Tag Archives: politics

Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View

27 Jun

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve found recently that often I can’t take things at face value. I’m always thinking, “What’s the angle?” “What are they trying to push.” This applies to the news, to ads, but most recently, to holidays.

So my city recently celebrated Juneteenth—when the last slaves were informed they were free—which was June 19th, 1865. The City of Phoenix took the day off; Tempe had Juneteenth flags in the streets (alternating with the new Pride flags, for the month of June). I celebrated it by going to two bars, getting drunk, and having great conversations with vets. Now when discussing Juneteenth with my wife, more specifically its place in civil religion (yeah, these are the conversations I have with my lover—you know you want it), she gave a reason for its recognition that I interpreted as “polite.”

She was of the opinion that this, in addition to MLK Day, were two holidays dedicated to civil rights and it shows the shift in our national discourse and what we choose to celebrate. She put it in the lens of “civil religion” (which is often given as a pejorative), the religious-style way that we approach our national identity. We have sacred documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence), hymns (America the Beautiful, National Anthem), liturgy (“I pledge allegiance to the flag…), and pilgrimage sites (White House, The Mall, Arlington National Cemetery).

But there’s a reason its pejorative; the reason for many of those “sacred” items in our civil religion were done for cynical reasons. The Constitution was a compromise between different political factions. The Pledge of Allegiance was added around WWI to ensure immigrants identified themselves as Americans; “under God” was added in the 1950’s to fight Communist “godless atheism.”

Which leads to holidays. Independence Day should have been June 2nd, when it was signed, but since it was only announced on the 4th, that’s the day that stuck. Columbus Day became a holiday to honor the Columbian Exposition in Chicago around 1892, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. Well, that’s the polite answer. It was really to ensure the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants and get their vote for McKinley.

Juneteenth might honor the end of slavery in America, but it only became popularized after the Tulsa riots on May 30-June 1, 1921 that destroyed Black Wall Street. (Not our finest hour. Also–came up while drinking in bars on Juneteenth.) We don’t like remembering a disaster, so we remember the positive. But at a time when racial politics are emphasized, it’s a way to ensure the loyalty of millions of African-Americans. Now—does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate it? By no means! We should remember ending slavery. We should remember Tulsa. We should remember Columbus AND the destruction of the native peoples as a result.

But the cynical side of me says to not pretend that this is proof of an evolution of the national consciousness. This is a political move to appeal to areas that have a large African-American population, or in the case of Tempe, people who want that evolution of the national consciousness. But I could be too cynical. Is it all right to do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or to put a polite fiction over a gritty reality? Let me know in the comments below!

When the Parable Becomes TOO Close to Reality

23 Jun

Sci-fi is a great way of talking about current political issues without offending people. I remember Star Trek addressing climate change in “Force of Nature” back in 1993. Watching it now in 2022, I’m realizing that TNG was a little too on the nose, but not for the reasons the writers thought.

I’ve been watching a LOT more Next Generation, because it’s available on Pluto for free, and it’s nice brain candy that is inoffensive and I don’t have to pay much attention to… because I’ve watched most of these episodes many times before. So it’s getting through Season 7, where the writing is far superior, and it hit “Force of Nature.” As with many episodes, it’s only about minute 10 that I realize, “Oh, this is the climate change episode!”

So my eyes roll. For those not familiar with this particular ep, the Enterprise finds out that a particular unstable part of space is getting more unstable because high warp energy is wrecking it. Turns out his particular part of space isn’t unusual; there’s tons of places in space where the same thing can occur. So the solution is for everyone to keep their speed down to Warp 5 to prevent further environmental damage.

Okay–agree or disagree with this parable for climate change, what bugs me about this episode is not the message. It’s the fact that the consequences of this episodes are never mentioned again. You would think that the socialist utopian Federation would put in a speed limit and would enforce it, but nah… that constrains the writers of future episodes, and since stories move at the speed of plot, we just simply forgot about this.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she said, “Wow – just like climate change now!” That’s when it occurred to me; maybe this episode was a little too on the nose. Even those who claim to really care about climate change seem to forget about it when faced with greater issues. Pew Research–one of the most trusted survey agencies–say that Americans care about climate change more than ever. But it’s still low on priorities compared to other issues. So we might care enough to make a lot of noise on the issue, but not if it’s going to impact the economy, education, or social security. So just like Star Trek, when preventing climate change makes the story difficult to write, we ignore it.

