PA: Movement Builds to Reform Ballot Access Law and the Primary System

Since the state's primary elections in May, in which 80% of voters opted not to exercise the franchise, calls to open the primary process continue to mount in Pennsylvania.  One state rep, Democrat Eugene DePasquale, has proposed a package of reforms aimed at increasing voter turnout and leveling the political playing field for Independent and third party candidates.  From Politics PA:
Though Depasquale stated he has not yet faced opposition from any single group,“the current two-party structure is against the reforms." The big message that DePasquale wanted to express is that regardless of party or affiliation “the ‘minor candidates’ should be part of the debate.”

Independents are joining third parties in pressing Pennsylvania’s closed primary system. On the forefront of this growing movement is State Rep. Eugene DePasquale’s introduction of of a four-bill reform package, known as the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA).

According to the news release the first bill would allow voters registered as independents to cast ballots in Pennsylvania’s primary elections. The second bill would require corporations to obtain shareholder approval before contributing an annual aggregate sum exceeding $10,000.

The third piece of legislation allows all voters to cast ballots up to 15 days in advance of Election Day in both the primary and general elections. The fourth and final bill in the package would make general election competition among all parties a reality by equalizing the ability of Independent and third-party candidates to run for public office in Pennsylvania.
In the press release, DePasquale notes the discriminatory character of Pennsylvania's ballot access regime:
"The Voters' Choice Act would give greater freedom of choice to our voters by making it much less difficult for independent and third-party candidates to get on the November ballot," DePasquale said. "The VCA would change the way a third party is legally defined and remove the too-high barrier of third parties, giving general election voters more choice and strengthening competition."
Independents need to gather ten times more signatures than their Republican and Democratic counterparts to obtain ballot access.  In 2010, Democratic and Republican party activists succeeded in purging every single third party and independent candidate for statewide office from the ballot by vowing to challenge their ballot access petitions in court, and threatening them with hefty legal fees.   

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition – which includes the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, the America First Party, the Reform Party, the Prohibition Party, the Unified Independent Party, the New American Independent Party and the 2004 Ralph Nader campaign – is a strong supporter of the measures introduced by DePasquale, as is Independent Pennsylvanians.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Partisan Bias and Independent Voters

Via The Hankster comes word of a new national campaign by Independent Voting (CUIP) to push for Congress to hold hearings on systemic discrimination against independent voters.  From IndependentVoting: has launched a national campaign to lobby Congress to hold hearings on the structural discrimination in our electoral system against independent voters.  Independents are 40% of the population, yet the barriers to full democratic participation are so hardwired into the system as to be almost unnoticed.

The purpose of our campaign is two-fold: 1) To educate Congress and shine a light on the effect of partisan control of the election process, namely that 40% of Americans have a second class status; and 2) to urge Congress to investigate these biases by holding hearings.

Two committees were formed to launch the campaign: The Bill of Particulars Committee developed a document that lays out the various ways independents are disadvantaged. Some of these infractions are gigantic and some are minute. But they are all a part of the machinery of government and politics which places the privileges of the party above the voter.

The second committee is the Strategy and Organizing Committee which is developing the materials for independents to use at the grassroots such as a sample letter and postcard, as well as material to help independents set up and conduct meetings with their members of Congress. 
This is a great idea.  CUIP is strongly opposed to partisan redistricting and closed primaries, so it is very likely those points will be emphasized in their materials.  The point that partisan duopolist biases are so hardwired into the system that they basically go unnoticed is an important one, since they affect the way we act and the way we think.  Ballot access issues are an obvious example.  What other barriers and biases against third party and independent voters are hidden in plain sight?

Partisan Hypocrisy, Partisan Immunity, and the Necessity of Divided Government

Like the Democrats and Republicans themselves, partisan hypocrisy and partisan immunity are two sides of the same worthless coin.  The concept of partisan hypocrisy is well known: Democrats and Republicans are each quick to excuse themselves for acts which they denounce when committed by the other side.  The notion of partisan immunity is closely related: when confronted with even justified  criticism from the other side of the duopoly divide, Democrats and Republicans claim the critique has no merit because it is leveled by a partisan hypocrite.  At The Think 3 Institute, Sam Wilson has been developing the two ideas together for some time.  From October 2009:
"Partisan immunity" is my term for the practice within the American two-party system of politicians evading or attempting to avoid accountability for questionable conduct by claiming that any demand for accountability is politically motivated for partisan advantage.
From September 2009:
Partisan hypocrisy is a key component of the more pernicious concept of partisan immunity. Partisan immunity is claimed by those who claim that their actions are being prosecuted for political or partisan reasons alone. An inevitable element of that argument is the claim, implicit or not, that the partisan prosecutors are hypocrites who would have done the same things had they been in power. Once these claims are made, the objective injustice of the act in question becomes irrelevant.  
Last week, while speaking about Republican opposition to the Obama administration's illegal war in Libya, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted outright that partisan hypocrisy is in fact an integral facet of Republican-Democrat party politics.  Althouse has McConnell's quote in full:
McConnell: I’m not sure that these kind of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president. But I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to mute them. So yeah, I think there are clearly differences and I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to express their reservations which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.
At Divided We Stand, the Dividist puts McConnell's statement in its proper duopolist context:
[McConnell's] comment is being trumpeted on the left as prima facie evidence of the venal, party-first, hypocritical nature of many congressional Republicans. This is, of course, completely true, as that is indeed their nature. The irony is that the Democrats making that point fail to note that many congressional Democrats are behaving exactly as McConnell notes on exactly the same issue.
So, when a Republican president commits high crimes and misdemeanors, party loyalty prevents Republicans from holding that president accountable; and when a Democratic president commits high crimes and misdemeanors, party loyalty prevents Democrats from holding that president accountable.  Is it any wonder that presidents are so rarely held accountable for their crimes?  The Dividist concludes, appropriately, with a call for divided government: 
The need for a check on the President and to ensure that our constitutional checks and balances function as intended justifies a divided government voting heuristic - always voting to maintain a divided government state at the federal level. Always.
Unfortunately, however, government divided between the Democrats and Republicans does not ensure constitutional checks and balances.  On the contrary, government divided between the Democrats and Republicans is the primary means by which the ruling political class systematically avoids political accountability.  Indeed, it provides them with an ideological shield behind which they wage  their outright war on constitutional, democratic-republican government.  Divided government between Democrats and Republicans means never having to take responsibility, for they will always claim partisan hypocrisy and partisan immunity.

As in the past, I will see the Dividist's call for divided government and raise him one.  Government divided between Democrats and Republicans is not divided government at all: the ruling parties work in concert to subvert our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  If Democrats and Republicans refuse to hold a president accountable for his crimes when he is a member of their own party, then the only way to ensure full accountability in the executive branch is to elect a third party or Independent president.

The War on the Fourth Amendment and the War on Logic Cont'd.

An opinion piece last week in the New York Times took note of the ongoing war against the Fourth Amendment that is being waged by the Republican-Democrat ruling political class in the name of "security".  Excerpt:
THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.

