Article I. Worse than Rotten

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” — Marcellus

With Congressional approval ratings hovering in the mid teens, you have to look pretty hard to find Americans who think that Congress properly represents our personal interests, or the collective interests of our nation.  We live at a time when too many U.S. citizens feel cheated by the repeated failures of those cast as representatives and leaders on the national stage to get their act together.  If Shakespeare were alive to put words into the mouth of a modern day Marcellus, it is doubtful that he’d choose to characterize the state of the U.S. Congressional leadership as merely rotten.  Rotten is a far too generous understatement.

Yet, every two years we spend billions of dollars to elect and re-elect officials who, once in office, fail to work together to serve common national interests — all the while spinning fantastic yarns about what good work they’ve done.  Daily, scores of thousands of lobbyists can be seen pouring over Capitol Hill like dung beetles at a manure farm; scheming to acquire favor from public officials at public expense.  Our elected officials use metastasizing foreign terrorist threats — some completely fabricated — to excuse their failure to adequately protect us from domestic assaults on our justice system, our national economy, our national ideals, and our constitutional rights.  Our elected representatives enable other public officials to launch undeclared, if not illegal, wars based on woefully inadequate intelligence without anything resembling serious public deliberations — and, then, allow them to rage on longer than any declared war in history despite diminished public support and unaffordable claims on national treasure.  Our elected representatives respond to economic catastrophe by stealing from unrepresented future generations of Americans in order to bailout the undeserving sharks who colluded in crafting and executing the failed policies that produced the catastrophe in the first place.  Our elected representatives banish national oil independence to the backwaters of national policy for four decades — only to trot it out at a time when it conveniently serves to cover their cowardly retreat from the enormous challenges presented by the global climate crisis.  And modern political discourse has become so polluted by an orgy of jabberwocky and gibberish emanating from self-serving politicians, self-styled pundits, and special interest oligarchs — abetted, all the while, by handsomely paid, meticulously groomed, slick carnival barkers in the commercial news media — that the prospect of the public intelligently contributing to national policy deliberations anytime soon can be measured with a very small eyedropper.

I could go on.  Our national situation is dire, and we seem ill-equipped to effectively confront the many complex challenges we face.  As Madison warned in Federalist 10, the long retreat of elected and appointed public officials into entrenched, partisan cabals has led to a total collapse of their ability to govern effectively.

So, can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

– iGregor

[Note:  Comments are solicited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 15:00  Comments Off on Article I. Worse than Rotten  

Article II. Democracy Misrepresented

“…the election of them [public officials] is oligarchic.”  —  Aristotle

During elementary and secondary school years, all children in the United States are instructed that the Federal Government was founded as a modern republic (a.k.a. oligarchy) with much more in common with the republic of ancient Rome than with the democracy of ancient Athens; and that a significant majority of the founders disdained democracy in its ancient Athenian form as mob rule.  Yet, we are also told that since its founding the United States has transformed itself into the world’s paragon of democracy.

And how did we achieve this improbable transformation?  I suggest this has been achieved through arduous, if misguided, political struggle and effective national PR (a.k.a propaganda).

The political struggle is evinced by, among other achievements, the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 (Rights to Citizenship), the 15th Amendment in 1870 (Voting Rights), the 17th Amendment in 1913 (Popular Election of Senators), the 19th Amendment in 1920 (Women’s Suffrage), the 24th Amendment in 1964 (Abolition of Poll Taxes), the 26th Amendment in 1971 (Voting Age Reduced to 18), and numerous landmark legislative acts that broadened participation in the elections of public officials.  The PR narrative grew out of relentless public monologs of elected officials, candidates for public office, the popular media, wannabe statesmen, and just about any public figure with a tongue to speak or a hand to write.

By the time most of us attain voting age, we have bought into the notion that, while not a pure democracy, the government of the United States has morphed into a world-class hybrid democratic-republic — generally euphemized as an electoral representative democracy.

