My March 2 weblog, "Let's End the Duopoly," laying out proposals for democratic reforms of our electoral system generated a number of valuable reader letters. Click here to read the weblog and see below to read five good letters.
Wade Dygert, Coopersburg, PA
Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Let's End the Two-Party Duopoly" is right on the money. Electoral reform, meaning proportional representation and instant runoff voting, is the most critical issue in American politics today. Liberals should stop wasting their time demonizing Nader, and channel that energy into pushing for electoral reform. And The Nation should be leading the way.
Instead of writing cover stories telling Nader not to run, I would want to review Steven Hill's "Fixing Elections." Not only does it point out the flaws in America's electoral system, it also provides solutions. A good online resource is www.fairvote.org, the website for the Center for Voting and Democracy, in which Steven Hill is involved, by the way.
PLEASE write about proportional representation in your magazine...most people are unaware of the options we have in how we turn votes into seats, and The Nation is the perfect place to educate people on the matter.
Thank you for your time.
Paul Klinkman, Providence, RI
Congratulations on your "duopoly" editorial. I wish that you had mentioned Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Cambridge City Council has had Proportional Representation for 63 years running. I observe that a permanently corruption-resistant city council has been a boon to Cambridge's homeowners. Cambridge has a top rating of AAA from Moody's Investor Service and outrageous property values. In similar cities with no protection from machine politics, even in cities with great colleges, homeowners often have crushing city mortgages hanging over the value of their homes which any judge can order them or their children to pay off.
I'm sorry to appeal to people's individual financial interests, but some conservatives can see nothing else. Either we stop the crooks from owning City Hall or we get cleaned out time after time, people. This same truth applies equally to our state legislatures and to Congress.
Proportional Representation disappeared from two dozen American cities because it allowed black people to become city council members, and it also allowed people who didn't hate communists enough to become city council members. Was this ever a sane reason to spit on and ignore a successful crime-fighting tool?
For generations, small groups of citizens have struggled to rid their cities, states and nation of all candidate corruption and all machine politics permanently. Proportional representation has been a successful set of government-changing experiments which our forefathers fought to implement. I'm ashamed that so many of us ignore the learning that our ancestors won with their vision and perseverance. Did some forgotton Galileo really lose this fight and die with our knowledge? Can we name any other type of learning in all of history that has been so forgotten and yet so needed?
Sean Hill, Vancouver, Canada
In response to Katrina vanden Heuvel's recent article "Let's End the Two-Party Duopoly": I couldn't agree more that electoral reform needs to have a more prominent place on the US political platter. But Ms. vanden Heuvel's comment that "Nader's perceived role as a spoiler is likely to attract far more attention than the valuable issues he raises" is outright myth propagation. Comments like these highlight an endemic lack of belief in the validity of merit and democracy towards determining political leadership and direction.
Electoral reform begins when each of us decides to show more confidence and less apathy towards the multitude of outcomes made possible by a self-determined electorate.
In Canada, we recognize that it's not really about whether we or our political opponents win. What matters is whether the country wins, and it's the pressure generated by a range of choices which keeps our leaders in line.
Running an election strategy as "anybody but Bush" is a with us or against us proposition. The Dems are looking for the sure win but instead they're betting the bank on the next roll. You might luck out. But you're more likely to end up with some wishy-washy, opportunistic, fly-by-night who turns things upside-down and has the electorate calling for a Bush return in 2008.
Now is the time to be expanding and encouraging choices, all choices. Neither Nader, nor anybody else, right or left should be discouraged from offering themselves for the future of their country.
If we're all really that cynical then we don't deserve a better world.
Keith Schilhab, Rollinsville CO
Re Katrina vanden Heuvel's piece on Ending the Two Party Duopoly: I read this article with much interest, as it has become increasingly clear over the last 20 years or so that our "representative" government no longer lives up to its name. Instant runoff voting, proportional representation, fusion voting are all terrific ideas and deserve a hard look.
However, in the case of politics it seems obvious to me that money is indeed the root of all electoral evils (as Ms. vanden Heuvel writes: "Big money politics give disproportionate influence to the wealthy, and blocks the candidacies of those without access to money...") Admittedly, reducing the cost of getting elected in this country will not be an easy one, and I do not have all the answers here. However, we can all agree that it is ideas and not the size of one's wallet that should count in elections.
With that in mind then I would propose either strictly re-regulating the current networks to provide free and equal time to all "qualified" candidates. Or, banning all campaign/party advertising from national TV/Radio and establishing government owned and financed radio/TV stations whose only purpose is to run equal and free political adverts. All commercial advertising in either case would be made illegal. In addition, strict money limits would be placed on a party's or campaigns fund raising. Four of five million dollars perhaps.
