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Hey Patriotic Billionaires, You Can Do Better Than the Buffett Rule, Anyway!

7:05 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Well, the legislation implementing “The Buffett Rule” has been voted down in Congress as we all knew it would be. But so what? The Federal Government doesn’t really need your money, since it can generate all the money it needs to pay off the national debt and also close any gap between tax revenues and Federal spending that Congress may want to legislate for the foreseeable future.

There’s no problem of Federal solvency. There hasn’t been since 1971, when the US went off the Gold Standard! The idea that we risk insolvency is just a fantasy of people who won’t acknowledge that the US Government is the monopoly supplier of fiat currency to the non-Government sector of the economy, including all of the private sector.

However, even though your money isn’t needed by the Government, it is very badly needed to help fund two things, I’ll describe below. But, before I do that, since your patriotism has moved you to advocate for higher taxes for yourselves, I hope and expect that you will be motivated to spend the same amount in the two areas of activity where your money is most needed and would be much more effective in bringing the United States back to the state of a healthy democracy, than it would be if you and and other similarly situated patriots paid it to the Government in taxes.

I know you’ve frequently heard the Republican response to your proposals for higher taxes on very wealthy people like yourselves, namely that if you’re so sure that higher taxes on the very wealthy are the right thing to do, then you can always contribute the additional money to the government, if you really want to. Well, my view is that you can equally well, and with much greater effect on restoring fair and effective functioning to our democracy, contribute that money directly to activities that will change key background conditions that are driving our democracy towards plutocracy right now. Here are the two areas of activity.

Countering Economic Myths Standing In the Way of Change By Spreading the Economic Approach Called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

The old neo-liberal economic ideology neither explains nor predicts events or outcomes in the economy. Its failures are routine and legion. They are now to be expected, and one of neo-liberalisms greatest failures is its theories about what “fiscal sustainability” and “fiscal responsibility” mean. For neo-liberalism, fiscal sustainability is a budget that is not too deeply in deficit, a public debt-to-GDP ratio that is stable over time, and a gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the National Government that is closing. Fiscal responsibility, on the other hand is legislating budgets that provide for fiscal sustainability.

These ideas however, assume that National Governments are necessarily constrained by their debt-to-GDP ratios, absolute levels of public debt, whether or not the projected gap between revenues and spending is closing over time, whether or not they can borrow back their own currency from the private sector, and, ultimately by their need to fund spending by either taxing or borrowing to avoid becoming insolvent. These assumptions however, are flat-out wrong when one is talking about a government with its own non-convertible fiat currency, a floating exchange rate, and no debts in a currency it can’t create.

That kind of Government isn’t limited by its ability to tax or borrow. It has the constitutional and legal authority to create whatever money it needs, and since it does “fiscal sustainability” and “fiscal responsibility” mean different things for that sort of Government than for a Government that’s on the gold standard, or is subject to some other currency standard it doesn’t control.

”Fiscal sustainability” is the extent to which patterns of Government spending do not undermine the capability of the Government to continue to spend to achieve its public purposes. “Fiscal responsibility” is fiscal policy intended to achieve public purposes while also maintaining or increasing fiscal sustainability.

So, the REAL Government fiscal responsibility problem for the United States, or other nations with sovereign fiat currency systems is not the problem of everyone “sucking it up” and responsibly accepting austerity. It is not targeting the debt-to-GDP ratio and managing Government spending to try to stabilize it.

Instead, for the US, it is the problem of people facing up to the need to use fiscal policy to stop our out of control economy from ruining the lives of any more Americans. This means that the REAL solution to the REAL fiscal responsibility problem is for Congress and the Executive Branch, to remove fiscal constraints and use the fiscal powers of the Government to fund solutions to the many national problems we face, starting with creating full employment, and a real universal health care system in which no one is shut out, or forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy by medical bills, and then moving on to all the other serious problems we face, but now will not handle because all our mainstream politicians and media voices claim a non-existent fiscal incapacity of the Federal Government.

But, there is no incapacity! We have not run out of money! We have only run out of will and courage and new ideas about economics! We need to get those back, and do what must be done to reclaim the future. But before we can get to that we need to get beyond neo-liberalism and its views on fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility because the dominance of these views in our political system means that every discussion about what we can do to solve our problems begins and ends with the question of whether we have the money to implement the solution, and, if not, how are we going to pay for it?

That question and its answer with reference to neo-liberal ideas about fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility limits and constrains the policy options we consider. It is a lens through which we see the world of policy options, and it is a lens that forces us to look at the world through a glass darkly. We need to replace that lens because it prevents us from seeing the world as it really is, and acting upon our real options.

So, we need to teach people what fiscal sustainability and responsibility mean for a 21st century America with a sovereign fiat currency. Millions of people are going to have to learn the point of view and basic ideas of the economic approach called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and more broadly the more general outlook of Post-Keynesian Economics (PKE). Once they learn these ideas, they then will be a position to give up on the austerity programs being advocated both by the Romney candidacy and the Obama Administration. This is critical because unless we abandon austerity and the neo-liberal view of the need for long-term deficit reduction to achieve their notions of fiscal sustainability/responsibility, we’re sure to slip into another recession or depression, that will probably be even deeper than the one we’ve been slowly recovering from.

Don’t believe me? Look at what’s happening all over Europe. Governments tightening up, trying for austerity-led growth, and what’s the result? Collapsing economies, ruined lives, civil unrest, increasing emigration from nations mired in poverty, and the spectre of threats to democracy. In the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the economies aren’t in a total funk, but the retreat from short-lived fiscal stimulus and increasing emphasis on the fairy story of “fiscal sustainability” is resulting in flat or only very slowly recovering economies, still far away from full employment. In Japan, in spite of continuing near-zero interest rates, passive fiscal policy continues to result in a long-term “balance sheet” recession.

In short, the continuing failure of neo-liberal economic policy all over the globe, is telling us that the world as well as the United States has to change course. That change is to move to post-Keynesian economics and specifically to the MMT approach, because policies based on that approach are most likely to restore full employment and sustainable economies operating at full capacity.

However, a major barrier to the spread of MMT is funding comparable to that available to think tanks, policy advocacy organizations, research institutes, and university centers devoted to the neoliberal approach to economics. But there are only a handful of university research centers heavily involved in MMT work; not a single policy advocacy organization, no think tanks, and no non-university research institutes. There are also very few conferences devoted to spreading the MMT approach.

So, patriotic billionaires, I think this is one area where the money you won’t pay in taxes can do much more for the United States than if it had been paid in taxes. Part of it can fund the network of think tanks, policy advocacy organizations, research institutes, and university centers needed to support MMT economics in its challenge to failed neo-liberalism. With that funding we can greatly speed up the process of economic and political paradigm change, and we can avoid the worst of the neo-liberal failures that otherwise are very likely to come over the next decade. Use your patriotism here! Help spread ideas about economics that can give the 99% a share and that can help move the US away from plutocracy and back towards democracy and open society. I know you value democracy and think it has an economic and social justice aspect to it. Otherwise, why would you have supported the idea of higher taxes for yourselves in the first place?

So, here, here, here, here, and here are the web sites that are at the heart of the MMT movement. They’re the place to start if you want to learn more about it and to contact people who can help you to plan the MMT network needed to change economic thinking in the United States and around the world.

The MMT support effort may require in the neighborhood of $500 million of support annually because the entrenched neo-liberal paradigm that MMT has to overturn is supported by literally billions of dollars annually. This funding is not trivial. But, along with the second area I’ll discuss just below it will change everything in American politics and make us capable of becoming a nation that can solve its problems in a way that serves both freedom and equality of opportunity: the two main values that are the reason for being of our nation.

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society

(Parts of this section were written with the help of my friend Henk Hadders)

The second area in which the patriotic billionaires can have the most impact in revitalizing democracy in the United States is in funding a meta-layer for restoring democracy and open society in the form of bottom-up e-participation platforms that enable people to self-organize at little or no cost into extremely large voting blocs and political coalitions around political agendas and then to monitor, evaluate, and hold office holders accountable to these agendas, while neutralizing the influence of big money on politics. Efforts to create such platforms and some existing platforms don’t envision or provide the functions necessary to create such a meta-layer and some of them also fall short because they’re aimed at mobilizing people in the service of specific policies in a top-down fashion.

They don’t provide an environment for letting voting blocs self-organize as much as they provide one for supporting a pre-conceived voting bloc being created to support a particular kind of agenda and particular kinds of candidates. Other e-participation platforms may be bottom-up oriented, but the business plans of their creators include anticipated revenue from selling data and information to all comers including groups representing existing political parties and other interests representing oligarchical elites for their use in astro-turfing the users of these platforms for purposes of the oligarchy. To help in understanding what’s at issue in creating the right kind of e-participation platform, here’s some background on the context and requirements for the kind of platform we need to strengthen and restore American democracy.

The movement toward oligarchy in human-based systems happens because powerful people and institutions don’t like continuous bottom-up self-organization, and the appearance of new ideas, ideologies, and power structures that come along with it. So, they intervene to stop or regulate it, and, in doing so, destroy the essence of democracy; the ability of people to always organize anew and disturb and even displace the policies, power structures, elites, and institutions of the past with new ones, more adaptive in solving the problems of the present and future.

That is what is happening in the world and in the United States today. A globalizing corporate and financial multi-national elite has emerged, and in nation after nation is nullifying the will of the majority and placing national governments, even formally democratic ones under its control.

The task of any Complex Adaptive System (CAS), like the United States, is to maintain itself at “the edge of chaos.” This is difficult enough in the face of environmental influences that tend to transition CASs either to chaotic dynamics, or to closed systems inexorably driven toward a sterile mechanical equilibrium. It is even more difficult in the context of continuing political or management interventions that frequently may amplify the strength of tendencies toward one extreme or another by changing the internal environment affecting self-organization. management, leadership, and politics.

In nations that want to maintain open democratic societies, the task is about implementing policies and programs that will support self-organization in distributed knowledge processing and problem-solving by maintaining openness in problem recognition, developing alternative solutions, and error elimination, as well as openness in communicating and diffusing new solutions across the enterprise or across society. Conversely leadership, management, and politics in such systems that undermines self-organization by repressing or otherwise manipulating it, will transition human CASs away from openness and democracy, and towards extreme conflict systems, or authoritarian or totalitarian oligarchies.

But that’s exactly what is not happening in the United States today. Instead, we see very well-funded political parties and corporate and financial front groups astro-turfing anger and rage into channels acceptable to the elites doing the funding. It’s all “top-down,” with funding coming from an oligarchy. This isn’t just what’s happening with the tea party. We see it throughout politics with front groups of all kinds trying to mobilize discontent into petitions, protest demonstrations and organizations whose program and policy advocacy is formulated from the top-down with input from elite major contributors.

The elites decide which policy proposals and agendas are beneficial to, or at least okay with, them. The organizations representing their interests are expert at using idealistic slogans and rhetoric to get support for proposals that do very little to solve the problems they call out.

Ever notice the hyperbole in e-mail appeals for contributions coming across your computer screen these days? Ever notice the disconnect between that hyperbole and what you’re being asked to support or the contribution you’re being asked to make?

We’re being told that if x or y or z occurs then the results will be catastrophic. But what we’re often being asked to do will either not stop x, or y, or z or some slight variation of these things from occurring, or even if what we’re being asked to support would be effective by itself, it would do nothing to solve the underlying problem that is really responsible for the proposals we’re seeing and are being asked to support or oppose. It’s as though the elite is keeping millions busy with trivia so that they can’t organize a comprehensive effort to break the emergent oligarchy that is originating a steady stream of attacks on the public interest.

So, for democratic societies today, including the United States, an important question hangs in the balance. How can we counter tendencies toward oligarchy in our democracies by restoring self-organization and distributed knowledge processing to their proper place in reinforcing open society, democracy, and adaptiveness to environmental and societal change?

Many are looking to web-based e-participation platform innovations to provide an answer to this question. But if e-participation is to serve that purpose, rather than the purpose of elite astro-turfing, and manufacturing consent within a totalitarian oligarchy, then e-participation platforms have to fulfill certain requirements. We won’t be able to stop the movement toward oligarchy unless we can create a new institutional framework that allows us to change those aspects of our present situation supporting oligarchy and undermining open society. We need a framework that will operate within the context of existing rules and laws to create changes supporting increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing shifting our formally democratic CAS back towards an open state.

The new institutional framework must provide a meta-layer of political interaction and networking that places new ecological constraints on the current political system, driving it back towards a condition in which the ability of individuals to both arrive at more accurate constructions of reality, and act on them, through increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing, is dominant. The meta-layer can be provided by a web-based platform eventually incorporating most of the eligible voters in a political system, and providing capabilities for political organization that can overcome the impact of big money and media on political parties, legislators, legislatures, and politics generally.

Here are the requirements for such a framework. It must provide or enable:

– social contexts and milieus within which people can organize themselves and others around public policy agendas, comprised of policy options and policy priorities, into voting blocs and electoral coalitions ranging from very small to blocs of millions of voters without needing sizable financial resources from sources external to these social milieus, and without being subject to external mass media communications influenced by financial oligarchs and other special interests;

– social contexts and milieus offering the possibility of informal group and social network formation around these policy agendas;

– social contexts and milieus that are transparent and inclusive in providing participants with previously developed data, information, and knowledge, and in allowing them freedom to participate in communicating, organizing, collaborating, critically evaluating, problem solving, and decision making within voting blocs and electoral coalitions;

– social contexts and milieus in which participants have a modicum of trust in other participants and the highest level of trust in the neutrality of the web-based platform, its administrators and management, in: 1) maintaining the absolute privacy of information about individuals gathered in the context of the platform, except for information necessary to allow participants to contact and communicate with one another to form voting blocs and electoral coalitions and information individuals choose to disclose themselves in accordance with rules existing in voting blocs they choose to join; and 2) supporting all voting blocs wanting to self-organize, grow, and create electoral coalitions with other voting blocs.

– participants and voting blocs to communicate their policy agendas to candidates for public office and office holders, and also securing either commitments to these agendas, or clear refusals to support them;

– participants and voting blocs to continuously monitor and rate performance of office holders against agendas and to decide whether to continue to support them after performance ratings are arrived at;

– tools for voting blocs and electoral coalitions to organize efforts to get both major party and third party candidates and initiatives onto ballots, and to get people to the polls to vote. Simply, it must provide tools to enable voting blocs to do all the things political parties now do to support candidates they want to elect and ballot initiatives they want to pass.

In short, the new institutional framework must provide an alternative network of social and political relations to the contemporary world of political parties, established interest groups, and astro-turfing organizations. This alternative world must embody the key attributes of open society, which means it must provide an informal communications and knowledge network that is very much independent of the mass media, and also capable of enabling creating highly cohesive voting blocs and electoral coalitions of many millions of people, and even new political parties, which can offer decisive support to candidates and office holders in return for their continuing support of voting bloc agendas. The alternative world will then work as a meta-layer constraining the prior political world, and preventing it from concentrating power in oligarchies, by subjecting them and their representatives to continuous self-organization, critical evaluation, new emergent candidates for office independent of the oligarchy, and a cultural background of new knowledge arising from distributed knowledge processing.

Aristotle pointed out that monarchies were subject to transformation to tyrannies, aristocracies to oligarchies, and constitutional governments to democracies (mob rule). He had no way of knowing that such transformations may have something to do with whether the processes of self-organization decay to such a degree that lack of adaptive success in each of these systems drives their transformation to their perverted forms.

He also had no way of envisioning the need for modern constitutional liberal democracies to continuously renew themselves with new distributed ‘wicked’ problem-solving capabilities and accountability mechanisms that can only be produced through openness and self-organization supported through modern IT web-based e-participation platforms. These platforms can provide a meta-layer of new knowledge, cultural norms, and self-organization, for democratic political systems, unconstrained by and not open to, manipulation by emergent globalizing elites.

Without these new e-participation platforms, and the continuous self-organization they will bring, the iron law of oligarchy will continue to dominate representative democracies, and they will travel further along the real road to serfdom. With them, we can create the meta-layer necessary to strengthen self-organization into voting blocs, electoral coalitions, and web-based social networks in such a way, that new policy solutions can be continuously introduced, along with new mechanisms of accountability. That meta-layer can ensure that policy elites either become representative, or are quickly replaced by new officeholders who won’t rely on the financial and organizational resources now co-opting self-organizing movements, the heart and soul modern democracies. With it we can repeal the Iron Law!

So, the second area in which funding from patriotic billionaires is needed is in getting the right kind of e-participation platform working as quickly as possible. The amount of funding needed is much less than in the area of supporting the new MMT approach. Rather than $500 million annually to set-up and maintain a powerful network supporting economic paradigm change; e-platforms enabling creating the meta-layer for revitalizing democracy would take about $5 million to get off the ground, if done right, and might well be self-supporting during the second year of their operation.

Funding in this area won’t require nearly as much of a commitment from patriotic billionaires as paying higher taxes would. But the returns from this funding would be way out of proportion to the size of the investment, since it could well mean the survival of American democracy itself. A very good place to find out about some of the things going on in e-participation, and some available tools is Demo-net. Another with some interesting perspectives and tools is here. In addition, elsewhere, Henk Hadders and I have discussed an e-participation platform under development — a case study fulfilling the meta-layer requirements I laid out earlier. The platform is called the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) and is based on a US patent.

(Time for Full Disclosure: I’m part of a community of MMT bloggers attempting to educate people about the MMT approach, but I’m not a regular contributor at any of the cites mentioned above. Nor do I receive any support from any of the universities or MMT research centers I’ve linked to.

I blog in the e-participation area too, and have written a good deal about IVCS. I’m also part of a team of advisors, all volunteers, helping Nancy Bordier, the inventor of IVCS, to implement the platform. I am not an employee of IVCS however, nor do I sit on the Board of Directors of any entities associated with it.)

Conclusion

I know, I know, there’s one big and obvious issue I’ve yet to consider. Here I am calling for patriotic billionaires who’ve been advocating for paying higher taxes themselves, to spend a sizable proportion of what they would have been willing to pay, on two things that I think are important: educating people about MMT, and implementing an e-participation web-based platform enabling a meta-layer for revitalizing democracy in the United States and eventually everywhere. But, the truth is, there are so many worthwhile things the patriotic billionaires could do with that money, and may already be planning to do with it. So, what makes me think that these two activities are so important that they are the two out of many worthwhile activities that should be supported at the levels I’ve suggested?

I think it comes down to a question of leverage. Replacing neo-liberalism with MMT and overturning the iron law of oligarchy by creating a meta-layer for revitalizing democracy are the two most important things we can do to create the America of our dreams.

