The Birth of the United States Parliament: Update

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Update:

October 7, 2013

When I first published this post back in August, I honestly thought that neither a government shutdown nor a Debt Ceiling default was within the realm of possibility in a world of rational people.  After all, I thought, in the end cooler heads would prevail.

I’ll never make that mistake again!

Now with the House of Representatives being held as political prisoners, because the GOP’s super-conservative faction (is cult too strong a term–maybe not! Look up the definition of a cult) has decided that the idea of majority rule as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution no longer applies to them, and therefore, they can stage an ideological and, therefore, legislative coup, violating both the Constitution and their pledge to defend it.  Of course, in their twisted logic, they believe they are defending the Constitution from the rest of us who are…well, just the rest of us.  The notion of majority rule can just go to hell.  They threaten to take the nation over the socioeconomic edge into a pit of unknown calamities, though, the economy crashing down around our heads is likely to be one major consequence.

After the election in fall 2012, I was thinking, ‘Okay, now we can get back to Congress doing some real business.  The next election is a long way off and I’m burned out with the 24-hour election cycle we were subjected to by the media, and anybody else with an axe to grind and a Twitter account.’  Now, I can’t wait for Fall 2014 to get here soon enough, presuming we have some semblance of an electoral process still intact, so through some miracle, this group of constitutional insurgents can get voted out of office.  Way out.  Maybe to be the new boots on the ground in Afghanistan as we pull our troops out.  I’m sure they and the Taliban would have most interesting debates over ideological sledge hammering.  The Taliban are against compromise, too.  Oops, did I just compare the tea party insurgents to the insurgents in Afghanistan?  Well, of course not.  I obviously just used the illustration to highlight the fact the tea party politicians are pathologically opposed to compromise.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who have been Extreme Thinkover readers since the beginning, The Sniffer and I are very pleased with the Affordable Care Act rollout.  Minute by minute, Americans’ demand for access to health insurance is building as a wave against those who would still deny them that.  And as the Exchanges get the opening kinks worked out, the Whiff’ and I both have this strong feeling the initial registration and enrollment period will exceed the everybody’s predictions, perhaps by the many millions.

And all the Republicans have to present to the nation as their alternative national health care plan remains that one blank piece of paper that Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell were so smug about in January 2010 when they met with the President.  Oh yeah, and then a month and a half later President Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.  Majority rules.

Now we are closer to devolving into a parliamentary morasse than when I posted this essay:

The Birth of the the United States Parliament

Sometimes you get an insight by reading what is going on someplace else in the world. I’ll admit that’s not a ground-shaking revelation, but the insight can be a point of sudden snap-focus into what is happening right here under your nose.

In my case, this “ah-hah!” moment came from reading a New York Times Op-Ed article by Shmuel Rosner, a Tel Aviv journalist and senior political editor for The Jewish Journal. His piece, titled, “The Tyranny of the Minority” (2 August 2013) discusses changes that are taking place in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, regarding adjustments to the election laws that determine the threshold percentage needed to win a seat in body.  The specifics are not important to my point (you can read the article if you are interested), but the impact of the changes on how the minority parties will have to negotiate to have a voice caught my attention.

I contend we have in the United States House of Representatives not just the birth, but the rapid evolutionary growth of a parliamentary structure; a structure that, according to my reading of the United States Constitution, should never exist.

For some context, here’s what’s happening in the Knesset.  As the percentage threshold for winning a seat in the assembly is raised, the smaller parties that might have had just one or two seats under the old rule are now unable to win even a single seat.  Since these small parties represent minorities to begin with, such as different Arab groups, and more extreme Jewish conservative and liberal parties, they are faced with a huge dilemma.  How does a single party negotiate with one (or more) of the others to piece together a coalition that might mean compromising with a group they find politically distasteful?  And even worse, from their perspective, what if their only solution was to compromise and attach themselves to one of the mainline “Jewish” parties?

Rosner writes,

Raising the threshold was proposed on the theory that it could help stabilize Israel’s political scene by strengthening the two leading parties.  It may not: Some say it would only create more midsize parties. But at least it would fix the currents system’s main pitfall, which is to discourage compromise among all parties by encouraging the proliferation of small ones.

