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Attention all U.S. citizens!

I believe this is the most important post I've yet made, and at the end I'm going to request one incredibly simple action from you.

tl;dr: I agree with +Lawrence Lessig's #rootstrikers movement that the U.S. is majorly b0rked and we'd better get serious about fixing it right freaking now.

(But please just read what I have to say; it won't take as long as it looks, really.)

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1.

At the risk of stating the obvious, here goes: The United States Government is broken. To an unprecedented degree. On the most basic level, it is not functioning according to its design. It was to be a system that governs the people while being beholden to the people; what we have developed instead is a system that governs the people, but is beholden to the massive funders of the political campaigns -- wealthy individuals, corporations and powerful special interest groups.

Whenever the needs of the people and those of the funders don't coincide, we are seeing over and over again that the funders are winning out. There are studies showing this connection clearly, but you probably don't even need to look them up to know it's true. It strains plausibility to think that these wealthy individuals and corporations would be funneling so many millions of dollars in if it was not steadily delivering results.

It's a mistake to think that our only problem is with crooked politicians. They can be dealt with. The problem is much worse than that. Even if we assume that all the individuals that make up the system are acting virtuously as best they can, it is the system itself that has been drastically compromised -- I would even say corrupted.

That is my first claim. If you are in doubt of it, I beg of you: please spend the time to learn more (some resources at end of post). The evidence is, in my view, undeniable. If our political system were a car, you would take it to the shop. If it were a washing machine, you'd call the Maytag guy. If it were a first-generation iPhone you'd e-recycle that piece of junk.

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2.

My second claim is that this is bad. This is not a case of "politicians will be politicians." We can't just laugh it off. We can't claim "yet things are still humming along okay" or "the right things will happen over time, even if the process is messed up." The right things are not happening, and things are not okay.

While Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, OWS "hippies" and stereotypical Tea Partiers might disagree mightily over how to solve all our problems, we all agree that the situation today is not a happy one:

- We are unemployed and underemployed.
- Even to many of the hard-working, decent medical care has become unattainable.
- The rest of the developed world, overall, is turning out better-educated children than we are, better equipped to eat our lunch in tomorrow's economy.
- All of us except the most steadfast science deniers now know clearly that we are pumping way too much CO2 into the atmosphere. This is very likely developing into the greatest ecological catastrophe our civilization has ever seen, yet somehow we find ourselves powerless to find a political means to turn it around.
- National debt is astronomical. A huge part of everyone's tax burden is wasted on interest alone.- The rich keep getting richer, and they're not doing it with amazing new innovations that help everyone, the way Adam Smith envisioned, but simply by continuing to exploit the unique tax and regulatory advantages the government has provided them! (For any conservative alarmed about piddling little "welfare queens", this ought to truly make their blood boil.)

The list goes on and on. But you know these things. What is my point? It isn't just that things are bad right now. It's that enough things are bad, and our progress at fixing them so weak and ineffectual, that it proves the government is not functioning well. That is, it's not functioning well for us -- although, if you examine how well it's working for the wealthiest campaign contributors, you'll conclude that times have never been better.

In fact, I've come to feel that it's pointless to even think about how to fix each of these individual problems if we're not going to start by repairing the underlying system that has allowed them to fester. +Rootstrikers very aptly take their name from Thoreau's quote, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." The infestation of money in our politics is the root.

So far we've established: there is a problem, and it needs to be fixed.

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3.

My third claim is that there do exist solutions to this problem. Reminder: by "this problem" I mean the sharply disproportionate incentive for politicians to put the needs of wealthy individuals, corporations and special-interest groups ahead of those of the common voter. I do not mean that any solution will magically turn representative democracy into a perfect system.

I believe it is possible to fund political campaigns in ways that make each and every vote, each individual, matter approximately the same. That free our congresspeople from the burden of pandering to their wealthy backers day in and day out.

How? I'm not sure. The "Grant and Franklin" proposal Lawrence Lessig outlines in his book (notes at bottom) sounds like a good one to me. It works like this (but don't grill me over the details; seek the original sources):

- Each taxpayer may optionally allocate the first $50 (a "Grant") of their taxes paid toward the political candidate or candidates of their choosing. (Do the math and notice that this can generate gigantic piles of cash without any powerful individuals holding the purse strings.)

