Elections are the sacred well of democracy. When the waters are poisoned there is nothing left. Without fair and open elections the choices of the people are thwarted and democratic government collapses. When this happens, the government ceases to be the servant of the people, and instead allows the usurpation of government authority by an unqualified but well organized oligarchy. Oligarchs rule rather than govern. Government becomes the tool of tyrants. The United States has in recent years failed to provide fair and free elections.
The collapse of fair and open elections has already resulted in a substantial loss of our democracy. Our country, despite our boasting of being the world’s oldest and strongest democracy, has allowed our basic institutions to crumble. We have gone from “Every vote counts in the election,” to “The election will be decided by who counts the votes.”
There are a series of reforms that are urgently needed if we are to salvage what remains of our democracy. The following is a partial list of those urgently needed reforms.
Abolish the Electoral College
Twice in the past sixteen years the Electoral College has thwarted the will of the American people. This is simply unacceptable. In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida and the election by only some 500 votes out of 103 million votes cast. There was a cluster of errors in the Florida vote count. It is estimated that Pat Buchanan erroneously gained an estimated 32,000 votes that were intended for Al Gore due to the “butterfly ballot” fiasco. There were other irregularities as well, including the handling of absentee ballots. By counting ballots on a state-by-state basis, such irregularities come to the forefront and determine the outcome of the election. But when the national vote is taken as a whole there is a different outcome. Any irregularities are “averaged out” and the winning candidate is the overall choice of the electorate.
In 2016 we had the will of the people thwarted again by the Electoral College. This time it was 80,000 people across three states that would have changed the election outcome. In the end, Hillary Clinton received 3,800,000 more votes than Donald Trump in what turned out to be her losing effort.
The Electoral College perhaps made sense in the 18th Century. At that time the United States was a confederation of states, much like the European Union is today. But by the time of the Civil War, our nation became one nation and not a collection of states. The Electoral College, that vestige of the 18th Century, makes no sense in the 21st Century.
We have gone from voters selecting their candidates to office holders selecting their voters. Our current system of gerrymandered districts thwarts the will of the voters. Elected officials can stack the deck on state legislative chambers and the United States Congress by manipulating district boundaries. These boundaries are normally set by the very state legislators that benefit from manipulating these boundaries. We need to remove the setting of district boundaries from the political process. In California district boundaries are set by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Since implementation in June 2012, independent studies have confirmed that California now has some of the most competitive districts in the country. Other states need to follow similar procedures.
Support Voter Registration
New voter registration procedures have become a new form of poll tax. Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of citizens have been disenfranchised by these efforts. The burden of these procedures fall disproportionately on the poor, people of color, and the elderly, and those for who English is a second language. We need a new national voters’ rights act to replace the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was essentially struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
No one could deny that we need to clean up our voter rolls. There is no systematic effort to purge the rolls of deceased voters or those who have moved away. But so far this has not been a real issue. After searches for voter fraud spanning decades, no one has ever found more than a handful of actual voter fraud issues, and certainly never enough to sway an election.
In many states convicted felons have a lifetime ban on voting. African Americans make up 13% of the population, but 38% of the prison population. Voter disenfranchisement due to a felony conviction has a strong racial component. It is possible to disenfranchise whole communities by refusing to allow convicted felons to vote, including those who have already paid their debt to society.
Maintain Poll Access
Every election seems to have issues with voter access to polling places. Amazingly, such issues only seem to occur in selected precincts. There is misinformation as to poll locations or hours. There are shortages of ballots or voting machines that do not work. Too often people in these “selected” precincts must wait for hours to cast their ballots. This is another burden that falls disproportionately upon the poor. An hourly worker might have to rush to vote before work, while a salaried manager could vote at his or her leisure.
The act of voting should not be an ordeal. Instead of a 12 hour election window we should be given an extended time of perhaps one week to vote. We should be able to vote by any number of means. We can invest and do banking online. Calculate and pay taxes online. We should be able to vote online as well. For those without computer access, voting computers could be set up in libraries, schools, offices, or other public places. There should also be mail in options for those who are computer challenged. If we can use our bank ATM cards in Mexico City, or Bangkok, we should be able to vote from anywhere during an election period without difficulty.
