Chambers of Ill Repute

The powerless voices for the common good of America are ignored. Congress, through its decisions and actions, betray the very idea of public service for the common good. And the American people know it. Congress’ reputation has continued to nosedive, with only 10-15% of the populace currently approving its conduct.

The aim of this essay is to take an honest look at a dishonest assembly and then will close by proposing that the corporate escort service on Capitol Hill be replaced with honest and knowledgeable people dedicated to providing public service.

The Campaign Trail to the Chambers of Ill Repute

To get elected and reelected to Congress is a very costly pursuit, and the candidates with the most money invariably win. So campaign financing is the key to the office. That is hardly a secret (although the givers and takers would like to keep it a secret).

Politicians campaign for office by tacitly promising once in office to favor wealthy self-interest groups that richly finance their campaigns. Does the thought of “bribery” enter your mind? If you follow the money trail as the authors of The People’s Business have, you will see, they say, that a “pattern of influence will inevitably emerge” when major votes on issues affecting particular industries are compared to the campaign money and follow-up lobbying by those industries.  ((Drutman, L. & Cray, C. The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004, p. 220.))

How could this pattern not emerge? Would any sane person think corporations finance campaigns as a way to strengthen democracy and not themselves? If there were no issues, no huge profits, and no political careers at stake, you can take money to the bank there would be much less money for corporations and their lobbyists and much less job security for politicians. An indirect benefit to corporations incidentally, is that donations to politicians, particularly to the political careerists (and who in Congress isn’t?) buoy share price by giving comfort and assurance to shareholders of politically favored corporations. ((DeGroat, B. Corporate Political Donations make Millions for Shareholders. News Service Online, January 24, 2007.))

Childish Map Drawing and Redrawing

I vaguely recall learning how to draw and redraw colorful maps maybe as early as preschool. How about you? Congressional polecats, well beyond pre-school at least in age, continue to draw maps and color them red or blue. The practice is called redistricting and is intended to ensure that the members of the House represent equal size populations.

But that is not the outcome when done by the twin parties. What happens is that the party in control redraws the maps to ensure unequal representation favoring it and not the other party, more “red” states or more “blue” states depending on the color of the map drawn and the party in control. Redistricting in this skullduggery way becomes gerrymandering, a maleficent practice that dates back at least to the early 19th century.

Trolling for Tricks: Working the Capitol Hill Phone Banks

For many years I walked by the Western side of Capitol Hill on the way to work. I never saw them. They were on the Eastern side apparently. I didn’t learn about them until I read an article by Mike Masnick, an editor and entrepreneur, about just how much it “cost to win election to Congress” in the 2012 cycle.

“Both major political parties,” he wrote, “have set up phone banks across the street from the Capitol (because it’s seen as demeaning to do the calls directly from your Congressional office), and members of the House and the Senate spend a ridiculous amount of time there” hustling money for their re-election campaign. ((Masnick, M. “How Much Does It Cost To Win Election To Congress?” Tech Dirt. March 14, 2013))  One U.S. Senator calls it “dialing for dollars,” and “Nothing,” he says, “dominates the life of a senator more than raising money.” ((Packer, G. “The Empty Chamber: Just how broken is the Senate?”  The New Yorker, August 9, 2010, p. 38-51.))

“Dialing for dollars” is just another way of saying “Trolling for deep-pocket tricks.” They are on the other end of the telephone, and they don’t hesitate to dig into their pockets because the deal is probably the best bargain in America, at least for the biggest corporate tricks. For measly millions they eventually get billions in returns from favorable legislation, government handouts, and government hands-off corporate wrongdoing.

According to Mr. Masnick, House members hustled on the average $1,689,580 each and Senators on the average $10,476,451 each. ((Masnick, M. Op cit.))  I didn’t do the math from those figures because I simply learned elsewhere that the overall costs of fundraising for the 2012 federal election cycle exceeded all previous cycles, with a $2.6 billion price tag for office of president and $3.7 billion for seats in the chambers of ill-repute. ((Choma, R. The 2012 Election: Our Price Tag (Finally) for the Whole Ball of Wax. March 13, 2013.))  A sizeable portion of the money paid for expensive advertising costs charged by the corporatized TV media that freely and very profitably uses airwaves that should be publicly owned and operated.

