More Than Just Musings
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THE HOUSE OUR FOUNDING FATHERS BUILT
Two hundred forty years ago Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Monroe and others, built a magnificent house - a solid foundation, three master suites, laundry room in the bedroom wing, family room on the other side of the house, island in the kitchen, patio facing south, etc. But, time has taken its toll on the roof -- the vent roof jacks have cracks, the sheets metal in the valleys has lifted with the wind, moss has grown under the shakes, and the shingles have lost their granules and are torn. In short, the roof leaks in several places - gun violence, health care, wage/wealth disparity, mental health, immigration, elderly care, homelessness, poverty, and more.
Nails, wet patch, and caulking are all temporary solutions, as are raising the gun buying age, modifying the appearance of semi-automatic long guns, banning bump stocks, modestly expanding the data base, reducing magazine size to fifteen or even ten. All are half-of-loaf solutions. (Migratory bird hunters must have a plug in their shotguns that will allow only three shells. We think more of our migratory fowl than we do of our first graders, our teenagers, our college students, our movie goers, our Saturday night clubbers, our country music lovers, our church goers, and our newspaper people.)
The roof needs to be replaced, hence The 28th Amendment to the Constitution. It will allow and encourage our elected representatives to make honest decisions that put our country first, their constituents second, and never their tribe above either.
The two major issues in gun violence are reasonable gun laws and mental health. To take NRA out of the picture requires defunding its lobby - MAJOR CAMPAIGN REFORM. To resolve the mental health issue will take massive funding for research, medication, some sort of out-patient supervised care, and institutionalized care that is more than warehousing. Unfortunately, those with mental health issues, with the exception of the immediate family and a small segment of the medical and social services communities, have no lobby so it will take dedicated and conscientious legislators who put their country first, their constituents second, and their tribe never.
However, It is important to keep in mind that anything done by legislation in any state or in Washington, D.C. can be undone by legislation. The key is to create a legislative environment without tribalism and legal bribery, but with compassion, empathy, and rational debate. Hence, the Twenty Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
It's the money. If intelligent, conscientious, and empathetic individuals, who respect democratic principles, believe in the separation of powers, and support our extensive and spirited freedoms, survive the primary wars, they then must stand up to the insults and assaults in the general election to win a seat in Congress. Upon their arrival at a state house or Capitol Hill, they are greeted by their Democrat or Republican tribes. After being assigned a time at a telephone bank to raise money and being placed in situations where their voices and ideas are filtered and limited by the tribal leaders, they are greeted by lobbyists who graciously isolate them socially, financially, and politically from their causes. Occasionally a veiled threat of primary challenge is slipped in. The newly elected members can now go about establishing their principles and representing their constituents. Fat chance, see Jeff Flake and Russ Feingold.
Remember, the lobbyists control the agenda and the funding priorities. In my lifetime only twice, during the Viet Nam War and March For Our Lives, have they lost control.
STAGNATION AND NON-DELIBERATION
I have a different take on the answer to our problems of gun safety, immigration, healthcare, mental health, income inequality, poverty, along with a multitude of other issues. The solution is to create an atmosphere in Washington where our representatives owe their allegiance to our country first, the will of their constituents second, and never to their incumbency or their tribe. We can right our democracy by fighting individual battles while people suffer and, as we have seen, die while waiting for change, or we can address the one problem - a stagnant, self-concerned, weak, non-deliberative Congress made so by money, archaic rules, lack of transparency and more money.
IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING
The slogan coined by the groups in the war against terrorism has been modified by Madeleine Albright on "Morning Joe." She added "Do something."
Just what can you do? Research some of the problems and think about possible solutions. Think about how many other problems can be solved with the same solution. Attend local discussion groups. Voice your concerns, evaluate the thoughts of others, suggest modifications and solutions, talk about the issues with family and friends and not-so-close friends. Email your representatives. Write letters to the editor, to the pundits, to reporters who write related stories, to people who make the news, to civics teachers, to student activists who hit the news, to organizations for and against your position (Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, NRA, etc.) to local civic organizations, etc. Attend rallies and marches, (They might just be fun. At the San Jose March For Our Lives, we were serenaded by a choral group. They were great.) Make a sign, bring some handouts. JUST DO SOMETHING.