Yes, this idea is not complete and there are difficulties. What does it mean to be qualified? How do we re-define political speech within the context of the first amendment?
However, the stakes are far too high not to take up this question. The public is supposed to own the airwaves. They no longer serve us, and the FCC seems more like a prostitute with one customer: the broadcasters. Political speech is NOT free when the guy with the fattest wallet can dominate the conversation. Our politics has degenerated horribly within the last 20 years. I am much afraid that if something is not done, no matter how draconian it might appear at onset, then in another few years this country will be unrecognizable.
Tracy Winter, aol.com
Good piece by Katrina Vanden Huevel. I would add to her "Toolkit" for repairing our democracy not just publicly-financed election campaigns, and a few more PBS stations, but also the banning of partisan campaign commercials from the airwaves in lieu of more inclusive and comprehensive debates, thus effectively removing the biggest (and dirtiest) money concern from the electoral process, and allowing it to become more affordale for new parties. Despite the predictable-but-innaccurate howls of protest over "free speech" that will surely ensue from the media giants, it is entirely possible within the original parameters of the media's charge to provide "Public Service" in return for the incredibly powerful use of OUR airwaves since the advent of TV. Frequent and extensive debates on the issues should satisfy anyone with a first amendment ax to grind. Why should the despicable Media Moguls who have already trashed responsible journalism, be allowed to go on enriching themselves at the expense of our Democracy?
As a recent Washington Post business article reported (an article that should have been on the Post's front page!), manufacturers are quietly embracing the concept of universal healthcare. While the major papers have been virtually MIA on this issue, Kirstin Downey, a Post staff writer, admirably called attention to how rising costs are roiling the debate over healthcare reform. Sen. Kerry and leading Democrats should pay close attention to this trend. It could be a very helpful issue in a close election.
Downey reports that employers saw their healthcare costs rise 12 percent last year, on the heels of a 16 percent increase in 2002. Such dramatic increases have damaged manufacturing in America, prompted labor strikes, and encouraged corporations to ship jobs overseas.
Back in 1994, Jack Smith, a former CEO of General Motors, went on record as "personally favor[ing] the Canadian system." Smith, an anomaly ten years ago, today looks like the weatherman who knew which way the wind was blowing. The volume and intensity of anguished, bitter public complaints by business executives about the costs and burdens of health care has grown to major proportions.
In one of the more exciting if little-noticed developments for progressives, a coalition is beginning to emerge that includes not just CEOs but also America's doctors and unionized workers. Executives from the Big Three automakers, upset over insanely high healthcare costs, recently sent the Canadian government a letter urging Canada to keep its single-payer system so GM, DaimlerChrysler and Ford could hold operating expenses down.
And why not? After all, in 2003, GM spent $4.5 billion on health care for its US-based employees and retirees, at a cost of $1,200 per car, according to a GM spokesman. "If we cannot get our arms around this [healthcare] issue as a nation, our manufacturing base and many of our other businesses are in danger," warned Ford's Vice Chairman Allan Gilmour.
The nation's supermarket chains, for their part, facing stiff competition from non-union rivals including Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, have a healthcare crisis on their hands. In 1999, Giant and Safeway paid $112 million in medical costs for employees in the Washington, DC region; by 2003, they were spending $180 million on healthcare subsidies. These rising costs, and the chains' efforts to slash workers' subsidies, recently prompted 70,000 California grocery workers to go on strike. Desperately looking for ways to stay competitive, the supermarket chains could find their salvation in a single-payer system. (Workers too would benefit tremendously, receiving guaranteed access to healthcare at affordable prices regardless of their employment status.)
Ditto for other corporations. William Rainville, CEO of Kadant Inc., a papermaking manufacturer, recently told the Washington Post that healthcare costs make operating in the US nearly unsustainable. Kadant says it will spend $6,500 on health care in 2004 for each of its American employees. But, the single-payer system in Canada is so inexpensive that Kadant is considering moving all its operations north of the border.
Labor unions, meanwhile, have good reason to support a single-payer system. The average worker saw out-of-pocket healthcare spending climb from $1,890 in 2000 to $2,790 in 2003; a 48 percent jump, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, the percentage of employers that fully subsidized health care for employees' families dropped from 27 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2003.
According to a Harvard Medical School survey, 64 percent of Massachusetts doctors recently endorsed a national single-payer system. Frustrated by the costs and cumbersome paperwork, doctors said they would gladly cut fees if it would eliminate those pesky piles of insurance claims forms.
"Most doctors are fed up with the health care system," explains Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, an author and a leading reformer. "It's not just the paperwork and insurance hassles, but knowing that many of our patients can't afford to fill the prescriptions we write for them. And millions of people who are uninsured avoid care altogether until they're desperately ill."
