Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Worst. Morning. Ever. Also: Killing Two Corporations with One Stone

Today started like any other day:

My alarm went off. It was all downhill from there.

Hola amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I've been busy. I've also realized that my blog postings have been starting out like one of Jim Anchower's postings, so I plan on rectifying that.

I spent last weekend in Portland for a leadership conference. We went out to a bunch of fun bars (and a crappy one or two). I got to see a band that featured Bob Newhart on the bass guitar (I'll include pictures once I figure out how to send them from my phone to my computer). Oh yeah, there was also a conference. It was... hmm... (okay Rob, if you don't have anything nice to say...) um... it was... it was in Portland.

Actually, I went to a few presentations that weren't too bad. And the conference was free. But I left it with a few things I didn't expect to take home with me. The most obvious is this cold.

Now, this isn't some nasty cold that's kicking my ass. I don't have a stuffy nose, my throat isn't sore, and I'm hardly coughing. But the thing is, my voice has dropped in pitch an octave or two. I sound like I should be working for a phone sex hotline or something.

But today was a tough one. I planned on getting up early, but was tired as hell. I finally got up and had to hurry out the door to get to my Spanish class on time. As soon as I started to pull out of the driveway, I got a phone call from my bank.

Now, I've never known a bank to call and say, "Hey, we just wanted to thank you for leaving your money with us so we can collect all the interest and keep it for ourselves," or "Congratulations, we've all gone insane and decided to give you all our money!" In my experience, when they call, it's not good news.

However, the lady on the other line started by asking me if this was a bad time. That was a first. Still, I was in my "bend over and take it" mode, so I said, "Let's just handle this now." She then proceeded to tell me that a hacker had broken into the bank's database, and my debit card number was one of the ones compromised. But hey, it didn't look like any money from my bank account was missing... yet.

The long and the short of it was that they were going to cancel my debit card and I'll have to wait 10 business days to get a new one. Perfect. It's just before Thanksgiving. I'm not going to need to use my debit card around Thanksgiving, because who uses a debit card around Thanksgiving, right? I mean, it's not like people do a lot of shopping for some upcoming major holiday on Thanksgiving weekend or anything, right? But hey, if I wanted to, I could go down to the corporate headquarters (I do use a local bank) and have them make me a new card. And it will only cost me $5. What a bargain, right?

I guess I should also mention that I've had the same debit card for six years. I know the number by heart- all 16 digits plus the expiration date. All of my online shopping accounts are set up to that debit card. It's not like there are a lot of them, but I can't remember all of them off the top of my head.

Even worse, while she was telling me this, it was raining and the car's wipers were too loud at full blast to hear the bank lady but I couldn't see much at the intermittent setting. Also, my stereo has a short and it kept cutting in and out (for the first time in over a year) while we were talking (it hasn't given me trouble since this morning, so this adds to my theory about the driver and the stereo being emotionally linked). And if that weren't enough, weasels ripped my flesh.

Don't believe the purple...

We're coming up on Thanksgiving, followed by "dead" week, followed by finals week. So I probably won't have many postings between then and now. But to keep things going, to give you, the viewer, your money's worth, and to kill two birds with one stone, I present to you my Political Science paper in its entirety. The assignment was to pick one thing about our political system that I would like to change, how it would improve things, who would benefit and who would lose, who would be for and against it, the likelihood it would be adopted, etc. So here ya go:

Most people would likely agree that the current political system of the United States has no shortage of problems. Corruption, scandals, increasing polarization, “dirty” campaigns, and much more all contribute to the problems, and the problems in turn contribute to apathy and/or outrage among us voters. But one of the largest problems our country faces is the ever-increasing influence of the wealthy over our political system in the form of campaign contributions, lobbying, propaganda, manipulation of public opinion, and outright bribery. This increasing influence translates into a decreasing direct influence by the voters. Congress tried to change this with the Federal Election Campaign Acts of 1971 and 1974, which limited how much an individual could contribute to a campaign and provided some public financing for candidates. According to Mary Kate Hiatt, “Unfortunately, by the 1990s, these laws had become riddled with loopholes” (207), and they often caused more harm than they intended because the public financing is optional. A candidate could refuse public financing and no be subjected to the regulations that his or her opponent must follow. Also, in 1976 the US Supreme Court ruled that there can’t be any limits to how much could be spent on a campaign if a candidate uses his or her own money (Buckley v. Valeo). The Court also determined that a candidate is not responsible if another person or group independently campaigns on his or her behalf. The reasoning behind this ruling was that putting limits on spending essentially limits free speech. So while there are currently a few limits on how much can be contributed, there are effectively no limits to how much a campaign can spend. Therefore, it’s critical that we dramatically reform our entire campaigning and election process so we can elect the people most qualified for the positions instead of the people who can raise the most money.

