Posts Tagged ‘Reform’

My Response to Senator Rubio: Not Good Enough

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

The Hard Sell

On Tuesday, FoxNews published an op-ed by Senator Marco Rubio(R-FL) discussing his views on immigration.  I have some thoughts on what Senator Rubio has discussed, and I find some of his article misleading and disappointing.  Rather than simply summarize his column, I am providing a link to its full text as well as taking it on, point-by-point here. The article is entitled Here’s the Truth About My Plan for Immigration Reform, and I suppose I could start with the title: Senator Rubio’s column does much to characterize his plan in a generous light, but those characterizations do not seem to match the bill’s substance. He opens:

“Americans believe in the value of immigration. We are the most generous nation on earth to immigrants, allowing over one million people a year to come here legally. They come here in pursuit of what we recognize as the American dream – the chance to live in freedom and have the opportunity to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Like Senator Rubio, and most Americans, I too believe in the value of immigration.  My own wife is an immigrant, as were my grandparents and great-grandparents.  The United States is the most generous nation on Earth toward immigrants, but this may be part of the problem.  Sometimes, our naive generosity leads to policies that permit people who have malevolent designs land on our shores.  Not all native-born Americans recognize the American dream, much as they might like to, in part because they are forced to carry the burdens of politicians’ generosity with the public treasury.  The chance to live in freedom is a glorious thing, but I suspect that if one were to survey immigrants who have come here legally over the last three decades, liberty is in marked decline in part because our immigration policies have and continue to inflict a serious burden on the American people.  It is the job of Senator Rubio and his cohorts to explain why Americans ought to bear more burdens on the behalf of immigrants. Such explanations should come in terms of concrete legislative language rather than flowery prose. Senator Rubio continues:

“The problem is that our legal immigration system has been broken for decades. It has enabled 11 million people to come here illegally or overstay visas. It is a bureaucratic and inefficient system that does not address the needs of our economy.

All this has further deepened the American people’s mistrust in the ability of their government to perform basic functions.”

Our legal immigration system has been broken for decades. It is not, however, the laws that are malfunctioning, but instead the bureaucracy that is entrusted with executing them. There are only 11-20 million illegal immigrants because this government has taken no concrete steps to enforce the laws already on the books. To the contrary, this president and his predecessors have intentionally undermined those laws, or in the case of the current president, actively set out to ignore them by issuing orders preventing their enforcement.  The purpose of the immigration system is not to address the needs of the economy.  Its purposes are to serve the needs of the nation in all aspects, not merely economic, but also security, cultural, and moral.  Senator Rubio seems focused on the economic aspects at the expense of even our national security, much as the recent attacks in Boston demonstrate.  That our current system permitted those two to gain entry to the nation and to remain is a damning rebuke of our current system, but unfortunately, because Sen. Rubio’s bill is more focused on economics than on security, this is not likely to be addressed by his bill. Sen. Rubio warns us:

“Leaving in place a broken immigration system -– and the millions of people whose identities are a mystery to us –- is simply not an acceptable option. This must be fixed.”

Our current immigration system is broken, but what is more broken is our immigration enforcement systems.  As examples in opposition to Senator Rubio’s claim, the Tsarnaev brothers were legally in the country and we knew who they were.  The 9/11 hijackers were legally in this country and we knew who they were.  It is not merely the identities of illegal aliens that is a problem, but it is critical to remember it is a separate problem from legal visitors who overstay visas, or legal immigrants who are permitted to stay despite convictions for crimes and applications to welfare systems.  The problems born of the bureaucracy are clear, but they are separate and apart from the conscious decisions by those responsible for carrying our laws into execution who for whatever reasons or pretenses simply fail or even refuse to do so.  Senator Rubio’s bill does absolutely nothing to address a bureaucracy and an executive branch that refuses to carry out the law.

“That is why I am advocating for securing our borders, improving enforcement, modernizing our legal immigration system and changing it so that it prioritizes welcoming people to the U.S. based on skills, not just on whether they have a family member already living here.”

