Friday, December 23, 2011

Big Problems with Our Two-Party System

Where a Two-Party System Can Function Well.  In any country where there is a two-party system, these parties represent opposing ideologies. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a perceived need for two parties. However, as long as there is sufficient overlap in their positions where they can find some common ground between them, and as long as both parties have the best interests of the country and its people at heart, the two-party system can function well.

Advantages. In a two-party system, voters are exposed to only two different ideologies and it is relatively easy to contrast their platforms and positions against their own beliefs and goals. It tends to be an “either/or” situation which simplifies the decision-making process. When there are multiple parties, it is more difficult to assess their comparative differences and to decide for whom one might choose to vote. When a two-party system has been established for a long time, the party positions are well known to, and generally understood by, the electorate.

Two-Party System Needs Centrists.  Two-party systems are supposed to encourage political parties to focus on the areas of overlap in their positions with one another and to cooperate in enacting legislation that promotes those positions for the good for the country. This should result in a form of centrism where the two parties overlap on common ground. When this is true, it can promote stability and and progress, resulting in greater satisfaction among voters.

"The Loyal Opposition."   In those areas where there is disagreement, there used to be a concept known as “the loyal opposition.” This term reflects the fact that the electorate put a particular person in power to govern for the good of the people. Out of respect for the electorate, the party not in power may defer to the will of the voters and compromise with the party in power for the common good. The greater the margin of victory for the ruling party, the greater would be the cooperation of the minority party.

But What Happened?  However, as reported in the New York Times in 2009:

... in the partisan politics of recent decades, another view developed, advanced by Congressional leaders like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, that the minority party has the right, even obligation, to stick to its ideological principles.”

Result: Democracy Threatened.  Thus it is that we see most of the advantages of a two-party system slip from the grasp of democracy and democracy itself is in the stranglehold of what has become a two-party political duopoly.

Disadvantages. The spirit of bi-partisanship has been virtually cast aside. Whenever there are vestiges of such cooperation, it is frequently for the good of the two parties involved as much as it is the good of the American people as a whole.

Two-Party System at Its Worst.  The loyal opposition has evolved into a royal pain, as it fails repeatedly (and even refuses) to find common ground with the party in power and expresses a firm stance against anything that might smack of cooperation with the other party. The situation today has gotten so out of hand that the Republican Party has vowed that they will take any action necessary to see that the sitting president will be a one-term president. The result is a Congress that passes relatively meaningless legislation such as declaring pizza to be a vegetable and reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto, while risking deadlock, lowered credit ratings, and threats of shutting down the government. That is not doing the will of the people who put them in office, but is totally self-serving.

Where Are the Moderates? The greatest areas of cooperation in the past have rested with the more moderate (or centrist} members of each party. However, CBS News recently reported that research has found that the number of moderate Senators has fallen steadily from 60 in 1982 down to 36 in 1994, to 9 in 2002, and to zero now. That leaves virtually no area of overlap between the two parties and little chance of bi-partisan support or compromise.

How Extreme Can You Be? Competition between the two parties had devolved into a rivalry for control, and each views their opposing party as the enemy who must be contained or beaten. Candidates frequently campaign not on what they can do for the country, but on how different they are from their competitors. Among the present Republican candidates for president, we have experienced a great rivalry as to which candidate is the most extreme in their conservatism as though that is a virtue, when it is more likely to become a vice that will disenfranchise all Americans who are not of the same ideology.

Enmity Breeds Contempt. Over time, this enmity between – and sometimes even within – the parties grows into bitterness and hatred. Neither party wants to cooperate with the other party, particularly the one that controls the White House, lest they be seen as cooperating with the enemy and collaborating in accomplishments might be seen as those of the party in power at the time. Distortion, baiting, and and name calling have become the norm, but compromise has become a dirty word.

And the Contempt Spreads. These negative sentiments are accepted and espoused by the close followers and strong supporters of the two parties. They are even encouraged by the parties themselves. Some media coverage has become strongly biased toward one political ideology and against the other. Eventually, this poisons and polarizes our country and its people, resulting in a central government that is divided against itself. This opposition itself becomes paramount, the will of the people is subverted, and the country suffers immensely as a direct result.

Impact on Democracy. It is these political parties that make the rules – who can run for elective office for their party, who can “debate” in public forums, who can vote in which elections, and who they can vote for.. When there are only two parties on most ballots, especially for federal office, we have little choice but to perpetuate this charade of democracy that has been perpetrated on the American people. Most of the time, the only choice we have is to vote for “the lesser of two evils,” resulting in perpetuating “evil” in office. The only other option is not to vote for those particular positions or not to vote at all. Unfortunately, too many Americans have opted for the latter option. As a result, we often have elections decided by about 40% of the electorate. If a winning candidate should get 50% of that vote, he or she would receive only 20% of the total electorate. This is hardly a democracy in which majority rules.