The first will allow us to formulate fiscal policies that can produce full employment, sustainable growth, and reduce economic inequality. The second will allow people to make their elected representatives accountable to them, rather than the oligarchs, once again. The two together will allow us to fix the long list of problems that still remain unsolved because solving them isn’t in the interest of the oligarchy. That’s why these two are the critical things we need to get done, and are also the best use of the funds the patriotic billionaires were willing to give up to the tax man. Hopefully, they’ll agree with this analysis, and help make an MMT network of organizations, and a meta-layer for strengthening democracy both vibrant realities over the next year.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Three, the IVCS

8:40 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

This is the concluding post in a three-part series. The first post highlighted the problem of lack of representativeness in modern societies, characterized human societies, economic, and political systems as special kinds of Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs) called Promethean CASs, and then argued that such systems needed continuous self-organization to maintain democracy and open society in the face of tendencies toward oligarchy endemic in PCASs, and that e-participation platforms might enable continuous self-organization, if such platforms were designed appropriately. In Part Two, we spelled out the general and IT requirements needed for an e-participation platform that could provide a meta-layer for democracy enabling continuous self-organization. In this post we’ll conclude with a case study.

The Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) platform: A Case Study

All systems using IT and human agents relating people to one another, including political parties, and formal organizations generally, are PCASs, and in their formative stages after the introduction of the IT component to users will involve some additional degree of self-organization, network effects, and emerging collective behavior patterns, beyond that existing before introducing the technology. But, some IT platforms/tool sets will do a better job of enabling self-organization initially, and maintaining it continuously, than others. That means that some applications will serve democracy better than others in that continuous enabling of new self-organization outside any formal organizational structure within their IT application environments will more effectively prevent formation of entrenched oligarchies than will other applications ostensibly directed at similar problems.

How well IT platforms trying to heal modern democratic political systems such as the United States, will perform in enabling self-organization depends in great part on the power of their central symbols, or “tags” to attract self-organizing activity with a propensity to generate higher-level collectives such as voting blocs and electoral coalitions out of the self-organization.

The IVCS is a platform and set of tools being developed that is expected to fulfill all the e-platform requirements given above. It has policy options as its key tags, the central symbols around which people will self-organize to create voting blocs and electoral coalitions. In addition, when using IVCS, people prioritize their policy options and create policy agendas based on their options and priorities. Policy options, priorities, and policy agendas are the most effective tags for political self-organization because 1) people can locate others based on similarities in these matters, and 2) they can also engage in developing voting blocs and electoral coalitions by first finding people whose agendas are similar to their own, and then negotiating out differences among them by collaborating on how policy agendas may be changed, consensus created and differences resolved.

And because of these tags and other features that enable and encourage participation in the process of building voting blocs and electoral coalitions by negotiating and re-negotiating policy options, priorities, and policy agendas, IVCS is the platform that can best maintain continuous self-organization, continuous refreshing of “bottom-up”, democratic participation, in building and re-building voting blocs and electoral coalitions. The most important thing is that CASs are always poised at “the edge of chaos,” between the disorder of chaotic dynamics and the orderly dynamics of lifeless mechanical equilibrium.

They remain in this state, because their continuous self-organization allows them to cope with environmental challenges through problem solving. Their continued existence as PCASs, therefore, depends on this continuous self-organization. If that fails or is undermined by the institutionalization of oligarchies that can protect themselves from replacement, then the adaptive capabilities of the PCAS will fail and it will change its state.

The IVCS enables the U.S. electorate to bypass the current system and circumvent institutions that have corrupted it. It does this by enabling voters of all persuasions to build voter-controlled on-line voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get control of all vital processes that determine what the nation’s legislative priorities are, who runs for office, who gets elected, what laws are enacted, and which office holders will be made accountable for breaking their commitments made to voters prior to their elections.

These blocs and coalitions can work together outside the system, prior to elections, to democratize political parties so that their supporters control them rather than special interests. The blocs and coalitions can form alliances with democratically-run parties while supplanting all parties as the driving forces of U.S. politics (see figure 1).

ivcs as a PCAS

Figure 1: IVCS as a PCAS with self-organizing emergent collectives

IVCS’s agenda-setting, political organizing and consensus-building tools enable voters to set their legislative agendas and build voting blocs and electoral coalitions to elect representatives who will enact their legislative priorities, not special interest priorities, into law. The tools empower voters to change the whole political system by creating self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can perform all functions political parties perform to get their candidates elected, and their legislative agendas passed. This includes raising money for their candidates from individual donors throughout the country, rather than special interests.

In addition to doing the same things that parties do to run winning candidates, the voting blocs and coalitions that voters build, using IVCS tools, can do two things absolutely essential to democracy that traditional political parties have failed to do. First, they can overcome the parties’ failure to allow voters to collectively set and vote on party platforms and legislative agendas, And second, the IVCS and its consensus-building tools, especially the voting utility, collaboration, and problem solving tools, and knowledge bases containing both claims and meta-claims, enable voters to resolve conflicts. Space limitations prevent our dealing with IVCS in more detail; more information can be found on the prototype website.

Conclusions

Aristotle pointed out that monarchies were subject to transformation to tyrannies, aristocracies to oligarchies, and constitutional governments to democracies (mob rule). He had no way of knowing that such transformations may have something to do with whether the processes of self-organization decay to such a degree that lack of adaptive success in each of these systems drives their transformation to their perverted forms.

He also had no way of envisioning the need for modern constitutional liberal democracies to continuously renew themselves with new distributed ‘wicked’ problem-solving capabilities and accountability mechanisms that can only be produced through openness and self-organization supported through modern IT web-based e-participation platforms. These platforms can provide a meta-layer of new knowledge, cultural norms, and self-organization, for democratic political systems, unconstrained by and not open to, manipulation by emergent globalizing elites.

Without these new e-participation platforms, and the continuous self-organization they will bring, the iron law of oligarchy will continue to dominate representative democracies, and they will travel further along the real road to serfdom. IVCS can create the meta-layer necessary to strengthen self-organization into voting blocs, electoral coalitions, and web-based social networks in such a way, that new policy solutions can be continuously introduced, along with new mechanisms of accountability. That meta-layer can ensure that policy elites either become representative, or are quickly replaced by new officeholders who won’t rely on the financial and organizational resources now co-opting self-organizing movements, the heart and soul modern democracies. It can repeal the Iron Law!

Acknowledgment

This conference paper on which the posts in this series are based was written in collaboration with Nancy Border, PhD., inventor of IVCS. We thank Dr. Bordier for her contributions, insights, and support.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Two, Meta-layer Requirements

8:48 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

Requirements for an e-participation platform in human political CASs

We won’t be able to stop the movement toward oligarchy unless we can create a new institutional framework that allows us to change those aspects of our present situation supporting oligarchy and undermining open society. We need a framework that will operate within the context of existing rules and laws to create changes supporting increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing shifting our democratic PCASs back towards an open state.

The new institutional framework must provide a meta-layer of political interaction and networking that places new ecological constraints on the current political system, driving it back towards a condition in which the ability of individuals to both arrive at more accurate constructions of reality, and act on them, through increased self-organization and distributed knowledge processing, is dominant. The meta-layer can be provided by a web-based platform eventually incorporating most of the eligible voters in a political system, and providing capabilities for political organization that can overcome the impact of big money and media on political parties, legislators, legislatures, and politics generally.

Here are the requirements for such a framework. It must provide or enable:

– social contexts and milieus within which people can organize themselves and others around public policy agendas, comprised of policy options and policy priorities, into voting blocs and electoral coalitions ranging from very small to blocs of millions of voters without needing sizable financial resources from sources external to these social milieus, and without being subject to external mass media communications influenced by financial oligarchs and other special interests;

– social contexts and milieus offering the possibility of informal group and social network formation around these policy agendas;

– social contexts and milieus that are transparent and inclusive in providing participants with previously developed data, information, and knowledge, and in allowing them freedom to participate in communicating, organizing, collaborating, critically evaluating, problem solving, and decision making within voting blocs and electoral coalitions;

– social contexts and milieus in which participants have a modicum of trust in other participants;

– participants and voting blocs to communicate their policy agendas to candidates for public office and office holders, and also securing either commitments to these agendas, or clear refusals to support them;

– participants and voting blocs to continuously monitor and rate performance of office holders against agendas and to decide whether to continue to support them after performance ratings are arrived at;

– tools for voting blocs and electoral coalitions to organize efforts to get both major party and third party candidates and initiatives onto ballots, and to get people to the polls to vote. Simply, it must provide tools to enable voting blocs to do all the things political parties now do to support candidates they want to elect and ballot initiatives they want to pass.

In brief, the new institutional framework must provide an alternative network of social and political relations to the contemporary world of political parties and established interest groups. The alternative world must embody the key attributes of open society, which means it must provide an informal communications and knowledge network that is very much independent of the mass media, and also capable of enabling creating highly cohesive voting blocs and electoral coalitions of many millions of people, and even new political parties, which can offer decisive support to candidates and office holders in return for their continuing support of voting bloc agendas. The alternative world will then work as a meta-layer constraining the prior political world, and preventing it from concentrating power in oligarchies by subjecting them to continuous self-organization and a cultural background of new knowledge arising from distributed knowledge processing.

Information Technology Requirements

What are the Information Technology (IT) requirements to provide this new meta-level of political interaction and networking? Below we present our view on functions and facilities needed:

a. Application software available as web services within an architecture capable of easily incorporating new web-service enabled applications when they appear. Fulfilling this requirement makes the platform adaptive;

b. Facilities (e.g. forums, web conferencing) people can use to jointly clarify with one another and state the problems they see, and store the problem formulations in a knowledge base, linked to people who formulated them;

c. Facilities for creating policy options, selecting others from a knowledge base, rating policy options relative to one another to establish ratio-scaled priorities, entering and storing policy options, and priorities in a knowledge base, making annotations linked to the options text, explaining why policy options make sense, and describing how they’ve performed;

d. Facilities for gathering information both internal to the system, and across the web, to help people arrive at their policy agendas. System search facilities employing the best available semantic web technology, newly emerging in web 2.0 and 3.0 applications, to help people locate information relevant to policy option formulation. Facilities for content aggregation “mash-ups” drawing on hundreds of web sites for content related to issue areas linked to policy options. For more advanced users facilities/tools for modeling, measuring, and projecting policy impact;

e. The search and content aggregation facilities mentioned, will supply people with tools to help them critically evaluate policy options, and annotation and linking capabilities will enable them to tie their evaluations to their policy options, and to create a track record that they and others will be able to use in the future;

f. Facilities for accessing an already existing policy options knowledge base, using platform search capabilities, learn about other people’s policy agendas, creating new policy options, and adding them to the knowledge base. Facilities for accessing existing policy options by using folksonomies established by users over time, producing content by participating in forums, by blogging and micro-blogging, and by contributing to wikis they’ll create on various issues. Facilities for cognitive mapping allowing people to compare the cognitive profile of their own policy agendas with other policy agendas available in the knowledge base, helping people place their agendas in context, and preparing the way for collaboration with others in voting blocs;

g. Facilities for annotating policy options and creating the track record of criticisms and evaluations of all policy options, as well as all reasoning recorded in the knowledge base supporting them. The best practices in policy and the lessons learned will be there. The history of performance will be there, and will be organized, searchable, and navigable due to the annotation and linking capability present in the platform and people’s use of this capability over time;

h. Facilities for social networking including building and mapping networks, and analyzing them like those in such well-known applications as Facebook and LinkedIn, and for accessing social network graphs, using social software for creating communities and discussion groups, exchanging ideas, searching for and locating experts, using text and data mining, cognitive mapping, and finding and contacting voters with statistically and/or conceptually similar priorities and cognitive maps;

i. Facilities for team-based workflow so teams of people can plan and implement common tasks involving specialization, virtual team workspaces, application and desktop sharing in virtual collaborative sessions, collaborating on documents such as policy agendas, policy options, impact analyses, wikis, blog posts, and discussion forums to use in creating voting bloc coalitions;

j. Facilities for project, task, and event management, web-conferencing for online meetings to recognize and formulate problems, develop solutions, criticize them, and mobilize support for policy agendas and for voting bloc campaign activities; collaborative prioritizing of policy options as well as planning and prioritizing political initiatives to get policy options passed into law; collaborative e-learning for getting access to content fragments gathered from across the internet relevant to a problem they’re trying to solve, and a variety of virtual environments for social collaborative learning for teams;

k. In addition to the facilities mentioned earlier, a voting/polling capability for collaborating and getting agreement in voting blocs, using agreed upon policy agendas as a legislative mandate for elected representatives and electoral candidates, a rating tool for evaluating announced candidates and recruiting new ones, a tool for monitoring elected representatives’ legislative actions, and a scorecard and decision making tool for evaluating their track records and deciding whether to vote for or against them;

l. Facilities for a mass e-mail blaster; “Write-your-rep” campaigns and petitions using voting bloc agendas; web conferencing between voting bloc members and reps, if they agree to attend; voting bloc donation solicitation and management; political event management; and voting bloc chapter management.

m. Facilities for identity management for members, a hierarchical system of access rights guaranteeing the security of sensitive data, content, or applications, assigning access rights to any object, a central user and rights directory allowing access rights of individual users or groups to be assigned with a mouse-click. Facilities for creating unbreakable security for privacy protection including, if necessary, quantum encryption.

Next we look at the case of the reinventdemocracy.net platform and its Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) tools being developed by a team led by political scientist Nancy Bordier. The platform, IVCS tools, and voters using it will together form an open PCAS, solving the wicked problem of overcoming Michels’s Iron Law which, today, is threatening to transform the US and other modern democracies into oligarchies.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part One, Conceptual Foundations

8:37 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

The Disconnect

It’s hardly news that there’s a very wide chasm between voters, lawmakers and political parties. The rage in America reflected in the Republican primary contests is palpable. And there’s also rage among progressives as well, though it’s not finding an outlet in the Democratic Party. The same is true in Europe, where we see unrest in many nations. People in developing nations are demanding democracy, and making some progress too. But, everywhere one looks in developed countries, democracy is retreating, and Michels’s (p. 400) “Iron Law of Oligarchy” is triumphant.

In the U.S. most Americans believe lawmakers don’t care what they think, Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, and most Americans believe the major parties won’t represent them. Neither tries to match its policies to a majority of voters’ preferences, and both continuously support laws that seem designed to benefit large corporate interests and the 1%, but not working Americans. There are now more unaffiliated voters than party-affiliated ones, and major party candidates often win elections with only 25% of potential voters.

Most voters want most federal incumbents defeated, but legal constraints on minor parties and candidates typically ensure their defeat, whether they are “insurgents” from within the party, or candidates from third parties. This skewing of electoral outcomes leads voters to think that they have to vote for major party candidates, or “waste” their vote. Angry voters alternate election cycles between major party candidates to “punish” incumbents. But the new “winners” ignore what voters want, just as the old ones did. So, how can we repair this disconnect? How can we make office holders accountable and representative again?

Complex Adaptive Systems: Features and Significance

A mechanistic world view is unlikely to work in reforming our political systems, because they’re not clockworks, “orange” or otherwise. We need models for transformation using perspectives of complexity theory, focused on the significance of co-intelligence and deliberative democracy in tackling legislative problems.

In working with complexity theory, it’s common to try to define “Complex Adaptive System” (CAS). But, I think it’s better just to list their features. The first of these is coherence in the face of change, or “identity.” Coherence refers to maintenance of the characteristic pattern of organization of a CAS.

Second, CASs are diverse in both form and capability. They range from adaptive software agents to the International Social System, and include one-celled living systems, immune systems, and many others of diverse form, varying capability and degrees of complexity.

Third, CASs are populated with agents (members) who learn, individually and collectively. Fourth, distributed problem-solving and knowledge processing is an important feature of CASs. Individual agents in CASs solve their own problems. In doing so, they contribute to solving CAS problems in a distributed, but organized way.

Fifth, CASs are marked by extensive interactions among their agents. Intermittent interactions are not sufficient to establish a CAS pattern with its complex patterning of feedback loops and reinforcements that maintains the CAS at “the edge of chaos.”

Sixth, CAS agents self-organize to produce emergent global behavior at the CAS level. This is one of the most important features of a CAS. The key idea is that agents comprising it act in accordance with their own purposes and motives, in pursuit of their own goals, and that their actions produce self-organized emergent global patterns that identify the CAS.

Seventh, CASs behave and learn partly in accordance with knowledge which can be modeled as ‘rules.’ Eighth, they also adapt by creating and using new rules as they continuously attempt to fit themselves to their environments. The process of arriving at new rules is “creative” or “evolutionary” learning. It involves “blind” generation of rules and recombination of components of old, well-established rules. Once new rules are formulated, they are subject to selection through interaction among CAS agents and interaction of the CAS with its environment.

Ninth, the ability of CASs to successfully learn and develop new rules, or knowledge, is greater to the extent that their constituent agents are operating in problem-solving and distributed knowledge processing environments marked by relative “openness.” “Openness” must apply across various phases of the problem-solving process. It has at least two important dimensions. The first is internal transparency (availability and accessibility of information across CAS agents); the second is epistemic inclusiveness, equal opportunity for all autonomous CAS agents to participate and interact in the problem-solving and distributed knowledge processing of the system, so that it can be more effective. Both are always found in high-performance CASs. An example taken from outside the human domain helps illustrate a pattern of (uncontaminated) epistemic inclusiveness.

Ant colonies illustrate ‘native’ CASs that rely on distributed knowledge processing informed by the individual experiences of their members, and global behaviors at the CAS level determined as a consequence of information flow among these members. There is no centralized planning or control producing collective behavior in such systems. All knowledge created by individual ants contributes to the pattern of collective knowledge reflected in changed behavioral predispositions of the ant colony, and in the pattern of pheramone trails emerging at the level of the collective. Knowledge at the global level is entirely distributed or “bottom-up” in origin, as is the learning that produces it.

Social CASs created by humans are unlike ant colonies. Agents in human CASs distinguish, to a much greater degree than ants do, power, authority, or influence relations, and concentrations of such relations, and of the resources that are at the basis of them. These are an emergent reality affecting human CAS interaction. The existence of such relations is an important factor distinguishing social CASs comprised of human agents, and their interactions, from other types of CASs.

Human CASs are Promethean

Human CASs, are subject to human attempts to change the patterns of interaction and outcomes that their CASs are predisposed to produce. In fact, politics, management, and leadership is frequently about attempting to treat organizations as though they were, or ought to behave like, mechanical systems, subject to determinate cause-and-effect relations, rather than as CASs whose adaptive global behavior results from self-organization and distributed knowledge processing.

Such attempts produce continual conflict between predispositions produced by interacting agents within self-organizing processes, and other predispositions produced by efforts of the powerful and influential to realize their own visions of the future through command-and-control interventions. So, human CASs constitute a type we will call Promethean CASs (PCASs), because, their normal predispositions toward behavior and distributed knowledge processing are subject to the “god-like” intervention of powerful and influential agents. That’s why Michels’s “Iron Law of Oligarchy” is often predictive of politics in political parties and democracies.

PCASs, the Movement Toward Oligarchy, and Open Society

The movement toward oligarchy in human-based systems happens because powerful people and institutions don’t like continuous self-organization, and the appearance of new ideas, ideologies, and power structures that come along with it. So, they intervene to stop or regulate it, and, in doing so, destroy the essence of democracy; the ability of people to always organize anew and disturb and even displace the policies, power structures, elites, and institutions of the past with new ones, more adaptive in solving the problems of the present and future.