- But to accept any of that windfall, a candidate must forgo all other contributions of any kind save for a maximum $100 (or "Franklin") per individual donor.

That's it in a nutshell. A lot of people believe it will work, or maybe a variation of it. Or perhaps someone is now coming up with an idea that's even better -- whatever the best solution is, it's out there to be found.

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4.

The difficult part is how to enact that change, when the people who have the most power to make it happen are the ones who, by definition, are profiting from the current system and thus have no incentive to change things.

So it won't be easy. But my fourth claim is that this can be done.

What are the chances that a sufficiently mobilized citizenry can actually make this happen? Maybe you think they're 90%, or 9%, or even 0.09% -- doesn't matter. The chances are nonzero, and it will be one hell of a lot more fun to fight that fight than to take the soul-killing alternative of sitting by and doing nothing.

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So now what?

1. First, please either +1 this post or comment to say why you can't +1 this post. (Or +1 the comments that already explain your point of view.) Why? Not because I get something for that (there's no "karma" in G+). I ask because I think we all need to see clearly and tangibly whether this is a fight that our fellow citizens are going to join with us or not. Do we have each other's backs here? Let's find out right now. (That is the "incredibly simple action" I foreshadowed.)

2. Make this your top issue. Post, tweet, share, talk to your families and friends. Maybe start by re-sharing this post? Learn everything you can. Follow +Rootstrikers and add your energy to the ideas you see. Donate to the organizations you believe will use the money well. There will be tons of things you can do if you are looking for them; I'm not going to try to enumerate them all here and now (but likely in future posts).

3. Just don't stop. Ever, until the unholy marriage of big money and politics in this country has been dissolved. Then go back to the usual right vs. left squabbling.

Resources:

Only want to spend 10 minutes? Perhaps watch the attached video.

Like reading books? I just read Lessig's Republic, Lost and while it could have been tighter, it covers the bases, and as you can see, fired me up.

It's not like Lessig is the singular prophet of this movement, but he's a damn smart guy, has devoted himself completely to it, and I like his style. (And hey, I'd have a deeper bibliography to share if I'd found these two resources less convincing on their own.)

#usa #politics #occupy #occupywallstreet #ows #teaparty #campaignreform #rootstrikers
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Daniel Martin's profile photoJohn A. Tamplin's profile photoJeff Miller's profile photoKevin Bourrillion's profile photo
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I am not staying in the US, but support your case and wish you good luck in your fight.
 
I donated to the Obama campaign AND got entered in a drawing to go to a party at George Clooney's house. That's MY solution! WOOT!
 
I think it is a problem, but I think taking publicly visible money out of politics will only move it to surreptitious means. I thnk part of the reason it is so obvious our politicians are bought these days is because it is now perfectly legal for companies to give them essentially unlimited money -- in the past it wasn't, so they couldn't be quite so brazen about it. Look at Dodd's comments after the failure of SOPA -- was basically "we bought this legislation fair and square, and if we don't get it we aren't going to keep giving money to our politicians". I believe the politicians were paid just as much in the past, but it wasn't as obvious.

So, if we take out the above-board contributions, we will be back to the old system where you didn't know who was bought by who, which I don't think is much of an improvement.

Personally, I think the only real answer is to reduce the money that the government controls, which should reduce the desire to spend money to influence how that money is spent. That means the government should only be doing things that absolutely can't be done by anything besides a central government. We can argue about exactly what that set is or if that will be sufficient to reduce outside influence, but I think it is necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) to enact any significant change.
 
Perhaps I am not keenly feeling this because I am both employed (well) and have fantastic access to healthcare.

I think it isn't easy to motivate those who are feeling no pain... but the ones that are feeling it probably have so much stress that they can't deal with the political aspect (see: Maslow, Needs: Hierarchy of).

People will not put forth enthusiasm for action until they are inconvenienced by the corruption. The ones that are inconvenienced don't have the energy for enthusiasm.

In order to effect change, what's needed is to appeal to people with specific examples that will demonstrate either 1. this calamity has a good chance of befalling you someday if you do nothing or 2. these calamities have already befallen these people that you can somehow relate to.