A Country Drastically in Need of Change. At his essay titled A Third Party Vote is Not Wasted, Szandor Blestman states:

It is well past time the stranglehold this duopoly has on the nation was broken and someone else got the opportunity to lead. The change that this nation needs will not come from the establishment candidates who simply pay lip service to the concept of change. Perhaps the change needs to come from the people. We must be the change we seek. To help accomplish this, we need to change the types of people we vote into office.”
Hope for the Future. The writer goes onto say:

It would give this journalist great hope to see just ten percent or so of the electorate voting third party, if for no other reason than to send a message to the establishment that we grow weary of their failed policies and are looking for a genuine shift in direction. If twenty percent of the people were to do so it would be fantastic, the politicians would take notice, and I would be exuberant. The more people that can be convinced to vote third party, any third party, the better in my opinion ...”

More on Third-Party Candidates and Voting in 2012. For readers who would like to read more about third-party candidates and some recommendations for voting in the coming 2012 elections, please go to Problems for Third Party Candidates and/or The Quickest Way to Solve Our Problems?
For another slant on this problem, check out Third Party Tyranny.

Coming Up: Elections :Heart of Democracy or Height of Hypocrisy?

In Presidential Debates, Duopoly Reigns

Presidential Debates: Fraud or Farce?

Problems For Third-Party Candidates

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Congress Ignores the Will of the People

Who Do These People Think They Are? In short, they think they are our rulers and we are their servants, instead of it being the other way around. We elect them to serve their country and its people. Instead, they represent their own best interests and those of the wealthiest one percent. The fact is that most of them care much less about the country's welfare and much more about their own welfare and that of the richest among us.
Do We Have the Right People in Congress? Absolutely not! Members of Congress are the select few (535, to be exact) chosen from our entire population of 307 million who have been elected to represent the best interests of the entire country. Each House member represents an average of more than 700,000 citizens, and each Senator represents an average of more than 3 million citizens. That's a pretty heavy burden to bear, so it stands to reason that these representatives should be selected from among the cream of the crop of the political elite when it comes to intelligence, creativity, leadership, and the ability to accomplish meaningful legislation on behalf of their. Based upon the performance and achievements of the both the 112th and the 113th Congress (so far), we and they have failed miserably.
Who Are Their Constituencies? As stated elsewhere in this blog, Congress members have multiple constituencies, interests, and priorities. Often, these conflict with one another. That is when their priorities come into play. Here is my summation of the priorities of typical politicians at the state and federal levels.
  • Once in office, their first loyalty is to themselves and doing anything they can to ensure that they get reelected. One of the greatest fears of any Congress member is to get voted out of office.
  • Next is their allegiance to their political parties to ensure that enough of their members get elected to push their political agendas through their legislation. This will also help gain party support when the officeholder seeks reelection.
  • Third are their financial backers – the corporations and the super-rich who contribute heavily to Congressional campaigns, and who run ads supporting their anointed candidates while excoriating their opponents. This includes lobbyists, PACs, Super PACs, 527 Groups and other special interest groups. The ;politicians have to give something back to these entities in order to secure their financial support for reelection. Money talks, and politicians have perfect hearing – especially whenever the words “contribution”, “donation,” or “check” are mentioned.
  • Fourth come the people who voted for them. In public, most Congress members say these people are their constituents, but you can see just how high they come on their priority list. During election years, you will see them pandering to those whose votes they need to get reelected. In other years, they will do little for their benefit. However, when they do something for them, they will trumpet it from the heavens as though they are the second coming of the Messiah.
  • And dead last come the rest of the people in the country whose best interests they are also supposed to represent. This group represents the overwhelming majority of us. This is supposed to include voters and non-voters alike, whether children or adults, and whether they are eligible to vote or not.. However, most legislators tend to consider their state or district constituencies to be only those who voted for them prior elections.
Why Do They Ignore the Will of the American People? The simple reason for this is “because they can.” They know that they can thwart the will of the American people and still get reelected. They can do this for the following reasons:
  1. There is a built-in bias toward incumbents. Poll results released in October, 2011, showed that Congress had an approval rating of only 9%. However, another poll released in December, 2011, showed that:, although 76% of the people feel that most members of Congress don't deserve to be re-elected As a result, in 90% of the races, the incumbent gets reelected.
  2. Incumbents are able to raise more money than new office seekers. And it is well known that in more than 90% of the elections, the candidate who raises the most campaign funds wins the election.
  3. Electoral districts in most states are determined by politicians. As a result, the party in power generally secures a redistricting plan that is designed to keep party incumbents in office. Gerrymandering may be a dirty word to voters, but it is a Godsend to incumbent politicians because candidates from opposing parties are generally helpless in opposing this process.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of why it is so hard to unseat incumbents. With the deck stacked so heavily in their favor, it is little wonder that politicians turn a deaf ear to the people of this country.
What is the Effect of Incumbent Bias? When the same people get elected to Congress again and again, we get the same old ideas, the same old practices, and the same old cronyism . In essence, we have a stagnant Congress, but one that has a stranglehold on our country . These politicians don't care much about the will of the people, and they don't care at all about public opinion, whether expressed in letters, e-mails, tweets, or polls, because they have rigged things in favor of their election, term after term after term. This is certainly not to the advantage of our country.
People First. The people must come first, not last, and those who do not see that, agree with that, and legislate to that end do not represent the people and deserve to be voted out of office. That includes virtually every member of Congress, and it is almost impossible to determine the few who are the good apples in a basket of rotten ones. So, we might have to sacrifice a few of the the good ones for the sake of our country, its citizens, and our democracy.
Use Your Clout and Vote Them Out. It is time for us to muster our collective elective strength and vote as many incumbents out of office as we possibly can. We need to send a very strong but clear message to the remaining representatives that we are “mad as hell and we aren't going to take it any more.” At the same time, however, we don't want to vote in party politicians who are going to fall right in line with their cohorts and work for the same priorities as their predecessor. We don't just need new blood in Congress. We need a new source of that blood, and it preferably won't come from either the radical right or the extreme left. We need progressive populists who know the Constitution and what it stands for, and who will to restore to this country once again a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is the Occupy Movement Running Amok?