The task of any CAS system is to maintain itself at “the edge of chaos.” This is difficult enough in the face of environmental influences that tend to transition PCASs either to chaotic dynamics, or to closed systems inexorably driven toward a sterile mechanical equilibrium. It is even more difficult in the context of continuing political or management interventions that frequently may amplify the strength of tendencies toward one extreme or another by changing the internal environment affecting self-organization. management, leadership, and politics.

In the context of Open Enterprises and Open Societies, the task is about implementing policies and programs that will support self-organization in distributed knowledge processing and problem-solving by maintaining openness in problem recognition, developing alternative solutions, and error elimination, as well as openness in communicating and diffusing new solutions across the enterprise or across society. Conversely leadership, management, and politics in such systems that undermines self-organization by repressing or otherwise manipulating it, will transition human PCASs away from openness and democracy, and towards extreme conflict systems, or authoritarian or totalitarian oligarchies.

So, for democratic societies today, an important question hangs in the balance: How can we counter tendencies toward oligarchy in our democracies by restoring self-organization and distributed knowledge processing to their proper place in reinforcing open society, democracy, and adaptiveness to environmental and societal change?

Many are looking to e-participation innovations in democracy to provide an answer to this question. But if e-participation is to serve that purpose, rather than the purpose of elite astro-turfing manufacturing consent within a totalitarian oligarchy, then e-participation platforms must fulfill certain requirements. We’ll turn to those in the second part of this series.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

Enhancing Democracy or Strengthening the Emerging Oligarchy: Which Will It Be?

7:59 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) raises the issue of emerging oligarchy, based on wealth inequality, taking control of democracies worldwide through a small global elite composed of the very rich, powerful corporate executives in financial multinationals and other global conglomerates, and their allies in international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).

To get out from under the domination of these elites, the 99% have to counter the influence of extreme wealth in manipulating perceptions and constructions of social, economic, cultural, and political reality, and electoral processes. Enter new web-based platforms as a possible democratizing force that could provide the ability to defeat manipulation and self-organize without recourse to massive financial resources. But do the new platforms offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the fifth in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). The second focused on AE. The third analyzed No Labels (NL), and the fourth covered Ruck.us. Here, I’ll explore in more detail the question of the relationships among AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us, and explicitly consider the possibility of some combination of the three organizations, whether formal or informal, working together to impact the political system. I’ll also discuss the likely implications of such a combination for the American body politic.

The Lay of the Land

AE wants to get a candidate on the ballots of all 50 States who is nominated using its Internet-based process without involvement of the major parties. No Labels wants to create a nationwide movement that will place people in office who are committed to bipartisan or non-partisan political and legislative decision making. Ruck.us thinks:

“. . . The real question is, why do we need parties at all? The support for an alternative showcased in this poll is real. The energy around Americans Elect, Ruck.us, and other outlets is proof that technology, not parties, is the future of political activism.“

So, all three organizations share a hostility to the party system. They do so because of the “partisanship” apparently responsible for the “legislative paralysis” that we’ve seen for a very long time; but also, very plainly, because that paralysis has interfered with passing legislation implementing the current Washington consensus that the growing national debt, and deficit spending are problems that must be solved with a combination of tax reform and austerity in Government spending.

Both Progressives in the Democratic Party, and Tea Partiers among the Republicans are blocking “the centrist agreement” on governmental austerity that many of the prime movers in back of these three efforts support so strongly. So, at some level, it is likely that these attempts at changing the political process are not being undertaken simply to remove legislative paralysis, and improve the functioning of the US Government. After all, that can ultimately be done by a disgusted public who comes to realize that it must deliver overwhelming majorities for one of the two parties, to give one or the other a chance to legislate their preferred programs without the need for compromise.

However, the people behind these three alternatives don’t want “the people” making that kind of decision. Instead, they want to change the political system so that centrists like themselves will always hold the balance of power to eliminate either “right” or “left” solutions in favor of solutions that maintain the economic and political positions of current establishment elites while imposing austerity on others. In order to do that they have to outflank the parties in the short, rather than the long run. That’s what organizations like AE and No Labels, and perhaps Ruck.us, as well, are really about, rather than any desire to improve Government or restore democracy.

Looking at the three alternative organizations and their web-based efforts, we can note the following:

– AE claims that they are not a political party, but a 501 (c)(4) “social welfare” organization, and in addition, that their national nominating convention will not, by itself, produce a party apparatus that can deliver votes in the general election. However, AE calls itself a party when it applies for ballot lines in States that require organizations applying for them to be political parties. Because of this clear contradiction, Democracy 21 has written to the IRS asking for an investigation of AE and possible denial of its claim to 501 (c)(4) status.

– AE may be able to accomplish its goal of nominating a centrist candidate with a Petersonian austerity agenda, by using the rules of their closed corporation to manipulate the nomination process at the on-line convention to deliver votes for a centrist. If the Republicans fail to nominate Mitt Romney, for example, he might well be available to AE’s delegates as their nominee. Or as many have speculated, AE may be a stalking horse for Michael Bloomberg, who could never win in either the Republican or Democratic primary process, but who can possibly be nominated in AE’s process and be simultaneously placed on ballot lines across the country; provided, of course, he hasn’t already transformed himself into a latter day Mayor Daley by violently repressing the OWS protestors, while violating their first amendment rights; something he has been doing almost since day one of the protests in New York.

Or as currently seems to be the case, AE board members, in violation of corporate by-laws, are pushing boomlets for Jon Huntsman, and/or Buddy Roemer.

– On the other hand, if AE does succeed in nominating a centrist, that won’t automatically mean that he/she will get elected, since AE will have little in the way of a party organization to back the nominee at the time of the nomination. The specific nominee may also have little in the way of a personal organization depending on who is nominated. Romney would have a nationwide organization; but if the convention goes for Bloomberg, David Petraeus, Jon Huntsman, Buddy Roemer, or some other “centrist,” then perhaps not so much.

– Now, that’s where No Labels comes in. No Labels is building a national organization to influence candidates and office holders to support bi-partisanship and avoid “extremes” in legislation. Both AE and No Labels have big money behind them. They don’t disclose their donors and the amounts they’ve contributed. But, David Walker, former head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and current head of the Comeback America Initiative is one of the co-founders of No Labels, making it very likely that Peter G. Peterson’s money is behind the No Labels effort. In addition, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild has been a booster of No Labels and may very well be a major financial backer, while at the same time also being a member of the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect.

– No Labels is spending a considerable amount of effort, and, most probably, money, to organize across the country, in every State and among millennials on and off-campuses. They’re using the negative image of the ”do-nothing” parties “gridlocking” Congress, and the myth of a non-partisan, non-ideological orientation, to get people involved in No Labels. They’ve also announced that they’re hiring political operatives in every Congressional District. It is likely that by the time a centrist ticket is delivered by AE in the late spring, a national No Labels organization that can organize and deliver votes will be able to back the AE nominees and also candidates in both parties that back a centrist/austerity agenda.

– As for coordination between AE and No Labels, in addition to the link provided by de Rothschild, mentioned above, Mark McKinnon, the strategist who formerly served Republicans is a co-founder of No Labels. He is also listed as one of “the leaders” of AE. So, he, too, clearly provides a way of coordinating between the two “bi-partisan” centrist organizations. In addition, there are many other personal interactions among people in the two organizations, as Jim Cook documents here.

– So, where does Ruck.us fit into this picture? Both the No Labels and AE organizational efforts are targeted on tasks other than building social networks. AE is about nominating a centrist candidate and manipulating the consent of voters who become delegates. No Labels is about aggregating people disgusted with the major parties into a movement and political organizational force that can operate at local, State, and national levels, and influence Representatives, Senators and Presidents to give up what they think are the right solutions to problems in order to enact solutions that involve “shared sacrifice,” and fiscal/economic austerity.

– Both efforts use the Internet to pursue their goals; but they don’t organize people through using social media to form group social networks on a continuous day-to-day basis, as Ruck.us does. Social network formation among Millennials was shown to be vital in mobilizing electoral support by the Obama and Dean campaigns. And so, in short, what Ruck.us can offer to the other two efforts is the social networking component of a modern political party — a component that may be able to create social networks and enable their co-optation by the on-line nominating convention seeking a right-centrist candidate, and the right-centrist movement looking for workers and supporters to staff a political party-like organization that can deliver votes to “bi-partisan” candidates like AE’s.

– And for coordination among AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us, there is, once again, a convenient link provided by the ubiquitous Mark McKinnon. McKinnon, is one of the leading advisors of Ruck.us. In addition, Bradley Tusk, Campaign Manager for Michael Bloomberg, is a booster. Also, one of the early stated purposes of Ruck.us was to provide a social networking service for third parties. Lastly, Lady de Rothschild already related to both AE and No Labels, has currently been boosting Ruck.us on twitter.

A Political Troika?

All the pieces are in place for Ruck.us coordination with AE and No labels, to form a troika of organizations that, if they chose to unite, either formally through a merger, or informally through a loosely coupled alliance, can serve either as a functional substitute for a political party, or as an emerging 3rd major political party itself. AE supplies the candidates and ballot lines, Ruck.us supplies the social networks, and No Labels provides the organizational and much of the funding muscle necessary to deliver the votes. It is the organization that is at the center of the whole effort. It is the organization that can provide a home for Democrats who are corporatist or fiscally conservative, and not progressive; and who can also provide one for Republicans who find tea party market and religious fundamentalism, and social issues positions, either insane or morally distasteful.

So, what these three non- or bi-partisan organizations is likely to do is to either create a formal new third right- centrist party, or, alternatively, at least an informal third force loosely coupled aliance that will empower right-centrist elements in both parties and free them from the influence of tea partiers, progressives, and anti-corporatists alike.

It is likely, in other words, to further enable the triumph of corporatism and the continued emergence of plutocracy on American soil. What it is not likely to do is make the party system, or the Government, any more representative of working and middle class Americans, the 99%, for whom the OWS movement is currently demanding social and economic justice, and restored political primacy in American Democracy.

Even more importantly, what the troika also is not likely to do is to provide a way for people to become politically active through a web-based system in a way that can overcome the iron law of oligarchy, by producing activities that will renew democracy on a continuous basis. On the contrary, the characteristics of the organizations that may comprise the troika are very likely to reinforce the tendencies to oligarchy in the United States.

Since both AE and No Labels are clearly closed oligarchical structures managed from the top-down, and funded in non-transparent ways by wealthy donors and corporations, they will produce mass support only by manipulating and co-opting support from delegates and members. They will not allow their platforms and activities to be generated from the bottom-up by delegates and members, unless those happen to be consistent with the programs of their oligarchies.

One can easily disagree with these views, of course. But for such a disagreement to be credible, I think it has to be based on changes to the by-laws of each organization that prohibit their boards and Executive staff from over-turning majority rule decisions made by the votes of delegates or web site members, and pledge these same Boards and Executive staffs to pledge under penalty of perjury that they will not change these by-laws without a 2/3 vote of members or delegates, and will also be open to personal liability law suits, without corporate indemnification, if they break that pledge. In other words, no one should believe the assertions of either of these two organizations that the will of their participants expressed in votes will be controlling for these organizations, unless there are internal constitutional arrangements preventing the organizational elites from overturning decisions of their members or delegates, or from manipulating these decisions through elite controls of the internal mechanisms of counting the votes on their web platforms.

In short, given the state of our present political system, there can be no question of trusting leaders of organizations with ideological agendas to maintain the internal democracy they are marketing to potential participants in their processes. Their asking people to trust them isn’t good enough! They need to demonstrate that trust is not necessary because their institutional arrangements guarantee that their web-based voting or collective decision processes cannot be overturned, or manipulated, or suddenly and quietly changed by their board or managerial elites.

As for Ruck.us, the capabilities for social networking it provides aren’t comprehensive enough to overcome the tendencies toward oligarchy existing in the other two organizations, or in a combination of the three. In fact, to the extent, that Ruck.us does support bottom-up social network formation, it will only expose networks it enables to co-optation by the other two organizations, if it collaborates with them in any way, as Ruck.us moves down the road.

Political Implications

There are two kinds of political implications I want to consider here. First, what is likely to happen to the substance of policy if the Troika is successful in getting a a substantial number of electoral votes for the presidential ticket winning the AE nomination, and also a number of seats in both Houses of Congress for candidates supporting the policy agenda of No Labels. And second, what the implications of troika success are for reinforcing the trend toward oligarchy.

On the substance, I’ve pointed out that Americans Elect and No Labels are clearly very strongly in favor of what they call fiscal responsibility, by which they mean long-term deficit reduction through cutting spending and increasing tax revenues and also substantial reduction in the ratio of the public debt subject to the limit, to GDP. In concrete terms this means cutting spending and entitlement programs intended to benefit the 99%, while cutting tax loopholes and “broadening the tax base,” which means different things to different people, but which over the history of “tax reform” since the 1960s has never meant increased pain for the 1%.

Right now, Congress hasn’t been able to come to agreement on something like the Simpson/Bowles plan, or the Rivlin/Domenici plan or any of the other “centrist” proposals aimed at long-term deficit reduction, because the Republicans can’t get tax increases on the wealthy through their caucus, while the Democrats are understandably reluctant to betray their constituents for the sake of the abstraction of fiscal responsibility. They might do it, if they can get the Republicans to walk the plank with them, but not otherwise.

The leaders of AE and No Labels (NL) believe that a centrist coalition advocating fiscal responsibility, that says it is non-partisan, led by a president pledged to support fiscal responsibility, not beholden to either of the major parties, would be able to break the logjam in Congress, because that coalition would hold the balance of power in relation to organizing both Houses, and allocating leadership positions and committee chairpersonships.

In return for its votes on these matters, the new “centrist” coalition is supposed to be able to force the two major parties to abandon what their bases want and to all come to Jesus on fiscal responsibility, and other positions which the AE and NL elites appear to support such as: a moderate foreign policy relying on “realism,” a “high-tech” expensive military, active anti-terrorism efforts, and first rate diplomacy; a policy of strong support for Wall Street and the big banks; globalism and free trade; active discouragement of populist political activism from either the tea party or the OWS direction, even if that entails violation of constitutional rights; strong gun controls; and “fairly liberal” social policies relating to Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, and other disadvantaged groups.

The new coalition, if it could establish itself, would pick up support from “blue dog” Democrats in the Senate and Northeastern and Midwestern “moderate” Republicans, who would then become “non-partisan.” The “free spending,” anti-Wall Street, “peace-loving,” pro-regulation/anti-business, and strong civil liberties, and civil rights progressives, and evangelical Christians, small government, low taxes, anti-wall street, and bellicose right wingers would remain in the Democratic and Republican Parties, ready to be outflanked on all the major issues depending on where the “centrists” come down. So, the expectation here, is that American politics would be dominated by one “centrist” coaltion, a virtual, but perhaps never actual, political party, always retaining power, and always capable of getting its own pro- 1% policies through the Congress.

In the beginning, when that “centrist” third force is getting established, it can grow quickly by winning the fiscal responsibility fight. And perhaps also by either getting its presidential candidate elected in a three-way race, or failing that, at least throwing the presidential election into the House of Representatives where those who favor the “centrist” coalition may be able to get its candidate elected, or, at least, to extract major concessions, right off the bat, in return for giving its critical support to the presidential candidate from the major party that is willing to pay for it with the most substantial concessions to its platform.

Will things happen that way? I think it’s very hard to say. In a three-way presidential race, a “moderate” pro-Wall Street “centrist” may pull more votes away from a Republican than a Democrat running as a progressive. In state level and local Congressional races, anything can happen, including splitting the moderate vote in such a way that very “right-wing” Republicans are elected. Or in some districts, splitting what otherwise would be the Republican vote, allowing Democratic progressives to win. In short, in different races we may have very different results from having such a third force in the process, including hardening positions in both the major parties facilitating their transformation into “small” government and “big” anti-corporate parties, that may work together to frustrate the pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street legislation favored by the Austerian “centrist”, “non-partisan”, “non-party” coalition.

Whatever the result of this “non-partisan” course would be, I think we can confidently say that if AE and NL joined with Ruck.us and succeeded in their fiscal responsibility objectives, then the result of the new coalition’s insistence on “fiscal responsibility” through long-term pro-cyclical deficit reduction would be disastrous for the economy. And its other policy positions would only reinforce the economic position and dominance of the 1%.

I’ve examined the reasons why I think we should expect economic collapse from a contractionary long-term fiscal policy in many previous posts. But the basic reason is that when the private sector of one’s economy is broken, the only sector that can restore aggregate demand by transferring net financial assets to it by deficit spending is the Federal Government, because it is the only sector that can create new net financial assets to be placed in the private sector. That is an economic fact, not merely a theory.

The “centrist” Austerians leading the way to the new coalition, are, in the main, proposing decreasing public deficits and increased taxation on some part of the private sector. That means either increasing private debt, or increasing private austerity over time, with no hope of real economic recovery and full employment unless there is a big debt bubble. That is not sustainable policy and it will only exacerbate the inequality problems we already have in the US each time a debt bubble bursts.

Moving now, to the issue of the trend towards or away from oligarchy, what AE, NL, and Ruck.us have in common is their goal of replacing traditional political parties using on-line forms of interaction — the equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Democratically-run political parties can and should play a constructive role in democratic political systems in aggregating voters’ preferences – provided voters control the parties, their platforms, and their nominating and electoral processes.

The solution to the problem of oligarchy in political parties and political systems, more generally, is not to apply web technology to abandon them, along with the hard-won reforms introduced by progressives over many years. Instead, it is to apply web technology to drive those reforms further and to defeat political party oligarchies, open the way for third parties, neutralize the influence of money in politics, and provide for a continuous and much higher level of activism that will overcome the iron law of oligarchy for good.

Conclusions

AE and No Labels are top-down efforts controlled by a relatively small number of social and political engineers interposing themselves between voters and the nation’s electoral processes. If Ruck.us allies or otherwise joins with them, then the combination of the three, whether formal, or informal, would lead to a corporate-controlled digital infrastructure for the dis-intermediation of political parties and self-government by a small elite “guiding democracy.” In other words, it will only reinforce the trend toward oligarchy through manipulating the discontents and perspectives of the 99%, and co-opting their energies by directing them toward imaginary problems sustained by myths, stereotypes, and ideologies that don’t fit the real world and the real needs of people.

If we value democracy, then we must stop assuming that if something is web-based and formally participatory, then it is automatically democratic. And we must firmly reject efforts to use our hopes for online democracy, and our willingness to seek it, to be co-opted by the 1% to consolidate their control over our lives. The web is ours! We must occupy it and make it a bulwark of democracy, and not just another means to enslave us for the benefit of the 1%. But how can we do that?

We can do it by working through a web platform that will enable the U.S. electorate to use the collective action power of the Internet to create a new 21st century form of self-government, that cannot be corrupted by special interests or political parties and politicians beholden to these interests. Such a platform must empower voters to bypass the current system and circumvent the institutions that have corrupted it. It must do this by enabling voters of all persuasions to build voter-controlled online voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get control of all the vital processes that determine what the nation’s legislative priorities are, who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are enacted.

