I abhor the flagrant purchase and sale of public servants as much as the next guy. The system stinks. Change needs to come. I suspect most of you agree.
But when someone hails telling candidates to take their money and shove it as "the equivalent of a court declaring that the emperor has no clothes," I worry. I worry that the power of public office -- with the widespread name recognition that goes hand in hand with it -- would leave young up-and-comers running against incumbents with shackles on their spending, and at a huge disadvantage. I worry that Rehnquist, Scalia & Co. are reading all about this in chambers, itching to strike the law down. And I worry that other advocates of campaign finance reform are missing the point.
"Everyone instinctively knows that money corrupts the political process," says one Vermont reform supporter. Point conceded. But on its own, that doesn't establish much. What should interest us more is how corruption comes into play.
Do we go with the Biblical aphorism that money is the root of all evil? Do that if you want -- but remember that Democrats wouldn't have Maria Cantwell in the Senate if laws like Vermont's had kept her from burying Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) with her RealNetworks money. Was her money evil? Was she evil? Good luck making that case. (Not that some Republicans haven't tried.)
So if money itself isn't the problem, what is?
That's not as strange a leap as it looks -- after all, it's tough to be corrupt when you don't know who to be corrupt for. Donations with no name attached don't inspire abject fealty -- they inspire hosannas of praise to the deity of one's choice. When an Enron or a Worldcom comes waltzing into the campaign office with documentation of $100,000 of checks contributed through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, on the other hand, whoever accepts knows full well that he's just made an implicit bargain to toe the company line -- or risk seeing that money go to an opponent the next time.
Which brings me to my point. We won't stop corruption by stopping money. We'll stop corruption by stopping information about money.
Hold on, you say, if money is speech(see also here), then isn't speech . . . well, speech? It sure is. And I'm sure you tell yourself that all the time as you show your boss your ballot on the way out of the voting booth.
Wait -- we don't do that anymore in the U.S., do we? Thanks to the advent of the secret ballot in the 19th century, the hardy old tradition of vote buying died out, while people went on casting their votes in peace. Speech wasn't abolished, of course -- people still voted. But pulling a curtain over that speech restored an integrity to the political process that vote-buying wiped away.
In short, we can snuff out the flow of information about voting to stop vote-buying -- and we've been doing it for years. So what, pray tell, would be odd about snuffing out information about giving to stop politician-buying? The ideas sound like long-lost twins to me.
Without further ado, then, let me introduce the donation booth. Stride in and give all the money you please, but remember the catch: nobody but you gets to know about it. Your cash goes into a blind trust, the candidate gets it with no names attached, and all the backslapping in the world won't prove whether you gave your senator $10,000 or a dime.
As for money, forget limits: let a thousand flowers bloom. (Pat yourself on the back, Mr. Sabato; I've come around to your point of view on this one.) Let the big checks fly, hombres -- just remember: no names attached. You can bankroll all the democracy you want, mind you, but you can't buy your congressman.
Toss in public financing too, but none of this minimum-voting-share-threshold, two-party duopoly business. Just set aside a pot of money, give the voters equal shares, and let them bless any candidates they choose. Insurgent candidates could have a field day, and the stately dreadnoughts known as the Democratic and Republican parties might have to get nimble about chasing public money for a change.
Think this all sounds radical? It does, but not for want of trying. Academics have batted these ideas around for years, and this year two fairly famous law professors rolled them out in book form, though to no great fanfare. If reform advocates would quit fighting the money-is-speech war, proposals like these -- which have far more potential to upend the system and squash corruption than anything McCain, Feingold, Shays or Meehan managed to push through -- would get well-deserved attention.
For now, let Vermont defend its incumbent-protection reform plan for all it's worth. Let it muzzle its candidates. Let it get its best game on for the Supreme Court appeal. But I'll take my campaign-finance reform with a side order of constitutionality and a dollop of fresh thinking, thanks. And sooner rather than later -- as soon as the end of the next Supreme Court term in 2003, in fact -- Vermont just might come around to the same point of view.
