Sunday, July 25, 2010

Campaign Finance Reform

I am sure that many of my readers will be surprised to hear that I (Mr. Small Government) support a costly system of public financing of elections. Such a system would match private political contributions with X amount of funds. The purpose would ideally make politicians less beholden to powerful corporations, labor unions and special interests. Hopefully this would allow them more politicians to focus on general public interest versus narrow special interests. In addition, I would recommend limiting the campaign to no more than a month, that would keep costs down and allow politicians to focus more time and energy on governing and less on getting elected. These would be much needed 1st steps to curbing corruption. A second and more difficult step would be to lower incentives for powerful interests to seek favors from politicians, by minimizing the role of the state as a redistributive bureaucracy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Groups launch effort to change campaign money law


Two groups that have long advocated public financing of elections plan to spend at least $8 million this year to prod Congress to vote on proposed legislation aimed at reducing the influence of big donations in politics.

The joint effort by Common Cause and Public Campaign, called the Campaign for Fair Elections, will launch its first wave of advertising this week aimed primarily at Democrats who have yet to sign on in support of the bill.

The legislation would give candidates $4 of public financing for every $1 dollar raised through contributions of $100 or less. Participation would be voluntary, and candidates could opt out from the system.

Advocates hope the matching money would be so attractive that it would discourage politicians from having to chase big financial contributions from special interest donors.

Proponents estimate the public infusion of money would cost up to $1.8 billion for every two-year election cycle. David Donnelly, the campaign manager for the Campaign for Fair Elections, said one way to pay for the cost would be with a tax or fee on large government contractors.

The Common Cause-Public Campaign coalition will air ads in television markets in Seattle, Denver, Tallahassee and Washington D.C. and are intended to win the support of Democrats such as Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and Brian Baird of Washington, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, and Allen Boyd of Florida. More ads in other markets are planned later, Donnelly said.

So far, the legislation has 157 co-sponsors, all but three of them Democrats _ not enough to guarantee passage. Prospects are tougher in the 100-member Senate, where major legislation typically requires 60 votes. The bill only has 21 Senate co-sponsors.

Donnelly and Bob Edgar, a former congressman and now president and CEO of Common Cause, said anti-Washington sentiment, bank bailouts and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico make the timing ripe to shake up how politicians raise money.

"Democrats and Republicans who are strongest on reform will buffer themselves against anti-incumbent anger," Edgar said.

Donnelly said the joint campaign expects to spend between $8 million and $15 million this year to promote the legislation. He said $2.5 million of that amount has already been spent.

Among those financing the effort is Arnold Hiatt, the former CEO of Stride Rite Corp. and major Democratic Party contributor who earlier this year urged other big political donors to give only to candidates who committed to support the legislation.



Cumulative Voting, WTF?

A very interesting and in my opinion disturbing election occurred in Port Chester, NY. In this election for six town trustee positions, a Cumulative Voting System was utilized. Each voter could apply up to six of their votes towards a single candidate for a single trustee position.

These changes were implemented, because according to, "a court ruling which found that the old system limited the collective ability of Port Chester’s Hispanic community to elect a candidate, thus violating the federal Voting Rights Act."

This is truly radical and contrary to founding principles of our Republic for a myriad of reasons. To start off the concept of collective or ethno-political group rights are alien to the constitution, which is firmly based on rights of individuals and geographic communities. In other words, individuals are guaranteed the right to have their voice heard by voting in local, state and federal elections. Elections can be for officials (like a mayor) that directly administer a locality, while others (like a senator) represent the locality in a larger governing body (like the senate). Nowhere in the constitution are ethno-political groups guaranteed a right to elect a representative. In fact, the founding fathers would have considered the growth of ethno-group politics deeply troubling, because it represented a focus not on the general welfare of the community and the nation at large, but on narrow ethno-political interests.

Secondly, it was determined that prior elections were discriminatory, not because an act of discrimination or voter intimidation occurred, but because the results of the elections were ethnically unrepresentative. In a sense this is "electoral socialism," because in a sense, the judge was not concerned about equality of opportunity, but by equality of outcome. In fact, this is a clear case of authorities engineering an electoral outcome that conforms to their ideology.