The More Dangerous Tricks

Certain deep-pocket tricks with their hold on Congress are more un-American and dangerous in one way or another other to us individually and collectively than are the many other industries. There are six of them; the war industry, the spy industry, the agribusiness industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the energy industry, and the firearms industry. In the 2012 election cycle these industries spent a total of about $260 million on campaign financing. ((This total was pieced together from various sources and does not include figures for the spy industry, which could not be found even after an exhaustive search.))

The Ying and Yang of Campaign Finance “Reform”

Now and then since at least the early 20th Century there have been attempts to prevent the selling of public office during political campaigns. The yin and yang between democracy and the corpocracy (i.e., the “Devil’s Marriage” between corporations and politicians with the former in the “missionary position”) in the fight for and against campaign finance reform would be comic if democracy weren’t the loser. The struggle’s history is long and full of enactments, rulings, reversals, circumventions, violations, and lax enforcement. It doesn’t make for very easy or interesting reading, so I have put the highlights in Table 1 and will leave it at that. What it shows is that Congress and the nine Robed In Justices sitting on the “court of last resort” have made gestures and little else at clearing the campaign trail of “dirty” money.

 Table 1

The Comic Yin and Yang of Campaign Financing Reform

 1907. Congress bans campaign donations from corporations.

1907 to 1966. More statues enacted to toughen the restrictions.

1971. Congress puts earlier reforms into The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and starts public funding of federal elections.

1974. Congress amends FECA and creates the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

1976. Supreme Court strikes down campaign financing limits.

1979. Congress streamlines FEC’s monitoring and expands role of political parties.

2000. Supreme Court “elects” George Bush.

2002. Congress bans “soft money” but increases contribution limits.

2002. Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act prohibits corporations and unions from spending their general treasury funds on “electioneering communications” or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate.

2006. Supreme Court reaffirms unconstitutionality of spending limits.

2007 . Supreme Court loosens restrictions on campaign advertising.

2008. Congress mulling bills allowing corporations’ direct donations to candidates.

2010 and Continuing. Supreme Court rules that corporations are persons, a ruling that opens up a gigantic slush fund for campaign financing from Super PACs, less super PACS, dark money, secret money, outside spending, unlimited spending, and soft money.

Mud Slinging

Politicians campaigning for public office often act like schoolyard brats in their name calling, taunting and jousting. The campaign advertising for the 2012 election cycle reportedly has been the most negative ever. So-called “attack ads” were used more than 60% of the time.  ((Wihbey, J. “Negative political ads, the 2012 campaign ad wars and research on voter effects”.  Journalist’s Resource, May 6, 2013.))

Once In the Chambers Bad Behavior Nosedives Even Deeper

Winning the election doesn’t stop the bad behavior; it nosedives deeper below “the universal bottom line of behavior” (below which are all incompetent, slothful, and unethical actions of human beings that range from the mostly harmless to the deadly). The maleficent campaigners simply become more maleficent office holders. They are now occupying seductive positions in which they routinely get corrupting expectations and pressures from their corporate sponsors. The victorious campaigners have acquired power, but it is power their sponsors both control and milk, largely through their swarming touts (i.e., lobbyists).

The 535

“To my mind”, Mark Twain said in 1873, “Judas Iscariot was nothing but a low, mean, premature Congressman.”

And as the French always say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It doesn’t matter which era, which session, the 535 “pol”ecats in Congress stink, some worse than others, a very, very few hardly or not at all. The more odious are the twin parties, which mean all but a handful of two or so legislators.

The Twin Parties

If you look for mention of any political parties in the U.S. Constitution, you won’t find it. The Framers disdained the very notion, warning that political parties simply invite factionalism and could create all sorts of mischief and civil strife. How prescient they were! The U.S. was governed for over 20 years before the first political parties emerged.