There is a problem with this narrative, however.  It is simply incorrect.  We the People have been sold a bill of goods and left to learn two crucial, yet all-too-easy-to-ignore, facts about electoral governance on our own. if at all.  First, it has been known since ancient times — at least since Aristotle — that elections are inherently undemocratic.  Second, over sixty years ago Kenneth Arrow proved elections are inherently unrepresentative.

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

– iGregor

[Note:  Comments are solicited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 14:00  Comments Off on Article II. Democracy Misrepresented  

Article III. Conspicuous Misrepresentation

“”Under our democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule.  Both commonly succeed.” — H. L. Mencken

Evidence that the U.S. Congress misrepresents the interests of the American people is apparent everywhere.  Consider the following:

• Demographically, the current members of the US Congress do not come close to resembling the people who elect them.  Fewer than one in 100 Americans are millionaires; more than one in two congressmen are — one in three congressmen are millionaires many times over.  Fewer than one in 250 Americans are attorneys licensed to practice law; roughly one of every two congressmen are (over 100 times as many!).  More than 51% of the American public are women; fewer than 18% of the US Congress are.  Approximately 15% of the US population are hispanics; fewer than 4% of the US Congress are.  And, the age dissimilarity between Congress and the public calls out an institutional generation divide.  The median age of a congressman is about 60.  The median age of an American citizen is 37.

• The dissimilarity between members of the 111th Congress and their constituents is not an aberration.  The preceding 110 Congresses shared few demographic factors with their electorates.

• Members of the Congress share a great many more demographic factors with the “haves and have mores” (in the words of Silver-Spooner-in-Chief, G.W. Bush) of our nation than with common citizens.

• Typically, upwards of 50% of the U.S. electorate steers clear of polling booths during national elections.  The share of disaffected voters grows beyond 60% in off-year elections.  Voter turnout for local elections is more anemic, still.  Elections in which less than half of the public bothers to participate cannot be considered to produce winners that represent the public at large.

• A pluralistic election system, such as we have, does not require winners to receive a majority of votes cast.  Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election with 43% of the popular vote.  Voter turnout in 1992 was roughly 55%.  That means Clinton won the election with only 24% (0.43 x 0.55 = 0.24) of registered American voters having cast their ballot for him.  Since not all eligible voters are registered, the portion of the American electorate who cast a ballot for the winner of the 1992 U.S. presidential election was even less — somewhere midway between one in four and one in five!  It’s difficult to expect that any but a completely deluded electorate can feel that their interests are represented by a political system that systematically reflects the wishes of so few.

• As originally ratified, the U.S. Constitution based the number of representatives for each State on the “whole Number of free Persons” (a.k.a. propertied white men), and “three fifths of all other Persons” (a.k.a. slaves) that resided in each state.  Remember, it was the States that the founders were trying to unite; NOT the people.  Do not be confused.  It was the States that were to have direct representation; NOT We the People.  Technically, We the People are only considered to be part of the Preamble to the Constitution.  We have no constitutional guarantee to direct representation.  At best, we are to have representation through our States.

• Each State was originally apportioned one representative for each increment of 30,000 Persons counted in the manner described above.  Today, after correcting for the Founders’ failure to allow for women’s and minority voting rights, and after adjustments for population growth, there are 435 Congressional Districts.  This equates to roughly one congressman or congresswoman for every 700,000 men, women and children of all racial backgrounds.  No member of congress, or anyone else, can be expected to be fully acquainted with 700,000 constituents, let alone aware of their subtle differences in interests.  I have difficulty keeping track of the changing interests of individual members of my immediate family.  It is impossible for any individual to justly represent the interests of 700,000 of their fellow citizens.

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

 

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 13:00  Comments Off on Article III. Conspicuous Misrepresentation  

Article IV. The Pall of Faction

“Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.”  — Publius

Today, we citizens of the United States find ourselves deprived of effective governance due to a plague of partisanship that, much as a cancer growing from the fertile parchment of our Constitution, places the life of our nation in grave danger.  In the autumn of 1787, James Madison, writing as Publius, penned the famous Federalist Number 10 in which he made clear the “dangerous vice” of faction, and argued how well the draft U.S. Constitution provided “a proper cure for it.”  While he was correct about the danger, he was woefully mistaken that the Constitution provided a cure.