Huh? An image began to form in my mind sketching out what is happening in the House of Representatives as we observe the growing influence of smaller and smaller groups of politically narrowly-aligned representatives declaring that they are fighting perceived tyranny in the size and function of the Federal Government, but ironically, growing closer to manifesting and exercising a true “tyranny of the minority” over the House.

Rosner’s closing point was my snap-focus realization:

For a country as varied and complicated as Israel, the representation of minorities is crucial.  But for a country as varied and complicated as Israel, learning to compromise is even more important.

Bang! Substitute the words “United States” for “Israel” and what emerges is a powerful statement of what I see is the affliction that is now crippling the House of Representatives, and placing the balance of power of the Legislative Branch outlined in the Constitution in jeopardy.

Read More…

30 Governors Open Health Care Ghettos: October 1, 2013

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The governors from over half of the 50 states have or are considering refusing to establish Health Care Exchanges and to participate in Medicaid as provided for by the Affordable Care Act, (ACA) cynically known as “Obamacare.”  My assessment is that the consequences of this decision by the Chief Elected Officers of these states is going to in actuality create a third-tier, low quality health care environment.  Simply put, those states that offer to their residents full participation in the rights and privileges provided by the ACA, which is the law of the land, will develop in a few short years, into first-tier, high quality health care systems.  The states  that don’t, however, will within a similar number of a years see their health care, both private and public, degenerate into a ghetto of medical inferiority.

I call it…Read More

ACA Aftermath: Three Little Pigs & the Big Bad Wolf

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Three Little Pigs. Silly Symphony Original Release Poster, 1933. Courtesy Walt Disney Company.

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs?  You know, one pig built a house out of straw and a second built a house out of sticks, while the third built a house out of bricks.  The antagonist is the iconic “Big Bad Wolf” whose ravenous appetite for pork knew no bounds.  Endowed with an impressive lung capacity he goes to each of the little pig’s houses and, as the story goes, “He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down!”  (It’s more fun if you say it out loud with all the enthusiasm and glee a four year old would put into it.) The house of straw immediately collapses under this pneumatic assault, and the one made of sticks fares no better.  Their plump porcine owners scramble to find shelter in the house made of brick, which as we all know, survived the wolf’s hurricane-force winds, unscathed.  It is, of course a morality tale about being wise to the ways of the world and “building” the various parts of one’s life out of material that can withstand its big bad wolves, or storms, be they actual or virtual.  Either that or a clever publicity story concocted by the bricklayers union, but I prefer the former.

Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) there has been non-stop huffing and puffing by the Republican opponents of the law, who thought they were going to be rewarded with a Health Care house that was made out of straw, or at the worst, of wood.  SCOTUS, they reasoned, would strike down all or part of it so that they could legislatively “huff and puff” and finish blowing the house down.

Big Bad Wolf: “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” Three Little Pigs, 1933. Courtesy Walt Disney Company.

But it turns out that the Court took the position of the third little pig and, in declaring the law constitutional, revealed a house made of bricks.  It’s rather like that moment on the television show, Extreme Makeover (Huh, something familiar about that…), where at the moment of climax as the family stands in nervous anticipation, the crowd yells in unison, “Driver, move that bus!”  Only in this scenario, the Republicans and their conservative wolf pack are not overcome with emotion at the fabulous new home standing before them, but rather are stunned, being confronted with an edifice made out of material largely impervious to their huffing and puffing.

Here’s the thing.  The story ends with the wolf leaving in abject defeat, his hunger unsated.  Conservatives, however, apparently lack the capacity to see they have lost this fight and therefore continue to huff and puff, launching into tirades to any convenient warm body holding a mic and a TV camera, insisting that they have actually won and it’s only a matter of four months until the General Election to prove that point.  Already, they have coined a new term to try to recapture their bluster: Obamatax.