Furthermore, the system of Cumulative Voting is based on some flawed and troubling assumptions. To start off with, it does not even consider the possibility that Port Chester's Latino Community did not previously elect a Hispanic trustee because many of their members chose non-Hispanic candidates who better represented their economic, social and political values. And the belief that each ethnic group requires a ethno-political representative negates the individuality of its members and the intellectual diversity of the community at large. It assumes that "Roberto Gonzalez" is politically driven by "Hispanic Issues" rather than broader political and economic issues that effect the community at large. This of course treats Latinos as a politically and culturally monolithic group, which is absurd, because there is tremendous diversity within groups and between various Hispanic groups. For example, the Cuban community has a different voting pattern than Puerto Ricans. And clearly, a Cumulative Voting System will indirectly encourage separation in the United States, rather than healthy political and social assimilation. The idea of group voting rights is eerily like something out of the former Soviet Union; if Thomas Jefferson were still around he would certainly ask "WTF?"

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vote system that elected NY Hispanic could expand


The court-ordered election that allowed residents of one New York town to flip the lever six times for one candidate _ and produced a Hispanic winner _ could expand to other towns where minorities complain their voices aren't being heard.

But first, interested parties will want to take a look at the exit surveys.

The unusual election was imposed on Port Chester after a federal judge determined that Hispanics were being treated unfairly.

The 2010 Census is expected to show large increases in Latino populations and lawsuits alleging discrimination are likely to increase, said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonprofit election research and reform group.

"The country's been changing in a lot of places, with minority growth in exurbs and commuter cities, and there will be a realization that those minorities can't elect candidates of choice," Richie said.

That will leave minority groups, federal prosecutors and municipalities looking for ways to keep elections from violating the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities' constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

In Port Chester, trustees had been elected two at a time every two years, with conventional at-large voting. Most voters were white, and there were always six white trustees even though Hispanics made up half the population and nearly a quarter of the voters. Judge Stephen Robinson concluded the system violated U.S. law by diluting Hispanics' votes.

The standard remedy was to break a municipality into districts, with one district including many from the minority, thereby increasing the chances for a candidate backed by the minority group. The Justice Department proposed that solution for Port Chester.

But the village of about 30,000 objected to districts. It suggested instead a system called cumulative voting. All six trustees would be elected at once and the voters could apportion their six votes as they wished _ all six to one candidate, one each to six candidates or any combination.

The system, which has been used in Alabama, Illinois, South Dakota and Texas, allows a political minority to gain representation if it organizes behind specific candidates. Judge Robinson went for it, and cumulative voting was used for the first time in a New York municipality.

Peruvian immigrant Luis Marino, 43, finished fourth, making him Port Chester's first Hispanic trustee.

"It helped me get elected," said Marino, a Democrat who works in maintenance at the Scarsdale schools. "I will be representing all the people of Port Chester, but I am aware that I can help Hispanics bring their concerns to the board."

Voters also elected a black trustee for the first time: Joseph Kenner, a Republican who was already on the board as an appointee.

The village said Friday that 3,278 residents voted, about 31 percent of those registered, a slightly higher turnout than usual. Hispanic turnout had not been analyzed, but Richie said about a quarter of all votes went to Hispanic candidates.

Marino's victory might prompt other judges to consider cumulative voting as a remedy.

"The way this election was implemented in Port Chester can be an example for other jurisdictions with similar problems," said Randolph McLaughlin, a lawyer who has represented plaintiffs in several voters' rights cases, including Port Chester's. He cautioned, however, that the success was not just due to the unusual election system, but "was the result of the work that went in before the election."

That work _ an extensive voter education program _ was the principal subject of exit surveys. The questions, in Spanish and English, weren't about whom they voted for but about how well they understood the system and what strategy they used in voting.

The survey also asked which of Port Chester's outreach programs _ a website, radio and TV commercials, voter forums, handouts _ were helpful.

Voter education was a requirement of the settlement, but Port Chester officials believe they went beyond their obligation.

"We put so much emphasis on education _ we may have spent $100 a voter _ because we knew it would be critical to success," said village spokesman Aldo Vitagliano. "We also know that the next community can point to Port Chester and say `That's how it's done.'"

Two political science professors _ David Kimball of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Martha Knopf of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte _ were hired to analyze the Port Chester data. Kimball said their report would take a few weeks.

"There's a very important issue here: Were voters comfortable? Did they understand how it works?" Kimball said. "Did they plump (give more than one vote to a candidate)? Did they know they could plump?"

Until there's a separate analysis of the votes, including who did well in Hispanic neighborhoods, it won't be known for sure if Marino was actually the preferred candidate of Latino voters.

"The election of a Hispanic candidate does not necessarily mean that a Hispanic-supported candidate was chosen," McLaughlin said. "But it's definitely a step forward."