Even then, it's a toss up. What specific thing got you all aflutter about this that you can share? Because everything I read up there, although well-thought-out and presented just translates to "blah our government sucks blah" to the average person, especially the average person who falls into one of the two groups I described above.
 
I don't personally feel the pain, but just about any time I see a vote in Congress it makes me want to hit something. I can't wait for MPAA/RIAA to die from disintermediation so they stop trying to screw everything else up to protect their business model rather than just changing their business model, for big oil to stop getting subsidies when clearly they don't need any and those should be going to develop and improve renewable sources instead, Monsanto shoving more GMO crops down our throats threatening the very long-term viability of agriculture in the name of their profits, etc etc etc.
 
I think there are a lot of hurdles for a process like this:

- This would come out of federal income tax, and the lower income 50% of voters basically don't pay federal income tax. They do pay payroll taxes, but those are preallocated to various things like Medicare and Social Security. No money would come from them, so that would both shrink the pool dramatically, and those taxpayers wouldn't be represented.

- If this needs to be done when you file your taxes in April, then there is way too much lead time before the election. Something like 20% of voters are independent enough to make up their minds in October / November. Also, if there is an incumbent and someone running in a primary, the incumbent would have a huge advantage in April, both in terms of name recognition and other people running in the primary.

- You can't even get people to contribute the $3 checkoff towards presidential campaigns - I can't imagine why they would want to allocate $50 dollars, even if their overall bill didn't go up.

- Presidential candidates already receive federal matching funds: basically, they can match $250 of every donation if they limit their spending. This approach basically hasn't helped. They are starting to abandon this, though: Candidate Obama was able to raise far more money (something like $1B) by going outside the system.

- I've spent my followup comment talking about presidential campaigns. If we go with the idea that each presidential campaign costs $1B, and that 50% of people will pay enough in income tax to cover the $50, and that 80% of those people will want to allocate the $50 (which I think is a stretch), and you have around 134M tax returns, then you end up with .4*134*50 = $2.68B. But we're forgetting the 468 biannual congressional races. The 2008 cycle cost a total of $5.6B: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/10/us-election-will-cost-53-billi.html That's a pretty big gap.

Don't get me wrong, though - I think one of the best things we can do would be to turn our representatives from people who spend all of their time fundraising to people who people who actually spend their time representing us. I'm just not sure I've seen a good solution.
 
+Daniel Martin If you've come to the conclusion that your cause is a root cause, or as close to a root as you can get, then by all means, fight the fight.
 
+John Tamplin Is there really a way to "reduce the money that government controls" that's any less difficult than the kind of change I'm talking about? I think if you did that but not this, the moneyed interests would get things swiftly returned to "normal" quickly.

About aboveground vs. belowground, I don't know what to say except that I don't share your appraisal at all. I think if we take out the extensive aboveground workings of the politico-lobbyist complex, such that to buy or sell votes you have to actually commit a crime that risks you entire career, that's a huge win.
 
+Gina Rybolt If your point is to say "here's why I'm apathetic," I sympathize, since I've spent most of my life that way, and will see what I can think of to talk you out of apathy. But it sounds like you're saying much more than that; you're claiming "here's why most people are apathetic on this so you'll have a hard time accomplishing anything," and I'm not accepting that. I think a huge number of people will only stay apathetic on this if they keep believing that everyone else is also apathetic, so your statement that people are apathetic can just turn out to be self-fulfilling. :-(
 
+Jeremy Manson re: the people who don't even pay $50 in taxes: will think about this.

re: april, the idea is to get $50 in "vouchers" or whatever and allocate then where and when you see fit.

re: $3 checkoff, of course no one uses it, as it will fund the guy you hate as much as the one you like. People haaate any of their money going to the politicians they despise; this plan doesn't have that problem.

re: "pretty big gap", well, just keep in mind that this plan has been thought out in far more detail than I am able to present here in this post, by people actually putting a lot of time and smarts into it, and I don't pretend to be able to intelligently analyze it deeply. My role in all this isn't going to be to divine the right solution, but to support the process of finding that solution and throw whatever weight I have behind the ones we can converge on.
 