Demand Election Integrity
Somehow we need to make our elections work. There have been endless reports of lost ballots, voting machine malfunctions, and absentee ballots that have been lost or ignored. Elections should be determined by the votes casted and not by who counted the votes. Here again is a situation where “selected” precincts seem to have much greater irregularities than the norm. If we cannot trust our state and county officials to conduct fair and accurate elections then perhaps we should have outside parties, such as fiduciary institutions, or CPA firms, to collect and count the ballots.
Voting machines, ballot counts, and any online or mail voting methods must be fool proof. This is our democracy we are talking about. We need to provide the resources and make the effort to insure that every vote counts. “Accidents,” “oversights,” and “unavoidable situations” must not be allowed as excuses. These can be avoided by proper planning, training, and redundancy.
Require Financial Disclosure
We must never again allow any candidate to run for President of the United States without submitting at least five years’ worth of federal tax returns. In the past this has been the custom, but it was not a requirement. Trump was able to avoid this disclosure despite his frequent assurances to the contrary. The president must be free of any conflicts of interest. Without the income tax disclosure there is not even a roadmap to look for possible conflicts. This disclosure must be made at the start of the election cycle so that voters have a chance to review and analyze these documents. For this reason the documents must be disclosed before any names are placed on the primary ballots. California now has such a law. We need a similar rule for congressional candidates as well.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS EVERYTHING WRONG WITH AMERICA
There was a time when Republicans were decent people, drawn from the mainstream, who loved their country and believed in the American Dream for all people. Those days are now long gone. The Republican Party has become the party of obstruction, the party of bitter and unremitting partisanship, the party of the one percent, the party of the billionaires and the big corporations, the anti-science party, the party of “voodoo economics” to quote from George H.W. Bush. It is the party of big wars, big deficits, and an unrelenting attack on the poor and middle classes.
The Republican Party has become the party of obstruction. The Republican Congress has voted to end the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) over fifty times. This type of relentless partisanship is destroying our ability to govern ourselves as a nation. Republicans believe in shutting down the government whenever they do not get their own way. This has happened at great cost to our nation and tarnished our reputation around the globe. It has hurt our credit rating and caused billions of dollars in damage to our economy.
The Republicans stated in 2010 that the party’s primary goal was to keep Obama from getting a second term in office. They were so willing to attack and obstruct Obama and his legacy that they did not mind damaging the nation in the process. The GOP can now best be described as the Get Obama Party.
The House of Representatives has been Republican since 2010, and the Senate since 2014. And yet no one can suggest one thing that this Congress has accomplished. Here the fifty-plus votes to end Obama Care do not count as an accomplishment. Where is the Republican jobs bill? Where is the Republican immigration reform bill? Where is the Republican tax reform bill? Where is the Republican voter protection bill?
The Republican Party complains bitterly that the government is failing the nation. And yet, the Republicans control both houses of Congress, hold 31 governorships, and until the recent death of Antonin Scalia, controlled the Supreme Court. Perhaps it is time for Republicans to acknowledge that the gridlock in Washington is of Republican origin.
How can we elect Republicans who say that they do not believe in government to actually govern the nation? How do we elect people who believe that government is the problem to run our government?
The Senate Republicans have refused to even hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. The lengthy delay in the confirmation process is unprecedented. The Constitution of the United States clearly spells out the confirmation of federal judges as a principal duty of the Senate. And yet the Senate has refused to do its constitutional duty. The excuse given is that Obama is in the last year of his presidency. But historically this has not been an issue. Ronald Reagan nominated a Supreme Court Justice with just 13 months left in office.
To prevent Senate obstructionism, we need a constitutional amendment which states that should the Senate fail to conclude confirmation hearings within 90 days of any nomination, the nomination will automatically be confirmed.
