Friday, November 7, 2014

Give citizens $20 each to fund elections

It's taken as a given that our politicians are bought and sold by special interests. But why do we let them buy the keys to the kingdom so cheaply? Let's band together and buy it back by giving every citizen $20 every 2 years to give to the candidate/party/SuperPAC of their choice.

Our ~$3.8 trillion budget is controlled at a cost of ~$3.7 billion in spending on Congressional elections every cycle. This is 0.1% of the yearly budget, or 0.05% of the money spent by Congress in their 2 year term. In a Presidential year, that increases to about $6.2 billion. So we allow moneyed interests to buy our government for $10 billion every 4 years.

If we give every citizen $20 every 2 years to give to any candidate/party/PAC they want, that works out to around $6 billion each cycle, or $12 billion every 4 years, replacing the money with millions and millions of small donations, instead of large donations from a few hundred thousand people with thousands to spend. And for our money, we get a Congress that works for the people, not Comcast and Goldman Sachs.

We might even make it a condition of being eligible to receive these donations that the candidate doesn't accept bigger donations from other sources. If you want to get a few million from the Kochs or George Soros, you can't get a larger amount of money from thousands/millions of small donors.

Some might worry that by subsidizing campaigns, we'd wind up with even more money in politics. But based on our experience in the last few weeks, there really aren't more ads they could possibly buy, as every ad on TV was political, it seems. I doubt there would arise a situation where we'd spend $6 billion from people and $3.7 from the current system, as there just isn't $10 billion worth of campaigning to do.

So let's do it. For under 0.1% of the federal budget, or about 0.3% of the discretionary budget, we can make sure that the other 99+% is spent for all of us, not just those rich enough to cut huge checks

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"A complex exegesis"

As Josh Marshall accurately describes:
official Washington is now deep in a complex exegesis of the Norquist anti-tax pledge. Is it eternal? Is it limited to a single term? If a tax rises in the forest but no one voted to rise it, did it really rise?
If only there were some way to ask the voters about their opinion on the matter!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Baby you can drive my car

This image is from the huge wreck in Texas last week.  There was thick fog, and drivers couldn't see the wreck ahead and added their vehicles to the destruction.  This is just one of many ways that mistakes and shortcomings of human drivers.  Google's driverless cars have logged hundreds of thousands of miles driven without any computer-caused incidents.  We spent around $1.4 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan to maybe have stopped a 9/11-sized attack or two, if you accept the neoconservatives' view.  3,000 Americans die on the road every month in the summer.  How many of these fatalities could be prevented if we figured out a way to replace human drivers with computers?

Of course, putting the $150,000 worth of equipment needed for the Google driverless car into each of the roughly 250 million cars on the road would cost $37.5 trillion.  There could probably be some economies of scale to bring that number down pretty significantly.  At the very least, some sort of mandatory in-car device that could pass along important bits like "WARNING: HUGE FUCKING CRASH AHEAD" seems like it might be worth the cost.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Quick hits

I'm still enjoying a little post-election holiday from posting, so here's a few interesting bits from the last few days:

-Obamacare is still in danger, apparently.  According to some, a strict reading of the law indicates that individuals' subsidies and employer mandates cannot be accomplished in states whose governors refuse to set up insurance exchanges.  Another challenge focuses on the mandate's status as a tax, and taxes aren't allowed to start in the Senate, as Obamacare did.

-Florida Senator and possible 2016 GOP Presidential nominee Marco Rubio refused to say how old he thinks the Earth is, saying "I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow."  While the actual fact of the age is irrelevant, it clearly matters to our economy and society if 46% of the population is incapable of recognizing indisputable scientific facts.

-What is Hamas' goal in indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel?  Randomly killing civilians is no way to build sympathy.  In an age where 90.6% (.pdf) of Palestinians have cell phones, and 22% have smartphones/cameras, wouldn't a Gandhi/MLK approach be worth a shot?

Friday, November 16, 2012

By GOP's fruit you will recognize them

It's a sure sign of the failure of our system that we have not managed to pass a tax cut extension for 98% of taxpayers.  Just about everyone, left or right, says they're in favor of extending these cuts.  In July, Senate Democrats passed a bill  to do just that, but it has stalled in the House.  Republicans are apparently trying to use the possibility of middle class taxes going up to extract deeper spending cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy.

By not bringing the Senate bill up for a vote, Republicans are revealing their true goals.  Strictly considering the proper tax rate for the bottom 98% of taxpayers, of course Republicans would vote for the lower rates.  If they wanted to do so, they could pass the tax cut, Obama would sign it into law, and then they could argue the merits of tax cuts for the wealthy and of spending cuts.  But instead they choose to say that if the rich don't get their tax cuts, then the GOP will refuse to let the middle class keep theirs.  It clearly shows the relative values placed by Republicans on each group's tax treatment.

There was a peculiar discussion of this issue on CNBC today involving billionaire investor  Wilbur Ross.  Ross said "The trade-off the president proposed is not a trade-off.  To say give me what I want, which is the middle-class relief, and I'll give you a framework for negotiations, that's a sucker's game.”

