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Corporatization of American Politics

By baberg in Op-Ed
Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:49:12 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

Ralph Nader. Pat Buchanan. Harry Browne. Names you probably have heard of, if you read K5 or Slashdot. But for the majority of Americans, they are names that are irrelevant to political campaigns because, as we all know, the only real parties are the Republicans and Democrats. If there were any more candidates, they would have air time on television, right? Those other names on the ballot are just people trying to get their names in the paper, and are not serious about running for President. I would have heard about them, right?

There are good reasons why mainstream America has not heard of these third party candidates. They are not permitted to enter the debates (which, ironically, seem less like a debate and more like two children quibbling over who gets to "pick first" in a game of school-yard baseball) They are not talked about in mainstream media, because nobody has heard of them (see point 1). And, they don't have commercials on TV because they can't get enough money raised to buy any substantial amount of television time (which leads to points 1 and 2)

What it eventually comes down to, then, is the fact that it takes money to run a campaign. Lots of money. According to www.opensecrets.org, GWB has spent over $121 million, with nearly $56 million to fall back on, in case a rent check or credit card bill comes due. Gore is nearly as bad, spending nearly $61 million with over $65 million left. He apparently has a lot of credit cards he needs to pay off. And exactly where is this money coming from? Neither has used any of their own money for their campaigns. That's right; Bush, the billionaire, oil-pump-hugging, pollution-encouraging, "my-daddy-was-president-so-I-should-be-too" candidate hasn't spend a dime of his own money. And Al Gore, the internet-inventing, wife-kissing, "please-don't-associate-me-with-Clinton" environmentalist doesn't want to give up a penny of his Vice Presidential paycheck of $89,125 to getting re-elected. I suppose I can see why; it's just a drop in the bucket.

So, since there's millions of dollars floating in their collective war chests, where does it all come from? You got it; corporations. Not the usual corporations that we techies complain about. Micro$oft is nowhere to be found on their list of top contributors. However, on both lists can be found "Ernst & Young" who contributed $178,699 for Bush and $131,875 for Gore. So, what does this tell us? This tells us that, no matter who gets elected (I'm not naive enough to believe anybody but a Republicrat is going to win the election) Ernst & Young is going to have themselves a nice seat in the Lincoln Bedroom, right next to Monica Lewinski.

So, what can we expect out of the next administration? You got it; more laws passed that help out investment firms and financial institutions. What else can we expect? No campaign finance reform. No matter how much they may preach it, there is no way they will work toward it. Any finance reform would allow for the lesser candidates to come in and steal the main party's vote (note: intentionally written as a single main party; there is only one choice. They only differ on abortion opinions, which has no relevance to running the country)

We are not living in a democracy. We are not living in a representative democracy. Hell, we're barely living in a republic. Unfortunately, it's a Corporate Republic. The corporations hold all the power because they hold all the money. Laws are passed (DMCA, anyone?) that help corporations hold their power while simultaneously suppressing the voices, rights, and power of the lowly citizens. And why are these laws passed? That's right... The corporations have very well-paid lobbyists who douse lawmakers with gifts before, during, and after elections, ensuring a kind vote when that piece of legislation which would improve the quality of air/water/life on earth but would mean an extra $0.04 per widget on the corporations' end. And that's something the corporations cannot stand. After all, increased production costs means reduced profits, and they may not be able to afford the island paradise they've had their eye on. And, in the mean time, they will continue to pay workers "minimum" wage, which barely covers living costs, and take in 9-digit salaries, all the while complaining about losing 5% of it to taxes.

So, a solution, you ask? What's the cure-all? Simple. If you plan to vote this year, vote for a third-party candidate and send the signal that you're tired of mindless debates between equally mindless candidates. If you do not plan to vote this year, vote for a third-party candidate. In the grand scheme of things, it will take 10 minutes out of your life. Even less if you grab an absentee ballot. But this, while not the only way to express your opinions, is one of the easiest. Imagine an election result where the major candidates get 33% each, and the third parties summed get the other 33%. Can you imagine the press coverage then? And with press coverage comes attention... which brings money and public interest...

We can change it. We have the ability. But do we have the desire?


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Who will you vote for?
o Micro$oft 21%
o Ernst & Young 39%
o Time Warner / AOL 26%
o RIAA 5%
o MPAA 7%

Votes: 38
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o www.opense crets.org
o island paradise
o Also by baberg

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Corporatization of American Politics | 56 comments (53 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Island. (1.80 / 5) (#1)
by Strider on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 02:56:56 PM EST

Best write-up on this topic I've seen, you convinced me.

Incidentally, I would like my own island...

"it's like having gravity suddenly replaced by cheez-whiz" - rusty
What do we do? (3.22 / 9) (#2)
by reshippie on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 02:57:07 PM EST

Anyone got any ideas. I totally agree with the statements made, but have yet to think of anything to do. I mean, how can you really affect the US gov't, or its policies if you don't have at least a few million dollars floating around on Wall St.

It's something that I feel very strongly about, but feel so helpless about. Email still isn't highly regarded as a way to communicate serious thoughts. Snail mail gets tossed in a stack with hundreds of others, to be read by some intern who's eyes are dead from reading all day. And phone calls don't get to anyone.

So now what? I'm getting myself all depressed. Anyone got any thoughts?