The Republican Party is conducting a major campaign of voter suppression. It is trying to keep the poor, the legal immigrants, the minorities, and the aged from voting. There has been precious little voter fraud in the Unites States, unless of course you count the Republican drive to disenfranchise voters. Requiring government ID’s to vote seems like a sensible idea, but not to anyone who lacks such a document. In the State of Alabama, the State has closed voter registration offices in majority black counties. So, if a citizen from one of those counties wants to register to vote they will be forced to travel long distances just to register. In the bad old days there was a poll tax that kept poor people from voting. This was declared unconstitutional by the 24th Amendment passed in 1964. In 1966 the Supreme Court struck down poll taxes even for state elections. Republicans are seeking other means of voter suppression to replace the poll tax. The voter ID laws are a part of that effort.
Apart from the voter ID issue, states can suppress voting by closing registration offices, allowing (or planning) ballot shortages at non-Republican polling places during elections, circulating inadequate and even erroneous information about poll times and locations. States can ignore absentee ballots from certain counties or districts, or fail to process registration papers. These tactics were used in the presidential election in Florida in 2000. The effect of these and other irregularities in Florida was to elect George W. Bush as president by less than 400 votes.
On top of this the Republican Party has engaged in wholesale Gerrymandering as a method of disenfranchising democrat and minority voters.
It is clear that we need a new voters’ rights act that will protect our electoral process, and insure that every vote counts.
The Party of the One Percent
The Republican Party represents the interests of the billionaires and the big corporations. Its patron saint is the unrepentant Ebenezer Scrooge. Its motto is: “I got mine, and to hell with everyone else.”
Of course not all Republicans are billionaires. The party is also full of very poor people who do not know that they are being played. All Republicans should be advised as follows: Republicans are either billionaires or suckers. Check your pockets to see which you are. There are many poor Republicans that are still waiting for their share of wealth from Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economics.
Republicans seem to have two and only two ideas for building the economy. Since Reagan took office in 1981 these two basic platform planks have not changed, even though they have proved to have been disastrous for the economy.
The first Republican principal is, “More tax breaks for the richest.” Never mind that the rich are far richer than they have ever been. Never mind that the gap between the rich and the poor is unprecedented and growing daily. It appears that the only way to incentivize the rich to build factories and businesses is to grant them ever larger tax breaks and subsidies. Republican “logic” goes like this. We need to incentivize the wealthy by giving them more money. But when talking about the poor, Republican “logic” reverses itself. Doing anything to help the poor, such as by increasing the minimum wage or providing food stamps will dis-incentivize them and keep them from wanting to work.
Even if we assume for a moment that the Republicans are on the right track, should not the tax incentives and subsidies be tied to actually creating more jobs? What is to stop a billionaire from simply using the proposed tax cut to purchase a fifth or sixth house in the south of France?
The Republicans tell us that America is the most overtaxed nation on Earth. This is a total Republican fabrication. Our tax rates are actually lower than many developed countries. But to sell their key economic talking point they must repeat this ridiculous lie even knowing that it is untrue. When counting up the tax burden, Republicans are loathe to mention the payroll taxes paid by every worker on the first $118,500 of earned income. This tax is paid by all wage earners and self-employed persons without deduction or exception. A favorite dodge of the Republicans is to talk only about income tax rates, and not about payroll taxes (FICA and Medicare) paid by all poor and middle class workers, but from which the wealthy are substantially exempted.
Our country is a consumer market, with over 70% of our GDP generated by consumer purchases. The Republicans have got this all backwards. If you want to increase jobs and economic growth the best method is to increase the size and purchasing power of the middle class. When poor people become middle class they have money to spend, and those who started out in the middle class will have even more money to spend. That consumer spending increases demands, and leads to more business activity, growth, jobs, and increased wages.
There are an endless list of ways to increase the size and purchasing power of the middle class, including:
- Increasing minimum wage
- Day care
- Early childhood education
- Affordable and available medical care
- Unemployment insurance
- Job training
- Making higher education more affordable
- Building and repairing our infrastructure
The Party of Deregulation
Apart from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Republican Party stands for deregulation. Again, the “logic” here is that government, including all government regulations, is bad while unrestrained greed is good. It is not that deregulation is totally bad. Economies and societies function best when there is the right balance of regulation. But to Republicans, the correct balance seems to mean no regulation at all.
The Republicans tell us that we are the most regulated country on Earth. Again, this is a total Republican fabrication meant to sustain their talking points.
