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June 3, 2007

Simple Campaign Finance Reform

Filed under: Politics,Proposals — Michael Silver @ 1:36 pm

I am on the AFA mailing list, not because I agree with them, I actually disagree with almost everything they say, but I find their boycots of Ford and Disney World (and others) rather humorous.

Believe it or not I read each email they send to me and recently it dawned on me that they had a valid point.  Should congress limit ones ability to convince someone else to vote for a candidate?  Congress, usually with McCain and Feingold (whose web site looks like a professors) leading the charge.  While I agree wholehardedly that the government needs campaign finance reform, certain aspects of it bother me.  For example, should I be allowed to email my friends with my opinion of candidates for office?  Should the AFA be allowed to?  What about an opt-in mailing list?

Another sticking point is whether limits on donations restrict one’s first amendment right to free speech?  It appears more and more that it does not, but as always the answer is more complicated as you break the donations up between soft money, hard money, etc.  Mitch McConnell was one of the ones leading the charge against reform, or at least McCain/Feingold’s version of reform.

So I offer a simple solution.  It places on the burden on those taking donations.  Take all the donations you want but you cannot vote on any issues relating to those you took donations from.  In other words all conflicts of interest must be avoided.  This would also work in reverse.  If you are sueing Microsoft as an Attorney General and Microsoft donates money to your campaign or your party, you must return the funds, unlike Charlie Condon did[abstract].  The neuonce of that last sentence is the word party.  If you are a member of a political party and that party gives you money or any direct campaign help, like ads, etc, the party becomes transparent and the donations to the party are treated as if they were made to directly to the candidate.

Let’s  run through some examaple to make sure the idea is clear.

Senator Larry Smith takes a donation from the RIAA and then a bill that would make music piracy a federal crime comes to the floor.  Senator Smith cannot vote on the bill.  If he does, he could be charged with a mistermeanor for conflict of interest, or perhaps even bribery, even if his vote was not beneficial to the RIAA.

Senator Lucy Samuels receives a donation from Ford and she is about to vote on raising the fuel effeiecncy standards.  She must either not vote or return the funds to Ford.

Senator Bill Lewis receives money from a PAC (or his party) and the PAC (or his party) received money from Exxon.  He cannot vote on any legislation that may effect Exxon.  This includes all riders.  So if the federal budget includes money for oil subsides, Mr. Lewis can’t even vote on the budget.  At first there will be only a handful of senators eligible to vote since bills often have so many riders.

What will happen in that later example is the PAC will simply not donate to the candidate.  They will run attack ads against his opponents, etc.  Fine.  The goal shouldn’t be to get all money out of politics.  It should be to removed the conflicts of interest that are rampant in our system.  Candidates take money from corporations and then routinely vote on legislation that directly affects the corporations.

Judges must recuse themselves when they have a realationship to a case before them.  Why should congress be any different?  Currently, saying there is no relationship is somehow acceptable.  It shouldn’t be and they should be held accountable.

To make this work, the Attorney General needs to no longer be a politcal appointee and the president should not be allowed to fire them.  They should be appointed by the Supreme Court or via some apolitical method.  If the AG is political he could pursue only those not in his party.

This solution to campaign finance reform would also reduce pork barrel projects.

Here is an interesting question.  If the president took money from Boeing and a bill came to his desk for purchasing military airplanes from another company, could he veto it?  If he were not permitted to veto it, legislators could include riders that would prevent the president from vetoing any bill.  Perhaps the Executive branch would need to be exempt from the law.

April 9, 2005

Proposal: Public Network Infrastructure

Filed under: Politics,Proposals — Michael Silver @ 10:45 pm

Want cheap Internet access? How about cheap cable TV? Cheap phone service?

The simple solution is to let the government build a fiber network to every home in the nation.

I can hear the Libertarians and right-wingers say, “Whoa!! The government own the network?!?! That is socialism!”, so let me first say the government owning something is not inherently evil. Judge what I am saying by it’s merits and don’t paint in broad brush strokes. Don’t be fooled by the claim, “private ownership reduces prices.” This is not true. A richly competitive market is what reduces prices. In fact, in a few cases, government ownership actually spurs competition. This proposal is a perfect example.

Another good example are the roadways. The goverment owns the roads and maintains them. In turn they reduce prices for all of us by promoting competition. Businesses are able to transport goods cheaply and people can drive to any grocery store they want.

Why not follow this example and do the same thing with a fiber network. This would open up a digital highway that would create compeition among digital providers.

Let me explain my proposal in more detail and it’s benefits will become more obvious.

The government should install fiber optic cable to every house in America, or at least 99% of houses. Both the running of cable and installation of the infrastructure will be very expensive, but this will be recouped over time.

Keep in mind, this fiber network is not a replacement for the Internet. The two networks are seperate. You could be connected to the fiber network and not the Intenet and visa versa.

There will become two providers of service on this new fiber optic network. Tier 1 and tier 2. Tier 1 providers would receive direct static IP connections to a house. This would be on a private network and the provider will have to pay fees for this connection. I will discuss these fees in more detail later.

Tier 2 providers would provide services through a tier one provider. There would be no network fees for such access. They wouldn’t have to register their services with the government.

In case I’ve lost you, let me provide some examples. The government connects your house to the fiber network. You shop around ISP’s and select one that provides Internet access over the fiber network. The ISP would be a tier one provider and a small part of your monthly fee would go to the government to pay for the infrastructure. The ISP would tier one since they would require an IP address to your house.

Let’s say you then discover Vonage and you want to switch your phone service. Since you already have Internet access via your ISP (and thus have an IP address), Vonage would be a tier 2 provider. Simple enough, eh?

Now let’s say you didn’t have Internet access, Vonage could offer tier 1 service to your house. The government would provide them with an IP address and you would have to spend an extra $1 (or so) a month to pay for the infrastructure. The choice would be yours.

What this does is break up the required bundling of services and grows competition exponentially by removing the Bell and Cable provider’s lock on high speed Internet access. This lock on the Internet by private companies is what is keeping prices artificially high and restricting your access to additional services.

You want IP phone service, well now you don’t even need internet access. Families with no money can now sign up for $10 phone service without needing an Internet connection. Wow!

By government / public ownership of the fiber network and a low barrier for entry for providers, a slew of services would spring up all with fierce competition. Earthlink and AOL would be ISPs, and perhaps even Time Warner and Comcast. Verizon, BellSouth, AT&T, Vonage, et al, would be competing for VoIP services. Jeez, I can only imagine the features they would be offering to set themselves apart.

Comcast and Time Warner and tons of start ups would offer set top boxes to provide TV shows via the fiber. Imagine how many hundreds of channels you would have access to. I can only imagine how PVR’s will develop to take advantage of all the programming options.

By having a public network, new tier one providers would be popping up on a daily basis. I can’t even think of all the possible services that would crop up. As the tier one providers expand, the access fees for the fiber network would drop. At least to a point. The fees can only be used to cover the expense of running the infrastructure. If a local community wants extra funds then they can tax the providers (like for 911 access, etc), but the access fee must remain pure. It is not a tax, it is an access fee. Also, the access fee needs to be around $1-5 per month to make this work. Perhaps higher for services that require high bandwidth, like digital high definition TV.

As you can see, this proposal is quite simple. There are many technical details that need to be flushed out, and wireless access is quickly changing the ISP paradigm, but wireless is far from offering what fiber can now. Wireless is promising, but there are too many loose ends.

What do you think?

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