In a strange way, Hollywood preached exactly what we think about this issue, if not in the way that they intended. But I could be wrong — let me know in the comments below!

Adventures in Mass Transit

15 Jun

When two idiots decide they’re going to fistfight on a city bus, you know that something is terribly wrong with mass transit. I’ve had the joy of riding the rails for a year now and I’ve realized that it’s just like working in the emergency department. You see ALL of humanity.

About a month and change ago, some high schooler decided to try and beat me through the intersection. He failed. Mind you, no one was hurt, but it did wreck my twenty year old “salt car,” and left my family with only one ride. But hey, I got in the habit of taking the light rail to my work anyway, what was one more step?

Apparently everything. My home is about five miles from the train stop, and it’s a straight shot down a busy road. However, because it’s on the main run next to the library, it’s the main homeless route through Tempe, a college town that’s rich, liberal, and tolerant. They do a lot of good programs, including free bus passes for kids, and a few neighborhood bus system within the town

The difference between free and cheap can be measured in miles. The free bus service means the homeless can ride it without paying a damn thing, which is important when summer hits here (as it does now), with high temperatures ranging between 100 and 120. “But it’s a dry heat!” We joke, but the lack of humidity makes a huge difference. I can walk around town in triple digits here; forget trying to do that back home in Illinois with 90% humidity.

Now if I’m lucky, I can make a connection between my light rail stop and the main bus line. If not, it’s supposed to be a twenty minute wait. Except frequently, they cancel the bus I need at that moment, or it’s horribly, horribly late. So this simple connection makes an hour commute into an hour and a half… which makes all the difference in the world.

I know, poor baby… but then there’s a bus experience. People ride the bus because they have no other choice. That means they’re either too poor, too cheap (that’s me), or can’t drive. To quote Fiddler on the Roof, “It’s no shame being poor, but it’s no great honor either.” The poor are not the problem, it’s the can’t drive… because usually the reason is because they’re crazy.

The guy who thinks it’s funny to yell into my bus on the way home. The woman who gets into a yelling match because you close a window (in said 100 degree heat). The guys who get into a fist fight because he spilled a beer onto the floor. Think about that for a second. One man was so upset that another made a mess that he went from a shouting match to a fist fight within a minute. Same guy decided to not get off the bus, until he realized the driver was willing to wait for the cops to show up.

So if you want to encourage more public transit, you need to address security above all, and following that, convenience. You need to make them safe and easier than driving. But that would cost too much, so really, who are we fooling?

Now I’m a believer in public transit and I’m complaining. But maybe I’m missing something. Is it the inevitable “tragedy of the commons,” where when it belongs to everyone, no one cares about it? Or is there something deeper at play? Let me know in the comments below!

All (Federation) Politics Are Local

14 Jun

I’ve become a little obsessed about the Star Trek universe lately (not sorry), starting with economics, which leads to volunteer leadership, but that leads us to Federation politics. How do politics work in the 24th Century?

Star Trek stays incredibly silent on this issue, because let’s face it, politics would ruin the entire socialist utopia theme. No one wants to see how the replicator is made. We do see politics within Starfleet, usually with admirals trying to screw each other over, or screw over the captain , but office politics is understandable and expected. But the civilian in the street who didn’t make it to Academy? How are they run?

The easy answer is… they’re not. Or at least, not at a level that is readily apparent. It’s also very clear that in the Federation, the individual member states can run their local politics however they want. So I imagine that the Andorians still have a Queen, the Vulcans probably have the most efficient unelected meritocracy imaginable, and Earth has sloppy, sloppy democracy. Earth doesn’t have much of an administration because they don’t need one. Computers put you instantly in contact with anyone on planet (and probably in the solar system, thanks to nutrinos), and a time delay with your video letter outside of your solar system. However, someone still needs to fix the roads, or at least, the replicator so you can do it yourself.

Even in our modern day, politicians will spend millions to get a job that pays thousands, because the power involved is worth it. So I imagine that Earth has a single local government, because when you can breakfast in San Francisco and immediately teleport for lunch in Paris, why would you have single-member districts? Of course, that’s kinda true today, and we still have them. Regardless, I imagine that there’s elections to become a planetary selectman (select-being?).