We will be subjected in coming months to their incessantly chanting this new mantra as the justification for their huffing and puffing, but they fail to realize the American people just aren’t that stupid and soon it will become distracting background noise.  In fact, it already is.  Yes, the Supreme Court changed the word “penalty” to “tax” but despite the conservative’s vitriolic demonstrations of outrage and consternation over the ACA being declared “constitutional” there is nothing new here.  Nothing.

It is completely dishonest to claim that on June 28, 2012, President Obama imposed a new tax on Americans.  Completely dishonest.  And it only piles a huge mound of disingenuous, uh, bovine excrement, on top of that dishonesty to claim that President Obama lied to the country by promising there would be no new tax.  There wasn’t and isn’t.  Chief Justice Roberts bears the responsibility for substituting the words in his ruling.  The wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of the GOP and the hyper-cons is all for show, political theater at its most profane.  Over-played and badly acted, at that.

The inconvenient truth for the Republicans is that the statue of their graven idol, Antitaxus Ultimatum, has feet of clay.  The Supreme Court just took a sledge hammer to it.  It now teeters, susceptible to collapse from the tiniest puff of air from a butterfly’s wings.  Or a poorly aimed huff from one of their own, say, perhaps one Mitt Romney?

I see two important lessons that Democrats should learn (and avoid at all costs) from the Republicans: If you lie to the American public long enough on the theory that the one who shouts the loudest is telling the truth, it does not take long for you to start believing your own lies.  Second, once you begin believing your own lies, you lose all perspective regarding the reality that ultimately the Big Bad Wolf failed.  He could not blow down the house made of bricks. Ever.

Why?  The answer springs forth in the words of the man who neither succumbed to the lie nor lost his perspective of what it means to be an American:

“…that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863. The Gettysburg Address.

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America the Entertained

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We Americans are undergoing a cultural transformation. I know in many respects that is hardly news. What I’ve been observing though is a confluence of streams of those changes in ways that suggest they are picking up speed, not unlike several rain-swollen rivers coming together to create a massive flood as it works its way down-stream.

It’s difficult to characterize all the subtleties of this growing torrent, but for purposes of this post I’m going to focus on three of these streams in the context of our national demand for endless entertainment. I’ll leave the non-entertaining analysis to the sociologists.

Let’s start with politics, specifically the debates by the Republican presidential candidates.  It seems to me the behavior we have observed not only by the candidates, but the very format and “rules” for these televised events is no longer a forum in any classical sense for a debate, that is, a discussion of genuine public policy positions the candidates hold on the important issues facing the nation. Instead, they have been converted into political theater, orchestrated bash and trash sessions analogous to two teams scrambling for a fumbled football, the referee-pundits at the opposite end of the field, commenting on what they think they observe eighty yards away.

The result takes little effort to parse. Read more…

Hospital Food for the Mind

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Bernanke, Jackson Hole and the Importance of Being Wrong

And, lo, from the great wilderness, from the antlered gate of the Hole of Jackson, the voice of the Fed, the high priest of the economy, Ben the Reserved has declared what the fortunes of our land shall be; and verily he has declared that it shall be pathetic and the fault of those who…who…who…well, those whose fault it truly is, but now that we are mired in the trap of non-liquidity and are bound ever lower, his hands are tied. And great will be the suffering of all the people. All the people who don’t have a substantial personal fortune, anyway.

I’ve got a question.  How can everybody who declares they have the true answer to our current national economic morass be right? Doesn’t somebody get to be wrong; doesn’t somebody have to be wrong, when opposing theoretical positions and hermeneutical assumptions are irreconcilable? Ben Bernanke, as head of the Federal Reserve doesn’t automatically get to be right about the future of the economy simply by virtue of his office.  Alan Greenspan, his predecessor, is Exhibit #1 for the fallacy of that attribution.

Two Economists Fighting Over Who's Wrong. Photo: Yellowstone National Park

Even a brief foray into the cyberland of pundits, op-ed columnists, and bloggers reveals that every single one of them believes he or she is right about his or her solution to our economic woes.  The reason these folk cite for their veracity is that they can point out who is clearly wrong and therefore is an ignoramus. Only rarely does one find an inspired author who actually is working from a model that has been tested under the withering scrutiny of scholarly review and has been further field tested on the roiling surf of economic reality.