Note: That line about "money [being] the root of all evil," by the way, is a misquote. The original verse, I Timothy 6:10, actually says "the love of money is the root of all evil." (Emphasis mine.) Considering how even a bowl of Banana Nut Crunch can connect the dots between the love of money and the love of people who have money, that underscores my point about information being the real problem, eh?
One point Max makes is that McKinnney may not be the most virtuous woman -- amen to that -- but that it shouldn't matter. "Politics," he says, "is not a virtue contest. If it was, we should have all supported Clinton's impeachment. But we didn't, did we? I bet that Majette, Zell Miller, and Greg himself would have voted against impeachment. Wouldn't that completely undercut their case against McKinney?"
Well, no. He guessed right over my getting steamed about impeachment. [In fact, if my hard drive weren't fried right now, I'd fish out one of the greatest hits from my proto-blogging days with Wyeth, where I laid into the GOP for "[taking] $40 million, an ill-timed disruption to the world economy, and more time than we needed to win World War II just to find out that the President enjoys the occasional hummer." Yeah, I was feeling tart. =, ] But where's the relevance here?
Impeachment put Clinton's private virtues on the table, and as it turned out, most Americans agreed that those were none of our business. What gets me about McKinney, though, are public virtues -- for instance, whether your words earn respect. What I'm about to say -- folks, I'm digressing here, watch out -- was without question the farthest thing from the Pet Shop Boys' minds when they came up with this song title, but McKinney is one of an elite few members of Congress -- along with Jim Trafficant and a handful of other legendary folks -- about whom, when they speak, you have to ask: "[h]ow can you expect to be taken seriously?"
Her opponent, Denise Majette, doesn't give me much to hang my hopes on. I thought about working for her, but a funny thing happened -- with all the advice and encouragement she got, she still wound up miles away from anything resembling a message. No one I know can think of a single reason to vote for her, except that she's the un-McKinney.
For me and half the county, though, that's enough. McKinney might pass every progressive litmus you throw at her, but that doesn't overcome our long memory of her attention-getting antics, last-minute no shows, and squawking about race to bat away criticism whenever she gets into trouble. She's missed one neighborhood meeting too many, and rambled for about ten years too long, for people here to feel like giving her any benefit of the doubt.
Besides, Max, if you want somebody on the Hill who hates terrorism, cares about Israel, and still wants to give the bum's rush to Ariel Sharon, why choose Cynthia? I mean . . . I mean . . . alright, alright, I'll cough up my ulterior motive : vote her out now, and I can run for that seat in two years time! You'd get all of the progressiveness, none of the conspiracy theories -- whaddaya say?
Just kidding, folks. =, But that was a nice idea for a political party you came up with today, Max. Pitch me long enough, and you just might tempt me to run on your ticket.
Return of an Old Friend I'll tell you what's not on the new Dave Matthews Band album: no muffle on LeRoi Moore, no cuffs on Boyd Tinsley; no tight three-minute 'play me!' arrangements; no repetitive melodies, no 'get happy!' production, and absolutely no songs you can hum.
Welcome back, Dave. =) It's good to see you've got your soul again.
Ahhhhhh, Dinner . . . There's nothing like a few minutes of serenity down at the dinner table. Tonight I stir-fried some broccoli from the farmers market; it's a recipe I've had in my wicket since '97, when an old friend of mine taught it to me.
It's great to have friends who can cook -- I get ideas from them all the time, and in the kitchen I never get bored. Tim's wife can cook some mean pasta, for instance -- although I think she's still miffed at me for one New Jersey joke too many, come to think of it. I'll have to make up so she can fix me some more sometime.
Spent the day at a water management conference out in the countryside again; it looks I'll be joining some others in Atlanta's environmental community in developing a public awareness campaign to turn people's attention to what's turning into a serious problem. Just today the state talked about putting in a total outdoor watering ban, and a few months ago the Corps of Engineers told us that we've basically tapped out a water supply that was supposed to last until 2030. If we don't get careful, we could get strand ourselves up snap creek without a paddle -- and without any water to flush us out of there.
