Righting our Upside Down government

The Thinker by Rodin

 

Down is the new up. This was honed in last Saturday when the U.S. Senate voted in Brett Kavanaugh as our newest justice, despite multiple credible allegations of sexual assault against him.

The vote was perhaps not surprising as Republicans always put party before country. Had Kavanaugh been defeated or withdrawn, someone of similar far right inclinations would have been voted in instead. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now realized his dream of a reliably conservative court, which would have happened anyhow.

We are living in the Upside Down. If you are not familiar with the term, you haven’t seen the Netflix series Stranger Things (terrific series you really should watch anyhow). We have probably been in the Upside Down for a while, but Saturday’s vote literally confirmed it. Republicans have seized the Supreme Court. It is now an officially political wing of the Republican Party.

If there was any doubt, now-Justice Kavanaugh’s most recent testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee proves it. In short, our democracy has been formally hijacked. Our government is no longer credibly run for the benefit of the people. It is now run for the sponsors of the Republican Party, principally corporatists, which amounts to groups of well-moneyed white men, but also a lot of white people feeding on their anxiety about losing privilege. You can see it in the tax cuts they passed which directly passes wealth to their class. The Republican Party is rife with racism and misogyny; indeed these things control it.

Which raises the question: how to we right our Upside Down government? Is it even possible? We’ll have an inkling a month from now after the midterms because right now Republicans control all three branches of government. They have as close to a vice grip on all of them as possible. It will take a mighty wave of Democratic votes to begin to make our government representative of the people again. It’s unclear given the many obstacles put in the way (gerrymandering, voter purges, voter disenfranchisement, voter suppression and special interest money) whether it is possible.

Even if Democrats regain Congress, it’s but the first of many very hard steps that must occur to return to something like normal. It’s increasingly clear to me that for it to happen at all, Democrats must fight dirty like Republicans. And by fighting dirty it’s unclear if they won’t become as corrupt as Republicans in the process.

Unfortunately, there are no fast solutions to this problem. It took nearly forty years of persistence plus huge amounts of money for Republicans to wholly own government. Some biases are inherently baked into our system and are virtually impossible to change. The biggest problem is the U.S. Senate, which is not weighted according to population. Rural states have a disproportionate advantage in the Senate. As long as these states promote conservative values, at best the Senate will always swing between Republican and Democratic control.

So a combination of long-term and short-term strategies is needed. The bottom line is that we must fight like hell for democracy. It is not something we can fix in one, five or even ten years. It’s likely a generational problem. Much of the problem can go away with time as conservative voters literally die out. This is premised though on having a voting system that is fair, and Republicans have done everything possible to tilt it to their advantage.

If you read this blog regularly, some of these suggestions will seem familiar. But it’s quite clear that what we’ve done before simply doesn’t work. We need new tactics:

  • Pack the court. When Democrats control Congress and the presidency again, pack the Supreme Court. There is no constitutional requirement to have only nine justices. It just takes a law. It’s been done before. Given that Republicans would not even consider Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, at a minimum if Democrats control the Senate they should not allow any subsequent Supreme Court vacancy to be filled until Merrick Garland’s nomination is first considered. I’d add two more justices to the court, conveniently to be nominated by a Democratic president.
  • Call a constitutional convention to reverse Citizens United v. Republicans probably won the trifecta because of this 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling. It allowed corporations and rich people to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns, and to hide their advocacy under shadowy political action committees. We can count on Congress not to pass such an amendment, since it would not get past a Senate filibuster. A state-driven constitutional convention is scary to many Democrats. It should not be. In this case, 80% of Americans favor overturning this ruling, and that includes a majority of Republicans. A constitutional convention by the states does not enact such an amendment. Rather, if passed at a convention it requires state legislatures to consider it, same as an amendment passed by Congress. It would pass the ¾ threshold easily. This would effectively take corporate money out of the election system (at least at the federal level), promoting a government by the people, instead of corporations. Don’t expect a 5-4 conservative majority Supreme Court to overturn their previous decision. We need a permanent fix and a constitutional amendment is the only remedy.
  • Candidates should run on not accepting corporate and PAC money. Candidates that have done this have enjoyed great success. You would think it would put them at a financial disadvantage, but for most candidates it spurs small dollar donations instead. I live in Massachusetts. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) has never accepted these donations. Neither has Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Both vote in the people’s interest because they cannot be bribed. If you want to support this cause, an easy way to do it is to join Wolf-PAC, ironically a PAC that exists specifically to help elect candidates who don’t accept corporate and special interest money.
  • Build from the bottom up, as Republican did. Democrats seem to be getting this message. Gerrymandering is done at the state level. So the more Democrats that control state houses and governorships, the more Democrats can either end gerrymandering in their state, or if they must gerrymander, do it for Democratic advantage. Redistricting will occur after the 2020 census. Assuming that census is not biased (which of course Republicans are trying to bias), if Democratic governors and legislators are in place by 2020, those states can affect composition of the U.S. house in the 2020s and beyond.
  • Rebuild the Democratic Party. This is probably the hardest thing to do, as special interests and their money still largely control the party. A party that authentically represents the will of the people should be successful. Progressives must take over the party, hopefully as benignly as possible. Doing so though may be so divisive that it fractures the party, which Republicans would obviously favor. For example, the Democratic Party could have a position that its candidates and the party should not accept PAC and corporate money. Do this and voters will have a clear understanding that the Democratic Party works for them, not the elite.

Indiana tries the “freedom of religion” ruse

The Thinker by Rodin

States are starting to learn that while they have the power to legislate against people they don’t like, it’s generally not a good idea to use it.

The latest case in point, of course, is the State of Indiana. Its governor Mike Pence recently unwisely signed into law a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. It essentially gives both individuals and businesses the “freedom” to tell someone they don’t like to piss off in the name of their freedom of religion. Interviewed Sunday, Governor Pence poorly tried to defend the law. He claimed it was misunderstood, and that it was virtually the same as a 1993 federal freedom of religion law with the same name.

The federal law was never intended to allow organizations to discriminate based on freedom of religion. However, the Supreme Court has had some interesting interpretations of the law. In 2006 it ruled that the law did not apply to the states, so it is curious that Pence would use the federal law to defend his state’s law. And in 2014 it ruled in the case of the Affordable Care Act that it allowed “closely held corporations” to not include contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans. Presumably this logic was okay because earlier in its widely reviled Citizens United decision, the court decided that since earlier courts had declared corporations were people then corporations could not be prohibited from giving unlimited sums of money to political campaigns because free speech could not be constrained.

At best, Indiana’s law is distantly related to the federal law. Indiana’s new law is allowing anyone including any corporation, business or institution to declare that its religious freedom gives it the right to deny service to anyone that it finds violate their religious beliefs. This is in effect anything they choose to declare as a religious belief. The primary targets of the law, as documented by the photos of bigots behind the Governor Pence when he signed the law, are anticipated to be gays, lesbians and transgender people. Essentially the law is a license to discriminate collectively by both individuals and non-governmental organizations under the guise of freedom of religion.

The howls of protest were immediate and appear to be unrelenting. Angie’s List is one business threatening to move out of the state. Apple CEO Tim Cook decried the law in a Washington Post editorial today. Connecticut won’t let its employees travel to Indiana because it doesn’t want to even indirectly be associated with their bigotry. The NCAA is wishing it had time to move the Final Four playoffs to a different city. These are just some of the most notable responses to the law. There are plenty of others easy enough to find if you scan the news.