Just like local politics today, the Federation man on the street will have no clue who this person is until you need them. In the volunteer economy of Star Trek, their entire job will be to beg, borrow, or steal people to fix or build stuff. I’m guessing that they do that through the distribution of perks (see previous posts). How many of these people are there? It depends. My town of Phoenix has one council member per 650,000 citizens. Chicago has one alderman per 50,000. New York City has one alderman per 300,000, and they have borough governments as well. So it could be evenly distributed based on region, or multiple selectmen based on population, or possibly both.

Then you’ve got the selectmen’s boss who administer the elected officials. I’m guessing these aren’t elected directly, but rather elected from the officials themselves, like electing a Speaker of the House. They handle the big projects like the “Probably Going to Kill Us Machine ™” that will expand Science! That leaves the Federation itself, which has a Council. But the two times we’ve seen the Council (in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), it’s like… thirty people, mostly aliens. Which I imply means humans get one seat on the Council, like the United Nations. So somewhere, there’s a Human Assembly (and doesn’t that sound racist) or Convention that meets on local human issues among their colonies. Those are elected from the planetary leadership and they elect their representative on the Council.

In the clips from Star Trek IV & VI, you see Starfleet represented there, but for the most part, Starfleet operates with very little civilian oversight. Like city employees today, sure, I bet the Council decides who to go with war with, but by the time the Romulans cross the Neutral Zone, it’s probably a moot point. So what does the Council do? Probably what the United Nations does now; a lot of speeches about human species rights and not much else.

Side Note: That does make me wonder about the implications of the beginning meeting in Star Trek VI… why would we mothball Starfleet? If there’s no money to count, people are dying (sometimes literally) to get into the Academy, why would we lower our military stance at all?!

So what did I forget? I’m sure there’s a copy of the Federation Charter online, but it is never covered in the shows, so… how canon is it? Let me know what I missed in the comments below!

Veterans of the Dominion War, Post #1701

13 Jun

I’ve had way too much fun talking Star Trek last week – but it did get me to a concept – the volunteer economy. We don’t have to wait for the 24th century, it already exists. So how does it work? Does it work?

I’ve been in many volunteer organizations, often as an officer, so I have a pretty good idea of how they work. It is a perfect example of a world without money functions. So let’s guesstimate what the Star Trek future is like by creating a veterans organization – since I’m a member of one today.

Okay, let’s say that you want to create the local chapter of the Veterans of the Dominion War, and you get the local (Earth) authorities to grant you a meeting hall. You decide to elect officers and have a bar/lounge area where veterans can come together and eat and drink. Officers organize events and decide the rules to the bar.

People LOVE becoming the commander/captain/president of the chapter, few want to do the work. So out of an executive committee of nine, two people do the actual work, whether they have the title or not. But that’s okay in this case because the post kinda runs itself; after all, it’s a building and the drinks are free. Except if something breaks down, which it does even in Star Trek, then you either need to wait for the civilian administration to fix it (which they never explain, but I bet it SUCKS), or you hope you’ve got a retired engineer in your chapter and beg him to fix the replicator. Or climate control. Or the roof. Thankfully, there usually is, and they do it… but it ain’t what you call quick.

Okay, but I’m betting these vets aren’t going to be satisfied with synthahol, and they know how to play the black market game that obviously exists. That means organizing a rotation of bartenders to make sure that Barry doesn’t drink up all the booze. (Yeah, Barry! Leave some for the rest of us!) Plus a system to ensure that Barry doesn’t drink too much at one sitting. Also, although bartenders aren’t supposed to drink while on duty, can you tell the smell difference between synthetic scotch and the real stuff?

So you may have a bartender who drinks all the good stuff or simply takes it home without permission. Even without the allure of money (we had a post commander who embezzled funds), I can think of two bartenders we’ve had at our post who were just BAD, and they were all volunteers. They drove members away, they drove volunteers away, and… you better have a disciplinary system in place. But no one wants to do that, so it’s always too little, too late. Many members will move down the street and found VDW Post… let’s call it 1701-A. 🙂

Removing money does not remove resource scarcity, which means you have to have a system to deal with it, and volunteer officers may or may not have the skills to handle it. I’ve been a chapter president and I lost most of my members because I didn’t tell one to stay home. This is the problem of running things without the authority to back it up.