The platform must facilitate these blocs and coalitions working together outside its boundaries, on the ground, prior to elections, to democratize political parties so that their supporters control them rather than special interests. The blocs and coalitions must be able to form alliances with democratically-run parties while supplanting all parties as the driving forces of U.S. Politics, by providing them with a self-organizing foundation of participation and activism that renews and reinvents democracy and regulates and contains the tendencies for oligarchies to form, little-by-little, every day. In this way, the iron law of oligarchy can finally be overcome and true democratic, self-government can be achieved.

So, where does this leave us? Certainly not with the emergent political troika we see taking shape before us, because fortunately, there is an alternative. That alternative meets the requirements for a platform I just outlined. It is called the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) and it is currently in development. In my next posts, I’ll analyze the social network forming among the elites of AE, No Labels, and Ruck.us in more detail. I’ll also discuss the IVCS, and explain why it can put a stop to the emerging oligarchy and instead create an emerging 21st century democracy for the 99%.

A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?

5:52 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Nancy Bordier and Joseph M. Firestone

As the Occupy Wall Street movement grows, OWS members are weighing their options for obtaining redress of their grievances.

Holding and expanding the ground they occupy is an obvious priority. It draws worldwide attention to their grievances and increasing numbers. It gives them a place to meet, build relationships, discuss and debate their issues, and plan.

Foiling violent action on the part of the police and anarchists is a constant distraction, but it helps the movement develop rules of engagement for everybody. Civil disobedience and voluntary arrests is another avenue, as is direct action, like preventing the seizure of illegally foreclosed homes.

Seeking redress through the political process is even more problematic. Many OWS members believe it would be a futile exercise to try to get lawmakers who have been corrupted by special interests to pass laws in their favor. Using the ballot box to replace their elected representatives is difficult, if not impossible, now that the U.S. Supreme court has given corporations a green light to spend unlimited amounts of corporate funds to influence elections.

The nation’s two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are a major stumbling block to non-party candidates trying to win electoral victories over party-backed candidates. The parties’ grip on the nation’s electoral machinery, and their ability to raise huge amounts of money for their candidates from special interests, gives them decisive advantages over their adversaries at the ballot box.

Efforts to pass laws reforming this corrupt system appear equally futile. Few lawmakers would vote to overturn the laws (governing campaign finance, gerrymandering and elections) that get them elected and enable them to hold on to office.

Despite these obstacles, we think there is a way OWS members can use the political process to redress their grievances. It is by taking advantage of the Internet and a new web-based organizing platform to build winning voting blocs and electoral coalitions that OWS members control.

The platform has agenda-setting tools that enable bloc and coalition members to collaboratively translate their grievances into legislative agendas. It also has consensus-building tools the blocs and coalitions can use to screen, nominate and run candidates for office at all levels of government who will enact their agendas.

While this platform and the website being built around it, reinventdemocracy.net, are still in development, it is possible that they will be available in time for OWS members to elect enough of their own representatives to shift control of Congress away from the 1% in 2012.

The Internet has already played a pivotal role in empowering the OWS movement to spread its tentacles — and tents, throughout the country and the world. It has enabled the movement to broadcast a global rallying cry that hurls the fury of the masses against the “1%” and their political bedfellows who have plunged the remaining “99%” into dire economic and financial straits.

Here in the U.S., unemployed college graduates are joining hands with trade unionists, war veterans, senior citizens, community organizers, dispossessed homeowners, the chronically homeless, and growing numbers of the 100 million Americans living in poverty, or in the category just above it. In early November, OWS demonstrators in Oakland, California, carried out a general strike that shut down its port, the fifth largest in the nation, and brought the city to a standstill.

We believe this movement is unstoppable. We also believe that it has the potential to shift the balance of power from the 1% to the 99% if its members join forces to combine the large scale collective action power of the Internet and the platform we describe below.

By so doing, they can collaboratively translate their grievances into legislative agendas, forestall efforts to embroil the movement in violent confrontations, and build winning voting blocs and coalitions to elect lawmakers who will enact their agendas into the law of the land.

Fixing the System

Currently, there are three major contenders for electoral victories in 2012. The Democratic and Republican parties, and a third party in formation, Americans Elect (AE).

The election prospects of the major party candidates are dimmed by the low regard in which a majority of voters hold the two parties and their elected representatives. A substantial majority of voters say they would consider voting for a third party candidate. That’s where AE comes in.

The unpopularity of the two major parties may give AE candidates the chance to be the exception to the rule that third party candidates usually lose. AE candidates could actually beat major party candidates if they attract the votes of two groups of voters.

The first is the 40% of the electorate that is not registered in either major party. The second are disaffected registered Democrats and Republicans who polls show would vote for a competitive third party candidate if he or she were running on a separate ballot line from either major party.

We view AE’s electoral prospects with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it would be highly desirable for a third party to run competitive candidates against major party candidates — provided it makes the parties and candidates more responsive to voters because they fear they might lose elections to the third party.

On the other hand, it would be undesirable for a third party run by a privately-run corporation like AE, whose board of directors writes the rules, to get into the process if it does not honor the will of the voters any more than the major parties.

[Note: Since AE declares itself a political party in documents addressed to state election authorities, we consider it a party even though it also defines itself as a "social welfare" organization.]

It would be even more undesirable if such a third party uses undemocratic means to nominate candidates, undermine other political parties and the political party system, and elect lawmakers unresponsive to their constituents’ demands that they address the inequality issues raised by the wealth and income gap between the 1% and the 99%.

Unfortunately, in our opinion, AE presents risks on all these fronts. Based on what we have learned about AE, we think it may turn out to be no more responsive to the wishes of the electorate than the two major parties. We also think its modus operandi might well erode fundamental democratic processes and the political party system itself.

With respect to redressing the grievances of OWS members, AE’s well-documented agenda appears to us more likely to favor the 1% than the 99%. The founders of AE and AE’s predecessor, Unity08, have frequently labeled their platform as a “centrist” platform, presumably situated in the middle of a political spectrum they appear to assume comprises a “left”, i.e. a Democratic platform, and a “right”, i.e. a Republican platform.

According to one AE spokesperson, AE’s “centrist” platform is apparently a fiscally conservative one:

“We need a fiscal plan developed that puts us on a path to reducing our debt and deficit while encouraging entitlement reform and cuts in defense and discretionary spending.”

If we are correctly reading between the lines of this statement, AE favors many of the same policies favored by the two major parties that have led to the wealth and income gap between the 1% and the 99%.

Needless to say, AE is within its rights to pursue whatever agenda it wishes. However, it is important to note that terms like “left”, “right” and “center” are widely viewed as having lost their authenticity as accurate descriptors of the electorate’s legislative preferences.

As linguist George Lakoff pointed out years ago, the claim that a “center” and “centrists” exist is empirically and statistically unfounded.

Pew Research Center corroborates Lakoff with research showing that the views of the electorate, and supposed “centrists”, diverge too widely to be categorized as “left”, “right” or “center”, according to a recent survey, Beyond Red and Blue.

The solution we advocate does not use these obsolete labels. It enables the electorate to build winning voting blocs and electoral coalitions around collectively-set legislative agendas that defy categorization as “left”, “right” or “center”.

These blocs and coalitions can work with political parties of their choice, but they will remain autonomous and independent of parties because they will be controlled by voters, and the needs and wants expressed in their legislative agendas will be defined by the voters that control the blocs and coalitions.

Below we describe how this solution works. In particular, we show how it compares with Americans Elect, with which it shares a number of common goals but diverges in far more important respects regarding form, substance and likely impact.

A Comparative Analysis

The system-changing solution we advocate is a web-based “bottom up” political organizing platform, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), invented by political activist and co-author Nancy Bordier. OWS members can use the platform to join with voters of all persuasions to build self-organizing online voting blocs and electoral coalitions.

They can manage and structure their blocs and coalitions as they wish, and organize themselves in ways that prevent the emergence of organizational hierarchies that concentrate power at the top, as political parties tend to do.

They can collaboratively set transpartisan legislative agendas, which transcend the partisan ideological orientations of the major political parties, by using the IVCS agenda-setting, political organizing and consensus-building tools that will be available on reinventdemocracy.net.

They can screen, nominate and run candidates on the ballot lines of political parties of their choice, and build broad-based transpartisan electoral bases that have the voting strength needed to put their candidates in office.

This system contrasts with AmericansElect.org (AE), which we view as a “top down” solution since it is controlled by the board of directors of a single corporation. It is led by veteran Wall Street investor Peter Ackerman.

AE’s current objective is to conduct an online nominating convention to nominate a “balanced” presidential ticket for the 2012 election outside the two major parties. Based on publicly available AE documents and statements, we interpret “balanced” to mean “centrist”.

As mentioned earlier, AE appears to be targeting the 40% of voters who are not registered in the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as disaffected members of the two parties who will vote for a competitive alternative to their party’s ticket if he or she were running on a separate ballot line from either major party.

What the two solutions have in common are their goals of

– Loosening the Democratic and Republican parties’ grip on U.S. electoral processes;

– Empowering the U.S. electorate to play a much larger role in elections than the Democratic and Republican parties have previously allowed them to play;

– Enabling voters to express their political views online, compare their respective views, and screen candidates to compare candidates’ views to their own;

– Empowering voters to nominate and elect candidates who will represent the will of their constituents more closely than major party candidates have represented the will of their constituents in recent years.

The two solutions differ in just as many respects as they converge.

The IVCS solution enables voters to define any legislative agendas they wish, form as many online voting blocs and electoral coalitions as they wish, run as many candidates as they wish, for any office, and place them on the ballot line of any party they wish.

In contrast, the AE solution is attempting to draw voters into a single party, platform and nominating convention to produce a single presidential ticket, which AE plans to simultaneously place on the ballot lines in all 50 states that it states it is in the process of obtaining.

Whereas IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions can make their own rules and create non-hierarchical voting blocs and coalitions, AE’s corporate parent makes the rules and has created what appears to be a pyramid-shaped organizational hierarchy in which authority is concentrated at the top, apparently in the hands of the chairman of the board.

While IVCS blocs and coalitions can nominate any candidates they wish, AE’s bylaws and rules appear to limit voters’ nominations to those acceptable to a committee appointed by its board of directors, whose members serve at its pleasure.

Voters must nominate what AE variously defines as a “coalition ticket” and a “balanced ticket”. Article 1 of AE bylaws specify the goal of the nomination process to be that of nominating a
“coalition ticket responsive to the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of special interests and the partisan interests of either major political party.”

According to its Pre-Convention Rules, the corporation’s “Candidate Certification Committee” determines “whether any proposed ticket is balanced” and which candidates meet meet this criterion:

[A] “ticket with two persons consisting of a Democrat and a Republican shall be deemed to be balanced. A ticket with two persons of the same political party shall be deemed to be imbalanced.” (See Section 8.0 of the bylaws.)

We see here a discrepancy. On the one hand, AE claims that the convention is the “first nonpartisan presidential nomination”. On the other hand, AE requires voters to choose candidates from the nation’s two major political parties, which are clearly partisan.

If the convention were truly “nonpartisan”, the ticket would comprise candidates that belonged to no party, since political parties are “partisan”, according to most common definitions, as are their candidates.

The bias toward a coalition Democrat and Republican presidential ticket also appears to violate AE’s core call to action, which is to “Pick a President, Not a Party”, according to a recent AE press release.

This throwback to the two major parties whose candidates AE is seeking to defeat, when combined with AE’s insistence on a “balanced ticket” comprised of a member of each party that AE is seeking to defeat, reveal what AE’s real goal might be.

We believe it is not merely to defeat major party candidates, but to replace both unpopular parties by migrating their supporters over to the Americans Elect party via a ticket comprised of at least one Democrat and one Republican.

From this perspective, AE’s underlying objective could very well be that of realigning U.S. politics around a single “centrist” party that supplants the two major parties, whose chronic electoral posturing have created a stalemate in Congress and paralyzed the federal government.

To attain this objective, AE’s spokespersons continually castigate the two major parties for being “partisan”. They claim that AE is “nonpartisan” even though its founders are on record as long-time advocates of a “centrist” agenda, and the instrument AE uses to gauge voters’ political views is biased, in our opinion, to skew results in a “centrist” direction, which is a “partisan” direction.

And even though AE says it is allowing voters to formulate the party’s platform and nominate its candidates, by expressing their views in response to an instrument containing an online survey of their views, and voting on nominees, AE’s board of directors has appointed committees to decide what the platform actually is and which candidates can be nominated.

We believe that if AE were genuinely committed to allowing voters to determine the platform, it could simply tally their responses and formulate questions corresponding to the tallies. If it were genuinely committed to allowing voters to nominate the candidates they choose, it would allow them to do so without the oversight of committees controlled by the corporation.

This potential for deviating from authenticity raises questions about the risks inherent in a political party being owned and operated by a private corporation. While AE’s corporate bylaws do give voters it qualifies the possibility of overturning AE decisions by a 2/3 vote, these allowances are virtually meaningless since few bodies ever attain a 2/3 majority. Accordingly, we find it unlikely that AE, a privately run corporation, can be held accountable by any constituency other than its board of directors.

Given this potential lack of accountability, we think it vitally important to consider the risks inherent in AE’s emergence as a political party capable of bringing about the collapse of the two major parties.

These risks are particularly relevant to the “99%” because AE’s founders, leaders and contributors appear to favor a partisan “centrist” agenda that supports the “1%” and, we suspect, are likely to do what they can to obtain from their nominating convention an agenda and candidates who will legislate in the interests of the 1% if elected.

In this light, it is well to bear in mind that the favored candidate of the founders of AE’s predecessor, Unity08, is reported to have been New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and that rumors continue to circulate that he is a prospective candidate for AE’s 2012 presidential ticket.

We list below further steps AE is taking that, in our view, may well be intended to produce a platform and ticket reflective of AE’s preferences.

While they show considerable legal ingenuity in skirting around the electoral laws that have traditionally given the two major parties unfair advantages over third party candidates, they also show a disturbing willingness to undercut traditional democratic processes.

It appears to us that they may undermine the political primary process as a whole, and pose a systemic risk of further weakening the responsiveness of the political party system to the will of the people.

Here are several examples:

1. State laws allow eligible voters to register to vote in any political party they wish, and parties do not have the power to expel any voter or prevent them from voting in a party primary.

In contrast, AE bylaws specify that any person can be “terminated from Americans Elect without prior notice by the Board”. (See sections 2.4 and 5.4 of the bylaws.)

2. AE’s online nominating convention circumvents the state-by-state primaries conducted by the two major parties without replacing them with an equally responsive alternative as far as voter-candidate interaction is concerned.

Specifically, AE asserts in its bylaws that the “secure Internet connection” that it provides voters participating in its convention is a substitute for a “physical presence” in a state. (See sections 8. and 8.1. of Americans Elect bylaws.)

Whether AE’s “Internet connection” is a desirable replacement for face-to-face caucuses and primary campaigns at the state level is a doubtful and arguable proposition.

3. Unlike government-sponsored party primaries conducted at state level in which government officials are responsible for ensuring the accurate tallying of the ballots cast, it appears that AE, a private corporation, intends to have the votes cast in its online nominating convention tallied by its own corporate employees on its own in-house computers.

If AE had instead conferred this task on a third party without ties to the organization, the accuracy of the results could have been externally verified.

4. AE’s bylaws contain a provision stipulating that its online nominating convention does not require a quorum. (See section 8.3.)

Presumably, this also means that there is no minimum number of votes that must be cast by voters in a particular state before AE can legally place its presidential ticket on its ballot lines in that state.

Whether an online nominating convention that has no quorum is a desirable and legal replacement for state-level primaries is also an arguable proposition. For it might well lead to a presidential ticket nominated by an extremely small fraction of the electorate being placed automatically and simultaneously on AE ballot lines in all 50 states.

Quite possibly AE is unconcerned by the prospect that its nominating convention and ticket are not representative or responsive to the “vast majority of citizens”, for the reason that its overriding goal may be just to place on its ballot lines the ticket its committees have teased out of its online nominating process.

Once it does so, we think it likely that large amounts of campaign financing from the 1% will be expended to make the ticket appear responsive to the “vast majority of citizens” infuriated by the conduct of the two major parties, drive AE’s newly forged electoral base to the polls to vote for AE’s ticket, and quite possibly catapult the nascent Americans Elect party and its candidates into the winner’s circle on election day.”

5. At the same time AE is loudly protesting the two major parties’ their grip on the nation’s electoral machinery, and their use of it to prevent third party candidates from winning elections, AE’s bylaws appear designed to similarly restrict competition, by preventing unwelcome external challengers who do not participate in AE’s online nominating process from challenging the process, the nominees, or the outcome.

Section 8.6 of AE bylaws state that the “exclusive means” for any candidate to get on its ballot lines is through its “internet convention”. If state laws allow a “presidential primary election vote”, these votes shall be “advisory only”.

It remains to be seen whether AE’s assertion of these unusual prerogatives will be met with legal challenges at state level when it attempts to place a ticket on its ballot lines.

What is most concerning is that these short-cuts and end-runs around democratic processes may be only the initial phase of AE’s grand realignment strategy, whose overarching goal, we suspect, is to collapse the two major parties into a single major uni-party, the Americans Elect party.

Once the corporation obtains a presidential ticket from its self-styled convention process, and places it on the ballot in all 50 states simultaneously, we expect to see unprecedented sums of special interest money expended to elect its ticket. AE candidates will join the ranks of the Democratic and Republican candidates in holding their hands out to the same special interest contributors pushing the same special interest agendas.

If AE’s ticket draws enough votes away from the two major party tickets, it could actually elect a president and vice president nominated outside the two parties. The next best outcome for AE would be that its ticket draws enough votes away from the major party candidates to prevent the election of either of them, and thereby throws the determination of the outcome of the election into the U.S. House of Representatives.

While that outcome is unpredictable, it would seriously weaken the two major parties even though it favored the fortunes of future “centrist” AE candidates whose policies might well be no different from theirs.

Going forward, we suspect that if AE’s ticket receives 5% of the vote in a respectable number of states, thereby entitling it to remain on the ballot for 2014 and 2016, it will work out the inconsistencies in its legal status and function as a full-fledged “centrist” political party running candidates for all offices at all levels of government, and not merely the presidency.

If so, based on what we have learned about AE’s past history and current trajectory, we think these candidates are likely to favor policies that benefit the 1% rather than the 99%. If such a scenario is in the offing, the IVCS solution takes on special importance, particularly to the members of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

For we think the IVCS solution, and it alone, has the potential to empower not only the OWS movement but the entire U.S. electorate to forestall a possible AE takeover of U.S. electoral and legislative processes, assuming, as we do, that such a power play and realignment around a single party may well be in the offing.