While Indiana is hardly the only red state to pass a law like this (Arkansas recently enacted something similar, and is getting a backlash), the track record for these laws suggests only foolish states would pass laws like these. You may recall that Arizona passed its own version of this law a few years back, to howls of protests and a huge loss of business. Eventually, they saw the light and repealed the law. It’s not hard to predict that within a few weeks Indiana is likely to do the same. No matter how right they think they are in their convictions, the national scorn and more importantly the loss of economic opportunity in the state will force a change of heart. Right now there is talk of an amendment to the law, which probably won’t change its substance or satisfy any of its critics.

In general, red states seem to be continually refighting the Civil War, just via its state legislatures, and this Indiana law is the latest skirmish. It all comes down to one thing: they think certain “better” people have license to make the “worse” people miserable. Their successes are principally a result of the tacit or explicit approval by the Supreme Court when these laws come up for review. One recent success was the court’s overturning of aspects of the Civil Rights Act that required federal approval of voting laws in principally southern states. The rest of America, and actually much of the south itself, has rejected bigotry. The reason many southern states haven’t caught on is because voting districts are so heavily gerrymandered that the citizens cannot speak with sufficient force.

Aside from the obvious bigotry, what drives most of us nuts about Indiana’s law is that these legislatures don’t understand that your freedom of religion does not give you the right to restrict other’s freedoms. Freedom doesn’t work that way. In fact, this is the antithesis of actual freedom. If you can allow a baker to not sell a wedding cake to a gay couple because it is against his religious beliefs as he interprets it, the same baker could refuse to sell one to a mixed race couple using a similar rationalization. A closely held bus corporation could say that their religion requires blacks to sit on the back of the bus, or to not allow any blacks on their buses. God is telling them so! “Freedom of religion” could selectively trump any sort of public law, which would render these laws unenforceable. Yet a law must apply uniformly or it is not a law. Instead it becomes no more than a hope that everyone will play nice.

Certainly freedom gives everyone the right to be a bigot. No one can control what you believe, although law can regulate your actions. Employers cannot discriminate in employment based on lots of criteria including sex and race and that includes closely held corporations with deeply religious CEOs like Hobby Lobby.

What’s clearly going on is that freedom of religion is being used as a proxy to effectively change laws that otherwise could only be changed via a process of law. If we really want to deny blacks their voting rights, it has to be done legally. And our Supreme Court apparently believes onerous voter ID laws are constitutional exercises in the legitimate power of the state because it’s not 1960 anymore. It thus effectively legalized bigotry in that instance.

In reality, no state or jurisdiction has the right to pass any legislation that exempts anyone from uniform application of the law. It’s so important we created a constitutional amendment specifically to require this: the 14th amendment. Legally it is clear: the 14th amendment specifically applies to all the states, which means that if a state grants the freedom to one group to effectively oppress or discriminate against another group, it is not just a violation of the law, it is against our constitution.

It is this bedrock principle that the vast majority of Americans are recoiling against in this case, and justly so. “Freedom of religion” here is simply a ruse. Indiana is in the process of getting its butt collectively slapped by fair-minded Americans. I for one won’t visit Indiana or spend one dime there until their disgusting law is repealed.

How to unoccupy Wall Street

The Thinker by Rodin

There is no sign that protesters occupying Wall Street and other cities are going away. Police are just one of many groups baffled by these groups: seemingly disparate communities of people intent to live 24/7 outside in urban environments, making homes in cheap plastic tents, sleeping in sleeping bags on cold concrete surfaces, and using local McDonalds for bodily necessities. For the most part they are a peaceful lot, although a small subset of the protestors occupying Oakland caused some minor vandalism at the Port of Oakland. Mostly the protestors seem to be communal and ad hoc. It is the ad hoc nature of these protests that is perhaps the most disturbing aspect to those who oppose them. “What do they want?” is the common complaint, but answers from the representatives of the 99% are elusive. They oppose the power of corporations and big banks, and the increasing wealth of the superrich, but there are no list of demands, no spokesmen, and no figurehead. Instead the protestors and the protests seem to be wholly organic.