On Monday, December 12, the Occupy movement plans to stop international commerce at eleven ports on the West Coast from Alaska to San Diego. In early November, the Occupy Oakland movement was very successful in shutting down the Port of Oakland. This was accomplished largely because the police allowed it and because it was tacitly supported by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (See prior letter of support for OWS from the ILWU at: ILWU Int’l President Bob McEllrath releases solidarity statement in support of ‘Occupy Wall Street.)

Buoyed, perhaps, by this relatively easy success, they are now taking on a much more ambitious action. Will it be as successful as last month's effort? I think not, and here is why I feel that way.
  1. This time around, there is no such approval. In fact, there is actual opposition. (See multiple sources below.) 
  2. While some longshoremen supported last month's action, others only tolerated it, and that level of support and tolerance is waning among their ranks. As a result, there is considerably greater opposition to this sort of action.

  3. There is a growing feeling that no self-appointed group should decide what actions are good or bad for another group without that group's consent, agreement, and support. The longshoremen feel that they should be deciding this for themselves, in unity with one another, and in full control of its own plans and actions. They have their union that speaks for them in matters of work, and the Occupy movement is not authorized to speak or demonstrate on their behalf. 
  4. The Occupy action in November accomplished essentially nothing of positive tangible value for the longshoremen, the community, or the 99% the movement purports to represent. On the other hand, it cost Port workers tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages and truck rentals and had little or no impact of any significance on the big-money interests the movement opposes.

  5. During the November action, the police took a back-seat position. They did not interfere with the shutdown. They were hardly visible, although they were there and available for traffic control as needed and in case there were any violent outbreaks. This time will probably be different. The various local governments and law enforcement agencies are not likely to just stand by and watch as they did on November 2. Many viewed that shutdown to be a one-time action. This second, highly-expanded action is now viewed as something that has to be controlled, contained, and confined. Shutting down one port is an inconvenience. Attempting to shut down eleven ports constitutes a threat to interstate and international commerce that these cities cannot be expected to tolerate.

  6. There are already indications that there could be violence. One organizer, Boots Riley, has been urging people on his Twitter feed to bring shields so they can "push through a police line.” To make such a recommendation in advance of the demonstration is inflammatory and promotes physical insurrection that can lead to violence. That is not my idea of a peaceful demonstration. It appears that they are inviting a non-peaceful, confrontational demonstration, or they wouldn't be making plans to push through police lines.

  7. Because the ports are involved in interstate and international commerce, and many of the ships that would be affected are from other countries, this could provoke action by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in addition to local police, police from other jurisdictions, county sheriff officers, and the Highway Patrol. Because three of these ports are among the largest in the country, and because of national and international implications, it could be just a short step to calling out the National Guard to preserve order. We don't need or want that.
Some of the strongest points against the action come from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here are some excerpts extracted from that article.

... unlike last time, when the area's major unions gave tacit or outright approval, many of them see Monday's action as disruptive and unnecessary.”

And some occupation activists are labeling it as too confrontational, with the protest's potential for violence detracting from Occupy's stated intention of narrowing the chasm between rich and poor.”

"'Support is one thing,' Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, wrote to his members last week. 'Outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process.'"

... unions represent more than 1,400 workers at the [Port of Oakland]. Other unions that have refused to endorse the shutdown, including the California Nurses Association, declined to comment - all apparently not wanting to antagonize protest organizers.”

However, some activists in the roughly 30 other Occupy organizations in the Bay Area have also concluded that a port blockade is too extreme. They say confronting police and blockading commerce is as outdated as they now regard the tent cities recently cleared by authorities.”

In fact, outside of major cities, some activists so strongly disagree with confrontational tactics that they now call themselves '99 Percenters' rather than 'Occupiers.'