Getting Some Perspective I was tempted to blog the brouhaha at Chapel Hill about reading about Islam for freshman orientation, but one post about knee-jerk censorship on any given day is enough. Besides, Esta crystallized some thoughts on my mind this afternoon:
It kind of goes without saying that I think the whole thing is moronic. Wouldn't it be much better to point to a story about a real-life hero, a man who's dedicated his life to saving others and being an authentic role model? I always complain that the mainstream media thinks that only catastrophes and scandals make good news. It's time for me to follow my own advice.
Alex Cockburn, Arbiter of Black Authenticity Nation columnist Alex Cockburn, in a piece titled "First David (sic) Hilliard, now Cynthia McKinney," swoons over some remarks made by outgoing Alabama congressman Earl Hilliard (D) in a tough interview by the Black Commentator:
There is class warfare in the Black community. In Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, in the areas of Birmingham where what we call the New Blacks live, those that work for corporate Alabama, those that live in subdivisions that are predominantly Black, Davis won just like he did in the white areas.
BC: You refer to a 'natural progression' in Black politics that has been interrupted?
Hilliard: "That's because it was natural—Blacks building on what the previous generation had added to the foundation. So when you look at the natural progression from Martin Luther King, you would think that you would get to [NAACP President and former Md. congressman Kweisi] Mfume, but we've been sidestepped. We've had a Clarence Thomas. We have a Colin Powell. We have [Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion editor] Cynthia Tucker. We have all these other people whose ideals and views don't sit on the foundation. It's not building for the masses or building for the race. It's building for self.
They are black in skin tone but, philosophically, they are not. So, whites understand them better than we do . . .
Hello, Alex? Yes, hi, this is Greg Greene. Yeah -- yeah, I'm another one of those black-in-skin-tone people. Hey, look, I just wanted to call to say mea maxima culpa about all that flinty attititude and independent thinking. You gotta admit that thinking for yourself gets really addictive, but I know how much it throws you off.
Well, there'll be no more disputation from me -- noooo, sirree. Alex, I'm gonna ease your mind -- I'm gonna let you think for me. I'll get myself out of "the Man's pocket" and get into your pocket. You can show me the ropes -- you can teach me the natural progression from Martin Luther King to Cynthia McKinney, how to shoot hoops and love Jesse Jackson, how to say "the man" and keep a straight face. Plus, you get to spell out what my fellow Alabamans -- Condolezza Rice and Cynthia Tucker -- and I have in common save skin tone, good looks and a firm conviction that Dreamland cooks the best barbecue around.
And maybe then you can help me figure out why you and Pat Buchanan don't seem to think much alike. How am I supposed to know which one of you is philosophically white?
Anyhow, I'll get started tonight on that book you sent me, The Collected Thoughts of Ear-- sorry, I meant David Hilliard. The copy I got out of the mailbox didn't have a single page inside, though. You sure that's how it's supposed to be . . . Alex? Alex? Are you there?
Recycled Words, Recycled Ideas After a year's contemplation, you would think, America could settle on a better commemoration of September 11 than the yellowed (thought hallowed) Gettysburg Address -- right? Right?
i330 gets to the heart of the matter: "[W]hen we must mark the epochal event of our age with recycled rhetoric, things are at a sad pass."
Smile . . . . . . about the fact that people line Chad Pregracke are out there, working with the public good at heart. Pregracke's a lower-case-h hero of mine and the founder of Living Lands & Waters, a group that tackles the issue of cleaning up the Mississippi River with a decidedly hands-on approach.
How hands on? Well, they've fished 500 tons of trash out of the river since 1997 -- and given how foul the river can get, that must have taken massive fortitude. If there were a 'Think Globally/Act Locally' medal, these guys would definitely deserve it.