It’s unclear what caused the movement to come together now, when conditions have been bad for years. Moreover, it is nebulous as best how it will end. Police are trying the usual tactics of coercion and intimidation. Marches tend to be sporadic and ad hoc, which often violates some local ordinance where protests have to be planned. This gives police the justification to lobby tear gas, use pepper spray and try other group dispersal tactics. Protestors generally handle these indignities well. Neither Jesus nor Martin Luther King would find much in their behavior worthy of chastisement.

I suspect at this point even the police are wising up. These Occupy movements are fed by general discontent, and they fade away only when the source of the discontent fades. A robust economic recovery that lifts all boats does not appear to be on the horizon. If anything, Congress seems intent to do everything possible not to solve our underlying economic problems, and Republicans see growing income inequality as good. A cold winter may shrink the number of occupiers temporarily, but is unlikely to stop protests altogether. Even if it does, they are easy enough to restart with crowd-sourcing technologies on Twitter and Facebook.

Authorities can try using increasingly heavier hands. After all, it worked before. During the early days of the Great Depression, about 46,000 former World War I soldiers unable to find work and their families occupied Washington D.C. They wanted Congress to give them immediately cash payments for their service certificates. The Bonus Army got the attention of Congress and the White House, but not in a good way. General Douglas McArthur used two regiments of cavalry to clear Washington of protestors. Yet, protestors were eventually successful. In 1936, the Bonus Army got their bonuses. Members of the Bonus Army also received preferential hiring for positions in the Civilian Conservation Corps. The ruckus helped sweep Franklin D. Roosevelt into the White House in 1932.

While the number of actual protestors at Occupy events is relatively small, at least at the moment a plurality of Americans are sympathetic to their cause. With approval of Congress at nine percent, Americans overall feel disconnected from their government. The Occupy movement is a direct result of this disconnection and frustration.

The problems that Occupy movements are trying to address are institutional and devilishly hard to solve, which suggests these movements are not going to go away anytime soon. Congress is largely refusing to consider their requests. This makes perfect sense because our political system has been engineered by time and money to enfranchise those with money and those that are highly partisan. The result is a Congress elected from congressional districts drawn so politically extreme that moderates and ordinary people in the middle are institutionally disenfranchised. Moreover, the disenfranchisement will be permanent unless things change in a fundamental way.

Those looking for hope will not find much. We recently finished the 2010 census and partisan state legislatures are doing again what they have always done: drawing Congressional districts that are highly partisan. There are a few brave exceptions. California and Arizona are now required by law to draw nonpartisan districts. It seems to be working in California, but the jury is still out in Arizona. In any event, two states out of fifty changing course is hardly a trend, and typically congressional districts are redrawn only as a result of the census held every ten years.

Something resembling real change is simply not possible for another year, which is when the next congressional elections are scheduled. Even then the odds of any real change are rather small. The decentralized nature of Occupy events is a direct response to this actual disempowerment.

A prequel to the Occupy movements could be seen with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. In the ruling, the Supreme Court broadened the ability of corporations and entities with money to influence government. Virtually everyone except major corporations and those in power panned the ruling. We reacted viscerally to the notion that a corporation is the same thing as a person. Before we had tolerated it, but with the ruling broadening it, slowly a critical mass formed. This event plus the way we addressed the Great Recession to favor Wall Street formed the catalyst for a new and broadly popular movement.

It will take a new people-oriented Congress in 2013 to really address these inequities. Whether we get this kind of Congress is problematic but it is possible that despite our highly partisan districts the 99% will speak with a strong enough voice where a new dynamic can emerge.

At a minimum, a few constitutional amendments would be in order for this new Congress, with dubious prospects that they would be approved by three fourths of the states. In the first, the constitution must be amended to specify that only people and not other entities can contribute to campaigns for political office and that Congress can restrict the amount of these contributions by law. In the second, states would be required to create congressional districts that are contiguous and nonpartisan, to be overseen or perhaps even created by federal judges in these states.

