Steve G.

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Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” (1950)

In Communism, Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, History, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Personal Responsibility, Politics, Republican, US Government on February 13, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I was recently reminded of this speech by Margaret Chase Smith, the legendary female moderate Republican from Maine (she served in BOTH the House and the Senate). The only thing which Maine’s two current female Senators have in common with her is that they are female and Republicans. The link is to the text of Chase’s incredible “Declaration of Conscience” speech. It is as applicable today as it was when she delivered it 60 years ago, and I believe that it should be required reading in every introductory course on American government. Margaret Chase Smith was still in the Senate when I was a child in the 1960s and is one of the remarkable politicians and leaders who, in my opinion, made the Senate in the 60s arguably the greatest collection of Americans in service to their nation since the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The example that was set by those men and women are why I believe so strongly that government CAN be a good thing in all of our lives.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/margaretchasesmithconscience.html

Mr. President:

I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch of our Government.

That leadership is so lacking that serious and responsible proposals are being made that national advisory commissions be appointed to provide such critically needed leadership.

I speak as briefly as possible because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism. I speak as briefly as possible because the issue is too great to be obscured by eloquence. I speak simply and briefly in the hope that my words will be taken to heart.

I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American.

The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

It is ironical that we Senators can in debate in the Senate directly or indirectly, by any form of words, impute to any American who is not a Senator any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming an American—and without that non-Senator American having any legal redress against us—yet if we say the same thing in the Senate about our colleagues we can be stopped on the grounds of being out of order.

It is strange that we can verbally attack anyone else without restraint and with full protection and yet we hold ourselves above the same type of criticism here on the Senate Floor. Surely the United States Senate is big enough to take self-criticism and self-appraisal. Surely we should be able to take the same kind of character attacks that we “dish out” to outsiders.

I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul-searching—for us to weigh our consciences—on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America—on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.
I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.

Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate, there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined.

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize;

The right to hold unpopular beliefs;

The right to protest;

The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as “Communists” or “Fascists” by their opponents. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.

The American people are sick and tired of seeing innocent people smeared and guilty people whitewashed. But there have been enough proved cases, such as the Amerasia case, the Hiss case, the Coplon case, the Gold case, to cause the nationwide distrust and strong suspicion that there may be something to the unproved, sensational accusations.

As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican Party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge that it faced back in Lincoln’s day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation—in addition to being a Party that unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of “know nothing, suspect everything” attitudes. Today we have a Democratic Administration that has developed a mania for loose spending and loose programs. History is repeating itself—and the Republican Party again has the opportunity to emerge as the champion of unity and prudence.

The record of the present Democratic Administration has provided us with sufficient campaign issues without the necessity of resorting to political smears. America is rapidly losing its position as leader of the world simply because the Democratic Administration has pitifully failed to provide effective leadership.

The Democratic Administration has completely confused the American people by its daily contradictory grave warnings and optimistic assurances–that show the people that our Democratic Administration has no idea of where it is going.

The Democratic Administration has greatly lost the confidence of the American people by its complacency to the threat of communism here at home and the leak of vital secrets to Russia though key officials of the Democratic Administration. There are enough proved cases to make this point without diluting our criticism with unproved charges.

Surely these are sufficient reasons to make it clear to the American people that it is time for a change and that a Republican victory is necessary to the security of this country. Surely it is clear that this nation will continue to suffer as long as it is governed by the present ineffective Democratic Administration.

Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny—Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.

I doubt if the Republican Party could—simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.

I don’t want to see the Republican Party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people. Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican Party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one party system.

As members of the Minority Party, we do not have the primary authority to formulate the policy of our Government. But we do have the responsibility of rendering constructive criticism, of clarifying issues, of allaying fears by acting as responsible citizens.

As a woman, I wonder how the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters feel about the way in which members of their families have been politically mangled in the Senate debate—and I use the word “debate” advisedly.

As a United States Senator, I am not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism. I am not proud of the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from the side of the aisle. I am not proud of the obviously staged, undignified countercharges that have been attempted in retaliation from the other side of the aisle.

I don’t like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity. I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the Floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the Floor of the Senate.

As an American, I am shocked at the way Republicans and Democrats alike are playing directly into the Communist design of “confuse, divide, and conquer.” As an American, I don’t want a Democratic Administration “whitewash” or “cover-up” any more than I want a Republican smear or witch hunt.

As an American, I condemn a Republican “Fascist” just as much I condemn a Democratic “Communist.” I condemn a Democrat “Fascist” just as much as I condemn a Republican “Communist.” They are equally dangerous to you and me and to our country. As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.

It is with these thoughts that I have drafted what I call a “Declaration of Conscience.” I am gratified that Senator Tobey, Senator Aiken, Senator Morse, Senator Ives, Senator Thye, and Senator Hendrickson have concurred in that declaration and have authorized me to announce their concurrence.

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Why Redistricting is the Most Important Issue for Texas in the 2010 Elections

In Activism, Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, Fraud, Green Party, History, Libertarian, Libertarian Party-US, Libertarian Politics, Local Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on January 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

What good does it do a man to have the vote if he has only one person that he can vote for?

All political power is inherent in the people and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit. The faith of the people of Texas stands pledged to the preservation of a republican form of government, and, subject to this limitation only, they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.
Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution of the State of Texas

In 2011, the next Texas legislative session will tackle the subject of redistricting for the first time since Tom Delay and his partners in political crime forced the people of Texas to live with our incredibly gerrymandered map. Its purpose was to benefit the Texas Republican Party, harm the Texas Democratic Party and, as much as possible, remove the niggling little possibility that Texas voters might actually have the power to affect or influence the results of major elections here. Even the Democratic districts that were left were pretty much safe seats. Delay, Dick Armey and the rest of their merry little band of Machiavellis stuck their grubby little fingers into the mix and, like gods manipulating their computer game minions, succeeded in putting every voter in Texas into “political reservations”. No longer would the simple voter be allowed to mess up control of our state by dominant political machines. In short, what we have in Texas is Party-controlled government. In practical terms, the state of Texas and the two major Parties (preferably the Republican Party) would be (and are) the same thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that political machines haven’t always been in charge of Texas (anyone remember Archer or George Parr, “The Duke of Duval County”?). It is simply that before the 1990s, they weren’t as obvious, and they didn’t really care about national influence. It was corruption by Texans, of Texans, for Texans. Any influence that could shovel federal money to us courtesy of our Congressional leaders like John Nance Garner, Sam Rayburn, LBJ, Jim Wright and all of the rest was still corruption by, of and for Texans. There was no intention or desire to tear the rest of the nation down or rip it apart as it seems like is happening now. The thing is, for corruption to flourish, the politicians must be able to promise that they will continue to hold power and maintain the corrupt systems. That is what we have now; entrenched Party corruption. This is why I believe that, regardless of the economic crisis, the healthcare crisis, the ethical crisis, the war crisis, and every other of the many crises faced by Americans, as a whole, and Texans specifically, the single most important issue for Texas voters in 2010 is: “What the Hell will our political districts look like now?

I love Texas. I really do. It is the land of my birth and, no matter how many times I leave it, it’s the land I always return to. Unfortunately, Texas politics often embarrass me. I am not alone in this. There is an old saying here that goes: “Lock up your house and barn; watch your wife and children. The Texas Legislature is in session and nothing is safe.” There are too many things in Texas politics about which to be embarrassed (if not to laugh out loud about in their ridiculousness), too many to list, or even count. Our state constitution, itself, is probably the main one; a document so badly written that the only thing which keeps it from being the single worst one in The United States is the fact that Alabama’s state constitution might actually be the worst one on the entire planet. It is easily the worst one in The United States (http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/04/06/2646073-we-must-amend-the-constitution-now-), but having the 50th worst constitution out of 51 contenders is nothing to be proud of. A close second to the embarrassment which is the Texas Constitution is arguably our propensity to re-elect incumbents to pretty much any office that they run for.

Texas is a land whose people pride themselves for their fiercely independent spirit. Texas is also a state which avows its hatred of the very idea of a professional political class so much that the annual “salaries” for all legislative offices (including that of the Lt. Governor) is only $7,200 (http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/leg/features/0205_01/compensation.html, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/TT/mkt2.html). Keep in mind that it wasn’t until 1975 that Texas voters voted to raise those salaries from $4,800 up to $7,200… an increase of 50% (it was also at this time when members of our legislature were given a per diem AND could get mileage reimbursement at the same rate that state employees do). Texas government was designed to discourage the rise of a professional political class. Of course, in reality, it also keeps people without other sources of income (i.e. – the poor and the lower middle class) from being practically able to hold such offices. Thus, our fondness for keeping people in elected office is not only an embarrassment, it is rank hypocrisy on a statewide level. Now, I have so far basically said that we here in Texas have a “tendency” to re-elect the same people into government offices time and time again but, at this point, it is merely undocumented hyperbole. Fair enough. Go to the restroom, get yourself a nice beverage and make yourself comfortable because this is going to take awhile. Ready? Good.

(NOTE: If you are not interested in reading through the statistical information I have compiled, please feel free to skip the paragraphs between the two lines below and the two lines after the statistical paragraphs. The information in those paragraphs is included in this article (1) for those who, like me, find such information interesting, and (2) to cut off the need for comments such as “how do you know”, “what are you basing you opinions on”, and “prove it”. Thank you for your understanding on this.)

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To start with, here are some statistics about state level elections in Texas from the 2008 General Election:

The Executive and Judicial offices up for election that year were Railroad Commissioner, three places on the Texas Supreme Court (and yes, we actually elect our Supreme Count members which, of course, makes them political creatures who need to raise election funds instead of allowing them to neutral arbiters of the law) and two places on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (in fact, we elect ALL of our judges here). All seven of them were retained by the incumbents. For those of you who want to keep track, that is seven for seven, so far, or 100%.

For the Texas Congressional delegation, we had one U.S. Senatorial and thirty-two U.S. House seats up for grabs. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that for those seats, all thirty-three incumbents ran for re-election. Want to know how many of them won re-election? Thirty-two of them were sent back to Washington. One of the incumbent Representatives (a Democrat in his first term, if you want to know) was voted out. The score now is thirty-nine out of forty, which comes out to 97.5%.

In the Texas legislature, there were fifteen seats in the Texas Senate and all one hundred and fifty seats in the Texas House up for election. For the Senate seats, all fifteen incumbents ran. Five were re-elected and one was defeated. If you wonder about the other nine seats, don’t worry. For those seats, the incumbents were completely unopposed and, under Texas law, didn’t even need to show up to the actual elections because they are automatically declared the victors (Texas does not have a “none of the above” option for our ballots). Score, fifty-three out of fifty-five now, giving us an incumbent ratio of 96.4%.

For the Texas House seats, one hundred and forty-tw0 out of one hundred and fifty incumbents ran for re-election. After the primary results were in, nine incumbents had been defeated for nomination by their party. Five more were voted out of office in the General Election. One hundred and twenty-eight incumbents were then returned to the Texas House and, out of those one hundred and twenty-eight, seventy-four of those “won” their elections without facing any challenges by their major opposition party, which means that 49.3% of the total seats in the Texas House were filed by people who simply walked into the House unobstructed. This makes our incumbent win record one hundred and eighty-one out of a possible one hundred and ninety-seven (91.9%). With all of these Texas races, out of two-hundred and five elections, one hundred and eighty-one continued to be held by the person who held them before the election, which is a total ratio of 88.3%. (http://www.bipac.net/page.asp?content=texas_elections&g=TEXAS)

Now, let’s take a look at our candidate line-ups for the 2010 election cycle, shall we? Before we even start, I want to point out that, out of 219 races I have analyzed, only two, yes TWO, will have primary contests from all three parties (Democratic, Libertarian and Republican). Only 0.9% of the highest offices in Texas will have the nominees for each race selected from more than one contender in each party. Those two races are for the nominees of each party for Governor and for District 5 on the State Board of Education. Really! Take a moment to think about that. Out of all of the state’s Executive, Judicial and Legislative offices, only one will have three nominees who will actually be determined by the people. (NOTE: For the sake of accuracy, I want to point out that the Texas Libertarian Party selects its nominees by convention but, for simplicity’s sake, I will use the term primary through this article to indicate the need of any party to select its nominees from a slate of several contenders.)

The Texas Executive offices up for grabs this year are those of Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, Agriculture Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner. Now, not only is the race for Governor the only Executive office in which there will be three nominees chosen by primary elections, the incumbent in the office of Comptroller (the State’s only financial officer after our elimination of the office of State Treasurer) is only going to be challenged because a Libertarian (our own Mary Ruwart) has filed to challenge the incumbent. The Democratic Party is not running ANYONE for the office. This means that if it wasn’t for the Libertarian Party, the person who is responsible for all financial duties for the entire state of Texas would be the guy who turned in his notarized form; that would have been all it would have taken.

On the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, two of the incumbents are also only being challenged by Libertarians. For the eight seats on the Texas Board of Education, only three of the races have candidates from all three parties. Three of seats only have the incumbent party challenged by Libertarians, although the incumbents in all three of those seats do face primary challenges from within their own Party. The District 4 seat is only being sought by the incumbent… no challenges by either the Democratic or Libertarian Parties and no primary challenge, so he gets to simply walk in.

Neither of our two US Senate seats is up for election this year and, out of out thirty-two seats in the US House, all of the incumbents (20 Republicans and 12 Democrats) are seeking re-election. Of those thirty-two races, only the Republican and Libertarian Parties have candidates for all thirty-two. The Democratic Party only has candidates in twenty-four of those races (which means that one out of every four of these races, the Democratic Party isn’t even showing up for), and in one race, the Constitution Party also has one candidate running.

Of the thirty-two Congressional races, only twelve of the incumbents will face primary challenges from their own party (38%), nine Republicans out of twenty (45%) and three Democrats out of twelve (25%). Of the combined thirty-two races, the only challenges to seven of the Incumbents or the Incumbent’s Party are from Libertarians (22%), and one is from the Libertarians and the single Constitution Party candidate (03%), for a combined eight of the thirty-two seats… again, one out of every four. For all of the Parties, there are eleven Republican Party primaries (34%), five Democratic Party primaries (16%) and twenty Libertarian Party primaries (63%). Thus, out of a total of ninety-six possible primaries, there are thirty-six (38%) and, if you only count the sixty-four possible primaries for the Republican and Democratic Parties, there are only sixteen…which is, yet again, only one out of four. Out of THESE, there are only two races which will have primary challenges for all three parties (2.1%).

For the Texas State Senate, out of sixteen races, fifteen incumbents are seeking re-election (eleven Republicans and four Democrats). Of the sixteen races, the Republican Party has at least one candidate in all of the races, while the Democratic Party is only competing in eight of them, which (for those of us who can count) is only one out of two (50%). The Libertarian Party has candidates in nine of the races for a 56% presence. Of the incumbents running for re-election, only six out of fifteen (40%) face Primary challenges in their own party; four Republicans out of eleven (36%) and one Democrat out of four (25%… again).

In none of these races is there more than one candidate from any of three Parties facing a primary election… which is exactly 00%. In only one of the races (06%) are there two parties which will have primary contests. Out of a total of forty-eight possible primary contests there are only eleven (23%). This means that of sixteen possible primaries for each Party, the Republican Party has six (38%), the Democratic Party has two (13%) and the Libertarian Party has three (19%). For the General Election, only two of the races (13%) will have candidates from all three Parties, six (38%) will have only Republican and Democratic candidates, seven (42%) will have only one of the two major Parties (Republican or Democrat) running against a Libertarian candidate, and one (06%) will have a completely uncontested incumbent.

Finally we get to the Texas State House of Representatives with its one hundred and fifty seats at stake. 94% of the incumbents (one hundred and forty-one out of one hundred and fifty) are running for re-election. There are seventy Republicans and seventy-one Democratic incumbents running, which means that only nine of the seats are guaranteed to have a new person in them. The Republican Party is fielding candidates in one hundred and twelve of the races (75%), the Democratic Party is running in ninety-three of the races (62%) and Libertarians are contesting sixty-four of the races (43%).

Out of the one hundred and forty-one incumbents running, only twenty-three (16%) face primary races…sixteen Republicans (23% of seventy) and seven Democrats (10% out of seventy-one). Of the potential four hundred and fifty possible primary elections, there are only fifty-nine (13%), which is thirty-nine Republican primaries (26% of one hundred and fifty), ten Democratic primaries (07% of one hundred and fifty) and ten Libertarian primaries (again, 07% out of one hundred and fifty).

From all of the one hundred and fifty races, only twenty-seven (18%) have at least one candidate from all three parties. Twenty-nine of the races (19%) have only candidates from both the Republican and the Democratic Parties. Thirty-seven of the races (25%) only have one or more candidate from the Libertarian Party opposing one of the two major Parties. Of the one hundred and forty incumbents running, forty-six of them (33%) of them are completely unopposed (twenty-one Republicans out of seventy for a 30% ratio and twenty-five Democrats out of seventy-one for a 35% ratio). Out of the one hundred and forty-one incumbents running, eleven of the races have the incumbent’s party unopposed by candidates from either of the other two parties 08%). This includes six Republican contests out of seventy (09%) and five Democratic races out of seventy-one (07%).

Now, can you figure out what is the most horrifying statistic which can be made from the above paragraph? I’ll give you a couple of minutes to re-read it. {da da da da da dum} Have you figured it out yet? If it wasn’t for the Libertarian party, ninety-four out of the one hundred and fifty races for seats in the Texas House (63%) would have either the Incumbent or the Incumbent’s Party with no, let me repeat that, with NO opposition. Out of all of the two-hundred and nineteen total races in 2010 that I have broken down, that comes to one hundred and fifteen races (53%) in which there is only a challenge to an incumbent or an incumbent’s Party because of candidates from the Libertarian Party. Do you, like me, think that percentage is WAY too high?

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So, why have I written almost 2,000 words in eighteen paragraphs taking up most of three pages to numb you with statistics that barely a handful of people would even think about? Why have I spent most of my waking hours over two full days making myself blind(er) and giving myself a migraine to have these statistics to write about? It is very simple. Political districts in Texas are so frighteningly gerrymandered (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering , http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gerrymander) that almost every seat for every state office in Texas (by which I mean, every elected office which has a specific political district that is smaller than the entire state… US House, Texas Senate and Texas House) is basically considered a safe seat for either a particular candidate or a particular political Party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe_seat) . They are considered so safe that few of them are challenged for and MANY fewer of them still are lost. That should be unacceptable to any person who believes in a democratic form of government.

Both the Republican and the Democratic Parties (especially the Republican Party over the last decade) have worked and legislated to not only make it infinitely easier to stay in office than it would be in a system in which voters have the true power over our government, they make it almost impossible for any new parties to challenge their political hegemony. Even if the two major parties hate each other, it is still in the best interest of both of them to keep the playground closed to other kids, as it were.

The Texas state Constitution makes these requirements for legislative districts (Article III, sections 25 and 26):

(25) “The State shall be divided into senatorial districts of contiguous territory according to the number of qualified electors, as nearly as may be, and each district shall be entitled to elect one senator, and no single county shall be entitled to more than one senator.

(26) “The members of the House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the several counties, according to the number of population in each, as nearly as may be, on a ratio obtained by dividing the population of the State, as ascertained by the most recent United States census, by the number of members of which the house is composed; provided, that, whenever a single county has sufficient population to be entitled to a representative, such county shall be formed into a separate representative district, and when two or more counties are required to make up the ration of representation such counties shall be contiguous to each other; and when any one county has more than sufficient population to be entitled to one or more representatives, such representative or representatives shall be apportioned to such county, and for any surplus of population it may be joined in a representative district with any other contiguous county or counties.

Now, take a look at (1) the current c0ngressional districting map for Texas (http://congdistdata.tamu.edu/USCongressionalDistricts.pdf), (2) The current Texas Senate districting map (http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/leg/features/0400_04/plans01188.html), and (3) the current Texas House districting map (http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/leg/features/0400_02/planh01369.html). You tell me whether or not you think that these districts are gerrymandered or if they meet the requirements of the Texas Constitution.*

[*By the way, when I was doing my Google searches for the Texas state government district maps, two of the results that popped up were “Dante’s Inferno – Circle 8 – Subcircles 1-6 – Cantos 18-23” and “Dante’s Purgatorio – Terrace 5: Avarice And Prodigality”. Do any of my readers find that as unbelievably funny as I do? Just curious.]

To have a functioning democracy, it isn’t enough to have the right to vote. We must also have both a selection of candidates from which to chose AND the power to determine who WE want in office rather than who the Parties want. Right now, for all practical purposes to be a candidate for any of the offices which I have covered, you must have all of your paperwork in the hands of the Texas Secretary of State on the first business day of January. This allows candidates to be listed on the ballots in time for the state primary elections. Parties like the Libertarian Party have to use conventions to determine their nominees which use a slightly different schedule than the primary schedule, but the filing deadline is the same.

So, what is it about our elections, as described by me up to this point, which rob voters of power over our elections? First, there is no opportunity for citizens to see which races do not have any competition and then work to raise more candidates. This means that even the two major Parties are stuck with whoever met the filing deadline. Second, while minor Parties (Libertarian, Green, etc.) have to use a convention method to choose their candidates, those candidates STILL have to have their paperwork filed by the January filing deadline. This means that the convention delegates can ONLY “choose” candidates who met the filing deadline. They have no opportunity to control the process and, except in elections when they have more than one member of their party to choose from, are stuck with whoever had their paperwork in on time. There are processes to declare a write-in candidacy or to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated / Independent candidate, but are not practical means in the state of Texas to give the voters more choices or options besides those who handed in a notarized form by the first business day after New Year’s.

To truly be in control of who represents them in their governments, the process has to be designed to remove the power of the Parties over the process. We need districts which are completely non-partisan and politically neutral. We need to make it easier for more candidates to get on the ballots. We need enough candidates running for every office that all of the Parties will need to actively campaign to win their Party’s nomination in the primaries and conventions before they campaign for the actual office. We need to examine different methods of voting which put control of the outcomes in the hands of the electorate. (http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/04/21/2714028-the-laboratory-of-democracy-alternative-voting-methods-approval-voting-re-edited) We need to reduce the costs of filing for office by independents and others who do not have the backing of a Party which has ballot access, and of running a campaign for office. We also need to remove the bureaucratic barriers which make it difficult to even be on the ballot.