Obama And Economics: Intellectually Clueless

Excerpts from a telling article written by the always astute Mr. Larry Elder. To view the full article, click on the link:

Obama And Economics: Intellectually Clueless

by Larry Elder

Zogby International asked questions about economics of nearly 5,000 people. George Mason University economist Dan Klein co-authored a report on the responses given to eight basic economic questions. (Correct answers and "not sure" responses were ignored - only flatly incorrect responses were counted.)

Do housing restrictions increase the price of housing? The answer is yes. Whether the restrictions are good or bad is a separate issue. But restrictions on any good increase the price of that good - whether houses or horseshoes.

Do minimum wages increase unemployment? The answer is yes. Whether one accepts this as a worthy trade-off is a separate question.

Is our standard of living higher than it was 30 years ago? It is. Whether we are "addicted" to oil or facing cataclysmic "global warming" is a separate issue.

The other questions involved licensing, rent control, the definition of a monopoly, the definition of exploitation, and whether free trade leads to unemployment.

Respondents self-identified as progressive/very liberal, liberal, moderate, conservative, very conservative, or libertarian. Who did better?

"On every question," wrote Klein, "the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31 percent) was more than twice that of conservatives (13 percent) and more than four times that of libertarians (7 percent). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61 percent) was more than four times that of conservatives (13 percent) and almost three times that of libertarians (21 percent)."

Maybe those with more education performed better? No, the report said. "We work with three levels of schooling: (1) high school or less; (2) some college (but not a degree); (3) a college degree or more. In our data, economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college."

The left blames the financial collapse on "greed," ignoring the role played by government involvement - Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration, the Community Reinvestment Act and elsewhere. Leftists point to "insufficient regulation" on Wall Street for reckless behavior, rather than to the players' assumption that too-big-to-fail would protect them.

Republicans, in the eight-question economics poll, averaged 1.61 incorrect answers. Democrats averaged 4.59 wrong answers.

Larry Elder is a syndicated radio talk show host and best-selling author of What's Race Got to Do with It?


Justice Department Plans to Sue Over Arizona Law

Very interesting and very relevant. To start off with the motivation for the Obama Administration's lawsuit against Arizona is purely political and not constitutional as they claim. Many cities and states, including, actively do not cooperate with the Federal Government in the enforcement of immigration laws and Arizona (for good or for bad) seeks to enforce those laws, yet the former do not draw the ire of the federal government. In fact, being cognisant that SB1070 would be challenged by the courts, its authors were careful that it would mirror already existing federal laws. The failure of Obama to meet with Governor Jan Brewer before his administration announced the impending law is further evidence of its political motivation.

I predict that this lawsuit will spur the Obama Administration to push for comprehensive immigration reform and shift public opinion against him. First and foremost, even those who are not supportive of SB1070 are sympathetic with Arizona's plight as a border state. Secondly, many Americans are not comfortable with the increased centralization of power. Those who are well versed in American history are aware that state and local governments were considered by many to be the "laboratory of democracy." In other words, the citizens of communities could work together to put together laws and solutions to address their unique social and economic ills. Together they would bear the costs and benefits of their policies and other communities could learn from their successes and failures.

In regards to Arizona, my advise is to wait and see what the outcome of their controversial policies will be. Will they impose heavy economic and social costs on the people of Arizona as its detractors predict? Or will they help Arizona address the challenges posed by massive undocumented immigration until the Federal Government is willing or able to do so? And will this be "Obama's Last Stand" which will hasten his rapid decline in popularity? We shall see.

Official: Justice Department plans to sue over Arizona law

By Terry Frieden,

CNN Justice Producer

June 18, 2010 4:52 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Obama administration lawyers are planning to file a legal challenge to a controversial Arizona immigration law within a month, according to a senior administration official.
The Justice Department would not confirm the claim, saying only that "The Justice Department is continuing to review the law."

Federal government lawyers who have been working on the expected challenge for several weeks will most likely file their arguments in federal court in Phoenix in the days leading up to July 28, when the statute is scheduled to take effect, the official said.

Although the Justice Department indicates no final decisions have been made at this point, officials were put on the spot when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a recent television interview in Ecuador the government "will be bringing a lawsuit" in the case.

Administration officials have indicated the question of Arizona usurping federal authority to control the border and enforce immigration law is the most likely federal point of attack against the state law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year.