Can you come up with better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

And the next president is…

7 May

…no one you know. We’re still three years out from the next presidential election in America, but that doesn’t keep people from placing bets on it. However, I know that all of these are sucker bets.

Just for the record, you can’t bet legally in the US on political races. Lawmakers put that under the list of “bad things” that casinos can’t do, but the UK has no such scruples. The belief that voting odds can change elections is… not unprecedented.

Of course, the big question will be “Is Joe Biden running again?” The smart money says no, because he’ll be 81 and is already looking like he’s not sure where he is. So common belief is that he will step aside in favor of his VP, Kamala Harris. Despite all the hoopla that she gets for being the triple threat (black, Asian, and a woman), she’s not that impressive when she’s actually running. She didn’t even make it to Iowa. So despite the great step-up that gives her, she’d get trounced in the primaries.

The next question is… is Donald Trump running again. Despite his massive negative backlash, he’s still got a solid positive rating among Republicans. Compare to him to the list of “who cares” in the Republican primary and he wins easily. Whether he could win the big race depends on whose running against him. However, Trump himself will be 77 years old, and he’s starting to look his age. So I doubt he’s going to do it again.

Then this UK list hits names that are exciting, but doubtful. Nikki Haley is exciting, but front runners rarely win the primaries, because they appeal to a wide range of voters… not the diehards who vote in the primaries. Mike Pence appeals to Christian fundamentalists, but only in a “yeah, he was VP to Trump, right?” sort of way.

But the list gets more difficult to put your finger on. Ron DeSantis (governor of Florida) I believe could run, and he’s got a good track record, but he’s not very exciting. Alexandra Osasco-Cortez certainly has a huge Twitter presence, and shouts a lot, but I think she will fail in more conservative places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Then you get the first ladies–why on Earth would they run? They know what a presidential campaign is like. Then they list celebrities; again, they have enough money to run, but the second they announce, every single bad mistake in their lives will be scrutinized. I think Dwayne Johnson likes being everyone’s favorite uncle; why would he give that up? Jeff Bezos would have to give up his comfortable billionaire lifestyle to have people yell at him for being a rich bastard? Nah…

The ones at the end of the list are the most likely. Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, recently making a name for herself among Republicans. Tim Scott, senator from South Carolina, a black Republican who gave the response to the presidential address… very articulate. For the Dems, Pete Buttigieg, current Secretary of Transportation, might make another shot. He’s more experienced, gay, and Midwestern. Not quite the same triple threat as Kamala, but a lot more appealing on the stage.

But it’s just as likely at that point to be some governor or senator you’ve never heard of, which is why it’s foolish to speculate at this early in the process. But election pollsters have to eat just like the rest of us. What do you think? Is my analysis missing a critical point? Let me know in the comments below! Then vote with you wallet and buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too much for your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’m Marcus Johnston and I approve this message. 🙂

Once We Win, Kill Our Allies

2 May

After winning any revolution, the new victors first step is to kill their allies. Not all of them, but enough that they don’t have to share the power with them all. If they can’t, this leads to civil war. This is also true in any election, though not as bloody.

What do I mean? Let’s start with the bloody examples first. In Germany, Hitler came to power on the backs of his party apparatus and his paramilitary, called the SA (Assualt Division) but better known as the Brown Shirts. It was the SA that beat up people at opposing political rallies, caused Kristallnacht, the destruction of so many Jewish businesses, and the Reichstag Fire, which finally gave Adolf his emergency powers. How did Hitler reward them? With the Night of the Long Knives; where he sent his more trusted goons (the SS) out to kill every single leader of the SA on charges of sodomy (which were true) and treason against the state, and then dismantled the SA entirely.

Why? Because Ernest Rohm was a threat to his leadership; an alternate charismatic leader with whom he didn’t want to share power. So he and hundreds of his followers had to go.

When you don’t do this, you get something like the Irish Civil War of 1922-3, where the former revolutionaries, united on the cause of Irish independence, suddenly couldn’t agree on the form that independence would take. Eamon De Valera and his Fianna Fail refused to accept the “limited sovereignty” that Michael Collins and his Fine Gael had negotiated from the British. So Eamon withdrew his support, and eventually, his followers (the second version of the Irish Republican Army) started fighting the Irish Free State. Collins was killed, De Valera was defeated, and Ireland… eventually became a republic anyway ten years later.