Senator Rubio says he is for securing our borders and improving enforcement.  If I take that on faith, let me suggest that the Senator could do a good deal to remedy the distrust he laments by taking these steps first.  As in medicine, when addressing something one claims is an emergency, one must evaluate the problem.  We cannot assess the true scope of the problem until there has been a good faith effort on behalf of the United States Federal Government to improve enforcement and to secure our borders.  Otherwise, what Senator Rubio herein promises is a preposterous reiteration of existing law that condenses to the sentiment: “We are going to pass a law to tell our government to more forcefully enforce existing law.” This is an absurd proposal, inasmuch as a government that cannot be entrusted to enforce existing law certainly cannot be entrusted to enforce a more stringent one.  It’s akin to claiming, “OK, well, we’re really, really serious this time.”  As much as anybody, I think immigration ought to include certain tests as to what skills a person brings to the game, but is Senator Rubio seriously suggesting that people from India are less-skilled than those from Central and South America?

Senator Rubio continues, ticking off a laundry list of measures:

“And that is why I support a process to identify and register those who are here illegally. They will have to submit biometric data in order to pass multiple national security and criminal background checks, pay $2,000 in fines, pay taxes, and learn English and American civics. They won’t be able to get any federal benefits like welfare or ObamaCare.

Fines?  Most of the people immigrating to this country can’t afford $2.00 in fines, much less $2000.00. Will there be waivers for the fines?  Will President Obama simply sign an extra-statutory waiver to fines, like he did with Obama-care?

“Before they can even apply to become permanent residents, they will have to wait at least ten years. They will have to get in line behind those who are trying to come the right way.”

Why should they be permitted into line at all? After violating the laws of the United States, why aren’t they prohibited? More, what is the real chance that somebody who is told they won’t get permanent resident status for at least ten years deciding voluntarily to “step out of the shadows” and be liable for fines and a ten year wait?

“They will have to wait until we have a system in place to prevent illegal immigrants from being hired.”

What will make them wait?  The same farcical enforcement exhibited by the Obama Administration?

“They will have to wait until we have a system in place to track people who overstay their visas.”

People who overstay their visas?  Those are people who started out with legal status, having arrived here legally. That’s an entirely different law enforcement problem from the immigrant who had sneaked into the country in disregard of our laws from the outset.

“And they will have to wait until we implement plans to spend at least $5.5 billion dollars to secure the border through more border patrol officers, more technology and more fencing.”

We’ve been promised all of this before.  In 1986, and several times since, we’ve been promised all sorts of improvements, and yet despite a mass amnesty in 1986, the Federal Government has managed to let another 11-20 million people come into the country. The truth is that the number may be even higher, but we can’t know, since in 1986, and all the years since, this government has not kept its promises.  What Senator Rubio here offers is another promise.  I’m afraid that I must insist that government finally fulfill its past promises before we consider any more, in the name of decency, and in the name of holding my government to its word.

“I thought long and hard before taking on this issue. I understand how divisive it can be. I’ve seen how the left has used it to accuse opponents of their version of reform of being bigots and racists. And I would much rather be having a debate on the more fundamental ways we can grow our economy and get our debt and spending under control. But with or without us, the president and the Democrats who control the Senate were going to bring this issue up.”

Sadly, even Senator Rubio’s spokesman uses the language of division. As many noted on Monday, your own spokesman, Mr. Conant, abrasively and dishonestly compared the status of immigrants to that of slaves.  Is the Senator seriously suggesting that his spokesman is a leftist, or only that his spokesman has resorted to the dishonest tactics of the left? The President and his friends in the Senate do not control the House, so that any such bill could be stopped there if Republicans weren’t insisting on shoving bad legislation down the throats of an unwilling American people.

“And I believe conservatives need to fight for the ideas and policies we believe are critical to fixing our immigration system.”

I agree that conservatives need to fight for the ideas and policies that are critical to fixing our immigration system, but they must be the right ideas, and they must conform to conservative principles and the rule of law.  Sadly, Senator Rubio’s proposal does no such thing. I am anxious for the day when we can eliminate undue burdens inflicted on lawful immigrants, but I will not flex or move so much as one inch on the legal liabilities of those who have already broken the laws of our country. More, before I will accept any movement on this, there must be a good faith enforcement of the laws of our nation, and a keeping of promises already made.

“The opponents of reform raise important points about not rewarding the violation of the law. I, too, have felt the frustration many feel that our nation’s generosity has been taken advantage of by some.”