The thing is, if we were to solve all of the issues which I have raised, we will end up with better people in office. While many people complain about the lengths and costs of campaigns by candidates for the office of President, there is one good benefit of the process, which is that it hones a candidate’s skills and message, AND gives the press time to learn more about the candidates than the candidates might want us to know. Winning an election to become the President of The United States does not make a candidate a victor, it makes them a survivor. The other main benefit to the voters making changes to our election process is that we will end up with officeholders with a wide range of beliefs, skills, and knowledge. Diversity is not found in the color of someone’s skin, their gender or their sexual orientation; it is found when you have people with differing beliefs working together to create our laws and operate our governments. Homogeneity of ideas is the worst enemy of true diversity.

As much as people of any particular ideology might think that having people holding the same ideological beliefs as they do in every office would create a perfect government, they are wrong. Good decisions are not made when everyone agrees; they are made when people with differing beliefs can work together and challenge each other to make the best decisions. (http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/06/11/2918292-groupthink-as-a-political-mental-illness-part-i, http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/06/15/2933680-groupthink-as-a-political-mental-illness-part-ii) I recently ran across a blog, called ‘Divided We Stand, United We Fall’, which has apparently been around since 2007. It has some very good stuff in it but I want to point my readers to a particular article on that site (http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/2007/07/curing-libertarian-political-impotence.html).

This is why I say that the SINGLE most important issue for the Libertarians in the 2010 election is the redistricting which will be done by Texas (and the other states) in 2011. Unless we can literally change the political map next year, we will simply spend another decade as a fringe party which has no REAL impact on our laws or on the operation of our government. This is the case that the Libertarian Party needs to be making to the citizens of Texas, as well as to voters all across The United States. We need to make sure that the voters in every district know that, while they have no power to determine who gets elected by voters in other districts, they can still have an impact by choosing to send Libertarians, in those districts which have Libertarian candidates, or people of differing ideologies that the current prevailing ones as their representatives in Austin and in all of the other state capitals. NONE of many problems can be fixed if we don’t have the best people in office to work on them. If we cannot make them understand the importance of redistricting as a way for THEM to have more power over those in political office, then we will fail them. Voters may get the “government that they deserve” but, if we can’t give them real choices about who they can vote into office, they will never have to opportunity to deserve a better government.

For more information, please see http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu/6_printable.html.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2010 by Rhys M. Blavier

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

The Next Greatest Generation?

In Activism, Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, Economics, Fraud, Libertarian, Lies and the lying liars who tell them, Personal Responsibility, Politics, Pork, Republican, Spending, Taxation, US Government on January 13, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I know of very few people in America today who would disagree with the statement that America is heading for a mountain cliff heedless of the dangers which will await us once we plunge over it. While people of differing ideologies might not agree about the various factors which are pushing us farther and farther into danger, I think that one thing that can be agreed upon by all factions is that our national budgets / spending are out of control and is one of the contributing factors. There are two basic topics which I want to discuss with this article. One is about some factors which I think compound the problems and combine to make our nation fiscally unsustainable. The other is a call to action and sacrifice by my own generation.

Have you ever wondered how one politician can claim that government spending has been reduced while another politician can claim that government spending has been increased and, yet, they can both be telling us the “truth” while our financial problems continue to get worse and worse with each passing year? Well, we can thank the idea of “baseline budgeting” for making such political contortionism possible. Baseline budgeting is the concept that, for a new budget year, you will draw a line at specific totals of spending from the previous budget (the baseline) and you then incrementally increase spending above that baseline. Thus, one politician can say that spending has been cut if the amount of money that will be allocated above the baseline is less than what might otherwise be allocated while the other can say that spending has increased because the current budget is higher than the previous one. In neither case, however, has the issue of the already bloated budget mess been addressed.

On the opposite end of the possible budgeting methods is “zero-based budgeting”. Zero-based budgeting is the process of building a brand new budget from the ground up each and every year. As stated in the Small Business Accounting Guide, “(ZBB) is a method of budgeting which requires you to justify all planned expenditures for each of your new business period[s]. It defers [sic] from traditional incremental methods which may only require you to explain the amounts you need in excess of the previous period’s funding.” (http://www.small-business-accounting-guide.com/zero-based-budgeting.html)

Baseline budgeting is easier for politicians who either can’t be bothered to spend the time necessary to actually create an annual budget from the ground up or who don’t want to cut pet projects and excess pork that benefits their own constituents (and thus, their chances of getting re-elected). Baseline budgeting also increases the likelihood that expenditures will be made annually that no one is actually aware of. To make a baseline budget sustainable over a period of years or even generations, you must have an infinite and ever increasing source of money and resources. Without such an infinite or growing pool of resources, taxes must be continually raised and new sources of taxation must be found, otherwise you have a system which continually increasingly overextends itself. Eventually, the golden goose (the taxpayers and revenue sources) die, leave or rebel because they have no more to give.

If you want to see a demonstration of why continuous baseline budgeting without a sufficient resource pool to draw from creates an unsustainable economy try this, get some Legos® and attach one block to a Lego base. So far, so good, it is solidly grounded. Now, what you do from there is to continue adding new Legos to the stack (not the base, the stack) you have started EXCEPT that, instead of placing new Legos completely over the ones already there, you add each subsequent Lego one step off from the one below. This creates a stair-like effect. The problem is that, without addition support from its base, you eventually reach a point where the weight on the topmost and farthest point of the stack is too great to be supported by the base and the end topples over. When it does collapse though, the top block is not the only one that falls off. Because of the connectivity of the blocks to the ones above and below them, most of the stack will collapse. THAT is the end result of continuous baseline budgeting.

Another way to look at it is that our government is a drug addict and the drug which they need to get high is tax dollars. As with any long-term and strung out junkie, the amount of drugs needed to give them their fix increases. Junkies do not make wise choices. The will ignore food, hygiene, love, any and everything which does not contribute to their high. They will also beg, borrow and steal money from anywhere that they can in order to buy them their drugs because they can’t make rational decisions. Eventually, those who have willingly or unwillingly financed their habit want their money back. If you don’t see where this is going, try watching the movie Less Than Zero and imagine that the character played by Robert Downey, Jr. is our government.

Things would be bad enough if baseline budgeting was the ONLY budgeting problem that our government has. Unfortunately for us (the taxpayers) there are quite a few other flaws in the system. As a result, simply changing our budgeting method to a zero-base budgeting system (or to any one of several other possible ideas, such as program based budgeting) will not fix the problems with government expenditures.

Another of the problems (out of many) is that budgets are made based on PROJECTIONS of what Congress and the President THINK our national income will be for a given year. As a result, the actual amount of what is available is always wrong. If the projection is too high, then money will have to be “borrowed” to make a budget work. If the projection is too low then the excess money will STILL be used to fund SOMETHING. How this problem works is that taxes are due in April and usually by October, the government has a pretty good idea of what they actually have to spend. This is good because it coincides with America’s fiscal year. This is bad because what is being budgeted for is the fiscal year starting the NEXT October. While it would be painful to remedy this (and take several years), the time to present the next year’s budget can be moved back by two or three months each year until eventually budgets that are presented are based on what the real government income was (and which has been in “the bank”) since the PREVIOUS October. This, again, draws back to the analogy of the drug addict and trying to clean him up and wean him off of his drugs. Right now, we are theoretically spending money a year before we have it. We need to move things back until we are only allowed to spend what we have had in our hands since the previous October.

On another front, while in THEORY the budget is made up of a lot of individual budgets for all of the different budget areas, what is now the common practice is to make the process so continuous and time consuming that eventually Congress is forced by time limits to roll everything up into huge and monstrous constructs, so big that NO ONE can actually know what is contained within them, called omnibus budget bills. ( http://corporate.cq.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=232) As a way to delay the “need” of passing of omnibus budget bills, Congress can, and does, pass what is called a “continuing resolution” or a CR. (http://www.thisnation.com/question/003.html) What a CR does is authorize the government to continue spending what it is already spending based on the lowest possible amount… the amount proposed by the Senate, the amount proposed by the House, or the actual expenditure. While holding spending at the lowest level asked for might, on the surface, sound good, it is usually a political ploy to either hurt programs not liked by some members of Congress or to continue funding a pet project that might otherwise be cut. This game is played out until the “clock” runs out and, viola, the only option available is to pass yet another omnibus package.

There are many more problems which simply screw the taxpayer each year, such as earmarks, pet projects, hidden budgets, etc. Did you know that Congress gets an AUTOMATIC pay raise every year unless it votes to specifically NOT give itself a pay raise in any particular year? Because of a law passed in 1989, Congress doesn’t have to do anything or pass anything to get their automatic raise each year. If they do NOTHING they get the raise. (http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/agencies/a/raise4congress.htm) In addition, for a nation which was designed to have no permanent political class, elected office now comes with huge pensions and benefits. (http://money.cnn.com/2006/01/20/commentary/wastler/wastler/index.htm).

In addition, our legislatures operate under a sort of reverse-NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) philosophy when it comes to spending taxpayer’s money. I say reverse because (unlike politicians doing whatever they can to keep anything potentially negative from happening in the locations that they represent, no matter how necessary they might be or how they might be the best solutions for our nation, as a whole), politicians will say that we need to reduce spending EXCEPT for the spending that benefits their districts or states. Hey, we have too many military bases; no problem, we will close some, EXCEPT for the ones in my district. Wow, that project is a huge sinkhole for money but the money goes to my constituents so, by God, I will fight tooth and nail to keep it funded. Everyone agrees that spending needs to be cut but no one is willing to cut spending that benefits them or their businesses, no matter how much sense it might make to stop that spending. We have become a nation of whores who will justify any and every atrocity as long as we personally make money off of it. Such spending is nothing more that wholesale bribery by our legislatures to us, the people, to buy our votes to keep our Senators and Representatives in their jobs. “Every government is a parliament of whores; the thing is, in a democracy, the whores are us.”(Anyone who is interested in how our government works, or doesn’t work, but has not read P. J. O’Rourke’s brilliant Parliament of Whores needs to read it as soon as they can.)

So, what are some of the actual ways in which our government budgeting process and its resulting need for ever larger amounts of revenue harm the people of America. Well, for one thing, if we go back to the drug addict analogy, our government is not just addict, it is also a powerful “crime lord”. For a nation born from a tax revolt, America has become one of the most, if not the most, greedy and oppressive nations in the world when it comes to collecting taxes, even to the extent of its belief that collecting American taxes justifies its right to bully other nations into cooperating with the IRS. The United States is unique in the world in its obsession with collecting taxes from any and every American living outside of the US. (http://www.ivdgl.org/pages/c-lifeevents/expatriation.html) (http://wapedia.mobi/en/Tax_evasion) (http://www.richw.org/dualcit/faq.html#discover)

Unfortunately, this standard only seems to apply to individuals who the government can beat up on. Large American corporations can, for all intents and purposes, buy their way out of being taxed, even when they “base” themselves outside of The United States, by simply giving politicians “great heaping wads of cash” or, to use O’Rourke’s phrase, “more money than you can shake a stick at AND the stick”. If individual citizens were to do this, they would be considered “tax evaders” and prosecuted wherever they might relocate to. America wants “its” money and it is damn well going to get it, even if it means hounding geriatrics into their graves.

So, how can our national and state budgets be fixed before everything collapses? First, some generation is going to have to accept that it is going to be screwed, either by cutting or losing their own benefits or by being left holding the hot potato when it blows up. I realized this many years ago, when my own grandparents were still alive and I, in my twenties, listened to my grandfather get very angry about anything being done or even talked about by the government which might lessen his own benefits without any concern for what kind of mess would be left behind. Now, I loved my grandfather, he still is one of my heroes, but, at that moment, all I could think was “You selfish bastard; what about your own grandkids?

I realize that it is unconscionable to take away from people who have already entered their last years because they cannot rebuild their own lives. We cannot expect those generations to harm themselves like that. If sacrifices are going to be made, one of the younger generations will have to make them. Just as it is not reasonable to ask the dying generations to make such sacrifices, it is immoral to say to younger generations “I don’t care what happens to you or what you are left with. I’m going to get mine while I can and to Hell with anyone else.” (This, of course, is essentially the foundation of Ayn Rand’s objectivist “philosophy”.) This is where my call to action comes in. While this mess was created and worsened by the generations of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, if my own generation doesn’t simply suck it up and take the bullet, it will be the generations of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be hurt, and even worse than we would be by taking the hit now.

My grandfather’s generation has been called “the greatest generation” because it fought and died to save the world from the Axis powers in WWII. How can any of us expect to beat what they did? What we can do is harm ourselves in order to make things better for the generations which follow us and, maybe, give them something to live up to. We can become “the NEXT greatest generation”. This is my call to my own generation; this is my call for us to be heroes to the generations that follow us. Let us make the painful choices now. Let us absorb the harm, the lessening of benefits, the belt tightening, the need to rely on others to personally help us because we won’t be getting the help from the government that many of us will need.

I would also ask my readers to keep in mind that not only is my monthly government disability check my own source of income; I have no children to either rely upon or to worry about leaving our messes to. I have every reason to keep things the way that they are now and no reason to worry about how any future generations might be harmed. I have nothing to gain in this and everything to lose, but, if it would help future generations, I would willingly give up what I personally get and need. Would any others from my generation agree to make the necessary sacrifices themselves? Can we be the ones who clean up the mess that has been left to us? Do we have to courage to make ourselves “the next greatest generation”?

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

“Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor”

© copyright 2010 by Rhys M. Blavier

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

HOW SERIOUS IS THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY ABOUT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY?

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, Libertarian, Libertarian Party-US, Libertarian Politics, Local Politics, Politics, Presidential Candidates, Republican, US Government on November 25, 2009 at 1:53 pm

When I was 20 years old and preparing to vote in my first Presidential election, a man came to speak on the campus of Texas A&M University about his new party and his campaign for the Presidency. That man was Ed Clark, the first Libertarian candidate on the ballots of all 50 states. He spoke of a vision of government which combined fiscal responsibility with social humanism. Ed Clark made such an impact on my personal view of politics that now, 30 years later, I still call myself an Ed Clark Libertarian. Unfortunately, since then I have watched the Libertarian Party move to the far-right with no coherent message to the point where, instead of creating a viable third party in American politics, it has become seen a ‘lunatic fringe’ of the extreme far-right, religious conservative wing of the Republican Party, a neo-Republican Party, if you will. After 30 years, it has still never made a serious impact on American politics at either the national or even the state level. The fault is our own but, I personally believe that could be realistically changed… starting with the 2010 elections.

Right now, politics in America might be more volatile than it has been at any point in its history since 1860. The Republican Party faces the real possibility of splintering into two or more parties; divided by their extreme far-right Christian conservatives who view politics as a religious struggle with them battling for the glory of heaven by exerting “his will’ on Earth. Because this faction is fighting what they see as a battle for the next world, they see those who “oppose” them as inherently evil. They cannot compromise in what they see as a very real battle between “good” and “evil”. As such, they can be counted on to focus their efforts on stopping the “advance” of “ungodly” issues in America. They will even turn on their own, on other Republicans, who they see as weak in the face of their enemy… and make no mistake, they see those who do not agree with them as true enemies.

This internal conflict within the Republican Party, however, offers the Libertarian Party a very real chance to become a viable alternative party for the American voters. To do that, however, requires us to change ourselves into a viable party. Over the course of the last 30 years, the Libertarian party has moved backwards instead of forward. What was once seen as party with an interesting view of what government could be has become a perceived lunatic fringe of right-wing tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. We, ourselves, have marginalized our Party in American politics. We have no one to blame for our lack of achievement other than ourselves. As such, only we can change the perceptions of us by the American voters. To do that, we need to develop a strategic plan for 2010 and the following decade. We cannot possible devise winning tactics if we do not have an overall strategy for ourselves. We also need to give the American voters confidence that if they do elect any of us that we can participate and function in a real world government.

So, what are some things that the Libertarians need to do or change to become a viable third party in America? One is that we need to move beyond having a general philosophy about what government should be and become a political movement with an actual vision of what government can be AND an actual plan for how that can be accomplished. The question isn’t why SHOULD voters support us, it is what keeps them FROM supporting us. Remember, no voter owes a candidate or a party their vote; it is up to a candidate or party to earn their votes.

Another is that we need to stop running candidates for Executive offices until we can support those candidates by holding enough Legislative seats to help them. Politics, like life, is a gamble. Not only should you never make a bet you are unable or unwilling to lose, you should never make a bet you are unwilling or unable to win. Realistically, if ANY third party or independent candidate were to win the Presidency or a Governorship without having any Legislative support, their administration would be a complete failure. In addition, that failure would become generalized as an argument against ever again voting for candidates who are not party of one of the governing parties. It would actually damage us rather than help us.

Yet another is that we have to stop spreading our very limited resources so thin that we accomplish nothing. Imagine that we are farmers trying to grow a crop, like roses. Roses require a LOT of water in order to grow and become something that can be sold. What we have is a very limited amount of water. It would be better to focus on a few plants instead of trying to raise all of the plants by spreading our water so thinly that NO plants have enough to grow. Now, let’s ask ourselves “What is the quality of the roses that we raise?” In order to increase the resources we can use to raise more roses in future years, we need to be able to sell a few today. We need to develop a “long game” strategy for the future.

On the national level, we need to be focusing on a realistic few races for Legislative office, and we need to start doing so immediately. It would also be better to win seats in state legislatures this year than it would be to win Congressional seats in 2012. Why? In one word, the answer is ‘redistricting’. Most states with more than one member of the US House of Representatives seem to have mostly gerrymandered safe districts, which makes it almost impossible for candidates who are not from the two main parties to win. We need to have legislators at the state level that can fight for non-partisan maps with NO safe districts. This is a very real way to tell the voters that their legislators work for THEM. I advocate a map which starts in each corner of a state and only looks at numbers of voters to create compact, regularly shaped districts without regard to race, creed, color or party. This would create districts that cannot be seen or used to promote ANY specific person or party. The reasons for this should be obvious. Not only will it help us in the future by giving third-party candidates a fair chance to win, it will also allow us to demonstrate that our primary interest is in giving power back to the voters.

We also need to understand that it is not necessary to win a majority, or even a plurality of seats to make a difference. Let’s look at Texas, as an example. Texas is in political turmoil right now. It functions on inertia… there is a government because there has been a government and it operates because it has operated. It is too big of a juggernaut to stop and it is simply rolling over everything in its path. The Texas Republican Party is eating itself right now. Our sitting Governor, Rick Perry, will have to fight against one of our two Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison, just to win his own party’s nomination. This is not only internally destructive, when you understand how Texas operates; it is absurd because, constitutionally, Texas has a weak Governor system. The two most powerful offices in Texas government are the Lt. Governor, who presides over the Texas Senate, and the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. So, Texas has a strong legislature to really run the state, but that legislature only meets every other year and for a very limited number of days. In addition, the 2009 legislature threw out the sitting Speaker and chose a new one in a tough internal battle. At the state Senate level, our Lt. Governor is likely to try to get Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in the US Senate. Texas is in political crises and, as the White House Chief of Staff so famously said, never let a crisis go to waste.

Right now, the 150-member House is almost evenly divided between the Republicans and the Democrats. The Texas Democratic Party right now is going to make a serious effort in the 2010 elections. They are actively recruiting candidates and have already held week-end long ‘mini-camps’ to educate potential candidates AND campaign staffs on how to campaign, how to fundraise, what the legal requirements are, fill out the forms, etc. These camps also allow potential candidates and the state party staff to get to know each other. They only need a few seats to wrest back control of the state House and they are determined to accomplish that. In a situation like what is facing Texas in the 2010 elections, if we could elect just 5 members of the state House, neither party would be likely have a majority. If we could elect just 2 members to the state Senate out of the 31 seats (half of which are up for election in 2010), we would have almost 7% in that body. If we could accomplish those two challenges, we would have a say in what happens in Texas AND the chance to work for a politically neutral district map.

The LP needs to be PRO-active about the 2010 election. If we wait until the state conventions in July 2010 we shouldn’t even bother. We need to get out AHEAD of the political season and start the discussions ourselves so that they will take place on our terms. We need to lead the discussions rather than respond to them. We need to have state and national party leader who are actively speaking around the state and promoting what our party offers that is different than what the other parties offer. All of our focus needs to be on the state legislatures this election. To make a difference, we have to be able to say WHAT we will do, and then DO what we say. It isn’t enough to be against what the other parties do, we have to offer a vision of what we CAN do. We need to find 5 – 10 House candidates and 1 – 5 state Senate candidates in 3 – 5 states to put our national efforts behind. It isn’t enough for these people to become known in their own districts… all of them must become known statewide. The people need to have speaking engagements across the state now, and they need to be speaking to full houses, not nearly empty rooms. They need to be where people are. This will not only help recruit new members and other potential candidates, it will get these people in the news where they can be seen by the voters in their districts as BEING recognized throughout the state.

We need to formulate strong, serious and realistic plans and timelines for what will be done between now and the election. We cannot keep operating on the serendipitous hope that voters will choose us because, gosh, we aren’t the other guys. We need to find a few key issues that the state candidates will uniformly speak to. Beyond that, we need to find candidates who cover different interest areas, different experiences and bring different skill sets to the table. We need to offer our disparate candidates as a real slate, working together. Even if we do this, however, we still must operate with the recognition that we can NOT win more than a handful of seats, at best. That is ok, though, because it GIVES us a message and a strategy.

Our candidates must offer very real differences between our party and the status quo. Remember, we are fighting inertia here. Without an extreme effort to shift that inertia, voters will continue to do as they always have. We need to also remember, we that cannot beat the Republicans by being Republicans. Right now, we have more in common with the Democratic Party than we do with the Republicans. We need to find common areas upon which to build cooperation. We have to make the voters see benefits to bringing us to the table. I think that in districts that are represented by good men and women of the Democratic Party, we should consider not running candidates against them and, instead, do what we can to help them. For the bulk of the legislatures, we just want to be allowed in… which will NOT happen with Republican wins and/or majorities. WE need to be seen as a unified and MAINSTREAM team that is working to make a better government than what we currently have. We need to also be seen as the team that can bring the other loose members of the political community (greens, independents, etc.) to the table where, through us, they can be part of the process. If we do that, for example, then we can garner statewide support (particularly financial support), and possibly nation support for simple district elections.