In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime . . . 
The Senate Intelligence Committee met last week, in secret, to consider the Justice Department's extremely broad interpretation of the powers granted to investigators by the Patriot Act.  From Time Magazine:
Last Tuesday the committee met to consider the worries of some members, mostly Democrats, who say the Justice Department has drafted a breathtakingly broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act . . . That section allows the FBI to seize without a warrant "any tangible things," like documents . . . as long as the bureau can convince a special national-security court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that the information is "relevant" to antiterrorism work . . .  Privacy advocates, however, consider it little more than a rubber stamp.
Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, went further, saying the government was using that opinion to conduct some sort of dragnet surveillance. "Innocent Americans are being swept up in this," was about all Udall could say to TIME.
That sounds a lot like something a certain junior Senator from Illinois might have said back in December 2005, when he joined eight other Senators in penning a dear-colleague letter that argued, among other things, that Section 215 was too broad. "We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy," wrote Obama and the other Senators.
Of course, President Obama is now singing a different tune.  And it's one with which we're already familiar.  For example, the Obama administration claims that the war in Libya is neither illegal nor unconstitutional because it is not a war.  In the case of the Patriot Act, the administration's position is that illegal search and seizure is not illegal because it's not a search or seizure.  From Time again:
Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen noted before a House subcommittee March 9: "Some have argued that Section 215 runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment [which governs police searches] because it allows the government to obtain records upon a showing of 'relevance' to an authorized investigation rather than probable cause." But, he added, "for constitutional purposes, a business-records order is not a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."
As one Yahoo News commentator recently wrote, the American police state is the new normal.  

Libertarian Pride

A cartoon from Political Graffiti, coincidentally apt the day after the gay marriage bill was passed here in New York:

AZ: Independent Rights Party Seizes Properties from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

While reading up on the Tucson mayoral election yesterday, I happened to come across a most curious story about a would-be third party candidate in the race, Marshall Home.  Home attempted to file for the office as a Democrat, but withdrew after he was challenged on the basis of residency requirements.  As the Arizona Daily Star reported, "He conceded he has been living at a county address for months and voted from that address last year."  Though Home changed his registration from Independent to Democrat before filing to run for mayor, he is also the chairman of a small third party group called the Independent Rights Party.  You might be surprised to learn that you are already a member.  From the Independent Rights Party:
The IRP is a registered political party, beginning March 3, 2004. We support the individual in their right to freely choose for themselves, subscribing to Thomas Jefferson's statement: "Never trust the government. Be ever Vigilant" Marshall E. Home is the Chairman . . . everyone is a member of the Independent Rights Party. There is not now, nor will there ever be a membership fee.
The IRP's primary focus appears to be on foreclosure recovery and Home is quite active in this regard.  He has already seized over twenty foreclosed properties from Fannie Mae!  From AZ Central:
Marshall Home, who claims many foreclosures are illegal, has filed documents in the past two weeks with the Maricopa County Recorder's Office showing he has supposedly taken ownership of at least 21 homes belonging to government-owned mortgage giant Fannie Mae. But none of the documents shows any money has changed hands, and Fannie Mae says it has not sold the houses. Real-estate agents and experts say Home's documents, a type of real-estate form called a special-warranty deed, aren't valid . . .

"Fannie Mae has not authorized the transfer of the properties in question to the organization," spokesman Andrew Wilson said. "We will pursue appropriate legal action and involve law enforcement as necessary."

But for now, Home's Independent Rights Political Party Trust is claiming to own the houses. Several of the homes have people living in them.

"Lenders are gangsters, and they can't prove they own these homes. So they have no right to foreclose," said the 80-year-old self-professed billionaire from his real-estate and political office in Tucson on Tuesday. "I plan to continue to take homes from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I would buy them, but those groups can't produce the notes showing they are the rightful owners to sell or foreclose on them."
The real estate agents that had been hired by Fannie Mae to market and maintain the properties were caught off guard by Home's action.  Another excerpt:
Last week, Phoenix HomeSmart real-estate agents Brett Barry and Roland Cleveland got a call from their brokerage telling them Independent Rights Political Party Trust had sent a letter saying it "acquired all rights" to the house at 6032 E. Skinner Drive in Cave Creek . . .  Cleveland immediately sensed something was wrong.  "We called the people who hired us and work with Fannie Mae, and they didn't know anything about a sale," he said. "It appeared right away the document was fraudulent."  On orders from Fannie Mae, Cleveland broke the new locks, tore down the trespass warning and other fliers and put new locks on the home. He now watches the house closely every day.  "It's crazy," he said. "How does someone just declare they own a home without paying for it or obtaining a clear title?"
It's an interesting question:  "How does someone just declare they own a home without paying for it or obtaining a clear title?" He might consider asking the nation's banks.  From CBS back in April:
Wall Street cut corners when it created those mortgage-backed investments that triggered the financial collapse. Now that banks want to evict people, they're unwinding these exotic investments to find, that often, the legal documents behind the mortgages aren't there. Caught in a jam of their own making, some companies appear to be resorting to forgery and phony paperwork to throw people - down on their luck - out of their homes.
Another excerpt from CBS, via Zero Hedge:
Banks so poorly handled documentation on millions of mortgages that many today cannot prove that they own the homes they want to foreclose on. The resulting rash of lawsuits from people seeking to save their homes has one of the government's top banking regulators worried that the torrent of litigation will delay the real estate market's recovery.
For his part, Marshall Home plans to continue seizing property from Fannie Mae.  From the AZ Central article:
Home said he is running for mayor in part to try to stop fraudulent foreclosures, but he could be kicked out of the Tucson election this week because he hasn't lived in the city for the requisite three years and has a criminal record for assaulting a federal court officer.

He said that won't stop him from taking back foreclosure homes from Fannie Mae and fellow mortgage backer Freddie Mac. "I haven't been contacted by either entity nor has either one done anything to stop me," Home said.

AZ: Democratic Party's Ballot Purge Provides Opening for Tucson Greens

When Democrats and Republicans seek to dissuade others from engaging in third party and independent political activism, one of their primary arguments is that third party and independent campaigns for office are a fool's errand because it is so difficult for them to achieve ballot access.  Let's put aside the fact that such ballot access hurdles are erected by Democratic and Republican lawmakers themselves in order to cement their hold on power at all levels of government.  Even despite the fact that third party and independent candidates face biased and discriminatory rules and regulations when they seek to run for office – for example, having to collect anywhere from two to ten times more petition signatures than their Democratic and Republican counterparts –, these candidates often still fight their way onto the ballot, and they do so by gathering many more signatures than are required by law.  Why?  Because their petitions are challenged by professional partisans in the major parties, often on the basis of the most absurd technicalities.  Taken to its logical extreme, the ideal outcome of such a process is an election in which there is only one candidate on the ballot or perhaps even none at all.  However, sometimes it can also inadvertently provide a strategic opening for opponents of the two-party state. 

The Tucson mayoral race provides us with an interesting case in point.  As it now stands, only two candidates are assured ballot access: a Green and a Democrat.  There would have been at least four, but in recent weeks the Democratic party successfully purged an Independent and a Republican party candidate from the ballot by petition signature challenges.  From the Arizona Daily Star:
Democratic attorney Jonathan Rothschild may be the only major-party candidate left standing in the mayoral race after today.  Superior Court Judge Paul Tang bounced independent Pat Darcy from the ballot Monday after the Pima County Recorder's Office found he came up 106 signatures short on nominating petitions.

A short time later, Republican Shaun McClusky attempted to withdraw his nominating petitions before facing his own court challenge this afternoon, where Democrats will argue he didn't obtain a sufficient number of signatures to get on the ballot . . . 