The two dominant political parties that eventually emerged (because they cleverly rigged the system), the Democratic and Republican parties, are simply two sides of the corpocracy’s expensive coin. Even so, the two usually split ideologically, always find something to quarrel over, and engage in “obstruction, extortion, gamesmanship and blather” says James Lardner, the grandson of Ring, journalist, and prolific book author. ((Lardner, J. “Let’s Get Congress Working”. The Nation, January 18, 2012.)) Two specific examples on the “more genteel” Senate side are filibusters and blocking presidential nominations. On the more rambunctious House side two specific examples are holding the operation of the federal government hostage to budget disputes and blocking executive branch initiatives such as jobs creation or health care despite the fact that America ranks lowest among industrialized nations in employment and health care. In Table 2 in no particular order is a larger sample of Congressional behavior below the line.

Table 2

Sampler of Bad Behavior by the 535

Supports corporate drive to renege on employee pension plans.

Quietly meets with industry/corporate lobbyists, allowing them to influence or even ghost writes self-serving legislation.

Curtails safety net programs for the poor.

Belittles and constantly seeks to privatize public service.

More than doubles corporate tax breaks in the last 25 years.

Guts own law to avoid self-disclosures of financial transactions and to allow insider trading.

Despite massive public support of background checks for gun purchases, refuses to legislate for it or other gun control measures.

Authorizes increased budget for buying expensive military weapons from constituent defense industries even though the military says it doesn’t need them.

Cuts budgets of regulatory agencies so they can’t afford necessary inspections for unsafe/unhealthy plants and products.

Constantly agitates for war in the Greater Middle East.

Deliberately allows for legal loopholes for high-income and corporate tax evaders.

Fans racial prejudices and fears of terrorism.

Promotes jingoism.

Doesn’t enforce its own rules of ethics.

Goes on lavish boondoggles using corporate campaign funds.

When hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their jobs, allowed themselves a $4,700 cost-of-living raise, bringing their annual salaries to $174,000.

Uses campaign money for personal expenses.

Authorizes mudslinging and false campaign ads.

House Ethics Committees drags its feet on investigations and applies lax standards.

Accepts improper gifts and takes official action to benefit donors.

“Earmarks” funds to relatives’ employers.

Uses campaign funds to pay legal fees in self-defense during ethics investigations.

Accepts illegally excessive campaign contributions.

Fails to report campaign contributions.

Stole an e-mail data base.

Attempted to silence staffers on sensitive matters involving investigations of the member.

Violates federal campaign finance laws.

Improperly solicited funds for a super PAC.

Misappropriated trade secrets.

Extorted a person to agree to silence in return for payment of fees.

Solicited campaign contributions tied to official actions.

Accepts illegal gratuities

The Cult of the Cons

Polecats in this cult are conservatives who mostly occupy the right wing of the Republican Party, including its theatrical and Looney Tee Party. The cult has become, says the Nobel laureate in economics, Paul Krugman, “a strident group of malcontents “acting out of pure spite like a ‘bratty 13-year-old.’”  ((Krugman, P. “The Politics of Spite”. The New York Times Online, October 4, 2009.))

Cons spew provocative and deceitful exhortations and slogans (e.g., “let’s reload,” “don’t tread on me,” “freedom works”). They are against government solutions, particularly social welfare (so miserly it is dwarfed by corporate welfare) and, says another critic, are “endlessly worried that one’s neighbor may be getting more than his or her ‘fair’ share.” ((Cohen, A. “Larry Craig’s Great Adventure: Suddenly, He’s a Civil Libertarian”. The New York Times Online, September 24, 2007.)) They perpetuate the myth that people on the dole want to be on the dole and like staying there. They apparently want public services that benefit only them and the rest of the corpocracy tangibly and want to be barely taxed for them. They regard any government efforts to improve our general welfare as totalitarianism or socialism. They call efforts to require physicians to counsel terminally ill patients “death panels.” ((Brody, JE.  “Frank Talk About Care at Life’s End”. The New York Times Online, August 23, 2010.))

Wondering what makes malcontent cons tick I searched the literature looking for their psychological makeup (PMU). I found it in a big study of many smaller studies spanning 50 years. While there are always caveats about most research findings, a 50-year trail that doesn’t detour would seem to lead straight to a durable conclusion; namely, cons by and large (there are always individual exceptions) and wherever they are (cons from 12 different countries were studied) resist change, are fearful, are aggressive, are tolerant of inequality to the extent of even endorsing it, are dogmatic, are intolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, are hostile to outsiders, and are more comfortable with simplicity than with complexity.  ((Vedantam, S. “Study Ties Political Leanings to Hidden Biases”. The Washington Post, January 30, 2006, p. A05. See also, Maclay, K. “Researchers Help Define what Makes a Political Conservative”. UC Berkley News Online, July 22, 2003.))

