Category Archives: Election Reform

Whitehouse Tries to Get DISCLOSE Passed in Worst Congress ever

While being a member of Congress definitely has its benefits, it seems to be a pretty frustrating job these days. Take, for instance, this article by Ezra Klein outlining why this is the worst Congress ever:

14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.

Nevertheless, some people are trying to get work done, or at least make it look that way. In fact, some are willing to stay up all night if that’s what it takes to get some attention:

Senate Democrats to Hold “Midnight Vigil” on DISCLOSE Act

If GOP Blocks Effort to End Secret Election Spending, Democrats Will Continue Debating Past Midnight and Ask for Second Vote Tomorrow

Washington, DC – With Senate Republicans threatening to block debate this evening on the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats are sending a clear message that they won’t back down easily. If Republicans succeed in blocking a key procedural vote on the measure today, a group of Democrats have pledged to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night tonight in an effort to bring greater attention to the issue and force a second vote on the bill tomorrow.

The late night “midnight vigil” effort will be led by the members of the Citizens United Task Force, which includes U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). The group was organized by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who will also take part in tonight’s effort.

“We recognize that you don’t win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing,” said Whitehouse, the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act. “Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round.”

The DISCLOSE Act requires any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours, identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more. It will require political groups posing as social welfare organizations to disclose their donors and will prevent corporations and other wealthy interests from using shell corporations to funnel secret money to super PACs.

“We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept,” said Udall. “Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets – if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are. The American people are blessed with common sense. They know that when someone will not admit to something, it is usually because there is something to hide.”

“This is too important an issue to let it lie quietly,” Shaheen said. “New Hampshire voters were subjected to a flood of negative ads this primary season, many of them fueled by unregulated, secret money. It isn’t right. We need to stand up for accountability and fairness in our politics.”

“Tonight we will debate whether we truly believe in the first three words of our Constitution: ‘We the People.’ The flood of secret money unleashed by Citizens United is drowning out the voice of the people,” said Merkley. “Indeed, those who oppose disclosure are seeking to replace ‘We the People’ with ‘We the Powerful.’ This is wrong in so many ways. It’s way past time to shine a light on the darkness and discover who or what this money really stands for.”

“Coloradans have been inundated with attack ads funded by a small number of people through anonymous groups,” Bennet said. “Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections. Unfortunately, a minority of senators are poised to block progress on the DISCLOSE Act and prevent necessary transparency in our election system.”

“The DISCLOSE Act will not fix all of the evil effects of Citizens United, but it is certainly a step forward,” said Sen. Franken. “And it will bring much needed sunshine to our political system, which will go a long way toward reducing the number and dishonesty of negative attack ads that further corrode our public dialogue and ultimately threaten our democratic system.”

“We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”

Individuals are encouraged to follow the floor debate throughout the night on Twitter, using the hashtag #DISCLOSEVote.

Kiersten Marek:

True words spoken on education and how it will be kicked around like a football in the game of politics over the next several months.

Originally posted on :

As election season nears, grandstanding Democratic and Republican politicians will discuss the importance of educators and not teaching to a test. Then, with their empty rhetoric still in the air, they will enact laws that base evaluations on test scores, weaken due process, and inject competition. Meanwhile, many news organizations, who have failed to report on why many educators are against these things, will hail their efforts. None of these efforts will work, and the thousands of teachers and principals who have criticized these ideas will then clean up the mess.

In 1991, New York released its first set of coronary-bypass mortality numbers for cardiac surgeons, and in a 2005 report by New York Magazine, an astonishing 79 percent of doctors who do angioplasty said anonymously the mortality statistics discouraged them from taking on risky patients. Now, some want to evaluate and publish – like the New York Times and…

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Education Reformers Need To Lighten Up

Kiersten Marek:

Not sure I agree with everything in here, but it helps to keep in mind that all the dead seriousness and crisis manufacturing of the education reformers may not be good for our health.

Originally posted on Assailed Teacher:

It's not indigestion. It's the trademark education reformer face.

Michelle Rhee has a perpetual scowl. Michael Bloomberg wears a long face. Bill Gates is always berating kids to grow up. I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but you would think it could at least provide the down payment.

Even after their recent victory here in New York City, where they can now publicize each teacher’s “value added” data, it is a sure bet that they will stick to their curmudgeonly ways. Teachers here now can look forward to the same public relations bludgeoning that teachers in Los Angeles have been experiencing.

They are all rubbing their hands together in anticipation of more wholesale firings of veteran teachers. Oy, the firings. All the time with the firings.

Here is a new approach. Instead of blaming teachers for things over which they have little control, like numbers children receive on some test, how about praising teachers for things to which…

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Gov. Malloy Backs out of Attending Rally with Michelle Rhee

Kiersten Marek:

To alienate the ed reformers or to not alienate the ed reformers, that is the question…

Originally posted on Wait, What?:

Moments ago Rick Green posted the following to his blog;

Photo courtesy of CTNewsjunkie

http://courantblogs.com/rick-green/gov-malloy-the-norwalk-stiff-arm-and-michelle-rhee/

“Gov. Malloy will not appear at a March education rally being organized by a coalition of parent groups. The parents hope to have Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. Schools chancellor who enrages teacher unions with her reform ideas, at the event. Although the Connecticut Parents Union announced that Malloy had committed to the event, the governor’s office says he will not be attending. Probably a wise move. Rhee and her supporters can be very useful to Malloy as he looks for support for his education reform plan. Standing up in public with her, however, would just annoy the teacher unions.