A constitutional amendment cannot address income inequality, but a Congress that actually represents the people rather than the wealthy and the political extremes could choose to pass laws that help address these issues. It’s my belief that these steps, and only these steps, will truly end these Occupy protests.

 

Random thoughts running around my brain

The Thinker by Rodin

My brain is too scattered these last few days to put out anything like a coherent essay. So instead you get little snippets of stuff leaching out of my brain.

  • Bill Clinton sure is looking old. Today’s Washington Post showed him at a campaign rally looking all grandfatherly. He should look grandfatherly because he is 64. Fortunately, for Bill, he is not yet a grandfather in fact as Chelsea only recently got married and last I checked she had no buns in her oven. Still, grandfatherly or not, I miss the guy. The 1990s was a great decade that seems unlikely to come again. Somehow, I know that despite his sleazy ways, if he could be our president again we’d be in much better shape. He knew how to get things done and he wasn’t afraid to bitch slap Republicans. Even Obama is not as suave and slick as Bill. Bill was the master, unlikely to ever be exceeded.
  • As much as I enjoy my Mac Mail email client, web-based GMail has gotten so good that I am going to 100% web-based GMail. I think email clients are obsolete. GMail’s only remaining problem is the latency inherent with the web, but they are AJAXifying everything as much as possible to make minimize any latency issues. The new features for GMail just keep coming and most are compelling. I am overwhelmed with political emails, mostly begging me for money. Since all attempts at unsubscribing seem futile, with GMail’s new Priority Inbox, it is easy to push these into a seldom-read folder. Email sanity at last. Thanks Google!
  • Oh, how I hate Facebook. I don’t hate it enough to leave it, because that would piss off my friends, but how I wish I had the nerve to do so. As with most things, Google seems on the right track toward building a better social network. I have been experimenting with Google Buzz, Google’s answer to social networking. I really like features like being able to share an item I find while surfing with Google Reader, its RSS and Atom newsreader. Their integration of social networking components, while nascent, is done with a light touch and makes so much more sense than Facebook’s. Rather than put things all on one web site, it distributes features in its various products and is promoting an open social network. For example, I like how Google’s chat feature is integrated into a sidebar on GMail. For this anxious parent with a daughter two hours away, seeing her online inside GMail at least lets me know she is alive. That’s what I need in a social network, not annoying waste of times notices like knowing how a friend is doing playing Farmville and that some vague friend of a friend likes some pointless website.
  • RepubliCorp buys democracy one race at a time. This parody site is both funny and, not to put too fine a point on it, true, particularly after the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision. Priority Number One after the election should be a constitutional amendment outlawing corporate or organizational spending on elections. Since Republicans in Congress will block the amendment from coming up for a vote, most likely, such an amendment would have to come from the states. I doubt state legislatures would have a problem with such an amendment. What more proof do we need that we have a Congress bought and paid for by corporate interests when close to eighty percent of rank and file Republicans want Citizens United overturned, but their leadership won’t allow it? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone has spent at least $21 million dollars for ads for the midterm election, and haughtily refuses to tell us who gave it all this money.
  • Investing money is just too damned complicated. Why are we expected to have the education of a Wall Street financier in order to come out ahead in the market? No wonder Americans keep falling behind! Investing money feels increasingly like a Ponzi scheme to me, developed specifically to inflate the pocketbooks of Wall Street executives. Between the obfuscation, fees and thousands of funds to sift through it is hard to know what you are buying. Sometimes I feel like it is so much easier just to give up trying, put all my investment money in something like U.S. Treasury Bills and hope I am not living on dog food when I retire.
  • Voters who vote for Tea Party candidates are proof that no one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American people. In less than two weeks time, unless polls are mistaken, Americans are about to elect a crowd of uncompromising rowdies openly hellbent on making the rich richer and further cutting benefits for people, like those voting for them. If you are planning to vote for any Tea Partier, please send me your name and address. I have some Florida swampland I want to sell you. You must be dumber than a box of rocks.
  • And speaking of Tea Party candidates, it is so hard to decide on any given day which Tea Party candidate is making the biggest fool of themselves. One of the few pleasures of this election is daily seeing who will win the contest for the most ignorant and shameless Tea Partier. The competition is tough. Will it be the mighty Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, Joe Miller, Sharron Angle or Ken Buck? They are taking hubris and ignorance to whole new undiscovered heights.
  • Why is it that before Obama was elected, Republicans were all for mandated health insurance because it emphasized personal responsibility? And now are all against it because it is socialism? Nothing says Republican like hypocrisy.