On the whole, it seemed like a pointless exercise–except it wasn’t. They winners couldn’t afford to let their allies get in the way of ruling. They didn’t want to, but egos get in the way, and… well, as James Madison once said, “If men were angels, there’d be no need for governments.”

On a less bloody version, voters often wonder why politicians go back on their campaign promises once they get into office. The truth is… because they can’t. They promise so many items that they can increase their voter bases, because something they say will have to appeal to you. However, once they get into office, they finally understand the limits of their rule. So when a politician gets elected, they can either a) conveniently ignore that promise, b) give lip service to that promise, or c) fulfill it to some degree, because that ally’s support is still useful.

So “killing your allies” in the modern sense is simply cutting them off from your support. Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland, was perfectly happy to let the Antifa protestors burn his city to the ground… until the election. After all, they were on his side, right? But once he was reelected, defeating the opposition (who said, “I am Antifa”), suddenly the protests weren’t as charming anymore. After the New Years’ Eve Riots, they are being put down a lot more harshly. He didn’t need them anymore AND he realized that they weren’t on his side. BLM is getting tired of Antifa at their rallies, the moderate Democrats are tired of the progressives, and the whole cycle of purging your allies begins all over again.

Of course, I could just be talking about speculation, not facts. What do you think? Are the parties more unified than I believe? Is there coalitions that stay functionally together after victory? Let me know in the comments below! Then vote with your pocketbook and get one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I am Marcus Johnston and I approve this message.

“I didn’t change, the party changed!”

9 Apr

We’re in the midst of a party realignment–what it means to be Democrat or Republican in the 20’s is not what it was even ten years ago. How will this end? Well, we can see what happened in America when this happened at least twice before.

It’s a common fallacy that how things are today are how things have always been. America tends to be a two-party state, although it wasn’t designed that way, it’s a consequence of having single-member districts. When you can only elect one representative for one area, you need to have a large enough party organization to cover multiple district races in order to promote change. You have to convince enough voters that “we have the votes to get you what you want,” and that’s a lot easier if you can get a majority in the legislature.

In India, they’re able to do this by creating coalitions of like-minded parties. When they talk about the BJP gaining a majority, what they’re really saying is the BJP and its allies, which are regional groups that can enact change in their individual states. Britain has its Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, Sein Fein, and Unionist Party that all have seats in London… but only because they dominate their local legislatures. In America, Bernie Sanders is a Socialist senator because Vermont had a Socialist Party organization… it’s now divided into Progressive Party and Liberty Union Party, but Bernie’s been popular enough he can just call himself “independent.”

But in America, the Republicans weren’t there from the beginning–they only arose in 1850–in reaction to the rising anti-slavery movement. Many Northerners were disgusted by the Whig Party’s compromise in the expansion of slavery into the western territories. As a result, the Whigs divided into the new Republican camp, went back to the Democratic camp, or created a new party called Constitutional Union. The Whigs themselves were a compromise of people disgusted by Andrew Jackson’s domination of Democratic politics… which at the time, was the only political party.

When enough of the elected officials decide to break away from their party to form their own, it tends to be effective. Take the Progressive Party in 1912. Theodore Roosevelt, probably our most badass president, broke away from the Republican Party to create his own party because he (and others like him) needed to purify American politics. This involved radical ideas like equitable worker compensation, improved child labor laws, minimum wage legislation, a limited workweek, graduated income tax and allowing women the right to vote. Contrary to what you might believe, modern “progressives” have nothing in common with these pioneers. Minimum wage laws were there to protect white workers against the wave of cheap immigrant labor. Child labor ban meant employers couldn’t scam their regular workers out of jobs. Women’s votes came with the prohibition of alcohol.

In areas where one-party dominates, but doesn’t split off and form another party, candidates are labeled differently. They don’t dare let go of the party title, because only a godless heathen / racist pig would vote for the actual opposition party. In Chicago, it’s Machine Democrats and Reformist Democrats. In national politics, we talk about Progressive Democrats and Old-School Democrats, because Americans won’t vote for a Progressive Party candidate… after all, “they have no chance of winning.”