Madison and the founders were well educated in the lessons of history that mankind’s tendency to fall into factions (such as tribes, cliques, cults, clubs, companies, unions, political parties and other special interest groups) formed the roots of decay of popular governments.  They sought to incorporate means in the Constitution to protect against such concerns.  Yet, the last two centuries have done little to prove they succeeded.  History has shown Madison’s confidence that the Constitution incorporated provisions to remedy the insidious evil of faction to be little more than wishful thinking.  Had the Constitution provided a cure for such a nation-threatening ailment, we would not be enduring such maladies of special-interest partisanship run-amok, today, as we are.

In Federalist 10, Madison acknowledges rightly that faction cannot simply be eradicated, since it is “sewn into the nature of man.”  He adds that to seek to eradicate faction requires either “destroying the liberty which is essential to its [liberty’s] existence,” and thus produce a remedy “worse than the disease;” or “giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, the same interests,” and thus deprive the “diversity in the faculties of men…the protection [of which] is the first object of government.”

The importance of this last clause cannot be overstated.  It points out that the primary purpose of government is not to be confused with defending the nation’s well-being militarily and economically.  Nor is it to be confused with providing social security or health care.  Rather, the first object of government is the protection of the diversity  of the faculties — the inherent mental aptitude and physical ability — of our fellow citizens (men and women of all ethnic backgrounds)!  In other words, the first object of government is to protect the entire citizenry from faction, i.e., the partisan interests of a privileged few.

Holy crap, this is brilliant.  But how can it be done?

Stay tuned.

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 12:30  Comments Off on Article IV. The Pall of Faction  

Article V. Madison’s Wishful Thinking

“A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure [for faction] for which we are seeking.” — Publius

In Federalist 10 Madison offers two reasonable principles on which to base the cure to the vexing infirmity of faction.  First, that the size of the group selected to represent and administer the common and individual interests of the public must be sufficiently large to guard against the “cabal of the few,” yet not so large as to be subject to the “confusion of the multitude.”  And, second, that enlarging the size of the republic brought under the sphere of a central government would lead to an increased number of sufficiently distinct factions which would, somehow, militate against any single faction acquiring sufficient “common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.”

But, something is horribly wrong with this.  Almost from the moment the Constitution was ratified, Madison’s wishful thinking — that a large republic afforded the promise for a cure to faction — is apparent.  In the first case, Madison implies that there exists some magical number that can be used to distinguish cabals from multitudes, and that the use of this number to properly size a group will protect members of the group from becoming confused and corrupted.  But the value of this number is nowhere defined, no means to determine its value are provided, no evidence of the existence of such a number is offered, and no argument to explain how such a number can ensure the wisdom and incorruptibility of the group is provided.  In the second case, Madison implies that members of special interest factions lack sufficient motivation and cunning to propel their views into the majority.  If that ever was the case, it certainly is no longer.  All we have to do to expose the gross lack of protection afforded by the Constitution against faction is to review how prevalent has become the tyrannizing of our politics by extreme special interest groups during the last three decades.

So, it turns out that Madison’s phantom remedies did nothing to stop the pall of faction he was so right to be concerned about.  The lack of effective remedies left an opening for the disease of partisan factionalism to take hold since the early days of the republic.  Almost immediately upon Washington’s inauguration in 1789, factional coalitions began to form to wrangle for favors for the privileged few at the expense of protecting the faculties of fellow citizens more broadly.  For over two centuries the fragmentary effects of faction festered essentially untreated, and metastasized to the point that, today, our government is completely under the sway of well organized special interest factions and institutionalized political parties.

While I marvel at the genius of the founders to have achieved their immediate objective to preserve the fragile Union established by the Articles of Confederation in the wake of the Revolution, and I marvel at the majestic rhetoric they used to argue for and rationalize their proposals, I am appalled at the manner in which they came to exploit the American public for private advantage so early — casting a blind eye to the long term detrimental effects of faction which, today, everywhere undermines the perfection of the union they established.

