Monday, December 28, 2009

Blog 18

End Judicial Elections

There has been a push recently, led by retired Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, to eliminate the process of electing judges on the statewide level.  While most federal judges are selected or appointed, local judges have to win an election, leading some to speculate whether or not they are selected for their ability to win a campaign or their ability to fulfill the requirements of being a judge.  The O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative, of the University of Denver has been vocal about reducing the role of elections in the local and statewide judicial systems.  The elimination of such elections will also get rid of much of the mess involved running an expensive and time-consuming campaign.

For example, there was a case heard by the Supreme Court earlier this year based on the corruption charges of one judge, Brent D. Benjamin, who took $3 million in campaign donations, plus millions in bonuses and gifts, from the executive of a coal mining company, Don Blankenship.  This case, because it highlights the severe amount of corruption involved, will affect the judgeship elections in over 30 states.  In the state elections next year, a handful of states will vote on the election of judges; however, many of them are far from changing the current system.

As Rebecca Love Kourlis, former justice on the Colorado Supreme Court points out, it is hard to get people to agree to changing the system with a pitch taking away people’s vote for judges.  However, as she points out, doing this will allow merit to play a more important roll in selecting responsible judges than lets say, popularity of ability to win an election. However, one thing that still needs to be dealt with, it still takes charisma to be appointed, just like it takes charisma to be elected.  

Blog 17

Unhealthy Polarization

The American political system, since the first election for president after the creation of the Constitution in 1787, has been conducive to political parties.  As reluctant as the framers of the Constitution were, they could not prevent the formation of political parties.  Ever since then, party power has been a key tool in garnering political power.  However, this has led to an unhealthy role for parties in the everyday political system. From elections to legislation, parties exercise a large amount of control over their members.  This creates an unstable balance in which constituent’s wants and needs are underrepresented and unheard.  Which by and large minimizes the impressive agenda through which our system was created by allowing a party to control the members of Congress.

The most recent and atrocious example of this has been the chaos that is the proposed health care bill that is limping its way through Congress, like a grandma in a hurdles race.  Although this bill is a necessity for the welfare of the American people, many of the Republican candidates refused to vote for it because they did not want to upset their party leaders.  However, Republicans are not the only ones guilty of this, their Democratic counterparts admitted to doing the same thing while under Republican majority during the Bush years on issues related to increase federal borrowing.  The main reason for the strong party influence, especially with the house, lies in reelection.  Loyal incumbents are given money from their parties in addition to party affiliation.  While this ensures they are elected, if often means they are more concerned about pleasing their party leaders than their constituents.

The key to reducing party influence in Congress does not lie in abolishing the party system all together, which would in fact be impossible. Because the parties give voters alternatives and a chance to change, eliminating parties would reduce democracy and the freedom of choice. However, parties should have less influence in campaigning.  If the congress were to allocate campaign funds equally and restrict private campaign contributions, then candidates would be less reliant on the parties to get elected, and therefore more able to vote and legislate with accordance to how their constituents feel. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blog 16

U.S. Involvement in Money Laundering

With the recent flare up in drug cartel activity south of the border, many United States leaders are looking for more efficient ways in which to stop the violence.  American and Mexican officials are often short of money and resources to track these cartels that hold a reign of terror over the citizens of Mexico poorest regions, most infamous of which is Ciudad Juarez.  Intimidation and bulling leaves regular people helpless and police officers dead or corrupt.  However, as with the large-scale crime of the 1950s mob, these cartels are looking for convenient ways in which to hide their profits are relocate money to other regions of the country and Latin America.  They use inconspicuous business like solons and day care centers to funnel large amounts of cash to and fro. 

While American officials, and even former President Bush and current President Obama have pledged American support and supplies to combat these cartels, there are nor enough resources to track money laundering.  Often these illicit activities appear legal.  According the Wall Street Journal, in 2008 over 1, 600 people were killed due to cartel violence in Ciudad Juarez alone.  Numbers double that are estimated for 2009.  I propose that the American officials spend less of their resources on building a vast Great Wall-like fence and garner their resources toward tracking the money, the lifeblood of the gory cartels.  By following the money trail, officials, Mexican and American, will be able to find guilty parties on all levels of involvement, because the money is with the drugs at all levels of production and consumption. 

Although the United States is still suffering severely from the Panic of 2008, investing in anti- cartel operations, will preserve the countries national security and our borders more effectively than any fence could.  The tactics President Calderón has used so far, most of which are similar to the American tactics used in Iraq, have led to sever retaliation against the law enforcement sector.  So, by stealthy tracking money, the security and well being of the everyday citizens will be increasingly safer.  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blog 15

Limit Earmark Spending

The congress members, while working on bills in committee have often found an easy route to garnering money and jobs to their home district. Earmarks, also called home-state projects are amendments added to a particular bill by congress members that sends money to specific projects.  Usually these projects benefit the member’s home district, by providing money and jobs.  However, many congress members use these earmarks to reward campaign contributors and supporters.  Democrats and Republicans alike have tried to cut back on the number of earmarks in the spending bills, bills that deal with “transportation, justice, foreign, labor, health, education and veterans programs” (New York Times). 