Here’s why we place such confidence in IVCS’s potential:

1. OWS members can mobilize far greater numbers of voters than AE can bring into its fold, by using IVCS tools to bring together U.S. voters of all persuasions into consensus-building processes to translate their grievances into legislative agendas.Voters using the IVCS solution have the potential to exert a far greater political impact than AE nationally and locally because AE supporters can only sit at their computers, answer AE’s questions and sit back passively while AE committees run the show. That’s because IVCS users will get more deeply involved in starting their own ongoing dialogues and debates about their own self-defined issues, setting their legislative agendas, and building and managing voting blocs and coalitions to elect their own representatives to enact their agendas.

2. The IVCS solution enables voters to counteract AE’s potential weakening of voter participation at the state level, by using IVCS tools to democratize and re-invigorate the electoral process at the grassroots.

Voting blocs and coalitions formed with IVCS tools will be able to inject a new dynamism and give-and-take into electoral politics. They will foster a healthy competition among all players, — blocs, coalitions and parties — to develop legislative agendas, negotiate common agendas with prospective candidates, and nominate and run slates of candidates that have broad popular appeal.

3. The IVCS solution will involve voters of all persuasions in developing a dynamic mix of interconnected blocs that will be constantly merging into ever larger coalitions, all seeking to develop and update common legislative agendas and forge electoral bases large enough to get their candidates elected.

4. Voters of all persuasions will use IVCS agenda-setting tools to set “transpartisan” legislative agendas that cross party lines and attract broad cross-sections of voters to their blocs and coalitions. As their numbers grow, they will be able to use IVCS consensus-building tools like the voting utility to help them make decisions.

These blocs and coalitions will spontaneously merge into a decentralized nationwide network of interconnected, interacting blocs and coalitions that supplant political parties as the driving forces of U.S. politics, even while creating alliances with democratized political parties of their choice.

5. To get their candidates on the ballot, blocs and coalitions can put them on the lines of any political party by registering sufficient numbers of their members in the party, collecting enough signatures from party members to get their candidates on the ballot, and getting out enough qualified voters to elect the candidates.

6. The IVCS solution has the potential to encourage greater numbers of candidates to run for office because they will be able to rely on the support and voting strength of IVCS-enabled voting blocs, electoral coalitions and electoral bases.

This positive dynamic will greatly reduce the influence of special interest campaign contributions in U.S. elections because these candidates will not need such contributions to get their message out. For their message will already be known to the members of the blocs and coalitions backing them, since many of them will have participated in setting the agendas and nominating the candidates in the first place.

7. Voters, and especially members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, can use the IVCS solution to usher in a “transpartisan” voter-driven era in U.S. politics that will be neither “left”, “right” nor “center”.

While there will always be “partisan” issues favored by certain “parties” of voters, IVCS provides voters unique problem-solving and consensus-building tools for reconciling differences regarding legislative priorities and collectively-setting legislative agendas.
Voters will be able to convert partisan differences into common agendas, including the partisan preferences of any political party, AE included.

IVCS consensus-building tools will enable them to build large electoral bases that permit them to outflank and outmaneuver political parties with whom they are not aligned.

Yet they can use these same tools to build winning electoral bases and coalitions with any political parties with which they wish to align around shared legislative agendas and common slates of candidates.

8. Finally, one of the most significant contributions of IVCS tools, especially the agenda-setting and political organizing tools, is that they enable voting blocs and coalitions to use their agendas as legislative mandates for which their members can hold their elected representatives accountable at the ballot box when they seek re-election.

If incumbents cannot provide tangible evidence and concrete track records showing they have exerted their best efforts to enact voters’ written legislative agendas, the voting blocs and coalitions that got them elected will defeat them when they seek re-election.

Voters will at last be able to prevent politicians from saying one thing on the campaign trail and then doing another when they are in office.

Conclusion

The members of the Occupy Wall Street movement have demonstrated an understandable reluctance to establish hierarchical structures and decision-making rules. They prefer unanimous consent over other formulas.

What we hope is that the members of the movement will recognize that the IVCS platform enables them to build non-hierarchical political organizations like the self-organizing voting blocs and coalitions described above, and use them to obtain redress of their grievances through the political process.

Their blocs and coalitions will maintain their responsiveness to their members and their fluidity because their members will be controlling them and making all the rules.

If any members disagree with the way things are going, and encounter insurmountable obstacles in their efforts to redirect the things they object to, they can exit the blocs and coalitions and start their own. They can use the same IVCS tools available to all blocs and coalitions for attracting new members.

We believe the IVCS platform is uniquely designed to empower movement members and the 99% to join forces to translate their grievances into convergent legislative agendas in the near term.

We are confident they will be able to elect enough of their own representatives to shift control of Congress away from the 1% in 2012, enact their agendas, and at the same time empower the electorate to obtain permanent control of the nation’s electoral and legislative processes and outcomes.

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Elections from Special Interests: Electing Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate Race

12:39 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy in 2009 with the support of the special-interest backed Tea Party movement, and large campaign contributions from the banking and financial sector. He was also helped by disaffected working class voters. Whether Brown or another candidate supported by these players runs in 2012, mainstream Massachusetts voters will face an uphill battle trying to elect a senator who will champion their interests against special interests.

The legislative track records of major party lawmakers, especially Congressional representatives, show they are closely aligned with the interests of the corporate financial interests that finance their campaigns. While Democratic and Republican Congressional electoral candidates try to make it appear that there are major differences between them, their votes on key legislative issues tend to be quite similar in reflecting the priorities of their corporate campaign contributors. So regardless of which major party’s candidates voters elect, as hamstrung voters jockey back and forth between the two parties, voters get roughly the same special interest-favoring legislation.

Not only are the major party candidates unlikely to provide voters real alternatives in 2012, but the rumored third party presidential candidate who might emerge from the special interest-backed No Labels party, and the Americans Elect online nominating convention, is likely to run on an agenda crafted by the same conservative financial interests that are bankrolling both of these organizations, as well as the Democratic and Republican parties. Although No Labels and Americans Elect claim they are focused on the so-called “center” of American politics, comprised of the nearly 40% of voters who have defected from the ranks of registered Democrats and Republicans, both appear to be pursuing a conservative fiscal agenda articulated by financial fat cats like Peter Peterson.

While these political facts of life may make it seem impossible to imagine a scenario in which Massachusetts voters could elect a senator who would champion their interests, there is one scenario that might work. If Harvard law professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren decides to enter the race, as she is being encouraged to do, she just might be able to take up the cause of mainstream Massachusetts voters and defeat these special interests to win herself the Massachusetts Senate seat if she and her supporters take advantage of two untapped political levers. The first lever is the large scale collective action power of the Internet, which has been showing increasing political muscle, and the second is the online voter mobilization potential of a unique social networking platform, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), now in development.

In two earlier posts in this series, I’ve analyzed the potential impact of IVCS on the 2012 elections in the 8th Congressional District of Virginia, and also in the coming Virginia Senate election contest that appears to be shaping up between former Senator George Allen and former Governor Tim Kaine. In this post, I’ll show how Warren’s supporters can leverage both the collective action potential of the Internet and IVCS’s unique voter-mobilization tools and services to win both primary and general elections on the Democratic line in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. First, a brief primer on IVCS.

How It Works

IVCS enables voters to get out of a reactive mode and into the driver’s seat of U.S. elections. It is a voter-driven, political crowdsourcing platform that enables individual voters and political activists to bring virtually unlimited numbers of voters with common policy priorities into winning voting blocs and electoral coalitions that voters control. These blocs and coalitions can work within existing or new political parties to run and elect candidates to office who pledge to enact their priorities into law.

The IVCS social networking platform provides voters across the political spectrum free agenda-setting, organizing and consensus-building tools on a single website. The agenda-setting tools enable activists and voters to build personal networks with other voters who share their policy priorities. The platform’s organizing-building tools enable them to transform their networks into voting blocs and electoral coalitions hosted on the website. Its consensus-building tools enable them to build winning electoral bases of broad cross-sections of voters that run and elect candidates whom they can hold accountable for enacting their priorities into law. These electoral victories will enable U.S. voters to eliminate the ever widening gap between voters’ priorities and the legislation enacted by lawmakers who follow the dictates of their special interest campaign contributors.

Most importantly, voting blocs that use IVCS tools to build voter-controlled electoral coalitions and democratize political parties, by giving their members real decision-making power to set their agendas and select their candidates, can neutralize the influence of special interest money in elections. For they can use web-based IVCS communication tools to get their message out and get their voters to the polls without special interest money. Moreover, by involving voters across the political spectrum in analyzing, weighing and debating policy priorities, they will also be able to counter the cognitive distortions in voters’ perceptions that special interests create by spreading false information and political propaganda.

Significantly, IVCS-enabled voting blocs, coalitions and political parties can prevent the fragmentation of the U.S. electorate into losing splinter groups and parties too small to win elections, and neutralize the impact of three special interest-backed parties, assuming the rumored third major party materializes and runs candidates in the 2012 presidential election. They can use IVCS consensus-building tools to wean away mainstream voters from these special interest-backed parties by giving them decision-making influence over policy agenda setting across the board and candidate selection that none of these parties is inclined to do.

These consensus-building tools enable voting blocs to create broad-based coalitions among large cross-sections of voters around transpartisan policy agendas. They can involve virtually unlimited numbers of voters in making decisions and resolving disagreements by using the IVCS Voting Utility to vote on their agendas, which candidates to run, contested issues and proposed political alliances and coalitions.

Since problem solving in the system will be web-based and distributed, rather than centralized, blocs and bloc-run coalitions will be able to quickly increase their voting strength by using the social networking capabilities of the Internet, coupled with IVCS organizing and consensus-building tools to reach out to other voters online. Moreover, they will adapt to their political environments more quickly and effectively than formally-organized political parties organized around rigid platforms. They will spontaneously merge into a nationwide yet decentralized Internet-based web of voter-controlled political organizations. Their members will be able to interact with each other at the speed of light through the networking capabilities of the IVCS website and rapidly supersede legacy parties and special interests as the driving forces in the American political system. (For more information about IVCS, click here.)

How Warren Supporters Can Use IVCS to Elect Warren in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate Race

Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren is a nationally-known and highly-respected consumer advocate who served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel appointed to monitor the implementation of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which bailed out insolvent banking and financial institutions during the 2008 – 2009 financial crisis. Although Warren was widely heralded as the most able person to take the reins of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by Congress after the crisis to protect consumers from predatory banks and financial institutions, Congressional opposition from Republican lawmakers has prevented her from being appointed to head up the new agency, which she originally proposed.

President Obama yielded to the opposition and appointed her only to oversee the development of the bureau as his Assistant. Since the bureau will be housed in the Treasury Department, she was also named Special Advisor to Treasury Secretary Geithner, despite the fact that they are reportedly at odds on numerous fronts. Even after assuming these positions, Warren has continued to be relentlessly attacked in the corporate media, vilified by right-wing lawmakers, and castigated by banking and financial interests – at the same time that she has become an heroic figure to supporters of financial reform. In light of increasing indications that effective financial reform is on-hold in the 112th Congress, and Warren’s appointment as head of the bureau is unlikely, support is gathering behind a Warren candidacy for the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race.

If she runs, the economic and political facts of life in that state in 2012 are unlikely to have changed very much since the 2009 election of Republican Scott Brown. If anything, they have worsened. Unemployment and underemployment will still be very high; the banksters and fraudsters will remain unpunished; taxes for the wealthy will remain low and may get lower; austerity will evidently still be the order of the day; at this writing, there’s a good chance that Social Security expenditures will be cut before the Spring is out; a new wave of unemployment will be coming from state and local level austerity policies, and from a new round of foreclosures unless the state courts put a stop to them; health care costs and insurance prices will continue to rise; nothing will have been done about the unpopular “health care reform bill”; credit card interest rates will continue to be oppressive; the wars abroad are likely to continue; the “shared pain” of the trumped up fiscal crisis will not be shared by the well-off; and mainstream Americans will be somewhat, but not very much, concerned about public deficits and debts. During yet another election cycle, the economic and financial distress of working Americans will be given short shrift by politicians resorting to culture war issues to avoid talking about the real problems voters are facing. The views of a majority of voters regarding job creation, the distribution of the tax burden, and single payer health care will be ignored, or merely paid lip-service, by candidates whose real agendas reflect the wishes of their corporate campaign financiers.

So, voters will still be really angry at the Democrats for their poor performance in the last Congress, and absolutely livid at the Republicans for their performance in the present one, and their failure to do anything about any of the above — especially their failure to keep their promises about jobs. In this environment people will be angry at Scott Brown, and they’ll be none too happy with Massachusetts’s ten House Democrats. All in all, 2012 won’t be a good year for incumbents, for candidates of either of the two legacy parties, or for voters, who will be faced with choosing among a traditional Democratic or Republican candidate, or a rumored third party candidate running on a No Labels platform largely inspired by special interest fat cats like Peter Peterson.

The unique contribution of IVCS to this race (and any race, for that matter) is that it enables voters to join forces to set their own policy agendas, support announced candidates or put their own candidates on the ballot who will honor their agendas, and build electoral bases large enough to elect them to office.

We know from polls that a majority of Americans are fed up with both major parties and would like to replace most elected representatives in Congress. Any voter or political activist in Massachusetts can get the ball rolling to create a voting bloc to draft Warren by using the IVCS Policy Options Database on the IVCS website to set their individual policy agendas, and create their own personal home page on the IVCS website (which they can make public or keep private). This voter can query the IVCS Policy Priorities Database to see how many other Massachusetts voters have already selected priorities similar to theirs, contact them and invite them to the bloc.

These voters can form the nucleus of an ever expanding voting bloc hosted on the IVCS website, with its own home page, internal email and messaging tools. The organizers and members set their own rules for running the voting bloc. They can incrementally increase the size of their bloc by reaching out through their own personal online social networks to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and members of like-minded groups of all stripes. They can invite them to join their bloc by accessing the website to set their agendas, compare them with those of the bloc as a whole, and decide to join the bloc if their priorities converge.

They should have no trouble ramping up the size of their bloc to attain decisive electoral strength, given polls showing that 60% – 80% of Americans are so dissatisfied with the Democratic and Republican parties that they want to see most incumbents in Congress defeated. They will be able to grow their bloc by leaps and bounds if they make systematic efforts to recruit new members by getting the word out that all of its members will be able to play an active role in setting the bloc’s agenda and formulating its electoral strategy. They can hold face-to-face and online “town meetings” to discuss the track record of Scott Brown, and collectively decide whether to get behind Warren and urge her to make a primary bid on the Democratic line. Assuming the bloc decides to do so, it can contact her directly to open negotiations to set a common agenda and address key strategic and logistical questions. Of course, the bloc will have to demonstrate its ability to gain the electoral strength it will need to get her elected in a primary and a general election

Needless to say, the Democratic primary for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Scott Brown, as well as the general election, are likely to feature highly competitive races driven by the same divisive ideological and emotional issues that major candidates always use to gin up a winning electoral base on the part of supporters dispirited by their unsatisfactory legislative track records. IVCS can play a decisive role for a candidate like Warren entering the electoral fray by helping her forge a winning transpartisan electoral base that unites rather than divides the electorate.

A voting bloc that is large enough to win a primary election and possibly swing a close general election, but has an agenda that is likely to prove controversial to general election voters, could actually cost Warren votes if she committed to it. But a voting bloc that works with her to involve a broad cross-section of voters in setting a popular agenda can gain many votes for her, if she commits to the process and the agenda that emerges from it. Not only will the bloc’s members support her in getting out the vote needed to win the primary; but they can subsequently reach out across party lines, especially the lines of the unpopular Democratic and Republican parties, to involve large numbers of disaffected voters, especially those who have defected from the parties to register as Independents, in using IVCS agenda-setting, organizing and consensus-building tools. Such a unique, grassroots, pro-active involvement of voters can grow the voting bloc into a broad-based electoral coalition well beyond the ideological confines of the narrowing electoral bases of the Democratic and Republican parties.

One thing to keep in mind is that IVCS is likely to generate not just one voting bloc in the Massachusetts 2012 Senate race, but several. These blocs and coalitions can decide to run their own candidates or negotiate with candidates who have announced electoral bids. In exchange for the bloc’s support in mobilizing voters on their behalf, blocs can ask candidates to commit to bloc agendas that have already been set or to collaborate with them in creating a joint agenda. If, after these negotiations, candidates win with bloc support, the blocs will be able to hold them accountable in future elections for implementing mutually agreed upon agendas after they take office.

So, let’s assume that by late fall of 2011, IVCS is accelerating the formation of voting blocs and the mobilization of voters throughout the state. The whole roster of candidates for elective office in Massachusetts will find themselves in an unprecedentedly fluid, voter-driven political environment comprised of alternately diverging and converging IVCS-based voting blocs and electoral coalitions committed to enacting specific policy agendas set by their members. They will be rapidly growing in size. Once they have negotiated common agendas, endorsed candidates, and created coalitions and political alliances, they will be capable of mobilizing many hundreds of thousands of voters in Massachusetts and tipping the forthcoming elections in favor of the candidates they decided to support. Voters, not special interests, will be in the driver’s seat of the election.

The ability of IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions to gain traction within the constellation of candidates in the Massachusetts 2012 primary election will depend on the present and anticipated size of specific blocs, the perceived degree of competitiveness of the races being run, the degree to which candidates and blocs can agree on common agendas, the blocs’ and candidates’ capacity to build electoral coalitions that mobilize other voters, as well as the degree to which candidates may be so beholden to special interests that they refuse to commit to enacting bloc formulated agendas.

So, assuming a pro-Warren voting bloc is formed with an agenda likely to be popular among Massachusetts voters, how large would its electoral base have to be in Massachusetts in order for her and the bloc to view the bloc as an effective organizational engine to get her on the ballot for the primary election, such that she would be induced to commit to its agenda?

Answer: if the bloc were the only organization working to put Warren on the ballot of the Democratic Party, bloc members would have to collect approximately 15,000 signatures from registered Democrats in order to be fairly certain of obtaining the minimum 10,000 valid signatures required by state law. Clearly, getting her on the primary ballot would not present an insurmountable hurdle for the voting bloc to overcome, assuming it has implemented a systematic voter recruitment and mobilization strategy that taps into the collective action power of the Internet and the social networking capabilities of IVCS.

For the next hurdle, the number of votes needed to win the primary election itself is quite a bit higher. In 2008, in a primary that wasn’t hotly contested, Democratic Senate candidate John Kerry won the election with 335,923 votes out of 487,396 total votes cast. By comparison, in the 2009 special election, Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley received 310,227 votes out of 664,195 total votes cast in the Democratic primary.

The ultimately victorious Republican candidate, Scott Brown, won the Republican primary with only 145,465 votes out of 162,706 votes cast. (Once he got on the general election ballot, the donations and voter mobilization assistance he received from Tea Party funders and supporters, combined with the financial contributions he received from banks and financial institutions, enabled him to garner 1,168,178 votes, against 1,060,861 votes cast for his Democratic opponent Coakley in a state that has long been a traditional Democratic strong-hold.)