Warrantless Wireless Taps Continue Under Obama

While campaigning, Mr. Obama promised to reverse the decline in constitutional rights and the rule of law that occurred under the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama has continued the very worst policies of his predecessor, among them warrantless wire taps against American citizens. While I fully recognize that security threats warrant vigilance, rule of law and the rights of American citizens must be respected. While bold steps must be taken to ensure the security of the United States, the government cannot invade the privacy of its citizens unless a warrant is granted. Obama is dangerous, because his progressive rhetoric and liberal veneer have blinded many to continuation of the very worst practices of the GW Bush Administration.

We Can’t Tell You

Published: April 3, 2010

For more than 20 years, it was settled law, born of bitter experience, that the government may not eavesdrop on people in the United States without a warrant.

Until, that is, after the 9/11 attacks, when President George W. Bush ordered the National Security Agency to ignore the law. When The Times disclosed the spying in late 2005, Mr. Bush argued that the attacks changed everything: Due process and privacy were luxuries the country could no longer afford. Far too many members of Congress bought this argument. Others, afraid of being painted as soft on terror, refused to push back. In 2008, at the White House’s insistence, they expanded the government’s ability to eavesdrop without warrants.

Even that was not enough for the Bush administration, which insisted that targets of the earlier, illegal spying could not sue the government because what happened was “too secret” even to be discussed in court. The Obama administration has embraced the secrecy argument and has used it to block several cases.

Fortunately, it has not completely succeeded.

The chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, Vaughn Walker, ruled last week that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was the law of the land for Mr. Bush and that when the government failed to get a warrant to wiretap, it broke the law. He also said that the government could not evade accountability with absurdly broad claims of state secrets.

This ruling does not end warrantless wiretapping. The particular program The Times uncovered has been suspended; there are still others, however, and the 2008 FISA amendments permit warrantless spying.

Judge Walker’s ruling establishes that state secrecy claims do not trump the requirements of FISA. The next big case, filed by several human rights groups and still being appealed, challenges the 2008 amendments.

Judge Walker’s ruling also provides a chilling account of the relentless efforts by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration to kill the civil lawsuit filed by an Islamic charity in Oregon called Al Haramain. The group was subjected to warrantless surveillance and then declared a sponsor of terrorism in 2004.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2006, the government argued that the charity and two lawyers who worked with it could not sue unless they knew the charity was being wiretapped. They could not know that because the wiretapping was secret. If they somehow found out, they could not prove the wiretapping was warrantless, because that was also a secret.

The plaintiffs first tried to build their case on a classified document they were given by mistake. When that document was suppressed, they showed from public records that they were subject to illegal surveillance. The government said that those should be suppressed, too. The lawyers argued that the only basis for a suit would be if the government admitted it had no warrant. And it would not admit that, because that was a secret.

A clearly exasperated Judge Walker said all the government had to do was produce a FISA warrant. It refused. Because any warrant was, well, you get it.

That reminded us of the movie “Animal House” and the college dean who puts a fraternity on “double-secret probation.” It doesn’t know the rules, or even that it is on probation, so it can never get out of it. Judge Walker more politely called the government’s defense “argumentative acrobatics” that took a “flying leap” and missed “by a wide margin.”

The new suit over the FISA amendments points out that the Supreme Court recognized more than 40 years ago that there are few threats to liberty “greater than that posed by the use of eavesdropping devices.” In fact, FISA was originally passed because of spying conducted on anti-Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists.

Senator Obama promised repeatedly in the 2008 campaign to reverse Mr. Bush’s many abuses of power. This was one of them. President Obama should read this court ruling with chagrin and eliminate warrantless spying. It is also far past time to stop hiding behind spurious, often ludicrous, claims of national security.

Concerns Grow over Bagram's Prison within a Prison

It appears as if Obama has continued many of his predecessors worst policies. In I came across an article that criticized Obama for using Bagram Airforce Base in Afghanistan as a prison to indefinitely detain terror suspects without trying them. While I support strong and decisive action against terrorism, I cannot support the indefinite imprisonment of suspects. They must be tried and given the right to defend themselves and if found guilty subjected to the strongest penalty allowed under the law. If not found guilty, they should be set free.

Published on Thursday, June 10, 2010 by Inter Press Service
Concerns Grow over Bagram's Prison within a Prison

by William Fisher

NEW YORK - The administration of President Barack Obama is considering using Afghanistan's U.S.-run Bagram Air Base prison to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects captured far from a battlefield and who have not been charged with a crime - without any judicial oversight.

