Monday, February 22, 2010

Legalized Bribery?

Allow me to immediately put you to sleep with just three words. Are you ready? Here goes:

Campaign Finance Reform

Still reading? It just sounds like drudgery doesn't it? I automatically have the image of a stuffy McCain ranting like a senile old man no one is paying attention to. And I daresay the rest of America feels the same way since it frequently ranks the issue near the bottom in every poll of their political priorities. Its not as flashy as say, abortion or war, or as close to home as the economy or taxes. but I think if folks stopped to think about it, they might feel a little differently.

Congress and the rest of the federal government consistently get abysmal approval ratings. I can't remember the last time it was even close to 50%. but why is this constantly the case? The way the system is supposed to work, the Senator would like to stay in office (clearly the safest assumption of the whole process). Therefore, he should legislate in a way pleasing to his constituency. This second assumption is the problem.

What does it really take to stay in office? We all know the answer, cold hard cash. You need a great PR firm. You need good lawyers, campaign workers, buttons, flyers, TV spots, photo-ops, etc. No matter what your platform, voting record, or credentials are, you cannot hope to win a major election without a sizeable warchest. And if you have all these things, the formula for staying in office has pretty well perfected. The fact is we as potential voters never have the time or inclination to stay as informed as we should, and consequently, its easy for the incumbent Senator to squeeze the neccessary votes out with a well-made fear-mongering ad once every few years. In Rome, it was bread and circuses, today its McDonalds and TV.

So where does all the money come from? Well, from people, both as individuals and in groups, whether they're political parties, grass-roots organizations, political action committees, lobbying groups, or even the big bad multinational corporation. Fact of the matter is, most individuals would rather spend their hard-earned money on something with a little more tangible personal effects than give it to a politician. Heck, I refuse to even pay 99 cents for an iPhone app. And the big politicians know this. They don't even really bother targeting the constituency for funds. Instead they go for the biog potential donors only at giant $1000 per plate dinners. (Although one guy I'm known to be fond of has had success with the micro finance fund-drives, hint: his name rhymes with Con Schmall.) Consequently, your senator doesn't really give a damn what you think. He knows its more important for him to maintain his relationship with his big donors to stay in office than his relationship with Joe A. Voter.

Ultimately, this leads to the elected official's vote being for sale to the highest bidder. And your current big donor will often hint your relationship is toast if you vote yea or nay on bill X or Y. I've heard several folks inside and outside our country call this a system of legalized bribery. All of this is allegedly OK since its all out in the open and all your campaign fund sources are public knowledge. The supreme court recently took up this question, and in a 5-4 decision, concluded the system was OK as is. Clarence Thomas reasoned that people have the 2nd amendment right to give money to campaigns regardless of whether they do so as a single individual or in the form of a giant corporation. And I can't really disagree with that. Corporations are made of people after all. Nor do I blame a corporation for donating to a candidate that will serve its interests. One of my big personal rules is that it is foolish to expect any entity to act in any way other than its perceived self-interest afterall.

But we still have a problem. If this is a democracy, my political voice is supposed to be as equally influential as the next guy's, even if he's the CEO of Exxon. But this is clearly not the case. Sure, there's public funding, but its meager, and to even qualify, you have to have a certain amount of, you guessed it, money. The situation remains that those with the most resources remain the most politically influential. This surely is what the founding fathers were trying to avoid. But in their defense, I really don't think they foresaw the arrival of the mass media. Our goal then should be to cut the ties between money and political influence, a difficult task certainly, but equally worthwhile.

As a modest proposal, why don't we eliminate campaign spending outright? No signs, no buttons, no rallies, no PR and advertising people. Each candidates viability is determined by a set number of signatures on publicly available petitions, digital and hard copy. Each candidate is given equal video exposure in TV spots on public television only in the form of video shot by a public video crew who just puts a camera in front of the candidate for 30 seconds. Uniform websites with the candidates info are viewable on a publicly run internet domain. I'm sure there are a thousand problems with this proposal already, but Americans have begun to realize the system is broken. And unless we start thinking along these lines, we'll continue to head down the well-beaten path from democracy to oligarchy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It doesn't show signs of stopping...

... at least not for today anyway. Jonny left for work this morning at 6:30am and even then there was a solid white covering laying peacefully over the ground. When I woke up a few hours later, the snowflakes were just as large as when Jonny left and this is what I saw:

Since then, IT HAS NOT STOPPED. Sure, some batches have been heavier than others, but there has been a steady pouring of snow over our little yard here in Allen, Texas. We probably have about two inches right now. Although we don't have any corn for popping, I have built a fire that is so delightful. And with my stats class cancelled for tonight and Jonny's office closing early, the Dent's will have no place to go... so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Call me a bluestocking....

... or a nerd, or an egghead if you must, but I have to admit: I LOVE WORDS. Shocking news, I'm sure, being the verbal person that I am. I am very much a lover of English, books and grammar (spelling not so much :) People who, oh-so-effortlessly, work in word origins into casual conversation or act as a walking thesaurus continually amaze me while simultaneously evoking a slight sense of jealous within me; because, while I like all these things, I'm just not the master of words that I wish I was. I'm not sure where this infatuation began... I am sure part of it could be traced back to my Nana. We are the grammar freaks of the family and we share an eerily similar affinity for books and conversation (just ask Jonny).

That being said, I stumbled upon a my new favorite talk-radio show : A Way With Words. Boy, does the word nerd in me have a field day with this one! I found it a few weeks back, when I went to pick up the Hill boys from school and I was listening to 90.1, the local public radio station. It was around 1:45pm and the voices on the radio began discussing the meaning of some common idiom and I was hooked! Needless to say, I was uber sad when the show came to an end a short fifteen minutes later. But today as I was leaving my lunch date with Jonny I was reunited with my word friends Martha and Grant, the hosts of the show. I was on my way to the grocery store and parked my car around 1:30pm and I didn't get out of my car until 2:00pm when the show ended.

So, if you happen to share my fondness for words, I encourage you the check out the website linked above. They have a list of past episodes that you can listen to and get your nerd, I mean word fix for the day :)

* and just in case you were wondering, here is the definition of a bluestocking from : "a woman with considerable scholarly, literary, or intellectual ability or interest." Enjoy :)