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 12:00  Comments Off on Article V. Madison’s Wishful Thinking  

Article VI. Elections Foster Disunion (Faction)

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” — Gouverneur Morris (Preamble to the US Constitution)

 

The framers chose semi-annual popular elections as the means by which we citizens select a few among us to govern.  To those who believe  elections, when fairly and justly administered,  are democratic and representative, this appears to be a pretty no-brainer choice.  And, to students of ancient Athens and Kenneth Arrow (see Article II), no-brainer (as in mindless) is exactly what it is!

Yet, even beyond the fact that elections are anti-democratic and cannot dependably provide representative results when more than two candidates compete for an office (see Arrow), elections sow the seeds of faction and partisanship that invariably undermine the very union the framers purported the constitution would perfect.  At their most fundamental level elections are contests used as practical means to resolve policy disputes and to choose from among competing contenders to public office.  And while election contests are surely more civilized than the barbaric contests of enlisting the strongest members of opposing tribes to engage in fights to the death, they remain contests, nonetheless — dividing contestants and their supporters into competing groups of adversaries (a.k.a. factions) in which winning, not uniting, becomes the hallowed goal.

It is true that contests can unite members within any given faction, but they also establish the conditions in which corrosive divisions among competing factions flourish.  And they do very little for those who are not affiliated with the dominant factions.

Consider the classic college basketball contests between the University of North Carolina and neighboring Duke University.  While the rivalry between these two basketball powerhouses unites coaches, teams, student bodies, alumni, many who reside within the Research Triangle, and many other basketball fans across the nation in their opposition to counterparts on the opposing side; these spirited contests never seem to settle matters, or convince fans on either side to convert.  Nor do they do much of anything for those who are neither a Duke or UNC fan.  Rather, such contests generally incite tremendous enthusiasm among fan bases on both sides in the run-up to the contest; they generally produce extreme excitement during the tallying that goes on during the contest; they generally leave one side delirious and the other side depressed upon the conclusion of the contest; and the contest conclusion generally serves only to set up fevered anticipation of the next contest among fans of either school.

This is really no different than what happens when Democrats and Republicans (or pick any faction of your choice) mix it up in biannual election contests.  When the votes are tallied we are left having spent billions of dollars to split ourselves into winners and losers; and have done little to advance the collective (a.k.a. united) interests of our nation.

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 11:00  Comments Off on Article VI. Elections Foster Disunion (Faction)  

Article VII. Elections Foster Oligarchy

“An elective despotism is not what we fought for…” — Thomas Jefferson

“The question we settle in an election is not whether elites shall rule, but which elites shall rule” — George Will

Previous posts have exposed the true nature of election contests to be intrinsically divisive, and incompatible with the goal of uniting a nation — any nation.  This is due to the inherent tendency of election contests to lead citizens to segregate themselves into competing partisan groups of adversaries (factions) whose goal is victory over the other side(s) — often whether such victory carries with it extensive costs to the common interests of the nation as a whole.

Yet, if Jefferson’s concern about elective despotism rings true — as George Will’s statement appears to confirm — then merely segregating citizens into partisan camps isn’t the half of the corrosive nature of election contests.  Rather, through incessant hype that those who vote in an election contest fully participate in their own governance, and that those on the winning side share in the victory merely by casting a ballot, the vast majority of citizens are duped to remain content with such minimal participation, and in their subservience to master oligarchs.

To see how this works, consider a sports metaphor, again — this time the annual Super Bowl contest.  Who are the real winners of the Super Bowl?  Spectators who pull for the team that loses the contest?  Clearly not.  While they might have experienced considerable excitement in the run-up and during the contest, at the conclusion of the contest they are not to be confused with the winners.  What about those who have little or no interest in the contest?  Clearly, in their indifference to winning or losing they cannot be considered to be winners.  And, what about spectators who pull for the team that wins the Super Bowl?  Most of them win little besides bragging rights that last, at best, until next year’s Super Bowl.