In a totally unregulated environment, the vulture capitalists are free to pillage, plunder, lute, and pollute to their hearts content. Without regulation we would have poisoned food, children working in coal mines, catastrophic environmental degradation, and financial fraud of epic proportions. We need the right balance of regulations to restrain the excesses of the marketplace which would otherwise be driven only by greed.
Thinking of environmental regulations alone, we are living in the sixth great extinction event. This latest extinction event is called the “Anthropocene Extinction Event,” meaning that it is totally caused and controlled by human activity. Global climate change is not something that will happen in the distant future. It is already happening today. We have more severe storms than we have ever had. We have massive flooding, forest fires, and droughts. Each month, including the just finished month of July 2016, is the hottest month on record in world history. We may have already doomed our civilization. We cannot continue with business as usual. We need to cut carbon emissions, reduce pollution, maintain wildlife habitats, foster sustainable agriculture, and find ways to mitigate the damage already done.
The Party of Deficits
The Republicans love to blame the Democrats for deficits. It is Obamacare, proposed increases to the minimum wage, early childhood education, and lower college costs and student loan costs that break the bank. But the Republicans can spend money on tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for corporations, and endless Bush family wars in the Middle East that last for decades without conclusion or even progress. The Republicans would cheerfully shred the entire social safety net for the poor and middle classes in order to give even more breaks for the wealthy.
Likewise, the Republicans refuse to invest in our crumbling infrastructure. To any rational person, when your roof leaks you fix it, for to postpone would incur greatly increased future costs. The owner of the roof would fix the roof even if it meant borrowing money to do it.
Infrastructure improvements do far more than just to maintain our present capital assets. They are an investment in the future. In the 1950’s President Eisenhower saw the benefit of the German autobahns, and made the building of our Interstate Highway network a priority of our country. It is hard to imagine what our country would look like today without the Interstate highways. Our commerce would be greatly diminished over what it is now with the Interstates. Products would cost us much more. Transportation would be much more difficult, time consuming, and costly. It takes vision to invest in the future. What is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is forty years ago.
The Party of Privatization
Republicans will tell you that government is the problem and the private sector is the solution. While this may be true in part, it does not apply everywhere and to everything. Particularly it does not apply to most government functions. If we really believe this our roads would all be toll roads built and maintained by private companies.
The Republicans are trying to kill the United States Postal Service by forcing it to prepay all pension obligations. There is no other organization, either public or private, that must deal with such an onerous financial drain. This requirement, if not reversed, will result in the death of the USPS, and the privatization of all mail delivery. The private companies will “cherry pick” the deliveries that they want, and abandon the unprofitable routes.
The Republicans want to privatize Social Security. This would be impossible from many standpoints. To begin with, there is no pot of money set aside by Social Security to pay for my retirement. As I am still working, the money I pay in on Tuesday goes out the door on Wednesday to fund the benefits of those already retired. The government, starting under President Reagan, has looted any reserve funds from Social Security so as to fund the burgeoning deficit. The simply is no funds available to place into private hands to be invested for future benefits.
A further concern is that if individuals are made fully responsible to invest their own retirement savings, the possibility of a total meltdown is unavoidable. Instead of having retirement savings managed by Social Security, imaging a situation wherein people’s retirement savings decisions are determined by commissioned sales representatives at such firms as Morgan Stanley or the now defunct Lehman Brothers.
There is always risk in the market. As President Obama once noted, “Some people bought Google early while others bought Enron late.” Social Security is supposed to be a financial safety net and not a lottery.
Republicans want to privatize healthcare. Under typical Republican plans being proposed, instead of Medicare, the elderly will receive a monthly voucher and told to go purchase their health care on the open market. Good luck with that! It is clear that this plan will only help big insurance, big pharma, and their highly compensated sales people.
The Party of Religious Tyranny
The Republicans are the party of Religious Tyranny. The United States was NOT founded as a Christian nation. Rather, it was founded as a haven of religious freedom by Europeans that had endured centuries of religious warfare and persecutions stemming from sectarian divisions. The freedom of religion begins with being free from someone else’s religion. Freedom of religion means that each of us has the right to worship God in our own communities, and in our own ways, or not at all. It is not a license to discriminate against others or to impose our beliefs upon them by force of law.
