Politicians' outdated strategies crush civic engagement

When it comes to civic engagement, Americans are becoming apathetic. They’re avoiding the voting booth and skipping efforts to organize, saying their “vote doesn’t matter” and “all politicians are the same and corrupt.” But it may not be Americans who are at fault for the lack of enthusiasm -- it could be that politicians’ outdated strategies for connecting with citizens are crushing political idealism.


Inventors deserve equal protection, not double standards

Patent reform was in the air once more this month when the president and Randall Rader, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, added their voices to the chorus of legislators calling for new measures to address abuses of the patent system.  Many of their proposals are well taken, for the consensus is growing that something must be done to protect American businesses from meritless lawsuits designed to extract nuisance-value settlements from them.  What all current proposals have missed, however, is that abuse runs both ways in the patent system: just as a company may find itself the target of a frivolous patent lawsuit in court, so an inventor may find his valid patents embroiled in baseless litigation at the Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”).  Yet Congress, by devising protections for some actors in the system but leaving others defenseless, is subjecting inventors to a double standard and inviting more wrongdoing thereby.


Take a thorough look at human rights abuses in Egypt

Tomorrow, the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa should ask questions to clarify what exactly the Obama Administration strategy on Egypt should be as President Morsi cracks down on civil society and the U.S. continues to transfer $1.2 billion in aid.

The hearing, titled American NGOs Under Attack in Morsi's Egypt, will examine last week’s shocking Egyptian court verdicts convicting 43 representatives of foreign non-governmental organizations, all of whom were charged with “operating local offices of international organizations without the requisite license and illegally receiving foreign funds.”

The sentences handed down last week range from between one and five years in prison, with some sentences suspended. Nineteen of the 43 convicted in the case are Americans from the U.S.-based NGOs Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Each of these groups will provide testimony during tomorrow’s hearing. As they do, subcommittee members should explore Egypt’s crackdown beyond this outrageous case.


Revive the Election Assistance Commission

The president has named the members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and tasked them with reporting back within six months of their first meeting, scheduled for June.
The unfortunate fact is that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is already tasked to do what the commission is being asked to do, and we would do better to focus our limited resources and attention to such matters on making the EAC a serious professional body that focuses on the many and evolving challenges of election administration in 21st-century America.
The other fact that seems to elude most is the sheer complexity of election administration. As a former member of Brazil’s electoral tribunal has put it, “There is no function of the modern state, short of going to war, that is as complex as election administration.”


Democracy’s masquerade ball

The IRS gave itself two black eyes by admitting that it has bungled processing the flood tide of applications for 501(c)(4) status in the 2010-2012 period. The bungling involved failing to treat all applications with the same rigor and apparently giving Tea Party affiliates a harder time than any other class of applicants.
This is tragic, in part, because we need the IRS to police the abuse of the tax code for secretive political purposes. And now the IRS is likely to be gun shy just when we need them to be rigorous. The result is likely to be a democratic process where more political actors are hidden — where democracy itself has turned into a masquerade.


It's time to fix the debt

Throughout our respective political careers, we have seen the damaging effects of partisan gridlock. Oftentimes when politicians engage in fierce debate on a contentious issue, they fail to recognize that it is ordinary citizens who suffer most from this counterproductive quarreling.

But we are also aware of the momentous breakthroughs made possible due to lawmakers’ willingness to come together and achieve results on historically divisive issues. Whether it was the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 during Marty’s tenure on the Ways and Means Committee or the enactment of the welfare reform law of 1996 while Tom was serving in the House, we understand that it is possible to overcome major challenges in a bipartisan fashion.


Prescription for a healthy communications campaign

Imagine this scene: A CEO, VP of government affairs, communications director, media spokesperson, social media manager and webmaster are huddled in a conference room somewhere in Washington, D.C. Sipping on Starbucks and bottled water, they are diligently brainstorming about how to raise awareness about a particularly challenging issue facing their organization.


Election Reform: It's about time

Democracy is a wonderful thing. Campaigning for national office in the 21st century? Not so much.

It isn’t just that officeholders spend less time governing and more time campaigning and fundraising. It’s also that we, the people, have less time to get on with our lives because of the constant campaigning we must navigate.

That the permanent campaign is bad for governing has been widely noted. But it also eats away at citizens’ time, demanding more than is needed for healthy civic engagement. Ignoring elections is an understandable, even rational response to all the campaigning; what if it becomes the rational response?


President's budget won't narrow the growth gap

At a time when the American people are searching for a responsible federal budget outlining pro-growth policy initiatives that Congress could enact with bipartisan support, President Obama decided to go in a different direction. Ten weeks late, the president’s budget reflects his belief in a bigger government and a citizenry dependent on it.