“But policy-making is about solving problems. And to pick the right solution, you have to weigh the realistic alternatives. Deporting all illegal immigrants is not a practical solution. But ignoring the fact that they are here is just as bad.”

Are we to take from this that while the Senator finds those points raised by opponents to be important, he’s perfectly willing to dismiss them?  One needn’t talk dismissively of the idea of deporting all illegal aliens immediately and at once, but one must explain why a good faith effort isn’t being made to deport as many of them as reasonably possible.  I have tired of this dismissive approach to the issue as expressed here by Senator Rubio and some others, who derisively suggest that we cannot deport all of them.  The country that launched three men to the moon cannot deport people illegally in the country?  Preposterous!  The country that invented the Atom-Bomb cannot deport people who have come into the country illegally? Nonsense.   Nobody expects the US Government to flip a switch and instantaneously corral 11-20 million people, pushing them out of the country the next day, but if there are 11-20 million of them, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one-tenth of them.  This insulting line of dismissal is one of the reasons there is a distrust between the American people and their government on this issue, a distrust Senator Rubio laments, but herein promotes. Who has been ignoring the fact that they are here?  The American people are too well aware of the presence of millions of illegals, because while they allegedly hide in the shadows, they seem to fill our emergency rooms and our schools and our courtrooms.  Who is ignoring it?  The American people, or their government?

“For example, passing a law that only focuses on modernization and enforcement and leaves for another day the issue of those here illegally is not a good idea. Because as the enforcement measures kick in, millions of people living here illegally will be unable to work and provide for themselves and their families. The resulting humanitarian impact will then force us to scramble to address it. It is better to address it now as part of an orderly and measured process.”

Again, this expectation that we will force 11-20 million people to pack their bags in one day is preposterous.  Can we not begin with a somewhat less ambitious number and work our way up?  No, you see, the Senator is concerned first and foremost with the economic impact on the nation, and businesses that employ illegals may be hampered if they cannot continue.  Welfare workers would have less to do, and therefore justification for their jobs. Senator Rubio should not take such liberties in assuming that we are so desperately stupid and childish as to believe enforcement could come at once and immediately in complete perfection.

“The only solution I know that can work is to reform legal immigration in a way that is good for the economy, do everything we can to secure the border, and allow illegal immigrants to eventually earn permanent residency by passing background checks, paying a fine, learning English and waiting at the back of the line for at least 10 years, at the same time that border security and enforcement measures are put in place to prevent this problem from happening again.”

Again with the economy?  I have news for Senator Rubio: The economy is doing poorly already. The easiest improvement to the economy by virtue of our immigration policy is to be gained by deporting as many as we can, and preventing those here from making use of our welfare state.  That would address many issues, including our deficit and exploding national debt. The benefits to our economy and to our fiscal condition would be immediate.

“The bill I helped write is a good starting point, but it is not a take it or leave it proposition. I am open to any ideas others may have on how to do this, and I’ve been listening to the legitimate concerns people have raised with the expectation that we will be able to improve the bill as this debate continues.”

I am glad that Senator Rubio views this law as a proposal open to amendment and revision.  If he’s serious, he could scrap the 800-plus page bill and offer a simpler one, as an act of good faith on the part of the United States Government keeping its past promises to its citizens.  He can draft a resolution stating that before any easing of immigration requirements can commence, the current laws of the United States must be in full force for not less than five years, at which time the American people can re-evaluate the government’s efforts to earnestly enforce the law and secure our border.  In short, get back to us when you show you can enforce the current law, a law you claim is not even as stringent as your new proposal.  If the new law is so much tougher, it should be a simple matter indeed to merely enforce current law.

“We must do something to end today’s de facto amnesty, and conservative Republicans should lead on this issue. Because without conservatives at the table and in the fight, we are ceding this issue to President Obama and his allies in Congress. And as the last four years have proven, that is never a good idea.”