"'The 99 percent is non-confrontational,' said Ellis Goldberg, a marketer who has organized Occupy protests in Dublin and San Ramon. 'You don't use a bat to get your point across, and this port action is a bat. It's going to hurt innocents - in this case, port workers and truckers.'"

These are just some of the items from that article Read it in its entirety at Opposition grows to Occupy's port shutdown plan.

Countdown to Occupy Protest Shutdown Attempt

The Occupy movement has yet to clearly define the goals it hopes to accomplish in shutting down the ports. Nor has the movement come to grips with the impact of its actions on the many longshoremen, truck drivers, rail yard employees and other blue-collar workers in the harbor, all of whom are members in good standing of the 99 percent. 
"It does not serve the goals of the movement to shut down the Port of Oakland," said Port Commission President Pamela Calloway.. On Nov. 2, demonstrators were able to bring the port to a standstill as part of their Day of Action. Calloway says they are still adding up the cost from that action. "It's in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that was for the event on Nov. 2," Calloway said. "We cannot afford to be shut down again."

When the port was shut down Nov 2., Calloway said she was at a trade conference in Africa and had to answer plenty of questions to potential international customers. "People are concerned, is Oakland a safe place to be?" said Calloway. "We worked really hard with our customers, with our business partners, to make sure that they understand that we are open for business, we are a good place to do business."

The ILWU issued a strongly-worded statement following the Occupy movement's announcement of their plans. "It does not serve the goals of the movement to shut down the Port of Oakland," said Port Commission President Pamela Calloway. "The port needs to be open, and people need to be working here."

The second planned shutdown does not have the support of the Longshore Workers Union (ILWU). The ILWU issued a strongly-worded statement following the Occupy movement's announcement of their plans. "The ILWU...and Local 21 are not coordinating, independently or in conjunction with, any self-proclaimed organization or group to shut down any port or terminal," the letter read.

If I wanted to shut down the port, I could do it without Occupy. I don’t need ’em,” says Jeff Smith, president of ILWU’s Columbia River District Council. “This is a question for the Occupy movement: Why would I want to send my people home? Why would I take a job away from somebody?

I don’t get what they’re thinking. It’s my job to put people to work. I’ve got jobs for ’em, so I’m going to put ’em to work. And I’m going to take some of Wall Street’s money.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is not exactly known for backing away from a fight. But the feisty workers apparently draw the line at calls for strikes coming from out-of-state Occupy protesters. As hinted at last week to me by union sources, that call has now been rejected by the ILWU as a whole.
Robert McEllrath, ILWU President, put out this statement:
Only ILWU members or their elected representatives can authorize job actions on behalf of the union, and any decisions made by groups outside of the union’s democratic process do not hold water, regardless of the intent.”
In other words: Thanks for the suggestion, folks. Next time keep it to yourself

ILWU won’t join Occupy Oakland’s attempts to shut down West Coast ports

Facing hefty fines for illegal picketing, union longshore leaders this week rejected a call from Occupy Oakland protesters to shut down West Coast ports Dec. 12 in support of the union's dispute with the owners of the new EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview.
A federal judge sided with the ILWU and sent the case to a labor arbitrator, who is expected to hear the case in December. In the meantime, the judge fined the ILWU about $315,000 for illegal picketing, including blocking incoming grain trains Sept. 7 and 21 and vandalism occurring during an early-morning raid on the terminal Sept. 8.

ILWU clarifies position regarding third-party protests at ports

In response to recent third-party announcements that community activists will attempt to shut down various West Coast marine terminals on December 12, 2011, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) sent a memo to its 15,000 longshore members and leaders emphasizing the union’s internal democratic process and stating its rejection of third-party calls for job actions that have not been sanctioned by its Officers or voted on by member representatives. The memo stated in part,
To be clear, the ILWU, the Coast Longshore Division, and Local 21 are not coordinating independently or in conjunction with any self-proclaimed organization or group to shut down any port or terminal, particularly as it relates to our dispute with EGT in Longview.”

In view of all this negative feedback, why would any organization persist in actions that are clearly unsolicited, unwanted, unwarranted, unwelcome, and unnecessary, and which are significantly harmful to those they purport to help? What gives them the moral right and prerogative to inflict this sort of action upon them? They will only do further damage to their cause and to the cause of the 99%.

Friday, December 9, 2011

NY Tax Plan: Occupy Wall Street Victory?

The State of New York is now replacing their “Millionaires' Tax” with “The Fair Tax.” They have issued press releases touting it as tax increases for the rich and tax reductions for the middle class. And several members of the media have taken them at their word. Here are some examples with links to individual articles:

Yahoo News: NY, California hitting up millionaires, again

Hollywood moguls and Manhattan stock brokers are facing a slap by the Occupy Wall Street movement as California and New York again target high-wage earners to address a continued fiscal crisis in the states.

The New York Times: Who Benefits From the Tax Package

Advocates for extending the state’s so-called millionaires’ tax, which expires Dec. 31, can claim a partial victory, and an impressive one, given Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s longtime opposition to raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.