So, who are the real Super Bowl winners?  Those who actively participate in the contest to gain fame or fortune: players, team owners, the NFL, vendors in and around the sports arena, contest sponsors, television networks and announcers, advertising agencies, bookies, and the like.  The rest of us belong to the vast sea of humanity which is either disinterested in the contest and its outcome, or remains content to be spectators.    Only a very small handful among us actively participate in the contest or its preparation.  Therefore, only a few of us actually win anything.

Now, consider the similarities with national election contests.  Voters who turn out at the polls in support of losing candidates — typically 25-30% of eligible voters across the nation — cannot be said to be winners.  And many of the 40-50%, or so, of eligible voters who don’t bother to make it to the polls during election contests due to lack of interest or other reason, cannot be considered winners, either.  And, as in the case of the Super Bowl, the vast majority of the 25-30%, or so, of eligible voters who support winning candidates in any election contest win very little beyond bragging rights until the next election contest rolls around.  The real winners of any election contest are limited to the few winning candidates, the officials of the political party with which these candidates are affiliated, the interest groups that sponsor the winners, the folks who produce campaign ads, the networks that sell advertising, and other select oligarchs.  It should be clear that, in any election contest, the vast majority of citizens are either alienated and disinterested in the contest, or participate very little beyond mere spectating at the real events of governance.

This is precisely what concerned Jefferson (quote above).  In any given election contest only a small handful of oligarchs actually win anything!  And this is perhaps the most devastating sin of election contests discussed, so far.  Election contests actually divide the nation into a small faction of winners (oligarchs), a massive faction of spectators who never participate in governance beyond mere ballot casting, and another massive faction of disaffected citizens who are increasingly alienated from the game.

These last two massive factions of our citizenry, the spectators and those who are increasingly alienated from the contest, comprise the vast majority of the American public who, at best, marginally participate in their own governance.  The other faction, much smaller in number and much greater in power, is composed of the members of the ruling oligarchy — the only faction which fully participates in governance.

Ancient Athenians had a word to describe citizens who did not participate fully in their own governance: idiotes.  They also knew that only the most gullible among them would buy the lie that mere ballot casting constituted the extent of their due participation in democracy.  They would consider those of us who fail to participate fully in our own governance, whether through indifference or gullibility, to be idiots!  As such, it would seem that Jefferson and ancient Athenians would agree that after two centuries of election contests We the Idiots continue to be manipulated by elective despots to settle for much less than our due participation in our own government.  Perhaps this explains the utter disgust many of us feel today toward the political process in America.

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 10:00  Comments Off on Article VII. Elections Foster Oligarchy  

Article VIII. Elections Foster Political Games

“Like terrorists co-opting a government list of soft targets, today’s political consultants are exploiting the mathematical vulnerabilities of voting itself.” — William Poundstone

With election contests facilitating the division of the citizenry into opposing partisan groups (factions), and yielding only a handful of privileged winners (the oligarchs), it’s not too difficult to imagine why  Americans are so disgusted with politics American-style.  Yet, if this weren’t bad enough, it gets even worse. Election contests are fertile grounds for political operatives to exploit with games that undermine the efficacy of election results.

Vote-splitting is a popular method used to game election contests.  Vote splitting has the effect of producing victory for the least appealing of the major party candidates (Democrat or Republican) competing in any election contest.  It does this by introducing a non-major party candidate (a.k.a. 3rd party) who is closely aligned on many issues with the major party candidate whose defeat is sought.

To understand how vote splitting works just recall Governor George Wallace in 1968.  With the nation in the throes of active and overwhelming public opposition to the war in Vietnam, the candidacy of George Wallace, a southern Democrat, syphoned sufficient votes from Democratic party nominee Hubert Humphrey, to propel certified war hawk Richard Nixon into the White House with just over 43% of the popular vote!  Humphrey received just under 43%, and Wallace received just under 14%.

Or recall Republican businessman Ross Perot in 1992, when he returned the favor to the Democrats by running an independent campaign against incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush — syphoning enough votes to enable Bill Clinton to clobber Bush with barely 43% of the popular vote (Bush received 37% and Perot 19%).