Darcy offered no court defense of his petitions, beyond noting there is a built-in disadvantage for independent candidates, who need far more signatures than party candidates. As an independent, Darcy needed 2,596 valid signatures. Republicans, meanwhile, needed 1,060 and Democrats needed 1,642.  [Emphasis added.]

He said he was dismayed the Democratic Party challenged him at all. "What are they afraid of?" he asked, saying that if the tables were reversed, he would have welcomed a contest rather than try to kick all of the challengers out of the race. "You want to compete. You don't want it just given to you," he said, adding it is a drain on the courts, as well as the city and county staffs.

City Clerk Roger Randolph acknowledged in court that the number of challenges this year is unprecedented, saying the last challenge in a city race came in 1999.
The Arizona Green Party attained ballot access in 2010 and, under a new law, are assured access through 2012.  Currently, there are two Green candidates vying for the party's nomination in the race, both of whom apparently survived the Democratic party's push to purge the ballot of all competition.  From Ross at Green Party Watch:
That Green will either be Mary DeCamp, a City Council candidate in the past, or Dave Croteau, a past mayoral candidate.  There will be a primary to determine who will be on the ballot for the general election.  Another candidate who was running for the Green nomination dropped out of the race in order to support and work on sustainability issues with the now-former Republican candidate.
Though the Republicans could still nominate a write-in candidate, the Green party has an excellent opportunity to gain attention from the media and wider recognition in the state, especially given the fact that they will be holding a contested primary.  If they can successfully capitalize on the marginalization of the GOP, the Greens may even be able to score a major upset.  Greens across the country should be paying close attention to this race, and lend their support in whatever way possible.

Toward a Libertarian-Progressive Alliance

An article by Ted Becker at The Last, Lost Empire argues that the basis for a "real" third party can be found in the convergence of libertarian-leaning Republicans and progressive-leaning Democrats, in other words, the libertarian-progressive alliance.  Excerpt:
The Real Third Party, whatever it finally calls itself, will be a previously implausible coalition that will span the political continuum from Libertarianism to Social Democracy.  The major themes that their president and Congressional candidates will run on will include most of the following:
  • Ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—all troops and security guys out
  • Ending the war in Libya—no military or covert action funds spent there
  • No more “Imperial Presidency” wars; Return the war power to Congress
  • Radical restructuring of The Fed—investigate lack of transparency and clear conflicts of interests between Wall Street and Main Street
  • Rebuilding the American capitalist infrastructure and manufacturing base;
  • Balancing the budget immediately;
  • Start to deal seriously with climate change as a major national security issue..
Do most Americans trust either President George W. Obama or the Congress run by either the Democrats or Republicans to do any of these things? Public opinion polls repeatedly show a big majority would say “No way.” More than 80% think that the United States is headed in “the wrong direction.” So, if not the Dems and the GOP, then who?
The piece goes on to detail the convergence of opinion between the likes of Ron Paul and Ralph Nader, Rand Paul and Dennis Kucinich, and so on.  It concludes:
Our point is that many very prominent, articulate Americans—who are politically visible and who hail from widely variant ideological positions are now deeply contemplating their mutual antagonism towards the Democratic-Republican regime that controls all three branches of the federal government  What is crucial is that they are doing this, not by arguing, but by exploring innovative solutions, from their divergent points of view. They are emphasizing similarities, not differences.  This has been at the heart of all successful third parties in the U.S.  Such a Third Party can either win or change the game, put in play major solutions, policies and/or constitutional amendments that the established parties ignore. Anyone who thinks this is impossible or even improbable does not know his or her American history . . .
Update:  Via email a reader asks if Politea has discussed this general topic in the past.  Indeed, we've discussed the progressive-libertarian alliance strategy at some length before.  Long time readers might recall my PLEA for political independence with the Progressive Libertarian Electoral Alliance, or the libertarian-progressive populist front against the two-party state.  See also past posts on the Green-Libertarian alliance strategy.

Reformism and the Politics of Infinite Deferral

Tirade Faction forwards a link to an article by Jon Walker at FireDogLake which argues that "if you want more bipartisanship, promote more political parties."  Comparing the Republican-Democrat two-party state with the UK's current government, which has three major parties, Walker points out that if no party has an outright majority in government, compromise becomes a necessity.  Excerpt:
The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have been working together extremely closely. What is the cause of this outbreak of bipartisanship? The answer is simple, the UK has three big political parties and two of them were needed to form a coalition with a governing majority. This gave the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition a huge incentive to embrace their bipartisan relationship and do everything they could to make bipartisan compromise work . . . If they fail to work together to produce good results, both stand to lose seats, mainly to Labour. . . .  The reason you see little sustained, genuine bipartisanship in America, despite most beltway pundits acting like the mere hint of it sends them into ecstasy, is that there is no incentive for doing it . . . If you really want more bipartisanship, the only real solution is to promote more viable political parties.
Walker then goes on to list some of the ways to promote a multiparty system:
To have more viable parties requires systematic changes to our political system. You need to switch to a voting system like proportional representation and, to a lesser degree, instant runoff voting that promotes more than just two parties.
While such reforms would be a boon for third party and independent activism, we should disagree that they are "required" or "necessary" to elect third party and independent candidates to elected offices.  To elect third party and independent candidates to office, the only thing that is required or necessary is that voters cast their ballots for them.  To maintain that the government must pass a series of systemic reforms before it would become feasible for the people to support third party and independent candidates is just an indirect way of saying that opposition to the two-party state is futile, thereby deferring any active opposition until some unspecified date in the future.  Arguably, implementing systemic reforms to the political system should be secondary to inducing a change in the way Americans think about politics as such.  The two-party state is, first and foremost, a state of mind.

The Misguided Case Against Voting

A lengthy article by Stan at Feral Scholar makes the case against voting and calls for a boycott of future elections.  Excerpt:
I want to convince as many people as possible to quit voting altogether.  I for one am registered to vote now in the State of Michigan; and I intend to go to every major election to stand outside the polls with a sign that says, “I am not voting because the choices are intolerable.” I hope a million others will join me in 2012 to do the same thing; but I doubt they will. Those who care enough to think about voting at all are already in the minority; and of those the majority remain convinced that elections might fundamentally change society.

This is wrong for all the right reasons. People who are unhappy with the status quo and who want to change it for unselfish reasons – and there are many of these people from across the political spectrum – are genuinely motivated by their good will. They simply don’t understand yet that the most important choices are made by flows of cash before a single voter has a say in these so-called elections. They don’t understand that the most important topics related to changing our society are excluded by both parties, censored by ruling class media, and that these excluded topics mask the substantial agreements between the putative opponents. They don’t understand that elected officials have very little power once in office, or that the system is now designed to prevent anyone in office from having power in any critical realm sufficient to make changes in the relative power of the rich and the rest.

The only exception to that, in my opinion, is the ability of the President of the United States to stop wars and end the forward-deployed US military presence overseas. No candidate who advocates this with any seriousness will get past the first gate. If she does, I’ll break my promise and vote twice for her.  The reason it won’t happen is that any candidate that doesn’t give behind-the-scenes reassurances will face a tidal wave of money.
The piece goes on to argue against against lesser-evilism, and against the idea that voting within the context of the reigning two-party state is capable of delivering necessary reforms due to concentration of money and power within the machinery of the ruling parties.  The article considers the idea of supporting third party and independent alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans only to dismiss it out of hand:
What if you run a candidate from a different party? Most, but not all, political junkies know that the US has very strong laws that prevent ballot access by third parties. Each state has its own separate laws, but all of them make it very difficult to get on the ballot as a third party; and the history of third party runs is so embarrassingly difficult, that most voters who agree with the positions of the third party candidate will fall back on the fear-based utilitarian practice of choosing the lesser-evil who is “electable.”