In view of the 2009 primary results in the Brown-Coakley race, in order for the voting bloc to persuade Warren to get behind the bloc’s agenda, or create a joint agenda, it would have to provide convincing evidence that it could mobilize upwards of 350,000 votes in a 2012 primary, or an average of 35,000 per Congressional District. (If more candidates enter the race, the number of votes the voting bloc needs drops, but it will still have to surpass the total garnered by any other candidate.) This 350,000 figure looks realistic considering that there’ll probably be at least 3 or 4 candidates in the Democratic race. Announced, potential, and declined candidates include Martha Coakley, the 2010 Democratic candidate, who appears disinclined to run, with likely contenders including Mike Capuano, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, Stephen Lynch, and Ed Markey. Three of them are in Congress now and are all very well-known. But the question remains whether an IVCS-enabled voting bloc could deliver 350,000 Democratic primary votes, and whether a candidate like Warren would be sufficiently convinced that it can deliver to commit to a voting bloc’s policy agenda and run on it.

This is where a new, emerging political constituency, comprised of young Millennial voters, combined with the collective action power of the Internet, and the political crowdsourcing capabilities of IVCS, can create decisive levers for an insurgent candidate like Warren running an uphill race against major party regulars. Research on the 2008 presidential election demonstrates the margin of victory that Millennials can provide in a tightly divided race, and the effectiveness of web-based social networks in mobilizing them to become actively involved in these races.

Post-election surveys show that upwards of 125,000,000 Americans conducted their political activities during the 2008 presidential election over the Internet — almost as many people as voted in the election itself. Barack Obama’s victory in that election is credited to his campaign’s ability to use the crowdsourcing capacity of web-based social networks like Facebook and MySpace to recruit young Millennial voters born between 1980 and the early 2000s. He used his campaign’s Facebook and MySpace pages to increase his “fan” base, and then migrate his fans to his campaign website, where his political organizers had built a huge database of voter files with many different kinds of information on each voter.

They used these files and the data they contained to transmit a steady stream of personally-tailored messages to each supporter. These messages were aimed at enticing them not only to volunteer to hold events in their local communities, distribute flyers, and solicit cam paign contributions, but at constantly encouraging them to use their own personal social networks to recruit their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to Obama’s campaign website. When it came time to get out the vote, the original database had swelled to nearly 13,000,000 voters with whom the campaign could communicate instantly via email and text messages to drive his voters to the polls. The outcome was that Millennials provided Obama 80% of his popular vote margin over McCain.

With IVCS, it is voters rather than candidates who will use the political crowdsourcing potential of web-based social networks to run winning campaigns they control on behalf of agendas they set and candidates they select. Better social networking tools than Obama’s campaign used to create his margin of victory will be available to Millennial members of IVCS-enabled voting blocs hosted on the IVCS website. It is quite likely that they will not work as actively for Obama in 2012 as they did in 2008, because his policies have given them, along with most of the American middle class, the proverbial royal screw, when it comes to jobs and prospects for their futures. In 2012, they’ll be looking for new, non-establishment, non-special interest-backed candidates to support. Elizabeth Warren may well be one of them.

Given the ubiquity of Millennials, the largest generation of voters in history, who will comprise 25% of the electorate in 2012 and 40% of the electorate in 2020, and their well-established sophistication using the web to build individual personal social networks comprised of hundreds of friends, family and co-workers, a voting bloc supporting Warren should have little difficulty building a winning electoral base. Once unemployed and uninsured, Millennials will join forces with disaffected mainstream voters to formulate policy agendas for bettering the condition of the middle class and providing full employment. They will use their social networking finesse to build a powerful web-based political constituency that can easily decide both the primary and general elections in Warren’s favor.

She is likely to commit to its policy agenda and to join forces with voting bloc members to win the Massachusetts primary and general elections because together, they can create a transpartisan electoral base that can outmaneuver and outflank the declining electoral bases of the two major parties. She and her supporters within the bloc, and whatever electoral coalitions they create can use IVCS tools and databases to continuously hone their policy agenda, and expand their electoral base to counter the fiscally conservative, special interest-backed agendas that the two parties (and possibly the third major party in formation) will be trying to foist off on a hapless public, which would be without recourse were it not for IVCS.

The game-changing nature of IVCS will further provide a paradigm-shifting reference point and perspective not only for a voting bloc supporting Warren in Massachusetts; but also for other voting blocs in other states running insurgents against major party regulars. As IVCS-enabled voting blocs take the place of traditional political parties as the reference point for political activists as well as mainstream voters, they will engender viewpoints among their members that defy contemporary dogmas and reject traditional political discourse presented to them by the corporate-controlled mainstream media outlets.

As participation in IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions becomes habitual and sustained, political propaganda disseminated by special interests will be dissected and rejected. Corporate political advertising will be critically evaluated by voting bloc members, especially since their advertising messages are by necessity and design very simplistic, while the dialogues, debates and internal communications inside voting blocs will be richer, more layered, and more textured. Typical political mailings will be laughed at. Attempts to divide and distract voters with sensationalism will be viewed as cynical attempts to manipulate the perceptions of voting bloc members. Even the debates among major candidates will be viewed through the reality-based conceptual lenses being developed continuously within the voting blocs. Debates by talking points and disingenuous counterpoints will be recognized for the kabuki they are. And when the post-debate spinmeisters appear to claim victory for their candidates, their views will be quickly dismissed.

In brief, IVCS, and the alternative social/political sphere it will create, will insulate voting bloc members from the special interest-controlled sphere of mass politics and mass political persuasion. The blocs will weaken the power and influence of special interests, and undermine the value of special interest-funded advertising and marketing activities that make it so expensive to run for office.

Remember that the reason why political advertising and marketing messages are effective now is because they are targeted at specific identity groups, and designed to divide the electorate into irreconcilable camps. But when conflict-fomenting marketing and advertising confront new political constituencies that can unite to set common transpartisan agendas and voter-controlled voting blocs with winning electoral bases not under the control of special interests, they will lose their fire power. Will the marketers and advertisers be able to adapt to this new dynamic and figure out how to manipulate it? I don’t think so, because they won’t be able to keep up with the speed and versatility of voting bloc learning processes, and the continuous adaptations of voting bloc agendas and strategies to emerging political realities.

In early 2012, Massachusetts Senate candidate prospect Elizabeth Warren, together with one or more IVCS-enabled voting blocs eager to support her candidacy, will have the opportunity to reach out to each other, assuming the IVCS website is fully up and running. Given the range of choices available in the IVCS Policy Options Database, and the possibility that voters and candidates can add new options to it, it is quite likely that they can negotiate a common, mutually acceptable policy agenda. Assuming that the voting bloc has put in place an effective strategy for attaining the voting strength that it will need to elect Warren in the primary election against Democratic opponents, and the general election against all other candidates, Warren and the bloc are likely to agree to jointly announce her candidacy.

At this point, the bloc can move quickly toward building the electoral base it will need to garner the approximately 35,000 votes on average it will need in each of the Massachusetts electoral districts to win the primary. Warren’s potential for success in the primary will depend, first and foremost, on what she does. If she works within the confines of the present political system, and declines to join forces with an IVCS voting bloc to use IVCS consensus-building tools to create her own constituency around collective transpartisan agenda-setting, while one of her competitors, say Mike Capuano, the Congressman from the Massachusetts 8th, decides to commit, then the primary campaign will be very hard for her to win.

Moving on to the general election, here Warren will probably need about 1.6 million votes, or an average of 160,000 per Congressional district to win the 2012 Senate race. This assumes that roughly 3 million to 3.2 million people will turn out. It is also worth bearing in mind that there may be a third party candidate running on the No Labels ticket who will be targeting so-called “centrist” voters who have defected from the Democratic and Republican parties, and who will receive substantial backing from fiscal conservatives who think that the political stalemate created by the unpopular Democratic and Republican parties is harming the nation’s ability to solve its pressing crises. In this case, the candidates running on the Republican and No Labels ticket will draw votes from a Democratic ticket led by Obama at the top.

So even if Elizabeth Warren wins the Massachusetts Democratic primary, registered Democratic party voters may continue to decline, so disaffected are they with party performance at all levels. Their defection is likely to prevent Warren from winning on the basis of Democratic voters alone. Given her track record in attempting to regulate predatory bankers and financial institutions, she will be at a great disadvantage in competing against candidates like Scott Brown who will be heavily financed by them. So she will not be able to win the general election with only Democratic votes or with traditional Democratic funders.

But she can turn this necessity into a virtue by working with the IVCS voting bloc to forge a transpartisan electoral base. Elizabeth Warren has been a champion of the middle class for some time, and a general election campaign spear-headed by an IVCS voting bloc would enable her to involve middle class voters across the political spectrum in crafting a transpartisan agenda that addresses their economic and financial distress.

Logistically, her IVCS voting bloc would go all out to use IVCS consensus-building tools to forge a winning electoral coalition and mobilize its voters to go to the polls to ensure that Warren wins the general election in 2012. Given overwhelming voter dissatisfaction with establishment incumbents candidates, which is likely to remain unchanged by election day, and the capability of IVCS to forge electoral coalitions whose members espouse the similar policy priorities, and who are motivated to work for the electoral coalition and those they support, I think it’s very likely that an IVCS electoral coalition supporting Warren can deliver the 1.6 million votes that it will need to elect Warren and upset Scott Brown.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

How Voters Can Get Control of the 2012 Virginia Senate Race

5:38 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The 2012 Virginia Senate race is shaping up as a contest between former Governor and Senator George F. Allen, and former Governor Tim Kaine, both establishment candidates in the legacy parties and heavily favored to win their respective nominations. They will couch their messages in terms calculated to resonate with Virginia voters. But once elected, if recent history is any guide, their legislative priorities will diverge significantly from the priorities of the voters who elect them because they will be heavily influenced by special interests that finance their campaigns.

The Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), when fully developed, enables Virginia voters to upset their respective apple carts. In my last post, I described its potential impact on Jim Moran’s next campaign in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, and explained how the IVCS could lead to the formation of a voting bloc or electoral coalition that could make Jim Moran, or an alternative candidate selected by the voting bloc, accountable to the voting bloc or coalition and its policy agenda. In this post, I’ll do a similar analysis of the Senate race focusing on Tim Kaine.

Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine has had a notable career as a Democratic Party centrist. As an attorney he built a very good reputation as an advocate for victims of housing bias based on race and disabilities. In 1994, after 10 years of practice, he was elected to the Richmond City Council. In 1998, the Council elected him Mayor of Richmond. In 2001, he was elected to the position of Lieutenant Governor with 925,974 votes, 50.35% of the total. This was a narrow win, but Kaine had become closely associated with the very popular Mark Warner during his term, and in 2005, with Warner’s strong support, he was elected Governor with 1,025,942 votes, 51.72% of the total, a margin of 6% over his Republican opponent Jerry Kilgore.

Kaine governed as a centrist. He balanced the budget, emphasized transportation development and funding, continued Warner’s strong support for education, emphasized conservation, signed an Executive Order banning smoking, and, in general, tried to promote balanced growth for the State. Kaine has been a strong supporter and friend of Barack Obama who named him to chair the Democratic National Committee. He was on Obama’s short list for the Vice Presidential nomination, and the president has recently indicated that he thinks Tim Kaine, who has yet to formally announce his candidacy for the US Senate, would make a fine successor to the departing Jim Webb. Since George Allen has announced his candidacy for the 2012 US Senate race in Virginia on the Republican line, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Tim Kaine will be the Democratic Party’s choice to try to hold that Senate seat for the Democrats against George Allen’s attempt to return to the Senate.

Visualizing the Potential Impact of the IVCS on Tim Kaine and the Democratic Party

In my last post analyzing the potential impact of the IVCS on Jim Moran’s upcoming re-election campaign, and also in a number of others, I’ve written about how the IVCS environment will enable its members to form initially small voting blocs around specific policy agendas and then how, through problem solving, collaboration, negotiation and compromise, aided by IVCS social networking facilities, smaller voting blocs can aggregate into ever larger ones, and finally into electoral coalitions unifying millions of people in support of a policy agenda they share. If you’re interested in these details please read the posts linked to above and also “2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests”, and then try to visualize how things might work in the US Senate race coming up in Virginia in 2012.

Start by generalizing the scenario I provided for Jim Moran’s Congressional race in the Virginia 8th to all 11 Congressional Districts in Virginia. In the Congressional scenario, I highlighted trans-partisan voting blocs that were focused on the 8th Congressional District. But the IVCS enables such voting blocs and electoral coalitions to easily organize on a cross-district basis because it is web-based and uses social networking technologies to interconnect voters with similar policy priorities irrespective of where they live. In fact, the natural mode of voting bloc organization is initially around policy options and policy agendas, not around specific election districts. So we are as likely to see cross-district, and even cross-state voting blocs emerge and organize around policy options and agendas as we are to see them focus their memberships to conform to political boundaries like local, state, and Congressional District boundaries in order to further those agendas. Given the demographics of Congressional Districts, they are likely to provide voting blocs the most fertile ground for initially flexing their political muscles. Once the voting blocs start organizing by Congressional Districts, however, they will quickly recognize that they can also mount campaigns and primary challenges to major party incumbents and favored candidates for any offices elected by state voters, whether they are local, state or federal. So, let’s visualize the situation in Virginia in a typical House and Senate election year, assuming the IVCS is in place.

First, let’s take a typical House election year. To get a candidate on the ballot and ensure a primary challenge to at least one of the major Party candidates in each District, the IVCS voting block in each of the 11 Congressional Districts would need to gather at least 1500 petition signatures from qualified voters per district, for a total of at least 16,500 signatures.

Second, let’s take a Senate race. To meet state requirements for getting a single primary candidate for the US Senate in Virginia on the primary election ballot, it would be very easy for IVCS voting bloc members to gather another 1500 in each District, that is, another 16,500, at the same time. Since Virginia requires 10,000 qualified voters total and at least 400 from each of its 11 Congressional Districts, and recommends that 15,000 – 20,000 be gathered with at least 700 from each Congressional District, the voting bloc would easily meet Virginia’s requirement for entering a candidate in a major Party primary.

This means that Tim Kaine, currently viewed as a “shoo-in” choice of the Democratic Party, assuming that he decides he will run for the US Senate, could easily face a voting bloc primary challenge in 2012 if there’s no agreement between himself and the voting bloc on a common agenda, and the bloc decides to enter its own candidate in the primary. Of course, if there is no agreement between Kaine and the voting bloc on a policy agenda, this divergence doesn’t guarantee that Kaine would lose a primary challenge to a voting bloc supported candidate. However, what would favor a voting bloc candidate’s victory in the primary is the fact that US Senate primary elections in Virginia have very low turnouts and highly motivated blocs of primary voters can determine the outcome even if their numbers are small. For example, there was a 3.45% turnout for the Jim Webb/Harris Miller Democratic Party primary race in 2004. Jim Webb won with 83,298 votes, which was 53.47 percent of the votes cast.

If Tim Kaine were expecting stiff primary opposition, the Democratic Party could mount a major effort to support him. But considering that the Senate primary race occurs months after the presidential primary in Virginia, the turnout potential for the major parties is much more similar to what it is in an off-year congressional election. Most probably, the most the Party organization would be able to produce is the turnout that occurred in the three-way hotly contested gubernatorial primary of 2009. That primary had a turnout of 6.3%, and was won by Creigh Deeds with close to 158,000 votes, very close to 50% of the approximately 319,000 votes cast.

This previous history suggests that a voting bloc candidate who would be a very safe prospect for an electoral victory in a Virginia US Senate primary would probably require no more than 200,000 votes, or an average of roughly 18,000 per Congressional District. In the 2008 general election, Democrats won 6 of the 11 Virginia Congressional Districts, and 2 of the 3 in Northern Virginia. They received over 200,000 votes in 3 of the 6, and between 140,000 and 200,000 in the other three. They also garnered between 114,000 and 150,000 in each of the 5 Congressional Districts in which they were defeated. In view of these 2008 general election vote totals, and the fair amount of Democratic strength in all Congressional Districts in most regions of the state, an average of 18,000 primary votes in each Congressional District for a Senate candidate it supports seems well within the reach of a statewide voting bloc, since it is less than 10% of the general election total, and we can expect stronger commitments among voting bloc members translating into higher percentage turnouts in primary elections than parties normally receive because IVCS forged social bonds are likely to be much stronger than political party ties.

Considering that Jim Webb won the VA Senate Democratic primary in 2004 with 83,298 votes, even a voting bloc candidate that could command only 100,000 votes, an average of roughly 9,000 per Congressional District, would present a very significant challenge to a Tim Kaine candidacy, and may well persuade him to embrace the voting bloc’s agenda in the primary. Whether or not he does that, however, the voting bloc can be expected to easily arrive at the 18,000 average votes needed per District to produce a very safe electoral margin. That’s because the number of Democratic voters and other voters of various persuasions whom the voting bloc can bring into the primary is substantial and sufficient to elect the bloc’s candidate, due to the following factors:

– Widespread dissatisfaction of voters across the political spectrum with the legislative track records of known candidates and incumbents of both parties as expressed in polls,

– Lack of responsiveness of major party candidates and incumbents to mainstream voters’ current economic and financial difficulties, as reflected in their inability to develop a job creation strategy that works, a strategy that halts foreclosures and stabilizes the real estate market, a strategy that will clean up the financial system continually victimizing Americans, and a strategy that provides good health care at a stable price that working Americans can afford.

– The IVCS-enabled voting bloc will be able to use IVCS agenda-setting tools to mobilize disaffected voters to define their policy priorities across the board, rather than being restricted to the confines of party alignments, and participate in creating a written legislative mandate for their candidate.

– The web-based consensus-building tools of the IVCS will create stronger social ties and loyalties among voting bloc supporters than the legacy Parties can create among voters contemptuous of their prior track records.

These four factors will make it possible for the IVCS-enabled bloc to create a larger electoral base of motivated voters than Kaine’s base of disaffected Democrats, and in turn lead to a higher turnout, and it will also allow the bloc to do that without recourse to large amounts of campaign money because if its use of IVCS organizing facilities. Since the requirement of 200,000 votes is less than 5% of the total votes available, it’s not a very high bar to overcome.

As with the scenario I outlined for Jim Moran’s upcoming re-election effort, if Tim Kaine earned the backing of the voting bloc in the primary in exchange for supporting its agenda, and then won the primary with the votes of the voting bloc, the bloc could keep the pressure on Kaine during the general election by putting up a “back-up” candidate on the Independent line or on the line of a third party. The bloc could shift its support to this candidate in the event Kaine reneged on his support of the bloc’s agenda during the campaign. On the other hand, if Kaine maintained his advocacy of the bloc’s agenda, then the bloc would go all out to use IVCS consensus-building tools to forge a winning electoral coalition and drive its voters to the polls to ensure that Kaine wins the general election in 2012.

The 2008 Senate race was won by Mark Warner with a total of 2.37 million votes (65% of the 3.64 million votes cast). That race had a high turnout of about 72.4% of the total number of registered voters since it was held during the 2008 presidential election. Assuming that it’s unlikely that turnout in 2012 would exceed 75% of the total number of registered voters in the Senate race, and that total votes would exceed 3.9 million, then I infer that a safe total needed by Kaine or any of his opponents to win would be about 2 million votes.