Libertarianism must end its stunted childhood. To become meaningful, we must move it beyond a simply philosophy into a practical vision for realistic government. As we move forward, we must ask AND ANSWER some difficult questions, including:

  • There WILL be government, so how can we improve it?
  • There WILL be taxes, so how can we make them beneficial rather than draconian?
  • A movement can NOT succeed simply by being against things, so what are we FOR?
  • What IS the role of government?
  • What IS the purpose of laws?
  • FOR whom do we speak?
  • TO whom do we speak?
  • How do we become perceived as BEING inclusive and NOT exclusive?

Ronald Reagan famously stated that “Government is not the solution to our problems; it IS the problem.” When he said that, he identified government as something that CANNOT be seen in any kind of a positive way. The idea that we need to promote is: “Government is not the solution to our problems; it is the problem, WHICH WE MUST LEARN TO SOLVE.” That change turns it from being a negative declarative statement into a positive challenge which we can all be unified behind as we work to build something better for the future. Our challenge, as a party, is to figure out how to make the government change so that we will have one that serves the people rather than one which terrifies them.

Sincerely,

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

P.S. – I asked my step-father, a center-right Republican, to look over my first draft of this. He gave me this comment from his perspective:

As an outsider to the Libertarian party, I would be more likely to vote Libertarian if the candidates did not look like mass murderers. The male candidates that I remember had long necks with Adam’s apples that looked like basketballs. The women were over 300 pounds with greasy, stringy hair. They had jobs like gooseberry farmers or manger of a gecko rescue center. What I’m trying to say is that they looked like some kind of fringe people and had no background for the positions for which they were running. Granted, there are some in Congress that makes me wonder what the people who elected them look like.

P.P.S. — Since I originally wrote this, on a recent Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert demonstrated his mastery of satire as a way to point out how ridiculous things in this world or or my seem to be. In one of his stories this week, he was talking about candidates and the third one he named (the spot of shame in comedy) was “… and the Libertarian Party’s last Presidential nominee… Drinky Bird” while behind him flashed a picture of a classic Drinky Bird in a top hat toy and the caption “Drinky Bird ’08”

Where Was The Libertarian Party?

In Activism, Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Democracy, Democrats, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Medical Marijuana, People in the news, Politics, Republican, US Government on November 25, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Election Day 2009 has come and gone. Relatively speaking, this election was as insignificant as any off-year election is, as opposed to a mid-term election, but it still could have been an important year for the Libertarian Party, if we had simply bothered to show up. There were six elections / ballot initiatives which could have possibly been affected by the Libertarian Party… if we actually had a long-term strategic plan. As it is, some things happened for which it is notable that the LP had no role in. In no particular order, let’s look at where we could have had real impacts this year.

Governor’s Race – New Jersey: New Jersey voters tossed out their incumbent Democratic Governor, Corizine, in favor of Republican Chris Christie. It may have happened because Corizine is very unpopular with the citizens of his government-corruption prone state .While Christie’s election is not necessarily a bad thing, what made this election notable was that it swung on independent voters. Christie won 49% of the vote, Corizine won 44% and independent candidate Chris Dagget walked away with 5% of the vote.

Governor’s Race – Virginia: Republican candidate, Bob McConnell, with 60% of the vote, easily won election over his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds. For over 35 years, Virginians have consistently voted into office Governors of the opposition party to that of a sitting President, so this win might have seemed inevitable. What made this race notable for the LP is that it was again the independent voters who made the difference. In 2008, Virginia bucked its own tradition of voting for Republican presidential candidates and, instead, voted for Democratic candidate Obama. In that case, Obama won because Virginia’s independent voters were pretty evenly split between Obama and McCain. This year, however, independent voters were 2 – 1 in favor of McConnell and we can see the results from that quite easily.

Mayor’s Race – New York: In this race, Independent candidate Michael Bloomberg won a very narrow victory against his Democratic opponent, the essentially unknown City Comptroller. The name of the Democratic candidate is not important. What is important is that even with spending approximately $100,000,000 (yes, 100 million) dollars of his own money, Bloomberg only won 51% of the total vote, only 5 points ahead of his Democratic opponent. This will be Bloomberg’s third term, which was only possible because he supported changes to New York City’s term limit law, which had limited mayors to only being able to be elected for two terms. A strong Libertarian presence could have raised the term-limit issue by speaking strongly for them.

House of Representatives Race – New York’s 23rd District: What can be said here that hasn’t already been said? In what was probably the most noteworthy race of 2009? For the first time in over 150 years, this district will not be represented by a Republican. The story is remarkable. The Republican Party chose Dede Scozzafava, an NRA-approved candidate who also was pro-choice and in favor of same-sex marriage. The Democratic Party chose an un-noteworthy sacrificial lamb, Bill Owens, because the New York state House has a one person majority and they didn’t want to risk losing that majority by running their state Representative in an “unwinnable” race. So what happened? The far-right stepped in and ran their own Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, against Scozzafava. Why? Because she wasn’t conservative enough to satisfy far-right extremists, like Sarah Palin and Dick Armey. I think that this race was probably the most important this year because for what it signifies. The extreme far-right conservatives are not interested in Republican Party loyalty, they put political ideology above all else. Hoffman had no knowledge of or concern for “his” district’s local issues, he didn’t even live in that district In a move reminiscent of the worst examples of the “rotten boroughs” in British politics before the 20th century, the national leaders in the far-right conservative movement found someone whose only “qualification” was the purity of his ideology. Don’t worry though, if Hoffman HAD won, he promised that he would move into the District he would then be representing. Scozzafava eventually pulled out of the race and put her support behind the Democratic candidate. The extreme conservatives didn’t simply put their own candidate in a roll to beat the Republican candidate; they chased a loyal Republican out of the Republican Party, itself. In the end, enough loyal Republicans still voted for her that Conservative Hoffman lost. The final tally? 49% to 45% to 6%. I told you, folks… they’re eating their own.

This race, more than any other, demonstrates the collectivist desires of the extreme far-right conservatives… Local issues are not important to them; they want nothing less than to fill Congress with extreme conservative political ideologues who will put the desires of the conservative movement above every other consideration. Ideological purity is their litmus test, and having elected officials who will do the bidding of political masters instead of serving the needs of their constituents is a model for a one-party state with a collectivist government. We have seen such systems before and, trust me; their loyalty is NOT to their constituents… it is to their party. The far-right conservative extremist movement is trying to lead America down a very dangerous road.

In addition to these for elections, there were two ballot initiates that need to also be included in our summary. The first of these was the vote to overturn the law which passed the Maine legislature that made same-sex marriage legal in Maine. Drawing an immense amount of support from OUTSIDE the state, the conservatives managed to overturn that law by garnering 53% of the public vote to repeal it. The other ballot initiative we need to make note of was the approval in Breckenridge, Colorado of a law which decriminalizes all personal possession of one-ounce or less of marijuana. State and federal laws are still in place but for the first time, a city has stood up and said “it isn’t worth the government fighting to enforce those laws”. And who was responsible for this victory? If you said the Libertarian Party, you would be completely wrong. The organization that was responsible for getting 71% of the voters to approve that law was the modestly named ‘Sensible Colorado’… 71 freaking percent of the voters approved this and the LP had no hand in (and, thus, get no credit for) this win. Both of these initiatives were about personal freedom, personal MORAL freedom. If we, as Libertarians, are not the ones who can stand up for the side of freedom, then who the hell needs us?

So, what lessons should the LP learn from these elections? A couple of things. One is that being an extreme far-right, conservative neo-Republican party will not win for us. Those people are not disaffected, they are simply scared. They have their own machine and we would simply get swallowed entirely by them… and good-bye to the Libertarian Party. Another lesson is that independents really do matter. They might not be enough to win an election on their own, but that can certainly swing an election. In these elections we can all see the importance of a liberal movement. If we can mobilize it, we can win. The moderates, independents and liberals who turned out in numbers sufficient to elect Obama last year are the unmotivated and disaffected pool of voters we can turn to. There is power there, strength that is simply waiting to be utilized.

The Republicans are feeling elated about winning the two governor’s races this year. They are patting themselves on the back by seeing importance on the wrong victories. While governors might be the Chief Executives in their state, they have no role in formulating national legislation. The two House elections this year, both of which were won by the Democratic candidates, are much more significant in the larger picture of current American politics. What this says about the 2010 election possibilities is fascinating.

Candidates in reliable Republican districts will now be facing primary challenges from the far-right if they are not seen as being ideologically pure enough. Why is that important? Remember center-left Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island? He had to spend most of what he had in his campaign war chest to beat a far-right Republican opponent for the Party’s nomination. After the primary fight, he didn’t have enough money left to effectively campaign for the Senate seat, itself, and he lost to the Democratic nominee. We can look for more of this in 2010 as big money from national figures fighting for their far-right agenda will flood into the coffers of Republican candidates who aren’t seen as being conservatively pure. Any primaries in which the far-right challenger looses will leave the winner with little or no money to campaign for the actual seat or office in question.

Since Obama’s election a year ago, he has turned this country’s very active liberal base into an unmotivated “lost generation” looking for someone to give them hope. THAT is where our future lies. WE need to be the ones who can break the American liberals out of their ennui, to rally and mobilized the untapped political power they represent. THEY are the people who can make or break elections. Those people are looking for leadership and hope. Now is the time to bring back Ed Clark’s Libertarian movement. Now is when we need his “low-tax liberals” to rise up again and take the Libertarian Party back from the neo-Republicans. In every one of the elections I have mentioned here, WE could have made a difference, we could have made ourselves known again to the general public, we could have been leaders… and, to be politically viable, our future rest with being able to harness the unfocused liberalism which Obama has let wither away. The conservative extremists are destroying the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is showing itself to be incapable of leadership. There are holes being torn in American politics and, as nature abhors a vacuum, those holes WILL be filled. What we have to ask ourselves is, can we the party that fills those holes?

Since 1984, the LP has driven itself to an extreme end of the American political spectrum, an end that is mostly allied with the extreme far-right. That is not what first attracted the general public to the idea of libertarianism. It was the combination of the ideas of fiscal responsibility AND liberal social policies that first put the LP on the lips of the American people. Both the Republicans and the Democrats parties are moving farther and deeper into their own ideological extremes. I believe that any two-party system is going to naturally gravitate between polar opposites. The reason that it is important for America to also have a centrist party is because there needs to be a party that can comfortably welcome people from the right, left and middle. What makes the Libertarian party important is not conservative or liberal politics; it is our view of the role and function of government. What we oppose is authoritarianism. Personally, I am pretty far to the left while the political figure I know and admire the most is pretty far to the right; I believe that some government is necessary and she is an anarchist. Where we find commonality is our shared belief that neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party are serving the American people. THAT is why we both share a belief in libertarian philosophy, and the day that we can get both my moderate right Republican father and my independent green (liberal AND vegetarian) sister to vote for our candidates is the day that we will know that we have arrived.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

“Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor”

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier

“Mommy, why is Daddy so angry… and insane?” (The Internal Breakdown of the Republican Party in 2009)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, George Bush, History, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on October 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm

There are many archetypes for the father figure. The most disturbing one is probably the domineering task master whose “love” comes at a cost that can never be paid. That cost is absolute deference, obedience, compliance and respect and, to him, deference, obedience and compliance are the proof of proper respect. He finds humor in ‘jokes’ which categorize and belittle others because they support his own view of his natural superiority over “lesser” (i.e. – different) people. This archetype believes that his children also begin their life owing him a debt that can never be paid back, life itself. As such, his children are his property, chattel that he has paid for. He sees himself as all-knowing, all-powerful and always right. He is focused on rules and control. He will not tolerate backtalk or even being questioned. He not only wants to instill fear in his children, he wants them to fear that, even if they somehow do something that he sees as wrong without his knowing about it, they will still face retribution and punishment for eternity from a vengeful God; the same God who gives the father-figure his authority by giving him children. This father-figure believes that his right to have power over others is given to him directly by God; that his power and authority cannot be questioned or limited by anyone, and that few in the world are his equals. His God has also given him the ultimate power, the power to banish to the wilderness those who violate his given order. What he gives, he can (and will) take.

This archetype is what the Republican Party has become.

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Like most political observers, I have watched with fascination the Republican Party’s rapid descent into madness throughout the course of the year. In fact, that breakdown has been so spectacular that even people who DON’T widely follow politics or news are aware of it, whether they recognize it or not. While I have heard much discussion of what they are doing, I have not, however, heard anyone pinpoint a single core cause of that breakdown. We have plenty of “what” being talked about but little to none of “why”. As I have spoken of before, people are focused on the “symptoms” of a disease without identifying the “disease” itself. Two recent incidences with my own brother gave me a clue about what that “disease” actually is. The core of the Republican Party is simply an authoritarian “father” who is mad that their “dependents” (the American People) aren’t respecting or listening to them anymore. They are angry because they have no control over their “children” and authoritarians THRIVE on being in control.

The Authoritarian Personality was a 1950 book written by UC-Berkeley psychologists Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Daniel Levinson,, and Nevitt Sanford. In their book, they first described the “authoritarian personality” theory of personality. Their research lead them to the conclusion that this personality is developed by psychodynamic, childhood experiences which make them predisposed to follow the dictates of a strong leader and traditional, conventional values. They identified nine traits, which they hypothesized were clustered together as a result of those experiences, which identified this personality type:

     • Anti-intraception;
     • Authoritarian Aggression;
     • Authoritarian Submission;
     • Conventionalism;
     • Destructiveness and Cynicism;
     • Exaggerated Concerns over Sexuality;
     • Power and “Toughness”;
     • Projectivity; and
     • Stereotyping and Superstition.

In 1981, Canadian psychologist, Bob Altemeyer, gave us a refinement of the authoritarian personality theory, which he introduced as the concept of “right-wing authoritarianism”. Altemeyer found that only three of those nine traits correlated together:

     • Authoritarian Aggression (a general aggressiveness directed against “deviants”, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.)

     • Authoritarian Submission (a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.); and
     • Conventionalism (a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one’s society should also be required to adhere to these norms.)

The “right-wing” in right-wing authoritarianism does not necessarily refer to someone’s politics, but rather to their psychological preferences and personality. It means that the person tends to follow the established conventions and authorities in society. In theory, the authoritarian personality could have either conservative or liberal political views.

In his 1996 paper, The Authoritarian Specter, Altemeyer reported that his research indicated that right-wing authoritarians tend to exhibit cognitive errors and symptoms of faulty reasoning. Specifically, they are more likely to make incorrect inferences from evidence and to hold contradictory ideas that are the result of compartmentalized thinking. They are also more likely to uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs, and they are less likely to acknowledge their own limitations. The RWA-scale reliably correlates with political party affiliation, reactions to Watergate, pro-capitalist beliefs, religious orthodoxy, and acceptance of covert governmental activities such as illegal wiretaps. Altemeyer found that those who scored highly on the RWA-scale are likely to exhibit several common traits. These personalities tend to:

     • Be Highly Nationalistic;
     • Have Conservative Economic Philosophies;
     • Not value Social Equality;
     • Oppose Abortion;
     • Oppose Gun Control; and
     • Support Capital Punishment.

In role-playing situations, Altemeyer found that authoritarians tend to seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive instead of cooperative. In his study, sixty-eight authoritarians played a three-hour simulation of the Earth’s future entitled the “Global Change Game”. While a comparison game played by individuals with low RWA scores resulted in world peace and widespread international cooperation, the simulation by authoritarians became highly militarized and eventually entered the stage of nuclear war. By the end of the high RWA game, the entire population of the earth was declared dead.

Research by D. J. Narby, B. L. Cutler & G. Moran (1993) found that authoritarians are generally more favorable to punishment and control than personal freedom and diversity. For example, they are more willing to support the suspension or abolishment of constitutional guarantees of liberty such as the Bill of Rights… at least where those guarantees protect others who they, themselves, have judged to be inferior. They are also more likely to advocate strict, punitive sentences for criminals. Researches by J. Duckitt & B. Farre (1994) and by M.B. Goodman & B. Moradi (2008) found that people with high RWA scores report that they obtain personal satisfaction from punishing those who they perceive as criminals, and that they tend to be ethnocentric and prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities, and homosexuals.

The modern Republican Party has been dominated by individuals who are not just authoritarian personalities; they are right-wing authoritarian personalities. Since the period following the War Between the States, they have moved steadily away from being a populist party to being a party focused on being able to exert their will on others, even while in the minority. Money, power and political manipulations made them a corrupt party of “elites” who viewed themselves as being superior to those they “governed”. They used demogoguery as a strategy to gain political power by appealing to the public’s prejudices, emotions, fears, and expectations. They mastered the use of impassioned rhetoric, propaganda and abductive reasoning, often through the use of nationalistic, populist, moralist and / or religious themes.

The current schizophrenic behavior of the Republican Party began, in my opinion, with the almost worshipful attitude of the conservative and Christian far-right to their mythology of Ronald Reagan. They see him as their Moses, who was leading them to their conservative “Promised Land”. In 1994, this Promised Land seemed to be within sight with their takeover of both Houses of Congress. Suddenly, the Republican Party was filled with average, everyday people who not only viewed themselves as being elite, but also as being responsible for “fixing” what they saw as the broken soul of America. The big problem is that, by definition, average, everyday people cannot BE elite. This was the political equivalent of the common people of France deposing their nobility and establishing their “committees of the people” to rule instead. As happened in France, once they were in power, they also eventually turned on those among themselves who they did not see as supporting the orthodoxy or dogma of their revolution. Their equivalence was creating the label “Republican In Name Only”, or RINO. With that label they would work to purge their own ranks of those who were not “pure enough” in their belief in the “correct” orthodoxy, essentually removing the very real existence and accomplishments of the historical moderate and liberal wings of their party from their mythology.

Regardless of what the Republicans “promised” in their infamous Contract With America, once they gained the power and positions they believed were ordained for them, they moved to solidify their control over our government by making the Party (rather than the individual elected members) the dominant feature of American Government. They changed rules for determining committee chairs from being based on seniority to being based on how well members followed the dictates of the party. They collectivised their party to minimize the power of individual members and maximize the power of the party itself. Again, the similarities (in action, if not degree) to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror are remarkable. At this point, they became “Daddy”, saying to America “Do what I tell you to do or I will punish you.”

Following in the footsteps of their mythology’s greatest human hero, Ronald Reagan (under whose administration, for example, federal funds and tax dollars were withheld from states which would not comply with federal demands for conformance on issues like drinking, drugs, speed limits, etc. – essentially blackmailing the states), the Republican controlled Congress with a view to its own dominance, power, and control over the “misguided” states and the people who did not want to do what “Daddy” told or expected them to do. They also envisioned an America under their rule in perpetuity (Karl Roves infamous “permanent majority”). Regardless of their often espoused support of states’ rights (an idea which is not found in The Constitution, contrary to the beliefs of many), they only want the states to be independent of their federal government when the states are ruling as the Party wants them to. In all other cases, they believe that their obligation as the “rulers” of our federal government is to impose THEIR will upon the states when the states aren’t “competent enough” to agree with them.

Even with the 1995 Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, their first since 1955, they were still “impeded” in their movement towards creating the America they envisioned by having a moderate Democrat, Bill Clinton, as President. Thus, much of their effort was to limit, if not remove altogether, political resistance against their power, including their impeachment of Clinton. In 2000, however, all of their wet dreams o be on the verge of coming true with elevation of George W. Bush to the Presidency. Not only did they get a majority in the House, once seated, on January 20, 2001, Dick Cheney, as President of the Senate, turned an evenly split Senate into one with a majority controlled by the Republican members. During this period, there was, of course, no talk or consideration of working with the members from the Democratic Party and their ideal of bipartisanship was the Democratic members doing what their Republican masters wanted them to do. This, of course, went so well that Republican Senator Jeffords (Vermont), holding the Senate seat that had been continuously held by Republicans for the longest period in American history (144 years), quit the party and became an Independent who caucused with the Democrats. This was the first time we, as a nation, got to see how the modern Republican Party would react to being challenged in its holding political dominance and absolute power. How many of us remember THAT little brouhaha?

Starting in 2003, the Republican Party did have complete control of the Presidency and both Houses of Congress… and they had their eye on having the opportunity to also stack the Supreme Court with those who shared their vision of America. I won’t rehash what those of us who opposed Bush and the far-right conservatives believe about how he governed and what was done to damage The Constitution under their period of dominance. Suffice it to say that we welcomed the slight shift in power which gave the Democrats narrow control of both Houses of Congress a mere four years later. It was at this time that “Daddy” really started to go seriously insane. What happened in 2008, of course, drove “Daddy” completely over the edge of reason.

What I see now in the Republican Party is the equivalent of Cole Oyl, Olive Oyl’s father in the Popeye cartoons and movie, running around telling everyone “You owe me an apology!” The Republican Party has become politically impotent and its impotence has caused rage among the far-right wing of the Party. They are trying to find something, ANYTHING to latch onto to demonstrate to others that they aren’t impotent. Their quest, however, keeps getting more and more trivial, pedantic and ridiculous with each passing week. They are so blinded by their impotent rage that they are once again attacking those among their own ranks who question the power that they believe is their divine right by not ascribing to the “proper” orthodoxy, dogma and “tenets of faith” as the “true believers”. Like any angry, old authoritarian confronted with their impotence, they are searching for a political orgasm.

Yes, that is what I believe it comes down to… they can’t get themselves off politically. That is, in my opinion, the only explanation for their increasingly erratic and dangerous actions… impotent rage. They have a collective need to not only feel that they are vibrant and virile but also that they can reproduce. I believe that all sociological creations of Man (governments, clubs, businesses, etc.) can be viewed and understood by seeing them as living organisms. They all have the same needs and desires of a living organism and, as a living organism, the far-right Republicans see themselves being replaced by other organisms that do not come from their own seed; they suddenly see themselves as mortal and approaching an ignoble end. Unfortunately, there is no little blue pill that they can take to compensate for their electile dysfunction.

Like a once vibrant and dominant man reduced to wearing diapers and drooling; like an alpha-male pack animal who has lost his teeth, those members of the Republican party who are making ever greater fools of themselves are filled with rage against those who robbed them of what they see as their rightful place in American life. In their rage to reclaim their “rightful” place in society they will use any and every means at their disposal to destroy what they can’t have for themselves. If they can’t be in control of our country then they will reduce it to ashes so that there won’t be a country for anyone else to be in control off. It is an attitude that the world has seen before. That is the final lesson that “Daddy” has to teach his errant and ungrateful children… that it is easier to destroy a nation than it is to build one.