Senator Rubio should grasp that conservatives have no need or reason to come to a table to negotiate in good faith when past promises have been broken and previous laws ignored.  If the Senator is serious about his concerns regarding the prospective actions of President Obama, he should surely join in the open opposition to the President and his allies in Congress.  Perhaps rather than preach to conservatives as to how they must accept the “inevitable,” Senator Rubio could instead join with other senators in sufficient numbers to prevent its inevitability.  I recognize the fact that Senator Rubio has worked hard at pushing this legislation, but given what we’ve learned about the concrete legislative language in this bill, he should perhaps consider spending more time on the bill’s reformulation than on salesmanship.  Sufficiently addressing the former would certainly ease the chore that will be the latter.  It is on this basis that I oppose this bill, because if a serious proposal were brought forward that would address the concerns of conservatives, complying with their cherished principles without dismissively deriding them as unrealistic, conservatives might well go along.  Until then, I must respectfully disagree with the Senator’s bill. Simply put, it’s not good enough.

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Six

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Time For Change?

One of the problems that has always plagued us is the clear disconnect between taxation and electoral responsibility for those who legally raise them.  It’s not accidental that Tax Day is April 15th, a full six months before election day. I want Americans to hold elected representatives responsible for the fiscal condition of the country, and the taxes that condition will naturally necessitate.  Since our Federal elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even years, I think we should move tax day to the first Monday in November.  The truth is that for quarterly filers, this won’t make so large a difference, and in the main, it would seem a symbolic measure, but I think that it’s a worthy symbol.  After all, many voters go to the polls thinking about what they want, but for a change, I think it would be better if when they start marking their ballots, they instead should be thinking about the costs.

Of course, this presents another problem that needs to be reformed.  For some of those voters, the day they file their tax return is an occasion for celebration rather than a day of mourning.  Some of that is because a fair number of people over-withhold throughout the year in order to avoid getting hit with a big tax bill, but more of it is because some people get refunds in excess of what they had withheld in income taxes altogether.  You might ask yourself how it is possible that one can receive a refund higher than one has paid in, but Congress has an answer:  The Earned Income Tax Credit.  Effectively, all you need to do is earn a minimal amount of income.  It doesn’t take much income to qualify, and then you are eligible to receive a credit that may be more(and usually is) than the amount of income taxes you’ve had withheld.

One of the constant scams is people who receive various welfare benefits will work a couple of months out of the year, at a low wage job or two, and this will be enough “earned income” to make them eligible for free money.  Some recipients actually refer to it as their “IRS Bonus check.”  I kid you not.  This program is also why we have 47% of tax return filers who pay no net income taxes.  For this segment of the population, there is no stigma attached to tax day, because for them, by the time April 15th rolls around, they’ve long since submitted their returns, gotten their refunds including their credit, and they’ve spent it.

Some of you will doubtless think I’m joking, or that I have somehow concocted this as some sort of literary device, but I assure you that it is real, and that like so many extensions of the welfare state, it acts as a disincentive to work.  Therefore, along with moving tax day, I submit that we make another law: No tax refunds of any ind in excess of what has been withheld.  It’s contrary to the notion of welfare as a hand up, and it’s opposed to the notion of the tax code as a program to raise federal revenues.  So long as we’re stuck with the 16th Amendment and the grotesque tax system it birthed, nobody should be receiving money as a net gain from the system of taxation, and besides: We’re constantly reminded that everyone should have some skin in the game.  I think that’s true, but when I say “everyone,” I actually mean it.  Combining these two reforms as one single step will cause more serious evaluations of candidates by voters.  If we’re going to save the country, it’s one more thing in the laundry list that we’ll need to fix.


Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Five

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Returning Balance to Government

One of the problems most people acknowledge is that the power of the federal government has expanded so that it can no longer be effectively restrained as a matter of the checks and balances with which we are familiar.  One of the ways this has been accomplished is through the constant diminution of the sovereign authority of the states.  The concept of federalism is moribund, if not dead, and it has become clear to citizens that to affect anything of consequence most often entails dealing with the federal government.  Congress and presidents have felt empowered to inflict and impose mandates on state and local governments to a degree that is contrary to the entire notion of a federal constitutional republic.  Some wonder if this isn’t the natural result of the civil war, in which some of these issues were central, but the truth is that no other cause has inflicted more harm than the adoption of the 17th Amendment.  Until we restore the voices of the states, as sovereign institutions, there can be no fixing what is broken in Washington DC.  The 17th Amendment served to centralize power in Washington in a way that destroyed the balance of power.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, the members of the United States Senate were chosen by the legislatures of the several states.  This meant that the voice of the state governments was heard loudly in Washington, as their own sovereign powers flexed their political muscles.   There are those who claim that the 17th Amendment served to democratize the process, but the truth is something else again.  What really happened was to instead turn the senators into a sort of super-congressman, but rather than being equals, they now speak not for states as equal partners in the Constitution, but as elected masters of constituencies.  When they had been chosen by the legislatures of the states, they still spoke to the will of a state’s people, but through the indirect process of representation.  Since the legislatures are chosen by voters, and since the state governments are geographically closer to their people, the people have the ability to control them more effectively.  Moving this process to a direct vote of the people has served to water down the particular interests of state governments.  In short, in the name of democratization, the people were tricked into dis-empowering the states.  The costs have been grave.