PAY FOR PLAY
No one is saying that the lobbyists are putting money directly into the pockets of our representatives. The dinners, golf outings, use of vacation homes, and free flights get our representatives in trouble every now and then. But, the lobbyists' checks to the campaign immediately disappear into the pot that might buy a TV ad or fly cousin Enos in from Omaha "to help with the campaign." Is it even possible to follow the money and build a case for campaign finance fraud? Probably not, but we can follow the post public service careers of the politicians who receive those campaign contributions.
To understand the process, follow the career of Dennis Hastert, the former high school wrestling coach through the Illinois legislature, through the Republican speakership of the House of Representatives, to being a consultant with the prestigious law and lobbying firm, Dickstein Shapiro, to being a victim of extortion (one of his victims, some irony), to being exposed as the child molester who paid $1.7m in hush money -- $50,000 every six weeks -- between 2010 and 2014.
Hastert spent 42 years in public service - teaching in 1965, to retiring Speaker in 2007. Three years before his retirement, 2004, he had a net worth of $496,503. Eight years after he retires, 2015, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives had an estimated net worth of between $3m and $17m.
With the exception of molestation and extortion, this is not an unfamiliar career path.
Take another familiar character at his word. In April 2018, to a group of 1,500 bankers, Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Protection Bureau and head of the Office of Management and Budget said, "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk.
OUR SALVATION IS IN RESCUING CONGRESS FROM ITSELF.
The true balance of power really depends on a Congress being a deliberative body that responds to reason not campaign contributions, that respects "regular order" not tribal demands, and that places its country first, its constituents second, and its tribe never. There was a time when we could suffer a President's erratic behavior because Congress would right the ship, when an off-the-rails Congress could be set right with a Presidential veto. And, we always had a Supreme Court to pull us out of the fire.
Greed, permitted and encouraged by tribalism, has destroyed Congress's deliberative process, thereby, removing one of the checks. The nuclear option when appointing judges for life has obliterate another and tribalized the Supreme Court. (Who besides five Supreme Court Justices thinks that corporations are citizens? Corporations, of course.)
The Presidential veto is all that remains. However, a non-deliberative Congress racked with tribalism does not have the confidence or courage to put a bill on the President's desk and to override a veto. Bills without the "regular order" never solve a problem without creating problems. (The recent tax bill widened the wage/wealth gap, busted the budget, added to a trillion to the national debt, and drained the pot that would pay for much needed infrastructure that generates good-paying jobs.)
Large tax breaks for corporations increases dividends for stockholders and inspires stock buybacks that increases the value of the stock, thereby widening the wage/wealth gap. The wealthy will survive and may even thrive in the downturns to come. The middle class will be burdened for generations. May God help the minimum-wage poor, the sick, the mentally ill, and the elderly.
Where is the "balance" in the checks and balances designed by our Founding Fathers? It is in the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
It was born in controversy, confusion, and distrust of the lower classes. At one point the Founding Fathers thought about having Congress elect the president and even mulled over the Senate electing one of its own as president. What would that have done to the separation of powers?
Of the Electoral College, Alexander Hamilton said although "not perfect, it is at least excellent." He believed "that the office of the President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." (TFP #68) How has that worked out? With a population of 19.8 million New York gets one of its twenty-nine Electoral College votes for every 684,232 citizens. (19,842,724/29 = 684,232) While Montana with a population of 1,062,330 gets one of its three Electoral College slots for 354,110 citizens. (1,062,330/3 = 354,110) Does this make any sense in our 21st century democracy?
The masses, disparaged intellectually and unappreciated politically, can gain some solace in that Hillary, a candidate "in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications", won the popular vote by 2,864,974 over an office seeker not "in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." However, solace doesn't emend the shortcomings. Amendments do.
One citizen, one vote. Direct election by the popular vote encourages our better angels to stand up and prevail.
"REGULAR ORDER," WHAT IS IT AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT?
Senator John McCain's advocacy for the return of "regular order" is a plea by all advocates of good government.