Vive’ la Revolution.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

“Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor”

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier
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Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

This is a link to Bob Altemeyer’s book ‘The Authoritarians’ which you can read on-line:
http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

The American Vice Presidency… Graveyard of the Constitution

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Politics, Republican, US Government on August 27, 2009 at 7:12 pm

America’s first Vice President, John Adams, described the office as “the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Imagination conceived”. When Daniel Webster was offered the nomination of Vice President, he said “I do not intend to be buried until I am dead”. Perhaps the most succinct assessment of the office was given by Texan John Nance Garner, a former and powerful Speaker of The House of Representatives and Vice President under FDR for two full terms, who claimed that the office wasn’t “worth a bucket of piss”.

In many ways, the office of Vice President of The United States can be seen as the most singular indication of the noble goals and yet practical failure of The United States Constitution, and its fate was sealed before the 19th Century even began. While there might have once been a chance for the Vice Presidency to have been an office of viable contribution to the functioning of The United States’ government, there are five key moments in early American history which, I believe, combined to relegate the office itself to impotence and insignificance only moderated by either the good will of any particular President or by the vacation of the office of President and subsequent elevation of a Vice President to that office. The first of these moments was the creation of the office itself (1787).  The idea was that it would be held by a major statesman, the candidate for President who came in second and who would, for the greater good of his nation, join the administration of the victor.  Yet within this idea was still recognition of the reality of opposition and the understanding that you would not want to give the primary challenger of the President any real power with which to work against the Chief Executive.  Thus was an office created in which the primary requirement was, apparently, to have a pulse. 

While, primarily because of their revolutionary credentials, Washington’s Vice President, John Adams succeeded him as President, and then Adams’ Vice President, Thomas Jefferson succeeded him, the office of Vice President has not been seen as a natural stepping stone to the Presidency.  After Jefferson, and after the adoption of the 12th Amendment to The Constitution (which provided for the direct election of the Vice President) the only Vice Presidents who have been elected to be President WITHOUT FIRST having already assumed the office through the death or resignation of the previous holder of that office have been Martin Van Buren (1836), Richard Nixon (1968), and George H. W. Bush (1988).  Furthermore, of those three men, Richard Nixon was not the current Vice President when he was elected, having lost to John Kennedy in 1960.  Thus, the two men after Jefferson who were elected to the office of President while holders of the office of Vice President served only two terms between them for a total of eight years, and the three men combined for 4 terms and less than 14 years out of the whole of the history of The United States.  By contrast, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan (the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 15th Presidents) all served as Secretary of State and served as President for eight terms and a total of 32 years, while several others served as Ambassadors or envoys to other sovereign nations.  So, we can see that diplomatic credentials have been seen as better qualifying a candidate to be President than serving as Vice President has been.

The second moment in history’s conspiracy to insure the insignificance of the office of Vice President was George Washington’s view that the office was a part of the Legislative branch of the government rather than part of the Executive branch (1789). As a result, Washington not only did not include Adams in his cabinet meetings or consult him very frequently on matters within the Executive Branch. He believed, in fact, that he was not ALLOWED to do so as part of The Constitution’s requirements for separation of powers. It is impossible to minimize the influence Washington had on establishing the precedents and operational functions of The United States government as established by The Constitution. If any man in history had it in his power to make from nothing a relevant constitutional office of the Vice Presidency, it was Washington; but he did not do so. As aware as the Revolutionary generation was that they were making history, they seemed to have had no awareness of the importance of the precedents which they were establishing every day as part of a continuity of history which would last for centuries.

In many ways, they were making it up as they went along and the openness of the Experiment they had initiated would have permitted them to follow almost any vision that they could have put into practice.

The third moment in this sorry tale was the decision of The Senate to forbid the Vice President from being part of the debates and deliberations of their body (1789). We can never know how much of this decision was inspired by the personal rancor and dislike felt by many members of The Senate for the person of John Adams and how much was an inevitable course which would have been followed no matter who had been The Senate’s first presiding officer.

In the end, it makes little difference. While Washington did not consider the Vice President a member of the Executive Branch, The Senate did not consider the officeholder a contributing part of their august body or, therefore, of the Legislative branch of government. While a man with more people skills and a more stable temperament might have been able to make the Senators accept the Vice President as a full member of The Senate, John Adams was not that man. As Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “It is to be sure a punishment to hear other men talk five hours every day and not be at liberty to talk at all myself, especially as more than half I hear appears to me very young, inconsiderate and inexperienced.” If Washington had made the Vice President insignificant as a member of the Executive branch, The Senate itself made him insignificant as a member of the Legislative branch. All of this, of course, reaches new heights of irony in the person of our former Vice President, Dick Cheney, who has used this ‘confusion’ to declare himself the beneficiary of the rights and privileges of both branches while, at the same time, free of the obligations or restraints upon either branch. The burden of the fourth moment in our tragic history of the establishment of the role of the Vice Presidency falls squarely on the shoulders of the second holder of that office, Thomas Jefferson (1797).

Adams, for all of his faults of personality, truly cared for what was best for the nation he served. He did not plan to treat Jefferson, as Vice President, as he had been treated himself (or, as Tom Lehrer put so humorously in his satirical song about Hubert Humphrey and the treatment of Humphrey as Vice President by Lyndon Johnson as President, “I’ll do unto you as they did unto me.”).  As Joseph Ellis tells so well in his Pulitzer Prize winning book ‘Founding Brothers, Adams fully desired to work with Jefferson to create a bipartisan administration which utilized both of their talents and skills (Chapter Five: The Collaborators). 

He wanted Jefferson to be a functioning member of his cabinet and an active participant in foreign policy efforts. Jefferson, influenced greatly by the advice of James Madison, chose to be a party man and watch the Adams administration fail without him. Jefferson, at this time, chose the good of his party over the good of his nation. After Adams’ desire to give the office a ‘place at the table’, it wasn’t until Warren G. Harding took office in 1921 that a President again made the choice to include his Vice President in his cabinet meetings, and it wasn’t until Richard Nixon’s service under Dwight Eisenhower that a Vice President was given a substantial and public role by the President but, in all cases, up to and including the present, the role and power of a particular Vice President has been dependent upon their President to give it to them.

If the damage done to the office of Vice President was not already irreversible by the election of 1800, that election itself ensured that it was permanent, and the blame for it can be placed on the personage of Aaron Burr. If one wants to make the case that the Adams’ Vice Presidency was not a standard to judge by because of the newness of the office, or that the Jefferson Vice Presidency cannot be used because he was of an opposition political position to his President, then there is no excuse for the damage done to the office by Burr before he was even inaugurated, damage so great, in fact, that the first substantive change to The US Constitution was made to prevent the circumstances from ever again even being possible through the adoption of the 12th Amendment. For the election of 1800, the supporters of Jefferson and his Republican / Anti-Federalist movement conspired to maneuver the election so that their candidates would end up holding the offices of both the Presidency and the Vice Presidency. While they succeeded in the goal of having all of their electors vote for both Jefferson and Burr, they apparently never considered the ramifications of this actually happening. They believed that somehow, without any need to orchestrate it as well, some random elector would cast his vote for Jefferson but not cast their second vote for Burr. The conspiracy, however, was too well planned and the soldiers followed their marching orders without deviation…and Jefferson and Burr ended up exactly tied in the electoral vote totals.

At this point, a good party man would have fallen into line and worked to finish what had been started, but Burr was an opportunist whose personal desires completely overshadowed any belief he may have had in the greater good. When the election went to The House of Representatives, Burr fought to win the Presidency for himself. He almost managed to pull the feat off as it took 36 ballots in The House before Hamilton intervened and one member chose to abstain. Well, after that, what President would trust the man he was stuck with as Vice President? And so, Burr alienated himself from any role in Jefferson’s first administration and The Constitution was changed…and changed VERY quickly.

The new nation went through only four elections, three administrations and 12 years before the first substantial flaw in the design of the governmental structure of The United States had to be addressed. 46 men have been dumped into the graveyard of The Constitution, including 2 men who each served under two different Presidents (George Clinton under Jefferson and Madison, and John C. Calhoun under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson). Except for the ones who eventually became President themselves or who have served in a person’s own lifetime, how many people can name even one of them? The Vice Presidency is a unique office with a unique role in government. If we want evidence of the lack of experience which burdened the men who created The Constitution, all we need do is look at the Office of The Vice President of The United States. However, if we do look at it, we will have done more than most people ever do.

P.S.– It might also be of interest, for anyone who wants to consideration how truly UNimportant the office of Vice President has been to our nation over the entire course of its history, for me to point out that, while we have never had any real period without a President since Washington first took the oath of office in 1889, between the years 1812 (when the office was vacated upon the death of Vice President George Clinton) and 1974 (when the office was vacated by the elevation of Vice President Gerald Ford to the Office of President) (a period of 162 years), there were 18 different times when we were without a Vice President totaling more than 426 months (35.5 years, an average of 23.666 months per vacancy). This includes two periods when the office was vacant for 47 months (out of a 48 month term of office), but does NOT include any periods when the holder of the office just left Washington and ignored his role in government (as, for example, Richard Mentor Johnson did during Van Buren’s administration).

As an indication of how little impact the absence of a Vice President has meant to the functions of our government, I would simply ask how many of you reading this have ever even wondered just how often the office has even been vacant because there WAS no holder of the office?

As a point of useless trivia from an infomaniac, did you know that the first Vice President to die in office (George Clinton) died about a year before the end of his second term (Clinton had served one term as President Jefferson’s second Vice President and his second term as Vice President was consecutive to his first when he was elected to be Vice President under Jefferson’s successor, President James Madison, for Madison’s first term.  For Madison’s second term of office, he ran and served with Vice President Elbridge Gerry, who THEN proceeded to die in office after about a year and a half into his term.  As a result, President James Madison served with a different Vice President for each of his two terms in office and neither of them lived to complete their own terms.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas 
 

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all Honor

© copyright 2008 by Rhys M. Blavier
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Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

Groupthink as a Political Mental Illness (Part II)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, Health, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Local Politics, Military, Minorities, Personal Responsibility, Politics, Republican, Science, US Government on June 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

From the studied literature on groupthink, there are a few points which merit mention here.  Smith and White say that:

Fantasies about invulnerability, and about the persecutory intent of external enemies and collective rationalizations of group actions could be understood as a system to help allay the unconscious anxieties of the group-as-a-whole.

A phenomenological approach to what Janis describes as groupthink indicates that a group overwhelmed by internal conflict may gain a great deal of relief if it can locate or create [emphasis added] a strong external enemy (Coser, 1986).  Internal dissension can be seen as trivial in contrast, thereby enabling the displacement of within-group tensions into the relations among groups (Smith, 1982b). In this regard, such internal properties of the group as illusions of unanimity and invulnerability, which may be views as pathological from one perspective, may in fact serve a valuable social function by providing a particular cognitive set to enable a group to “create” an enemy.

(Smith & White, 1983, p. 71)

Anne Gero tells us that:

In a consensus [emphasis in original] decision process, subjects expect [emphasis added] more cooperation and friendliness and less disagreement that they would anticipate in [a] majority decision process.

(Gero, 1985, p. 487)

And that:

I would again emphasize the importance of disagreement to the outcome of group decisions… members may approach a consensus process with anti-disagreement norms.  Preventative or remedial measures should be taken to encourage members to disagree in the consensual process.  If disagreement is suppressed, the conditions of groupthink may develop and threaten the quality of the group’s decisions.

(Ibid., p. 498)

Finally, Callaway, Marriott & Esser mention that:

Highly cohesive groups provide support to their members that reduces conflict and disagreement and hence the stress inherent in decision-making.  However, this stress reduction is achieved at the price of suppressing critical inquiry.

(Callaway, Marriott & Esser, 1987, p. 949)

And that:

In groups of low-dominance individuals, perhaps the assignment of the roles of critical evaluator and devil’s advocate) prescribed by Janis, 1972, to counteract groupthink) must involve personal responsibility in order to overcome the natural reticence of such individuals.

(Ibid., p. 952)

There is one other study which should be mentioned here, although, by title, it does not actually deal with the groupthink phenomenon, and that is a paper by Thomas J. Scheff called “Shame and Conformity: The Deference-Emotion System”.  In the introduction to his paper, Scheff informs us that:

… exterior constraint has become a basic premise for modern sociologists.  Yet, an adequate model has never been conceptualized, much less proposed in an operationally definable way.  Conformity poses a central problem for social science not only in its normal, but also in its pathological form.  What gives rise to excessive and rigid conformity?  This is the question posed by many modern analyses of bureaucracy and authoritarian forms of social organizations.

There is wide consensus that conformity is encouraged by a system of sanctions: we usually conform because we expect to be rewarded when we do and punished when we do not.  However, conformity usually occurs even in the absence of obvious sanctions.  Durkheim’s formulation [the idea that the force of social influence is experienced by individuals as exterior and constraining [emphasis in original] (Durkheim [1987] 1951)] refers to the ubiquity of conformity.  The reward of public acclaim and the punishment of public disgrace rarely occur, yet the social system marches on.  Formal sanctions are slow, unwieldy, and expensive.  In addition to the formal system, there must be a complex and highly effective system of informal sanctions that encourage conformity’

A clue to this puzzle can be found in Goffman’s treatment of interaction ritual (Goffman, 1967).  He notes that the emotion of embarrassment or anticipation of embarrassment plays a prominent role in every social encounter [emphasis in original.  In presenting ourselves to others, we risk rejection.  The form the rejection takes may be flagrant, but it is more frequently quite subtle, perhaps only a missed beat in the rhythm of conversation.  Depending on its intensity and obviousness, rejection leads inevitably to the painful emotions of embarrassment, shame, or humiliation… when we are accepted, as we present ourselves, we usually feel rewarded by… pride…

(Scheff, 1988, pp. 395 – 396)

Scheff also says that he feels that we should be aware of Helen Lewis’s theory of shame since it is a direct opposite of Goffman’s.  Whereas Goffman viewed shame as an external influencing factor, Lewis dealt only with the internal process of shame.  Scheff used an analogy to a metaphor about a contagion between people and pointed to what Lewis called a “feeling trap”, or an inner contagion.  In Goffman’s analysis, one becomes ashamed that the other one is being shamed, w, who, in turn becomes shamed, which increases the first person’s shame, and so on – an inter-personal feeling trap.  In Lewis’s analysis, one becomes ashamed that the one is ashamed, an inner loop which feeds on itself – an intra-personal feeling trap.  However, unlike Goffman, Lewis does not separate her analysis of shame from her analysis of anger.  Instead, she postulates, an affinity between the two emotions, with shame usually being followed by anger.

Scheff explains to us that the reason he has introduced us to these two different concepts of shames and its relationship to anger is the he believes that if we combine Goffman’s ‘social’ analysis with Lewis’ ‘psychological’ one, it is possible to convey the extraordinary of what he calls “the deference-emotion system”.  He believes that this system occurs both between and within interactants, and that it functions so efficiently and invisibly it guarantees the alignment of individuals with mutual conformity and respect leading to pride and fellow feeling, which, in turn, leads to further conformity, which then leads to further positive feeling in a system which seems virtually automatic. (Ibid., pp. 396 – 397)

Scheff next delves into the biological and social sources of shames, with a great deal of emphasis on the work of Charles H. Cooley.  Some of what Cooley goes into is almost frightening in its implications of how deeply Man, himself, and society, as a whole, is built upon a foundation of shame of and a need for pride.  He includes the following to illustrate the power of what he calls “social fear”:

Social fear, of a sort perhaps somewhat more morbid, is vividly depicted by Rousseau in the passage of his Confessions where he describes the feelings that lead him to falsely accuse a maid-servant of a theft which he himself had committed. ‘When she appeared my heart was agonized but the presence of so many people was more powerful than my compunction.  I did not fear punishment, but I dreaded shame: I dreaded it more than death, more than the crime, more than the world.  I would have buried myself in the center of the earth: invincible shame bore down every other sentiment: shame alone caused all of my impudence, and in proportion, as I became the criminal, the fear of discovery rendered me intrepid.  I felt no dread but that of being detected, and of being publically and to my face declared a thief, liar and calumniator.

(Ibid., pp 399 – 400 [emphases added by Scheff])

Scheff uses this episode to make a point he wants us to understand before telling us that:

In modern societies, adults seem to be uncomfortable manifesting either pride or shame.  The emotions of pride and shame often seem themselves to arouse shame [emphasis in original].

(Ibid., p. 400)

Scheff also emphasizes the 1956 conformity studies of Solomon Asch, who testes the hypothesis that;

“Given the kind of task demanded, a majority of the subjects will find group standards compelling, even though they are exterior and contradictory to their own individual standards.

(Ibid., p. 403)

Asch’s conformity studies give a considerable insight into the outer workings of conformity and found that only one-quarter of the test subjects remained completely individual throughout their involvement in the study.

Even though Asch did not design his tests to examine the effects of emotions upon his subjects (he was focused on the ‘what will happen’ of the tests rather than on the ‘why it happens’) and, while he did not ask his subjects about their emotions, he found that many of the responses to his post-study interviews suggested that emotions played an important, if not critical part in how his subjects reacted to situations during the study.  Among the subjects who had yielded to the majority views at least once, he found that many of them found the experience of being in the minority extremely painful.  They felt a negative view of themselves from the point of view of the others.  They were dominated by their exclusion from the group, which they took as a reflection of themselves, and were unable to face a conflict which threatened, in some undefined way, to expose a deficiency in themselves.  Asch also found that the responses of the yielding subjects suggested a denial of conflict, and of the feelings resulting from that denial.  Some of the responses were of complete denial, some were slight, and some were evasive about it.  Some of those subjects also granted to the majority the power to see things correctly, which they came to believe they could not do, and had allowed themselves to become confused so that at the critical point in the study, they adopted the majority judgments without permitting themselves to know of their activity or shift [emphasis added]. (Ibid., pp. 403 – 404)

As for the subjects who had remained completely independent throughout the course of the studies, Asch found that they, too, felt that they were suffering from a defect, as well as their also being troubled by disagreeing with the majority.  They, like the yielding subjects, had felt deep internal conflict and overt shame; however, they persevered through those feelings of conflict and shame and responded according to their own personal perceptions, despite their strong emotional reactions and feelings of personal discomfort. (Ibid., p. 493) What’s more, during their post-study interviews, the independent subjects were apt to be open, frank and forthright about the feelings and doubts which they had experiences over the course of the studies.  One of Asch’s own summaries of these interview responses included the following passage:

“… independence requires the capacity to accept the fact of opposition without a lowered sense of personal worth.  The independent person has to organize his overt actions on the basis of experience for which he finds no support; this he can do only if he respects his experiences and is capable of claiming respect for them.  The compliant person cannot face this ordeal because he equates social opposition into a reflection of his personal worth.  Because he does so, the social conflict plunges him into pervasive and incapacitating doubt.

(Ibid., p. 404)

To bring Asch’s work into its place within his own theory about the role of shame in conforming behaviors, Scheff says that:

The subjects who remained independent, although they experiences shame, had sufficiently high self-esteem to act on their judgments despite [emphasis added] their feelings of shame.  Thos who yielded had low self-esteem and sought to avoid further feelings of shame by acting contrary to their own judgment.

(Ibid., pp. 404 – 405)

Since the yielding subjects had found it easier to deny and go against their own internal judgments that to go against the contrary judgments of the group, it would also seem logical to draw a conclusion that those subjects who had remained completely independent could later face up and admit to their previous feelings of shame and doubt because those feelings had not overwhelmed and conquered them and, thus, they had no further reason to hide from the or from openly admitting to them, while the yielding subjects later had difficulty owning up to their previous feelings of shame and doubt which caused them to conform to the judgments of the group because those feelings had overwhelmed and conquered them and for them to openly admit to having had those feelings would cause them to lose to those feelings all over again.

As a final note, which he makes on his own reactions to Asch’s findings, Scheff tells us that he found one particular remark, which had been made by one of the yielding subjects, to be “troublesome” and “baffling”.  That remark was about how the subject said that he had voted for Dewey in the 1948 Presidential election, even though he preferred Truman, because he thought that Dewey would win and was, thus, preferred by most Americans.  Scheff sums up his own personal reaction to this remark by saying that:

Apparently unacknowledged shame is not only invisible, but insidious.

(Ibid., p. 405)

Scheff closes his paper by postulating that:

If the deference-emotion system is universal, the theory would provide a unitary explanation of conforming behavior, the central problem of social science.

(Ibid., p. 405)

If Scheff’s theory were to be applied towards some of the on-going groupthink research, it could possibly help work out some of the variables which the various researchers have, as yet, been unable to confront or utilize.  It could be especially helpful in such studies conducted within the field of political science because the emotional needs and inherent fears and insecurities of people about their government seem to make them particularly susceptible to groupthink tendencies.

An awareness of what groupthink is, by political scientist, political analysts and commentators, and by ethical political leaders might help them to, if not prevent, then to make the public aware of occurrences of groupthink within political parties and ideologies, as well as in our various branches and levels of government.  Those who actively work to prevent or publicize groupthink and groupthink tendencies within their spheres of influence, interest or study might also find our political world becoming more responsive to the average citizens, as a result.  Those in all fields relating to politics need to make themselves more aware of the potential negative aspects of group dynamics within our political systems for; only by being objective and honest about our political systems and being open to criticism of their negative aspects can they effectively prepare for and combat those aspects.  Conducting groupthink research specifically within the political sciences field might provide the edge we so desperately need to keep our government vibrant and effective and, thus, able to properly serve our citizens better in the future than it has in the past.

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 1989 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

Groupthink as a Political Mental Illness (Part I)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, History, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, Science, US Government on June 18, 2009 at 1:53 pm

[When I was researching information for my Master’s Paper in 1989, I was looking into the subject of how Greek students being involved in student activities impacted the ability of independent students to be equally involved. What I quickly discovered was that, apparently, NO ONE had ever written anything about this. I was teaching myself how to use a computer while I was doing this and on-line research was rather limited back then. Never-the-less, in trying to find information which would even relate to my topic I discovered studies on groupthink, conformity and shame theory… three areas of psychology that I could also not find any evidence of having been studied together. I was creating my own database on the subject.

I had no knowledge about these things before I started doing my research but, one day that Fall, it all came together in my mind. When it did I was literally stunned and shaking in fright. I called a friend of mine in California and it took me around four hours of talking (pretty much me talking and rambling for four hours and him listening) for me to even calm down. These things haunt me to this very day. While I was doing my research with regard to application within the field of Student Activities and College Unions, I also immediately saw its implications within politics. My entire research paper was close to 90 pages long, but a year later I took a portion of it to create a smaller article to try to get published. Unfortunately, I never heard any response from any of the researchers or student activities / college union journals I sent it to. And so it was all put away in a box and carried around with me for 20 years.

