Tag Archives: legislation

There’s a Loophole for Every Law

27 Mar

We all get frustrated with our elected officials and really hate professional politicians. So someone brought up the standard refrain: “We need term limits!” The problem is–like any law–there’s a loophole.

The problem with elections is that people tend to vote for what is familiar–that’s why signs are important for political races. If you’ve seen their name several thousand times before Election Day, you’re more likely to vote for them, even if you know nothing about them. Incumbents get reelected constantly, because they have greater name recognition–after all, you’ve seen them before. The US Congress has a 91% retention rate among its members. So term limits are the solution to stopping professional politicians.

Except they don’t… and we have evidence that they don’t. We focus on the national assemblies so much, but the great thing about America, is that we have lots of little “experiments in democracy” that we call states. For the sake of amusing myself, let’s call it “minor league politics.” No two states work the same. Nebraska has the only unicameral legislature in the country (established in 1937), every one else has a state senate and house of reps, just like the national government. Texas, Maine, Arizona, and Wyoming have “citizen legislatures,” where the members only serve part-time. Because people have called for term limits for decades, some states have implemented them, with… interesting results.

Let’s take Maine, which passed a term limit referendum back in 1993. The poster child for this push is John L. Martin, who had been the Democratic Speaker of the House for 18 years (at that point). The referendum kicked him out of his job the following year, but six years later, he served for eight years in the state senate, and is currently serving for six years back in the House of Representatives. Why? Because these “citizen politicians” found a loophole. The law says you can’t serve more than eight years in consecutive terms in any branch of the legislature. So he simply jumped to the Senate, then jumped back to the House. This is also the case in Ohio, where you can only serve two terms in any one branch, and many of these full-time politicians simply jump from one branch to the other with their party’s blessing.

I hear you say, “the limits aren’t the problem, it’s the way it’s written!” So here’s where I both praise and degrade my home state of Arizona. We also have term limits–no more than three terms in EITHER house. Also the state senators serve two year terms, same as the house reps. Okay, problem solved, right? No–what that means is that no particular politician gets enough experience or clout to be independent of their party, so the political parties actually have more power, and it encourages lockstep thinking.

It also forces these part-timers to think about higher office, and think less about doing their job there. We have a multitude of state offices that are elected, none of which are term limited. In fact, George Hunt, the first governor of Arizona, served seven terms… and the only reason those weren’t consecutive, was because he was appointed Ambassador to Thailand just to get rid of him. That is certainly not a worry today, because governors are more likely to run for US Senate, or get picked up as a cabinet secretary. Even Governor Hunt (mocked as “King George VII”) was only sent to Thailand to prevent him running for US Senate!

So although everyone says, “We should throw all the bums out,” voters also say, “But my congressman is great!” Term limits doesn’t solve the problem. Politicians write the laws, and therefore, they’re the ones best suited to take advantage of the loopholes. So what is the solution? Simple–vote for the challenger, even if what they stand for disgusts you. Because if you keep turning out dysfunctional legislature after dysfunctional legislature, even the stupidest politician is going to get the message. “Oh, we need to do something.” And that’s the most important lesson our elected leaders need to learn.

But I could be talking out my back end here; what do you think? Could term limits still work? Let me know in the comments below! Then after that, pick up one of my books. Or if $1.99 is too rich for your blood, download one of my stories for free!

The More Laws, the Less Justice

20 Feb

Yesterday I wrote about stupid signage, which I think speaks to a deeper trend in American society. There are those who believe that we just don’t have the right laws on the books and those just wish those laws would leave them alone. Where do you stand?

I think you can guess where I stand from the title of this post, but let me be charitable with those who don’t think like me. Take that water quality standards legislation I mentioned–why doesn’t every state have Oregon’s standards? You should be able to eat 6 ounces (175 g) of fish per day without getting sick. Completely agree–however, the moment you write that into law, there are consequences. After all, “there are no solutions, only trade-offs.”

Say you are a PRP (potentially responsible party) who dumps pollutants into the water. Although you could–in theory–be a local business or light industrial, usually the EPA only goes after big companies. So that factory has a choice. In order to comply with the new standards, the factory will have to start storing the waste in 55 gallon barrels, and then find a new hazardous waste dump to store it at. You can’t keep it on your own premises for more than 90 days. That costs money. Does the cost mean the price of our product has to go up to pay for it? Are the fines for pollution cheaper than price to pay to responsibly dump it? Does the cost of the pollution make the factory not profitable? If you’re not making money, then there’s no point keeping the factory open.