+Jeremy Manson Also I do believe I said "don't grill me over the details of this solution" up there. :-)

Why: as hard as coming up with the best solution is, what's a thousand times harder is figuring out how to make that change actually happen given that all the people with the power to make the change are the ones who have every reason not to want it. So we should be working much harder on figuring that part out. More later.
 
I am hearing that no one can comment on this post anymore. That is not by my choice. Is this true? Crap.
 
I am not as much apathetic as I am uninformed. But perhaps I'm apathetic to becoming more informed because most of this is not relate-able to me. And I am not the only one. So am I saying "here's why many people are apathetic about this and you're going to have a hard time accomplishing anything?"

Sorry, but yes.

Does that mean that I think you shouldn't try? Of course not. I'd love nothing more than to see you help take this cause somewhere.

But I firmly and truly believe that unless you give details that people can relate to, and firm suggestions as to what they can do that they feel will actually make a difference, all you will do is create some awareness, not action. I represent a huge portion of the population - the average person who is probably on life-autopilot and is aware that something isn't quite right but doesn't exactly know how to interpret the mounds of information much less figure out what to do about it.
 
I feel really silly. Where's the +1 button for the original post? (I see it on the follow-up comments). (Does editing the post clobber the +1 nature?)
 
I can comment.

Imagine if the government did not give energy subsidies at all, and that regulatory issues like permits for pipelines were handled through some non-government entity. Would big oil continue to buy lawmakers? I think not, at least certainly not at the level they do now. If the lawmaker is only getting a small amount of money, presumably they would be less inclined to make egregious laws for them, and only exhibit mild favoritism.

Regarding it being a crime -- it was only recently that companies could contribute large amounts to Congressmen. However, every time the Mouse was about to lose copyright protection, it would magically get extended. Even though it was illegal, do you really doubt that money changed hands to enable those laws?
 
+Jeff Miller Yes, editing a post removes previous +1s, as otherwise you could be made to agree with something you didn't.
 
+John Tamplin NOOOOOOOO. How did I never know that?? I've been a very active G+ user since before it was out. Grrr!

I only edited it because of my annoyance at the way Google+ inserts random blank lines and removes other random blank lines!

So now it looks like even in a post where I pathetically begged for +1s almost no one did. superfail.
 
Aaaand now the +1s I expected to see are right back again. Man. Okay.
 
I definitely have seen +1s go away after editing a post or comment. I don't know the exact conditions or if something has changed recently, but I definitely saw it.
 
Want to change the status quo? Run for office.
Really want to change the status quo? Win without fundraising. Then you can write laws and vote against big business.
 
+Sean Bradshaw I strongly believe this is going to take a lot more than just a few virtuous individuals managing to win congressional offices without lobbyist funds -- if that's even possible in this climate. My as-yet very underinformed view at this point in time is that we should be working on the state legislatures to start getting one, then two, then ten to pass resolutions asking for a constitutional convention. If we can do that, it will be seen as a real movement that's gathering steam, and if we get all the way to 34 (or is it 38 in this case, I forget), the convention will actually happen. (As for what then, there's much to be said on that subject too of course.)
 
But the US Constitution isn't broken, the laws of funding advertising for government seats is, and that's where someone smarter and more influential and charismatic than I am would have to come up with some brilliant piece of legislation that the 1% and the GOP will rail against. Getting any state to pass a resolution against the Feds isn't really plausible, the states have way too many problems of their own to solve, look at Florida's recent educational announcement for a good example.
 
I didn't say that the constitution was broken. (I happen to think it is but in a different way that I haven't brought up here.) But it may still be the case that an amendment to it is the only feasible way to make this change happen.
 
+Sean Bradshaw: I know it is heresy to say this, but the constitution is a little broken in this respect. In 1790, each Congresscritter represented around 50K people, there were 3.5M people in the US, and there was no mass media. A sufficiently interested candidate could have a meeting with each and every one of his potential constituents.

In 2012, each Representative represents something like 700K people. There are several large-scale forms of mass media - Internet, TV, radio, dead trees, you name it. In order to communicate with that kind of audience, you need to spend an enormous pile of cash - not just to buy the air time, but also to coordinate it and to come up with content.

The framers lived in a world with a very small number of large corporations. Most Americans were subsistence farmers. The idea that you would not only need vast sums of money to communicate with your constituents, but that the only reasonable source for that kind of money would be large corporations, would be unimaginable in 1790.