Not too long ago, I found the box the papers were in (hard copies only, of course) and have been wanting to transcribe them so that I could have them computerized. I am starting with the shorter article and, because I reference it or base portions of other articles on what I learned for it, I have decided that I would post it on here… in two parts because it is still too long for a single article on here, and with references to student activities changed to ones about politics… to see if it can help others understand aspects of social psychology within politics that they might not be consciously aware of.  I sincerely hope that this disturbs you, the reader, as much as it has disturbed me.

P.S. — I also developed a method that I thought could successfully combat hazing in schools, especially in Greek systems but, when I would try to get ANY school to let me try them, once it was learned that I, myself, had been an independent student… mostly by administrators who, themselves had been Greeks, I was always told that since I hadn’t been a Greek then I didn’t have basis upon which to make claims to understand them. They would tell me that only other Greeks could understand their ‘culture’ or fix what was broken in it… a classic example of groupthink in action. I eventually let it go, as I did my career in student activities.

P.P.S. — After reading this, can anyone NOT understand why I hold the entire Bush Presidency and administration in contempt? I would like to see someone write a book about the Bush Presidency SPECIFICALLY as a study of groupthink and how it illustrates every indication of the phenomenon.]

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In 1972, Irving Janis, in his book Victims of Groupthink, added a new dimension to the study of group behavior and group dynamics when he described “groupthink” as:

… a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are involved in a cohesive in-group; when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative course of action… Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.

(Janis, 1972, p. 9)

That single work seems to have had an immediate and almost historic impact on the study of group behavior.  Since the first publication of Victims of Groupthink, many researchers have been moved to study, to support, or to refute both Janis’s theories and the implications of groupthink.  Whatever has motivated any of these people, one thing is clear; that single work has been the starting point for many, if not all of these studies, and research on this phenomenon uniformly refers to Janis as the originator of the concept of groupthink, as well as its definer.

Early in his book, Janis gives the following story as an example of groupthink:

Twelve middle-class American men and women wanted to stop smoking, and attended weekly meetings at a clinic to discuss the problem.  Early in the sessions, two people stood up and declared that cigarette smoking was an almost incurable addiction.  The group agreed.  The, one man stood up and said “I have stopped smoking and, with a little willpower, so can the rest of you.”  Immediately, the other group members began to abuse him verbally, and the meeting ended in chaos.  The following week, the dissident stood up again and said that he could not both attend all of the required meetings and stop smoking; so he had returned to smoking two packs of cigarettes as day.  The other members welcomed him back into the fold with enthusiasm but no one mentioned that the original purpose of the group was to help each other stop [emphasis in original] smoking.  Their new aim was maintaining the status quo at any cost.

(Ibid, p. 9)

Janis illustrated his theories by using seven recent major historical events; five of which he labeled as fiascoes and the other two which he termed successes relating to the resultant outcomes of those events, based on the decisions that were made.  He argued that the decision making processes in the five fiascoes were faulty, regardless of the outcomes, and, likewise, the decision-making processes used in the successes were effective, even if the events would have not turned out positively.  He stresses that it is the processes used in a group’s decision-making that determines whether or not that group is a victim of groupthink and not the outcomes because bad-decision-making processes can result in good or successful results or outcomes, just as good decision-making processes can result in bad or unsuccessful results or outcomes. (Janis, fig. 10-1)

In his original work (Janis, 1972), Janis identified six major defects in the decision-making process which result I groupthink and which, in turn, result in poor quality decisions.  In the 1982 edition (Janis, 1982), he added a seventh defect to his list.  These seven defects are:

1.)    Discussions are limited to only a few alternatives without surveying all possible alternatives;

2.)   The originally preferred solution is not re-evaluated for non-obvious drawbacks or risks after its initial evaluation;

3.)    Alternatives which are initially discarded are never re-evaluated for non-obvious gains;

4.)   There is little or no attempt made to obtain information or advice from experts on alternative courses of action;

5.)    Where advice IS presented, selective bias on the part of the members is used to evaluate that advice and, thus, they use information which supports the group’s preferences and ignore evidence which is counter to the group’s preference;

6.)   Members fail to consider how groups external to the focal group might react and, therefore, fail to develop contingency plans for possible setbacks or failures; and

7.)    There is a failure to consult all members regarding the objectives to be fulfilled and the values implicated by their choice.

(Janis, 1972, p. 10; Janis, 1982, pp. 9 – 10)

Janis then went on to identify several antecedent condition which are necessary for groupthink to exist, and which relate to structural faults of the organization and the decision-making context.  The primary antecedent condition necessary for groupthink is a highly cohesive group.  The secondary conditions (which relate to the organization’s structural faults) are:

1.)    Insulation of the group;

2.)   Lack of a tradition of impartial leadership;

3.)    Lack of norms requiring methodical procedures; and

4.)   Homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.

The tertiary conditions (which relate to the decision-making context) are:

1.)    High stress due to isolation of the group (usually for security reasons instituted because of perceived external threats);

2.)   Low hope of a better solution than the leader’s; and

3.)    Low self-esteem temporarily induced by the group members’ perceptions of:

A.)   Recent Failures;

B.)   Moral dilemmas; and

C.)   Excessive difficulty in current decision-making.

Finally, Janis postulates that the existence of these conditions generates eight symptoms of groupthink, which were evident in the fiascoes studies and which serve as the primary means of identifying the occurrences of groupthink.  These eight symptoms are:

1.)    An illusion of invulnerability that is shared by most members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages the group to take extreme risks;

2.)   Collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings which might lead members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to past policy decisions;

3.)    An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, which makes the members inclined to ignore the ethical and moral consequences of their decisions;

4.)   Stereotyped views of enemy leaders, usually considering them as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate, or as too stupid and / or too weak to counter whatever attempts are made to defeat their purposes;

5.)    Directed pressure on any member who does not conform to the group’s norms, who express strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes, illusions, decisions, or commitments, thereby making it clear to all that this type of dissent is contrary to what is expected of all loyal members;

6.)   Self-censorship of individual deviations from the apparent group consensus, reflecting each member’s inclination to minimize to him or herself the importance of his / her doubts and counter arguments;

7.)    A shared illusion of unanimity concerning the judgments conforming to the majority view (partly resulting from self-censorship of deviations, and augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent); and

8.)   The emergence of self-appointed mindguards – members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter the group’s shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.

(Janis, 1972, pp. 197 – 198)

While Janis’ theories are not perfect, nor even necessarily complete, he has still provided a very strong starting point from which to begin exploring this issue.  Regarding the studies on groupthink which have been reviewed, there are some weaknesses which have been noticed in them, at least as far as their being of any potential benefit to the study of larger groups or political parties. Among these weaknesses are:

1.)    The studied laboratory groups are very small, usually three to five people (six reports studied).  These sized groups do not allow for the effects of internal cliques or sub-groups within a main group to be incorporated within the studies, or to arise independently over the course of the studies.  Thus, while there may be dissension (and / or other such factors) which is created / controlled by the researchers, or which arises independently, these studies groups are still small enough to leave individual subjects as each being a significant percentage of the entire group (33.3% — 20%) and, thus, more individually significant to the group.  Theories and research on ‘diffused responsibility’ indicate that when individuals are such a significant portion of the group, they are more likely to feel that they are more individually important to the group and are, even alone, able to have an impact on the group.  This generally means that they are more likely to retain their personal feelings of responsibility for the decisions and / or actions of their group, as a whole.  If there is dissent, etc., within the group, it can still be dealt with on a person-to-person basis.  In these small groups, if the ‘group’ puts pressure on dissenters, it cannot do so and ‘disguise’ the fact that it is made up of distinct individuals by their being a ‘force’, ‘it, or ‘them’ instead of ‘Mark, Jody, Bill, and Mary’, or ‘those four’. The group dynamic in groups within such a size range is dramatically different from the group dynamics within groups the size political parties, or even local communities.

2.)   There is little, if any, attention placed on what the members of the laboratory groups have to lose if they should feel inclined to dissent from the group’s decisions or actions.  In politics, we deal with the day-to-day lives of average citizens and, while citizens might be able to hide their personal discomfort levels when they are simply, for example, at work by leaving that ‘life’ behind them when they leave work for the day and enter back into their ‘outside-of-work social-life’, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to retreat from pressures and discomforts in their social lives in any way other than by withdrawing into themselves and isolating themselves away from inter-personal contact which causes them discomfort.  Therefore, if all that individuals risk losing in a study is closeness with others in that laboratory setting, are they more or less likely to risk that closeness and acceptance by retaining their individuality and dissenting from group pressure than they would be to risk being socially or professionally ostracized from, or losing prestige among their peers (prestige here can mean status but does not necessarily; it is more related to levels of confidence, respect and / or acceptance which an individual feels from their peers) if they should attempt to retain their individuality and dissent from the majority views in a social or political environment?

3.)    There is little mention mad of the emotional or intellectual comfort levels of the subjects when they are within the confines of their group situations.   It would seem to be obvious that these are important factors which need to be considered in such studies.  The more uncomfortable a person feels, or feels they will become if they take a particular dissenting decision or action, shame theory, as well as common sense tells us the more likely they are to do, say or go along with whatever they have to do in order to remain or to once again become comfortable.

4.)   Those studies which use dominant leadership as a factor or variable do not also use group leadership or dominance which comes about through the backing of, or support from, a clique or sub-group within the main group or even, as far as can be told by reading their studies, recognize it as being different from charismatic or personality-based leadership or dominance.  However, in real-life, such group leadership or dominance is a common occurrence, such as the promotion of those who are incompetent to lead or manage, or a ‘puppet’ leader put in place so that those with real power can stay behind the scenes.

5.)    While some of the studies try to create artificial cohesive in-groups in some of their laboratory groups, there is no mention made of the effects which real social relationships between group members has on their responses within a group setting.  For example, if group members do not know each other from outside of their group environment prior to their joining it and, thus build any in-group cohesion, friendships or inter-personal relationships with other group members, are they more or less likely to be a strong group member, concerned with the greater good of the group, than are group members who know each other from outside of the group, or who were friends with or colleagues of other group members prior to their becoming a member of the group?  Are group members who know other group members or are friends with them before becoming a member of the group, especially those who join the group BECAUSE they already know, or were friends  with other members (in fact, who might have been specifically recruited into the group by friends, etc. who are already group members), more or less likely to be conscientious group members who are willing to dissent from or even question the group’s decisions or actions (since their outside acquaintances with other members can be affected positively or negatively by their own personal words or actions within the group) than are group members who became acquainted with other group members only through membership in the group?  What about those who know other group members outside of the group and have pre-existing animosity of them, or who become a member IN SPITE OF members they already who they dislike or who try to keep them out of the group?  What about those who join for social acceptance by people that they know outside of the group?  These possible variables are numerous and are important considerations within our political groups or organizations because a common way for new members to be brought into a group or organization is for them to be recruited by friends and / or acquaintances.  We need to know what effects such membership recruitment has on the very real functioning of those groups and organizations.

6.)   When a study makes ‘getting input from group members about possible decisions to be made or actions to be taken’ a factor or variable of the study, is there any assessment about whether or not there is any difference between input which is sought and / or received under a ‘glaring spotlight’ or in a situation of possible derision or resistance, and input that is sought and received in confidence and / or in a situation of respect and / or openness?  If not, have any of the researchers given any consideration within their studies to the effects that the manner in which input is sought has on the input that is received?

7.)    While Janis gives us examples of, and specifications about groupthink, it would be helpful if, to demonstrate the point that the presence of groupthink is determined by the decision-making PROCESS, itself, and not of the outcomes of that process (good processes can still result in bad outcomes and bad processes can still result in good outcomes), it would be helpful if examples were included of such good / non-groupthink processes which resulted in negative outcomes AND of bad / groupthink processes which resulted in positive outcomes. The theory is stated regarding this, but the case is never made.

(This Article will be concluded in Part II, which will include information on conformity studies and on shame theory)Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 1989 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [c]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Section 6, paragraph one deals with Congressional compensation for their services.  Many years ago, Congress enacted standing legislation to provide them with regular pay raises UNLESS Congress, at the time of EACH particular raise, actively raises the issue and votes against it.  This is one of the examples I was referring to when I talked about how Congress makes what will be their path of least resistance be what benefits them, rather than the people.  Thus, if Congress does NOTHING, is silent and doesn’t even raise the issue, they get their raise each year.  In ADDITION, they get unbelievable pensions based on how long they served as well as life time healthcare.

To me, this is another simple issue to deal with.  Tie the salaries of ALL federally elected officials to the median incomes of the American people, not counting bonuses or other backdoor ways of hitching things a little higher for them. Based on the real and reported income of all citizens who file income tax reports, divided by ALL citizens, let’s say that (as a starting point for discussion), members of the House would receive an annual salary based on what 60% of the median incomes of all Americans equals to, with Officers of The House getting 62.5%.  Members of The Senate would get a salary based on 65% of the median income, with Senate officers getting 67.5%.  Members of the Supreme Court would get 70% of the median, with The Chief Justice and The Vice President getting 72.5%.  Finally, the highest salary allowed would go to The President, with the salary of that office being based on the 75% of the median incomes of all Americans.

Now, I want everyone to notice something.  I did NOT say that these salaries should be based on mean, or AVERAGE incomes (the total of all incomes divided by the total number of people), I said that they would b based on the MEAN incomes.  The mean is a statistical average based on the individual numbers which are ranked from highest to lowest.  Thus, Bill Gates is only one statistical number, while a disabled elderly person who has an annual income of $5,000 is another individual number equal to Bill Gates.  A median average would give a much more accurate picture of how much average Americans earn and tie the salaries of Constitutional and elected Federal officials to that average.

So, what would THIS accomplish?  Several things; for one, it would make elected Federal officials more caring about how much money the American people have because their own welfare would be improved by having more people earning (and reporting) higher incomes.  In fact, the more income earned by those at the bottom quarter, half and three-quarter marks of the social ladder, the higher the income they would make themselves.  For another, it would increase their focus on eliminating loopholes which allow people to underreport their own incomes. The fiscal conservatives tend to support theories which state that there is a finite amount of REAL income (as opposed to, say, capital income) which is available.  Thus, to raise the income levels of those at the lower ends of the social ladder would mean that the additional monies would have to come at the expense of the earnings of those at the top of the social ladder.  For yet another thing, the more money earned by AND KEPT by corporations and businesses is money that is NOT increasing the income levels of the bottom three-quarters of the income bracket.  This would make Congress more likely to support higher individual wages and eliminate more corporate loopholes.  Again, the more money earned by the most people would benefit them personally… and if the incomes of average Americans goes down, so does theirs.  We would all swim or sink together.  Their pay rates would be worked out and modified every two calendar years to coincide with election cycles.

As for pensions and permanent healthcare, I do not believe that people should make holding elective or political offices their primary livelihoods.  I am against, as I have said before, a professional political class.  I believe in the founders’ idea of people who would make sacrifices in their own lives of short periods of time to serve their nation with their public service and would then go back to their public lives.  Thus, ANY elected official, or any official who is subject to Senate approval would not earn ANY pension or retirement benefits for their time in service.  Regarding members of The Supreme Court, I will deal with them in the part(s) of this article which deal with Article III of The Constitution.

Section 6, paragraph two is the one that says that no Senator or Representative can hold another civil office in The United States during their tenure in their respective House, and that no officer or official of The United States can serve as a Senator or Representative while they hold their other office or position.  This, among other things, is what prevents us from having a Parliamentary system of government and ensures that the membership of each branch of government will be totally and completely distinct and separate from the others.  It also says that:

No Senator or Representative shall… be appointed to any civil office under the authority of The United States which shall have been CREATED, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been Increased during such time [as they served as a Senator or Representative]…”

THIS portion of The Constitution does need to be addressed to clarify, one way or the other, what authority the Executive branch does or doesn’t  have to appoint sitting or recently sitting members of Congress to other civil positions … especially with automatic pay raises being provided for all such civil offices.  Either our Constitution very specifically prohibits this and it is accepted by all members of our government or we change it.  I personally would rather leave it as it is and expect our government to abide by such limitations.

Well, I think this is a good place to end this part of this article.  When we come back, I will address the rest of Article III, including legislation to raise revenue, the budget, and the enumerated powers and authorities of Congress.

(This article will be continued in Part III [d], which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [b]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 11, 2009 at 1:52 am

From Article I, Section 3, paragraphs six and seven, the portions of the provisions for either House regarding impeachment require no changes other than possibly the provision that the threat of and right to impeach is a constitutional DUTY of Congress and it cannot surrender its willingness to implement that duty when it is called for.  To do so is malfeasance in the performance of their constitutional duties and should subject any members of Congress who are willing to agree to surrender their willingness to fulfill ANY of their obligations and duties under The Constitution.

Section 4 of Article I deals with the times and places of elections of Representatives and Senators, and with the requirement for Congress to meet at least once every year.

I think that the provisions for periods of adjournments and recesses by Congress are not appropriate to our modern day government.  For those who argue that they do not want Congress in session any longer than it has to be, while I don’t entirely disagree with them, I think the larger and more important issue is how just adjournments and recesses empower the Executive branch as the expense of the Legislative branch.  While I will deal more with such things as ‘recess appointments’ in the part(s) of this article which deal Article II of The Constitution (The Executive Branch), I am against ANYTHING which serves to make the Legislative branch less than equal to the Executive branch, much less subservient to it.  Thus, I think that Congress should never be considered in recess and only be adjourned by standing legislation which provides for pre-defined periods of adjournment, focused around legal federal holidays (not religious holidays) and, say, a single one week-long adjournment each  quarter of the year… each one, preferably centered around an appropriate federal holiday each quarter.  At ALL other times it would be required to be in session (and remember, I would not allow for any member of Congress to hold office for more than a single term, so there would be no NEED for Congress to be in adjournment during election cycles).

Section 5 deals with various procedural matters (such as judging their own elections, the power to compel attendance by absent members, and the prohibition against adjourning for more than three days while in session).  Paragraph two deals with allowing each House to punish and/or expel its own members.  It also states that each House shall determine its own rules for proceedings.  Paragraph three covers the requirements of each House to keep a journal of its proceedings ad periodically publish those journals, as well as the requirement of each House to record the ‘Yeas and Nays’ (i.e. – the votes) of each House and to publish those totals for either House upon the request of one-fifth of the membership of that House.

While The Constitution should not get into the minutia of establishing all of the rules for either House, there are some which I think it would be appropriate to enact, enshrine and enforce within The Constitution.  Among these are:

1.)   No office created by either House of Congress can be specific to any particular political party.  While any party can choose to elect its own leadership by whatever methods it wants, it does not mean that those elected to such offices are deserving of extra pay by the nation or extra privileges and powers within Congress for holding an office restricted to the members of that Party.

2.)  All officers elected by either House should be selected by secret nomination and secret ballot.  I would also recommend the use of Approval Voting for the actual elections.  Again, this would be to try to help break the stranglehold on power which any party holds simply by having more members that any other party.  This provision would probably result in most offices being held by less extremist party loyalists.  If our nation can succeed in establishing a viable third-party, it will throw the current methods of selecting Congressional offices in the toilet anyway.  Let’s do what we can to speed that process up a bit.

3.)   All ballots casts by members of either House should be cast in secret and the individual results of any vote kept but only revealed (published) 25 years later for historical purposes.  Now, I know that this one is going to be met with shock by most people.  After all, how else are we supposed to keep tabs of what these people actually do?  Well, stop and think about this one for awhile.  Let me explain my reasoning for this idea.  Why do WE cast OUR ballots in secret?  So that no one WILL know exactly how we voted which, among other things, limits to ability of anyone else to threaten or intimidate us.  Open balloting in Congress does not help ‘we the people’, it helps the parties, lobbyists and special interest groups keep members of Congress in line with what benefits THEM the most, not what benefits us the most.  Open balloting in Congress allows the political parties, the lobbyists, the special interests groups, the media and, yes, even the people to threaten and intimidate individual Congress who might otherwise have the will to vote their according to their conscious as they believe is right rather than how others want to compel them to vote.   This is also one of the major ways that the two parties effectively prevent other viable parties from having a voice in our system of government (the other major way that they accomplish this is by the maintenance of our current Majoritarian / Plurality election system). (Please see my earlier article on ‘The Laboratory of Democracy — Alternative Voting Methods (Approval Voting) [Re-edit]’ for a more detailed explanation of this idea.)  It is also what allows small groups of extremists to move the politics in Congress in extremist directions and which makes moderate or centrist positions untenable to maintain.

With a provision that, in an investigation, a select independent committee can review specific votes and make them public IF they show evidence or a pattern of corruption, malfeasance or negligence, but also with a protection provision that baseless accusation for no purpose other than to discover what a personal voting record is will be a felony, this provision could provide safety and protection for those legislators who do want to go along with their party’s line on any particular issue.  So, how is a member of Congress judged if their individual votes are not known?  They would be judged in two ways. First, they would be judged by what they say on the record and, second, they would be judged by what their House accomplishes or FAILS to accomplish.  Under this method, ALL members of a House are collectively responsible for what that House does or doesn’t do… they rise or fall together.   This means that their motivation which change to being how can they work together to make them all look good.  Just think about it for awhile, ok?

4.)  Right now, most legislation includes meaningless introductions which tell us how wonderful it is and how it will single-handedly make the world a better place to live (and they are capped off with some kind of sensationalist title which will make those who vote against it sound like they are bad Americans for voting against it… especially those who don’t actually read the proposed legislation that they are voting on.  I believe that ALL legislation proposed and voted on in either House of Congress should include measurable and quantifiable goals, and specific objectives to indicate what will be considered a successful result of the legislation.  Goals and objectives, strategies and tactics.  I also believe all legislative objectives should include a time frame by which the legislation must accomplish its goals or it will automatically cease to have legal standing.  This is not a meaningless point.  The example I like to use has to do with Civil Rights legislation.  Under the legislation as written, neither side of the debate has an actual motivation to see the objectives of the legislation accomplished.  Each side uses it as a weapon with which to attack the other, and leaders on both sides have built their power bases upon the on-going conflict it engenders.  There is more political power to be gained by keeping the conflict going than there is in accomplishing its purposes.  Now, imagine if that legislation had included measurable, definable and quantifiable goals AND it had an objective of accomplishing those goals in, say, 25 years.  One way or the other the legislation would end; the only question would be “when” it would end.  Those who are fighting for the achievement of those civil rights would have been motivated to make sure that the goals were achieved before the end of the 25-year deadline so as to get them in place, and the side which was not in favor of the penalties and restrictions imposed by the legislation would be motivated to accomplish those goals as quickly as possible so that the legislation would go away as quickly as possible.  In either case, if the goals were either not achieved or led to the consideration of additional goals, new legislation could be crafted and proposed at that time which would better meet the needs of that time and that generation.  The purpose of this proposal is to give ALL sides reasons to work together to accomplish things rather than give them reasons to fight against each other endlessly.