It has also served to make things a good deal easier for the lobbying crowd.  There’s no necessity to maintain offices in fifty state capitals, as well as in Washington DC.  It’s one-stop shopping, and there’s no sense to pretend it’s otherwise.  Prior to the 17th Amendment, lobbyists had to work the state legislatures in support of national legislation, but state legislators frequently managed to pull the plug on federal bills that they saw as diminishing the power of the states.  Senators may have voted in Washington, but the nature of that vote was frequently responsive to the legislature back home, since that’s where the Senator was chosen.  As we should all know by now, most politicians are consumed with maintaining their power, so that they could not help but be attentive to the voice of legislators back home.  The problem with the will of the people as expressed through a direct election is that it is too diffuse and too distant.  A Senator that represents even a sparsely-populated state like Nebraska still needn’t be as attentive to his people as he would of necessity be with respect to his legislature.   The senator from a densely populated state like California needn’t pay attention to the people at all on day-to-day legislative matters.

When you consider the spending proclivities of the Federal government, what becomes clear is that it began to accelerate, and non-wartime debts first became politically feasible only after the states’ voices had been silenced in the Senate.  The states had a vested interest in restraining the growth of the federal government.  It is far more difficult to impose taxes at the state level if the federal government is raising them at every turn.  Worse, with the federal government imposing spending priorities on the states, it became even more difficult for states to manage their dwindling resources.

Taken together, all of these make a strong case for repealing the 17th Amendment.  The difficulty lies in the political proposition:  The people will need to be convinced that it is in their long-term interest to give up power over one branch of government in a direct way, that their state government, over which they exercise infinitely firmer control can manage it on their behalf.  Most people cringe at the thought.  It’s not every day you ask voters to give something up to which they have been accustomed, particularly in restraining their own direct voice.  Once they understand the issues at the heart of the matter, many people come around as they realize their direct voice has done no better, and may have done the harms I’ve described.  Our Constitution’s framers had been brilliant in creating the necessary balance to create a natural offset in powers between the federal government and the states, but the 17th Amendment destroyed that clever idea.  At this late date, if we’re to restore that balance, we must return to the framers’ notion of checks and balances, and the repeal of the 17th Amendment is a great place to start.  If you want to save the country, you may want to start right here.

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Three

Friday, November 18th, 2011

This Ain't No Tea Party

Of all the things we tend to overlook when we examine the corruption and inefficiency of government, the one area that seems always to escape serious examination is perhaps the most important cog in the outrageous machine:  Professional congressional staff.  The truth is that these people are frequently tasked with the authoring of legislation, and their elected members or the committees for which they work seldom see the final form of the legislation.  If making law is like making sausage, then these are the meat grinders who decide what subtler elements and sometimes major aspects of legislation will be included.  These people aren’t elected, and yet their effect on legislation is profound.  They manage to attach goodies to legislation that have no business in the bills.

Some of the worst are committee staff, where large and complex bills numbering into the thousands of pages frequently emerge.  You don’t think individual members, or even committees of them write all that legal jargon, do you?  No, of course not.  You can’t be tied up with menial chores like crafting legislation when you have a tee-time to make with lobbyists, and a full cocktail party schedule to keep with the DC smart set.  Instead, most of this legal legwork is turned over to staff, and this is where some of the worst abuses can occur.  The necessary reform is simple:  Congressional staff must be term-limited too.