Those who don't know me, probably shouldn't trust me. Those who do DEFINITELY shouldn't trust me. :-)

Re: What do we do? (4.90 / 10) (#10)
by sab39 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:17:53 PM EST

Go to Nader's homepage (or Buchanan's or Browne's - sorry, don't know their URLs), and depending on your level of motivation/commitment:
  • Vote for him in the election. Your voice does make a difference, when combined with all the other voices that will do the same.
  • Tell your friends about alternative candidates. Point them to this page and this discussion. Point them to his homepage. Argue convincingly that a vote for a third party is less of a wasted vote than a vote for the two-parties-in-one big candidates. Use quotes like the person here who has the sig "A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil".
  • Put a message like that in your sig.
  • Donate money. As much money as you can afford. The more money he has, the more publicity he can afford.
  • Sign up to help on his campaign team. This applies even if you are not a US citizen. After all, if you successfully persuade one voter to vote for him, you have made exactly the same amount of influence as if you had been able to vote yourself. If you are a citizen and persuade one voter, you've just doubled your influence. And one person helping with the campaign is worth a lot of donation dollars.
To quote something that I recently heard but forget the source, "Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

[ Parent ]
Re: What do we do? (3.16 / 6) (#12)
by warpeightbot on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:30:22 PM EST

Can't remember Harry Browne's URL off the top of my head, but surely there's a link to it off his party's website... Other than that nugget of info, I think the previous poster covered it all. Vote, support, evangelize, put your money and your time where your mouth is. If enough of us geeks get it together and get off the Demopublican / Republicrat juggernaut, we can send a message (Don't Tread On Me!)..... and if we can garner enough votes this year, we can get ourselves permanent places on the ballot for Next Time, and we can start accumulating market, err, mindshare.

C'mon, folks, we are the geeks, we have the power. Let's use it, and use it wisely. We CAN take over the world, and set it free.... if we'll bother to do so.

Same thing we do every night, Pinky.

[ Parent ]

Re: What do we do? (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by el_guapo on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:46:42 PM EST

Harry Browne
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Re: What do we do? (3.00 / 3) (#18)
by Alik on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:17:42 PM EST

No duh.

Obvious solution: get rich and buy your own damn government. Has nobody heard of destroying systems through infiltration anymore?

The weakness of a true Corporate Republic is that power is unstable. Every so often, the herd just picks up and stampedes. Companies have organic qualities, in that they display life cycles and eventually become too old and tired to live. Therefore, leverage all these wonderful disgruntled hackers, make some money, and go buy some honest men.

Oh, and for the record, Republicans and Democrats also differ on guns and defense spending.

[ Parent ]
Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (3.66 / 6) (#3)
by Sedennial on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 02:57:17 PM EST

I agree with a great deal of what you say, with the execption of the 'send a signal' argument. That line of reasoning is part of what has led us to this mess. It seems to indicate that because you personally have given up on the process, and feel there is no hope of changing it, so should everyone else.

If I believe that the political process can be used to effect change in the system, why should I waste my vote simply because you have fallen prey to hopelessness and cynicism?

The growing number of people who express the same sentiment are in part a large part of the problem themselves. It's a circular reasoning that a fundamentally flawed conclusion.
Warning: The Sturgeon General has determined that watching television may lead to IQ reduction, loss of your auto keys, and other negative side effects.

Re: Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (4.00 / 6) (#5)
by baberg on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:06:44 PM EST

why should I waste my vote simply because you have fallen prey to hopelessness and cynicism

Two points: First of all, I do not consider myself completely lost to hopelessness and cynicism (though I am very close, and once was lost). If I were completely lost to cynicism, I wouldn't be voting in the first place. I believed that one vote could not change a single thing (and I still believe it). But one voice can change things. If it weren't for an editorial in my school newspaper (Ohio State, if you're curious) I would never have heard of Ralph Nader and would never have voted at all in this coming election. But Nader represents my beliefs and ideals, and as such, I believe him to be a good candidate to vote for (after all, isn't that what a representative democracy is supposed to be about?)

Secondly, I do not consider it a wasted vote. The only wasted vote is the unused one (trust me, I've wasted plenty of votes). I know, it's idealistic and silly and naive. But what's the alternative? Sit back, watch things continue in a downward spiral, and complain about it? Well, yeah. But if you're going to complain, at least do something about it. Remember those bumper-stickers, "Don't blame me, I voted for Bush"? Well, "Don't blame me, I didn't vote" holds no meaning at all.

May I ask your proposal as an alternative to the "send a signal" approach? I'm always interested in ways to change things for the better.

[ Parent ]

Re: Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (3.75 / 4) (#15)
by Sedennial on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:39:31 PM EST

Regarding my labelling your post as evidencing 'hopelessness' see my response to sab39 - I retracted that as you're both correct. =)

I guess where I'm coming from is that voting for a candidate you don't believe has any chance of winning simply to send a message seems to me to be a wasted vote. Though on further consideration of both your's and sab39's comments, I guess that is exactly one of the purposes of the system. And voting for a candidate you genuinely think is not going to be the best for the country is the worst kind of hypocrisy. So.....all that to say, on further thought, I guess you are correct.

The only wasted vote is no vote at all.
Warning: The Sturgeon General has determined that watching television may lead to IQ reduction, loss of your auto keys, and other negative side effects.
[ Parent ]

Re: Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (3.80 / 5) (#17)
by sab39 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:02:08 PM EST

<< And voting for a candidate you genuinely think is not going to be the best for the country is the worst kind of hypocrisy. >>

It's not just this. The goal is, eventually, to persuade the public that the third party candidate does have a chance of winning. At the moment, most people believe he does not. By voting for the majority parties, you are proving them right; by voting third-party, you are adding your voice to the millions of others and proving them wrong.