To justify why this should be import, keep in mind all of the calls by the people and politicians for, and interpretations by the courts based on what the ‘intention of the founders’ was.  Intention is difficult to know, and impossible to speculate on to determine law when those intentions are never officially, and reliably set forth and documented.  The fact that the founders destroyed all OFFICIAL minutes and notes from The Constitutional Convention can only leave us with one of two ways to make such judgments; either the founders did not WANT us to base our interpretations and decisions based on what THEY intended (which means that we do, in fact, have a LIVING Constitution), OR, they did not understand how important it would be to us to be able to discern their intentions when we try to interpret what they intended.  We need to not only insure that the present generation fully understands what we are trying to do and what we want to accomplish, we need future generations to understand why we felt each specific law was necessary… our intentions, in other words.  Goals and objectives would make legislation easier to interpret and less likely to be twisted and MISinterpreted by other.  It would also allow those who read a law thoroughly to see if the actual content and execution of the law is true to its goals and objectives.

5.)  That idea leads us to Thomas Jefferson’s theories of generational laws.  He said “[B]etween society and society, or generation and generation, there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. . . . [B]y the law of nature, one generation is [therefore] to another as one independent nation to another.”  He also said “Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.” (http://www.conlaw.org/Intergenerational-II-2-9.htm) I believe in the idea of generational laws (with all laws having a natural expiration deadline of either 25 or 50 years (generations being longer now that they were when Jefferson wrote that, and some laws being more important than others), depending on the law, with 25 being the norm and 50 being the exception, for several reasons.  First, laws seem to work conversely to the adage that it is easier to destroy than it is to build.  With law, it is easier to pass one than it is to get rid of one.  When politicians or officials come along later and try to have a law removed from the books, the tendency is to wonder what ulterior motives they ‘really have (no matter how bad or irrelevant the law might be) and political inertia tends to win.

As a result, our legal systems end up cluttered with an unbelievable number of laws which are either (a) no longer of any value, (b) no longer in sync with the progress of our culture or, (c) just plain stupid.  A generational law standard would mean, first of all, that no one would have to actively campaign or fight to have laws actively removed piecemeal.  By doing nothing the laws will just go away.  If they still have value or there is still a need for them, they can be re-written and passed again. Secondly, the future will not be bound by considerations or standards of the past which no longer apply to them.  Thirdly, politicians are, by nature, egomaniacs who want to be immortal, and the way a politician becomes immortal is by sticking us with their own ideas of how we should live (i.e. – with laws).  When all of the basic laws are already in place, they have to go farther and farther to find their own immortality.  I would rather have them continually working on and improving basic legislation than to have them spending their time finding cruel and unusual ways to torment, punish and control ‘we the people’.

6.)  I think that all of us, all of us who are not in Congress, at least, would agree that the Legislative Amendment process is out of control and all too easily abused by politicians who cannot get their own moronic ideas passed into law on their own merits; or who want to ‘game the system’ by attaching bad legislation to other legislation that, itself, cannot be voted down.  Riders and amendments are a bane to good legislation which can be (a) understood, (b) respected, and (c) followed by everyone.  This would be simple to deal with.  Any amendment or rider which has nothing to do with the primary legislation AND / OR which does not have the support of the primary author of the legislation (not sponsors or co-sponsors, the primary author) can only be attached to the proposed legislation by a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the House in which it has been proposed in.  Any rider or amendment which does relate to the primary legislation AND has the support of the primary author can be attached if it gets a majority vote in the House in which it has been proposed.  Note: these votes would NOT be to approve the amendments or riders, only to allow them to be attached to the primary legislation before IT was voted on.  For those who want the President to have a line item veto authority, all that would have to be done here would be to say that he has the power and authority to approve or veto the results of such votes before they can be attached to the primary legislation (as provided for in Article I, Section 7, paragraph four of The Constitution).

7.)   Congress has made themselves exempt from abiding by the laws that they force on the rest of us.  This is one of the (many) reasons why it is so easy for Congress to hypocritically impose legislation on ‘we the people’ that is harsh or intolerable… because THEY don’t have to also live with the consequences of their decisions.  This blanket exemption needs to be removed and, any individual exemptions that they want to pass for themselves should be stated publicly, be required to undergo a full and open debate, require a two-thirds super-majority of BOTH Houses AND be subject to Presidential  vetoes for which it would take a three-fourths super majority of both Houses to override.

8.)  As in all things, politicians will take the paths of least resistance.  If their path of least resistance in legislation is to maintain the status quo by not voting for something, they will do that.  Conversely, if they have to actively vote for the status quo to maintain it, they will let it change.  As an example of what I mean by this, consider automatic Congressional pay raises.  Those raises will automatically take place unless Congress actively votes to stop them.  Thus, the path of least resistance is to maintain the status quo by doing nothing and, as a result, allow the raises to happen.  If the legislative process required on-going legislation to require active votes to keep it going, and the path of least resistance is to not vote for something (like the pay raises), they will not vote for them and they won’t happen.  The direction of how Congress votes for on-going legislation needs to be changed so that the path of least resistance is what benefits ‘we the people’ and not what benefits Congress or the government.

(This article will be continued in Part III [c], which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [a]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 1, 2009 at 1:35 am

Congress, The Legislative Branch of The United States of America was, as ‘the people’s house‘, intended to be the most powerful of the three branches of government created by The Constitution… a ‘first among equals‘, as it were.  Of the 4,543 words of The Constitution, the 2,312 words of Article I constitute just over half of the total (50.89%).  Unlike Article II (The Executive Branch) and Article III (The Judicial Brach), Article I deals very much with the actual workings, duties, powers and authorities of Congress.  A primary reason for this, I assume, is that the founders had a long history of experience with operating a working, functioning Congress or Legislature.  They also had more trust of a strong legislative branch than they did of a strong executive branch.

The first representative legislative body established in the American Colonies, in fact, in ANY of the British Colonies, was Virginia’s House of Burgesses, which was created in 1619… 170 years before the creation of Congress under The Constitution.  Before and during the Revolutionary Period, ALL of the American Colonies had functioning state legislatures and, at the national-level, the first Continental Congress had been called in 1765.  Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress ran the nation with a VERY weak Executive, who was appointed by Congress itself to preside over ‘A Committee of The States‘.  The delegates to the Constitutional Convention well understood what a legislative branch could do, although, prior to The Constitution, members of Congress for any state were appointed by the legislatures of that state.  As such, apportionment by census and direct elections of the members of The House of Representatives was their great experiment with a representative legislature.  Members of The Senate, of course, continued to be appointed by each state’s own legislature until the passage of Amendment XVII, which was ratified in 1913 (although some states had been providing for the direct election of their Senators by the people of those states as early as 1907).

It was never the intention of the founders to create a permanently ruling political class.  They envisioned men, who would, for a short period of time, leave their private lives, take up the burden of public service for the good of the nation and then go back to their private lives.  This idea was only one of many visions of theirs that did not survive our national transition from our ‘first generation‘ to our ‘second generation‘ [see ‘Part I‘ of this article for an explanation of my theory of the first and second generational effects].  Many Americans have the mistaken belief that the founders created a two-party system.  This is patently false, but still many of our children are taught it.  The founders tried to create a NO-party system, with the idea that individual members of Congress would band together is short-lived coalitions for each separate issue that came before them.  This is another idea which not only did not survive our nation’s first generation; it did not survive the Washington administration.  This is probably the biggest reason that party politics dominates our government, because The Constitution did not provide any guidelines for or controls / limitations upon them.

Several of my suggested changes will be attempts show how I think that we can restore the founders’ original concept of public service to our government, and show a way to end or, at least, make it more difficult for the continuation of our professional and permanently ruling political class.  These suggestions will be made to try to minimize the amount of time elected officials have to spend in their continuous cycle of staying elected, to maximize their learning curve and effectiveness in office, and to reduce their susceptibility to the corrupting effects of long-term office holding.  They will also have a goal of wanting to breaking the stranglehold which the two major parties have on our government, at all levels, as well as minimizing the power and effect which those at the extreme ends of any political spectrum have on our government.  This is crucial if we are to return our government to a rational level of moderation.

As a general change for ALL elected offices, no one would be allowed to campaign for one office while they are holding another.  If people think that such an allowance is necessary, they could be allowed to run for as MANY offices at one time as they want, but they have to be campaigning on their own time (they, of course, could only accept election to one office if they should win more than one election at the same time… if they do win more than one, though, maybe they should have to pay for any special elections which they necessitate by winning an office they have intention of serving in).  Since all elected officials are elected to serve their constituents by doing a specific job, and not to spend their time on that job trying to keep their current job or trying to get a new one at our expense, once a public office holder is officially a candidate for any national office (the point at which they start raising funds or operating a campaign), they will be REQUIRED to immediately resign any elected office, at ANY level, that they might hold at that time.  This would also help keep the lengths of campaigns down to more reasonable amounts of time as elected officials would be less likely to give up an office in their hand too long before they run for the office in the bush that they want to seek.

Section 2 of Article I lays the groundwork for the composition of The House of Representatives.  Paragraph 1 of Section 2 sets the term of office for members of the House of Representatives at 2 years.  I would change this to 6 year terms, with one third of The House being elected every three years and a one term limit.  This would allow an on-going House with regular turnover and without the turmoil of having to elect ever member of The House and recreating itself every election cycle.  Former Representatives could be elected to additional terms by the people of any particular state that they have served when they have been out of The House for the length of a full term between each term.

Paragraph 2 sets the minimum age for eligibility for election as a Representative at 25.  I would lower this to 20, although with the requirement that being a Representative is a full time job (i.e.  – if someone is a student and is elected, they would have to leave their studies for the duration of their term of office).  We allow citizens to vote at age 18, we let them serve in our military, we require them to pay taxes (which they have to do at ANY age when they earn any money), etc., there is no reason that citizens of that age should not be allowed to elect Representatives of their own age range if they are able to.

Paragraph 3 of Section 2 deals with apportionment of Representatives among the various states.  As we have seen all too frequently, the abilities of modern computing to pinpoint every voter has given the supposedly forbidden practice of gerrymandering an even more frightening and insidious power than it has had in a long time.  That same computing power can allow us to create congressional districts that are of the most compact size and even shape as possible without ANY regard to the politics, or any other discriminating factor, of the citizens of any particular district.  Every state has corners and edges.  All that would have to be done is to program the same computers to start at each corner and create evenly shaped and compact districts as they work in towards the middle of each state.  Alternatively, the first district could start in the middle of a state and work outward.  This would still allow for differing proposals, depending on starting points and merging points, but the test would still be which proposal presents the most precise and evenly shaped districts possible.  Basically, if districts can be created within a smaller or more compact area of a state, you go for the most compact districts possible.  This would not only prevent the parties from manipulating districts in the way that is most advantageous to them, it will prevent them from creating both ‘safe‘ districts (which protect members of either party), and ‘reservation‘ districts (which isolate and limit ethnic voting power overall to specific limited areas).

Paragraph 3 also provides for the total number of Representatives the House.  Its original provision of “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative;” has been modified by legislation passed in 1911, which capped the total number of Representatives in The House at 435.  One man, one vote‘ was NEVER an intention of the founders (as seen by their plan of equal apportionment of Senators, the guarantee of at least one Representative from each state, and the fact that Congressional districts must be fully contained within their home state) because it was never their desire to allow high population areas to dominate the government at the expense of the rural areas by the simple fact of having more people.  However, it was also not their intention to let rural areas have excessive power by limiting the numbers of Representatives to be divided among the more populous states.  As was seen when Alaska and Hawaii entered the union (the total number of members in Congress was temporarily increased by one for each state UNTIL the next apportionment, at which time it was returned to the 435 Representatives level), the current total is seen as a hard and fast one which is not increased by the admission of additional states.  As a result, with each shift in population and a theoretical continuous expansion of the numbers of states in the Union, the single Representative for the states with the smallest population increase in their own proportional power within Congress.  To counter this, I would propose that the total number of Representatives be equal to ten times the total number of states.  This would mean that every time a new state is admitted, ten Representatives will be added to the total number of Representatives in The House.  Right now, that would result in a total of 500 Representatives, with 50 being taken by guaranteed representation for each state and the other 450 apportioned according to state population sizes.

Paragraph 4 deals with vacancies within The House while Paragraph 5 creates the office of Speaker and allows for The House to create and choose its other officers.  The only change I would make here is that ANY officer of The House (or The Senate) has a responsibility to the nation, as a whole, as well as to their own district’s constituency.  As such, ALL officers of The House or The Senate, from any party, must equally accept feedback, requests, petitions, etc.  from anyone within the nation as they do from anyone within their district.

Section 3 of Article I deals with The Senate.  Paragraph 1 sets the length of term for a Senator at six years.  As with the House, I would increase the lengths of their terms of office to twelve years, with a limit of one term and the passage of a length of time equal to one full term before they can be eligible to run again within their state.  For those of my readers who have caught some of my specific wordings, by the way, these limits would only apply to a candidate in a single particular state if they want to run again in that state.  If someone thinks that they can just pack up and move to another state to get elected again, they would be welcome to try it.  I would love to see the spectacle of hordes of former Congressmen moving constantly between states while trying to convince the voters of their ‘new‘ home states that they are not carpetbaggers who are only looking out for themselves rather than for the citizens that they purport to serve.

Paragraph I also sets the numbers of Senators from each state at two.  I would increase this to three for each state so that every state will have an election turnover of one Senator for every equal third of a term (i.e.  – every four years), which is what is dealt with in Paragraph 2.  Paragraph 3 sets the minimum age of a Senator at 35.  As with The House, I would lower this age by five years to 25 in order to increase the chances for better representation of the younger population of the nation.

Paragraph 4 of Section 3 deals with the role of The Vice President as the President of The Senate.  While I will deal with the larger issue of the office of Vice President when I discuss The Executive Branch, the primary constitutional duty of a Vice President is to be President of The Senate.  This office needs to be a functional part of our government.  [Please see my article on ‘The American Vice Presidency…  Graveyard of the Constitution’.]  While I would still give The Vice President no vote in The Senate except in cases of ties, I would give the office political power in The Senate equal to that of The Speaker in The House.  I would also give The Vice President the freedom to address The Senate under the same rules as any Senator, but with the provision that they must temporarily give up the Presidency of The Senate while speaking on the floor, and maybe with the additional restriction that they must ask the permission of The Senate to be allowed to speak to it from the floor.

Paragraph 5 of Section 3 provides for the creation and selection of other officers for The Senate, including The President pro tempore.  My biggest issue with how Section 5 is fulfilled is that The President pro tempore, the third person in line to the office of President of The United States, has become a meaningless ego job which is simply given to the oldest, most senile member of the majority party.  This Constitutional office needs to be held by the person elected by the whole Senate to be its Floor Leader.  Tell me, honestly, would you have wanted to see a 99 year-old Strom Thurmond succeeding to The Presidency?  What about an 84 year-old Ted Stevens?  Or a 92 year-old Robert Byrd?  The President pro tempore should be the Senator who is leading the legislative agenda on the floor of The Senate, not the one singing ‘I’m a Little Teapot‘ with the Spectre of Death.

 

(This article will be continued in Part III (b), which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M.  Blavier
Romayor, Texas

 

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

 

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier
_________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

HOW I THINK THE CONSTITUTION CAN BE FIXED (Part II: The Preamble)

In Activism, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Democracy, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Military, Politics, US Government, War on May 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

At 53 words (1.15% of the total words in The Constitution), The Preamble to The Constitution of The United States is, not counting any of the Amendments, the shortest section of The Constitution after Article VII (Ratification). It has never, to my knowledge, ever been used as a basis for any constitutional court case, or for any decision (majority, dissenting, or separate) made by The Supreme Court. The Preamble is essentially considered to be the ‘pretty words’ before the ‘actual’ Constitution. That is kind of like seeing it as a short, light poetry reading for entertainment purposes before the start of the ‘real business’ part of the program. I think that such a view is a tragic mistake.

First of all, The Preamble is fully a part of The Constitution, written with it and subjected to the same ratification process as every other part of The Constitution was. It is a shame, at best, and short-sighted, at worst to not give it the same respect and standing as every other part of The Constitution. For example, for the hawks and for those in the Bush administration, it provides the best justification in the entirety of The Constitution for their aggressive military views and focus on defense issues (“We the People of the United States, in Order to…, provide for the common defence). In my view, the ‘Commander-in-Chief” clause (which I will talk about in my part of this article which will deal with Article II – The Executive Branch) does NOT give the Executive Branch the power or authority that it wants to claim under that clause. Their best arguments can be made using the relevant words in The Preamble.

Unfortunately, for those same hawks and those conservatives who are against progressive social policies, if they want to use the ‘common defence’ wording of The Preamble upon which to build a case, they must also concede equal standing to all of the other provisions of The Preamble. To me, The Preamble is an active part of The Constitution which establishes objectives which our government under The Constitution is obligated to strive to try to achieve. I will discuss this idea in more detail in the part of the article which will deal with Article I (The Legislative Branch) but, briefly goals and objectives are the same as strategies and tactics. Objectives / tactics are the broad, general, rather nebulous overarching purpose of something which cannot be quantifiably measured or ever be truly achieved… we will make the world a better place, we will create a more perfect union, we will explore space, we will end sickness and disease, etc.… these are all objectives. You cannot measure them, you cannot quantify them, you can ONLY work towards them. What helps you work towards achieving your objectives / tactics are your goals / strategies. Goals / strategies are the specific, quantifiable and measurable and specifically achievable progress points which are established as as ways to help us achieve our objectives / strategies … we will reach the moon by the end of the decade, we will give the vote to eighteen year-olds, we will defeat Hitler, we will wipe out smallpox, etc…. these are all goals.

For my section on the Legislature, I will advocate, and give my rationale for making goals and objectives a specific part of the legislative process. For this section on The Preamble, I will simply say that it is where I see the founders listing the objectives which they wanted us to work towards. To me, this makes The Preamble one of the, if not the, single most important parts of the entire Constitution. All that WE need to do is pay attention to it and give it the same respect and standing that we give to any and every other part of The Constitution.

The lack of consideration given to The Preamble is yet another shining example of what I see as the base hypocrisy of those who cry and scream that The Constitution needs to be read literally and without interpretation (the second part of which is, of course, impossible) but do not practice what they demand. The Preamble is just as much a part of The Constitution as any other part is. It was subjected to the same ratification procedure and cannot be changed without such changes going through the same amendment procedure as any other changes to The Constitution would have to go through.

The only change that I would make with regards to The Preamble would not be to change any of its words, it would be to change what respect and legal standing we give those words among our other laws and constitutional provisions.

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier
________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

HOW I THINK THE CONSTITUTION CAN BE FIXED (Part I: The Problem)

In Activism, Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Corruption, Courts and Justice System, Democracy, Democrats, First Amendment, Human Rights Abuses, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, Second Amendment, US Government on May 20, 2009 at 7:12 am

I have said many times over many years that I think that The Constitution of The United States is broken.  I have recently been asked to give specific examples of what I mean when I say that.  This is, of course, a very fair question to ask.  To answer it, however, I will both give some background information to help explain WHY I feel the way I do on this subject (which is the topic of this first part of this article) and, as I don’t think that it is helpful when people say what they think is wrong with something without actually offering any possible solutions to the problems that they see, I will also provide specific examples of WHAT I would specifically suggest to fix these perceived problems (which will be the topic of the second part of this article). I will do this by primarily suggesting how I think specific aspects or parts of The Constitution can be improved to better accomplish the goals of the founders.  Now, with my suggested changes, I will not be offering specific wordings for those changes.  I believe it would be pre-mature and a poor process to do so within the scope of this article.  I think that that there needs to be some agreement first about what changes should be made, then establish specific goals and objectives for those changes, as well as agreement on why a specific change should be made and what its purpose would be, and THEN, work on the actual wording to be forever enshrined in The Constitution.  For me, then, to actually propose specific wording changes at this stage in the process would be pre-mature.  In addition, I am rather… verbose… and I personally think that such wording needs to be as concise as possible.

Let me start by telling my readers why this topic interests me and why I feel I am qualified to write an article on this subject.  When I was a 16-year old kid in high school, I was able to get involved in several college student organizations at Texas A&M University.  This was a very unique period at A&M in the mid-1970s, which is what made this possible.  As a high school kid, I was still an outsider in those groups.  This allowed me to be an observer of the organizational group dynamics.  In one of the organizations, after I had been in it for a couple of years, there was a huge internal crisis which literally tore the organization apart.  This was the first time I ever got to experience what I came to call the ‘second generation effect’.

It was for this group that I wrote my first constitution, a 25-page thing that no one ever got to see because when I had completed it, it was stolen before I could present it.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t very a very good constitution, although I do not have a copy I can read to verify that.  What writing it began for me, however, was hobby of designing fictional organizations and writing constitutions for them that lasted well over a decade.  I would do this in the same way that some people do crosswords or jigsaw puzzles and, to me, the process was, and is, very much a logic puzzle.   Along the way I have written five to seven actual constitutions for real organizations and, because of what I watched happen in those groups I was part of while I was in high school discovered a desire to help other people create better organizations themselves. I eventually earned a Master’s degree that would allow me to work as a student activities / college union professional, which also provided me with the means to collect constitutions from all kinds of organizations from many different locations to study.  This has allowed me to see many commonalities, both good and bad, among those documents and helped me to formulate a guiding philosophy for designing and writing constitutions for ANY organization.  That philosophy is:

You can NOT, by definition, plan for the unexpected… but you are a damn fool if you do not prepare for the predictable.

In case anyone is interested, by the way, I think that my next project along this line will be to try to incorporate a city in the unincorporated area in which I live and try to create an actual ‘laboratory of democracy’.

The second generation effect is when an organization which has been created by people with a common understanding of why they created the organization themselves begins to have people who were NOT part of the organizational creation process reach a level where they begin to have a greater controlling influence on the organization than those who did create it.