The requirement for IVCS then, is to deliver an average of 182,00 votes per Congressional District, to ensure the election of Tim Kaine, provided that he remains committed to the voting bloc’s agenda, or its alternative candidate, if he defaults on his commitment to the bloc’s agenda. If turnout is less than 75% and the growth in registered voters is less than I’ve projected, then the requirement might fall to as low as an average of 162,000, many less than the average of 215,000 who voted for Mark Warner.

Can an IVCS-enabled voting bloc build an electoral base with 2 million+ voters? I think it can, because it can use the broad repertory of IVCS web-based consensus-building tools, including an online Voting Utility, to forge a winning electoral coalition with other voting blocs, political parties, labor unions and grassroots advocacy groups. It can do this by involving Virginia voters in setting an agenda FAR MORE to their liking than anything that Tim Kaine can come up with. That agenda can be transpartisan and incorporate priorities that the Democratic Party and Kaine’s special interest campaign contributors would normally oppose, priorities like direct federal job creation, Medicare for All, etc. The voting bloc could mobilize many very angry and eligible voters who have been staying away from the polls, once they see it get a commitment from Tim Kaine to support an agenda that they participated in formulating with no special interest influence as part of the process.

To accomplish this, the voting bloc or electoral coalition most likely will have to agree on a more broadly shared agenda than those that were agreed upon for the Congressional elections and candidates. Generally speaking, the diversity of opinion in any of the 50 states may well be greater than the diversity in any one Congressional District. So, the shared policy agenda negotiated by the members of the statewide Senatorial voting bloc may well require more prolonged negotiation and turn out to be more diverse in its policy options than the shared policy agendas of Congressional District voting blocs. Members of the statewide Senatorial voting blocs will need to negotiate the policy priorities to be included in these shared agendas, and here the IVCS consensus-building tools, particularly the Voting Utility, will facilitate setting the broader shared agendas that will be required to create the broader electoral base that the bloc will need to obtain Kaine’s support for its agenda AND get him elected in an anti-incumbent era.

With skillful negotiation, and a willingness to compromise, the statewide Senatorial voting blocs will be able to bring broad cross-sections of voters into winning, broad-based electoral coalitions that override the vitriolic divisiveness engendered by the legacy parties. This will be a further development of the bottom-up democratic process that leads to voting bloc emergence, and that intensifies the sense of belonging, loyalty and commitment that people will have to the voting blocs.

Generally speaking, as these voting blocs rack up electoral victories in major party primaries throughout the country, they will begin to democratize and revitalize the major parties, by ensuring that voters control their agendas and determine who wins their elections. In the case of the Virginia Senate race, success in the 2012 Congressional and Senatorial races, coupled with outreach to party officials and membership to persuade them to align their efforts with those of IVCS-enabled voting blocs, will accelerate the democratization and revitalization of the Democratic Party of Virginia and its alignment with its historic mission of representing mainstream Americans, rather than special interests.

Conclusion

This post continues my analysis of how the IVCS will work to empower the U.S. electorate to wrest control of elections from special interests. My previous post on the IVCS and Jim Moran, outlined how things would work at the Congressional level. This post extends the analysis to the level of the election for the US Senate in Virginia.

The Democrats are in a ditch of their own making in Virginia, because of their very poor performance in Congress since the President’s election, and his own failure to ease the pain of mainstream Americans, while he created the conditions that have allowed the very well-off to further increase their wealth. Tim Kaine’s close association and friendship with Obama, and his identification as a centrist, organizational Democrat, could be a real deal-killer for many 2012 Virginia voters, in spite of the fact that Kaine was a popular Governor. That’s because of high unemployment rates, for which Obama is now blamed, and because Kaine may simply have too much baggage to carry to be successful in a conventional party campaign in an anti-incumbent era in which special interest-funded right wing fringe groups like the Tea Party have taken center stage in non-stop media wars. Moreover, even though the big money he will likely get from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and special interests may help him with political messaging ads, the ads, and the money used to pay for them, may well add to that baggage by providing tangible proof of his association with interests widely held in contempt by voters.

George Allen may well run a full-throated Tea Party campaign that will pull out hordes of conservatives, Christian fundamentalists and Tea Party regulars. In such an environment, only an IVCS-enabled voting bloc capable of building a broad-based electoral coalition around voter-set agendas and getting out the vote without the aid of big money, could pull Kaine’s irons out of the fire, in terms of setting an appealing transpartisan (but not right wing) agenda that would attract the electoral base he needs to get those 2 million+ votes.

I believe that scenarios like the ones I’ve outlined for Virginia are generalizable across the country, and that Senate candidates, whether incumbent or not, can be persuaded to commit to, and also adhere to, agendas formulated by the voting blocs, especially since the blocs will offer the prospect of delivering large numbers of committed voters at very low cost. If this is correct, it means that voters can disconnect the two major parties from their corporate and special interest bonds and make them responsible to broad-based popular needs and desires once again. My next post will continue this analysis at the presidential election level and analyze the potential impact of the IVCS on the 2012 Presidential election and its aftermath.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

Congressman Moran and the Interactive Voter Choice System

10:00 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In previous posts, I’ve looked at the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) in from a number of different perspectives, hopefully illuminating in general terms how it would work to enable us to restore American Democracy. Specifically, I’ve written about the IVCS as: 1) a way of preventing the collapse of American Democracy; 2) the only way around all that money in politics; 3) a way of people self-organizing into voting blocs and electoral coalitions to make candidates and electoral officials accountable once again; 4) the remedy for overcoming the threat to open society; and 5) the remedy for the movement toward increasing mass behavior and perhaps totalitarianism in the United States. It’s time now to try to envision how the IVCS will impact politicians and candidates for office. In this post I want to begin by looking at the potential impact of IVCS on my Congressperson James P. (“Jim”) Moran, Jr.

Jim Moran

Jim Moran has been elected Representative of the 8th Congressional District in Virginia 11 times. He was elected for the first time in 1990, beating Stanford Parris with 51.7% of the vote to Parris’s 44.6%. That first election was the closest Congressional contest Moran has ever experienced. Since then his majorities have ranged from 56.1% of the vote to a high of 67.9% in 2008. His District has been both solidly Democratic and also solidly for Moran since that first victory.

Moran’s strategy in representing the District has been one of presenting a progressive face along with the usual accompanying rhetoric about the economy and employment, but also favoring “fiscal responsibility,” “pay-as-you-go” budgeting, and support for small business and Government contractors in the 8th District. In addition, Jim expresses support for universal health care, “free” but “fair” trade agreements and legislation that will increase US exports. He also supported the stimulus bill, the Credit Card Reform bill, TARP, and the Wall Street Reform bill during the 111th Congress. But in earlier years, he was one of the leaders of an effort to legislate harsher bankruptcy conditions, an effort that was successful in 2005. Jim has also been among the major consistent opponents of the Iraq War, and also a consistent supporter of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He also expresses strong support for comprehensive immigration reform, reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, full funding for “no child left behind,” is strongly pro-choice in his public pronouncements, and also wants to expand embryonic stem cell research.

In short, Jim Moran has a pretty progressive point of view punctuated with support for neo-liberal views on the Budget, the big banks, international trade, and aid to small business. On the other hand, he’s also one of those progressives who while stating support for progressive goals and objectives, refuses to commit to fighting strongly and publicly for them in specific contexts, and often refuses to commit to support anything concrete until the Party Leadership and since 2009, the President, have brought legislation to the final stages. At that point, he ends up supporting whatever the Leadership and the President want him to support, without any visible regard for what his constituents want.

We’ve seen this pattern manifested a number of times recently. On health care reform, Jim Moran was at one time a co-sponsor of HR 676, the Medicare for All bill. But when the Administration, working with Max Baucus, decided to take it off the table, Jim, along with other progressives, didn’t join with the 80 or so other co-sponsors in the House to object, but like most of them readily accepted the strategy of working towards getting a “public option.” As the various versions of public option policies were offered, watered down, and finally removed from the bill, there was never a move by Jim to resist the removal of any public insurance alternative from it, even though his own District was overwhelmingly in favor of Medicare for All. Instead, he just accepted the gospel that it was better to have any health care reform bill (however far from “perfect” it was) than to have no bill at all.

In the case of Jim’s opposition to the Iraq War, his efforts were mainly verbal, his voting patterns followed the Leadership of the Party. When TARP was passed, he was again a good soldier, and he, along with other Democrats did nothing to prevent the payment of outrageously large bonuses, by organizations taking TARP funds, to their employees.

When, in early 2009, the big banks needed the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to change the “mark-to-market” accounting rule so that they could avoid recognizing their toxic real estate on their books, Jim did not object to the pressure Congress placed on FASB to change that vital rule. This one failure alone led to the banks being able to escape resolution, declare profits that are not real, and pay those outrageous bonuses based on those non-existent profits, while remaining in a position to influence the political system in favor of Wall Street and against Main Street, and to continue speculating in the derivatives market rather than lending money to small business.

Jim also sat by, along with other House Democrats, when the Administration let its stimulus bill be savaged by Republicans and blue dog Democrats, until it, in the end, provided only 1/3 of the stimulus needed to get out of the recession. He also stood by when the Credit Card Reform Act failed to limit the interest rates banks could charge to consumers, and voted for the 9 month implementation period, which allowed banks to reformulate their Credit Card businesses to charge uniformly higher interest rates to strapped consumers, allowing the banks to make as much as 28% profit on the interest charged to some consumers against their own cost of money.

When the new “finreg” legislation was being formulated, Jim Moran supported the Leadership and has stated his belief that the bill finally passed will prevent a repeat of “too big to fail.” Most economists however, believe that this is dreamland and that the bill does no such thing. Jim has also supported the Leadership in the recent “compromise,” extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and lately he has been agreeing with the “deficit hawks” that Social Security has a problem that must be resolved by “strengthening it,” while refusing to commit to doing so by eliminating the payroll tax cap, even though his District certainly prefers this alternative to any cuts in the program, or raising the retirement age.

In short, there are many things Jim Moran has supported that don’t represent the people of his very progressive district. In this respect, he is not very different from most Congresspeople, both Democratic and Republican. As a variety of surveys have consistently shown, Congressional approval levels are very low, and the primary advantages incumbents have over challengers is often in campaign financing, and also in the widespread belief that the other Party alternative to one’s Congressperson, is just as bad or worse.

The IVCS

The IVCS is a web-based Information Technology/social media environment now in development that will enable people to create a network of voter-driven political organizations around shared policy priorities to eliminate the gap between voters’ priorities and the legislation enacted by their elected representatives, and counter the influence of money in politics, including the cognitive distortions created by using big money to frame debates and constantly introduce distractions from key issues. The collective action power of the Internet combined with specific capabilities of the IVCS will make the creation of such organizations feasible. When fully developed, IVCS will provide voters free policy agenda-setting, organizing, problem solving and consensus-building tools to:

– Define their own policy options and prioritize them to create policy agendas,

– Social network with others who have similar agendas to their own,

– Collaborate and solve problems with others to create collective policy agendas, voting blocs, and electoral coalitions that can work within existing parties or build new political parties, and

– Hold elected representatives accountable by monitoring and evaluating how well their performance matches the policy agendas of the voting blocs that have elected them to office.

The result of using IVCS will be voting blocs of various sizes and influence, formed by voters across the political spectrum. People will use the system to formulate common policy agendas, and then create self-organizing transpartisan voting blocs, electoral coalitions, and political parties around those agendas. They can use the system’s search/data mining tools to locate other voters whose policy agendas are most like their own, and join with them.

To organize voting blocs that develop cohesiveness and staying power, people will have to negotiate out their differences to join together. But negotiating common agendas, and crafting winning electoral strategies from the bottom-up, gives voters a lot more power than being hamstrung by the two major parties. The system will support such negotiations, and create the potential for so many policy agendas and voting bloc coalitions to form, that it is virtually certain that new and powerful blocs, electoral coalitions, and even political parties, will emerge, grow rapidly, and begin to acquire national influence.

Voting blocs will make decisions and resolve conflicts either by consensus or by using the IVCS Voting Utility. They can also use the Utility to vote on proposed political alliances and coalitions. Since voting bloc members can always “vote with their feet,” by forming new blocs or joining other already existing blocs, and since new voting blocs will always be coming into existence, the dynamic environment created by the IVCS will always be biased toward bottom-up organization, problem solving, and influence, rather than top-down control. Since problem solving in the system will be web-based and distributed, rather than centralized, blocs will be able to quickly increase their size by using the system to reach out to other voters online and adapt to their environments better than traditional voting blocs. They will also be able to transcend the awkward stages of initial growth, and rapidly develop into new political organizations that can successfully challenge the legacy parties and the special interests as the driving force in the American political system.

Since it will cost little more than time to organize and get one’s messages out by using the IVCS, it will eliminate the need for voting blocs, political parties, and candidates to rely on contributions and special interest campaigns to get support. They’ll be able to spread their message using the facilities of the IVCS alone. The system will de-fang the Citizens United decision, and the influence of special interests more generally, because mass media-based propaganda campaigns will conflict with, and be critically evaluated by IVCS-based interactions and messaging within informal social networks and voting blocs.

Visualizing the Impact of the IVCS on Jim Moran and the Democratic Party

The IVCS will lead to the introduction of new, organized political forces in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District. One or more voting blocs and electoral coalitions may very well emerge with many thousands of voters participating in the process of formulating a policy agenda they will want Jim Moran to do his utmost to enact. The big challenge is to develop a large enough bloc of voters to convince Congressman Moran that if he does not pledge to exert his best efforts to enact their agenda the bloc will run a winning candidate against him in primary and general election. The IVCS environment makes it possible for them to pose such a threat because it has the capacity to enable voters to assemble very large political coalitions by successively aggregating and synthesizing policy options in round-after-round of negotiations, until they form a large enough voting bloc/electoral coalition to be able to influence Jim Moran to change his behavior. What do we mean by that?

Well, right now, Jim seems to be stating certain positions he is supporting in relatively vague terms, engaging with other Congresspeople, lobbyists, the leadership, and the White House, and arriving at final votes that have only a pretty loose relationship, at best, with the positions he runs on. Meanwhile, he raises a sizable campaign war chest, which allows him to “spin” how he’s voted to persuade constituents that he’s been as faithful to the positions he has articulated as it was possible to be given his circumstances. In addition, his office is very good at constituent services, and when you put all these elements together with the fact that the 8th Congressional District is a safe District for Democrats he becomes pretty much unassailable, while avoiding any tight coupling between his actions as a Representative, and the public positions he takes on issues.

So, being able to influence Jim Moran comes down to being able to more tightly couple his actions to his stated goals and objectives, and that, in turn, comes down to getting Jim to commit to a specific policy agenda, comprised of policy options that he promises to support by introducing these options in legislation, and fighting for them by refusing to vote for anything else except those options, and by informing other Congresspeople that if they want him to vote for their bills, they must craft legislation that is in line with his agenda. In other words, the problem is to create a large enough voting bloc that Jim Moran’s flexibility to do anything but represent the specific policy agenda he’s agreed to support is severely restricted.

So, the next question is, how does the IVCS enable voters in his district to build a voting bloc large enough to induce Moran not only to pledge to enact their agenda but to actually exert his best efforts to get it passed into law. The first step is to figure out how many votes are needed to put a candidate on a primary ballot. In the Virginia 8th Congressional District, only 1,000 valid signatures on a petition are needed to enter the Democratic Primary for Congress. The State recommends that candidates get 1,500 signatures to leave plenty of room for invalid ones, however. Of course, having a voting bloc that is large enough to get a candidate on the primary ballot, would probably not be enough to persuade Jim Moran to commit to a voting bloc agenda, since the Congressman has faced primary challenges before and has always won handily.

The next step is to estimate how many votes will be needed to win the primary. Again, the number is relatively low since very few people vote in primary elections in Virginia’s 8th. For example, in the 2008 primary, Jim Moran beat Matthew Famiglietti with 11,792 votes to his opponent’s 1,764. In the 2008 Republican primary, J. Patrick Murray won with 7136 to 6654 for his opponent Matthew B. Perry. The most closely fought primary in recent years was the 2004 Democratic contest won by Jim Moran with 24,121 to 17,067 for Andrew Rosenberg. The 41,000 some odd votes cast in that primary, represented 10.35% of registered voters.

In view of this previous record, one can make a pretty good guess that a voting bloc/electoral coalition that can generate 40,000 votes in the open Democratic primary would most likely be more than enough to defeat Jim Moran for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2012. Even if the bloc had 25,000 votes, the Congressman would have to give it a respectful hearing if they briefed him on their agenda prior to the Democratic Party primary in 2012, because that vote is more than he’s achieved in any previous primary. This would be particularly true if the voting bloc took the prior step of seeing to it that a candidate of their choosing had entered the primary and already committed to the policy agenda of the group.

How difficult would it be to get 40,000 primary voters to climb on the voting bloc’s bandwagon? Not very difficult. Multiple polls show that upwards of 80% of U.S. voters are so disgusted with their Congressional representatives’ performance that they would like to see them defeated. The organizers of the voting bloc could take advantage of numerous IVCS tools and services to create a transpartisan electoral base of this size that brings together voters across the political spectrum who want to eliminate the gap between Moran’s campaign promises and his votes on legislation in Congress. (See 2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests.)

They can use the same tools and services to increase the numerical size of their electoral base to ensure that it is large enough, based on prior turnout, in the range from 140,000 – 200,000 votes. (See Part V of the preceding reference, entitled “How Voting Blocs Can Expand Their Electoral Bases by Increasing Their Membership and Building Electoral Coalitions with Existing Parties, New Parties, Labor Unions and Other Membership-Based Groups.”)

Assuming that an IVCS voting bloc with an electoral base of 40,000 primary voters suffices to get Moran’s attention and commitment to enact its agenda, the voting bloc could then agree not to support Moran in the primary. After he wins, it would then have to face the next hurdle, which is to ensure that Moran maintains his commitment to the bloc’s agenda during the general election campaign.

One way to do that would be to put the primary candidate the bloc had planned to run against Moran in the Democratic primary on a third party primary line and elect that candidate in the primary so that he/she would be a back-up candidate that the bloc could support in the general election, if Moran defaulted in maintaining his support for the bloc’s agenda during that campaign. A second, though less desirable, because more difficult, option would be to conduct a write-in campaign in favor of the candidate during the general election.

If after winning the primary and the general election with the support of the IVCS voting bloc, Congressman Moran backed off his support of the agreed upon agenda, and decided instead to march in lockstep with the leadership and the President, while trying to spin what he had done, then the voting bloc, with its written agenda in hand and a point-by-point comparison with Moran’s legislative track record, would retaliate by beating him in the Democratic Primary of 2014. This would demonstrate that a voting bloc’s continued support is contingent on observing its mandate, and that it has the electoral clout to hold representatives accountable for failure to exert their best efforts to enact it into law.