"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

[ Parent ]
Re: Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (3.00 / 5) (#6)
by sab39 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:06:49 PM EST

How do you draw this conclusion from the story? The "send a signal" mentality is precisely to do with using the system to change the system. It's not about hopelessness, it's about hope. The hope that enough people will vote against both the greater and the lesser evil. The ultimate hope is that eventually a candidate "for the people" will actually win.

If it were about hopelessness, we (I include myself and the story poster, who apparently agree on the issue) would be advocating not voting at all, learning to live with the problems, or staging some kind of violent takeover. It's hope that the people of America (and in the analagous situations all over the world) will eventually vote for a good candidate, rather than the lesser of two evils, that makes it worth "sending a signal" in the first place.


"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

[ Parent ]
Re: Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (2.80 / 5) (#13)
by Sedennial on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:34:14 PM EST

Hmm...ok, I'll reply to both yourself and baberq at once. I stand corrected on this as you're both right. Hopelessness would indeed be a 'don't bother wasting your vote' attitude. As such, I read something into the original post that wasn't there.

Warning: The Sturgeon General has determined that watching television may lead to IQ reduction, loss of your auto keys, and other negative side effects.
[ Parent ]

Re: Hopelessness breeds hopelessness (3.25 / 4) (#22)
by el_guapo on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:41:46 PM EST

hear hear - I rated you up simply for being honest and saying, you know what? you seem to have thought this through beter than me and I think you have a point. Bravo!
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Great rant and important issue... (3.54 / 11) (#4)
by sab39 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:01:22 PM EST

I wish there was a "Post to front page of the NY Times" option ;) Or "Post to the leading story on network TV news"...

(Yes, it's US only, but the US has an extraordinary amount of influence on other countries. And there are parallel issues in other countries - the Lib Dems are beginning to grow their number of seats in the UK, for example - so the core issue is still relevant)

I'm not a US citizen (yet) but my wife is voting Nader and we're getting involved in his campaign. Anyone who doubts the power of a grassroots campaign, such as the one these parties must necessarily wage, should stop and think how Linux got to the point of being embraced by the largest companies in the world.

When a large enough group of committed and intelligent individuals works for something, they can change the world :)

"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

OpenSecrets. (1.20 / 5) (#9)
by TheLocust on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:16:42 PM EST

Damn, isn't OpenSecret.org GREAT?! Definitely sheds a lot of much needed light onto a subject like this. Good write up...
.......o- thelocust -o.........
ignorant people speak of people
average people speak of events
great people speak of ideas

it is worse than this (4.38 / 13) (#14)
by melancholyDane on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:35:35 PM EST

your comments are exactly correct but you need to carry them out further to see the real fallout from yoru observations. what you're seeing here is a fundamental flaw in the construction of our society.

the issue here is that the basis for power in the country is flowing away from the elected officials and toward the larger corperations in the world. now that isn't such an astute finding, but the ramifications are rather enormous. because the only governing force in this country has been the constitution, and document written to restrict the power of elected officials, but which, after several amendments, actually gives rights and privledges to american corperations.

this breaks the system, since the constitution fails to provide mechanisms for successfully regulating the corperations save by massive changes the current law and the constitution. of course our elected officials are sufficiently corrupted to the point that the two-third majority needed to render constitutional changes can never be reached, and i'm not much more hopeful about regulalations getting passed either.

having thought about this for a while, i've been wondering if this is a self-sustaining structure, or if the flaws are going to cause a break-down. i'm afraid that I can't see a solution (and please, please let me know if you have one -- i'm not here to prattle on about political nihilism because i think it's cool -- i want a solution. in fact i'm afraid that with the massive congolomeration of the media outlets things are only going to get worse. because the media no longer has an interest in being impartial.

the long term success of g.e. depends upon voters empowering a president/senator/congressman/etc who won't restrict their ability to do business. so of course their's no interest to build of ralph nadar, who of course would fight these fources directly, or anyother candidate. the next logical step is to prevent us from voting at all, or at least only voting based on ads which are paid for by teh corperations. and this is accomplished by not showing the debates, and passifying the public with baseball games and jiggling nineteen year-old breasts. so now, news doesn't cover the alternatives and even teh only forum to see the mainstream candidates think is slowly censored; doesn;t seem healthy

does anyone see a flaw in this pattern? have i missed anything? it's a rather upsetting observation, i'd like ti to be wrong.

Re: it is worse than this (4.40 / 5) (#16)
by sab39 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 03:58:10 PM EST

Well, I don't know if I can break your logic, but I can use your logic to argue that you should vote for a third party candidate, because it's in your best interest whether you are right or not. If you are right, and everything is hopeless, then voting for a third party candidate can do no harm; it makes nothing worse. If you are wrong, and it is possible to break the cycle, then the way to do it is for enough people to vote third-party to tip the scale - in other words, your vote for third-party makes a positive difference.

As for whether it's possible... well, would you have predicted that Linux would be the second most popular operating system on the planet, five years ago? It is possible for non-monied, grassroots opinion to overcome vast corporations with billions of dollars.