If this PMU is really true, PU! It’s “repugnantlican!”

The Swarming Touts

Another name for lobbyists is “touts.” Name an industry that doesn’t have a school of touts. When any of them comes through a Capitol Hill door the public’s interest in getting legislation and budget allocations for the common good gets thrown out the window.

Washington, DC is swarming with them. There are so many of them (over 11,000) that when they attend public hearings they pay “line sitters” who are law school students, bicycle messengers, even the homeless, to camp out overnight to get tickets in the Chamber’s galleries. ((Murray, D. “Corporate Lobbying: ‘Line Sitters’ Cash in on Quest for Influence”. The Blade Online, December 7, 2003.)) Seems kind of silly and unnecessary to me. The hearings are just for show. By the time an issue of real significance gets a public hearing, the touts behind the scenes have already ghost written legislative drafts and their pawns are committed to them.

Lobbying is a follow up to the tacit bribery on the campaign trail. The follow up doesn’t come cheaply. In recent years over $3 billion has been spent annually by lobbyists swarming the halls and offices of Capitol Hill. Those lobbyists aren’t there on behalf of what the public needs from public services. They are there on behalf of powerful, wealthy and greedy industries and their corporations. The six more dangerous industries spent almost half of the lobbying expenses of all 20 industries combined in 2012. ((See Open

The biggest spender is Big Pharma (bigger even than that of the war and spy industries). What has it gotten for its lobbying expenses? Its return has been estimated at a mindboggling 77,500% from lobbying on just one single issue; barring the government from bargaining for cheaper drug prices through Medicare (I have never ever seen such a huge percentage on anything).  ((Jilani, Z. “Big Pharma Gets 77,500% Return On Lobbying Investment“. April 3, 2012.))  Besides that big ticket item, the Center for Public Integrity looked at the entire Congress-Drug lobby track record from 1980 until 2006.  ((Ismail, MA. “Pushing Prescriptions: Drug Lobby Second to None; How the Pharmaceutical Industry Gets its Way in Washington”. The Center for Public Integrity, June 24, 2008.))  I have paraphrased their findings in Table 3. The case of Big Pharma clearly shows that it pays handsomely to lobby.

Table 3

Big Pharma’s Return on its Touts

– defeat of mandatory discount pricing.

– protection of drug patents in trade agreements.

– joint research patents with public institutions allowed.

– Medicare price negotiations with companies prevented.

– government list of preferred drugs prohibited.

– availability of generic pediatric drugs delayed.

– faster government drug safety reviews.

– company recommended reviewers allowed.

– bill to make generic drugs more accessible defeated.

– bigger hurdle before government warning letters issued.

– approval of some drugs just from animal testing.

– medical device makers get favorable considerations.

– unapproved uses of drugs gets journalistic license.

– restrictions eased on direct-to consumer advertising.

– tax credits given to makers of orphan drugs.

– licensing of new sites for making drugs eased.

-continuous review of approved new sites ended.

– pre-clinicial trial data allowed for patent application.

– criteria for awarding patents for genes relaxed.

– price control proposals dropped by government.

– companies allowed to pay fee for faster reviews.

– faster review of drugs for life-threatening diseases.

– distribution of drug samples allowed.

– easier for brand-name makers to sue generic makers.

– government promotes university-industry partnerships.

-industry allowed to tap research at subsidized facilities.

Diarrhea of Laws

After the colonists won their freedom from British rule there were two camps of thought on how the new nation should govern itself. The federalists, propertied and elitist, wanted a strong federal government to benefit financial interests including theirs and to control the masses from establishing a “mobocracy,” while the anti-federalists, mostly working class people, advocated states’ rights, fearing an excessively central government.