This is why the Citizens United decision was such an important one. It is a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution - for 1790. An amendment could make it clear that there can be constraints on how corporations use their heavily unbalanced influence on politics.

+Kevin Bourrillion : 34 states need to agree to the convention, and then 38 states need to vote in favor of the amendment. This is very difficult to make happen; it has actually never happened before. 2/3rds of Congress needs to agree to any constitutional amendment, regardless of how it gets proposed. It is a very, very high bar, and I am highly dubious. There's a reason we've only amended the constitution 27 times, 10 of those times were in the first two years of our history, and 3 more were when the civil war allowed the North to shove a few amendments in.
 
I am probably a bit late to the party here but I agree with everything you've said +Kevin Bourrillion, as an EU citizen I find the way the US government is treating it's citizens and forsaking it's future to be truly abominable :( I've dedicated a lot of time trying to think of a way in which we can avoid corruption in a political system and the best I can come up with is making the financial details of any politicians retroactively from the day they take a political position to some number of years after they retire, a matter of public record. Representatives of the people should not be for sale, but I find it unlikely that politicians don't benefit in some way beyond typical pay. The pay grades for government work should also be adjusted. Accountability is also a problem, a political position can be won by empty promises. You'd hold a handyman accountable for not doing the job you asked him to, but not a politician.

I should go to bed, I could rattle on for hours about how the governments around the world are all flawed.

[edit: G+ android app is a bit weird] 
 
+Jeremy Manson As astonishingly difficult as it seems to pull off such an unprecedented feat, I see few other choices.
 
+Kevin Bourrillion, yeah I figure it would work more as a deterrent than a cure. I've not come up with anything better myself. =/
 
i wish i could just assign my vote to kevin by proxy, but since he's not running for anything...
 
The Carbon-scare is a means of sending money and rights to Washington. It's a huge hoax.

It's all about people wanting MORE government (Democrats and establishment republicans) or LESS government (TEA Party Conservatives).

It's no more complex than this: if we follow Conservatism we'll have more jobs, more money, and more FREEDOM than ever before. We've given it away for far too long.

Anyone who doesn't START by cutting the federal government in half, is merely putting off the problem. We need to fix this, now.
 
According to rootstrikers.org "...the federal government would save about $4 billion per year by ending tax subsidies to oil, gas, and fossil fuel producers".

Meanwhile Van Jones brags on his website of spending $80 billion federal dollars on "green recovery jobs", which is to say bullshit crony capitalist enterprises that will never make a profit. Does the solar panel industry have 20x more effective lobbyists than oil, gas, and coal companies, combined? I find that very difficult to believe.

Government is the problem, and that problem is orders of magnitude worse than the petty cadgings of the enterprises who try to influence it.
 
Damn gravity. Everyone knows it's just a theory. JUST WHAT IS THE SO-CALLED SCIENTIFIC ESTABLISHMENT TRYING TO HIDE? The Big Fruit-Growers probably planted someone in that tree to throw apples at Isaac Newton to boost their sales.
 
+Floyd McWilliams of course the 4 billion in oil company subsidies only scratches the surface of money spent by the fed on propping up the industry. How much is spent on foreign subsidies to oil producing nations? On protecting the oil industry's interests by waging war with petty despots who wouldn't be noticed if they weren't sitting on control of oil? Even at $4/gallon we're paying around half what european countries pay for gasoline, why do you suppose that is?

That said, 80 billion on "green recovery jobs" is just as much a symptom of the problem as the rest of it is. Money being spent by the federal government in the interest of wealthy individuals and corporations rather than in the interest of the citizenry at large.

http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/the-texas-sharpshooter <-- this is what you're doing.
 
Damn government. What have their interference in the marketplace ever given us? Aside from the Internet. And roads. And safe food and drugs. And clean air and water. And rural electrification. And the national parks. And the universal availability of childhood vaccines. And satellites and moon landings.
 
What's really outrageous is that this is not an US-only problem, it's happening everywhere, and like any other economical problem it has to be dealt with worldwide. So here's my +1 and I'll be sure to translate this post and relay it everywhere I can.
 