"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

[ Parent ]
Re: it is worse than this (3.50 / 6) (#19)
by melancholyDane on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:18:06 PM EST

no. this isn't so. if it was there wouldn't be a problem. here the problem is that the american system (unlike a parlimentary system) is a winner take all system; only the majority gets any stake in the power distribution. this is why your analogy with linux fails. linux is built upon the fact the it is effective for individuals to use it, politics are only effective en masse; losing in a linux "vote" (which isn't clear to me is the same thing at all) has the positive feedback of using a functioning operating system, and whatever value you associate to having open source software. also, choosing linux isn't an exclusive choice, many of us dual boot, etc, voting a singular.

as for the voting for a third party candidate: this is most likely what i'll do, but this isn't effective. all that it accompishes is to breed a self-satisfied feeling of having opted-out of the politcal machines. but it has no effect. there will be no polical change effected by this, and there is no reason to trust the media to share any indication of a growing interest in a third party candidate. in short, the effort has no symtoms to demonstrate itself. (and i'm not big on the other candidates either, they all seem like one-trick ponies)

[ Parent ]
Re: it is worse than this (3.33 / 3) (#27)
by drivers on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 05:02:04 PM EST

I don't see why it's a problem for Fox to show the baseball game. It's not like the debate has to be on every station. It was on half a dozen as it was!

I watched the debates last night. It would have been a lot more useful to at least have Nader up there. The Presidential Debate Commission pretty much made it clear that the existing Party (republi-crat party) has complete control over the debates, when they got the public police to keep Nader from getting into a separate viewing area even though he had a ticket given to him by a student.

Check out www.votenader.com

[ Parent ]

Re: it is worse than this (2.00 / 2) (#29)
by neoptik on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 05:32:37 PM EST

You guys might want to consider that corporations, as an extreme legal technicality, have zero rights. They aren't individuals. We (being the people and government of the US) allow corporations to exists so that we may benefit from the increased tech, products, and competition. But as I understand it, and I am certainly not a lawyer, we can take away the status of corporation completely. They aren't a legal individual. We just grant them that on their tax forms. I could be wrong though. -Thom
*sigh....* so many distributed computing projects.....so few computational resources....
[ Parent ]
Re: it is worse than this (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by Simian on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 06:24:17 PM EST

Unfortunately, wrong.

Corporations have had legal rights since (at least) Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 1886. The Supreme Court made it clear in that case that Corporations, like people, were subject to equal protection under the law.

I know that this personhood has been defended also in the context of the corporation's right to free speech, vis a vis advertising. IANAL, and I can't cite the rest of the relevant case law, but I found a good link for more info: http://www.iiipublishing.com/afd/Coperson.htm


"As I would not be a slave, so would I not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." Abraham Lincoln
[ Parent ]
Re: it is worse than this (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by neoptik on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 08:43:31 PM EST

Wow, that really bites....

It seems that that law just shouldn't be right. I mean, Corporations can't really be held liable for their actions. If an auto maker makes a car that carelessly kills people, shouldn't that "car maker", which, under this law, is an individual, go to jail? How does paying fines or lawsuit money rationalize this? I think that Nader has hit it right on the nail...

Thanks for the informative reply

*sigh....* so many distributed computing projects.....so few computational resources....
[ Parent ]

Re: it is worse than this (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by thePositron on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:09:20 PM EST

It is a tragedy that corporations took on the rights of Natural persons in the case cited earlier in the thread. However there is a growing movement of people who are looking at laws that revoke the charters of companies that violate the law.
Info about corporate charters and what we can do to regain our sovereignty

[ Parent ]
Re: it is worse than this (4.00 / 2) (#49)
by Simian on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:44:14 PM EST

Just as a side note, in the article I referenced earlier there's a great quote from Thomas, yes, Thomas Jefferson on the subject of corporations:

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Obviously he failed. And we continue to fail.

That's what's really bothered me about the M$ trial. Not the monopoly; their disdain for government and their assumption that their success in the marketplace justifies their actions.

The true dying of the nation-state begins with the full awareness of corporations that they don't need the state for protection anymore. Has it begun? What is the proper response?


"As I would not be a slave, so would I not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." Abraham Lincoln
[ Parent ]

Cut off the money (4.50 / 8) (#20)
by itsbruce on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:32:57 PM EST

There are very few things about the UK political system that I would recommend to Americans but this is one thing that you would really do well to copy from us: strict limits on election budgets for parties and for individual canditates.

Theoretically, any US citizen can become president. But Gore and Bush have each spent more on their campaigns than the combined election budgets of all UK political parties. No ordinary citizen or grassroots party can begin to compete with that.

Beyond that, the huge corporate donations that any serious candidate needs means that any new President starts his term already deeply in the pocket of vested interests.

Here in the UK, any party that can fields enough candidates gets a certain amount of airtime for political broadcasts - and those are the only such broadcasts allowed, political advertising of any kind beyond poster campaigns is banned. Together with the spending caps, this means the major parties can't drown out the smaller ones. In the last election, the BNP - a far-right extreme racist party - was allowed national airtime - they were entitled, they fielded enough candidates.

Another positive effect is that the news media, not swamped by a glut of sponsored material, go out and find the news about the candidates during the election. I think this means the voters are not so jaded, less prone to election fatigue.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
Interesting... (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by baberg on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:45:09 PM EST

Kinda makes me want to move to the UK, honestly. You hit the nail right on the head; the elected officials are "already deeply in the pocket of vested interests" and said it better than I could :-)

What exactly do you mean by "fielding enough candidates"? Do you have to have X number of signatures per candidate, and you have to have Y percentage of the available offices filled? Not that anything like this would be instated here in the US, but it's always interesting to learn about other governments and countries.

[ Parent ]

Re: Interesting... (3.75 / 4) (#28)
by sab39 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 05:02:16 PM EST

Hmm, it's been a while since I was in the UK and I wasn't terribly into politics when I was there, but I'll give this one a shot.

