Monday, March 30, 2015

Unfinished Business 6: The 4th Estate

By Bill Kraus

A crucial premise underlying what the founding fathers wrought was a well informed electorate. This presumed, without mandating it, a free flow of information from the government to those who elected and were paying them. Accessibility and responsiveness were a part of that presumption. A universal communication system manned by journalists with their more or less rigid adherence to the principles of journalism quickly morphed into what became known as the Fourth Estate.

The Fourth Estate had power because everyone read it, including the members of the other three estates who read it because they knew the people who put them in positions of power were reading it.

For most of our country’s 1st three centuries the print press was the fourth estate. Radio came along and we went there for breaking news. The print press survived radio. Television was radio with pictures and because it’s purpose was to deliver audiences to advertisers not news to viewers it didn't dislodge the print press either. But the internet has. Not because it’s better than radio or television, but because it cut off a crucial print press revenue stream, the want ads.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Can Congress Change?

By Cal Potter

Immediately after the November 2014 elections, we heard that a new era of a functional Congress was about to begin. Months later, conditions have gone from bad to worse and the hope for future improvement is not bright.

Conservatives abandoned their lawmaking role to focus on contrariness and obstructionism toward the other party, particularly the President. They vilify the President on most matters, and, in the process, are constantly shamefully disrespectful. That contrary role turned extreme in the recent letter to Iran and unilateral speech invitation to the Israeli President, undermining the work of our Department of State and President.

As most school children learn, legislative branches of government are supposed to study our problems, pass corrective laws, and find revenue sources for resultant programs. In contrast, today’s Congress acts as opposition pundits, and avoids, like the plague, major issues such as immigration, infrastructure, education, climate change, energy, war powers, and health care.

Unfinished Business 5: Getting Involved

By Bill Kraus

One of the ways I test to see if our democracy is in working order is to ask young people where they live and who represents them in the state legislature. They all know where they live. Almost all of them have no idea who represents them in the state legislature. This probably means they don’t vote, but I don’t ask that too intrusive question.

Politics and government is not a part of their lives. Or it is, at best, one of those casual parts like going to movies, watching TV, playing games that are optional and vary with each person’s interests.

What we have become is a nation of political consumers, spectators. We are in the bleachers. Politics is the business of professionals who merchandise the candidate products to us from their place in the arena.

It’s a long way from Tammany Hall, baby, where politics was people.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Unfinished Business 4: Money

By Bill Kraus

Here’s what we know about money.

1. You can’t run a campaign without it.

2. People say that too much money is spent on campaigns. The only route to putting spending limits on campaigns is to insert public money into the mix. The legislation to do this has to be enacted by the incumbents who attribute their incumbency to the money that got them where they are and who zealously protect their advantage in fund raising. Public money is anathema to them because it has to be available to their potential opponents. To be effective it also has to be appropriated in amounts large enough to offset expenditures by the third party organizations. So it’s expensive too.

3. Candidates hate dialing for dollars, but they hate not having the money it brings in more.

4. The organizations that raise the special interest money which is now the dominant source of campaign spending have made it clear to the candidate beneficiaries that their funds will dry up if they have to disclose their donors in the same way that the candidates have to disclose their donors. Even though the Supreme Court has urged legislatures to enact this kind of disclosure legislation, few do.