New York’s governor and legislative leaders struck a deal Tuesday to raise taxes on the wealthy and slightly reduce them for the middle class.

New York's millionaires will pay higher taxes while 4.4 million middle-class and upper-income New Yorkers will get tax cuts, under a reform plan the governor and legislature unveiled on Tuesday.

The state Legislature voted to cut income taxes for the middle class and raise $1.9 billion through higher taxes on the wealthy during a special session Wednesday and early today.

In the state that's home to Wall Street, taxes on the rich are about to go up.

Could This Be a Victory for Occupy Wall Street? Is the message finally sinking in and getting results? Don't bet on it until you look at the package that was passed. As the old expression goes, “the devil is in the details.”

New York's Basic Plan: Cut Taxes for the Rich. ProPublica has published a brief evaluation of the New York tax plan (NY’s Tax Overhaul, Said to Raise Taxes on the Rich, Actually Doesn’t), based upon an article in the New York Times ). ProPublica points out that the rich are not getting an increase over the 2011 rates at all. They are actually getting a decrease. Those with household incomes from $300K-$500K get a reduction of 1% from the rate they paid in 2011, and those with incomes from $500,000-$2 million get a reduction of 2.12%. Nothing was mentioned about people making above $2 million, but I presume they would pay at the same rate..

An Insignificant Cut for the Middle Class. Meanwhile, those with incomes between $40K and $150K get reductions of only four tenths of a percent and those between $150K and $300K get a reduction of only two tenths of a percent. (Nothing is said about households with incomes below $40,000.) So, this is what is called “The Fair Tax Plan” that is to replace “The Millionaire’s Tax?” This is the tax overhaul that has been passed off as “raising taxes on the rich and cutting them for the middle class?”

Rates Tell Only Part of the Story. The ProPublica article correctly points out that the income range of $500K to $2M+ received the biggest decrease in tax rates: -2.12%. This is hardly the middle class, yet its rate reduction over last year is five to ten times greater than the reductions for the two lower income classes. And, when these reduced rate get applied to actual taxes paid, the situation becomes even more unbalanced. Here are some examples:

A household with $40,000 in taxable income would have paid $2,740 in taxes in 2011, and would pay $2,580 in 2012. This is a $160 reduction in taxes over the prior year—or about $13.33 a month or about 44 cents per day — hardly anything that will make a difference in closing the income and wealth gap. 

A household with $110,000 in taxable income would have paid $7,535 in taxes in 2011 and would pay $7,095 in 2012. This is a $440 reduction in taxes over the prior year.  This amounts to about $27 a month or $1.21 per day—again not enough to make much of a difference.

Meanwhile, those with a household income of $300,001 to $500,000 would get reductions ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 ($250 to $417 per month). And those with a household income of $500,000 to $2,000,000 would get reductions ranging from $10,600 to $42,400 ($883 to $3,533 per month). 

To me, this appears to be perpetuating the huge income gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and does nothing to close it

Political Spin? This plan should never be touted as “raising taxes on the rich and cutting them for the middle class.” That is a farcical misrepresentation. If they really WANTED to be honest, they would say that there are across-the-board increases for all income levels compared to last year, which represent some increases compared to 2008. Even then, however, it would be most accurate to frame the tax overhaul in terms of the most recent rates, instead of reaching back three years, just to make their legislation look better than it really it. It appears that much of the media bought into the spin. That shows how much we can rely on them for factual information -- not that this should come as much of a surprise.

Back to the Main Question. With regard to the title question, I have to say that the New York tax plan cannot be considered a victory for Occupy Wall Street.  First of all, New York already had its millionaire's tax plan in place for the 2009 tax year, more than two years before OWS started its movement, and it expires this year.  One could convincingly make the case that perhaps OWS got the idea from the State of New York.  In addition, the new tax plan is worse than the former one, because it created an even wider gap between the 1% and the 99%, which runs counter to the OWS motive for taxing the rich.

And in California... The Golden State has also had a tax plan in the past that imposed higher rates on the wealthy, and they are considering going back to something similar to alleviate their present fiscal woes. Several plans to accomplish this (or to prevent it) will be on the ballot next year.

Conclusion. The idea of taxing the rich may not have originated with OWS, but they must be given some credit for championing the cause and increasing the awareness of millions of Americans regarding this option.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Congress Has Occupied Wall Street

These are excerpts of an opinion piece that appeared in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. It was written by somebody with whom I seldom agree, but this is one of those rare exceptions. I'll provide a link at the end of this message that will reveal the author of these comments. It may surprise you as well.

“How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers?”

“Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.”

“The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad … accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it's sickening.”

“Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us.”

“The corruption isn't confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It's an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It's an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.”

“The moment you threaten to strip politicians of their legal graft, they'll moan that they can't govern effectively without it. Perhaps they'll gravitate toward reform, but often their idea of reform is to limit the right of "We the people" to exercise our freedom of speech in the political process.”