The UK has one democratically elected house of government: the House of Commons. (The other house, the House of Lords, is based on inheritance and appointment, and if I understand correctly, has little power these days except a veto - but I could be wrong on this).

The house of commons consists of a number of seats. Each seat represents a constituency in the UK. To win a seat, you must get the highest number of votes in that constituency. There are eligibility requirements a candidate must meet before he can run in a constituency.

Once all the constituency votes are evaluated, a party holding >50% of the seats is then the government, and the leader of that party is the Prime Minister. If no party holds >50%, someone has to form an alliance with someone else until they can muster 50%. I don't know what happens if no alliance can be formed.

Anyone with a better grasp of UK politics want to fill in the gaps in this?

"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

[ Parent ]
Re: Interesting... (4.33 / 3) (#31)
by itsbruce on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 06:10:48 PM EST

Your summary is accurate. The House of Lords was, until a couple of centuries ago, the primary house. It was entirely staffed by hereditary aristocracy for most of its history. After the leadership of Parliament moved to the Commons, the Lords became mostly a "review" chamber whose role (defined more by tradition than legislation) was to modify legislation or send it back for rethinking but not to overturn it - especially where the bill in question fulfilled a manifesto commitment.

"Life Peers" - non-hereditary "Lords" appointed by the government - were added to the mix at the beginning of the 20th century. Even though the government has always accepted lists of nominees from the other main parties, this really only added patronage to hereditary dominance. And the sheer number of hereditary peers always guaranteed a majority for the Conservatives in an emergency.

The Lords is being phased out - only a skeleton crew of "Lords" left - but nobody knows what is going to replace it. There are no solid plans yet but it seems it will be only partly an elected chamber.

This is worrying in a country where the "executive" has "Crown Perogative" (i.e. rules in place of and with the authority of the monarch) and also controls the main debating/legislative chamber. We have few enough checks and balances as it is. Instead of your gridlock, we have a railroad - a 5 year elective dictatorship.

You might have guessed by now that I'm a republican - in the "off with their heads" sense, not the US party sense. For the most part I admire the US political structure, particularly the independence and strength of Congress and the Congressional committees. Our MPs have almost no power unless they get a job with the government, which turns many of them into party poodles. And our governments treat Parliament - the legislative chamber and the only possible effective check on government power - with more contempt each year. It used to be that any important government announcement would be made in the House first, before any press release. Now, Parliament is the last to find out.

Government can get away with all this because so much of our political structure has been defined by convention and tradition. What the stupid traditionalists never realised was that when tradition (rather than law) is flouted, there's no comeback.

So don't all pack your bags and rush over here just yet, however alluring a year with 350 political-advertising-free days in it might sound.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
[ Parent ]
Re: Interesting... (4.66 / 3) (#33)
by jacwhite on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 06:23:15 PM EST

Some remembered facts from the undergrad political science degree: :-)

The UK is like the US in that it uses a "first-past-the-post" voting system. This means that each district/county/state/whathaveyou elects a representative, and the party that wins the most areas is the majority party.

Compare this with proportional representation, in which:

  1. there are no voting districts
  2. each party is allotted seats so that its proportion of elected officials is roughly equal to its proportion of votes received, although there may be a minimum proportion required.
  3. often the vote is for the party, without even a name attached to it, and the party has a list of members that will fill any seats won.

This is the system used by Italy, for example, and I think Germany.

What's odd is that first-past-the-post systems tend to lend themselves to 2 major parties, while proportional systems tend to have more parties. So the fact that the UK has a strong 3rd party is quite strange, and could be due to the different campaign finance laws, or it could be a sign that one of the other parties is on its way out. Remember that while the US has had a two-party system for a very long time, it hasn't always been Democrats/Republicans!

One major drawback to the proportional system is that it isn't very stable. If the winning party can't form a coalition to get 50% of the parliament, the government falls, usually requiring new elections. You only have to look at the number of governments Italy has had since WWII to see what can happen.

My humble point is, the US can't go to a proportional system. States' rights are too engrained for that. And without a proportional system, the US can't support more than one more major party (which is stretching it) even with campaign finance reform.

And by the way: you can't compare absolute figures for amounts spent in US and UK elections. British campaign seasons are much shorter.

Off the soapbox now ... jac

[ Parent ]
Re: Interesting... (3.00 / 1) (#39)
by Asperity on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 08:19:11 PM EST

And by the way: you can't compare absolute figures for amounts spent in US and UK elections. British campaign seasons are much shorter.

Hm. I bet one of the effects of putting a cap on campaign spending would be a far shorter campaign season. If you could only spend a limited amount of money, you'd want to spend it when it would do the most good -- right before the election.

I don't necessarily support campaign spending limits (they have 'em for the cheesy student government and popularity-position elections at my university, and it's really silly) but I would wholeheartedly support a shorter campaign season. The lack of election hype years before the actual election would mean more time devoted to real news, and less of this horse-race coverage that we're seeing today. If there's less time for the election to become boring through years of overblown coverage, more people will pay attention. Okay, maybe I would support such a notion. ;)

[ Parent ]

Re: Interesting... (none / 0) (#53)
by jacwhite on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 07:19:20 PM EST

Hm. I bet one of the effects of putting a cap on campaign spending would be a far shorter campaign season. If you could only spend a limited amount of money, you'd want to spend it when it would do the most good -- right before the election.

Well, that's possible. But the real reason for the shorter election period is that they don't have a set time for an election. We know that we'll have an election every 4 years, and exactly when it will be. So we can actually be in non-stop campaign for that next election.