An 10-year-old cousin of mine is bunking down with my folks this week, and she wants to see movies. Lotsa movies. I don't have a huge DVD collection, but I've got a few kids' flicks sprinkled in: The Princess Bride, A Bug's Life, and Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone. All fine movies, I thought, and all with fine stories to tell -- what's the harm in asking if she wants to watch 'em?
"I don't believe in Harry Potter."
"I don't believe in Harry Potter. My mother won't let me read the books because she says they teach you to believe in magic."
Oh, sweet Lord.
My mother's side of the family lives with deep-rooted Christian fervor, but theirs is a literal-minded faith that doesn't have time for questions. I can remember a winter break from college a few years ago when I got a self-satisfied lecture from Mom telling me that all the religion courses I'd been taking in school -- these were Christian ethics classes, people! -- had been messing with my mind, and that I ought to stick with the Good Book. I suppose a little resistance about Harry Potter shouldn't have surprised me.
Still, I've always treated the Potter censorship case as open-and-shut -- the magic advances a good-and-evil metaphor as timeless as children's storytelling, the book honors traits (e.g., courage, persistence) that could come straight from The Book of Virtues, and kids are smart enough to figure out the difference between fiction and real life. Censorship is an action of government, though, and this is a cousin's daughter I'm talking about. Sure I think the 'Potter teaches witchcraft' line is a load of twaddle -- but who am I to stick my nose into someone else's parenting process?
So Potter stayed on the shelf, even though I remember a great conversation with the same family a couple of years back about the Christian message of The Matrix. Holding back a perfectly fine movie didn't sit well with me, though, so pretty soon my crusading instincts got hold of me and I let myself get subversive.
"What movie did you get today?"
"Lord of the Rings -- it's about good versus evil. It's really good."
"Can I see it tonight?"
So I let her watch, even though the movie had the same mind-melting magic as Potter. And really, what harm was done? Rings tells a fine story, Tolkien tried to get Christian messages across -- and besides, I didn't directly overrule her parents, eh?
She liked the movie alright, but the storyline was a little complicated for her 10-year-old mind to get a handle on. She would have loved Potter, I think -- but for one night's rebellion, this was good enough.
So yeah, I feel a little guilty -- but I think I did a good thing. Still, I'd be obliged if you pray that I don't go to hell over it. =,
She'll Be Your Mirror I've been nudging myself to blog an exhaustive New York Times Magazine article about a fashion plate trying to make herself the music industry's latest marketing unit™, but the good Charles Dodgson at Through a Looking Glass beat me to all the good points. I'll give him the mike:
The nightmare scenario for this sort of music marketing is that what is actually turning people off isn't the dressing du jour on the industry's plastic puppets, but just that they are in fact plastic puppets, poured into a commercial mold formed entirely by record executives who are completely out of touch with their audience.
On a few occasions, in the history of the industry, some producers have taken a different approach. In the early 1960s, for instance, the producer in charge of a novelty label for EMI was introduced to a bar band from Liverpool, and took the radical step of not trying to remake them into something more commercial. Most of the songs they released as singles were songs they themselves wrote (a rarity at the time); their first album, in fact, was basically their standard stage set, recorded live in the studio, featuring several original songs, including the title track, and culminating in a wild, shreiking cover of an Isley Brothers tune, "Twist and Shout". It was a smash, and the Beatles went on to make quite a bit of money for EMI.
That couldn't work nowadays of course. The world has moved on, and if they can't sell records nowadays from the talent that the marketers are trying to push, it's got to be the fault of those evil file swappers on the Innernut.
A lot of folks have commented on the really interesting Times story about the manufacturing of a new pop star, Amanda Latona . I remember a similar article about the manufacturing of a new pop star in Britain named Amanda Ghost. (What's up with the Amandas?)
I read these articles and I think two things:
1. Well, this is exactly how Stax and Motown and Volt worked- house songwriters, house band, interchangeable vocalists assigned to a song after the fact. And they made some of the greatest popular music I've ever heard. Lots of rap labels work this way, too.