The federalists won and haven’t stopped prevailing. State governments get the leftovers. Congress makes so many laws that when it makes fewer than the average by the end of a particular session critics call it “unproductive” or a “do-nothing” Congress. But it has never really been a do-nothing body. In my opinion, and I am not an anti-federalist, Congress makes far too many laws, over 20,000 of them since its beginning. ((See List of United States Federal Legislation.))

Some of the existing laws target trivial behavior, such as the Controlled Substance Act that controls the use of marijuana. Some are misleading, deliberately not meaning what their titles suggest, such as the “Freedom to Farm Act” (officially the “Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996”), which actually means more wasteful subsidies for agribusiness. ((Hanson, V.D. “Beware of Beautifully Misnamed Laws”. National Review, October 24, 2013.))

The more consequential the law the more the consequences favor the interests of corporate America and the privileged in general and harm everyone else financially, physically, and psychologically. That, of course, should be no surprise. It is precisely what the corporate tricks and touts expect to happen and their political pawns can expect to lose re-election if it doesn’t happen.

In Table 4 is a list of some of the most consequential laws. These laws give the green light to tax breaks and havens for corporations and wealthy individuals, to profiteering from the “war on terror” and from all other military and surveillance operations, to profiteering from a broad spectrum of unhealthy and unsafe products, to polluting our water and air, to benefiting from all sorts of costly subsidies, to crushing Main Street and acquiescing to Wall Street.

Table 4

Some Laws Needing Flushed 

Tax laws for the rich and corporations

Formal declarations of war

Authorizations for the use of force

Declaration of national emergency

Espionage provisions of the US criminal code

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Homeland Security Act

Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Prevention Act

National Emergencies Act

National Security Act

USA Patriot Act

War Powers Resolution

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, & Rodenticide Act

Food Quality Protection Act

Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

Controlled Substance Act

Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

The Food Additives Amendment

Federal Meat Inspection Act

Food Security Act

Toxic Substances Control Act

Clean Air Act

Imminent domain law

Numerous financial & banking laws

Not coincidentally most of the laws listed benefit the six most dangerous industries and their corporations. These laws need to be flushed and replaced by laws that promote and protect essential public interests not corporate interests. That would satisfy a Constitutional obligation to “promote the general welfare.”

The More Seductive Positions

There aren’t 535 maleficent leaders in Congress because there aren’t 535 leadership positions. These positions are obviously the more seductive ones since leadership attracts corruption like a moth unto light (that is not to say, as the Ghost of Mark Twain reminds me, that the crop of candidates fighting for office every election cycle is full of exemplary characters). In Table 5 is a list of the 24 positions that make up the “primary” leadership structure.

Table 5

Primary Leadership Positions

U.S. Senate – Leadership Structure

President Pro Tempore

The Majority Party Leadership

Majority and Assistant Majority Leader

Policy Committee Chairman

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

The Minority Party Leadership

Minority & Whip (Assistant Minority Leader)

Conference Chairman

Policy Committee Chairman

National Senatorial Committee

Standing Committees

Permanent Special Committees

U.S. House of Representatives – Leadership Structure

Speaker of the House

The Majority Party Leadership

Majority Leader

Majority Whip

Chair of the Party’s Conference

Chair of the Party’s Policy Committee

National Party Congressional Committee

The Minority Party Leadership

Party Leader

Party Whip

Chair of the Party Caucus

Assistant Party Leader

Party Congressional Campaign Committee

Standing Committees

Permanent Special Committees

The primary leadership structure of the Congress is a typical bureaucratic and hierarchical, command and control structure, just like it is in the other federal branches and in corporate America. Before the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 there were a total of 81 standing committees in the two chambers. The Act cut that number to 34, still a miniature bureaucracy and it led to an explosion of subcommittees (bureaucracies always grow, never shrink).

I call the list of positions in Table 5 “primary” leadership positions because they exercise the most legislative influence (on behalf of their corporate patrons) and because we have only scratched the surface. Barely beneath it are the “secondary” leadership of subcommittee chairs that do the nitty-gritty work of analyzing the legislative issues involved and making recommendations to their parent committees.

Whether primary or secondary, sitting on top of them pulling the strings is Corporate America with its campaign financing and stable of touts.