 

 

PS:  Rick, It is more than just the “teacher unions” that are shocked and  upset that Dan Malloy would join Michelle Rhee or any of the others who are leading the anti-teacher movement.

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Reading My Tea Leaves About Achievement First

If I had to call it, my call at this point would be that the Board of Regents will vote to approve one, and only one, Achievement First School to start up in Providence.  I have followed this issue closely for the past year, though I am by no means an insider to the process.  I am merely a concerned parent and a somewhat obsessive follower of the corporate-influenced education reform movement and its critics, of which I am one.

But it appears, with the Providence Mayor, the (Providence-Mayor-appointed) School Board, and many Providence legislators on board, this Achievement First thing is headed for a ram-through.  It’s not going to be a big ram-through, and for this I am grateful.  It’s just going to be the first foot onto the slippery slope of the corporate-influenced divvying up of the education money pie.  There will still be one foot on firm ground, so if we want to pull back and cancel this whole thing in a few years with only one Achievement First school opened and closed, that will still be possible.

In the meantime, if you still want to try to influence the vote on this matter by beseeching our Governor to intercede (not sure he could actually do that, other than by trying to influence individual Board of Regents members), you can sign the petition at Change.org.  

Amend the Constitution Now, Before Elections Get Even More Distorted by Corporate Money

Senator Whitehouse and others have introduced legislation to amend the constitution so that corporations can not qualify as people who can give unlimited cash to campaigns. From Whitehouse’s press release:

In 2010, the Supreme Court concluded in a highly contentious 5-4 ruling that corporations deserve the same free speech protections as individual Americans, enabling them to spend freely from their corporate treasuries on campaign advertising.

“The flawed Citizens United decision allows corporations, including international corporations, to use their vast wealth to drown out the voices of the American people, and it allows them to do so anonymously from behind shell organizations,” said Whitehouse. “We must ensure that government works for the American people, not powerful corporations. The constitutional amendment we are introducing today will undo the Citizens United decision, putting people in charge as the Founders of our country intended.”

Given the shocking amounts of money flowing into elections now, including school board elections such as the recent Denver School Board elections in which the winners were mostly cash coffer candidates for oil companies and other powerful corporate interests, it is becoming glaringly apparent just how much damage the recent Supreme Court ruling has done to our election process. We are being inundated with corporate pressure to change our educational systems in ways that make everything “data-driven” and, in my opinion, strip much of the humanity out of education.

If you want to think about what might be done to improve education, I recommend reading Aaron Regunberg’s post that gives attention to the evolving “Student Bill of Rights” — a student-driven movement to define what students want and need to succeed educationally. Interestingly, there is nothing in their bill about needing more data-driven analysis and standards that declare whole systems (usually systems in poor urban areas) to be failures. The students come back to the basics: that they need good food, access to health care, and access to the full range of educational (including the arts and humanities) in order to benefit fully from their education.

On The Menu

Yesterday, while unwinding from work, I found myself plopped on the couch watching a rerun of Family Guy. The episode was a takeoff of the 1982 film, “Poltergeist,” and was entitled “Petergeist.” (For you non-viewers of this subversively—and sometimes inappropriately—funny animated comedy, Peter is the family patriarch.) In one scene, upon finding themselves homeless and hungry, the Griffin family visited a soup kitchen. They sat down at a table and were waited upon by a staff person. The following exchange ensued:

WOMAN: “Hi and welcome to the soup kitchen. I’ll just start you off with a basket of pizza crusts and apple cores. Oh, and we do have one special today. It’s an avocado pit with a little bit of avocado still on it, and that comes on a ripped pair of boxer shorts.”

PETER: (examining a menu) “Now, I’m trying to decide between the tossed spaghetti on a newspaper and the half yogurt with a balled-up tissue in it.”

Later in the evening, I returned to the couch to watch NCIS, which was aired on the CBS affiliate out of Hartford. During the show’s commercial breaks, I was repeatedly subjected to political ads from Connecticut’s two U.S. Senate candidates, Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal. The ads were pointedly negative. The candidates “approved” of them nonetheless. I did not.

Come this Election Day, the citizens of Connecticut will be forced to choose between the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and the state Attorney General, between a woman who “made a fortune from…[a business that] lives off performance-enhancing drugs, violence and the exploitation of young people” and a man who “abysmally erred in lying when he said that he had fought in Vietnam.” That’s some choice.

It got me to thinking about the Family Guy episode, about the limited and distasteful options presented to the family at the soup kitchen. Who wants to eat if forced “to decide between the tossed spaghetti on a newspaper and the half yogurt with a balled-up tissue in it”? Who wants to vote if forced to decide between an exploiter and a liar?

