Friday, November 16, 2012

Why only 54% voting in last election

An Arizona woman ran over her husband with a car because she found out he hadn’t voted in the presidential election.  The woman, Holly Solomon, believed that if Obama was elected, her family would be worse off, so she took things into her own hands.  Solomon’s husband is in critical condition in the local hospital. 

If the man survives (I certainly hope he does) and if doesn’t get divorced (although, one can’t help to think he will) he will certainly think twice about not voting the next time an election comes around. 

Voter turnout this last election was at about 54% according to Loyola University.  That number might be revised in the future, but it is a working estimate right now.  This reverses a trend over the last couple of decades according to George Mason University.  In the seventies the percent that voted was as low as 40%, but has been rising since.  In 2008 during the last presidential election, a record setting 62% voted.

So much has been written about this subject at the end of every presidential election that it might be difficult to find a new angle on the story.  But, in this case, I am not sure it needs a new angle.  What the numbers tell us is that there a 50/50 chance that the guy standing behind you in the theater line didn’t vote.  Even though he didn't vote, he is still ranting about the evils of government to his date. 

The truth is we are living with a government that only half of the people are taking part.  The rest, live or die with the outcome, but don’t take the time to be involved in the choices.  In the 70’s, a minority of people made all the decisions.  In a representative democracy, that is a poor indicator of the apathy of citizens. 

When you think about the way political campaigns are conducted, it is no wonder.  If fast food marketing was like political marketing, I am not sure the industry would be doing any better than our political process.  The difference is fast food marketing avoids bashing the competition.  They also make sure that everyone can participant in the purchasing of fast food and enjoy it.   

Political advertising, especially those coming from Super Pacs, produce advertising campaigns that make all politicians look like evil incarnated.  (Yes, I know, many of you already think that, but part of the reason is that you have been told that by both sides.)  Rarely do they define the issues and propose clear solutions.  Fast food restaurants don’t talk about the poor nourishment of their competitors.  They know that might come back at them.  Instead, they show happy people enjoying their food while inviting us to join them.

But, more importantly, especially for this past election, fast food restaurants make sure that you are never far away from getting your fast food fix.  I doubt any of us are more than a mile away from a palace of grease.  The majority of the time, you are likely to be much closer to more than a dozen.  If fact, if you can’t get to them, they will bring the food to you. 

Every day, fast food chains are in our face telling us how close they are and how happy we would feel if you would just come on down.  In this last election, states and local communities were attempting to suppress voter turnout.  Then, they challenged those that did show up.  Can you image that happening at a fast food restaurant? 

“Burger and fries with a shake, coming right up sir,” the counter person would say.  “Do you have a driver’s license or other id with a burger-and-fries-with-a-coke card allowing you to make this purchase?”
There is no question that we need to make sure those that show at the polls are eligible to vote.   In advance, we need to ensure that everyone knows the rules, has the proper documents and has the time to understand the rules and obtain documents needed.  Then, make it easy to actually vote when it comes time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

End filibusters in the senate

Carl Levin, the senior United States Senator from Michigan, is calling for changes in the United States Senate filibuster rules.  The change is so overdue. Let’s hope he finds enough support come January to change the rules.  But, in an irony of circumstances, a minority can prevent it from happening

Right now, the senate’s filibuster rules aren’t even what are historically known as a filibuster.  In the past, a senator would stand and talk for as long as he could to prevent a vote on a piece of legislation from coming up.  Other senators that may have agreed with him would take some floor time and allow the originator of the filibuster to rest.  These maneuvers around the rules were done to give a brief pause before voting on legislation.  This would allow each side to get support for their point of view or change someone’s mind before voting.  Other times, it was intended to get the attention of the public.  But, after a day or two, debate would be cut off and a vote taken.  Currently, the House of Representative’s operates under the rules that a simple majority vote can cut off debate and move to a vote.      
But, the senate’s rules are much different.  It only takes a minority of senators to put a stop to any legislation.  (Although, the house and the president have found ways around the filibusters, it isn’t the way things are intended to work.)  If just 40 senators ban together they can prevent debate on the legislation from being cut off and a keep the full senate from voting.  Then, nothing happens.  Senators don’t get up to talk so senators are not under any pressure to get support or change someone’s mind.  They just stall the current legislation and move on to other business. 

That means that a minority in the Senate can effectively kill legislation.  And, if those 40 senators are from low population states, a small minority of the population can keep an up or down vote on any issue. 
The Constitution does say that the house and the senate are allowed to make its own rules.  So, at the start of each session, every two years, each body votes on the rules for the upcoming session.  This January when a new session of congress comes to town, new rules will be considered.  This provides an opportunity to get the rules changed on filibusters. 

The authors of the Constitution never intended the Senate to make rules that allow a minority to rule.  With few exceptions, those times when a two thirds majority is required, voting is based on a simple majority.  Even then, it is expected that a vote would be taken in a timely fashion. 
For good or bad, depending on your point of view, the winners of any election and the party with the majority of seats get to pass the legislation they want.  This is the way a representative democracy works.  To allow a minority to prevent legislation to come up for a vote is to ignore the will of the voters.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Carl Rove will not give up

Carl Rove, George W. Bush’s political advisor and director of the Super Pac Crossroads, said he will not give up the battle.  Even though Romney lost, Rove still believes strongly enough in his own point of view that he will continue to work for them.

Good for you Mr. Rove.  We don’t find answers in our human experience by blindly allowing one side or the other to dominate the debate.
Many years ago, Dr. Jacob Bronowski wrote a book called the “Ascent of Man.”  It accompanied a series that was broadcast on PBS stations.  He explores human existence from the very beginning to the present day.  Not so much a history of man, but more of an outline of man’s search for the truth.  Bronowski believed that by dedicating ourselves to science, research and knowledge we can find the truth that seems to elude us. 

On his journey through time, Bronowski stopped on Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp that slaughtered perhaps millions of people.  He found a place in the camp where the ashes of the people that were killed there were dumped.  As Bronowski reached down into the mud on a rainy afternoon that could still contain some of the ashes from over 60 years ago, he looked straight into the camera and quoted Oliver Cromwell, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
That very thought is the foundation of the research being conducted by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).  A scientist was asked during an interview about what happens when they find something that has some of the characteristics of being made by intelligent life.  The first thing they do is challenge their own findings.  This challenge doesn’t take the form of confirmation, that might lead them to just reinforce their discoveries.  It takes the form of error checking, that would lead them to another conclusion if they were originally wrong.  Then, they turn to the outside scientific community and ask them to tell them why they are wrong.  Repeat, why they are wrong!   

We don’t find truth for our country by adopting something that sounds good and resonates with us alone.  That is a personal outlook.  We find truth by asking questions of those around us and having questions asked of ourselves.  To have a single power in our culture or any culture that defines what is right and wrong is a dictatorship.  Looking back at the Nazi’s, that is what killed over ten million people.
The words of Voltaire, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" is still true today.  Our collective quest for the truth must be based on that very phrase.  To silence on a single voice means that we have denied the freedoms that we all share to that single voice.  That could be our undoing. 

So, Carl Rove, keep up your work and your quest.  I will from time to time (if not a little more often than time to time) disagree with you.  But, the continuing conversation in the public form will help all of us find the right path.