Closing the Doors for Remodeling

Americans badly need a national voice for their interests, not a corporate whorehouse on Capitol Hill. In this concluding section are some ideas for replacing corporate escort service with public service. I have put them into two categories, dumping the party twins and pursuing additional possibilities.

Dump the Party Twins

The two dominant political parties, Democratic and Republican, are simply two sides of the corpocracy’s expensive coin (with the Republican side being the most corporatized, obstructionist, repugnantlican. How can we dump them? There are several possibilities, a few of which are briefly mentioned next.

1. Replace Popular Voting with Alternative Voting.

Voters unhappy with the twins but unwilling to throw away their vote on a third-party are forced to choose between the twins and lo and behold, one of them wins and America loses. A few states and cities are using alternative voting procedures and their constitutionality has been upheld when tested. ((See Richie, R. “Slamdunk Win in Minnesota Supreme Court Highlights Big Week for Instant Runoff Voting”. The Center for Voting and Integrity, June 12, 2009; see also Sanders, E. “Bipolar Politics: The Beginning and End of the Two-Party System”. Big Think, October 10, 2012; and Instant-runoff Voting in the United States.)) But they have yet to clear the ludicrous roadblock planted by the Constitution’s Electoral College. It is a historical tail that ends up wagging the dog. The Framers detested political parties, didn’t mention them, didn’t define what “voting” means, and political parties didn’t appear for about 20 years later. I am convinced that if enough legal minds were put to the task, the tail could be legally side stepped rather than having to resort to a Constitutional amendment that would be next to impossible (only 18 or so out of about 300 attempted ever worked) and risky in any case.

2. Find and Groom the Right Alternative Candidates.

Dumping the party twins does little good if their successors still get in bed with big corporations. The “right” candidate for America ought to one who is honest to a fault, beholden to no special interests, and is intent on preserving the best of America and on eliminating what isn’t the best. I’m not sure a “progressive” candidate would fit that job description but there are groups that find and groom them. ((See Democracy for America))

3. Get Out the Vote

I believe slightly less than half of eligible voters vote. Faced with unappealing choices is one reason. Faced with innumerable voting hurdles is another. The most common are voter suppression through regulatory, legislative, administrative and other forms of skullduggery (e.g., jamming a party’s phone bank); unjust voter eligibility criteria that bar otherwise eligible voters from voting; vote tampering that corrupts honest votes; and understaffed and incompetent personnel at polling places that complicate or distort the voting.

We know that the U.S. Supreme Court, just another corporatized government entity, is not about to knock down those hurdles. ((Stout, D. “Supreme Court Upholds Voter Identification Law in Indiana”. The New York Times, April 29, 2008.))  So what’s to be done about them? If there are the right candidates on the ballot and eligible voters are told about them and mobilized and organized and prepared (i.e., to make sure they meet all the eligibility criteria), the hurdles will be knocked down by the sheer force of democracy hurtling down the track.

Explore and Try Additional Possibilities

If we really want a different and better Congress we will need to consider and try every possibility imaginable. What is really needed first is a “Citizen’s Assembly,” a cross-section of public-spirited and knowledgeable citizens to brainstorm a list of all possibilities. I would guess the list would include the following.

4. End Politics as a Career

Thomas Jefferson, urged limiting tenure “to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom”. Establishing term limits would be one tactic for ending political careerists. The Constitution and its amendments are SILENT on the matter of term limits for all elected offices but the U.S. presidency, and that apparently was all the leeway the U.S. Supreme Court needed to rule in a 1995 case that states couldn’t impose term limits on their U.S. senators and representatives and that a constitutional amendment would be required to establish term limits. ((U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thorton, decided May 22, 1995.)) Nonsense! Four dissenting justices thought so too. States, on the other hand, are free to impose term limits on politicians elected to state offices, and several states have done just that. Some others have tried but have been thwarted by their legislators or judiciary

Arguments against term limits are that political offices would always be held by neophytes; that they don’t negate the political influence of corporate interests; and that should the right kind of politicians come along they must come and go just as quickly as the wrong kind. Those arguments have some merit but not enough to squelch pursuing the idea further.