“… the only solution to entrenched corruption is sudden and relentless reform. Sudden because our permanent political class is adept at changing the subject to divert public attention—and we can no longer afford to be indifferent to this system of graft when our country is going bankrupt. Reform must be relentless because fighting corruption is like a game of whack-a-mole. You knock it down in one area only to see it pop up in another.”

“We need reform that provides real transparency. Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act like everyone else. We need more detailed financial disclosure reports, and members should submit reports much more often than once a year. All stock transactions above $5,000 should be disclosed within five days.”

“We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistle blower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren't really blind because they're managed by family members or friends.)”

“No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors. No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments. No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit. No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session. No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office. No more revolving door, ever.”

“This call for real reform must transcend political parties. The grass-roots movements of the right and the left should embrace this.”

“...Washington politicians have been "Occupying Wall Street" long before anyone pitched a tent in Zuccotti Park.”

If we had no other reasons (and we have plenty more), these are enough that we should demand an immediate and entire housecleaning of Congress and get people in office who are honestly and sincerely committed to a total reform of our political and economic systems for the good of our country – and who will live up to those commitments.

(For the entire text of the article and the name of the author, click here I am sure you will be surprised!)

Coming Up: Big Problems with Our Two-Party System

Elections :Heart of Democracy or Height of Hypocrisy?

In Presidential Debates, Duopoly Reigns

Presidential Debates: Fraud or Farce?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time for Occupy Movement to Move On

Message Received. The Occupy movement accomplished the first step of what it set out to do. We have emphasized the tremendous economic disparity in this country and the undemocratic dominance of our government by big-money special interest groups. We have driven home the message that something needs to be done to address the inequality, inequity, and iniquity of our present social, political, and economic systems. So, what do we do and where do we go next to achieve our goals, whatever they may be?

We Need More Movement in Our Movement. America got that first message. Now people want to know what comes next. Surely it isn't just continued occupations, confrontations, demonstrations, protests, work blockages and civil disobedience, with the occasional violence and abuse of authority that accompanies such proceedings. But that is all they are seeing – both now and on the horizon. They see no change, no progress, no structure, and no plans. The second act so far has been mostly a repeat of the first act, and the audience is leaving in droves.

Our Methods Are Outweighing Our Message. Shutting down the Port of Oakland got a lot of press, but much of it came across as negative. When a veteran at an Oakland demonstration suffered a fractured skull, that was the news, not the message of the group. When anarchists defaced and destroyed both public and private property, that got the headlines, not the message of the movement. When cops flagrantly showered pepper spray on students in Berkeley and on and 84-year-old woman, that is what you saw and heard about on television, not the message of the movement. Marshall Mcluhan, who was born 100 years ago, once said “The medium is the message.” Unfortunately for our cause, the media being used by the Occupy movement to communicate their frustrations are mass protest and civil disobedience.

Where's the Beef Support! Recent polls demonstrate the the movement is losing is populist support. A USAToday/Gallup poll released in October reported that 20% of those polled disapprove of the way the movement is being conducted. In November, that percentage jumped to 31%, an increase of 55%. Approval during the same period dropped from 25% to only 20%, a decrease of 25%. Those are some shocking percentages for a movement that is trying to represent 99% of the population, and it does not bode well for the future of the movement if it does not get its act together.

Organizations Need Structure and Leadership. Any successful organization is needs to have a stated vision and mission, plus goals and objectives, and an organization to support them. This represents a charted course for the organization, something that is noticeably absent in its present state. . It also needs to have various checkpoints and milestones, much like a compass that ensures that the organization is on track toward its destination. And, of course, to carry the analogy a bit farther, there has to be a captain and a crew. Otherwise, the “ship” might as well be rudderless, because nobody will have specific responsibility to monitor the weather, set the sails, or steer the ship, and it will just flounder..

Democratic Decision Making? While the captain and crew could be selected democratically, day-to-day and minute-to-minute decisions have to be made by these people. It is not feasible or desirable to exercise the democratic process in every decision that must be made. You are likely to have decisions made based upon the whims of the group on a given day. Policies and long-term strategic and tactical plans can and probably should be made democratically. However, day-to-day management and decision making needs to be left to a leadership group. And that is another thing that is lacking at this point.

Role of “Leaders.” We need people who can unify, and speak for the interests of, the entire group, and not just for their own personal interests. We don't need people like Dylan Bozlee, of Hilo, Hawaii, who reported that he would rather travel across America than get a job. “Do I want to work?” he said. “Only if I wanted a home, wife, kids and a dog. If not, I think you’re ruining your life,” While everybody has a right to free speech, comments like this are taken up by the opposition as though they represent the Occupy group as a whole. The movement doesn't need comments like that. What is needed are leaders who can speak on behalf of the movement in an articulate and responsible manner. Bozlee, no matter how well-intentioned he may be, has played right into the hands of the movement's opposition.