So Oregon may face a problem–if you lose a factory, you lose the taxes that factory paid, and the hundreds of jobs that factory created. And you get VERY angry voters. Guaranteed, Baja California don’t care about water quality. And if you’re trying to build a new chemical factory, Oregon is not going to be your first choice. So state legislators have to decide how to balance the environmental quality versus economic development.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the “forgotten man” when trying to sell his New Deal to the American people:

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

FDR’s speech, April 7, 1932

But who pays for these grand plans? I hate to turn to a Yale sociology professor, but a hundred and fifty years ago, soc classes were a lot different:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or, in better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X… What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. he is the man who never is thought of…. I call him the forgotten man… He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays…

William Graham Sumner, The Forgotten Man, 1876

In the modern world, no one is truly independent. What happens in China affects Oregon. The entrepreneur living in Portland has the choice to set up his business across the river in Vancouver, Washington if the laws are more favorable to him. States and countries compete for businesses because they need the tax money. And if Citizen C can’t get a job in Oregon–or pays too much in taxes–he can move somewhere he can pay less and still work. So I don’t believe you can legislate yourself into a utopia, because the smart man will always find a way around them.

However, I only see this from my perspective. Like I said, I like clean water too, but there’s a reason why the national standards are so low–because they’re trying to not kill business while saving the environment. But do you think? What am I missing in this argument? Let me know in the comments below!

Why use two words, when you can use several?

19 Feb

From the “none of us are as dumb as all of us” department, I happened to see this post and smiled. Recently, I’ve had to endure a lot of environmental legislation, so someone thinking that “no fishing” wasn’t encompassing enough puts a lot more faith in humanity than I do.

Contaminated fish IS a serious problem. Trust me, I’ve seen so many different diagrams about how pollutants accumulate in the bodies of plankton, which then accumulate in higher amounts with fish that eat the plankton, that accumulate higher in creatures that eat the fish (including us). The point being that most fish that you pull from your local rivers are not safe to eat… or at least, not safe to eat a lot of it.

So… how safe is safe? The national water quality standards for eating fish (to avoid pollution) in the US is 17.5 g. Most of my readers outside the US would think, “Damn, that’s small,” but although scientists use the metric system here, most Americans don’t. My mind (and most voters) don’t know from grams, so I would transpose that into ounces. Seventeen and a half ounces seems perfectly fine–and it is–that’s 500 grams. So when setting the water quality standards, most people would just shrug at 17.5 g and move on.

It took a lot of work by environmental groups to educate the public that 17.5 g was NOT acceptable. The most effective way is the dinner plate graphic that I show here. When you see the amounts of fish on your plate, suddenly it makes a lot more sense. They used that information to convince Washington State lawmakers to change the standards. And if you happen to be tribal or Asian or urban poor and feel the need to fish to add more protein to your diet, this is a major concern.

Which brings us back to that overly verbose sign–someone thought “If we just say, ‘No Fishing,’ then someone will say, ‘Well, I used a bucket, that’s not fishing, right?’ So best to cover all bases.” They didn’t go to the obvious “Some idiots won’t read your sign.” I remember when I lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I was walking along the canal and saw someone taking old chicken wings and using them to bait crab traps. There was a sign that said “no fishing” within easy sight distance. This fisherman didn’t think, “Why don’t I just fry up this chicken?” No, he said to himself, “I want crab and I don’t care how I get it.”

Eating crabs or fish from the Elizabeth River probably wouldn’t hurt if you did it once in a while. If you did it all the time, you’re gonna start losing hair. So why use two words when you can use several? Because people are trying to avoid frivolous lawsuits. There’s nothing on the bottle that says you can’t use Gorilla Glue on your hair, but if you took a moment to think about it, you wouldn’t.

I should go into a rant about “poorer but wiser,” but I should save that for another post. But what do you think? Are you start fishing off the city pier? Should we be stricter about water quality so you CAN fish off the city pier? Should we have any signs at all? Let me know in the comments below!

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