I can hear the complaints from half a continent away, as those staffers recoil in horror at the proposal that they too should be subjected to limits upon their service.  Too damned bad.  The growth in their sheer numbers has been astonishing.   The fastest way to begin cleaning up the mess in Washington DC includes getting these staffers rotated out, permanently.  My argument will be that no member of Congressional staff ought to be employed for more than ten years, life-time, meaning no retirements, no special carve-outs, and no goodies for them.  Of course, there will always be corruption, but to remedy that, you move the pieces around some.  Make it impossible to spend more than one Congress on a given committee’s staff. The committee staff, for instance, of the Ways and Means committee, has far too much power.  It’s time to “spread the wealth,” I believe, and move them around as “temps” which they will be.  Yes, they’ll still have nifty salaries, and of course they can receive benefits just like any other civil servants, but not one damned dime or perquisite more.

There are other things we must put in place with staff:  They must undergo drug-testing, polygraph examination, criminal history and background checks, and be subjected to automatic IRS audit every year they serve the Congress.  Most importantly, to stop the “revolving door,” there must be a lifetime ban on lobbying Congress after their congressional service has ended, and lobbyists may not be eligible to work as Congressional staff for at least ten years after having been a registered lobbyist.  That’s right, I can hear the screams already: “It’s not fair.  You’re singling us out.  Why are you scapegoating us?”  Tough beans.  The simple fact is that it is not in the interests of the people of the United States to let Congressional members accrue undue power, never mind their staff.  They’re already in a position to profit from insider information, so there’s no sense pretending this isn’t a serious problem.

It’s the dirty secret in Washington DC that everybody knows, but few dare acknowledge:  Congressional staff serves as an unelected continuum from which there is no escape.  Voters can fire the top three members of each party on every committee, but still the same program runs.  If you wonder why, the answer is because behind the scenes, the politicians have been relieved of their legislative responsibilities and instead focus on fund-raising, while their staff carries on most if not nearly all of the member’s legislative work.  By the time you consider the impact of Committee staff, the effect is astonishing.  More, there is co-mingling between branches, where staffer X who works for Congressman Y is married to Senior Adviser A who works for executive branch Secretary B.  These sorts of back-channel relationships are well-known to the insiders, and they’re all players in the same game.  They know the rules, they know the way in which “things get done” in Washington, and you as the voter, so remote from this distant capital, have no idea what they’re doing, or why.

There’s no doubt that many are conscientious and diligent, but if we’re going to regain our control over this government, it must include an in-depth examination of Congressional staff, and perhaps of executive branch staff as well.  It’s all much too chummy in Washington DC, and while you think these people are adversarial under our two-party system, most often, that’s a show played out in front of the press.  Behind the scenes, it’s the staff carrying the water, and there’s no denying that they’re very collegial across the board.  Many of them have their own political aspirations, and it is in this way that we wind up with a permanent political class entrenched in the halls of power.  If you want that changed, you’d better add this to your list of reforms if we’re going to save America.

Ten Reforms to Save America: Reform Number Two

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

What Most of Them Need

If we are to save this country, we must begin to clean out the permanent political class that infests Washington DC.  Some of our elected officials serve across generations, and while some may make the argument that it’s not always a bad thing, I can think of too many reasons it’s awful.  Once in power, if the politician can sustain power through one or two re-elections, the politician begins to accumulate favors, but also accrue debts to be paid in favors, whether to lobbyists or other members.  The longer they stay, the more powerful they become, and with that power frequently comes arrogance.  At some point, what typically happens is that they forget about you until the last two months of an election season.

The only way we’re ever going to tackle this is by limiting their terms, their benefits, and their various perquisites.  For those who would argue that this somehow limits voter choice, I thoroughly reject their claim.  This is to suggest that any of these people are indispensable, but I know that for every long-serving member of Congress, there are thousands of people in their home states or districts who are equally qualified, diligent, and ambitious enough to do the peoples’ business. It’s time to drop the charade:  There isn’t a single one of them that couldn’t be easily replaced with another competent American.