A single-payer healthcare system will also save jobs, increase profit margins and attack the mushrooming problem of outsourcing jobs to India, China and other nations boasting cheap labor markets. In addition, by enacting a single-payer system, the US will significantly reduce health care administrative costs, saving an estimated $286 billion annually. That's enough to cover over 43 million uninsured Americans, create a real, universal prescription drug benefit, retrain laid-off employees, and strengthen preventative care.
America's conservative critics like to portray Canada's single-payer healthcare as socialistic, inefficient, and second-rate. A vast majority of Canadians, however, give consistently high marks to their single-payer system. Moreover, the Canadians, on average, live two years longer than us. (If that's not an endorsement for single-payer reform, I don't know what is.) If the politicians and media refuse to lead the fight for universal health care, then enlightened CEOs and doctors, perhaps, will.
Why is it that liberals are so afraid to take their own side in an argument?
"Look, labels are so silly in American politics," Senator Kerry replied evasively when asked during the New York debate, "Are you a liberal?" I agree that labels are too simplistic. But why allow the L-word to be defined--and turned into a negative--by thugs at the Republican National Committee who don't know their own history? Isn't it time, after more than twenty years of conservative ascendancy, for liberals to take the offensive, stop biting their tongues and declare forcefully--I'm a liberal and proud of it!
So, next time you're asked, Senator, why not stand firm (you're already tall) and tell Americans, crisply, sharply and with conviction, how liberal values have shaped the greatness of this country. It won't lose you the election. It might just help you win it.
I'm sure you don't need this, but here's a short list of some of the great triumphs of 20th century liberalism--all vigorously opposed by conservatives at the time: Women's suffrage; Social Security; unemployment compensation; the minimum wage; child labor laws; Head Start, food stamps; Medicare; federal housing laws barring discrimination; the Voting Rights Act; the Civil Rights Act; anti-pollution statutes, guaranteed student loan programs and the forty-hour work week.
Senator, these victories made America a more just and open society. These programs embody the civilizing and mainstream values of the past decades and they show how liberals have repeatedly fought for ordinary Americans. A fighting liberal would take on rightwing extremists who are determined to rollback the hard-earned rights and liberties of the 20th century. Why not stand on liberalism's proud heritage? It sure beats running away from a winning legacy.
At a meeting with the nation's governors last month, George W. Bush's Education Secretary, Rodney Paige, called the National Education Association (NEA) a "terrorist organization" because teachers have been decrying Bush's broken promises on his education reforms. And, as Robert Borosage and Earl Hadley explain in a new Nation Online article, after waves of criticism of Paige's comment forced the Secretary to "apologize," he then attacked teachers for using "obstructionist scare tactics."
In response, the Campaign for America's Future and MoveOn.org have joined together to launch a petition calling on the President to fire Paige. Click here to sign the petition, here to circulate the letter to friends, and here for background material explaining why Rod Paige is so poorly-qualified to run the nation's public school system.
Paige has said his comments derive from his concern about minority children being left behind. Were that the case though, he'd be picking his fight with the Bush Administration, which has called for cuts in education funding across the board for the next five years. But Paige isn't protecting children, he's protecting the President. Let's call him out.
"We are moving in the direction of undermining the First Amendment," said US Representative Ron Paul, the maverick Texan who was the only Republican member of the House to oppose the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004. Paul, one of the least likely defenders of shock jocks like Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge, is, of course, correct. The measure, which passed the House by a vote of 391-22 last week, was written with the intent of preventing broadcast personalities from engaging in certain forms of potentially offensive speech by threatening them -- and the stations on which they appear -- with financial ruin.
Under the legislation that passed the House, the fine for an on-air personality who violates the ill-defined decency standards applied by the Federal Communications Commission would rise from $11,000 to $500,000. The fine against the owner of the station on which the violation was heard and seen would rise from $27,500 to $500,000.
Before the vote, officials of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists urged the measure's defeat, with union president John Connolly and executive director Greg Hessinger arguing in a letter to House members that, "Such legislation should be rejected on the grounds that it represents an unconstitutional threat to free speech and would have an unnecessary chilling effect on artistic freedom."
Because of space constraints and incautious wording in my column last week, I referred to the Times's "Jayson Blair/Gerald Boyd problem." I intended to refer to those attacks on the Times that had asserted or implied that Boyd had in some way been responsible for overlooking Blair's shortcomings and that this pattern somehow reflected on the Times's affirmative-action policies. I did not mean to imply that there was any truth to these accusations. Indeed, there is none on the record as far as I am aware. I apologize to Mr. Boyd for any misimpressions I may have created. --Eric Alterman
When federal authorities come by,
It's criminal if you concoct a lie.
The Feds don't think that lies are okey-dokey.
Will Chalabi, then, soon be in the pokey?