Heavy political pressure ought to be put on members of Congress to pass a law limiting their terms. About 70% of the general public is reportedly in favor of term limits. ((Rahn, R. “The Imperial Congress”. The Washington Times Online, February 11, 2007.)) This poll “simply” needs to be turned into “poll”itical pressure. The 104th Congress did try twice, half-heartedly, and failed to legislate for a constitutional amendment allowing for term limits on its members. If Congress were pressured enough, it could circumvent the Court by either decreeing a self-imposed term limit or passing term-limit legislation without seeking an amendment. This, of course, might lead to a showdown regarding the equality of powers and their separation. Admittedly, this tactic may not have a ghost of a chance anyway. Politicians don’t want to end their careers voluntarily. I guess I can’t really blame them on that.

5. Experiment More with Deliberative Democracy

What we are dealing with here is the idea of reviving our earliest American custom of electing citizens, not would-be lifers, who govern on behalf of their fellow citizenry for a short period of time and then withdraw to become regular citizens once again. Granted, the idea may seem idealistic and unwieldy, yet it ought to be further elaborated and tested. The late Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter once said that “In a democracy, the highest office is the office of citizen.”

A model of how deliberative democracy could operate appeared in 1980.  ((Bessette, J. “Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government”, in Goldwin, RA & Schambra, WA. How Democractic is the Constitution? Washington, D.C., AEI Press, 1980, pp. 102–116.))  In this model a representative sample of the public is selected to deliberate an issue and then to conduct a poll among themselves to choose a public policy option. The results can be used to inform public officials on the issue and sometimes is a stand-in for a traditional vote on the issue. Political scientist professor and philosopher James Fishkin, who was instrumental in developing the non-traditional form of opinion polling, has recently published a book reporting on numerous applications in the U.S. and elsewhere of the deliberative democracy process. ((Fishkin, JS. When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation. NY: Oxford University Press, 2009.))  To what extent it ever takes hold nationwide remains to be seen.

A different variation of deliberative democracy is the idea of “direct decrees” by the people as expressed in federal ballot initiatives. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be required I think to implant the process, and the three executive branches of the federal government could not be bypassed in the process. Supporters of the idea argue that many states already have ballot initiatives. That does not seem like a good argument to me. State initiatives can — and have — yielded regrettable changes with California being an illustrative case. ((Polermo, JA. “California Needs a New Constitution”. The Huffington Post Online, May 26, 2009.))

I suppose there are many other conceivable ways to let the “will of the people” be expressed and established. I’m not an expert on self-rule so I can’t speak to other possibilities. What I do know absolutely is that self-rule is preferable to corporate rule and there must be a way found to end the latter.

6. End Campaign Financing

The idea here is to never let the final story of “yin and yang” end in favor of campaign financing. Here are some realistic and unrealistic ideas for ending it:

– Amend the U.S. Constitution

– Amend U.S. or State Constitutions

– Change corporate charters to prohibit corporate financing

– Pass anti-personhood legislation

– Pass prohibitive ordinances

– Shepherd a test case to the Highest Court

– Target the judiciary (e.g., sue prosecutors against personhood cases)

– Target corporations (e.g., require CEOs to publicly approve financing)

– Substantially increase public financing

– Return the common property of airwaves away back to the people

7. Out the Touts

The best way to deal with the touts’ influence on legislation and regulations short of ending corporate campaign financing would be to blunt or counterbalance their influence by ensuring that all public interest groups are involved extensively and intensely in the process. Preferably, every time a lobbyist representing any industry meets with members of Congress and/or their staff, a representative of a public interest group should be included. If it is excluded or prevented from meaningful input, legislators should be sued for misrepresentation.

8. Try Many More Ideas

The number of possibilities is probably limited only by limited brain storming. Other possibilities not already mentioned include stopping the revolving door of politicians and corporate executives coming through; plugging the burrower’s holes (i.e., holes filled with former political appointees becoming civil servants); asking candidates to sign oaths foreswearing corporate financing; etc., etc. (add any of your own here). But the first three possibilities mentioned in my opinion ought to be the ones given the highest priority.

Will Congress ever become a legislative body that represents only public interests for the common good and not for the good of corporations? The future of America depends on the answer.

Gary Brumback, PhD, is a retired psychologist and Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. Read other articles by Gary.