bringing back progressive proportional representation, rise of the american oligarchy, cowboy bill pickett movie poster

For those who are not familiar with the concept of Proportional representation or are under the mistaken impression that the U.S.A. subscribes to such a system, this passage from Wikipedia,

Proportional representation (PR) is a concept in voting systems used to elect an assembly or council. PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. For example, under a PR voting system if 30% of voters support a particular party then roughly 30% of seats will be won by that party. PR is an alternative to voting systems based on single member districts or on bloc voting; these non-PR systems tend to produce disproportionate outcomes and to have a bias in favour of larger political groups. PR systems tend to produce a proliferation of political parties, while single member districts encourage a two-party system.

There are many different forms of proportional representation. Some are focused solely on achieving the proportional representation of different political parties (such as list PR) while others permit the voter to chose between individual candidates (such as PR-STV). The degree of proportionality also varies; it is determined by factors such as the precise formula used to allocate seats, the number of seats in each constituency or in the elected body as a whole, and the level of any minimum threshold for election. (emphasis mine)

PR was was an idea originated in the U.S. by the Progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. During its history it became demagogued by many political factions. At one time New York City passed PR into effect ( thus several political parties suddenly became part of city government who had previously been excluded – these included  the American Labor party, the Fusion party, and the Communist party). Years later the Democratic political machine would demonize PR itself as “communism”. PR was also put into effect by voters in Cincinnati. Years later it would be repealed by white middle-class voters in the 1950s -coinciding with the growth of the Civil Rights movement, who feared city government would be taken over by black Americans ( by way of PR African- Americans had been elected to two seats on the city council). The New York and Cincinnati examples are somewhat easy. Depending on the city, which group of political players had the most money and power, they created custom made campaigns to repeal PR. Many modern liberal democracies such as Australia, Japan, Israel, The United Kingdom and Germany have some kind of PR representational government. If the U.S. were to change to such a system the impacts on our culture, politics and economy would likely be major. Republicans – who really should change its name to the Right-Wing Conservative Party since there is very little in the way of small r republicanism about them, have become increasingly absolutist in their party ideology. There is still a fair variety of Democrats – classical liberals, no-liberals, progressives, centrists, foreign policy hawks, semi-isolationists etc. Then there are obviously many U.S. citizens who do not fell that either of the major parties represents them particularly well. Libertarians would be the biggest contingent of that group. In turn most of those are far Right leaning libertarians, followed by left leaning or what has been called liberal libertarians ( this last group having very little presence even on the net. They are out there, but unlike Rightie libertarians whose agenda is supported by people like the Koch brothers and The Cato Institute, liberal libertarians have no sugar daddies to promote their cause. Though if the U.S. even if done once again at the city level ( a kind of minor league camp for those who go on to become governors and federal senators were to which to a PR system we might have a proliferation of small party representation. I would avoid seeing PR as some panacea for all our problems. U.K elections do get some coverage here and we hear about a new Prime Mister forming a coalition government. It is what it sounds like. He or she has to get enough people on their side to pass bills. Spending bills can be a real bear, but passing new legislation that regulates privacy, national security, the banking industry; those tend to get very tricky with a lot of slightly different political perspectives angling to get what they want. Political wonks are reading this and saying yea but what about the U.S. senate. True enough. There are three parties. Two are independents that caucus with Democrats. The rest and currently the minority party are right-wing conservatives. Because of parliamentary rules the minority party – right-wing conservatives, have been able to block just about everything they want.President Obama recently made several recess appointments because the far Right has blocked every appointment he has tried to make with threats of filibusters ( most likely Constitutional despite right-wing whining otherwise). The federal courts have been and continue to be greatly lacking in judge appointments being the Right has put holds on them or threatened a filibuster – citizens cannot get justice if they do not have access to judges. Would PR change the kind of obstructionist government we have now. Maybe. Various factions would have to join forces on certain issues. They would make deals. The public might not like what it hears when the press starts reporting on who traded what to get something they wanted. Voters might hold their representatives to have the same ideological rigidity they have about some issues. Thus back to stalemate. A stalemate that might be more representative of the general population, but still a government not getting much accomplished. Since PR actually worked pretty well at the city level that might be just the place to start again and see where it goes.

Short of reading a 400 page tome on PR this is a solid brief history of PR in United States cities during the progressive era up until the 1950s. A Brief History of Proportional Representation in the United States. Douglas J. Amy. Department of Politics, Mount Holyoke College.

The political roots of proportional representation in the United States originated in the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century. Besides such issues as child labor laws, anti-monopoly legislation, and women’s suffrage, Progressives were also interested in government reform. Many were particularly concerned about the corruption in urban governments. Large cities often were dominated by ‘party machines,’ of which Tammany Hall in New York City was the most infamous. Bribery, kickbacks, favoritism, and voting fraud were rampant in these cities. The Progressives wanted to clean up these cities and blunt the power of the party bosses.