2. Britney/ N*SYNC/ etc. are no Stax/ Motown. Barring a miracle, the Amandas won't be, either.
There really is something about Ned, says organiser Steve Goddard. "Ned is an innocent abroad in a world of cynicism and compromise. We love him because we know what it's like to be classed as a nerd - and to come out smiling at the end of it.
"We do know what it's like to be ridiculed and abused by the ignorant Homers of this world. We know what it's like to try to live simply, faithfully, boringly - and not necessarily see the reward for it."
But then he had to go ruin it with this howler of a paragraph:
Links between religion and the Simpsons appear to be growing all the time. After it was announced that Dr Rowan Williams was to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, a newspaper presented him with a boxful of Simpsons merchandise - he is an avowed fan.
So the archbishop has taken a shine to the show? Well, he sounds cool enough. But that makes him the face if organized religion? Umm, no.
Every government tries to make excuses for its past errors, but I don't think any previous U.S. administration has been this brazen about rewriting history to make itself look good. For this kind of thing to happen you have to have politicians who have no qualms about playing Big Brother; officials whose partisan loyalty trumps their professional scruples; and a press corps that, with some honorable exceptions, lets the people in power get away with it.
Have You Seen My Music Collection? The trip back to Alabama was great, but it had one downside -- my CD travel case decided to sport an invisibility cloak while I was down there. I'm calling the church and the country club we hit for the reception -- I've already checked the hotel -- but I'm starting to think I need to burn some new copies or spend time shopping at Half.com.
Let's see: the repair to the wheel that wanted to divorce my car, then the Sad Mac, and now the missing music, not to mention my D.C. Bar application fees . . . yeeeouch, this is getting to be an expensive month! Can anyone spare a dime? =}
[W]hat’s up with the [New York] Times Sunday Styles section? There’s the single worst headline of all time: “It’s Never Too Late to be a Virgin.” Excuse me, but it is OFTEN too late to be a virgin. Take my word for it.
My God -- What Have I Done?! I just make one stinkin' link to my buddy Tim's 'Poetry of George Welsh' page, and now half the Virginia Cavaliers' fan site is up in arms about it. [For the uninitiated, Welsh was a longtime Virginia football coach who had a frustrating penchant for running up the middle -- and coaching teams that collapsed right around the first of November.] I gotta tell you, folks, y'all are making me laugh out loud over here.
Back at the Ranch Hey, folks -- sorry to keep y'all waiting, but I was back in Birmingham, Ala. for my old law school friend David's wedding this weekend. I happened to grow up there, so it's great to squeeze in a few minutes back home. [Even if I hardly recognize the place. Everything there -- my house, my school, you name it -- seems smaller now. Isn't it weird how that happens?] I also caught up with a few high school friends with kids -- didn't see any in person, though, because all of them seemed to be on daddy duty. My friends in Alabama got started so early on that family thing that it scares me.
The wedding was great -- well, I missed the ceremony, but the reception was a dandy time. David looked in high spirits -- maybe that was the alcohol talking, or maybe it something to do with his decision to bail on the law and get a doctorate in finance at the University of Georgia. His wife's a belle -- great to talk to, really sweet. David definitely married up. =, It might have been the most religious weekend I've spent in a while -- my friend B. said he'd spent more time praying there than in the rest of his lifetime. There was quite a bit, but it put me at ease, actually -- it reminded me of what life was like back in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The "God Against Psychics" billboard by the highway was a little much. though.
Also drove by Casa Earl Hilliard on the way to my old place, because I used to live 3 blocks away. I didn't see any anti-Semitic paraphernalia or a moving truck pulled up from his congressional office, but he's sure built a lot onto the original house since the last time I saw it. Wonder how he could afford that on a congressional salary? Hm? Inquiring minds want to know . . .
Anyhow, I'm in the middle of some work right now, but I wanted to get a post up letting y'all know I'll be back in commentating mode later today. In the meantime, since I'm feeling sentimental and all, why don't you take a look at thesepicturesfromItaly from a few years ago.The photo bug bites me from time to time, and when I concentrate I can take some photos that I'm really proud of. These are four of them.