Protection from Minority Views. Without some form of central leadership, the movement leaves itself wide open to being defined by the personal views, actions, and comments of individuals, rather than the group itself, and its perception devolves to the lowest common denominator. Whether it be the the socialists, the Marxists, the American Communists, the anarchists, or the Dylan Bozlees of the movement, these people are feeding the opposition, not helping the cause, and their effect needs to be diminished.

A spokesperson could also help explain elements of the movement that some people find questionable or objectionable, and could meet with authorities and government officials and possibly even create a spirit of understanding and cooperation, rather than misunderstanding and coercion.

Another View from the Outside. Byron Williams put it quite well in his column in the San Jose Mercury News:

“Without leadership that controls the message in a way most can understand, offering tangible solutions, providing guidance and sustaining morale when frustration consumes emotion, the Occupy movements will be vanquished into the flames of the first phase, leaving a few to brag about the several weeks their efforts to have a leaderless movement dominated the news cycle.

.Personally, I think there should be a national leader or leadership group, with a similar arrangement in each of the major city groups. Smaller groups, at their option, may decide on a form of leadership that best suite their needs and direction.

Why Is Our Congress So Dysfunctional?

A Reading Guide:

Lois Beckett at ProPublica has compiled an excellent list of articles dealing with why our two political parties in Congress are constantly engaged in death grips on one another and just won't let go. Here are some brief excerpts from some if the articles (with some added boldface emphasis from me).

Congress’ approval ratings are abysmal, and the failure of the congressional“super committee to find a compromise on reducing the national debt has set off a new round of recriminations.
… Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, told the Washington Post, “We’re at a time in American history where everybody's afraid — afraid of losing their job — to move toward the center.”
… Congress has actually taken a turn for the worse — more gridlock, more grandstanding, less compromise to get things done.
Old rules are being used in newly aggressive, partisan ways, and routine Congressional activities have become politicized ...
The use of filibusters to block votes in the Senate used to be a last-ditch tactic, but in 2010 Republicans were filibustering even routine Democratic initiatives, effectively paralyzing the Senate .
The confirmation process of many of the president’s nominees  has also lagged, creating gaps in the Treasury and Federal Reserve, leaving regulatory agencies without leaders..
It has also resulted in prolonged judicial vacancies, which has sparked criticism from the Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who said that the delays are impairing the judicial system.
Norman Ornstein’s Foreign Policy article, Worst. Congress. Ever.” provides a helpful overview of what’s the matter with Congress, from a man who’s been a Congressional expert for decades.
Members of Congress are raising money instead of building working relationships in DC
In the Boston Review’s Fixing Congress issue, Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee (recently named the House’s “last moderate” by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera) published a detailed chronology of how fundraising has changed Congress. Cooper notes that campaigns now cost millions of dollars, and that members of Congress are expected to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in party dues, as well as make large donations to other candidates in their party.
George Packer’s New Yorker story on dysfunction in the Senate — perhaps the most vivid and comprehensive take on this issue—also elaborates what kind of impact fund-raising pressure has on senators. “Of any free time you have, I would say fifty per cent, maybe even more,” is spent on fund-raising, one senator told Packer. “It sucks up time that a senator ought to be spending getting to know other senators, working on issues ...” 
William J. Bennett argues: “Don't mistake broken government for the growing pains of a democratic republic.”
Lois Beckett's complete article, along with reference sources, can be found at ProPublica's Reading Guide: Why Is Congress So Dysfunctional?

Coming Up

How Congress Has Occupied Wall Street.
                    Big Problems with Our Two-Party System

Elections :Heart of Democracy or Height of Hypocrisy?

In Presidential Debates, Duopoly Reigns

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Pursuit of Profits Kills Innovation and the U.S. Economy

Clayton Christenson, a  Harvard Business School professor was one of the speakers at last month's IT Symposium.  In his address, he hit on one of the major problems with our economy and how it affects our tremendous loss of talent, innovation, and jobs.  Here are a few of his comments:
Christensen retells the story of how Dell Computers progressively lopped off low-value segments of its PC operation to the Taiwan-based firm ASUSTek — the motherboard, the assembly of the computer, the management of the supply chain and finally the design of the computer. In each case Dell accepted the proposal because in each case its profitability improved: its costs declined and its revenues stayed the same. At the end of the process, however, Dell was little more than a brand, while ASUSTeK can—and does—now offer a cheaper, better computer to Best Buy at lower cost.

Christensen also describes the impact of foreign outsourcing on many other companies, including the steel companies, the automakers, the oil companies, the pharmaceuticals, and now even software development. These firms are steadily becoming primarily marketing agencies and brands: they are lopping off the expertise that is needed to make anything anymore.  In the process, major segments of the US economy have been lost, in some cases, forever.

Christensen even suggests that in slavishly following such thinking, Wall Street analysts have outsourced their brains.

“They still think they are in charge, but they aren’t. They have outsourced their brains without realizing it. Which is a sad thing.”

In essence, we are not just outsourcing our jobs, but our ingenuity, our innovation, and our expertise, thereby building up those elements in foreign countries to a point where they become our competitors and can beat us because they now have all the expertise, production capability and supply chains for components.