Democrats vote against expanded ballot access as ruthlessly as Republicans do. Everyone who is in office got there with support from the party’s bureaucratic apparatus, which each one knows how to navigate, and they are not going to enable future challenges from the outside. Both parties would have plenty to fear from expanded ballot access. Because expanding access nationwide would entail 50 separate statewide campaigns, each challenging a system of long standing party-interest group codependency and patronage, this becomes an uphill struggle. In states where Greens and Libertarians have gained access, the states have made them re-petition every four years, starting from scratch, to get back on the ballot.
The flaw in this argument is immediately apparent.  In the guise of fomenting opposition to existing power structures, it dismisses avenues by which those power structures can be opposed on the basis of talking points favored by those who benefit most from the existing system.  It is indeed difficult for third party and independent candidates to gain ballot access across the country, but they do it all the time!  Last year, there were hundreds – if not well over a thousand – ballot qualified third party and independent candidates just for the offices of governor, US House and Senate.  If even a fraction of the non-voting majority were to head to their polling stations on election day and cast their ballots for a third party or independent alternative to the stooges of the Republican and Democratic parties' corporate puppet masters, those candidates would win in a landslide.  If you cannot support the Democratic or Republican parties, Democrats and Republicans do not want you to vote.

False Choice

So long as we vote for Democrats and Republicans, we're all getting screwed:

The Death of the Duopoly in the Wall Street Journal

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie from Reason Magazine have a new book out: Declaration of Independents, How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.  I have not read the book, but its release has led to a number of interviews and articles discussing the two-party state in at least a semi-critical register.  Today, the two have an essay adapted from the book in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "Death of the Duopoly."  After summing up polling data showing the rise in Independent affiliation, the brunt of the piece discusses the Republican-Democrat two-party state in comparison with familiar duopolies from the private sector, arguing that such economic configurations are never as stable as they might appear.  Ironically, however, though the headline declares the "death of the duopoly," the piece concludes on a cowardly note by regurgitating the conventional wisdom that two-party state isn't going away any time soon: "Such new configurations do not mean that the Democrats and Republicans will disappear anytime soon."  Excerpt:
Economists have a particular fondness for studying what Democrats and Republicans have become: the longest-lived duopoly in American history. The Nobel Prize-winning economist John Forbes Nash (the subject of the book and movie "A Beautiful Mind") was all about duopolies. He showed that two powerful competitors frequently end up locked in a stable, mutually beneficial dance of tit-for-tat—they collude, in short, to carve up a captive market.

Economists have paid less attention to the chief vulnerability of duopolies: How collusion against the interests of customers produces an inevitable revolt, sweeping one or both dominant players into the dustbin of history.

In a widely circulated 2009 paper surveying the economic literature on the topic, the late Larry F. Darby presented a list of classic duopolies, including such familiar pairings as MCI and AT&T, and Macy's and Gimbels. Tellingly, several of the players no longer existed: MCI (then known as WorldCom) became history's largest bankruptcy in 2003; Gimbels was the country's dominant department store chain in the 1930s but went out of business in 1987.

There is nothing inherently stable about two organizations dominating a particular market in the hurly-burly of modern American life. In fact, there are many reasons to suspect that such arrangements are unstable—particularly when technology allows captive consumers to flee.
The Wall Street Journal's community section is also holding a discussion of the question: "Would you vote for a third party?"  In the corresponding online poll, there are currently over 1600 "yes" votes and only 325 "no" votes.

The War in Libya and the War on Logic

One of the most strategically important aspects of the war in Libya is the parallel war on logic.  According to the Obama administration, the ongoing war in Libya is neither illegal nor unconstitutional because it is not a war.  From The Atlantic:
"We are in no way putting into question the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution," one senior administration official explained to reporters on a conference call. "We are not engaged in any of the activities that typically over the years in War Powers analysis has considered to constitute hostilities within the meaning of the statute. We're not engaged in sustained fighting, there's been no exchange of fire with hostile forces, we don't have troops on the ground, we don't risk casualties to those troops." And here is Obama in his letter to Boehner:
The initial phase of U.S. military involvement in Libya was conducted under the command of the U.S. Africa Command. By April 4, however, the United States had transferred responsibility for the military operations in Libya to NATO and the U.S. involvement has assumed a supporting role in the coalition's efforts. Since April 4, U.S. participation has consisted of: (1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance; (2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone; and (3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition's efforts.
So, as the Obama administration would have it,  the president does not need a declaration of war from the Congress or even Congressional approval of the war in Libya because we're not involved in a war in Libya: we're just providing material support for allies engaged in combat, neutralizing air defenses, maintaining a no fly zone, and waging an extensive bombing campaign with unmanned drones.  Ron Paul writes at the Daily Caller:
Our Founders understood that waging war is not something that should be taken lightly, which is why Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives Congress — not the president — the authority to declare war. This was meant to be an important check on presidential power. The last thing the Founders wanted was an out-of-control executive branch engaging in unnecessary and unpopular wars without so much as a Congressional debate.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation we have today in Libya. That’s why I’ve joined several other members of Congress in a lawsuit against President Obama for engaging in military action in Libya without seeking the approval of Congress . . . the War Powers Act is hardly an improvement on the U.S. Constitution because it does allow the president to go to war without the approval of Congress.  But President Obama refuses to follow this law.
It is time to begin holding our presidents accountable for their crimes. 

Ballot Access Law and the Media Circus

At World Wide Hippies, Phil Polizatto reflects on the absurdity of our ballot access laws, and argues that they provide an explanation for why "so many wannabes go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention."  Excerpt:
It’s difficult enough to get on a ballot as a Democrat or Republican, but try to run as an Independent or a third party and it is nigh on to impossible, hindered by 50 different state laws, financial requirements, and the number of signatures of registered voters required on a petition for nomination. I feel better only by the fact that most of the public and much of the media do not understand the ballot access laws either.
The many hours I have spent researching just a few states’ requirements has almost turned my mind into a petrified forest. There is no way that I could detail the restrictive ballot access in each of the 50 states without writing a reference book. Before I become brain dead, therefore, allow me to speak in generalities.
Though Florida, of all states, requires no filing fee (a very recent change in policy,) most of the others do. If you happen to be able to run as a Democrat or a Republican, the filing fees required to be on every state’s general ballot will average out to approximately $8100. In addition to the filing fees, a candidate must submit a petition signed by registered voters. Here comes the incomprehensible part: if you are an “important” Democratic candidate, you will need to submit 26,000 signatures nationwide. If an “important” Republican, he or she needs 54,750. I cannot explain this discrepancy.