When our representatives in Washington begin discussions on solving a problem or correcting an imbalance or initiating a new opportunity for the people, the seeds might come from our representative's initiative, a citizens group, or a lobbyist. It matters not. What matters is that these ideas are given the opportunity to sprout and bloom on their ability to withstand the virulent congressional environment - time, place, and mood.
These ideas begin their life in proposals at the openings of congressional sessions. They then submit themselves to examination and inspection by staff researchers and in committee hearings. Meanwhile the lobbyists of all colors and stripes weigh in. (They must however have their pockets turned inside out. See Campaign Finance Section.) The ideas reap the benefits of light, water, supporting stakes, fertilizer, pesticide, and pruning. If they get out of committee or committees, they move on to the full chamber and are subjected to more of the same before a final vote. The result becomes law only if it meets the approval of the President or is overridden by veto with a 2/3 majority; however, it will only remain law if it survives any legal challenges before the Supreme Court.
WHAT DOES THE ABSENCE OF "REGULAR ORDER" REALLY DO?
Although James Madison is known as "The Father of the Constitution," he had help from Jefferson, "The Preamble" and "states' rights", from John Adams "In Defense of the Constitution," from Patrick Henry, "The Bill of Rights," and from a variety of others. The real genius though is in the detail.
Article I, Section 7, states that "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House . . . ." -- the "people's house", and not by a "king" who wants funds to wage war on his cousins or the Senate for whatever the reason. After the concurrence of the Senate and the signature of the President, these taxes become available for appropriation. A budget is proposed and fun begins. To whom, how much, and when is determined by the House and Senate with the approval of the President and, of course, the lobbyists.
After the funds are distributed, Congress becomes one big oversight committee, or not. They should be asking: Did we distribute the funds conscientiously? Are they being spent wisely? Are our constituents getting the best for their tax dollars? Are we protecting our Constitutional rights? Are we providing opportunity and justice for all our citizens? By necessity, the constituents go about their daily lives - working, family obligations, PTA, homework, extracurricular activities in the arts and science, coaching and maybe more working. They have placed their trust in Congress and the President.
Meanwhile, the lobbyist with far greater influence have worked their magic. Greed, waste, and incompetence become the order of the day. All takes place with the tacit approval and/or complicity of our elected representatives. Their rewards are campaign contributions, perks, family employment, and promises of future opportunities (see Dennis Hastert). The tribes, Democratic or Republican, exert their influence with bullying, threats, promises and parliamentary procedures. The results are what we have today, a non-deliberative Congress bought by the lobbyists and controlled by the tribes.
The House of Representatives is the key to good government. Every two years we get the chance to correct our mistakes and to give our citizen patriots (We wish.) the opportunity to correct theirs. The "people's house" controls the purse strings. They are one of three checks on appropriations, and they have a major influence on oversight. Let's help them do their job. Support the 28th Amendment. (THEYCANTWECAN.COM)
ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Health care, mental health care, gun violence, racism, wages/wealth disparity, poverty, education, the environment, foreign policy, the electoral college, gerrymandering, lack of transparency, free and fair elections, individual freedoms, and a host of other important issues - are the problems but not the root of the problem.
What if we sent Representatives and Senators to Washington who were intelligent, sincere, compassionate, knowledgeable and had strength of character. (I think in many cases we do.)
What if these representatives were not immediately compromised by their tribes, Democratic or Republican, by being assigned to a telephone bank to raise funds, by being placed on committees irrelevant to their mission, and by being beguiled by lobbyists with money, promises of future rewards, and more money.
What then would be on the legislative agenda in the House and Senate.
Would the legislative priorities change. Would issues of importance crowd out the forty-three votes to terminate ObamaCare.
What legislation would be passed into law before the next round of elections.
What if we passed a 28th Amendment to the Constitution (THEYCANTWECAN.COM, a rough draft) that would invite these types of candidates, demand transparency, eliminate gerrymandering, encourage voter participation, and take the money out of politics.
So, why fight the fight on a dozen, or two dozen, or five dozen worthy issues on a range from the environment to gun violence when we could focus on the root -- a non-deliberative Congress corrupted by corporate America and other self-serving interests - by passing the 28th Amendment.
Google THEYCANTWECAN.COM. Make suggestions. Forward it to the concerned and the not-so-concerned. If you see something, say something, and D0 SOMETHING.