How is middle-class tax relief suddenly something Republicans have to begrudgingly, and with negotiations/concessions, give to Democrats?  They should be happy that their opponents have come around to their side on this one, but instead they're demanding concessions before they'll vote for the things they supposedly support.  But they (correctly) realize that a tax cut for the wealthy would never go through on its own, so they're forced  to use whatever leverage they have to force the lower top tax rates through.  One of the few sources of leverage they have is the expiration of the Bush tax rates for the middle class.  They are willing to risk middle class tax cuts to try to get tax cuts for the rich.

Very illuminating.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

GOP out on a limb over the cliff

During one of the early Republican debates, Mitt Romney indicated he would not accept a budget deal of $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue.  It is widely accepted Republican dogma that any tax increase is terrible and will likely mean a serious primary challenger for any GOPers who vote for more revenue.

A new Gallup poll shows just how out-of-step this foundational belief of the Republican Party is.  Voters were asked if the deficit should be reduced entirely by spending cuts, mostly cuts, entirely by raising taxes, mostly taxes, or equally between the two.  Since the question was last asked, an equal plan has taken the lead, moving from an 18% deficit to one that is mostly/entirely spending cuts to a 5% advantage.   That doesn't count the 11% who think the solution is entirely tax increases, plus whatever portion of voters who would be happy with the 10:1 split Romney/Republicans rejected.

The Republican Party is far to the right of the voters on this issue.  Obama must be far to the left of the voters, n'est-ce pas?  Actually, the plan he proposes envisions $4 trillion in deficit reduction, with $1.6 trillion, or 40%, coming from increased revenues and the other 60% coming from spending cuts.  A plan with more spending cuts than tax increases puts Obama to the right of the 56% of Americans who told Gallup they want a balanced or tax-heavy plan.

It's a perfect microcosm of the last four years.  Republicans take a far-right stance, Obama goes past halfway to try to make a deal, and Republicans refuse to budge.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sexting while driving off a cliff

Our economy is hurtling toward the fiscal cliff.  Without action, we could face a recession.  To avoid it, trillions of dollars will be moved around, causing fundamental changes in the lives of many/most Americans in the process.  And yet, instead of focusing on constructive debate or skilled deal-making, our political system has spent the last 4 days falling over itself to dig up every lurid detail of a sex scandal which, so far has been discovered, hasn't actually affected anything real.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Republican denialism

Here's a very illuminating panel discussion with Republicans from across the spectrum (for Republicans, anyway).  The most interesting/important statements came from Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose position as Vice Chair of the House Republican Caucus makes her the highest-ranking female Republican.  At around 1:13 of the linked video "What I saw, largely, was a status quo election.  The voters decided to keep things basically the same, with the Republicans in the majority in the House."  She says later, at 11:00, when asked how the Republican party can succeed, that "We saw in the House, the Republicans kept the majority.  We had been bold, we had been putting forward our solutions whether it was on the economy, the fiscal cliff, how to get Americans back to work.  We've been putting that forward and we got re-elected."

She seems to think that a "status quo" election as the minority party when unemployment is at 7.9% is an indication to just keep on keepin' on.  A status quo election is a disaster for the minority party in this kind of environment.  Does she think that they'll do just as well next in 2016 when unemployment is around 6% (.pdf)?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The party Republican voters want, deserve

Grover Norquist has a majority of the House of Representatives under his thumb.  219 representatives have signed his pledge (.pdf) to never raise taxes on anyone ever, and that's enough to keep a deal from happening.  Of course, Norquist himself actually has no official power.  He doesn't decide who is on the ballot.  But, as demonstrated in the GOP primary defeats of relative moderates like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett, any Republican who shows any hint of being insufficiently conservative is not long for this political world.  A Republican who breaks a pledge to Norquist would certainly face a primary challenger supported by Norquist and Co., and that Republican would almost certainly lose.

Republican voters have shown no inclination to encourage compromise or moderation.  It would take an act of political courage for a Republican to challenge his own constituency to change their stance.  GOP voters have so routinely purged legislators capable of legislating that there is no one left foolish enough to fight the status quo.

So now we have a 219 representatives who would be committing career suicide if they led the nation away from the fiscal cliff.  With a majority of the House sworn to never raise taxes, along with a president who's said he will veto a cliff-avoiding bill that doesn't raise taxes on the rich, I'm not optimistic that we can avoid a Washington-induced recession.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Which House party has more support?

Quick, which party's House candidates got more votes this election?  The Republicans, of course.  Right?  Chief anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist points to Republicans' holding their majority in the House as validation of their anti-tax zealotry and encouragement for them to hold the line during the upcoming "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

Actually, Democratic candidates won more votes than their GOP counterparts.  But thanks to extensive gerrymandering, many of the Democratic House voters are all crammed into the same mostly-urban districts, handing them huge victories while Republicans win closer races elsewhere.  I am represented in the House by Marcia Fudge, who was unopposed in 2012 and who has never received less than 80% of the vote in a general election.  Meanwhile, my area's previous representative, Betty Sutton, lost her bid by a margin of 52.2% to 47.8% after her district was eliminated in Republican-run post-Census redistricting.

Ohio has 16 congressional districts.  Pennsylvania has 18.  Obama won both states, so one might expect that Democrats might at least be competitive in the House delegations.  Unfortunately, thanks to how the lines are drawn, they only managed to win 9 of the 34.