This was below the cut in the original comment, so I'm reposting it. $4 billion is only the subsidies for the oil and gas industries that the President wants to cut. He left about another $35 billion annually intact. $40B annually is a lot more than an $80B one time cost. Plus, lots of those green jobs are very profitable - for example, the money that goes into weatherization pays for itself quite nicely.
 
+Tom Ligman Most foreign aid goes to Israel and Egypt, neither of which produces much oil. As for why oil costs less in America than it does in Europe ... is that supposed to be a problem? The whole point of a modern industrialized economy is to deliver useful goods in bulk and cheaply.

I mean when blackberries were on sale at the grocery store I bought a bunch, I didn't ask whether there was some nefarious plot to subsidize fruit.

As for whether I am cherrypicking data, I simply copied the only dollar amount listed on http://rootstrikers.org/resources/ that was associated with government corruption.
 
+Jeremy Manson Well wait. Is that $40 billion that the government gives to oil companies? Or is it $40 billion that the government could take from oil companies, but doesn't?
 
+Floyd McWilliams Given the extreme complexity of rules around certain subsidies and tax incentives, what makes you think you can tell the difference between those two monetary categories? Suppose that there's a corporation paying $10 million in taxes annually. One year, they qualify for a subsidy for something they're doing and are given $1 million dollars of subsidy at some point. The next year, some portion of their income qualifies for a reduced tax rate and so they only pay $9 million in taxes that year.

Are you telling me that there is a substantial functional difference between those two situations? That's the kind of thinking that would lead me to the delusion that the government isn't massively subsidizing my mortgage.
 
Yes. Our paying less is a problem, because european companies pay the same amount for raw materials that US companies do and post similar profits. The rest of that money comes from somewhere.
 
Also, nitpicking the specific details of any example of this corruption doesn't help us strike at the disease and probably doesn't even really help alleviate the symptoms. I feel bad for descending into it.
 
+Daniel Martin I haven't seen a detailed argument with hard numbers that explains why the $44 billion deducted from oil company tax bills is a subsidy. Just pointing out that the deductions exist isn't sufficient; there are tax breaks which may represent sound policy (like deductions for exploration and lower tax rates for capital equipment).
 
+Kevin Bourrillion I did not mean to quibble over details. When I looked at rootstrikers.org/resources, I was struck by the lack of evidence for why corporate corruption is a problem.

There are only three points that describe government giveaways to rich people and corporations. And just one of them, the one I quoted, comes with a specific figure.

I don't want to overwhelm your comments so this will be my last word here. I may, time permitting, post about Rootstrikers on my own G+ stream.
 
So, a great summary of the problem with this thesis is outlined in an article on the front page of today's Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/most-independent-ads-for-2012-election-are-from-groups-that-dont-disclose-donors/2012/04/24/gIQACKkpfT_story.html

TL/DR; most money influencing politics doesn't go to politicians any more, or even to their election campaigns, or even to PACs that overtly support them. It goes to nonprofit organizations with an allegedly nonpolitical mission. This is a technical detail, but it highlights a critical flaw with any plan to reform campaign finance: all speech can be political, and whether you like it or not, mass-media advertising has to be considered speech and subject to protection. In my opinion, preserving this fundamental American freedom is and must be more important than undoing any damage today's politicians are empowered to do. Can you really see yourself living in a country where nobody other than a politician who has taken federal funds is allowed to express a political opinion -- or something that federal regulators see as a potentially political opinion -- on television?

Sadly, as you have pointed out, a corollary of the combination of (a) the necessity of free expression and (b) the massive expense of access to today's large-scale media means that wealthy special interests dominate the political arena. They don't even have to explicitly buy politicians; you can always find a candidate who already wants to do the things that are good for you, and then expend the necessary funds to get that candidate elected.

Here's a possible solution that we can actually help put into effect: make speech cheap again. Posting a video on YouTube costs nothing, and you can get millions of people to see it. The more we get people to rely on the internet for information, the smaller the impact of massive cash piles on political contests (so long as we're able to preserve the internet as a truly democratic medium).
 
... and this post has now reached +100. And 45 shares and 49 50 comments! Thanks for obliging my request for +1s, as we can all see that we are far from alone on this. It should at least give us more confidence than if this post had gotten +10. (Imagine if I'd been able to make it short!)
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