My Book The People’s War now out!

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cover 2Well. I have released my novel on Kindle. Those of you who have been fans of my blog will definitely like this book. It is a fictional account of the Tank Man, who stood in front of the tanks after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The novel tracks the lives of several people including the Tank Man himself during the protests. The People’s War also describes the turmoil during the protests and the struggle of the student movement to gain footing in the consciousness of China.

Find it on Kindle. Please, also, feel free to leave a review.

How to Fix Congress: Proportional Vote

Politics

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One of the most uttered complaints among voters is the lack of a third party in American politics. Many people complain that the two-party system is failing us because each party really represents a narrow view of a few select supporters.

It can be solved. And it would take a Constitutional amendment stated something like this:

Members of the House of Representatives shall be elected based on the proportion of vote they or their party receives in their respective state.

All elections at the United States federal level are based on winner-take-all. Even the Electoral College, which was created to prevent direct election of the President by the people, is designed on the winner-take-all principle. Even if a party wins 49.6 percent of the vote in a particular state and their opponent wins 50.4 percent, the prevailing party receives all electoral votes. Ironically, this has lead to some Presidents winning based solely on the electoral vote while losing the overall popular vote. Congressional elections, both House and Senate, are also winner-take-all with the lone candidate receiving the most votes serving the entire district or state.

While in America this is natural, the winner-take-all system is not really equitable because many people end up being represented by someone for whom they did not vote.

Winner-take-all elections favor a two-party system and that leads to parties having to take stances on many different issues. It also forces them to make strange bedfellows. Republicans support hardcore capitalists and they also support evangelical Christians. Democrats back organized labor but also fight to expand immigration.

Giving third, fourth or more parties a seat at the legislative table would give them a chance to show the public that they can be a force in politics. With no party holding a 50 percent majority, they would have to compromise with another party in order to pass legislation.

In all likelihood, the additional parties would be based on the existing factions within the two current parties. What sliver of compromise we see today in Republican and Democratic caucuses would likely play out the same way, except with different monikers.

With the way the Constitution is written, there is no real solution to solve the winner-take-all problem with regards to the President and the Senate. Each represents an entire state or an entire country.

But the House of Representatives however, can be fixed in order to allow new voices a chance to speak in Congress. There is a way to shift the House’s makeup to where most every voter can truly be represented by the person they cast their vote for.

Instead of winner-take-all elections for the House of Representatives, we could pursue a proportional vote. For instance, Texas has 38 representative seats. Instead of giving seats to Republicans or Democrats when they win their district by majority vote, statewide votes could be totaled together and then each party would receive seats proportional to the amount of votes they get. So if Republicans win 65 percent of the vote, Democrats 30 percent and Libertarians 5 percent, then Republicans would receive 25 seats, Democrats would get 11 seats and Libertarians would get two seats.

In some countries, a parliament is usually derived from a national vote in which a party receives a number of seats based on how many votes they received nationally. In the United States however, Congress is divided based on representation in each state. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution dictates that the House of Representatives should be elected by the state they live.

This notion is not new. There are many American city councils, school districts and other local governments that award seats to candidates based on the number of votes they receive in a wide open election. In said cities and school districts, five candidates can vie for three seats and the three with the most votes win the seats. Because there are three seats, voters are allowed three votes.

This same process can be tweaked to possibly open up the House of Representatives to three or more parties.

Every vote would actually count because it would be tallied with the party’s proportion of vote. In the winner-take-all, a person’s vote means nothing unless their party wins. With proportional representation, it would go towards a party that better represents your ideals.

How exactly would candidates be nominated? Representative candidates could be nominated through a primary process in each district. With the new proportional representation, candidates can still be nominated in primary but through a statewide vote instead of by district. This would eliminate candidates being selected in back room straw votes among party elite. It would give voters a chance to participate in the primary process much like they do now.

Candidates could run in a primary and then be ranked according to the number of votes they receive. The candidate with the most votes would be the leader of that state’s party and would be the first to receive a seat based on the proportion of vote their party gets in the general election. Primary voters can vote for one person in a primary. A candidate would receive a seat in the House if he or she ranked high enough in the primary. For example, if a candidate ranked number 10 after the primary and his party wins 12 seats, they would become a representative. If they rank 15, they don’t.