I would argue that rather than simple term limits, we limit total federal elected service.  (We’ll get to the un-elected folks in another article.)  I propose that we limit elected federal service to a maximum of sixteen years. You can serve three terms in the House, one in the Senate, and one as President or Vice President, or any other combination that adds up to a maximum of sixteen years.  These terms need not be consecutive.  This should be a lifetime limitation. The limit is hard, meaning that if you seek re-election to your office, but your limit on years will expire before your term, you will still leave office upon the expiration of your limit.  In that way, if you had been elected to three terms in the House, and then one in the Senate, if you sought re-election for a second term in the Senate, you would be eligible only to serve the first four years of that second Senate term.

The idea is to restore the notion of a citizen legislature, and also to return more power to the states.  This proposal would accomplish this by making the political farm teams of state and local politics far more important to the nation as a whole.  It would also negate a goodly bit of the accumulated power that some long-serving members now wield.

The other thing we could add to make this interesting is to write into the necessary amendment that sixteen years of service does not make one eligible for retirement benefits.  I think we would all be better served if the politicians could derive no back-end benefits from their service.  To be honest, I can’t understand for the life of me how we let them construct such endless benefits for themselves.  Limiting their service ends any “moral” claim they might make to such benefits.

The other thing is that I would expressly forbid grandfathering of years already served.  At the point this amendment would take effect, any already having attained sixteen years or more of service would be ineligible for re-election.  You want to get rid of the bums?  This is the way to do it, and this would get rid of most of them. Are you sick of Harry Reid? Mitch McConnell?  Nancy Pelosi?  John Boehner?  Yes, this would rid us of these all.

The greatest two benefits of this system would be to eliminate the extensive kingdom-building in which politicians engage, and destroy the incentive to do so in the first place.   The real system is comprised of people many of whom use their time to consolidate their stranglehold on their office, and once they have it firmly in hand, to use their office to enrich themselves.  I don’t think we should let them linger there so long.

If you want to save the country, this step is critical.  Nothing spoils our nation so much as the competition for dollars to fund earmarks that are effectively vote-buying schemes of one description or another.  We should cut this off, and the way to do that is to say that there is no such thing as unlimited elected service.  Let them return to private life as our founders intended.  To those who say this will cheat democracy, I continue to dismiss their claim.  I am fairly certain that an overwhelming majority of my readers are at least as fit to serve as those who now occupy those offices.


On Money and Politics

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Is Money the Problem?

There are many people who decry the influence of money in politics, but to be honest, I think most of them are confused about the causes and effects involved.  People will immediately assume that cash waved in a politician’s face will readily buy influence, and sadly, in all too many cases, they’re correct.  The question then becomes one of cause and effect, however, and I think this is where most people become confused.  Did the money corrupt the politician, or did he corrupt the money?  It remains my proposal to all who will listen that it is naive to believe that so long as government is involved in every facet of our daily lives, that you will ever substantially reduce corruption.  Every official has some financial interests, and it’s in this atmosphere that some propose that money must be gotten out of politics?  No, there’s no rational way to do so without destroying liberty, and besides, it doesn’t offer any hope of solving the actual cause of the problem.

There’s an old and important rule of economics that says simply:  One cannot purchase at any price that which is not for sale. The root of the corruption we see in politics lies not with those interests throwing about cash, but with the politicians who in one way or another accept money and benefits from them.  If you want to make a substantial change in the way politicians in Washington or anywhere else behave, you must address the corruption at its fundamental root:  The politician who is for sale.  If it were mine to do, and if there were even the slightest hope of enacting it, I would propose a new constitutional amendment stating simply:

Corruption among elected or appointed public officials constituting the better part of the potential evils of government, any official of government who uses their office and official authority for private gain, or gain of any sort beyond his salaries and benefits shall be eligible for trial as for charge of treason, with the same penalties to be applied.

The first time a public official faces such a charge, it will have a profound effect.  It’s easy for them to pretend they’re putting tough new limits and reforms in place, but the truth is that their regulations tend to punish them the most lightly of all, reserving the worst punishments for others.  I’ve always thought that the willing recipient of a bribe is far worse than the person who offered it.  As I said, it’s impossible to purchase influence if it isn’t for sale.

Of course, the problem extends beyond politicians.  In many cases, Congressional staff members are involved in the key details of writing legislation that ultimately profits a particular business or group, or class of citizens, and all too frequently, themselves.  The same goes for the extensive bureaucracy and the regulations they craft.  Too often, regulations are authored in order to benefit somebody in particular, but the only way to limit this effectively is to restrict that which government may regulate.  What we need to combat all of this is a separation of economics and State at least as thorough as that which we have erected between Church and State. The simple fact is that so long as government has its fingers in every pie, there will be reason to expect that those who own the pies will seek to minimize their losses.

