Thoughts on Wikipedia,elections and how to bulletproof our control of politicians

(Hh here: Ever and anon I get on a Wikipedia binge. It starts innocently enough with looking up some innocuous entry in the course of my daily life. Then the wikiphilic reaction begins to set in when I notice a link in my main article that looks interesting. So I click it and find interesting new information with more links. Soon I am in an information sucking pattern building/refining frenzy. I am oh so cool on the outside except for my clicking mouse and intent, scanning eyes but inside I am Gene Kelly dancing in the street under conditions of high precipitation.

While there are criticisms of some of Wikipedia’s content, criticisms I support in some cases, the fuzzy sections always seem to have to do with, not just controversial subjects, but subjects with a POLTICAL controversy about them. With that caveat in hand however the average user can view the non political matter with a very high degree of trust. I simply have never encountered technical material that was in error to my knowledge. On the other hand I have a number of times found accounts of historical events and persons as well as religious commentary that was highly charged with political spin of this kind or that.

Overall I find Wikipedia’s spin of content that is not technical or factual to be a bit Left of Center. Historical accounts tend to have a bit too much Marxist worldview to be objective in my opinion. This is highly evident in a number of articles about economics.

But again, overall I find Wikipedia the most useful informational tool available today for any mind discriminating enough not to believe the story of someone who obviously has something to sell the same way you would someone with no agenda. As a side note: Teaching students to identify and “unspin” the spin with which self-serving people fill the world should be our schools’ highest priority after the Three R’s. This is not to say teaching something like Religious apologetics or Marxist dialectic. It means teaching the critical thinking to suss out political spin from solid data. It means teaching with examples how to decode what is REALLY being said as opposed to being implied by political speech and commercials. (That was always a subject that held interest to me; what did that man on the TV really SAY and what did he just want me to THINK he had said because to say it to me would be a lie? )

But speaking of political spin I finally come to the reason for this post. I was looking up information about a European political party that is embroiled in controversy. In that article I encountered a semi-unfamiliar term regarding election rules in democracies: Proportional representation. From there it was Single transferable vote (STV), then Robson Rotation and on to Donkey Vote.

By this point I had become uncomfortably aware of the fact that there are a number of interesting parliamentary and voting innovations that would serve the U.S. very well of which I hadn’t heard or of which I was only vaguely aware. It seems that other than recognizing every adult human’s right to political franchise the U.S. has done very little to evolve a better procedure for elections.

Even in my Youth and The Law class in 8th grade I could see that while the Constitution was a work of genius in many regards our election laws and procedures for voting were quaint to say the least what with the whole Electoral College silliness. It seems to me that by the time the telegraph was widespread the whole idea of the E.C. should have seemed silly. But then again, to undertake a Constitutional Amendment without a clear vision and shared mandate (such as with equal rights for the races and voting for women but not for Prohibition) is to risk ruining the best gift our forefathers had to pass down to us.

Is it too much though for the U.S. to move to some form of direct vote? Is it not worth it just to get rid of the constantly recurring paranoia invoked in the populace by the prospect of having to follow an “elected” leader who did NOT receive the majority of actual citizen votes?

Here are the issues on my “Someday: I Hope” list:

Direct voting for presidential elections. This should be a no brainer ever since the telegraph proved itself by becoming an integral part of society and the economy.

An end to all campaign donations of all kinds. Allowing money to equal a citizen’s voice was the worst decision in the history of American jurisprudence. The other usual candidates for worst all were heinous and political enough to be overturned rather quickly. But allowing corporate entities free speech rights and allowing giving money to be seen as a form of free speech had to have been secretly tempting to politicians on all sides of the spectrum.

I rather think the Founding Fathers such as Jefferson figured it was a bad idea but were not sufficiently alarmed to make an issue of it in the Declaration or Constitution. After all the idea of allowing a entity composed of citizens to make political contributions seems fair. At first glance. But it is important to remember that a corporate entity is NOT a real individual person and bears no individual responsibility to society. How often has anyone in the U.S. ever heard of a company being charged with a crime? Sued yes, but criminal trials? No. The officers of a corporation can even use the “entity” they control as a proxy to take actions that would make them liable for prosecution if undertaken by an individual.

Further to be considered is the fact that while a person has a character that stays fairly consistent through life a corporation has the soul of whoever is in control of it in the boardrooms. As we have seen recently, unlike a person that has demonstrated good character for years, even the most respected corporation can find itself being run by the unscrupulous and greedy to the detriment not only of the company but to the detriment of society and the economy. To risk being accused of being “Right Wing” I would say it is that a corporation has no soul. It has no concept of guilt or compassion or indeed anything but furthering it’s own growth.