Candidates who want to run independently without a party could still do so. They can win a seat in Congress so long as they receive enough of the overall vote.

There’s another aspect to the House of Representatives that would essentially be dispensed with a proportional vote: gerrymandering. In this past election, Republicans held on to the House of Representatives despite the fact that nationally, Democrats received the majority of the total vote. That’s because of redistricting. Republicans run the majority of state legislatures, who are charged with drawing Congressional districts every 10 years. It is only now that the districting pendulum has swung their way. Before 1994, Democrats had controlled Congress for more than 40 years using the same redistricting methods now used by Republicans.

If candidates are nominated on a state-wide basis, districts would not matter.

Some might argue that eliminating districts would open up another problem, whereby candidates with more statewide recognition would fare better than local candidates. This is true. It would also be more expensive to campaign because candidates would have to travel throughout the state and buy statewide advertising.

Many people also like having someone local represent them, even if they’re not of the same party. However, nothing in the Constitution currently requires candidates to live in the district they represent. A candidate in Dallas can run for a position in Houston (and such instances have happened).

The proportional vote also would mean nothing in places like Wyoming or Alaska, which has so small a population that they’re only allotted one seat in the House.

A proportional vote would no doubt have some negative effects. Lobbyists would still find a way to get their say. Special interests would still have a politician’s ear. Political strategists would find a way to take advantage of the system. There would be a little electoral chaos in the beginning and it would take possibly years before a third party would gain significant footing in the House.

But the thing is, it would eventually happen. The benefits of allowing other parties into the system would likely outweigh any new issues. Why? Because everyone would be represented and there would no longer be a feeling that your vote doesn’t count for much.

Six Year War

Politics

You hear an unending torrent of complaints about Congress these days. Most of it is centered around inaction, obstinance and an unwillingness to go against a faction of radicals. This has exacerbated in the past two weeks thanks to the government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling battle.

It’s the voters’ fault though. Despite the fact that Congress has a 19-percent approval rating, 90 percent of incumbents were reelected in 2012.

As of now, polls are constantly showing that the public primarily blames Congressional Republicans for the shutdown. There’s a chance to change things in the 2014 election. Voters can send out the incumbents by either choosing the other party or finding another candidate in the primary. If you take a look back though, that’s not going to happen.

When it comes to Congress, that mid-term election in the sixth year of a president’s reign doesn’t go well for the White House. President Obama faces that problem in 2014. As we can tell so far, it doesn’t look good that he’ll win the House or even keep the Senate.

No president has ever gained control of the House of Representatives during a mid-term election in that respective president’s second term.
None of them, that includes George Washington, whose Federalist Party lost seats in the House in the 1794 election. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Frankling D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan—none of them have been popular enough for their party gain seats or wrest control of the Congress halfway through their second term.

The vast majority of presidents lost seats in those elections. No incumbent president’s party, save only Bill Clinton, has gained seats since FDR.

James Madison and James Monroe did win additional House seats in the 1814 and 1822 elections respectively. Both of them though, faced a dwindling Federalist Party and both of them already had control of Congress.

Teddy Roosevelt and the Republicans managed to gain three senators in 1906. Clinton famously beat the odds in 1998 when, despite a looming impeachment, Democrats gained seats in the House.

As far as shifting power, only Andrew Jackson and the Democrats won control of the Senate from National Republicans in his sixth-year Congressional election in 1834. Democrats already had power in the House at that time.

No president has gained control of the House from the opposing party.

Every election is unique and there are a lot of factors that play into them including the economy, wars, redistricting, scandals and presidential approval ratings.

Congress is immune to approval ratings and history is stacked heavily against Obama. Democrats have to win 17 additional seats. No party has come close to doing that in the sixth year election.

But Obama is the country’s first black president. He was also reelected with an unemployment rate at 8 percent.

Anything’s possible.

But it’s still not likely.

Congressional Blame

Politics

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I’m going to start with a few numbers.

Here goes.

Congressional approval rating before November 2012 election: 18%

Percentage of Congressional incumbents reelected in 2012: 90%

Congressional approval now: 16%

[Stats according to Gallup and Bloomberg]

When you ask people about our good ‘ole Bicameral insane asylum, the reaction is strong, swift and furious. People really don’t like our Reps and Senators.