“Unimportant” Democrats need more than 112,000 signatures, while “unimportant” Republicans must submit 141,000. And guess who decides who is “important” or “unimportant?” Television newsmen and major newspaper reporters decide who someone worth covering is: the more coverage, the more important. If you can attract the right kind of attention and enough of it, then that candidate has a much easier time getting on the ballot. In fact, some states waive the petition signatures altogether if the would-be candidate is deemed “important” enough.
Is it no wonder then that so many wannabes go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention? We see, read, and hear the gimmicks they use every day. Saying outrageous and outright lies about an issue or opponent, taking a bus tour of historic monuments, jamming with a rock band, making a huge deal about something you don’t even really believe in as long as it will endear you to the crowd of the moment… any gimmick will do as long as it will attract the attention of the media and lots of it.
For independents and third party nominees, the laws are more severe than for candidates running as Democrats or Republicans . . . 
Read the whole thing.  Polizatto apparently started researching the various laws while considering an independent campaign for president himself.  The article goes on to provide a short history of how and why ballot access laws were tightened time and again over the course of the twentieth century.

The Suspension of Disbelief and the Ideology of the Two-Party State

One of the most revealing aspects of our politics under the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government is the fact that dishonesty is taken as an operational given.  The idea is expressed most succinctly in the old joke: How can you tell if a politician is lying?  His lips are moving.  To assume that we are being lied to – by our representatives, by government agencies, by their mouthpieces and cheerleaders in the mainstream and "independent" media, by advocacy groups, by corporations, etc. – is not cynicism.  It is realism.  To assume the opposite – namely, that we are not being lied to – is hopelessly naive. 

Ironically, however, in many cases such naivety reveals itself as just another form of dishonesty.  Americans know very well that their interests are not represented by the Democratic and Republican parties.  This plain fact is evidenced, for instance, in the prevalence of the argument in favor of the "lesser evil" between the two major parties by hucksters on both sides of the duopoly divide.  How then can we make sense of continued support for Democrats and Republicans by the American public?  Perhaps the simplest explanation is that such support is predicated on a willing suspension of disbelief.  Voters must ignore what they know to be true of political reality under the two-party state in order to justify their continued participation in the system.  They want to believe.  This was as apparent in the Obama campaign's "Believe in Change" slogan, as it is in the Tea Party's continued faith in the GOP.  In this way, people who know better sustain an ideological fiction that runs counter to their lived experience.

Permanent War and the Imperial Presidency

The lawlessness of the imperial presidency is today nowhere more apparent than in the Obama administration's unconstitutional and illegal war in Libya.  Unfortunately, there are only a handful of representatives in the Congress who are interested in maintaining the separation of powers, and preventing the executive from usurping the Congress's power to declare war.  From Politico:
A bipartisan group of House members announced on Wednesday that it is filing a lawsuit charging that President Obama made an illegal end-run around Congress when he approved U.S military action against Libya.
“With regard to the war in Libya, we believe that the law was violated. We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who led the 10-member anti-war coalition with Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).
The White House is expected on Wednesday to deliver to Congress a much-anticipated report detailing military activity in Libya. According to Kucinich, the suit will challenge the Obama administration’s “circumvention of Congress and its use of international organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to authorize the use of military force abroad."
It also will ask a judge to prohibit the White House from conducting a war without congressional approval.
The policy of perpetual war promulgated by the Democratic and Republican parties is a threat to democratic, republican government.  If the Obama administration refuses to exercise the powers of the executive in accordance with the Constitution, the president should be impeached. 

Chinese Democracy: the Two-Party System is a One Party State

The struggle for political independence from autocratic and dictatorial control of government by entrenched party elites is global in its scope.  Consider the recent news coming out of China.  From the Christian Science Monitor:
About 80 independent candidates for local Peoples' Congresses are using the power of social media in China to challenge the Communist party's lock on political office.  As local government elections get underway nationwide in China, a new breed of independent would-be politician is emerging to challenge the ruling Communist party’s near total stranglehold on political power. 
Harnessing the mobilizing power of social networking websites for the first time and attracting unprecedented attention to themselves, these candidates for local Peoples’ Congresses are posing a dilemma for the government.

“There appears to be some uncertainty and debate at the upper echelons [of government] about how to deal with this,” says Russell Leigh Moses, author of an upcoming book on the changing nature of power in China. . . .
That uncertainty appears to have already been overcome. From Xinhua:
China said Wednesday that there is no such a thing as an "independent candidate," as it's not recognized by law, amid ongoing elections starting this year of lawmakers at the county and township legislatures.
The Electoral Law stipulates that candidates for lawmakers at the county- and township- levels should be first nominated as "deputy candidate" and then confirmed as "official deputy candidate" in due legal procedures, said an official of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.
As I have argued in these pages time and again, the two-party system in the United States has effectively transformed the country into a one-party state.  A comparison with China regarding the status of independents is highly instructive.  In announcing that "there's no such thing as an "independent" candidate," China's official policy is, disturbingly, in accord with the views of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  When he was recently queried as to how his new ethics law would affect independents, Cuomo was unequivocal in his answer: "They don't exist," he said, to gales of laughter from his allies in the Democratic and Republican parties.  Needless to say, Cuomo's statement – as arrogant as it was ignorant – is factually incorrect.

China's official statement on independents also bears a striking resemblance to policies and proposals that have recently been promulgated on the west coast.  In California, "Independent" candidates are, strictly speaking, no longer allowed on the ballot.  In Oregon, a proposal was recently floated to prohibit the use of the word "independent" in the name of a political party.  In numerous other states, such as Idaho and South Carolina, ruling party insiders and activists are working tirelessly to ensure that  independents are barred from casting ballots in publicly funded primary elections.  The New York Times adds a bit more detail to the situation in China:
At the same time, citizens still have a right to proclaim themselves “independent candidates,” Mr. Xu maintained, “just as they have a right to choose their own names.”. . .  In practice, candidates are largely handpicked by Communist Party officials and committees, and outsiders are frequently discouraged from seeking office. Candidates have run their own campaigns and won office in the past, but victories have been exceedingly rare and re-election even more difficult . . . Candidates who lack official favor frequently find their route to office blocked, even if they meet legal qualifications.
Does that sound eerily familiar to you too?  The parallels to the obstacles faced by independent candidates here in the US are difficult to ignore, aren't they?  An individual has the right to run for office as an "independent" candidate here too, of course.  But in practice, most candidates are largely handpicked by officials from the ruling parties, and outsiders are frequently discouraged from seeking office by insiders and party activists.  Independent candidates have run their own campaigns and won office in the past, but victories are rare, and re-election difficult.  Candidates who lack official favor from the party machines and their mouthpieces in the corporate media frequently find their route to office blocked – they are excluded from debates and ignored or dismissed by the press and polling organizations – even if they meet legal qualifications.  

The two-party system is a one-party state.  See the China Elections blog for profiles of some of the Independent candidates who are seeking to crash the party. 

Anonymous Campaign Against the Two-Party System Set to Begin Tomorrow

Anonymous's Operation Empire State Rebellion is set to begin tomorrow.  From Communication #1:
We are a decentralized non-violent resistance movement, which seeks to restore the rule of law and fight back against the organized criminal class.
One-tenth of one percent of the population has consolidated wealth in unprecedented fashion and launched an all-out economic war against 99.9% of the population.
We are not affiliated with either wing of the two-party oligarchy. We seek an end to the corrupted two-party system by ending the campaign finance and lobbying racket.
Above all, we aim to break up the global banking cartel centered at the Federal Reserve, International Monetary Fund, Bank of International Settlement and World Bank.
We demand that the primary dealers within the Federal Reserve banking system be broken up and held accountable for rigging markets and destroying the global economy, effective immediately.
As a first sign of good faith, we demand Ben Bernanke step down as Federal Reserve chairman.
Until our demands are met and a rule of law is restored, we will engage in a relentless campaign of non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience.
The video communication has garnered nearly 200,000 views on Youtube alone.  As Ben Bernanke has not yet resigned, Anonymous cells are organizing protest actions in cities across the country.  For more on the Empire State Rebellion, see Amped Status.