When an organization is created, those who created it usually have a common understanding of the principles and processes they expect the organization to operate by.  Because of this mutual understanding, they are generally very minimalist about what they put into the organization’s founding document(s) or constitution because they think that more is unnecessary for the very fact that all of the original members have a consensus about those principles and procedures.  As a result, they leave those principles and procedures unspecified in the organization’s founding document(s).  Even where these people have differences with each other, they are actually bound together by their mutual understandings about the organization.  They simply don’t see how others who will come along later will not share those bonds and will not view the organization in the same way that they do.  This is what results in constitutions and founding documents which are what I classify as the ‘we create this group, and we will do things and we will be friends’ category of constitutions and founding documents.  This is also what I call the ‘first generation effect’.

So, why are the ‘first generation’ and ‘second generation’ effects important concepts when talking about our Constitution?  It is very simple.  I think that the founding fathers operated under the first generation effect when they wrote The Constitution.  Their common experiences with the separation from Britain, The Revolutionary War, and The Articles of Confederation created a common bond which unified them on a subconscious level.  Even with their many disagreements and differences, they were still bound to each other by what they had experienced in common with each other.

This period saw one of the most remarkable collections of great men and great minds in one place and one period of time in all of human history.  I still can’t figure out if history gave us this moment and gathering of mental giants, or if the moment and gathering of mental giants gave us history.  Which one is responsible for the other, I frequently wonder?  The result of their gathering in Philadelphia in 1787, The Constitution of The United States, is an amazing and awe-inspiring document.  In fact, I think that it has single-handedly shaped where the world has moved since it was created more than any other single document, philosophy, event, or person since then.  The downside of what they did in Philadelphia is that they had no other real historical examples which they could study, other than their experiences under The Articles, to see what would work and what wouldn’t.  They pretty much only had theories and ideas to use.  They also came up with a minimalist document that left much more unwritten and which would rely on their common understandings with which to fill in the gaps than it actually specified about the operation of the new government which they were creating.

In 1991, I was hired for my first job as a Director of Student Activities at a small, private liberal arts college in Illinois.  At this time, the Student Activities Board was an unconstituted committee of the school’s Student Forum.  I decided that the SAB needed to be a separate organization with its own constitution and I created a committee of students, faculty and staff to help design the organization and help write it’s constitution.  The Forum’s advisor was also the school’s government teacher and ‘expert’ on the U.S. Constitution.  One day, in passing, she stopped me and asked why the document I was trying to create needed to be as long as it was.  After all, she pointed out, the U. S. Constitution was only 4,543 words long (honestly, I remember it with her saying it was only 1,458 words long, which is the length of The Declaration of Independence and not of The Constitution but I will give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming she said the correct total).  I responded by telling her “Yes, and it isn’t a very well written document.  She got very angry and, without allowing me to explain to her what I meant, she stormed off.  She never again spoke to me civilly and I was terminated at the end of the school year WITHOUT getting my SAB constitution ever publically discussed or voted on, much less passed.

When I said that The Constitution was not a very well written document, I meant no insult to it or to the great men who wrote it.  I meant simply that they didn’t have the advantages of history which we have upon which to base their document.  NOTHING is ever as good as it can be on a first attempt (look at how much better The Constitution was than The Articles were), and distance is needed to see how things work (or don’t work) as desired, and what can be done to improve it.  I think that this is a necessary evolutionary process in any long standing organization.  I also never got to explain to her my theory of the second generation effect or how I think it illustrated the fundamental flaws in the document.

I think that there are many reasons that more things were not spelled out better in The Constitution.  One of them was the first generation effect of common understanding and fellowship.  Another was that the Federalists, under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton, did not WANT things to be spelled out better so that they could use the ambiguities of the document to argue that it said and meant things that it clearly didn’t.  As is common in history, those of a more liberal ideology will concede things to their political opponents in order to create a consensus while those of a more extreme conservative ideology will simply take those concessions as wins for their side and an indication of weakness for the other side, and will then proceed to try to use that point as a baseline from which to further advance their cause at the expense of those they oppose.  A defining characteristic of a liberal personally is individualism and efforts to strive for common agreement and consensus, while a conservative personality is more commonly seen as wanting unification among those who agree with them for the advancement of their agendas, suppression of individual internal disagreement and accumulation of power for their group.  (Please look for a future article to be written by me on the subject of groupthink, conformity and shame theory to further explain this claim.)

By the 1820s, the first generation of those who created our American constitutional government was mostly gone from the scene and the second generation was in control.  As I have personally seen in all too many smaller organizations, the second generation, not having had a hand in giving ‘birth’ to an organization does not feel limited by the voluntary constraints by which the members of the first generation operated.  A key aspect of the second generation effect is the rise of members who are more interested in their personal power than in the greater good of the organization.  These power-seeking second generation members will also look for weaknesses, flaws, loopholes, omissions and ambiguities within the governing procedures and document(s) of an organization to see how they can be utilized to advance their personal power or parochial interests at the expense of the greater good of the entire organization.  I also do not know how to test it, but I theorize that it is the very weakness and flaws in an organization’s founding documents which ALLOW the second generation effect to occur.  The better that things are clarified, and potential problems identified and provided for, the longer an organization can go on with unity and consensus.  I believe that it is the failures of the first generation to study more closely when they create their organization and better provide for potential problems in the future within their founding documents that is the cause of the second generation effect, and not the fault of those in the second generation.

In American constitutional government, this was seen in the rise of a professional political class; party politics holding dominance in the elected branches of government; party and regional (state) concerns being held as being more important by those elected officials than the greater good of the entire nation; and a desire for gaining and using personal power bases in order to control the functions of government at the expense of those who do not help the person wielding that power.

One last aspect of the generation effects is a blurring of the lines between and the convergence of common misunderstandings of the differences between and meanings of both ‘power’ and ‘authority’.  Contrary to common belief, the two ideas do not have the same meanings and, in fact, are completely separate concepts from each other. This is why they are both used together… power AND authority, like assault AND battery.  Authority is the RIGHT to do something.  Power is the ABILITY to do something.  While power and authority might reside together in some cases, it is much more common to have an exercise of POWER by a person or group who do not have the AUTHORITY to do what has been done, or a group or person who has the AUTHORITY to do something but does not have the POWER to accomplish the desired action (much like when the Supreme Court ruled against Andrew Jackson regarding the Cherokee Indian treaties with The United States and Jackson, supposedly, commenting in response that “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”)  Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and John Calhoun are all classic examples of second generation personalities.

Part II of this article will deal with the actual flaws, weaknesses and omissions which I see in our Constitution and my personal suggestions for correcting them.

 

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier
________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

The Laboratory of Democracy — Alternative Voting Methods

In Candidate Endorsement, Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Democracy, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Local Politics, Politics, Presidential Candidates, US Government on May 1, 2009 at 9:22 am

“It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Dissenting Opinion: New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann (1932)

The above quote from Justice Brandeis’ famous dissent is the origin of the idea of ‘the laboratory of democracy’. This is an idea with much merit but which we have, unfortunately, not seen utilized within The United States to any kind of a significant degree. Whether through fear of losing power, fear of interference from the federal government, lack of imagination, lack of interest or fear of the unknown, ‘experiments’ with democracy in this country take the shape of trying to impose different sets of laws and rules upon the citizens rather than on the process by which those laws and rules are determined. The idea in this nation is that differences in democracy are measured solely by the end result of the legislative process rather than the process itself.

A large problem with mankind, in general, and Americans, in particular, is our hubris. We think that, because we are as far along as mankind has ever been, we are the end of the road and have to have everything right. What we should keep in mind is that we are just another middle age. As we express shock, disgust, and amusement at the attitudes, beliefs and lack of knowledge of the world of a thousand years ago, so will mankind view us a thousand years hence. We will not fail the future if we don’t have everything right; we will fail them if we don’t try new things to give those who come after us additional data which they can use to get closer to being right than we ever can.

I try to occasionally write articles under the Laboratory of Democracy umbrella to look at different ideas which might be worth experimenting with (if not at a federal level then perhaps at a state or local level) to see how our idea of constitutional government can be improved based on lessons learned from our own 225 years of history conducting the American Experiment. Today’s topic is about how we can change how we conduct voting to better represent the views, needs and desires of ‘we the people.’

The reasons to change the way we vote are numerous. A fundamental reason to change it is that Americans tend to vote AGAINST candidates rather than FOR them. We have shaped the idea of democracy into an expression of our personal fears. We seem to feel stronger about candidate’s who we DON’T want in an office than we do about those we support. Usually this is perfectly understandable, as the candidates we have to choose from are often not that good, so it is often easier to identify candidates who are LEAST in line with what we want than it is to identity ones whom we can wholeheartedly support.

One obvious problem with this method is that when people are primarily voting AGAINST a candidate, they are afraid to ‘waste’ their vote by casting it for someone who they might approve of but who has no actual chance of winning. This fear of ‘wasting my vote’ was intensified after the 1992 Presidential election saw a significant number of votes cast for Ross Perot (who supporters of losing candidate George H. W. Bush blamed for costing him his bid for re-election) and after Al Gore’s narrow loss (or win, whichever you consider it to have been) to George W. Bush in 2000, which was partially blamed on those in Florida who had voted for Ralph Nader. Aside from the fact that no candidate is ever OWED any citizen’s vote (a candidate bears the burden of needing to EARN someone’s vote), those who support a candidate (or, more accurately, who OPPOSE a particular candidate) are afraid to ‘waste’ their vote by casting it for third party candidates who have no chance of winning.

Bill Clinton’s first nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Lani Guinier, supported a change in how we cast votes for political candidates in this country. Termed ‘Cumulative Voting’, the method which she supported was that each voter would get one vote for each candidate for a particular office and that they could spread those votes among the candidates and give any candidates as many of their available votes as they wanted. For example, if there were four candidates running for President, then each voter would get four votes to cast for President, any one of those candidates getting any or all of those votes, and multiple candidates being able to be given votes by each voter. While she was on the right road, I believe, she was headed in the wrong direction.

Academic studies and theories on Alternative Voting Methods go back at least several hundred years. In 1770, Jean-Charles de Borda proposed the Borda Count as a method for selecting members of the French Academy of Science. The last 30 years has seen an increase in such studies and research, in large part through the various researches which have been done in Game Theory. There are also MANY historical examples of the effectiveness of quite a few different methods of conducting and totaling votes. The Republic of Venice, for example, thrived for over 1,000 and developed a VERY complex but very effective form of Approval Voting for selecting the Doge which survived almost unchanged for over 500 years, until the Republic was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. Many articles with additional information about Alternative Voting Methods, including Approval Voting, are available on-line. Some of these include:

http://bcn.boulder.co.us/government/approvalvote/altvote.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-winner_voting_system

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_systems#Multiple-winner_methods

As with most of the alternative voting systems I have heard of (equal & even; weighted ballots; fractional ballots; instant run-off; etc.) none of them truly address the idea that most people, at least in America, seem to cast their votes, at least for higher offices, against candidates rather than for them. This means that they see ANY method of spreading their voting strength around as weakening their opposition to a candidate they oppose. For example, under cumulative voting, say you have four votes you can use to vote for a particular office and you do NOT want Candidate A to win. You know that everyone else who is voting for that office will also have four votes to allocate and you fear that those who support Candidate A (or who oppose Candidate B) will each cast ALL of their four votes for Candidate A. Will you then be willing to risk the election of Candidate B by only giving him three of your votes while you ‘waste’ your fourth vote on Candidate D?

So, when we explore the idea of alternative voting methods, we MUST consider realistic human nature (and human fears) when we think about the problem. To do otherwise, to pretend that man will make his choices based on the greater good rather than base self-interest, or that he will willingly and comfortably accept the idea of his candidate losing because it is ‘the will of the majority’ and put aside his personal animosities after an election is unrealistic, at best. Therefore, the question is, how can we change voting into a positive process where people vote FOR candidates because there is NO NEED to vote AGAINST any candidates.

One possible solution is simply to allow a voter to vote equally for EVERY candidate that they think would be worthwhile to support. This method of voting is termed ‘Approval Voting’. To use the Approval Voting method, as an example, say that there are five candidates (A, B, C, D, and E). You personally support candidate C; candidate A is a major party candidate who you do NOT want to see in office; candidate B is a major party candidate who you have no real objections to and see as a better alternative to candidate A; candidate D is an independent candidate who you think could be interesting but who has no realistic chance to win; and candidate E is the local homeless wino transvestite who somehow manages to get on the ballot for EVERY election.

Under this scenario, you can not only cast your vote for candidate B (to help oppose the candidate you don’t want to win) you can ALSO cast an equal vote for candidates C (your preferred candidate) and for candidate D (the one you think is interesting and have no objections to). In such a case, you have accomplished all of your positive voting goals, you have shown your opposition to the candidates you do NOT want to see in office (A and E) by not voting for them, you supported your preferred candidate (C) and you gave support to the other candidates that you had no objections to. In this scenario, none of the votes you cast weakened your personal voting power in any way while, at the same time, made it more likely that candidates other than those from the major parties could win because EVERYONE else who liked candidates C and D could also vote for them but, maybe instead of voting also for candidate B, they voted for candidate A. In a very real way, the candidate who had the most REAL support, who was APPROVED by the most voters, would win the election because all votes cast for any and all candidates would count equally to their totals. In this system you can vote for any one of the candidates, any possible combinations of the candidates, or all of the candidates for that office… you can vote FOR candidates rather than AGAINST them.

Now, are there potential problems with a system such as this? Of course there are. A primary one, obviously, is how to prevent ballots being stuffed because the total votes cast for an office can (and would) be greater than the voting population as a whole and not by a predictable percentage (as if every voter HAD to vote for three candidates, no more or less, which would result in a vote total that was three times the number of voters). Another obvious one is to ask if the winning candidate would have to get a majority of ALL votes cast, or just a higher total number of votes than any other candidate. The first of these two possibilities could lead to either a need for a run-off election or a ‘None of the Above’ result. THAT, however, is where the Laboratory of Democracy comes into play. Let’s encourage some cities and/or counties to experiment with it (or, in fact, with ANY of the other alternative voting methods) before any states try it, and then let some states experiment with it. The is the beauty of the Laboratory of Democracy idea, not every location has to use the same processes and, by allowing and encouraging them to experiment with different process, we can gather data about which process variations work well, work partially but need more tinkering with, and don’t work at all.

Too many people in this nation think that trying different ideas of government means having different laws (like using the Ten Commandments as the basis of their laws, for example). They miss the point that democracy is not the RESULTS of the democratic process but the PROCESS itself.

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our constitutional government and how we can improve it by building upon what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

“Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all Honor”

© copyright 2008 by Rhys M. Blavier

Why I Am Pro-Choice… A Constitutional Literalism Opinion

In Children, Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Courts and Justice System, Democracy, Drug War, Health, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Personal Responsibility, Politics, Science, US Government on May 1, 2009 at 6:01 am

Amendment 9:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

My sister got pregnant when she was only 17 (and unmarried). She got married before the baby was born, but she always carried a chip on her shoulder about that. She is also a far-right, Ayn Rand style objectivist-conservative (but without the actual philosophy to understand what that means). I used to be content to merely say that I supported a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body, including a decision about whether or not to have an abortion. That, however, wasn’t good enough for my sister. She is strongly against a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and, one day, forced the issue and made me think about what my true, bottom line, no holds bar reason for my pro-choice belief is. It comes down to this. I don’t care when a life starts. When a fetus is inside a woman’s womb it has no more rights than any other parasite does.

Now, I am sure that what I just said has REALLY upset at least half of the people reading this but I am willing to admit what most people won’t on this issue. It isn’t a matter of a fetus being capable of living on its own outside of a womb, or a fetus’ soul or anything else. It is, purely and simply, that a fetus meets the biological definition of a parasite and a parasite has no rights. All rights belong to the parasite’s host.

par•a•site (p r -s t )
n.
1. Biology— An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.

parasite (p r -s t )
An organism that lives on or in a different kind of organism (the host) from which it gets some or all of its nourishment. Parasites are generally harmful to their hosts, although the damage they do ranges widely from minor inconvenience to debilitating or fatal disease.
A parasite that lives or feeds on the outer surface of the host’s body, such as a louse, tick, or leech, is called an ectoparasite. Ectoparasites do not usually cause disease themselves although they are frequently a vector of disease, as in the case of ticks, which can transmit the organisms that cause such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
A parasite that lives inside the body of its host is called an endoparasite. Endoparasites include organisms such as tapeworms, hookworms, and trypanosomes that live within the host’s organs or tissues, as well as organisms such as sporozoans that invade the host’s cells. See more at host.

Now, I like babies as much as anyone, however, I was not allowed by my sister to have a belief that was not utterly devoid of emotion. As a result, I came to an emotionless conclusion on this issue. It simply doesn’t matter to me how far along a fetus is. Nor does any other factor external to a woman matter to me. As long as a fetus is inside its mother, as long as it draws its nourishment and life directly from her, it is not, in my opinion, a person. It might be a ‘life’ but many things are alive which are not granted the status of a person. Once a child is born, by whatever means, it is IMMEDIATELY a person will all individual rights, privileges and protections thereof, but until it is outside of its mother it has no rights.

Ok, I have heard some pro-lifers argue that if a fetus is NOT a person, then someone who injures or kills a mother has not committed murder by killing the fetus. This argument is also nonsense because only the mother has the right to determine if her fetus will be born or not. Anyone who might take that choice away from her has committed murder because of the simple fact that they, and not the mother, took away the mother’s right to have that baby, to give it life.

Now, I have seen people who want those of us who believe in a woman’s right to have complete control over her body try to get us to look at pictures of aborted fetuses in order to try to evoke an emotional reaction. Sorry, this isn’t about emotion, it is about The Constitution. So, you might ask, how does that apply to anything else a person, male or female, might want to do to their own body. I say that it isn’t my right or the government’s right to tell them what they can and cannot do to themselves. This does not apply to those who are not of a sufficient age or intelligence to make an informed consensual decision about themselves but, other than that, if a person wants to have sex with people(s) of their own gender or with prostitutes; if they want to take drugs; if they want to ride a motorcycle with a helmet; or they want to shoot themselves in the head or otherwise end their own lives; if they want to marry someone that they love, serve in the military or raise children, I believe that The Constitution says that they have the rights to do so.

The only valid purpose of law is to protect people from other people; not from themselves or to tell them how to live their lives.

I am a Constitutional literalist, an absolutist. I do not believe that rights are given by The Constitution, nor are they hidden and waiting to be discovered in The Constitution. I believe that The Constitution guarantees that we have ALL rights except those specifically denied to us… and the line is where we take away those rights from someone else. I believe in freedom, and I believe that we can only truly be free when we are willing to allow everyone else to be as free as we ourselves want to be. The only question I have for my readers is this… do you have enough faith in our nation and our Constitution to trust that, with equal freedom, everyone else is capable of determining the courses of their own lives? Do you have enough faith to let everyone else be free?

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all Honor

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

The Powers to Raise and to Spend Taxes (Liberal Libertarians Discussion Topic #01)

In Boston Tea Party, Charles Jay, Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Economics, Fraud, History, Law, Libertarian Party-US, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Pork, Spending, Taxation, Thomas L. Knapp, US Government, War on April 15, 2009 at 7:29 pm

The single greatest factor behind the rise and development of the English Parliament was taxation. What very quickly developed, and what lasted until the British Monarchy lost its functional power as a part of government and became a marginalized figurehead position (which happened over the course of the 1800s) was that the power to SPEND tax money was separated from the power to RAISE tax money. Under that system, only Parliament could RAISE tax money but only the Monarch could SPEND tax money. If the Monarch wanted to spend anything (for wars, his houses and mistresses, public building projects, anything) they had to convince Parliament to raise the necessary tax monies and give those money to him 9or her). Likewise, if Parliament wanted money spent on anything in particular, they had to convince the Monarch to agree to spend raised money in such ways. The inherent conflict within the system required negotiation and compromise from both sides. Sometimes one side would be more powerful than the other and would dictate to the other. Likewise, Kings would often not actually spend money as they agreed to. THOSE situations would lead to further conflicts in the future. Sometimes the Monarchs would simply get sick of their Parliaments and would dismiss them and not call another to replace it, but then the King could not raise any money. In those situations, the losers would usually be the common people who were hurt by both sides.

One of the main sources of conflicts between Monarchs and Parliaments (as in ALL nations) was the exorbitant costs of the wars which the Monarchs would want to fight. Because of the unique circumstances of both WWII and the Viet Nam war, Americans now think that wars create profit. They do not. Wars are and always have been burdensome drains on the public coffers. Monarchs want wars for various reasons, but those wars HAVE to be paid for… even in a dictatorship… and, historically, most wars bankrupt their nations as well as the other nations involved. Look at the current situation with our undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s not even get into the cost to human life or to property, let us just look at the actual fiscal cost to fight them, clean them up, care for our veterans afterwards, intelligence… all of it. The problem is, in America, because of the way the power to raise and spend tax monies is allocated, the dialogue is usually focused on questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with one side; on attempts to gain power by individuals, parties, factions, ideologies or branches of government; or is hurting our ability to deal with OTHER national priorities by saying we can’t question the money we spend on our wars so we cut the pennies in order to be able to keep throwing away the dollars.

So… in all of the discussion we hear these days about taxes, we are still simply talking about the ‘symptom’ of actual taxation rather than trying to explore the root causes of the actual problems. To ME, the issue is not whether or not taxes are too high, or if they are properly spent, it is that there is no incentive or system in place to DISCOURAGE spending OR raising tax money. If you give the people who have the power to SPEND your money the additional power of determining how MUCH of your money they can take you have the fox guarding the hen house. To me, before we talk about the very real issues of tax codes and policies in America, we need to talk about the basic powers involved in the fundamental issue of taxation.

Here is my personal idea, to start the ball rolling:

01.) ONLY The House of Representatives should have the power to RAISE tax monies. The functions of government which deal with raising and accounting for the expenditures of those monies should be placed under the authority of The House… the people’s house of government. I think that the IRS is the wrong organization for our nation but before it can be dismantled, we need to figure out something to take its place because its ROLE is, and will be necessary. We can NOT destroy something which has such a key role in the operation of our government (whether it SHOULD or should NOT HAVE that role is irrelevant… it does and it must be dealt with as a reality). The House should be completely in charge of our nation’s checking and savings account. This would result in Representatives keeping THEIR jobs in large part based on how they keep taxes low.