A US officer silhouetted at the Bagram prison. "The entire world is not a battlefield," says Melissa Goodman of the ACLU. "We cannot just capture people far from any zone of armed conflict and lock up them up indefinitely without any access to the courts or due process.(AFP) A senior U.S. official reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration wants to detain and interrogate non-Afghan terrorism suspects captured in countries outside Afghanistan in a section of the Bagram prison, even after it turns the prison over to Afghan control.

The U.S. government has stated its intention to turn over control of the Bagram detention facility to the Afghan government early next year. In May, a federal court ruled that unlike at Guantánamo, prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram, including those who were captured far from any battlefield and brought to Afghanistan, cannot challenge their detention in U.S. courts. That decision paves the way for the U.S. government to use Bagram to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely.

"The Guantánamo problem is not solved simply by recreating a Guantánamo somewhere else. Closing Guatánamo is essential but it is equally important that the Obama administration put an end to the illegal indefinite detention policy behind Guantánamo," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

"The entire world is not a battlefield. We cannot just capture people far from any zone of armed conflict and lock up them up indefinitely without any access to the courts or due process. Such a policy not only flies in the face of our justice system, but opens up the possibility that mistakes will be made and the wrong people will be imprisoned - which is exactly what we have seen at Guantánamo," she added.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in September 2009 demanding information about Bagram, which has thus far been shrouded in much secrecy. In response to the lawsuit, the government turned over some important information but continues to withhold key details about the prisoners detained at Bagram, as well as information about the implementation of its new detainee status review procedures and about a separate "secret jail" on the base.

The secret facility is reportedly run by either the Joint Special Operations Command or the Defence Intelligence Agency, and detainees maintain they have been abused there. It is unclear whether guards and interrogators at the secret facility are subject to the same rules that apply at the main Bagram detention facility.

"The possibility of continuing to hold and interrogate detainees at Bagram is even more disturbing given the lack of transparency about the facility," said Goodman. "Plans to continue holding prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram must be accompanied by the disclosure of key information about what currently goes on there."

In a related development, four Bagram detainees were given their first opportunity to appear at a pre-trial hearing last week. According to Reuters and the Associated Press, the detainees - three adult brothers and their elderly father - were brought before a panel of three Afghan judges on Jun. 1. The proceeding was the first pre-trial hearing in advance of the first trial ever to be held at the U.S.- controlled detention facility.

But legal advocacy groups are expressing concern about the lack of transparency surrounding the trial procedures, the apparent failure to provide detainees with adequate access to their lawyers before the hearing, and lack of arrangements for appropriate translation services.

Tina Foster, the attorney who represents a number of Bagram detainees through the International Justice Network (IJN), told IPS, "Once again the Obama administration has simply made a grand pronouncement of policy without any transparency or accountability. Given the failures of the Obama-Bush track record on Military Commissions, it's hard to imagine these would be anything other than Kangaroo court proceedings."

And Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel at Human Rights First (HRF), said her group was "dismayed that the proceeding so far has been chaotic and (that) so little information has been made available about how this trial will proceed and whether more such trials are planned".

Since the U.S. military first began detaining suspected insurgents at Bagram eight years ago, none have been accorded a trial by U.S. authorities. Some have been transferred to an Afghan-run detention facility and provided summary trials there. HRF has in the past criticised such trials for not meeting the minimum standards of due process.

In the past year, the group says, the U.S. military has begun to provide more meaningful hearings for detainees at Bagram that allow the suspects to call "reasonably available" witnesses and to be represented by "personal representatives" chosen by the U.S. military.

However, HRF points out that the detainees still have no right to legal representation or to see much of the evidence used against them, as much of it remains classified. The organisation has repeatedly asked to see the rules governing these new Detainee Review Board procedures, but the military has not responded.

News reports of the first hearing last week also revealed that the trial procedures are inadequately developed. One defence lawyer reportedly complained that he had not an opportunity even to meet his client or to review his client's file. And when the hearing began, it became clear that the government had failed to provide the necessary translators to make it comprehensible.

The trial was being conducted in Dari, rather than in the detainees' native language, which is Pashto. Although there were translators available to translate to English, there were none who could translate the proceedings into Pashto.

Eviatar told IPS that, "We support the idea of trials being presided over by Afghan judges, (but) only if those trials are fair trials and if they're conducted in a language that the detainees understands, or at least with interpreters who can translate the proceedings into the detainee's language."

"Obviously, a trial held in Dari without interpreters available to translate to Pashto, when the detainees speak and understand Pashto and not Dari, won't be comprehensible to the detainees, and therefore by definition won't be fair," she added.

© 2010 IPS North America