In the UK, they have to have an election at least every four years, but there is no set date. The party in power calls for elections. I don't know off-hand how long warning they have to give, but it's measured in months. So Tony Blair could actually say tomorrow that there will be a British election before the end of the year. Then campaigning starts.

Is that a good thing? I don't think so. The date of the election gets manipulated for political means. Thatcher called an election in response to the Falklands. Think about it: Bush could have called a general election while he was riding high off desert storm. It would have bought him some time, wouldn't it? (shudder!)

[ Parent ]
Ouch! (none / 0) (#54)
by Asperity on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 08:40:48 PM EST

Yeah, I'd forgotten about the variable election times in the UK. Certainly not a fair way to run things, is it? And, as you pointed out, could have some singularly awful results.

Do you think campaign spending caps might also result in that shorter campaign season? I know it's not the reason UK elections are the way they are, but I suppose it's possible to come up with the same result from different causes.

I think a shorter campaign period (whatever the reason) might result in less showboating on the part of the candidates. At least I hope so. It'd be fantastic if, due to having less time to get a message across, they had to put some genuine meat into their speeches and advertisements. Or something like that.

[ Parent ]
Re: Interesting... (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by itsbruce on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 05:40:28 PM EST

Kinda makes me want to move to the UK, honestly
I did say it was about the only part of our political system I would recommend;) I think you'd find much here that would shock you.
What exactly do you mean by "fielding enough candidates"?
The House of Commons has 650 seats. Any party fielding 50 or more candidates gets one Party Election Broadcast. And every year each party gets one Party Political Broadcast for each 2m votes won at the last election. Obviously, in an election year the PPBs are used as extra PEBs but this is not greatly discriminatory, since no party ever wins enough for more than 5 PPBs.

Parties have to pay the production costs themselves but the airtime is free - and each PEB or PPB is shown several times on each of the terrestrial TV channels and Radio stations. In addition to this, government funds are provided to disseminate associated literature.

One MAJOR benefit of all this is that each individual PEB or PPB is only shown for one day. Which means that, even in an election year, most of the days of the year are completely free of political advertising.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
[ Parent ]
Re: Interesting... (2.00 / 2) (#43)
by FFFish on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 10:55:22 PM EST

Good god, what would you need 650 seats for on a teeny-tiny little island like Britain? We've got only 295 in Canada, and even that seems a little excessive...

[ Parent ]
Can't cut off the money -- it's free speech! :) (4.00 / 2) (#44)
by kimbly on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:05:23 PM EST

In the US, the Supreme Court has decided that limiting spending is the same as limiting speech. It has also, independantly, decided that corporations are people. Therefore corporations can donate as much as they want to campaigns. Corporations are relevant here mainly because they're the ones with all the money.

In my understanding, the original decision that corporations are people was made in the 1880's by the Supreme Court in response to a case where the state of California wanted to claim some railroad company's land via emminent domain. The company claimed that they were entitled to fair payment for said land, but the state disagreed since corporations were only legal fictions at that time (and California in particular was very anti-corporate). For some incomprehensible reason, the Court decided that the best way to solve this was to decide that corporations were people. The problem is that in recent years, this has meant that corporations are getting more and more constitutional and bill-of-rights protection.

Clearly the solution is to hit the problem at the source, and overturn the 120-year old Supreme Court decision. So let's get working! Who wants to lead the charge? :)

[ Parent ]

Wrong. (none / 0) (#56)
by Asterisk on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 07:43:10 AM EST

Corporations and labor unions are barred from donating money to campaigns.

They are allowed to instead set up PACs which donate money to the parties or run issue ads, not actual candidates.

[ Parent ]
Deposit (2.50 / 2) (#50)
by Burb on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 04:43:02 AM EST

Don't forget that if you are to field a candidate for a parliamentary election in the UK, you have to provide a deposit. The deposit is refundable if the candidate gets a certain percentage of the vote. It's to deter people entering frivolously. It's not a lot, just a few hundred pounds I think.

Still doesn't stop the Monster Raving Loony Party. Alas.

Side issue: although the British parliament is party-oriented, we do at last have one independent MP who is affiliated to no party - Martin Bell. Although the circumstances of his election may not be repeated for a long time.

[ Parent ]
(2.00 / 3) (#21)
by psicE on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:33:20 PM EST

What if someone had voted for John McCain and were directly in the middle on all your views? No third-party (read: real party) candidate is anything less than extreme in their views, so this person would have nowhere to vote but would probably be leaning toward Al Gore because of his VP. He would then have to vote for Nader or Buchanan (or if he was REALLY extreme, McReynolds or Browne), none of whom he would agree with on more than 50% of issues. He would be making a statement, but the statement wouldn't be good for him.

Re: McCain (4.00 / 3) (#38)
by aphrael on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 08:03:34 PM EST

I'm assuming that your question is actually talking about your situation; feel free to slap me if i'm wrong.

I voted for McCain in the primary (not that it mattered, for multiple reasons). I was really hoping for a McCain v. Bradley campaign; that would have been interesting/entertaining. I'm in a quandary, however, now that the general election is coming:

* I don't trust Gore.

* I don't believe Bush is competent to run the country, and while I think he has a good vision, i'm worried about how he'll handle the unspoken demands of the religious right.

(Note for both of those that I really like Lieberman, and while I disagree with Cheney, I have a great deal of respect for him, and believe he has the integrity to do what he believes is the right thing in almost all circumstances).