While it is likely that few 3rd party candidates enter election contests with the explicit intention to subvert the will of the public, it is almost always the case that much of the financial support for 3rd party candidates comes from the major party whose candidate is most likely to benefit from a well-funded 3rd party candidate.  A classic example was outspoken progressive activist and consumer advocate Ralph Nader in 2000, when he mounted a campaign that was heavily funded by conservatives in key battle ground states — thus yielding the stalemate in Florida between Al Gore and George W. Bush that gave conservatives on the U.S. Supreme court the opportunity to appoint Bush-the-Lesser president.

Another popular method to game congressional election contests is gerrymandering — the means by which states draw congressional district boundaries to enhance the likelihood of re-electing incumbents of both major parties.  Gerrymandering entails an incumbent from party A cutting a deal to trade a piece of his/her district rich in voters tending to favor party B with a party B incumbent from a neighboring district for a piece of party B incumbent’s district that is rich in voters tending to favor party A.  In this way incumbents are able to choose their electors, rather than the other way around — thereby avoiding being accountable for their actions to a discerning public.  This insidious evil is practiced so effectively that 90-95% of incumbent congressmen who choose to run for re-election routinely succeed.  That’s to say, that even in times when congress is so out of favor as now, on average fewer than 40 of the 435 incumbent representatives who wish to continue to trade on the privilege afforded by their office, are likely to be shown the revolving door by their constituents.

And finally, at least for this post, another popular and well practiced method to game election contests is the incessant pollution of public air waves with nonsensical political ads.  This often has the effect of so confounding public debate with such convoluted nonsense, that the public becomes confused and disheartened.  The result:  without the ability to discern where a candidate stands on key issues the citizenry either stays with the devil that they know, or takes a flier on a complete unknown.

For further discussion of these and many more means that political operatives use to undermine the credibility of our election contests for their own benefit, have a look at William Poundstone’s Gaming the Vote (2008).

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 09:00  Comments Off on Article VIII. Elections Foster Political Games  

Article IX. Elections Foster Poor Policy

“You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think.” — Milton Berle

If electoral contests reliably delivered to the chamber of the US House of Representatives congressmen and women who consistently worked together to formulate sensible national policy decisions, then all of the concerns and lamentations in the preceding articles would amount to little more than overwrought handwringing.  But, this is hardly the case.  In spite of the trite promises of election contestants since time immemorial about working across the aisle, election contests invariably fall far from the mark of delivering representatives who work well together.  Instead, congressional election contests invariably deliver members who work recklessly together — either to throw up obstacle after obstacle to prevent the people’s work from getting done; or to authorize invasions of sovereign nations without adequately vetting questionable intelligence; or to bail out the Wall Street sharks who put our national economy at risk for private gain; or to abolish the economic and financial protections of Glass-Steagall in the interests of privileged oligarchs; or to cast a blind eye to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and numerous undisclosed rendition sites; or to fail to reduce our national dependency on fossil fuels; or to ignore the looming global climate crisis; or to steal from unrepresented future generations to sustain an unsustainable national lifestyle; or to sacrifice the interests of those in need of health care to the interests of health insurance tycoons; or to repeatedly dishonor their oaths of office as they champion causes that benefit the privileged class, while simultaneously excusing those of privilege from accountability to the laws with which all common men must comply; and more.

Such non-stop debilitating Acts of Congress make it clear to all but the most ardent supporters of the status quo, that election contests have never ensured the delivery of members to the congress who worked well together to formulate sensible policies in service to the collective interests of the nation.  Rather election contests invariably deliver a most dysfunctional group of characters — wavering alternately between the morass of group think and frequent repeat trips to Abilene who burden the nation with nonsensical policy choices, at best.

It is telling that a coterie of nationally known comedians is hosting a rally in late October in Washington, DC, to attract attention to the need to restore a semblance of sanity to the public policies which emanate from Capitol Hill.  The concern is not so much that individual members of congress might be insane (although some would surely be well-served by the close observation of well-trained mental health officials), but that a congress which habitually makes policy choices that range so far from reasonable, calls into question their collective sanity.

Is there a way to bring reason and sanity to the manner in which we govern our nation?

Unquestionably, there is.  Stay Tuned.