What happens to the splitters is what happened to the Progressive Party back in 1916… some of their ideas were absorbed in order to get the voters back into the party. For those who didn’t think they went far enough, they joined the Democrats, which is why the Democrats in the 1920’s stopped being the party of big business and became the party of organized labor. The Tea Party Republicans got absorbed into the Old School system. Nowadays, there’s a Liberty Caucus within the GOP that fights against the big business emphasis of the Old School.

So what will happen? The Democrats will absorb some of the progressive’s aims, to keep the wave of college-educated younger voters, but if they absorb too many, they will lose their regular base voters, and have to realign back to the middle. Republicans are starting to become the voice of the working class, but if they focus too much on the Old School views, they’ll lose voters again. So I imagine a massive Democratic loss in the 2022 mid-terms, which will force them back to the middle again.

Personally, I would like a multiple party system–make political parties more ideologically honest–but I don’t hold out much hope. But what do you think? Do you think there’s a chance that either the Dems or GOP will split into a competing parties? Will we keep going to the extremes? Let me know in the comments below! Meanwhile, vote with your paycheck, and buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too much of a risk with your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’m Marcus Johnston and I approve this message. 😀

Bend Your Ear A Tick

6 Apr

A decade ago, I ran for public office, and I learned two things. One, everyone has a cause. Two, everyone just wants to be heard. In a democracy constitutional republic, if you want to represent, you must also listen, and yet, it is the hardest thing in the world to actually do.

Think about your own life–social media and the twenty-four news cycle has generated so much talking that it has become background noise. When I see CNN or Fox News on the screen in a bar, the volume is turned down, and I might barely read the captioning… but I see the headlines. The news agencies have realized that. They need to get your attention first, and then, pump out content going to keep your attention on the screen. Hence the public discourse has moved to the extremes, to either get you interested or outraged.

If you read this blog, you know that I fall right of center… or at least, I used to. By modern standards, I’m an arch-conservative. But what I’m grateful for is that you bother to read these words. You bother to “listen.” Now that doesn’t seem like much to ask, but ask yourself, whom in your own family do you actually listen to?

Take my own–my wife tunes me out when talking about my writing projects, I tune her out when talking about her research. When my son hit superheroes, I just patiently wait, and when my daughter mentions her friends at school, I just wait as well. At extended family dinners, there was one uncle that you never talked religion around (kinda difficult with two ministers in the family), because frankly, that’s ALL he wanted to talk about.

So when I ran for office, I would run into the person who was passionate about gun rights, then next minute, the person who was fired up about abortion. After that, I would run into the person who wanted to repeal half the amendments to the constitution. Who do you actually listen to?

This last year, with people unable to listen to each other, they’ve become angrier than ever. Some even go out into the streets. When I’ve gone to a march or a rally in the past, what I’ve learned is that everyone is there for very different reasons. When I write my congressman, I get a form letter back, and I do not feel respected. Then again, he represents hundreds of thousands of people. When I wrote my state reps, I was pleasantly surprised that I got a personal letter back–he disagreed with me, but he was very polite, and I appreciated the effort.

Even with folks I would mark “crazy,” you can sometimes get something out of it. “Repeal half the Constitution” guy changed my mind on the popular election of senators (17th Amendment). In case you’re curious, short version: the people should be represented by the House, states (by their legislatures) in the Senate. However, I marked the guy as “crazy” from the beginning, so it was so much easier to tune him out.

My wife’s pet peeve is not being listened to, and so in a world that progressively doesn’t listen, she’s pissed off a lot more often. My own boss has “yelled” at me to slow down, not just immediately answer/correct a problem a client has to get it off my plate, and research what the real trouble is. (Usually because I screw it up worse when I fix it quickly.) When we’re told to “work hard, play hard,” slowing down to actually listen to someone and do it right is the hardest of all. When we slow down, you might be surprised what you learn.

Of course, what you might learn is that “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” Or that, “Gee, maybe I shouldn’t talk religion around my uncle.” Is it worth listening to everyone? How do you determine when you tune someone out or not? Let me know in the comments below! If you still like “listening” to my voice, check our my books. However, if $1.99 is too rich for your blood, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. But thank you for reading either way; it’s good to be heard.

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!

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ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI

We may see things that we don't even imagine.

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