I believe disclosure is critical.  Campaigns and causes should be required to list their contributors and donors from largest to smallest.  The truth is, I don’t care if you’re a billionaire and wish to spend a pile of money on a single candidate.  I would merely require that your contributions be listed and published prominently by any campaign to which you contribute.  I find it’s better and more honest to get it in the open.  How many of you would like to know exactly how much in indirect contributions Soros made to Barack Obama through intermediaries like MoveOn and other entities?  In this way, disclosure provides the key.  They’re going to find a way to do it so long as politicians have the monumental power you’ve permitted them to arrogate to themselves, so it is better that at the very least, we know in detail who is funding whom.

The other problem is that it’s usually not bribery per se, but more frequently a form of extortion.  It works like this:  Legislator Doe introduces a bill that would, on its face, harm the interests of a particular entity, knowing that this entity will then come in with a deal.  It’s a bit of a protection racket, and it’s not even hidden.  They do this sort of thing on a continual basis, because in terms of the number of laws enacted each year, there’s simply too much opportunity, and most of the laws aren’t written to prevent this sort of corruption.  That may be the real “trick” in all of this:  Too often, since they make the laws, they decide what does and does not constitute a violation of law on their part.  Prodding Congress to police itself is not going to be easy, if it can be done at all.  This is why various campaign finance reform initiatives, including McCain-Feingold are destined for failure.

I believe in free speech.  I believe that money spent in politics constitutes free speech.  Free speech does not apply to any other sort of entity than individual people.  The  sorry game that has cost the American people dearly is augmented by rules that limit what Americans can contribute in one form, while giving preference to a relative few Americans in another.  Newspapers, radio and television stations or networks function as advocates perpetually.  Is there a spending limit on how much positive coverage the New York Times can give to President Obama?  No, of course not, and there should not be.  Individual citizens are having this same right denied them by the FEC(Federal Elections Commission) on the shoddy basis that they’re not protected as “the press” under the First Amendment.

For instance, if you run a blog, you could be considered to have contributed to a campaign merely by linking to its website.  The value of the alleged contribution increases on the basis of how much traffic your blog sees.  The same thing is true of commentary on some TV stations, although other outlets have exemptions under the law.  This is clearly intended to stifle free speech, and yet TV funny-man(?) Stephen Colbert  wanted to lampoon the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, and among the other things he wanted to do was to set up a PAC(Political Action Committee.)  Imagine his surprise when he found the maze of laws that would obstruct him. Colbert found himself facing the very obstacles he insists other must face, and he didn’t like it very much.

Let’s be honest about something else, while we’re at it.  Your money is yours.  If you want to spend all you have in support of a cause or a candidate, by what authority does anybody lay a claim to restrict you?  More, what authority does government have in defining what is “the press,” or more frequently, what is not?  The problem with all of this regulation of speech is that there is no fixed bright line, and depending upon who is pulling the strings at a given moment, the rules will be shifted and twisted to suit the cronies of whomever holds power.  Free speech isn’t really free when some people are forced to comply with regulations while others are exempted from those same regulations on the basis of some arbitrary law or rule.

The truth is simply that money doesn’t corrupt politics.  People do.  If you want reform, the only way you’re going to have it is to move toward a free speech paradigm in which all are unshackled in their speech, but that full disclosure of contributors and donors is known, ranked from largest to smallest, so that all discerning citizens can choose accordingly when they head to the polls.   We need also to get government out of the business of business. Too frequently, it is the involvement of government that makes it possible  for corporate  interests to buy influence.  If government officials weren’t offering influence, for what purpose would corporations lobby them?  To reform this system, we’re going to need honest people in Congress willing to live under a much more strict regimen, and part of this will include sending the professional staff home.  Too many of them have far too much influence on legislation, and until we start sending them home with the politicians for whom they work, we’re not going to get very far.  Money is a problem in politics only inasmuch as people are open to corruption.  That’s the root of our trouble, and it’s the most difficult problem to fix.