Republicans support the effort of right-wing Christians to teach creationism in the schools. Creationism is nothing like a science. It is religious mythology pure and simple. It is no more valid than the Australian Aborigines creation stories, the Mayan creation stories, or those of the followers of the Norse Gods.
Right-wing Christians act like they have authority over all manner of public morality. Republicans have supported these fundamentalists in imposing their religious and moral views upon the nation. Gay marriage is not an issue of public morality, but rather of private relationships. No preacher, priest, or politician can tell anyone who to love. Abortion is a similar example. I do not need the permission of a Catholic bishop to have a vasectomy, or to make any other type of family planning decision for myself or my family. Religious freedom is freedom from the religious tyranny of others.
Limits on reproductive freedom deny the personhood of all women. Women are more than just mandatory incubators. They, as everyone, have the fundamental right to control their own body and destiny. Family planning decisions belong to the woman and her family, with advice from her health care providers. This is not the domain of priests, preachers or politicians.
The Ten Commandments should never be displayed at any public office or meeting. The First Commandment “You shall have no other Gods before me,” stands is direct conflict with the First Amendment “The Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion…” The harm of displaying the Ten Commandments at a courthouse is very real. For example, suppose a Buddhist comes to the courthouse seeking justice. A judge, jury member, or other government official sees the Ten Commandments and considers the Buddhist to be an idol worshiper and a heathen who is unworthy of American Justice. Now Buddhist do not worship idols any more than Catholics worship candles. But the Buddhist has already been denied justice due to the prejudice of the official.
The Republican Party is consistently on the wrong side of every issue. They claim to be the party of limited government, but they want to invade our bedrooms and to regulate every aspect of our personal lives. People are to be supported and big companies are to be regulated. As usual the Republican Party gets this and everything else backwards.
I cannot imagine a more appropriate place for Ted Cruz to announce his candidacy for the President of the Unites States than the infamous Liberty University. Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell, the poster boy for religious tyranny and oppression. Falwell was the wannabe fundamentalist Ayatollah of America.
But even more than that, this so-called university teaches creationism. It claims that the world is 6,000 years old, and its creationist museum teaches that all surviving land animals descended from Noah’s Ark. Is it any wonder that Cruz is so proud of his ignorance in the natural sciences?
And, of course, is Cruz’s politics. He takes great pride in shutting down the federal government, and in trying to defund the Department of Homeland Security as punishment for Obama, and at a time when the ISIS threat and a slew of home-grown terrorist acts are on the rise.
Are there not any normal people left in the Republican Party? Why do their string of candidates look like a clown-car parade?
The litmus test for public office should include one simple concept, namely the belief in evolution. We live in an age where the denial of scientific fact is rampant. We live in an age when Republicans do not seem to believe in science at all. They do not believe in evolution, global warming, stem cell research, or birth control. The Bush 43 White House was known for its bad science. It took climate studies and had them “spun” by oil industry lobbyists. It opposed stem cell research and the distribution of condoms in Africa to quell the AIDS epidemic.
It does not matter if a candidate is running for a local school board or for President of the United States. We cannot afford to have ignorant, backward people in either position. Evolution is a matter of scientific fact. It cannot be voted on in a school board meeting or a state legislature. Just as we do not vote as to whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, evolution is not dependent upon public opinion or any sort of vote.
Science is radically skeptical and self-correcting. If a scientist proposes a false hypothesis, other scientists will review it and either support it, refute it, or offer an alternative explanation. The test of scientific understanding is in the laboratory and not in the political arena.
Evolution is as real as gravity. It has survived 150 years of scientific scrutiny. Everything in the universe evolves. Stars, planets and even galaxies are born, evolve, and eventually die. Even the very atoms of our bodies were created in super nova explosions of dying stars. Planets are created and some become habitable for life. Live evolves from the most simple single cell live forms into greater and greater complexity as time goes on. From our one known example it appears to take about 4.5 billion years for a planet to spawn a civilization.
Saying that we do not fully understand evolution is no excuse to reject it, because the same thing could be said about gravity. Even after Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, there is still much about gravity that we do not understand. And yet we know that it is real.