Citizens are united against Citizens United

The Thinker by Rodin

Trying to find bipartisanship these days on any political issue is virtually impossible. So when I see a poll where there is strong agreement between Democrats, Republicans and Independents, I take note. What do eighty percent of very polarized Americans agree on? They agree the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission sucks. Moreover, Americans are as mad as hell with the decision. In the 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said that corporations and unions could spend as much as they wanted on political campaigns, overturning long-standing regulations that limited this spending for individual candidates within a few months of an election. According to The Washington Post poll, eighty five percent of Democrats disagree with the Supreme Court, as well as 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Independents.

The only ones who seem to disagree, not surprisingly, are congressional Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he plans to oppose any legislation that would attempt to blunt the impact of this ruling. Americans of all stripes though understand what is really going on. Just like in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others. With this Supreme Court decision, it’s official.

Most Americans understand what happens when one group of well moneyed interests can outspend and out organize us ordinary citizens. The result is clear in Congress: a strong resistance to change in any form and a tendency to serve the interests of those with the money. Nowhere was this more evident than in the recent health care debate. By throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into lobbying efforts, the health care industry gummed up the process rather effectively. Clearly, the status quo works fine for the health care industry, as evidenced by record health insurance company profits and exploding health care costs in general. How does it work for the rest of us who aren’t self financed multimillionaires like Rush Limbaugh? Not so well, as evidenced by outrages like 39% premium increases on some Anthem Blue Cross plans in California and the growing percentage of Americans who simply cannot afford health insurance.

Health care reform is the issue of the day but the same can be said about most of the problems that Americans care about that are affecting this country. If we were happy with the status quo, there wouldn’t be historically high levels of unhappiness with Congress in the polls. However, it’s not easy to throw the bums out and elect new bums, particularly now that the Supreme Court has given the green light to corporations and unions to spend as much as they want to elect their preferred candidates. All this does it raise the bar even higher for those of us who have less money to convince our fellow voters to vote for this other guy (or gal). And we happen to be actual breathing U.S. citizens.

Of course it also doesn’t help that most states carefully draw congressional districts to ensure they are either highly Republican or highly Democratic (generally, depending on the party in power at the time the district boundaries are drawn). The effect of this practice is to disenfranchise anyone who is not among the highly partisan wing of the predominant party of their congressional district. It also inflames partisanship in Congress and creates very safe districts for incumbents. Once elected, these incumbents can create large war chests that discourage challengers. Even with a challenger, their war chests allow them to dominate the media prior to Election Day. Not that they have to worry much about losing anyhow because their districts are specifically drawn to make it likely they will be reelected.

The effect of this policy is to reduce the influence of ordinary citizens for those who have influence money. Republicans in Democratic districts feel disenfranchised, as do Democrats in Republican districts. My congressman is Frank Wolf, who first won election to Congress in 1980. That means he has spent thirty years in Congress. Part of his district is in Fairfax County, Virginia where I live, which is principally Democratic. A much larger part of it is in safe Republican counties like Loudoun, Fauquier and Prince William. It seems likely that when Virginia redraws congressional boundaries after the census, his district will somehow manage to remain predominantly Republican. Frankly, Congressman Wolf is more likely to die in office than retire from it.