The ultimate test for intellectual honesty would be to have all these very-certain self-proclaimed para-ignoramuses stand under the great antler arch in Jackson Hole, during a wild Wyoming thunderstorm with its hurricane force winds and recite the principles of their economic “truth,” on the superstitious belief that if all they were blowing was just hot air, that would dislodge one of the antlers and…the result wouldn’t be pretty.  That’s certainly much more humane than pseudo-presidential candidate Rick Perry’s lynch mob approach. Of course, he has jumped head-first into the pool of para- ignoramuses who believe they are right because they can point out people who have to be wrong.  Perry evidently has exceptional talent for pointing out who is wrong, along with great hair, but that’s another post.

The World Famous Antler Arch of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yes, they are real antlers. I've been there and walked through the arch. Note that I survived. Photo Courtesy: ALifeLessSweet.Blogspot.com

So, who’s going to be wrong? That in my mind is far more important with regard to our pathetic economy than who’s right. To sneakily slip in a biblical allusion, we really need the tares to be winnowed from the wheat.

The facts are that someone is wrong about their economic model/dogma/delusion being the one that will revitalize our economy. They need to either get out of the way or in an act of self-preservation we need nudge them out of the way so the folks with the model that will be guaranteed to work can get their economic engine running in high gear.  That we truly need.

From the pronouncements of Ben the Reserved, it’s increasingly clear that the folks who wrong are getting wronger by the day. After all, the economy stuck in pathetic is just plain wrong.

Detail of Antler Arch, Jackson Hole. Photo Courtesy Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

Hospital Food for the Mind

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I had to be in a meeting at lunch yesterday, so I didn’t get to write this post in my normal manner: thumb-typing on my smart-phone between bites of food.  I hope that doesn’t affect the quality of this piece.  I have a question:

Is the Presidency of the United States obsolete?

Up front, I’ll admit that perhaps if I was more impressed with President Obama’s performance in the job, and thought that even one individual in the Republican pack of hounds bounding and baying after his job was truly qualified, I might not even ask the question.  That not being the case, however, I am asking the question: Is the presidency, as one of the three constitutional pillars of our Union, now an obsolete political paradigm best abandoned and replaced by something else?  Or anything else?  Okay, that second question is just for the sake of rhetorical sarcasm.

Here’s my beef with the current situation.  I was always taught that the three branches of government in the United States were specifically designed to provide a balance of power, and that principle was to be inviolable to the degree that no one branch could supersede another.  This idea is based on that handy little political doctrine called the Separation of Powers.

Looking back over my lifetime, I generally place the beginning of this nightmare on the near-destruction of the Constitution by Richard Nixon. Ever since it seems we have been sliding toward a full-blown night-terror (the infamous pavor nocturnus) complete with an Incubus sitting on our national chest.

I would suggest that as the country has become more politically partisan, like a fault-line sending up waves telegraphing a coming earthquake, the election process has absorbed those toxic seismic waves. Apparently closest to the fault-line, the Judicial Branch has become all too often no more than a political equivalent of the Roman Coliseum, fought over by the conservatives and liberals in Congress–the Legislative Branch–the floor of each chamber devolving into an arena for ideological gladiating.  Only, there’s no emperor to give thumbs up or thumbs down, and so they just go on bashing each other, oblivious to their complete abdication of their Constitutionally sworn oath to govern.

Gone, in my humble opinion, is my confidence that the Justices of the Supreme Court (and the lower courts they oversee), selected once as the best of the best, view their appointment as a sacred duty to ensure their decisions rise above the everyday fray of American politics.  Yes, I know in reality it was never quite that noble, but in prior generations there was at least a generally accepted principle that the people who wore the robes and sat at that bench comprehended the high calling to which it is enshrined in the Constitution.