The Democratic-Republican Circle of Accountability

A classic cartoon by Thomas Nast from 1871: "Who stole the people's money?"

Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans Prepare to Run Fake Candidates

It is well known that the politics of the Republican-Democrat two-party state and duopoly system of government are nothing more than a farce.  In Wisconsin, the ruling parties have finally embraced this simple fact and dropped their pretenses.  From the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, last week:
In letters obtained by No Quarter, local Republican Party officials are encouraging their GOP colleagues to collect enough signatures to get a fake Democratic candidate on the ballot in each of two upcoming recall elections.

The spoiler Democrats, who are identified by name in the letters, would run in the Democratic primaries for the seats now held by Republican Sens. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Luther Olsen of Ripon.

Both of the fake Democrats have a history of giving almost exclusively to major Republicans. "We need to make sure Democrat challengers face primaries to allow our Republicans time to mount a campaign," Dan Feyen, chairman of the 6th Congressional District Republican Party, wrote in the letter to "fellow conservatives" on Friday.

"A Democratic primary," Feyen continued, "will push the general election back by one month, so that Senator Hopper can have more time to organize a campaign against his liberal challenger." That's verbatim what is in the other two-page letter encouraging support for the second fake Democratic candidate . . .  
Naturally, Democrats denounced the move as a dirty trick, the height of hypocrisy and so on. But now it appears they are coming around to a different view on the matter.  From the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, yesterday:
A coalition of union groups active in state Senate recalls now advocates that Democrats field fake Republican candidates to run in primary elections against GOP state senators - just as Republicans are fielding fake Democrats to run against those who challenging GOP incumbents.

Friday evening, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin issued a statement that neither endorsed nor ruled out the idea, saying the party will "review the options available." The proposal from We Are Wisconsin, described in an email from Kelly Steele, communications director, was sent earlier Friday. The email argued that it was necessary to keep Republicans from hijacking the election process, and called on interested Democrats to contact the state Democratic Party and volunteer to run as Republicans in the districts of six GOP senators subject to recall elections. Steele says he hadn't coordinated the We Are Wisconsin statement with the Democratic Party.
For those of us who recognize that the Democratic and Republican parties only ever run fake candidates, it may be rather difficult to distinguish a fake Democrat-Republican from a fake Republican-Democrat.

Are Voter Initiatives and Ballot Propositions Coming to New York?

From Ballot Access News:
On June 7, the New York State Senate passed S709, which proposes a change to the New York State Constitution. It would create the initiative process in New York, for statewide laws, and also for local government. The vote was 47-15. All of the “no” votes were Democrats.

Now the bill goes to the Assembly. If it passes there, because it is a proposed constitutional change, it must pass both houses of the legislature again in 2013. Then the voters would decide in November 2014 whether to pass the idea.

The statewide initiative is a gateway for virtually any election law reform that has popular support. If New York state had the initiative process, the voters could probably qualify a proposed initiative for redistricting reform, or ballot access reform, or reform of the restrictive laws that don’t permit voters to switch parties before a primary unless they make the switch during the year before the election.  It will be interesting to see if Independent Voting, formerly known as the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, and before that the New Alliance Party, will support S709. That group is very well organized in New York city. Virtually all the “no” votes in the Senate were New York city Senators. The bill would require a statewide initiative to obtain a number of signatures equal to 5% of the last vote for Governor. Currently that number is 232,709. 
Voter initiatives and ballot propositions are a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, they allow voters to implement reforms that lawmakers are unwilling or hesitant to support out of narrow self-interest or political cowardice, ex. independent redistricting reform or rational reform of drug laws.  On the other hand, however, the initiative process can be hijacked against the public interest since all it requires is that one have enough money to gather signatures and wage an aggressive media advertising campaign in favor of a given measure.  For a critical view on the initiative process, see the lengthy essay on the historical use and abuse of voter initiatives and ballot propositions in California from the April edition of the Economist – for a  thumbnail sketch, see this CAIVN article from a few weeks ago.

Despite the potential risks, shouldn't we support any measure which puts more power in the hands of citizens and voters over and against professional politicians and entrenched party interests?

A Tale of Two Committees: Bipartisan Bias in New York and California

Last week, in a discussion of California's newly-minted Citizens Redistricting Commission, I noted that even though the commission is multi-partisan in character – by law, it consists of five Democrats, five Republicans and five four individuals who are not affiliated with either of the major parties – reporters, commentators and even commissioners themselves have continually referred to it as a "bipartisan" group, thereby revealing the prejudicial character of the ideology that sustains the two-party state.  A more clear cut case of bipartisan bias – in which bipartisanship is falsely equated with non-partisanship – would probably be difficult to find.  This week, however, political leaders in New York have provided us with a complimentary example of ideological prejudice. 

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference with Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and a variety of public interest groups to unveil a new ethics law intended to "clean up Albany."  Bloomberg News describes the plan:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on an ethics law with stricter rules and enforcement for disclosure of financial assets and income.  The accord obligates legislators and public officials to name their business associates and requires lawyers such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to reveal their clients. 
The law will also create a new, strictly bipartisan body with oversight powers that cover both the legislative and executive branches.  Bloomberg New continues:
The legislation proposed today would create a 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, replacing the existing Commission on Public Integrity with a bipartisan panel. Six members would be appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, of which three must be from a political party other than the governor’s. Eight would be appointed by leaders of each house of the Legislature.
The New York Times fills in some more detail:
The governor will have six appointees to the 14-member board: three Democrats and three Republicans. The speaker and Senate majority leader get three appointees apiece, while the minority leaders of each chamber get one appointee apiece. To undertake an investigation of any lawmaker, the votes of two of the four legislatively appointed commissioners who are in the same party as the lawmaker are required. As a result, three legislatively appointed commissioners could kill an investigation, even if the other 11 favor an inquiry.
Though the commission is strictly bipartisan in character, and therefore necessarily excludes independents and third party supporters, the governor and his allies have opted to frame it as an "independent" body.  From the governor's official press release announcing the agreement:
The Clean Up Albany Act of 2011 establishes an independent [emphasis added] Joint Commission on Public Ethics . . . .

