particular medicines, consultations, tests, and procedures. The bill requires that “all medically necessary services” are to be covered.
Further, some insurers are also insisting that patients “try and fail” at using low-cost generic drugs instead of more expensive brand-name counterparts, over the protests of doctors. A newspaper article gives an example of a patient whose blood pressure “went up astronomically” on the new drug he was required to try as a substitute for what he had been using. Insurers say they are trying to control rising costs that result from advertising of expensive brand names by pharmaceutical companies. Doctors and patients say the strategy is akin to insurance companies practicing medicine. HR 676 specifically includes coverage for prescription drugs.
HR 676 would lift a huge burden from American auto companies. For example, General Motors wouldn’t have obligations for retiree health care estimated at $47 billion. Government-sponsored health insurance is the stimulus package auto makers really need. So many jobs have gone to Canada to escape employer-based group health insurance, which can add $1500 to the price of a car, more cars are made in Ontario than in Michigan. If Michigan were on a level playing field with Canada, which has a form of government-sponsored health insurance, auto jobs could come home. We should be able to agree that requiring employers to add the cost of health insurance to the prices of their goods and services is a bad idea. If we want to be competitive in world commerce, we can’t afford it. A level playing field would stimulate exports.
For the reasons cited, voters could probably get support from the biggest spenders on lobbying in 2008. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the biggest spenders include Exxon Mobile, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, Verizon Communications, Lockheed Martin, Boeing Company, AT&T Inc., and General Motors. According to a section of Congressman Conyers’ Website which can no longer be viewed, ten international unions already support HR 676, including Service Employees International Union and United Automobile Workers.
Although there are no reports that these organizations are lobbying for enactment of HR 676 today, even though they would seem to have good reasons to do so, they might join the effort if they see voter/taxpayers lobbying. All of them would benefit from the implementation of “Medicare for everybody” universal health insurance.
All the more reason why voters need to lead the way and get busy lobbying lawmakers for HR 676 (for details about how voter lobbying would work see posting of June 18). Voter/taxpayers have the same rights and liberties as the paid lobbyists and special interests who want us to cling to the current health insurance system. As long as we let them do all the talking, nothing is going to change. Do we have any choice but to lobby? What is to keep unpaid lobbyists from pushing back against paid lobbyists? We have them outnumbered. The difference is that they are using their resources to gain access to lawmakers and we aren’t using ours.
With televised public discussion, we would have a chance to hear the pros and cons of HR 676. Following a television broadcast, an opinion poll could determine whether we are behind it. If 2/3 favor it, we could make it available to voters for lobbying their lawmakers to get enactment, using a proposed Website and a simple procedure that is easy for voters and lawmakers to understand. If thousands of employers and millions of employees, and their associations and unions are for it, and only private health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and a few others are against it, HR 676 can become unstoppable.
The proposed law would have wide popular appeal. An estimated 158 million, including dependents, are covered by employer-sponsored group health insurance. An estimated 50 million, including dependents, are underinsured, unprepared to meet requirements for deductibles and co-payments. Most of the underinsured are in group coverage; the rest are in family or individual policies with private insurers. An estimated 48 million, including dependents, are uninsured. Altogether, some 200 million people, roughly 2/3 of the United States population, would benefit directly and measurably from enactment of HR 676. The increase in benefits would be measurable; the reduction in premiums would be measurable; the uninsured would have complete coverage; the obsolete link between affordable health insurance and employment by a firm that offers group coverage would be broken.
No one is reported as saying HR 676 will cost more than the current system. The only disagreement is about savings. Estimates range from no savings at all up to annual savings of just under $400 billion. The solution we need is extending Medicare, which is already up and running and thoroughly tested by millions of users.
There are some who oppose universal health insurance as “socialized medicine” that they imagine will subvert and destroy America. Would they take Medicare away from 44 million seniors? Medicare is a government-sponsored single-payer type of insurance which fits the definition of socialized medicine. Where have these vigilantes been while Medicare has been destroying America since 1965?
We voters are kidding ourselves if we think we can get the essential health insurance change we need without lobbying Congress, without doing what every other “interest group” in America does. Anything we can discuss publicly we can agree on. Anything 2/3 of us can agree on we can lobby for. Anything we can lobby for we can hold lawmakers accountable for, and use our vast, flexible, efficient communications resources to remind lawmakers that we will vote them out if they try to ignore us. And then use our communications resources to coordinate our efforts to dislodge recalcitrant lawmakers.
Voter/taxpayers will have to lobby Congress directly because lawmakers are afraid to go for more than baby-steps and half-measures that will fall short of what is needed to produce the authentic jolt, the essential impact, to halt the economic decline. If Congress decides all we need to do is reinforce and extend the health insurance system that is bankrupting car makers right now, for example, and that helped get us where we are, a bigger, more cumbersome system extended to cover 48 million uninsured is probably going to keep us where we are.
Employer-based group health insurance is a relic from World War II that got started by shipyards desperate to find workers in order to fulfill government contracts. They couldn’t offer higher pay due to wage and price controls. So they offered health benefits. We are still the victims of this accidental collision of circumstances that gave us the dysfunctional, clumsy contraption we have been stuck with ever since. Nobody would ever consider creating such a mess intentionally.
Other countries understand the basic efficiency of financing health care through taxation, which is also a help in staying competitive in commerce. We are the only country in the world, the only country in our solar system, and probably the only country in our galaxy that requires employers to add the cost of health insurance to prices. The whole thing is looney. We don’t see that because we have gotten so used to it. Even after 68 years of continuous damage we still won’t discuss it so we can finally understand what a goofy system we have. And finally decide to do something about it.
We can have televised dialogue and debate between those who are for and against the proposed law. Lawmakers who warn darkly of “government bureaucrats telling doctors and patients what to do” can talk to people on Medicare to see if it’s really so. The summary of HR 676 says, “Patients have their choice of physicians, providers, hospitals, clinics, and practices.” The same choices Medicare patients have today.
To finance the needed Website, the polling, and the television time, we would need an organization that will raise funds to enable the electorate to function as a fourth branch of our government. We will need to become an autonomous branch that can respectfully decline to accept, or can even oppose, what other branches are doing when they do the wrong thing and fail to do what is needed.
But first of all we need to buy enough television time to have the public discussion that will dispel doubts about whether we can do what paid lobbyists are doing, successfully lobby our lawmakers. We can examine our demon misgivings and find they are all phantoms. If there are two entities, and one is lobbying and the other isn’t, should we be surprised or complain when one side usually wins? Televised public discussion can enable us to see that the way is open for voters to propel change, to lead the charge in lobbying Congress, and maybe even gather lobbying support from lots of big employers who wouldn’t object to saving a bundle on employee health benefits. We should offer them the opportunity.
Congress isn’t even talking about the only “universal health insurance” option we can afford. Senator Max Baucus has “ruled out” a single-payer solution. The public is years ahead of the lawmakers. That’s why we need to bring Congress along. In a January 2009 New York Times/CBS poll, respondents preferred the single-payer over a “privatized system” by 2 to 1. These results suggest we understand the problem and Congress doesn’t, and we have an obligation to ourselves and to the country to intervene as the force for a seismic shakeup in health insurance.
We have the motive and the means. All we need is the will. We can offer taxpayers a way to get more involved in making policy, offer them something they can do about what they see happening, or not happening and needs to happen. Why not do it? It is essential to give ourselves the resources we need to start talking, to give ourselves the chance to discover there is no reason why not.
Copyright © 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
by Stephen T. Claflin Jr