Why? Well, the general accusation is that they don’t get anything done. Apparently when you take 600 people from all over the country, stick them in a room and then they don’t bang out legislation like clockwork, their constituents get angry.

Another reason I keep hearing is something along the lines of “they need to stop bickering and just do what’s best for the country.” Yeah, right. Congress doesn’t really work for America. They work for their voters.

John Boehner doesn’t worry about what affects New Yorkers, he works for the 8th District of Ohio. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t cater to Texas, she works for the voters in the 12th District of California. Everything they do, every vote they make is motivated by what the voters in that district will do to them every other November.

So then what do you do? You have roughly 1 in 10 who don’t like their representative and/or senator. And yet 9 in 10 of those incumbents keep getting sent back to Capitol Hill. Talk about a mixed message. People like their own guy, just not the other people their guy has to deal with.

If it’s one thing you got to give to those Tea Party groups, they know how to bring the fear out of representatives in D.C. If a Republican doesn’t toe the Tea Party line, they start looking for a new Capitol tenant.

Conservatives are scared out of their minds that the Tea Party will conjure an opponent in their upcoming primary.

The Tea Party backers have proven a point. A little bit of angst, organization and involvement can generate change. Digging up a primary opponent will make a Congressman think twice about what they vote for and who they side with.

Every Congressman and Congresswoman should have that fear, regardless of their party or their district. But with a 90 percent reelection rating, the disapproval rating will never matter.

So to all of you who complain about Congress, and there are a lot of you, do something about it. If you keep sending the same people back to D.C. over and over again, you’re going to get the same result… over and over.

You get the government you elect.

 

(a version of this post appeared on medium.com)

Wealthy Recession

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One of the most interesting things about American culture is the fear that the poor is out to bring us down. Welfare, entitlements, etc. We’re paying for their lifestyle and that’s destroying our country, apparently.

Here’s the thing though, they’re not quite the pariah that some people make them out to be.

Maybe instead we should be focusing on the people who have more control over our economy and access to jobs. No, not the government. I mean the corporate overlords.

We tend to concentrate on social welfare when times are bad. If I have to work for peanuts, I don’t see why they shouldn’t have to work too. They should know how to find a job.

When times are good though, we don’t care

I’m not worried about the welfare queens and the free loaders. I’m more worried about the Enrons, Worldcoms, Bear Stearns and AIGs out there. Welfare “reform” to me, is just a distraction from the true troublemakers in a fragile economy.

Corporate America and small business owners blame the impoverished for their own ills. I fail to see how that’s even possible. Welfare is only a tenth of U.S. budget. (I wonder though, how much in government contracts go to private industry. I’m betting it’s more than what we spend on food stamps.)

The poor is not our problem.

The rich and their exploitation of resources wreak more havoc on the economy and the working class than a mooch ever will. They point to the welfare babies (and now health care)as their excuse for fighting higher taxes.

Essentially, what they’re doing is attempting to dodge their responsibility as Americans, which is to contribute their fair share to the government of this country. Whatever the opinion of government people have, the bottom line is it needs revenue to operate. If you disagree with how it functions, change it. Vote.

What we can’t vote on is how business does business.

One thing we and the government could do is set aside the issue of welfare and start looking at giving corporate regulations more teeth. It wasn’t the borrowers that led to the housing crisis and the subsequent financial quagmire. It was the lenders.

It was the bankers who wanted to make money off the mortgage-backed securities who bankrupted the economy. When they were given bail out money, what did they do? They used it as golden parachutes rather than helping customers with homes underwater.

My feeling on the poor is this: I would rather have a system that is abused by leeches than to have no system at all. I don’t mind paying my taxes even when I know there are people using food stamps and driving Cadillacs.

What I can’t stand is when the rich drive around in Bentleys bought with blood money and profits made through layoffs.

I have no problem with business, I have to say. America is a capitalist system and I support that. Businesses should be allowed to seek profit for their services
and goods. They are the employers and clearly our system works both for them and employees.

But it isn’t the welfare nation that put us in a recession. It isn’t their decisions that sour the economy. They don’t control the purse strings.

Who does though?