* Nader isn't a member of the Green party, even though he's running as its candidate, and refuses to endorse its platform.

* Buchanan is a nutcase who stole the Reform party and is changing it from an economic-reform into a cultural-reform vehicle.

* Hagelin, like Buchanan, is an outsider trying to take over the Reform party for his own ends.

* Browne is a repeat candidate for a party whose philosophical approach I like but whose grip on pragmatism I think is shaky at best.

Of those, the least bad is Browne, but I'm having a hard time convincing myself to vote for any of them. *sigh*

[ Parent ]
Re: McCain (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by baberg on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 09:36:55 PM EST

For me, at least (if it isn't blatantly clear, I'm voting for Nader), the fact that Nader isn't a member of the Green Party doesn't factor into my opinion / vote. I do not believe in political parties; they breed people who vote for the party ONLY BECAUSE it is their party. For instance, my grandfather voted Republican, no matter who was running. That is wrong.

I am voting for Ralph Nader because I believe he is the right person, regardless of political party, who is running for President. I see his nomination by the Green Party to be merely a stepping-stone, a way to get him some backing and some supporters to be put onto the ballot. So what if he doesn't adhere to the Green Party's platform? Why is there a party platform in the first place? Shouldn't it be about the people?

[ Parent ]

Re: McCain (3.00 / 2) (#45)
by aphrael on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:05:25 PM EST

Historically speaking, the party platform was originally the document in which the party indicated what they --- President and legislative candidates --- would do if elected. A candidate who doesn't support the document which claims to state what he'd do if elected doesn't really represent the party; he's using the people who support the party for his own ends. He's not going to do what *they* are interested in; he's going to steal the work they put in to getting the party on the ballot, and pushing the party's issues, and redirect it into his own personal agenda. In my view, it's extremely abusive --- it's no different than what Buchanan is doing to the reform party.

[ Parent ]
Re: McCain (2.00 / 1) (#52)
by psicE on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 07:07:14 PM EST

Actually, I'm not one of those people, I was really being theoretical. I'd vote for Nader (except that I'm under 18 :) because he's the only real liberal candidate who has a chance of winning. I personally believe that government (but not necessarily US gov't) is one of the only organizations that cares about our welfare, and if we give more and more programs (like social security) over to private companies, the quality of them will go down and the price up. I'd vote for David McReynolds of the Socialist party, but I know that I'm one of 5 people in this country who agree with him. http://www.sp-usa.org , see if you do.

[ Parent ]
I think there is a *little* hope... (2.60 / 5) (#24)
by *brian* on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:45:27 PM EST

I think there could be a little hope for getting a real, non-corporate candidate elected. For instance, C-SPAN has shown a few items, including the natural law/ reform party convention with Hagelin, and a third party debate with Hagelin, Browne and Phillips (constitution party). Of course that last one was on at 1 AM - not so good for the people that do most of the voting.

Also, the internet and discussion sites like this one also help get the word out - the trick is to get people to listen. Personally, whenever politics/ the presidential election, etc.. comes up, I point out the numerous shortcomings of the two major candidates, as well as the good points of lesser known candidates. When the conversation comes to the point of voting for someone that "can't" win, I point out that:
- voting for the winner gets you nothing except more corruption, spending, corporate welfare, or whatever, so you might as well vote for the best candidate
- only 49% voted last presidential election, so there's always room for someone else to get elected....


What we can do! (3.87 / 8) (#26)
by thePositron on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 04:55:39 PM EST

The first thing one can do to battle the hijacking of our political process is to support a third party candidate and to build the party that you are most sympathetic with. The second step is to inform your friends and family of how outrageous it is that 3rd party delegates are not allowed to debate on publically owned and paid for airwaves. The 3rd step in the process is to take to the streets and peacefully demonstrate your dissatisfaction with the current political process. The 4th step is to challenge the charters of companies that threaten our democracy and liberty. If enough people get involved in this process things will change. I do not believe in just giving up and not doing anything, there are still plenty of ways to work to change our system.

Some links to get people started and informed.
The Green Party
Vote Nader
The Libertarian Party
Reclaim Democracy
The Reform Party
The Natural party
Demonstrate on October 17th
Sign the petition for open debates
Billionares for BushGore
Info about corporate charters and what we can do to regain our sovereignty

"Don't hate the media be the media" -- Jello Biafra

Why bother? (3.28 / 7) (#32)
by blixco on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 06:21:40 PM EST

I get asked a lot by different people who I am going to vote for. Since the US doesn't have a "no confidence" vote, I'm voting Green Party across the board. Every person I've talked to is doing the same, as a no confidence gesture.

In the meantime, while this may send a message to "the man," the core issues around campaign finances, professional politicians, soft contributions, PACs, lobbyists.....all of this remains. Couple that with the sheer volume of greedy bastards we've managed to create in the last ten years, and viola! You have no solution. You end up playing the same game with a new party, and everyone looses.

Yeah, I'll vote. I say "vote Green" to everyone I speak with (except for the crazy Libertarians that work in my lab). But deep down, I know it's just another useless drop in a really big bucket, and I know that ultimately, revolution will be the only way out.

That's what they armed us all for, right?
The root of the problem has been isolated.
Re: Why bother? (2.50 / 2) (#42)
by pete on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 09:58:30 PM EST

Are you sure if you keep voting Green you'll have anything to revolt with?