"This bill is the tough and aggressive approach we need. It provides for disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates a true independent [emphasis added] monitor to investigate corruption," [said Cuomo himself] . . .
Steve Younger, Former President of the New York Bar Association said, "This is an historic moment for all New Yorkers. This new measure will enhance transparency in our government and ensure both independent [emphasis added] and fair enforcement of our ethics laws.
Of course, there is nothing "independent" about a strictly bipartisan body that is hand-picked by political leaders from the major parties in the legislature and the executive.  Indeed, such subordination is the very definition of dependency – never mind the fact that putting a commission composed solely of Democrats and Republicans in charge of ethics oversight is akin to appointing a gang of arsonists to oversee the local fire fighting brigade –.  Moreover, as it now stands, this "independent," bipartisan commission currently has no way of investigating officials who are actually Independent, i.e. who have no party affiliation or who are affiliated with a third party: "the votes of two of the four legislatively appointed commissioners who are in the same party as the lawmaker are required," as the NYT points out.  At Capitol Confidential, Jimmy Vielkind noted the obvious discrepancy earlier this week:
The bipartisan structure of the to-be-created Joint Commission on Public Ethics is carefully balanced (to the point some have criticized it) between the Republicans and Democrats, so neither party could conduct a “political witch hunt” against the other.  But what about lawmakers enrolled in one of New York’s minor parties? “They don’t exist!” Gov. Andrew Cuomo jokingly said Monday . . . But there is currently one lawmaker who is an enrolled Independence Party member: Fred Thiele, of Suffolk County . . .

The proposed system would require the sign-off of two commissioners appointed by the legislature from the same party as the would-be investigation target. As such, how could anyone sign off on a probe of Thiele? And what might he do with his ethical invincibility??!? “Well, I don’t feel like I’m above the law,” he told me on the floor yesterday, laughing. “I caucus with the Democrats, so I guess, for the purposes of the ethics law, that’s where I would fall.”
Despite Thiele's nonchalance, others are taking the situation much more seriously.  From The Wall Street Journal:
The new ethics law being touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo parcels equal roles to Democrats and Republicans in investigating lawmakers of both parties suspected of questionable conduct. What about independents?

"They don't exist," Mr. Cuomo said at a recent news conference, at which point he and legislative leaders standing beside him broke into a hearty laugh. But constitutional scholars aren't taking the matter so lightly.

They're warning that the state's new ethics body may be destined for legal challenges in federal court. By enshrining into law the perpetual dominance of Republicans and Democrats in overseeing ethics codes, Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers could be infringing on the rights of unaffiliated and minor-party citizens . . .

The Cuomo administration and lawmakers were careful to distribute power on the board evenly between Republicans and Democrats. In doing so, they've appeared to nearly wipe out the possibility for independents to occupy seats on the board.

If board membership is restricted to Republicans and Democrats, the "doors of a federal court would be open" to such a challenge, said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer.
According to the latest enrollment statistics, just under three million New Yorkers profess no party affiliation or are enrolled with a third party.  That is nearly 26% of all registered voters.  In fact, there are more New Yorkers who have no party affiliation or who are enrolled with a third party than there are Republicans in the state!  Yet, 100% of the members on the new "independent" ethics commission are Democrats or Republicans.

Considering the examples from New York and California together, we see two complimentary ways in which the ideology that sustains the two-party state operates in our political discourse to falsify reality.  In California, a fairly independent, multi-partisan Commission is falsely portrayed as a strictly bipartisan body, while in New York, a politically dependent, strictly bipartisan Commission is falsely portrayed as an "independent" body.

Americans Elect Quietly Working Toward Ballot Access in All 50 States

Has anyone out there been following developments surrounding Americans Elect?  I summarize some recent news on the group in this week's column for CAIVN:
In May, Ballot Access News reported that the new political organization Americans Elect had already collected over 500,000 signatures in its California ballot access petition drive.  From Richard Winger:
This already sets a new record for the largest number of signatures ever collected in one state to place a new party on the ballot. The previous highs had been set by the American Independent Party in Ohio in 1968, which collected 451,000 signatures; and the Independent Progressive Party in California in 1947-1948, which collected 464,000.
To gain ballot access by petition in California, parties must gather over 1,000,000 valid signatures – the exact number being equal to 10% of the total vote in the previous gubernatorial election. Alternately, a new party can qualify if its total registration exceeds 1% of the previous gubernatorial election.  Why then would Americans Elect seek 1 million signatures rather than 100,000 members? As the party’s national field director, Kellen Arno, explains in an interview on the group’s website, Americans Elect is apparently not interested in membership per se:
“One of the core beliefs of Americans Elect is welcoming Americans from all political parties and ideologies. Because we are not a traditional third party or political part of any sort, we don’t want to ask people to leave their parties. Instead, we believe that the more people who are able to participate in Americans Elect, from as diverse backgrounds as possible, ultimately makes our democracy and our country stronger,” says Arno. 
In recent months, Americans Elect has quietly begun an ambitious campaign to gain ballot access in all 50 states ahead of next year’s presidential election.  The party has already submitted petitions in Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Alaska, and Florida, according to reports at Ballot Access News.
However, relatively little seems to be known about the group, and it has received very little news coverage, despite the fact that it appears to have a significant amount of money at its disposal.  "Americans Elect, which became a 501(c) 4 corporation in September, can be as secretive as it wishes. As a 501(c) 4 it is not required to report who its contributors are,” wrote Greg Lucas for Capitol Weekly back in April.  A Google News search for “Americans Elect,” returns just three references to the organization and two of these are from Ballot Access News.

Until it was converted into a 501(c) 4, Americans Elect was registered as a 527 organization.  According to Open Secrets, there were two primary contributors to that incarnation of the group: Peter Ackerman and Arno Political Consultants.  Ackerman was previously active in the failed Unity ‘08 effort to field a bipartisan presidential ticket in the 2008 election.

Though Americans Elect is seeking ballot access in all 50 states as a political party, it does not conceive itself as a party, at least in the traditional sense.  Rather, it stresses how new technologies can transform the political process in the United States.  “Americans Elect will hold a secure vote in the first-ever online presidential nominating convention. Every registered voter—Democrats, Republicans, and independents—may be a Delegate and help nominate a presidential ticket that bridges the vital center of our national politics,” says the group on its “About” page.

Though the group has received relatively little media attention to date, some expect its campaign to kick into high gear over the summer.  “There is a vacuum of traditional political news during the summer months . . . This summer, I expect the big political drama to be the emergence of Americans Elect,” writes Jim Cook at Irregular Times.
For more on the group, check out their website, but be sure to peruse the ongoing, critical coverage of the organization at Irregular Times.

The Two-Party Two Step and the March of Tyranny

A great cartoon from Ben Garrison, entitled "The March of Tyranny":

Garrison originally posted the cartoon about a year ago with this explanation:
My cartoon (click to enlarge) shows how the banking and corporate masters (crony capitalist fascists) control both major parties behind the scenes. They keep us distracted with left vs. right while giving us the illusion that voting for one of the other parties will solve things. It won't.
The cartoonist recently returned to a discussion of this particular work after it was revealed to him that a neo-Nazi propagandist had appropriated it for his own ends.  From Garrison:
There's an entity or unknown cretin out there changing my cartoons--adding in offensive Jewish stereotypes--and then spreading them throughout the internet. While leaving MY name on them. . . . Please help me report these creeps and if you see them on blogs, demand their removal.
Via Reddit.