As for Congress, any sense of statesmanship is long gone, of dignity–even though they put on a show of being polite most of the time through gritted teeth–and an utter evaporation of “the loyal opposition.”  Factionism has permeated both the House and the Senate because factionism has permeated our political culture.  We have created this incubal demon through the ballot box and I fear it is only the beginning of a great price we will pay as a country for this gathering divisiveness.

So what of the presidency?  With the continuing deterioration of two of the three branches of government, can we expect the Executive Branch to weather the temblors and quakes unscathed?  I just do not think so.  The Legislative Branch’s warfare shows no sign of abating, even as we teeter on the verge of a double-dip recession. The Judicial Branch has become a hammer used by well-funded special interest groups to sledge their will into law, regardless of the damage they do to the rest of us.

Can one man or woman effectively push back the crumbling pillars to maintain the Constitutional integrity of the office of the President of the United States, like a reverse-Samson holding up the walls and roof, sparing the Philistines from certain death rather than bringing down the edifice upon them?  I don’t know the answer to this question.  Would the parliamentary model of governing be better?  Looking at all the problems our best international friends have (e.g., Great Britain) in managing that approach to government, I would not be eager to jump to that solution.  Nor would I ever endorse the fractured model currently used by the Russians in which two people apparently share power, but not really, but the one who is supposed to be the subordinate has figured out a way to actually control the other one and…  God protect us from a mess like that.

We are rushing headlong into another general election season (not that you can tell any difference, because the 2012 election has been in full-gear since the moment Barack Obama was declared winner in November 2008).  If I could work my will upon the country, the presidential election season would start six months before the actual date.  No one would be allowed to campaign.  No one, individual or business, would be allowed to contribute money to a candidate.  Political Parties would have to hold their nominating conventions 90 days before the election.  No political ads could air for any candidate or for any party until the parties had nominated their candidates.  I’ve got more to say on that, but it will have to wait for a later date.

Is the presidency obsolete?  Again, I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that it is every bit as battered as the other two branches of our government, and because of that, the future of the Republic is at stake.

I do hold one hope.  I continue to believe that we the people, by voting and exercising our right to petition our government, can reverse this earthquake of factionalism.  We are not beyond saving the Union.  But the day is upon us in which we must begin to do just that. To end this national night terror we must push the Incubus of Factionalism off of our chest, and, most importantly, wake up!

Hospital Food for the Mind

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Gallup didn’t call me for their USAToday poll on the Debt Ceiling bill.  The results indicated Democrats and progressives were more positive about the final product than Republicans and Tea Party members, a fact I find incredulous.  I would have been ready to give the pollster a detailed account of my thorough displeasure over the mess this bill just created.  And that’s my take being firmly on the progressive side of the opinion scale.

Let the Backfiring Begin!

One group is stumped over what happened.  Tea Party members report being dissatisfied by the bill by 80%. Despite the fact their faction acted as a curdling agent in the legislation, rendering it both unpalatible and inedible but still force-fed into law, they don’t like it.  Granted, the bill did not force the virtual dismantling of the federal government or wipe out their most despised social programs. Nevertheless, I have this sneaking suspicion that they really believed that once they had hijacked the bill, they could force their will onto the rest of the Congress Backfire #1.

Backfire #2 appears to be that the global stock markets were already weakened and skittish from the Great Recession. Near panic from the debt ceiling fight, they took one look at the junk attached to an otherwise one-page piece of legislation and that anxiety blossomed into a full-blown state of apoplexy and, among other things wiped out $ billions in the Tea Party adherents’ investments and pensions.  And, of course that crash pulled in the rest of us thanks to their gross inability to understand Macroeconomics 101.

Numerous backfires will continue to create havoc in our politics. The final one I’ll mention in this post is the credibility of conservative agenda. Magnified and distorted a thousand times by the Tea Party’s first, and we can only pray, last congressional disaster visited upon the Union, their believability has been reduced to next to nothing.  They won’t get it, of course. In fact I expect them to be noisier at least through the 2012 general election. But as the backfires continue to damage the country at home and abroad, their chance to be a sustained political voice will be muted more and more.

The tragedy for the rest of us is the consequnces we will be forced to endure. The Tea Party won’t get that either.