The rejection of evolution is possible only through the most willful ignorance. That is not a quality that we need in our elected leaders. If a candidate is ignorant about evolution, then we could rightfully expect that they are ignorant about a host of other subjects as well, from history to economics to human behavior.
The rejection of evolution is rooted in the preference for ancient religious mythology over scientific fact. I say that not as some sort of atheist or radical secularist, but as a confessing Christian and a pastor.
The biblical world view was of a flat surface covered by a dome, like a dinner plate covered by a large, inverted salad bowl. The dome was called the “firmament.” Those who reject evolution on religious grounds ought logically to affirm the “flat earth” theory deny that the earth is round.
Galileo proclaimed that the earth revolved around the sun. His views were attacked by the church as “unchristian” for the next 350 years. We can be pretty sure that Galileo was right. We use Galileo’s architecture of the solar system to send space probes to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond.
Stem cell research promises an extraordinary advance in human health and quality of life. It ought not to be stymied by narrow-minded religious bigotry. Imagine a time when the paralyzed walk again through spinal regeneration and the blind see through newly regrown eyes and optic nerves. Diseased hearts, kidneys and livers will be regenerated by stem cell injections.
We are currently discovering that the LGBT community is a threat to the established order. Nor are they a singularly heinous class of sinners as many so-called Christians would have us believe. Rather, they are simply diverse groups of people wanting to live out their lives according to their created sexuality. Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value. It is not an expression of religious devotion but rather a persecution of those who are different.
Global warming is real. It is affirmed by over 95% of scientists working on climate issues. The ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland and the Tibetan plateau is melting at an ever-increasing rate. The long-sought Northwest Passage is now open for navigation. I expect that within my life time it will be possible to take a cruise ship to the North Pole.
We are in the midst of the worst extinction event in 65 million years. Global weather patterns are getting progressively more disturbed and destructive. We are seeing catastrophic hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires on a planetary scale. How long before our food supply dwindles or fresh water becomes more valuable than oil?
We need leadership that has a 21st Century worldview. We need leadership that is well-educated and enlightened, and at home in the modern world. We need leadership that is fluent in science and can understand and respect what science is telling us. We need leadership that is grounded in scientific fact, knowledge, logic and critical thinking.
It’s time to dump the Electoral College (January 2011)
The 2012 presidential campaign will soon be underway, if it is not already. No one wants to see another Electoral College tragedy like the one that occurred in 2000. George W. Bush was elected by a handful of votes in Florida that overrode the choice of millions of voters across the country. In truth, the election was decided by one vote when the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision gave Florida and the election to Bush.
The Electoral College is full of mathematical aberrations which make for unfair elections. Wyoming has a population of 563,626 and 3 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 187,875 people. California has a population of 37,253,956 and 55 electoral votes, or one electoral vote for every 677,345 people. Thus the vote of a Wyoming resident counts 3.6 times as much as the vote of a California resident.
The Electoral College system disenfranchises those who vote for the losing parties in each state. If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas you need not even bother to vote for president in 2012. Your vote for president will not even be counted in this winner-take-all system. The only way to make your vote count is to move your voter registration to a swing state, like Florida, where it just might make a difference. But such shenanigans are shameful and ought not to be necessary.
The Electoral College made sense in Eighteenth Century America. Back then America was much like Europe is today. The European Community is still a collection of nations, even though there is the beginning of a European government. In the Eighteenth Century colonial America was also a collection of nations. People were Virginians or Georgians or New Yorkers. No one thought of us as a federation. In the Eighteenth Century it made sense to vote for the president by states.
The name “The United States of America” comes from the Declaration of Independence. But what the Declaration of Independence really says is, “… the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA.” The emphasis was on the individual states and not on a union.
It was the Civil War that finally fused this collection of states into a nation. The Spanish American War in 1898 marked the birth of the American superpower, capable of influencing events beyond our borders.
Now in the Twenty-First Century the Electoral College is a dangerous and destructive historical anachronism. We are one nation and we need to vote as one nation. The elected president should be the person who commands the most votes regardless of the states in which those votes were cast.