Let’s say that a scenario like the one I’ve sketched out works to get a commitment from Jim Moran to support the voting bloc’s agenda so that it moves to the general election in support of his candidacy. Then what are the implications for the regular Democratic Party machinery and its interactions with voting bloc members? After all, the voting bloc with its 40,000+ committed voters was assembled through a new system of political processes running parallel to and outside of the pre-existing local Democratic Party Structure supporting Jim Moran’s campaign efforts.

In the 2008 campaign, partly with the assistance of the Democratic Party organization, almost 223,000 people voted for Jim Moran. Even if one assumes that most of the bloc’s 40,000 voters come from the group of former Moran voters, it’s clear that to win in the general election, Jim would also need many more than the 40,000 votes received in the primaries. As I said above, however, the voting bloc seeking to corral Moran into adopting its agenda and sticking to it, will have a broad repertory of IVCS consensus-building tools that it can use to build winning electoral coalitions with other voting blocs, political parties, labor unions and grassroots advocacy groups. So, during the election campaign it should be able to increase its size to the required range of 140,000 – 200,000 committed voting bloc members.

Once the voting bloc demonstrates its capacity to determine the outcome of both the primary and general elections for the 8th Congressional Districts, it will have the leverage it needs to open negotiations with local Democratic Party officials, if it chooses to do so. Its first step would be to invite party officials to engage registered party members in using IVCS agenda-setting, organizing and consensus-building tools to set their individual policy agendas and use them to set the party’s legislative agenda.

This would perhaps be the most significant institutional aspect of the impact of a successful IVCS voting bloc/electoral coalition effort to get a commitment to a policy agenda from Jim Moran. It would lead to the democratization of local party operations and put voters in control of the party instead of the party being in control of the voters. It could also lead to a very large-scale injection of voting bloc activists into the local Democratic Party that would most probably lead to its revitalization, and to further growth of the voting bloc’s electoral base, while leaving the bloc free to form transpartisan alliances outside the Party, when that’s necessary to forward the voting bloc’s policy agenda.

This expansion of the voting bloc’s network of voters to party members might bring about negotiated modifications of the bloc’s policy agenda. Such an evolution would be both desirable and democratic. The bottom-up character of IVCS participation would introduce a remarkable countervailing force to the Democratic Party’s natural tendency to follow Michel’s “Iron Law of Oligarchy.” It would weaken the present alarming tendency of Party members to follow Party leadership blindly, even when it clearly departs from the Democratic Party’s principles and values.

Conclusion

How generalizable is the picture I’ve presented to other Congressional Districts across the country? Can the Democratic Party be taken over by voting bloc activists, and revitalized across the country, in a very short time using the IVCS? On the positive side of this question is the fact that many Congressional Districts require only a small percentage of registered voters signing a petition to enter a Party primary. Also, most primaries have very low participation ratios, so a small percentage of Party voters can select the Party nominee. This suggests that a quick takeover of one or both of the major parties is possible and even practical, provided large voting blocs can self-organize in a short time so that Congressional District-based voting blocs/coalitions can be created with 40,000 or more members relatively easily. We’ve seen social media phenomena go viral on many occasions now, so I think the potential for this is there. But whether it can be done on a large scale, Congressional District by Congressional District, will remain a question mark until the IVCS is implemented.

Finally, you’ll notice that I’ve written this from the point of view of working within the Democratic Party for change. This isn’t because I’m intrinsically opposed to third Parties, or feel loyal to a Party that has quite clearly abandoned its historical mission. In fact, I’ve been very interested in third Party possibilities for some time, now. However, on reflection about the situation in my own District, I’ve come to believe that Party primaries are easier to enter and win, than elections that attempt to challenge the major Parties from outside. And, I also think that, with the help of the IVCS, we can reduce the influence of money in elections and prevent newly elected primary and general election winners from being bought by corporate special interests and wealthy individuals through campaign contributions. So, in short, I think it will be easier to enter major Party primaries and to democratize them, then it will be to win with a third party strategy, and I don’t see any principles being compromised in doing that since, in either case, it’s about sticking to the policy agendas of the IVCS voting blocs, and making sure that candidates, officeholders, and political parties are accountable to these voting blocs and their agendas.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

The Interactive Voter Choice System and Totalitarian Society

9:55 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In previous posts, I’ve looked at the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) in a number of ways as: 1) a way of preventing the collapse of American Democracy; 2) the only way around all that money in politics; 3) a way of people self-organizing into voting blocs and electoral coalitions to make candidates and electoral officials accountable once again; and 4) the remedy for overcoming the threat to open society. In this post I want to write about a similar concern about the threat to open society: specifically, the possibility of the emergence of totalitarian society in the United States, and the potential for the IVCS to prevent that emergence.

The Theory of Mass Society

During the 30s, 40s, and 50s of the last century, liberal democracies were understandably concerned with understanding the conditions that lead to the emergence of totalitarianism. Towards the end of that period, a sociologist, the late William Kornhauser, formulated a conceptual framework using two attributes: accessibility, by which he meant an individual’s capability of being influenced by others, and availability, by which he meant an individual’s susceptibility to mass behavior: a psychological state characterized by a focus on remote objects, a direct mode of response to these objects, vacillation between apathetic and activist responses to these objects, and a readiness to make direct responses to these objects through mass movements.

Kornhauser’s framework also divided people into two simple categories: elites and non-elites. Then by categorizing the two attributes into high and low accessibility and availability and cross-classifying by elite and non-elite, he arrived at four states of society: 1) communal society, in which elites are have low accessibility and non-elites are not available for mobilizing for mass behavior; 2) pluralist society, in which elites are highly accessible, and non-elites are unavailable for mobilizing; 3) mass society, in which elites are highly accessible and non-elites are highly available for mobilizing; and 4) totalitarian society, in which elites have low accessibility, and non-elites are highly available.

Kornhauser Frame

Kornhauser Framework

(Source: William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society, New York: The Free Press, 1959)

This framework is overly simple and was criticized for vagueness and ambiguity, not least because it was difficult to measure power which was important in distinguishing high from low accessibility, and elite vs. non-elite, and also because the notions of high and low availability seemed biased against the style of Civil Rights and New Left activism that became important in the 1960s. Because of these problems with the framework, difficulties of measurement, and the decline of Communism, Kornhauser’s work fell by the wayside, as did Popper’s work on Open Society. Popper’s Open Society notion, however, experienced a renaissance with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and later the collapse of the Soviet Union, because, suddenly many nations wanted to understand what it meant to be an Open Society, and were very open to George Soros’s willingness to support the spread of Open Society ideology and activism based on that ideology.

Perhaps, however, because of the rise of an increasingly authoritarian plutocracy in the U.S., it’s time now to reconsider some of Kornhauser’s thinking also. It’s no longer the early ’90s. Today, Democracy and Open Society are threatened in the lands of their birth. In Kornhauser’s terms, they’re threatened because the triumphs of neo-liberal ideology, and the rapid globalization of economy it has been associated with, have created discontinuities (rapid changes in the direction of social trends) in authority, community, and society, of the kind Kornhauser wrote about, as instrumental in creating mass society.

The rapid evolution of the United States into a society dominated by the Financial, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) sector, as well as Information Technology, has resulted in the occupational displacement of more and more people, who have found themselves either, under- or unemployed, or condemned to relatively low income service jobs delivering only a fraction of the income they once enjoyed. It has also begun to produce an education and skills gap in which the United States lags behind insurgent nations, intensely striving for admission into first world economic status. These problems have been exacerbated by the crash of 2008, and the ensuing Great Recession and are still being exacerbated by continuing high rates of unemployment, the disruption and ending of careers, and the foreclosure fraud crisis. They are literally destroying communities, and the social ties of people and families to them. But the problems existed before the crash, which has only hastened the effects of the radical social and economic changes already underway.

In addition, there are cultural gaps between American Main Street perspectives and beliefs, and the perspectives and beliefs of urban and suburban communities more integrated into the globalized economy. These gaps relate to perspectives on religion, science, education, the role of Government in the economy, and immersion in the new developing Information Technology. In Kornhauser’s terms, the effects of these various gaps among segments of American society are to disrupt authority relations, communities, and social ties, leaving many citizens and potential voters detached from the social context in which they lived their lives before. This detachment also makes them susceptible to mobilization by counter-elites (such as the leaders of various tea party factions) using the tools of ideology, propaganda, and people-to-people organizing efforts to mobilize people in support of the goals of the counter-elites.

We see this happening in the tea party mobilization going on right now around the symbols of American individualism, and I suspect it will not be too long before we start to see mass movements organized around the symbols of social and economic justice, rather than small government and individualism, appear. The only reason why the latter hasn’t happened yet is because the election of Barack Obama has co-opted leftist activism for awhile, and channeled it through organizations and structures who believe they must work through him to represent their memberships. However, as the gap between social justice ideology and the reality of the Administration’s accomplishments sinks in, people looking for justice will also look for new organizations to relate to, or else the old organizations will leave the “veal pen,” and try to mend relationships with those they are attempting to mobilize, and whose loyalties they are now rapidly losing.

The main point here is that the breakdown in social ties experienced by large numbers of Americans makes them available for mass movements and mass behavior, and depending on what’s happening in the area of intra-elite fragmentation that availability could support either the emergence of mass society, or, in the worst case, totalitarian society itself, if one faction of the elites can gain the upper hand in political struggles among themselves so that it is no longer constrained by other factions.

The elites in America are not yet so unified that this has occurred, but the convergence of political, corporate, and media elites around corporatism, and their ability in a post-Citizens United world, in George Soros’s terms, to manipulate the cognitive functioning of citizens to distort perceptions of reality, suggests that the time of unification may be coming. In fact, the corporate elites themselves may be manipulating the conditions for such unification by creating a faux challenge to their authority from a tea party mobilized in back of the candidacy of a figure like Sarah Palin, who seems so unacceptable to a majority of people that they will fall into the arms of a thoroughly corporatist candidate. The corporatist would then continue the extraction of financial resources and entitlements from America’s middle class as it has already done with its poor, while simultaneously and gradually restricting the civil liberties of dissenters using the danger from terrorism as a rationale, and increasing their manipulation of the cognitive functioning of the American people so that fewer and fewer are willing to challenge the trends supporting the transition from mass to totalitarian society.

The IVCS, Mass, and Totalitarian Society

From the point of view of the theory of mass society, what has happened to America is that its pluralist democratic society, what Popper and Soros called its Open Society and Kornhauser called its pluralist society, has gotten hollowed out, in the sense that the institutions creating and maintaining social ties: the informal group relationships, mediating voluntary associations and interest groups, and accessible interest groups, and political parties standing between individuals and the State have disappeared. Now lonely individuals stand naked before extremely powerful and inaccessible institutions including modern lobbying organizations and political parties. These individuals are disaffected by social trends and open to mobilization by ideological appeals and astro-turfing organizations funded by a financial oligarchy. The result has been a transition away from open/pluralist society to mass society, which while still having the form of democracy, no longer supports the social and psychological requisites for it. Depending on what happens in the arena of elite conflict, mass society in the US can even transform itself into totalitarian society if current trends continue.

The movement towards mass society and totalitarianism has been driven by social and economic discontinuities that have destroyed social ties and the social ecology of interaction among Americans, the first step in creating counter-trends that can drive America back towards pluralism and Open Society is to re-integrate people into a social context which will relate them to their fellow citizens, and also provide them some way of influencing their fate by gaining access and influence to the political elites, in order to make them accountable once again to non-elites.

Another and very important way of looking at IVCS is that it can provide an environment that will perform that re-integration, remove the vulnerability of people to cognitive manipulation and political propaganda, make non-elites unavailable for mass behavior, and make political elites accessible and accountable once again to the people they are supposed in democratic theory to represent. Let’s take a closer look at IVCS capabilities to see how it can restore social ties making non-elites unavailable, and also create the influence relationships necessary to make political elites accessible.

A person wanting to use IVCS will do so because he or she is dissatisfied with the behavior of the elites and the outcomes of their dominance of government decision-making, and wants to do something about it. They will have seen a problem or problems and want to have their say in proposing a solution(s). The system will provide facilities (e.g. forums, web conferencing) that people can use to communicate about the problems they concerned about with other people, in an effort to clarify and state them clearly for themselves. In the process of communicating, people will align themselves with or against others, create a social context, social relationships, and social ties, which they did not have before using IVCS.

IVCs’s cognitive mapping capability will allow people to compare the cognitive profile of their own policy agendas with other policy agendas available in the Knowledge base. This will help people place their agendas in the context of the views of others, and prepare the way for social interaction and collaboration with them in voting blocs. People using IVCS will also be able to use social networking capabilities like those in such well-known applications as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Friendster. In addition, they will be able to access their social network graphs, use social software such as blogging, micro-blogging, wiki participation and origination, sharing videos, images, and policy agendas, create communities and discussion groups, exchange ideas, and search for and locate experts. Finally, using capabilities based on text and data mining, and also the cognitive mapping capability mentioned earlier, people using IVCS will be able to find, contact, and create social relationships with other voters having statistically and/or conceptually similar priorities. These capabilities are a gateway to other people. They can help in creating new social ties integrating people into communities once again AND in building winning voting blocs, political parties and electoral coalitions that have the voting strength to elect representatives who will enact their priorities into law.

If an individual wants to join with others to form a voting bloc to solve any problems the voting bloc may uncover, or to influence office-holders or turn the voting bloc into a primary force or a political party, then that’s going to take collaboration, and collaboration over time creates friendship, mutual identification, and, frequently enduring social bonds. The IVCS system will offer individuals a wide range of collaboration capabilities and opportunities so that voting blocs and the individuals in them will be able to function. The more general collaborative capabilities in the IVCS will include team-based workflow to allow teams of people to plan and implement common tasks involving specialization. This capability can be very powerful in campaigns and also in complex problem solving processes also involving specialization. In addition membership and participation in teams often creates strong social relationships, as well.

IVCS will also include virtual team workspaces. These are like forums, but have more comprehensive capabilities. IVCS will include application and desktop sharing in virtual collaborative sessions. Users will be able to collaborate on documents such as policy agendas, policy options, impact analyses, and blog posts. Wikis, which are inherently collaborative will be available, as well. Again, there will be discussion forums for people to use in creating voting bloc coalitions. Project, Task, and Event Management tools will be provided, as will tools for web-conferencing for online meetings to recognize and formulate problems, develop solutions, criticize them, and mobilize support for policy agendas and for voting bloc campaign activities. IVCS will support collaborative prioritization of policy options as well as planning and prioritization of political initiatives to get policy options passed into law. It will also support a voting/polling capability. The capability can be used in any number of collaborative contexts, but for IVCS its most important application is for getting agreement in voting blocs, and then using the agreed upon policy agendas as a legislative mandate for elected representatives and electoral candidates.

IVCS will provide a collaborative e-learning facility that will support people in getting access to content fragments gathered from across the Internet that are relevant to a problem they’re trying to solve. The facility will provide a variety of virtual environments for collaborative learning for teams.

Finally, while IVCS will allow voting blocs to safeguard confidentiality to the extent that seems reasonable to them, it will also emphasize the importance of transparency and inclusiveness in most voting bloc processes. These characteristics are essential for open and pluralistic societies, and open collectivities of all kinds, because, in contrast to secrecy, they create mutual trust and reinforce social relatedness. At least a moderate level of trust, along with a minimum of honesty in public affairs are important for the functioning of open society, and for facilitating the way back from mass society and the trend towards totalitarianism, because trust supports the maintenance of social ties and the ability to interact with others in political and problem solving contexts.

The cumulative effect of these various IVCS capabilities is to create an environment that provides opportunities for people to create new social relationships and to re-integrate into society. IVCS enables ordinary people to recreate the mediating socio-political institutions at the community level that prevent democratic institutions from being captured by plutocratic elites. People who join voting blocs in IVCS and become active in them, will no longer feel isolated and alienated, and will no longer be available for mass behavior. They will identify with their voting blocs and the people in them, and will be far less susceptible to mass propaganda appeals coming from the corporate media or anywhere else, because they will use their IVCS social networks to filter and evaluate the propaganda that is sent their way.

In addition to its effects in blocking the availability of individuals for mass behavior, IVCS will also restore the accessibility of elites. Right now, the channel of elite accessibility proceeding from the people to political elites, to elites in the private sector appears to be broken, since political elites seem increasingly to be ignoring the interests of their constituents in favor of accommodating the desires of those elites funding their campaigns. The channels of accessibility can be restored by IVCS, because the aggregation of political power in its voting blocs and electoral coalitions, will occur within the IVCS environment, and outside of the reach of the corporate media and its channeling of elite world views and propaganda to people. The IVCS will disrupt the cognitive manipulation of non-elites proceeding from the corporate media on a continuous basis, by exposing its members to a variety of points of view freely available with the IVCS. Because cognitive manipulation will be less ubiquitous in the IVCS, the possibility of voting blocs emerging that hold and support different narratives than are being pushed in the corporate media will be very much greater than in pre-IVCS politics, and policy agendas different from those favored by elite officeholders and candidates are more likely to emerge from these narratives.

At that point, the creation of new accessibility channels is facilitated by IVCS tools for communicating with officeholders and candidates. When people running for office are contacted by voting blocs with many thousands and in some cases even millions of members, the numbers in these blocs will get the attention of those running. When bloc leaders ask for commitments to bloc policy agendas and make clear that these agendas will be viewed as mandates for the blocs, and that the performance in office of those elected will be evaluated in terms of these mandates, the influence of big money raised to pay for mass media propaganda will radically decrease, because the only thing that talks louder than money in politics is the ability to deliver masses of votes. Since voting blocs in the IVCS will have that ability, the influence channel that now goes from well-funded interest groups to politicians, will be eclipsed by one that goes from voting bloc members to voting bloc leaders to politicians, making political elites once again accessible to people. And once that link is forged, it will be possible once again to influence the behavior of economic and other private sector elites through the political elites.

Conclusion

In the United States today representatives in both the Legislative and Executive branches of Government seem to have escaped the bonds of influence relating them to working people and making them accountable to them. Replacing those bonds is the growing influence of the wealthy and major corporations in a variety of economic sectors. In turn, events set in motion by globalization and other corporate activities have damaged or destroyed the social ties and intermediate organizations relating people to the State. Individuals stand naked and isolated and subject to cognitive manipulation and mass mobilization, by huge multi-national corporations and the very wealthy, the astro-turfing organizations they create to do their bidding, the dominant political parties, and the big Government that today serves them and not the people.

One way to look at this problem is from the viewpoint of cognitive manipulation controlling political participation causing the breakdown of Open Society: The Popper/Soros way. Another way to look at it is through Kornhauser’s framework suggesting that we have to re-build social ties and influence channels to move mass society back toward pluralist society. I think the Interactive Voter Choice System can help to both re-build social ties and provide effective new influence channels making political elites accountable once again. The sooner we can implement the IVCS and get it used by many millions of people, the sooner we still stop the trend toward mass behavior and totalitarianism. American Society moves very fast these days. It has moved rapidly toward the destruction of democracy and Open Society. It can move just as rapidly back toward pluralist/Open Society. The IVCS can make a difference by 2012. And, soon after that, the American people will have their democracy back entirely.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).