I’m not suggesting that people abstain from voting. But I think a lot of Americans, myself included, are tired of holding their noses while they do so. What’s a concerned citizen to do?

Independent of Politics

The United States is one step closer to health care reform, with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by the House of Representatives last night.  Not a single Republican voted for the bill.  Indeed, to hear many members of the Grand Old Party, the United States is one step closer to totalitarianism.  Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) described the legislation as a “trillion-dollar assault on our freedoms.”  His concern for freedom is evident, as indicated by his support for last year’s military coup in Honduras.

More and more, the arena of politics has come to resemble a middle-school assembly, with opposing cliques loudly vying for favor and attention.  In their selfish desire to assert their influence and dominance, they lose sight of their raison d’etre.  The students fail to gain an education.  The elected representatives fail to govern—or even represent.  It is an unacceptable state of affairs.

I have a strong dislike for politics.  It interferes with governance and wastes valuable time and resources.  Given the immense challenges with which this nation is confronted, you would think that those elected by the people and charged with working for the people would find a way to put aside their differences and come together to make things right.  You would be wrong.  We have become more divided instead of less so.  How can that be?

There is a reason I decline to affiliate with any political party.  I am a registered Independent and shall remain so.  I have no stomach for partisanship.  I know that I am not alone.  There are many who long for an antidote (not manufactured by any pharmaceutical company) to the toxic effects of partisan politics.  In today’s New York Times, Phil Keisling proposes a partial antidote that is worth considering:

To Reduce Partisanship, Get Rid Of Partisans

WANT to get serious about reducing the toxic levels of hyper-partisanship and legislative dysfunction now gripping American politics? Here’s a direct, simple fix: abolish party primary elections.

From now to September, virtually every state will hold primaries to select Democratic and Republican candidates for the November general election. At stake are 36 Senate and 435 Congressional seats, along with 37 governorships and more than 6,000 state legislative seats.

What can we likely expect? Abysmal voter turnout; incessant waves of shrill, partisan invective; and legions of pandering politicians making blatant appeals to party extremists. Once you understand the role that party primary elections really play, and who votes and doesn’t, the real question isn’t why our politics are so dysfunctional — it’s how could they not be?….

So what can be done? States should scrap this anachronistic system and replace it with a “fully open/top two” primary. All candidates would run in a first round, “qualifying” election, with the top two finalists earning the chance to compete head-to-head in November. Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Tea-Partiers, even “None of the Above’s” could all run in the first round. Voters would certainly know candidates’ party affiliations, but no political party would automatically be entitled to a spot on the November ballot.

This would create far more races that were truly competitive, especially across the vast majority of lopsided districts where winning the party primary essentially guarantees election. In those districts, both finalists might be from the same party, but there could be genuine differences between the two that would give voters a meaningful choice. [full article]

Taking their Money and Voting Against Them

The New York Times has an article discussing the new Supreme court decision which takes restrictions off corporations giving money to politicians. The article includes quotes from social scientists saying there is little evidence that all our attempts to restrict corporate giving to politicians come to any good.

I have another idea. How about if politicians were required to wear their corporate giving on their sleeve? What if, like race car drivers, their corporate sponsors were emblazoned on their clothes and cars? What if, when going to Jack Reed’s office, you had to pass through a hall of corporate sponsors before meeting the honorable Senator? Perhaps, at least then, we would know what was what. The United States Government, brought to you by Bank of America.

Maybe we can make this work for us, in our ailing state as a nation. Maybe we could have daily corporate sponsors — for each day of the year, one corporation would fund all the costs of government. That’s what I would call being a good corporate citizen! If only there was a way to ensure that corporations would give as much as they receive when buying politicians. Then this new “free speech” might make more sense.

Who Will the Democrats Run for Mayor in Cranston?

This projo article on how Mayor Fung is going to hold a community forum discusses the issue of who will run against him next year. From the article:

[...] That means there might be some potential mayoral challengers among the attendees, said Michael J. Sepe, chairman of the Democratic City Committee.

“We’ll probably have someone there to respond, or to ask questions,” he said. “This will give the Democrats a good chance to get out there.”

Sepe said there are not yet any Democratic candidates for mayor, but that possible candidates include City Council President John E. Lanni Jr., and School Committee member and long-time council member Paula B. McFarland.

Lanni, who has been recovering from heart surgery, said he is keeping his options open. He is serving his fifth council term and therefore cannot run again, so running for mayor would be an option if he wants to stay in politics.

“Right now I’m in recovery mode,” he said. “I feel pretty good right now and I’m sure I’ll feel better in the future.”

McFarland, who served five council terms and is now on the School Committee, could not be reached for comment Friday.

While both John Lanni and Paula McFarland are capable and experienced leaders, neither (to my knowledge) has the deep pockets required to run a mayoral campaign in Cranston. Low estimates for the cost of a successful campaign run about $100,000. I believe both Allan Fung and former Mayor Michael Napolitano spent more than that. Just another reason why campaign finance reform — ensuring candidates can get on an equal playing field whether they are independently wealthy or not — is key to successful competitive elections.

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