Since a spending limit provision must be a fundamental component for any sort of meaningful campaign finance reform, it would need to become a constitutional amendment to keep the Supreme Court from overturning it. Of course, this amendment would have to be proposed by either two-thirds of both branches of Congress or two-thirds of each of the states’ legislatures, and then ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures or by specially elected conventions from each state.

The first part of this amendment would provide public financing for elections of candidates seeking office (i.e. not for ballot initiatives). It would create a National Elections Department to direct financing for federal elections and to oversee the state and local ones. Each state would be required to finance their own state and local elections, and each could form an agency similar to the federal one at their discretion. If necessary, states could apply for federal funding to facilitate this. The financing would call for a budgeted amount equal to one dollar per registered voter in a candidate’s precinct, with a provision to allow for adjustments for inflation. A candidate is free to raise and spend money from other sources and is not required to opt out of the public financing. However, for every extra dollar spent, he or she must also donate one dollar to the budget of (each of) the other candidate(s), plus one dollar must be returned to the Election Department. Thus, we have a truly fair election because each candidate ends up with an equal budget.

For example, if a candidate was to run for Governor of a particular state, and that state had 500,000 eligible voters, his or her budget would be $500,000. If that candidate were to raise, say, $160,000 in addition to the initial $500,000, and were running against two other candidates, he or she could only actually spend $540,000 because $80,000 would have to go to the two other candidates ($40,000 each), and $40,000 would be returned to the Elections Department (assuming, of course, that neither of the other candidates raise any additional money). This way, although the option to raise more money is still available, but there’s really no incentive to do so. Consequently, the candidates can focus on campaigning and interacting with the voters. Of course, a candidate must return any unspent money after the elections.

The public funding is only available to candidates on the ballot. In order to get on the ballot, each candidate must collect signatures from at least five percent of the eligible voters for his or her constituency. The candidate may raise money to pay canvassers to collect said signatures before receiving the public funds, but the amount raised would count towards the public-financed budget. Another bonus is that since the number of registered voters determines the funding, candidates would likely want to help get people registered to vote.

In addition to the financing, the FCC would require all media outlets to donate a certain amount of airtime to each candidate, with the amount of time being determined by the size of the constituency of the position. This airtime would be within one month of the election, would air simultaneously on all stations within a state or district, or nationwide in the case of a presidential election, would be commercial-free, would initially air during the 8:00 primetime hour, and would be repeated every six hours during a 24 hour period, so people who work evenings, for example, wouldn’t have to miss it.

Other groups are still free to spend money on advertising for a candidate but in doing so, they must clearly state the name of the person or group doing the funding.

Another provision would change the initial election to early September. If no 50% majority is achieved for each race, the top two have a run-off in November and each get another batch of funds at the same rate as the initial funding (one dollar per registered voter). Also, political parties could continue to select their candidates as they do currently with the primaries and caucuses, but the party itself must finance the candidates, and any private funds raised must go through the party. Other provisions include a nationwide mail-in ballot system modeled after Oregon’s, and a complete elimination of the Electoral College.

Corporations and wealthy individuals would likely be very opposed to this proposal because it would eliminate most of their influence over the government. Media outlets would likely lose money, or rather, make less money from political advertising, so they would likely be against it. Many of the general voting public would also probably be against it thinking their tax dollars would be “wasted” on the elections, unless they somehow realized that it would probably save tax money because our leaders would likely do away with all the favors they had been giving their corporate sponsors. If that were to happen, the public would most likely strongly support it. Politicians, however, would probably be split. On one hand, it would probably be very liberating to many to not have to worry about fundraising and to concentrate on campaigning and governing. On the other hand, keeping the funding equal would eliminate a potential advantage for candidates who have big money connections. For these reasons, this plan realistically has a snowball’s chance of actually getting implemented.

Works Cited
Hiatt, Mary Kate. People & Politics: An Introduction to American Government. Wheaton, IL: Gregory Publishing Company, 2005.

Well, I hope y'all enjoyed this as much as I did. Don't eat too much this Thursday.



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