Who is funding his campaign? According to OpenSecrets.org, it’s a lot of the usual suspects. In the 2008 elections, organizations representing retirees gave him the most (about $180,000), so don’t expect him to be voting to cut Medicare or Social Security just because both are tending toward insolvency. Next were real estate ($171,000), lawyers ($99,000), Republicans and fellow conservatives ($65,000) and various Israeli lobbies ($48,000). As for the health care industry, they came in at sixth at $48,000. Needless to say, he voted against the health care reform bill in Congress.

The effect of all this extreme gerrymandering is to end up with a congress that is more deeply polarized than it would be if congressional districts were drawn up impartially. At the same time, because they are fed by well moneyed special interests, we get a Congress that is resistant to change. This is turn means that current problems like deficit spending and entitlement reform are less likely to be solved, thus making problems that much more chronic. This ultimately is what is bankrupting the country, not Bush tax cuts or prolific spending on social welfare programs.

Really, even Glenn Beck and Arianna Huffington should be able to find common ground here. Last week at the odious CPAC convention in Washington, Glenn Beck was railing about the need to elect true Conservatives instead of Republicans. Arianna Huffington is one of many liberals, like me, feeling disenfranchised by supposed “Democrats” in Congress. Beck is frustrated because he cannot get rid of the welfare state. Why? Because Republicans will ultimately do the bidding of those who give them money. There are plenty of Republicans, like Congressman Wolf, who take heaps of money from senior citizens lobbies, so don’t expect him to vote to kill Medicare. Huffington meanwhile is in a huff because Democrats like North Dakota Senator Ben Nelson vote for the interests of Blue Cross instead of supporting a public option health care plan. Why? It is because Nelson gets a ton of money from the health insurance industry. Yet it’s not only the extremes that are upset, but also those in the middle whose interests are also not being served. That’s why hardly anyone is happy with the status quo. That’s why eighty percent of Americans are irate about the Citizens United decision while also realizing it is just more evidence of who really is running the country. It sure is not the people! Conservatives and liberals should come together to kill off corporate lobbying simply so they can actually advance their agendas!

It’s the system that is providing disincentives to pragmatically solve current problems. Congress gives highest priority to those who give them the most money. Otherwise, partisanship triumphs. For those few issues that are non-partisan and which there is no vested industry with their hand in the public till, we may get bipartisanship. Consequently, the two biggest things we can do to end our national dysfunction become easy to identify.

First, and probably the hardest thing to get Congress to do, is to change the process by which Congressional districts are drawn. We have an opportunity because the 2010 census is underway. A law that required states to have an impartial commission or judges draw up congressional districts would make it possible for more moderates to be elected. Moderates tend toward being pragmatic rather than idealistic. This would have the tendency to better balance Congress so that bipartisanship is more likely.

Secondly, the power of corporations and unions to influence elections must be checked. At the Washington Post poll demonstrates, there is overwhelming support for restricting the amount of money that these institutions can contribute. Congress could probably succeed in passing a law reforming the most egregious abuses, but this is one of those cases where a constitutional amendment really is needed to settle the issue of corporate “personhood” once and for all. Nowhere in our founding documents does it say that corporations are entitled to the same rights of citizens. This was due to an earlier Supreme Court interpretation that it has now effectively codified to mean without any restraints. If an amendment could pass Congress (a tough hurdle), it is likely to be easily ratified by the various states.

If these two systemic problems could be addressed, we might actually get a government representative of its people again. Consequently, government would be more likely to do the bidding of a majority of its citizens. We might as a result still find ourselves polarized, but it won’t be because of special interests or gerrymandering. Whether America swings to the left or the right as a result is really not as important as restoring a fully representative democracy. The truth is that these days our republican form of government is at best 30-50 percent representative of the people.