However, there is over $4 billion dollars worth of earmarks in the recent spending bill that was just passed by the Senate.  Republican senators were reluctant to pass the recent spending bill; however, there was a measure passed that closed debate on this bill because the Health Care Bill is taking precedent. Senator John McCain has been the most vocal critic of earmarks in the Senate, he proposed an amendment in March of this year, which would get rid of the earmarks on an important Senate spending bill.  He was defeat in a 63 to 32 vote.

Earmarks bypass the important government agencies which are supposes to allocate the money appropriated to them by Congress.  As experts in their given spheres, these agencies should decide where the money should go.  Congress members use earmarks as tools to get reelected, they go back to their constituents and brag about all the wonderful, job-bringing projects that I have brought back to the District X.  Federal money should be misappropriated in this way.  These congress members who have enough power to create large earmarks are stealing money from the government agencies that know where the money actually needs to go.  

Blog 14

Same Sex Marriage

This week, something extraordinary happened, the 2.2 million people of Houston, Texas, elected an openly gay mayor, Ms. Annise Parker.  Although on her campaign she refused to highlight her sexual orientation and instead focused on experience in city finances, her election has excited gay and lesbian right’s activists around the world.  There have been several elected majors in the United States, Providence, Portland and Cambridge Mass.  Although Ms. Parker attempted to play down her sexual orientation, her opponent, Gene Locke, another Democrat ran tried to smear her candidacy by funding mailings publicizing her “same-sex agenda.”  This election opens the gateway for many other gays and lesbians running for high office.

Across the country, the debate over same sex marriage has flared up as several states including California have voted to ban same sex marriage, whilst other stares, Maine, New Jersey and Massachusetts have legalized same sex marriage.  In the early history of the issue the Supreme Court of the United States allowed states to choose how to deal with this issue, as is there right, provided by the tenth amendment, which gives the states, “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States,” (Amendment X).  Therefore, each state had dealt with the issue through referendums and initiatives, or through the state legislature.

I propose people opposed to same sex marriage focus less on other people’s action and more on themselves.  No one wants a supposedly righteous group regulating the behavior of another group.  People should stop trying to legislate morals and recognize the times we live in and the diversity of our population.  No two people are going to think exactly the same; instead each individual has had a dynamic life experience that has shaped who they are today.  Government and those forces at work within it, as well as the religiously conservative, should not focus on the criminalizing gays and lesbians.  The so-called preservation of the definition of marriage argument is a misguided and disguised attempt at regulating people’s behavior.  

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blog 13

Clarify the Honest Services Fraud

On Tuesday December 8, the Supreme Court will hear two separate cases related to the Honest Services Law, originally of 1988.  This law requires private company owners and managers and public officials to, “act in the best interests of their constituents or employers” (NewYorkTimes).  The law was originally designed to protect the consumer or constituents “intangible” right to honest services.  It is extremely unclear as to what these “honest services” are and to what extent of violation they pose. The most extreme example being an individual working for a company who decides to spend time during the work day looking on the internet at new flat screen TVs for sale.  The company is paying for this man’s work, not for him to look on the Internet, technically, the company is being cheated out of honest services.  However, for the obvious reasons, this law is only applied to high-ranking CEOs and public officials.  The most famous of these cases was against the former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.

Mr. Skilling was just one of the few convicted of honest services fraud that has attempted to overturn his conviction.  The two cases being heard by the Supreme Court this Tuesday involve Conrad Black, ex- executive from Hollinger International, and Bruce Weyhrauch an ex- Alaskan State Legislature. Mr. Black is not arguing that he did not defraud the company Hollinger International but that he did not contemplate economic harm.  Weyhrauch is arguing that the honest service law violates the principles of federalism.  Mr. Skilling’s case will not be heard until later on.  Mr. Skilling challenges his conviction on the grounds that the honest services law is “unconstitutionally vague”.

Critics say the honest services law has been used when prosecutors cannot get enough evidence to convict a guilty person of any other major crimes, it becomes the back up charge.  The true flaw with the honest services law is the vague nature of the conviction. However, the only way to clear up this unclear law is not to expand the definitions or influence but to expand the regulatory powers whose jobs were to watch these officials in the first place.  The powers of the regulatory mechanisms are too weak to deal with the broad scope of corruption that taints both the public and private sectors.