Public Access Politics

New York is one of just a handful of states that allow fusion voting.  Under fusion voting, a candidate for a given office can be nominated by a number of parties.  Cross-endorsement allows third parties to have more influence over those major party candidates who seek their formal support, but, in this way, it also functions as just another means by which the major parties co-opt third party groups and rob them of their political independence.  Not infrequently, it happens that Democrats and Republicans cross-endorse the same candidate – in which case, unless there is a viable third party candidate in the race, the general election is transformed into a mere formality or a farce.  It is obviously also possible, however, that a coalition of third party groups could cross endorse their own candidate to oppose an incumbent Democrat or Republican who might otherwise run unopposed.  Just such a plan appears to be in the works in Suffolk County on Long Island.  At On the Wilder Side, Kimberly Wilder relays a message from a local public access television producer who's taking the initiative to take the county government back from the party bosses.  Excerpt:
Disgruntled democrats and disgruntled republicans, both women and men, who are willing to wage a coalition of primaries in the 2011 upcoming election for 19 elected seats at the Suffolk County legislature. Zabby will help you run a primary campaign on Public Access Television to defeat the hand-picked choices of the Republican Party bosses and the Democratic Party bosses.

Disgruntled third party enthusiasts (Conservative Party, Independence Party and Working Families Party), tired of the way party bosses encourage cross-endorsements of the same old democrats and republicans? Then you too can run primaries for your line against the same.

Together, we will fight the extended history of corruption, cronyism (pay to play), corporate welfare, tax evasion, fraud, local bank bailouts,  and business as usual behind closed doors.  Once in office, the new coalition can enforce the law, to start. Also, we can use home rule to self-determine and customize law in our own local neighborhoods on social, economic, ecological and political issues independent of burdensome General Law — one size fits all state law.

We will stand up, assume power and secure local governing authority to fight the corporatocracy and plutocracy operating against us. We have a natural right to good self-governance. There can be no hope, no change without action. Those now in office are derelict in their duties and responsibilities to oversee and enforce the law. The incumbent politicos avoid transparency and accountability. The Suffolk County Legislature holds meetings during the day, which circumvents the Open Meetings Law (Section 100)*  They are afraid to have the public witness their deliberations and decisions in the making of public policy.

We, the coalition of good democrats and republicans, can run primaries by getting petitions signed in June to obtain ballot access.
Read the rest for more details.

Where do Independents come from?

A cartoon via About, the making of an Independent:

And here's another, entitled "College Call Home," from Randy Miller at the Utah League of Independent Voters:

Hiding Behind 'Government' in a Crisis of Confidence

One of the ways by which Democrats and Republicans deflect criticism of themselves and the two-party system is by equating their most catastrophic failures and limitations with those of government as such.  The unwillingness or inability of Republicans and Democrats to represent the interests of the people – over, say, the interests of corporations – is framed not as a result of their individual, intentional acts, but rather as a failure of representative, democratic-republican government itself.  Discontent with the Democratic and Republican parties is transformed into discontent with republicanism and democracy!  What should be a justified crisis of confidence in the ruling parties becomes a crisis of confidence in the very form of representative government itself.  From an opinion piece in the Washington Post by the outgoing chairman of the Congressional Management Foundation, on "Congress's tragedy of the commons":
Members of Congress are engaged in a tragedy of the commons. It is in each member’s electoral interest to rail against the ineptitude of government and to run “against Washington.” This is frequently a successful strategy for an individual member. But it is a disaster for the standing of the institution in the public mind.

There arguably is no existential problem while the government and Congress continue to enjoy the tacit, if disillusioned, support of the American people. But it is hubris to think this will continue forever when 99 out of 100 messages each American hears decry the competence and honesty of Washington. No major poll taken in 2011 has found more than 30 percent of Americans giving Congress a favorable job rating and several, including Gallup, showed ratings in the teens.

With the foundation of trust corroded, we risk the public having no faith in Congress’s capacity to represent the people’s interests in the event of a national emergency such as a new financial debacle or major terrorist attack. At that crucial juncture, with their trust in Congress so low, would Americans turn to their representatives and senators to meet their critical needs for physical and economic safety? Alternatives that might seem more expedient from either the executive branch or fringe non-government actors would lead to more authoritarian, centralized government or to political and social disorder. Either would be a tragedy for representative democracy.

Strategic Voting and Lesser-Evilism

Is it possible to cast an honest vote for a Democrat or a Republican?  Under the two-party state, a significant proportion – if not an outright majority – of voters in the United States cast their ballots for the "lesser evil" between the candidates of the legacy parties.  The vote in support of the lesser evil is not in fact a vote in support of that particular candidate, rather it is a vote against the other candidate, the greater evil.  J. Todd Ring provides a philosophical analysis of lesser-evilism and strategic voting.  Excerpt:
While I can of course see the rationale for strategic voting, there is much to be said for voting with one’s conscience. When we consistently choose the lesser of two evils, our choices are reduced to evil, and the results are evil. When everyone holds their nose and votes, essentially, for one of the parties or candidates of the status quo, believing no other option is feasible or can succeed, this collective act of despair becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: and low and behold, all other options are nullified – by our own act of choosing not to support them. . . .

How does a new party or a minor party build itself to a major force in politics? Certainly not by people choosing between the lesser of two evils and voting “strategically.” I’d almost be inclined to say that voting strategically is voting idiotically, for it is a vote of despair, a fatalistic action that presumes no major change is possible. While this is not entirely true, there is a great deal of truth to that picture painted. Maybe we should trust our conscience and common sense more often, and leave the horse racing to the track. This is not a game: it is our future . . .

CA: Bipartisan Bias and Multi-Partisan Redistricting

The redistricting process is one of the primary means by which Democratic and Republican lawmakers rig our electoral system to benefit sitting officials and the ruling parties.  With two voter initiatives in 2008 and 2010, Californians took the process out of their hands by creating an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to implement the process.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Commission is the fact that it is multi-partisan in character.  The body has fourteen members, and the law stipulates that it must have five Democrats, five Republicans and four members who are not affiliated with either of the major parties.  (Currently, the Commission has four decline-to-state voters, a number of whom have past ties to third party organizations, see this post for background.)  The Commission is charged with drawing up the boundaries for the state's Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts, and, by law, it must do so in without any consideration of partisan affiliation, i.e. in a non-partisan manner.  From this week's column at CAIVN:
The difficulty of securing an explicitly non-partisan approach even in a reformed redistricting process is clear in the very language used to talk about the Commission.  In their everyday speech, Democrats and Republicans often equate bipartisanship with non-partisanship, despite the fact that a bipartisan process literally cannot be non-partisan since, by definition, it excludes Independents and third party supporters.  Indeed, the Commission’s multi-partisan character implicitly acknowledges the fact that a bipartisan body cannot be a non-partisan body.  Interestingly, however, the fact that the Commission has been charged with redistricting the state along non-partisan lines appears to have created the impression in the minds of some that it is a bipartisan body.

A KQED broadcast discussing the new redistricting process described Proposition 11 in the following manner:
The measure took the drawing of legislative districts out of the hands of lawmakers, and instead put it into the hands of a bipartisan organization called the Citizens Redistricting Commission [emphasis added].
A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle considered the effects the process might have on various communities, stating:
Depending on how the bipartisan commission draws the maps, San Francisco's Asian American community could see its power diminished [emphasis added].  
Even the Commissioners themselves have revealed this bias in discussing the body’s work!  In an article for the Contra Costa Times, one of the Republican members of Commission, Vince Barabba, has been quoted saying:
 Everything that is done is going to be done in public and under the bipartisan commission's direction [emphasis added].
The bipolar ideology that sustains the two-party system has so warped our politics that Independents are unconsciously excluded from discussions of a public commission in which they have been explicitly included, ironically, in order to counteract the most pernicious effects of two-party politics. The two-party state is, first and foremost, a state of mind.