02.) ONLY the Senate should have the power to SPEND tax monies. The functions of government which deal with purchasing, contracting, supervising, etc. the expenditures of those monies should be placed under the authority of The Senate. The Senate should be completely in charge of our nation’s checkbooks, passbooks, and ATM cards. This would result in Senators keeping THEIR jobs in large part based on how much swag they can send back home.

03.) The President should be the mediator that coordinates the efforts of the two house of Congress and makes the deals. The President would also be the one who would make sure that all agreements between the two houses on both the raising AND the spending of tax monies would be followed to the letter. The President would be the one who makes sure that every side is honest with the other. The President would also be the one who signs off on all agreements (budgets) and certifies them as satisfying all sides and being in the best interest of the American people.

04.) All three parties involved (The House, The Senate and The Executive Branch) would have complete and unrestricted access to all records, notes, documents, EVERYTHING made or kept by any of the other parties regarding ANY issue regarding or relating to taxes. Further, all finalized, ratified and signed budgets and expenditure agreements shall have full force as LAWS for their durations and any violations of any parts if those agreements and budgets can be prosecuted as such, with the individuals responsible for those violations… ALL individuals at ALL levels up and down the ‘food chain’… being PERSONALLY accountable and liable for those violations (whether it is a Senator, the members of a specific committee, or a clerk who signs a check… EVERYONE is accountable and THUS has the motivation to be honest and above board about all actions and decisions regarding taxes).

05.) All three parties involved (The House, The Senate and The Executive Branch) would create a non-partisan, non-governmental committee or board, to which they will all appoint an equal number of members, which has the power and authority to review and mediate all agreements and violations and to make final and binding non-partisan decisions regarding the same when there are ANY questions about or challenges to finalized agreements or budgets which deal with tax monies and their expenditures. Each state would also get to choose one or two members of this board. Obviously all of the exact details would need to be carefully studied and worked out.

06.) SOMEHOW, The Federal Reserve and The National Bank (and any other such relevant entities) would be brought back under full federal control and incorporated into this who system… somehow.

No matter what our own personal and unrealistic idealistic vision of our government is, taxes are real, they are not going to go away and they ARE necessary. What WE need to do is to try to figure out how to make the system work better and fairer so that it can be a positive factor in our society rather than one which puts us at each others. throats.

Ok, those are my initial thoughts. What can anyone else contribute? How can anyone else make these ideas better or give us different ideas which are better? What can we do with this?

Recommended Readings for people interested in this topic are:

1.)For Good and Evil (Second Edition): The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization
By: Charles Adams (Tax Scholar and Historian, Cato Institute Fellow) http://www.amazon.com/Good-Evil-Second-Impact-Civilization/dp/1568332351/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1224912619&sr=1-1

2.)Those Dirty Rotten taxes: The Tax Revolts that Built America
By: Charles Adams (Tax Scholar and Historian, Cato Institute Fellow) http://www.amazon.com/Those-Dirty-Rotten-taxes-Revolts/dp/0684871149/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238470625&sr=1-1

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

© 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

To discuss this topic, the discussion thread is going on here: http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/04/15/2688338-the-powers-to-raise-and-to-spend-taxes-liberal-libertarian-discussion-topic-01

WE MUST AMEND THE CONSTITUTION IMMEDIATELY OR AMERICA IS DOOMED… DOOMED, I TELL YOU, DOOMED!

In Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Courts and Justice System, Democracy, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Libertarian Politics 2008, Minorities, Politics, Protest, US Government on April 6, 2009 at 8:42 pm

We need to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage because people getting married to show their love of each other is an abomination… and because the idea of two guys or two ugly chicks making out with each other is just gross… and we can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to try it! We need to amend the Constitution to ban the burning of the American flag except by the Boy Scouts… and anyone who wants to dispose of a flag the way it is supposed to be disposed of, never mind that you can’t make people respect a symbol by passing laws which order them to We need to amend the Constitution to ban abortion because the wealthy can ALWAYS find doctors to take care of THEIR wives, mistresses and daughters! We need to amend the Constitution to allow school prayer and the reading of the Bible in school even though Jesus said “Do not practice your piety in public.”! We need to amend the Constitution to permit the use of the word ‘God‘ in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto because if WE are going to suck up to him, we damn sure want everyone else to be required to, also! We need to amend the Constitution and we have to amend it NOW, because the sky is falling on our heads… AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

For all of the ideologues who think that amending the Constitution is the appropriate way to enshrine their particular prejudices and passions, I want to ask you a question. Very simply, “Have you ever actually read The Constitution?

The Constitution is a relatively simply document. Its length is only 4543 words, which isn’t all that much longer than this article. One key thing that is important about the Constitution is not what it says, but what it does NOT say. The Constitution does NOT say anything about social rules or the moral conduct of ‘we the people’ of The United States. The Constitution is an owner’s manual of how to operate our government. It does not tell its citizens how to live their lives. In fact, with the exception of our disastrous foray into social policy with the 18th Amendment, which gave us both prohibition AND well financed organized crime, there is nothing in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or any subsequent amendment which deals with dictating social or moral behaviors or beliefs to the American people.

Nowhere in the Constitution is a single word which even speaks to specific imposed restrictions on the rights of the citizens, unless you count treason, insurrection, piracy, counterfeiting, malfeasance in office or other such defined crimes as rights which are denied to ‘we the people’. It doesn’t even speak to obligations of ‘we the people’ TO the government, though it does speak of obligations which the government has to ‘we the people’. In fact, other than talking about issues such as voting, or rights before the courts, the Constitution itself barely even deals with individual citizens.

The Constitution itself does not say anything about WHEN, WHY, or FOR WHAT REASONS it should be amended. THOSE questions are left up to the citizens and the legislators of The United States to answer. Article V of The Constitution, in its entirety, says:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

Thus, whenever someone raises the issue of amending the Constitution, the first question that should be asked is: “Is the issue itself appropriate for inclusion?

Amending The Constitution is, and was intended by the framers of The Constitution to be, a VERY difficult and VERY time consuming process. It is not supposed to be something that happens very often or for trivial reasons. To see how meaningless a constitution becomes when it can be easily and frequently amended one need only look at the state constitutions of either Texas (amended at least 632 times in 136 years [although Texas voters subsequently rejected at least 176 of them after our legislature passed them]) or Alabama (at 357,157 words it is about 40 times longer than the US Constitution and even three times longer than the longest national constitution of any sovereign nation in the world India, whose constitution has 444 articles, 12 schedules and 94 amendments, with a total of 117,369 words and is, unbelievably, an even worse document than the state constitution of Texas, which has been amended at least 798 times the last amendment was #799, but even the Alabama legislature couldn’t even keep track of how many there were and Amendment #693 doesn’t even exist in 108 years most of those amendments affecting only single individual counties or even cities, or regulate such minutiae at the salary as the Greene County Probate Judge).

Amendments to state constitutions, such as the one now being called for in Iowa by those scared to death by the idea of two people of the same sex even holding hands, often also seem to ignore the fact that the US Constitution takes precedence over them and has this little thing known as Article IV which includes such provisions as the Full Faith and Credit Clause (Section 1: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.) and the Privileges and Immunities Clause (Section 2: “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”).

As difficult as it is to amend the US Constitution, it is therefore necessary and proper for both the Legislative and the Judicial branches to interpret and even expand on the meanings of both The Constitution AND of its 27 amendments. Please note, however, that while the very names of those two branches tells us of THEIR roles in that process (to ‘legislate’ and to ‘adjudicate’), no such power is given to the Executive branch, whose task is to ‘execute’ the laws and provisions of The Constitution and the other two branches. This was yet another aspect of our Constitutional government which was not understood by King George (Bush) II or his cronies in crime. Many people who want to use legislation (either federal or state) to counter or go around provisions of The Constitution, however, also show their ignorance of the document as Article VI specifically states that “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Constitution of the United States was not conceived or written to tell ‘we the people’ how to live their personal lives or even to place burdens on them towards their Society or their government. It does, however, tell the government how to operate and imposes obligations on it towards ‘we the people’. The Constitution is not a downward directed document, written on the mountain and handed down to ‘we the people’ by a supreme being who must be obeyed. The Constitution was not written by the government to ‘we the people’. The Constitution was, instead, written by ‘we the people’ to tell their government what limits and restrictions are placed upon IT, and what powers and authority are granted to it by the citizens who agreed to be governed by it. I wish people would realize that when they think about using The Constitution for shaping American society according to their own preferences or to try to tell people how to live or what morals they should adopt based on their own prejudices, bigotries and beliefs.

So, if The Constitution focuses on the operation of our government rather than on the behaviors of its citizens, where does the whole debate about our rights originate? The framers of The Constitution believed in ‘natural rights’, the idea that people, by their very nature, HAVE (not ‘are given’, but by birth ‘have’) certain rights which precede the establishment of any government. When The Constitution was written, there was a huge debate about even listing the rights of the citizens of The United States because some feared that the very fact that some rights were enumerated within The Constitution would mean that there would be those who would later argue that rights which were NOT enumerated in The Constitution were not ones which the citizens would have. In Federalist #84, Alexander Hamilton asks “Why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?” and writes that a “bill of rights is not only unnecessary but even dangerous” for that very reason. James Madison told Thomas Jefferson that “I conceive that in a certain degree … the rights in question are reserved by the manner in which the federal powers are granted. The fear of many was the very idea that enumerating ANY rights within The Constitution be interpreted by any moron as meaning that citizens only had rights BECAUSE of The Constitution. The very intention of the framers was to emphasis that the entire purpose of creating The United States was to protect the rights of the citizens and that the very idea that rights had to be ‘givenTO ‘we the people’ was monarchical and anathema to everything they believed in and stood for. Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, in his own proposed draft of a Bill of Rights says that “The people have certain natural rights which are retained by them when they enter into Society.

Much of the concept of natural rights which the framers believed in came from John Locke, the great philosopher and theorist of natural rights. He believed that the primary justification for even founding any government was specifically to make those rights more secure than they would be in a state of nature (a Society with NO government). Thus, the very reason to join together IN a governed Society is to provide ‘we the people’ protection of those rights by being part of a collective, governed Society which is not present in a lawless Society, in which the strong are able to prey on the weak and take those rights away from ‘we the people’. This is where the framers showed their true genius and foresight by giving us the 9th and 10th Amendments to The Constitution, the “if we forgot something, it’s covered, also” amendments.

The 9th Amendment, in its entirety, states that:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The 10th Amendment, in its entirety, says that:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

These are both very interesting Amendments. The 10th is usually used to support arguments which advocate State’s Right’s against federal power by people without an awareness that States do not have rights, only powers (as specified in the literal wording of the Amendment), and that those powers are granted by the citizens. It is usually ignored that the 10th tells us that, in addition to having rights, as provided for in the 9th, ‘we the people’ ALSO have power. By the very wording of The Constitution, our government only has certain powers and authorities (specifically spelled out within The Constitution), while ‘we the people’ have rights IN ADDITION to powers and authorities. While there has been a lot of talk about the 10th Amendment, especially since the end of Reconstruction in The South, and since the movement towards recognizing the civil rights of ALL citizens in the 40s and 50s, the 9th may very well be the most ignored part of the entire Constitution. There even seems to be more case law that is based on the 11th Amendment (“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”), which was passed in response to one single Supreme Court case in 1793 (Chisholm v. Georgia), than there has been based on the 9th. Most of the court cases which would seem to be obvious ones about the retained rights and powers of the citizens under the 9th and 10th Amendments, such as Roe v. Wade, typically hinge on arguments which use the provisions of the Section 1 clauses of the 14th Amendments regarding Due Process and/or Privileges and Immunities (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”) as their foundations.

Why IS the 9th Amendment so rarely raised, utilized or argued in American Courts? I think it is, very simply and fundamentally, because both the courts and our government are afraid of it. If we followed the literal provisions of the 9th Amendment, both the courts and our entire government would have MUCH less power over the citizens than they would like. If we observed the provisions of the 9th Amendment, the citizens would never have the burden to prove that they have certain or specific rights, the government and the courts would have the burden to prove that they DON’T. The party on whom the burden of proof rests has an MUCH more difficult case to make than the one which has the presumption of being correct or innocent. No government in history has ever wanted to bear that burden when they are challenging their own citizens, and courts are a function of government. Into this fray go those who advocate that The Constitution favors the government over the governed. One of the most prominent advocates of reading The Constitution as only protecting enumerated rights was Judge Robert Bork and his famous ‘inkblot’ interpretation of the 9th Amendment. About the beliefs held by Judge Bork and those who interpret The Constitution using the same flawed concept of ‘originalism’ which he uses, that the only rights belonging to the citizens are those which are specifically spelled out in The Constitution and that any other ‘discovered’ rights are illegitimately ‘created’ by the courts, The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court of the United States says:

Yet this skeptical view of unenumerated rights would have the practical effect of converting the original scheme of limited [and] defined powers [of the government] in a sea of individual rights into a scheme of limited enumerated rights in a sea of [unlimited] government powers.”

I would also ask those who advocate such positions as Judge Bork’s for his ‘original intent’ interpretation of The Constitution, “Why do you think that the framers of The Constitution destroyed all of their notes and minutes from the entire Constitutional Convention if not to keep those who followed them from relying on their intent and, thus, giving us the freedom to make this country what we want it to be and to be able to adapt it to the changing needs of Society? While I have my own beliefs about requiring legislators to specify the goals and objectives for any legislation that they create (in order to make it easier for us to get rid of that legislation later), I can find no fault with the wisdom of the founders to deny us the knowledge of their ‘original’ intentions.

Anthony de Jasay, a Hungarian-born libertarian anarchist philosopher and economist who is best known for his writings against ‘the state’, talks about using a ‘Presumption of Liberty’ concept of natural rights. De Jasay argues that “liberty should be presumed, not because we have a “right” to it, or because it is the most important value or goal, but because it follows from the requirements of epistemology and logic. In other words, instead of appealing to a person’s preference for liberty, logic dictates that liberty should be presumed. The critical rationalist and philosopher of science, Gerard Radnitzky, was so impressed with de Jasay’s case for the presumption of liberty that he stated that “for the first time the political philosophy of libertarianism and of classical liberalism has gotten a solid base in logic and epistemology.


There is much to be considered by anyone who would advocate amending The Constitution with a goal of enshrining bigotry or prejudice within it, or of using it to take away rights from our citizens. To do so would be against every idea upon which The United States was created. I personally think that there should be (at least) four levels of rights and powers which should be considered by anyone who thinks they should have the right to tell everyone else what freedoms they do and do not have. They are, in order from highest to lowest:

1.) Rights that are retained by the people;

2.) Rights that are voluntarily surrendered by the people to the government;

3.) Rights that are suppressed by the people in our ‘voluntary’ association in a governed Society; and

4.) Rights that are repudiated by the people through the granting of certain powers and authority to the government.

Governments may have power, but only people have rights, and it is simply wrong for anyone to try to use our Constitutions to try to take away ANY of those rights. That is a ‘right’ which I do not believe anyone of ‘we the people’ ever gave away to anyone else.


As always, I want to acknowledge books and the Internet for giving me invaluable assistance in being able to use my mind and to write articles such as this. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Special thanks must be given, as is common for my constitutional articles, to The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court of The United States (second edition), edited by Kermit L. Hall.


Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… But Above All, Honor

© copyright 2008 by Rhys M. Blavier

A Short on the Sundwall Campaign

In Activism, Candidate Endorsement, Congress, Economics, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, People in the news, Personal Responsibility, Politics on March 28, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Yesterday a friend sent me a link from the LP site about the challenge brought against Sundwall’s campaign.  She, like me, missed this news in the flood of news that seems to come through everyday.  Also, it was on the LP site, does anyone even go there anymore?  My immediate thoughts were, “I wonder who brought that challenge forward?  I wonder if any past candidates there have been removed for technicalities before?  I wonder if any of the past elected candidates were elected with technical problems?

When I’m in Dutchess County, NY sometimes I’ll I listen to WHUD. I hear them mentioning the names of the candidates to fill Gillibrand’s seat I get excited hearing them mention Eric’s.  It makes me smile.  I knew he was probably going to fight this, but I didn’t really see it being successful.  Talking Points Memo asks, “Qui Bono?” and they fill us in on details of who brought the complaint:

The complaint was brought by two voters who were registered with New York’s Republican and Conservative parties.* As such, some Democrats believe this was really engineered by the GOP side. As one Dem source told us: “The only reason the Republicans fought to keep Eric Sundwall off the ballot is because they knew he was stealing from their flawed candidate’s fading support.”

Thinking on it some more, the Eric Sundwall election brings up for me the same problems that the Ron Paul election did.  Perhaps even more.  Leaving aside issues of justice and ethics for the most part (as libertarians will argue over the problems of non-aggression and politics), I’m thinking about it in terms of economics.  Frequently, it would be asked by libertarian supporters of Ron Paul when they spoke among themselves, “just what could Paul do in office?”  We knew when thinking in context that he’d have to fight against political reality even if he became POTUS, a reality that had been shaped by powerful forces with mutual interest in maintaining their power.  From the state governments to the federal government, from the house to the senate, from big business to big education, from wealthy individuals to the labor unions, interlocking power had reasons to fight a Paul presidency and support one another while they individually had a go against the White House.  Still, Paul had the veto pen, the power of pardon, the power to appoint justices to the SCOTUS, nearly unilateral control over executive branch policy.  The hopeful assumed that those abilities might be enough to permanently change the US from an empire to a “normal” country if not a republic as imagined by 18th century liberals.

On the other hand Eric in NY would be a lot like Paul in the house, a lone voice crying into a near void, a Cassandra among rubes.  He would be running for congress, and not president.  Knowing this, would it have been worth it to support the Sundwall campaign?  It might give me a kick to know that someone I pretty much totally agree with was in office somewhere near me, but unless we had something like virtual cantons I don’t see it doing me much good.  The economic problem brought up by anti-political libertarians with regards to electoral politics is this.  Economics is about the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.  We use the word “trade-off” to describe the choice of one use of scarce resources over others.  One of our scarce resources is time.  Our ultimate goal, as we all ostensibly agree, is a free society.  Is it a better use of our scarce resources to support and get elected candidates who will participate in the political process of majoritarianism and logrolling, or are there other alternatives that will help us achieve our goals?  Perhaps the time, money, energy, and will, used in supporting candidates can be put toward actually making a free society rather than hoping that our one candidates will prevail.  Agorists, at least, propose exactly this.

I have nothing against Eric Sundwall, in fact I wish him all the best.  If he had won I would’ve been glad.  This goes for all other libertarians that are going the political route.  It looks like Eric got too close to becoming a swing vote and had to be knocked out.  If he cannot receive the majority of the votes that would’ve gone to him then it seems like a wasted effort.  I ask other libertarians out there, about the larger point: Is the very idea of state politics a folly?  Should we continue these indirect efforts for liberation, or should we engage in direct action?  I have my answer, but I’m willing to listen to an argument for other points of view.

Update: Eric has released a statement of his intent to end his candidacy.  He fingers the Tedisco campaign for playing dirty politics.  I’m inclined to agree.  This merely highlights one of the main problems of putting hopes into electoral solutions for liberty. The powers that be want to remain the powers, and playing their games or following their rules simply seems like a fool’s game to me.

Barr on DOMA 12 years later

In Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Convention, Libertarian Party-US, Libertarian Politics, Personal Responsibility, Politics, US Government on January 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

From the Los Angeles Times, 1-5-09:

No defending the Defense of Marriage Act

The author of the federal Defense of Marriage Act now thinks it’s time for his law to get the boot — but for political reasons, not in support of gays.
By Bob Barr
January 5, 2009
» Discuss Article
In 1996, as a freshman member of the House of Representatives, I wrote the Defense of Marriage Act, better known by its shorthand acronym, DOMA, than its legal title. The law has been a flash-point for those arguing for or against same-sex marriage ever since President Clinton signed it into law. Even President-elect Barack Obama has grappled with its language, meaning and impact.I can sympathize with the incoming commander in chief. And, after long and careful consideration, I have come to agree with him that the law should be repealed.

The left now decries DOMA as the barrier to federal recognition and benefits for married gay couples. At the other end of the political spectrum, however, DOMA has been lambasted for subverting the political momentum for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In truth, the language of the legislation — like that of most federal laws — was a compromise.

DOMA was indeed designed to thwart the then-nascent move in a few state courts and legislatures to afford partial or full recognition to same-sex couples. The Hawaii court case Baehr vs. Lewin, still active while DOMA was being considered by Congress in mid-1996, provided the immediate impetus.

The Hawaii court was clearly leaning toward legalizing same-sex marriages. So the first part of DOMA was crafted to prevent the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause — which normally would require State B to recognize any lawful marriage performed in State A — from being used to extend one state’s recognition of same-sex marriage to other states whose citizens chose not to recognize such a union.

Contrary to the wishes of a number of my Republican colleagues, I crafted the legislation so it wasn’t a hammer the federal government could use to force states to recognize only unions between a man and a woman. Congress deliberately chose not to establish a single, nationwide definition of marriage.

However, we did incorporate into DOMA’s second part a definition of marriage that comported with the historic — and, at the time, widely accepted — view of the institution as being between a man and a woman only. But this definition was to be used solely to interpret provisions of federal law related to spouses.

The first part of DOMA, then, is a partial bow to principles of federalism, protecting the power of each state to determine its definition of marriage. The second part sets a legal definition of marriage only for purposes of federal law, but not for the states. That was the theory.

I’ve wrestled with this issue for the last several years and come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned. In testifying before Congress against a federal marriage amendment, and more recently while making my case to skeptical Libertarians as to why I was worthy of their support as their party’s presidential nominee, I have concluded that DOMA is neither meeting the principles of federalism it was supposed to, nor is its impact limited to federal law.

In effect, DOMA’s language reflects one-way federalism: It protects only those states that don’t want to accept a same-sex marriage granted by another state. Moreover, the heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws — including, immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veteran’s benefits — has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions.

Even more so now than in 1996, I believe we need to reduce federal power over the lives of the citizenry and over the prerogatives of the states. It truly is time to get the federal government out of the marriage business. In law and policy, such decisions should be left to the people themselves.

In 2006, when then-Sen. Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, he said, “Decisions about marriage should be left to the states.” He was right then; and as I have come to realize, he is right now in concluding that DOMA has to go. If one truly believes in federalism and the primacy of state government over the federal, DOMA is simply incompatible with those notions.

Bob Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the Libertarian Party’s 2008 nominee for president.