Strong law enforcement, central registration of gun owners, banning of "certain weapons"... Of course, I am a "crazy Libertarian." :-)


[ Parent ]
If you're curious (2.75 / 4) (#35)
by el_guapo on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 07:37:19 PM EST

how the electoral process works over here, look at this, particularly, ". It is possible that an elector could ignore the results of the popular vote, but that occurs very rarely." and "There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their States" This genuinely bothers me.....
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
It comforts me... (none / 0) (#55)
by Asterisk on Wed Oct 25, 2000 at 07:36:15 AM EST

The electoral college is a great buffer against Hitler-types getting into the White House. The Nazis, after all, were democratically elected.

[ Parent ]
Why does politics take money? (3.40 / 5) (#36)
by daviddennis on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 07:53:42 PM EST

Everything I learn about politics, I learn from media coverage of the issues and candidates. I pick up the Wall Street Journal and read CNN and I learn all I would ever need to know about what the candidates think, what kind of issues matter to them, and so on.

As far as I can tell, all this coverage is absolutely free - if I'm a Republican or Democrat, I am guaranteed all the free coverage I can stand.

So why would I need to spend one thin dime?

Anyone who relies on commercials to determine who they want to vote for probably shouldn't vote.


amazing.com has amazing things.
(3.50 / 6) (#37)
by aphrael on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 07:57:46 PM EST

They are not talked about in mainstream media

They aren't? Odd. The papers I read (San Jose Mercury News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, New York Times, and occasionally the Los Angeles Times) all covered the Reform party convention (as did the Economist, a British newsmagazine) and the split between Buchanan and Hagelin; I've seen Buchanan appear on sunday morning news shoes and on CNN interview shows; the Nader television ad generated articles in each of the newspapers listed above; and Nader's altercation with the debate people was mentioned in the NYT and the SJMN (I haven't read any others today) and was discussed on CNN.

I don't deny that the coverage could be better, but to claim that they aren't talked about is absurd. The problem is, nobody listens. I work in a company staffed with highly intelligent, technical people, almost none of whom are willing to spend more than a few minutes thinking about the issues; only one or two of whom out of a team of 40+ watched the debate last night; only two or three of whom will read the ballot pamphlet that contains the text of laws the voters are being asked to vote on. We, the voters, are on average too lazy to do the work needed to participate in a democratic process, and would rather point fingers and blame evil media conspiracies, or stick our heads in the ground and pretend that it doesn't matter anyway.

No, i'm not bitter. :)

Wasting my vote??? (3.80 / 5) (#47)
by Phreek on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:15:59 PM EST

A lot of people believe that voting for a third-party candidate is a wasted vote. How so? Isn't voting for Gore or Bush a wasted vote? Why vote for someone who doesn't need your vote to win, and whom you don't want to see in the White House anyway? The only vote that isn't wasted is the one you mark for the candidate you want to win. I just don't get it; If I don't vote for someone who is going to win anyay, I am wasting my vote? Or do these people mean we need to choose the lesser of two evils? Now that is a joke. It is thinking like that that helped get us into this two-pary/two-candidate mess in the first place. I will vote for the person I want to see win, not waste it voting against someone who doesn't need my vote.

I couldn't care less about voter apathy (1.16 / 6) (#48)
by pac4854 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:38:41 PM EST

Face it. Americans are lazy and stupid. As long as Internet Explorer gets you to this web page, you don't care that Microsoft is a racketeering influenced corrupt organization. You don't care that fellow citizens are getting rubber-hosed by Seattle police while protesting corporate dominance of world governments. You don't care that the MPAA is about to put a worldwide end to centuries old rights of fair use under copyright law. You don't care that the FCC has caved in to demands for copy protection for HDTV. You don't care about... anything.

You'll vote for whoever's got the lead in the polls, or maybe you'll vote the party line, but most likely you'll just stay home and say "my vote doesn't count anyway"; after all, that's what the majority of this country does every election.

Lazy and stupid.
-- Microsoft is to the internet what Jerry Springer is to television.
A suggestion (4.33 / 3) (#51)
by SoVLF on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 08:18:28 AM EST

Write letters.

I had a discussion with a guy who is part of the public relations office for a group (to be unnamed) in DC. He said that when people write to a congressperson, their office puts the letter in a pile. When that pile gets to a certain size, a staffer looks into the matter. If it gets bigger, it gets put on the staff meeting agenda, and if it gets even larger, the matter gets brought up with the congressperson.

We've all gotten really cynical about politics and money, but if (for example) your congressperson all of a sudden got 250 letters about the DMCA, and got requests from constituents for a meeting, it's a good bet that they're going to take notice, and quite possibly do something *in your favor*.

You can protest and take to the streets and burn flags and get tear gassed, and clearly there are times when that is appropriate. But you can also engage in dialogue with our government. There is nothing in the constitution that says our voice as citizens is limited to our vote. It's incredibly easy to be cynical and dehumanize "the big bad government" but the bottom line is that they're people just like you. If you engage in dialogue and try to show them what their votes in congress will do for (or to) you, they *can* help. If you don't, then your silence equals approval.

I'm not naive enough to think that votes aren't being bought, or that just writing one polite letter to a congressperson is going to change the world, but it is sometimes possible to make a difference. Write a letter. Suggest that you'd be willing to meet with the congressperson or a staffer the next time they're in their home office. Tell them the ways that they can help you, and give them a reason to. Get your like-minded friends to do the same. Don't let your civic involvement start and end on November 7.

FYI, the AIP maintains a nice "lobbying" page at this address, and there's also a nice representative lookup page located here.

Corporatization of American Politics | 56 comments (53 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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