At one point, the US was the leader in electronics manufacturing. Now, very little of this industry is centered here, and we have devolved into being little more than an electronics distributor. Outsourcing has brought profits to American companies, their executives, and their stockholders, but at the expense of our country's workers and its economy.

If we are to provide more jobs for American workers, we will have to address this aspect of free enterprise and highly regulate it -- for the survival of our country.

(If you are interested in reading the full article, written by Steve Denning, it can be found at Forbes, but the essence of Christensen's address that I wanted to emphasize is pretty much contained above.) 

Coming Up:
                    An Open Letter to the One Percenters

Duopoly and Wealth: The Ties that Bind
   Political Duopoly: Working Partner of the Plutocracy

Plutocracy to Plutonomy: From Bad to Worse!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Time for an OWS Reality Check

The following items have deeply disturbed me and have haunted me for the past couple of days. I would like to address them here. For the first item, I will cite the first three paragraphs of an article from Public Policy Polling, (with some added emphasis of my own) and then offer my comments.

Occupy Wall Street Favor Fading 

“The Occupy Wall Street movement is not wearing well with voters across the country. Only 33% now say that they are supportive of its goals, compared to 45% who say they oppose them. That represents an 12 point shift in the wrong direction for the movement's support compared to a month ago when 35% of voters said they supported it and 36% were opposed. Most notably independents have gone from supporting Occupy Wall Street's goals 39/34, to opposing them 34/42.

Voters don't care for the Tea Party either, with 42% saying they support its goals, as compared to 45% who oppose them.  But asked whether they have a higher opinion of the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street movement the Tea Party wins out 43-37, representing a flip from last month when Occupy Wall Street won out 40-37 on that question. With independents, the difference is even greater, withe a prior 43-34 split favoring the Occupy movement to a 44-40 split favoring the Tea Party.

I don't think the bad poll numbers for Occupy Wall Street reflect Americans being unconcerned with wealth inequality.  Polling we did in some key swing states earlier this year found overwhelming support for raising taxes on people who make over $150,000 a year. In late September we found that 73% of voters supported the 'Buffett rule' with only 16% opposed.  And in October we found that Senators resistant to raising taxes on those who make more than a million dollars a year could pay a price at the polls. I don't think any of that has changed- what the downturn in Occupy Wall Street's image suggests is that voters are seeing the movement as more about the 'Occupy' than the 'Wall Street.'  The controversy over the protests is starting to drown out the actual message.”

If you were to use Google to search on the words “OWS,” “hurts,” “the,” “99,” and “percent,” you would get 264 million. hits That number amounts to almost 85% of our 313 million population. Does it prove anything? From an absolute standpoint, the answer is “no.” Can it be indicative of a public relations problem? For that question, the answer is definitely “yes.”

I acknowledge that many of the messages don't really deal with OWS hurting the 99 percent, but just happen to contain all of those those words somewhere in their text. But an enormous number of them do pertain to the fact that the movement is having a great negative impact on the 99%, and probably many, many times more than they are having on the 1%.

And I also recognize that many of the hits are the same or essentially the same message, just repeated on different sites, but they are still added exposure to the public that does nothing to help the movement's cause, and does a great deal to damage it.


It is time for the movement to address this question: “Are our methods obscuring our message?” Or, even worse: “Are our methods sabotaging our message?”And they also need to ask themselves if further demonstrations will actually help their cause or hurt it.

One thing in the PPP poll that I think is particularly thought-provoking is the comment “...what the downturn in Occupy Wall Street's image suggests is that voters are seeing the movement as more about 'Occupy' and less about 'Wall Street."  The controversy over the protests is starting to drown out the actual message.

With regard to all the press saying that our demonstrations are hurting the the 99%, I also unfortunately have to agree. I constantly ask myself how a very small percentage of the 99% can preach democracy for all, and then perform very undemocratic acts that interfere with the livelihoods of others in the 99% who did not give their consent. For a few, it may be a sacrifice that they are willing to make. However, for the majority, it is another hardship heaped on all the other hardships they face in our country today.

There is an old saying the “Any publicity is good publicity.” However, most of the media coverage deals with the sensational side of the news and not what is behind that news. They show pictures of huge mobs of people occupying the streets, blocking traffic and restricting access to businesses and work sites, thereby fomenting political and social unrest. Fighting between the police ans some demonstrators makes a big splash, regardless of who was right or wrong – which is frequently as much a matter of personal opinion than established fact. In this case, most of the news generated by the protests comes across as bad for the movement. While the movement seems to be gaining in numbers of demonstrators, we may be losing the battle for the rest of the 99%, whose numbers are far greater than the demonstrators and, without whom we cannot succeed in our goals..

When all is said and done, I have to question whether the end justifies the means if it is going to alienate the very people whose interests the Occupy movement claims to represent. I believe that it is time for a reality check, and probably even a change in tactics, if they are going to survive their opposition and achieve their goals.