I think it would be very hard for someone to successfully argue that Jefferson and Franklin and the other boys would have signed off in 1792 on the idea of “The Corporation of Shipbuilders” having the right to openly and legally participate in and dramatically influence elections.

Think of the change in politicians responsibility to the people if NO entity other than individuals could support them in any way? What if common sense broke out and business interests, a naturally amoral set of entities, were barred from, not participation, that implies rights, let us say from interfering, in elections of the people for the people and by the people?

In line with that idea, what if there were NO CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS of ANYKIND allowed in any election in the U.S.? Imagine if the ONLY source of financial support of all candidates in a given election was an equal purse of tax money determined by the size of the area governed by said elected officials? The concept is one that makes the average concerned citizen sit up and smile but puts the fear of God into elected politicians of the traditional buyable sort. It is one idea that will never happen unless it really takes fire with people across the spectrum. But if all the powers that be refuse to let the idea on the stage of public discussion the average voter will never see how neutrally profound it is in putting power exactly where our founders intended it to be; in the hands of the people.

Those two simple reforms alone would utterly harmonize the current paradox of “public Servants” who serve only interest groups that can amass enough money to get and hold their attention. And neither one is revolutionary or in any way focused in effect on any particular class or race or group of any kind as is so much legislation with the present system. It behooves any society that wants to protect itself from corruption not to allow anyone to control more politicians than any other voter certainly not simply because one rich person can have as much influence as a thousand voters but also because the flow of money itself corrupts the entire process. Money is for PEOPLE to use to keep track who has earned what and who owes who, it is not intended as a proxy real people that agree with you adding to your vote. Money allows influence of the political process that is not sourced in any motivation of citizens. Corporate political action is solely from the motivation and for the benefit of the small groups that control a corporation. That doesn’t sound very American to me.

The last major change (that is again not really that big a paradigm shift but profound in its effects would be to reform the system of fines used presently. The “common sense” tradition in the U.S. is for a perpetrator or a particular infraction not rising to criminal levels be given a fine. The fines usually are encoded in the law as a range from x dollars at a low to x dollars at a high. The idea is that the fine is adjusted based on the severity of the particular infraction. So a judge might give a speeder who was going 10 mph over the limit a smaller fine but hit someone caught going 150 with the maximum allowed fine.

As far as it goes this is not a bad system for adjusting the punishment to fit the “crime”. But at risk of being branded a Leftist instead of a Liberal by my more partisan Conservative acquaintances let me propose that our system is hugely unfair to the poor, neutral only to the middle class and ridiculously soft on the wealthy.

It is not something that we discuss but it is obvious that a set fine, let us say $100.00 for speeding at a certain rate hurts a single parent who makes $30,000 a year in a completely different manner than it does a person in a marriage that combined makes 500,000 per year. Yet the whole idea of fines is to act as a deterrent. And it works too for the most part. People who would not stop to consider if they were driving recklessly do not wish to be fined more than they wish to be safe drivers.

Put simply, what is wrong with fines being expressed not in dollars but in percentage of the previous year’s income? In a humane application of this system thee poor and indigent would be given a certain amount of community service instead but all others would receive the same subjective effect of both the punishment aspect and the deterrence factor.

To give an example imagine Bill Gates driving along the freeway and suddenly sees a sign that says “Traffic fines doubled in construction zone next ten mi.” Since ten times the highest possible fine for a non-criminal traffic violation is too small to even be noticed as any form of financial burden Mr. Gates feels absolutely no deterrence beyond his own conscience and desire to maintain a good public reputation.

Now imagine our classic poor, single parent hurrying to work through traffic to avoid getting fired. To this not so hypothetical American the sign about doubled fines is certain to get their attention and make be more careful. Which is exactly the goal of the sign.

But we can easily see that this effect, both of punishment and of deterrence is lessened almost to non-existence simply by having a large bank account. I fail to see how this is either just or effective policy, Unless that is you care to endorse the discarded idea that the “the lower classes” are inherently in need of harsher punishments than more “productive” citizens to be as civilized as “the wealthy” are with only self-discipline. Put that way our system sounds like something from Victorian times. Prison sentences are more fair in that we all only have an unknown but limited number of days to live. If money could buy extension of life without limit imagine how ineffective the threat of taking away a few years would be for the rich.

As best as I can figure the reason so many of the non-wealthy people that I bounce this idea off of reject it is that most people feel that they too deserve to be wealthy and someday they will be. And so the idea of complete fairness to the rich and poor is unappealing in light of their desire/belief that they should/will be one of the “privileged”

As a last word destined to be ignored by partisans on both sides of the aisle I must point out that there is no connection between Leftist “social justice” and my call for actual equity in our application of “Justice For All”)

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