— iGregor

 

[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 08:00  Comments Off on Article IX. Elections Foster Poor Policy  

Article X. Sortition, Anyone?

“…the appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic, the election of them oligarchic.”

— Aristotle

Often at this point, or well before, someone will venture, “OK, we surely don’t want to be saddled with a political system that, when not bogged down in partisan gridlock, produces irrational, if not insane, collective policy choices.  But what can we do?”

Someone is sure to answer, “We need real election reform and stricter campaign finance laws.  We need to make the polls more accessible to the general public.  We need to make the congress more accountable.  We need to champion rights of felons who have served their time and paid their debt to society.  We need to make computer voting machines more audit-able.  We need to…”

“Please,” someone else, hopefully, interrupts.  “We’ve repeatedly attempted, and failed, to rationalize our election system since the ’60s.  We’ve jousted with campaign finance reform over and over, yet gaping loopholes remain everywhere. Show me anything substantial we’ve achieved that hasn’t actually played into the hands of the oligarchs — either by squandering our time and energy, or by actually moving us farther from the goal of full participation in our own governance.  Congress will never consider genuine reform of an election system that worked so well to put them into office.  They’re NOT going to make any changes that jeopardize their chances of being re-elected.  And, in light of Citizens United, election finance reform isn’t likely to get anywhere, anyway. We need to stop wasting our energy building sandcastles on the beach that the tide of oligarchs will easily wash away or work around.”

“OK.  OK. I agree.  We don’t want to run around on the beach building sandcastles that the bums in power ignore or use to their own advantage.  We’d rather throw the bums out!  But the incumbent bums hold a monopoly on power.  They have gerrymandered themselves into near-perpetual incumbency.  They have written laws that minimize the chances that they can be successfully challenged by outsiders without deep pocket backers.  They have written laws that permit them to extort oceans of money from special interests.  They rarely vacate their seats until assured a comfortable ride through the revolving door to a well paid special interest lobbying job.  And they oversee the system of government that protects and promotes their personal interests ahead of the interests of those who elected them; transforming otherwise accountable civil servants into glad-handing self-servants.  Besides pressing for election reform and campaign finance reform what else is there that we can do?”

“Well, if I understand the essence of the problem as described in previous articles, we must finally address the fundamental flaw in our constitution that not only fosters faction and oligarchy, but militates against fully participative democracy.  A flaw that would have been obvious to ancient Athenian democrats, but that most of the founders did NOT view to be a flaw since they had NO intention of creating a democracy.  A flaw that most people on the planet, today, who advocate for democracy do not understand to be a flaw.  Elections!”

“Holy crap.  Are you saying that we need do away with election contests as the means of selecting representatives to congress?  That we need to find some other method?”

“Bingo!”

“What other method?”

“It’s time we considered sortition.”

“Huh?”

“Sortition.”

“What’s that?”

“A form of lottery.  Not a lottery in the sense of Power Ball or other state operated games of chance, but a lottery much like that used by court systems throughout the United States and other nations around the world to select impartial juries.”

“Talk about insanity.  You must be nuts to think there’s a chance that’ll ever fly around here.”

“Then let’s give up the charade, and admit that we’re not serious about democracy.  Sortition formed the foundation of democracy in ancient Athens.  It nourished the democratic roots of city states such as Florence and Venice during the Italian Renaissance.  It informed many political thinkers and democratic revolutionaries during the Enlightenment.  And it continues to this day as the foundation of impartial citizen jury selection the world over.  If we’re not even willing to consider sortition as a means of curing the debilitating ailment that is crippling our democracy, then it seems we’re just not serious about democracy.”

“OK.  Tell me more.”

“Well,  rather than my running much farther beyond where my knowledge can carry me, I suggest that you have a look at some of the excellent books and papers to be found among the Reference Materials listed in the sidebar, and/or the blogs listed under Blogroll (also in the sidebar).”

———————

And, now that you have slogged through my 10 articles I would be interested to read whatever comments you might care to share, and respond as appropriate.   Just click on the “Comments” link at the bottom of this page.

Thanks, and best wishes.

— iGregor

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 07:00  Comments (6)  
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