Their urban reform program included such things as the non-partisan ballot and replacing elected mayors with appointed city managers. Some Progressives also added proportional representation to this reform agenda. They argued that winner-take-all, single-member district elections served to reinforce the power of urban political machines. It was not unusual for machines to win almost all the seats on city councils, based on only 50%-60% of the vote. PR was seen was a way to break these one-party monopolies and to allow for the fair representation of a variety of political parties.

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seize the day find a meadow


Michael Kinsley reviews Thomas Frank’s new book Pity the Billionaire. The Rise of the American Oligarchy

Meanwhile, things have gone from bad to worse. Conservatives continue their Sherman’s march through the landmarks of liberal government, burning and looting as they go. They’ve gone after the legacies of Lyndon Johnson (Medicare), Franklin Roosevelt (Social Security; financial regulation) and Theodore Roose­velt (environmentalism). And working people continue to be duped into supporting measures manifestly against their own self-interest. In “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Frank attributed this to a clever bait-and-switch by conservatives, who appeal to middle- and lower-class voters on the basis of social issues like abortion and gays in the military, and values like patriotism and religion. And then they govern on the agenda of traditional Republican groups like businessmen and bankers.

With “Pity the Billionaire,” the emphasis is different and the explanation is simpler: President Obama has betrayed the voters who elected him. He ran like a populist, Frank believes, but he has governed like a plutocrat, or at least a friend of plutocrats. Frank quotes a remarkable passage from Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” about “people of means” whom he met at Democratic fund-raisers:

[  ]…It seems to me that a Democratic president who gets us health care reform and tough new financial protection for consumers, who guides the economy through its roughest period in 80 years with moderate success (who could do better?), who ends our long war in Iraq and avenges the worst insult to our sovereignty since Pearl Harbor (as his Republican predecessor manifestly failed to do, despite a lot of noise and promises); a president who faced an opposition of really spectacular intransigence and downright meanness; a president who has the self-knowledge and wisdom about Washington to write the passage quoted above, and the courage to publish it: that president deserves a bit more credit from the left than Frank is willing to give him.

Frank may also be a bit overly impressed by what the right has achieved. Evelyn Waugh complained that the British Conservative Party had failed to turn back the clock by a single second. Have the Republicans done much better? (Waugh was speaking long before the Margaret Thatcher revolution, which really did change British society enormously.) Conservatives have dominated the debate, and usually the government, for three decades now, yet they haven’t managed to abolish a single cabinet department or eliminate a single major entitlement program. Nothing big has been “privatized.” Somehow or other, against all expectations and despite a conservative Supreme Court, abortion rights and affirmative action have been preserved. Gay rights are advancing so fast that the Republican Party itself is probably ahead of where Democrats were a generation ago. The Constitution has not been amended to require a balanced budget or forbid flag-burning.

Frank once gain nails conservatives. They have accomplished one of the greatest tricks in history, wrapping up policies, legislation and issues in an ideology that is antithetical to a democratic republic, disempowering, not empowering the specialists in victimology( the typical conservative and Fox News viewer). As to Obama, I do not think he is the inscrutable Spinx that many liberals like Frank believes. In his first 18 months in office he was the most progressive domestic policy president we’ve had since Johnson. The Democrats lost their House majority and suddenly Obama shifted to the right of Reagan ( and conservatives still call him a communists Kenyan anti-christ). What will get him back on track is a mandate via the 2012 elections and another Democratic majority.

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sometimes i can fly

Imagine there’s no people

So you wake up tomorrow morning to find almost everyone on Earth missing. The Internet will continue to work for a few hours: what information could you download to ensure your survival and rebuild civilization?

Very practical choices. No how to mediate your way to weight loss and financial success.

bill picket ‘the bull dogger’ and ‘worlds colored champion’. This poster would have been released in 1921 to accompany the move The Bull-Dogger (1921). Picket ((December 5, 1870 est. – April 2, 1932) was mixed race, black, Cherokee and white cowboy.

In 1905, Pickett joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show that featured the likes of Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers, Tom Mix, and Lucille Mulhall. He was headlined as the “Dusty Demon.” Colonel Zack Miller of the 101 Ranch described Pickett as “…the greatest sweat-and-dirt cowhand that ever lived, bar none.” He was such a popular performer that he also appeared in some early motion pictures.

In 1932, Bill Pickett was kicked in the head by a horse while working horses at the 101 Ranch and died of his injuries eleven days later on April 4, 1932, at the age of 61. Will Rogers announced his funeral on the radio. He is buried north of Marland, Oklahoma.

Pickett was named to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1971 and was the first black honoree to that organization. He was enshrined in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1989.