Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don's Debates: the Saga Continues...

As I've posted two or three times before, sometimes discussions get my brain rolling at unexpected times.

The following is two parts to an exchange with an old friend of mine on Facebook regarding a video to which I posted a link showcasing various Democratic members of Congress and notable Progressives in their own words.

My friend posted a comment in defense of Progressivism:


Progressive: "A person who actively favors or strives for progress toward better conditions, as in society or government." - Don, I know you are frustrated when Libertarians are equated with Republicans, much like this equates Democrats with Progressives. This is a diverse political climate.


Below is my customarily long-winded reply:


I have no problem with political diversity (or diversity of any kind, for that matter). People with opposing viewpoints help keep one another's arguments honest and to the point on the issues at hand.

What I do have a problem with is when politicians (note, I specified "politicians") use a term such as "Progressive" and hide behind its literal meaning and the connotations the word fosters -- and while doing so, sweep its historical context under the rug.

The word Progressive -- as it relates to the Progressive movement which began over 100 years ago -- refers to a political philosophy that insists (not suggests, insists) that the average person lacks the cognitive capacity to decide for him or herself how to handle their freedoms, use their own private property, and decide on all matters relating to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Progressives in the true sense of the term as it relates to governmental authority and oversight believe that for every conceivable action by individuals and free market entities there must be specific and comprehensive regulations along with a system in place requiring all to whom it applies comply with its pre-conditions (the proverbial red tape).

Where you and I disagree on Progressivism is its central notion that innovation and the prosperity it creates only can happen through extensive regulation and governmental intervention.

I maintain overreaching governmental interference inhibits true progress within markets by creating a business environment where only the largest of corporations can afford the expenses involved with compliance of federal laws -- thus squeezing out competition from smaller and independent companies. The competition from the smaller operations pushes their larger counterparts to improve their efficiency, update their business models, and keep their prices within a range that is affordable for customers and/or clients much more effectively than any bureaucratic federal office doling out subsidies, grants, or so-called stimulus.

Why do you think Wal-Mart endorsed the Democratic Party's health care reform law? They'll be able to afford dropping their employee insurance coverage plans and simply pay the so-called fine for letting their employees slide into the federal insurance exchange -- ultimately paying less in the long run and feeling less of a pinch on their bottom line. Competitors operating on a far smaller scale -- especially local independent vendors -- are going to take the biggest hits in terms of percentage of revenues as a result of the new federal mandate.

In this kind of business environment for retailers, who can any of us reasonably expect to step up and push Wal-Mart in terms of competition? The only chain I can think of that operates at nearly the same scale is Meijer. But who else? Who else on a nationwide scale is going to be able to keep Wal-Mart from becoming too bloated and big for its own good?

And, if we're only going to have two major retail chains available for the average customer, what do you think the odds are that they'll both be able to focus more lobby money toward legislation that relates to them?

Another good example is Goldman Sachs. We're seeing all this hoopla over mortgage-backed securities leading up to the housing bubble bursting yet the Treasury Department is run by a former GS executive and former GS employees have permeated the Treasury. They have done as much to capture their regulating agencies as the major oil companies have.

How is any of that good for our society?


My friend's response is as follows:


Do you go to Wal-Mart?




Yes I do, in fact.

But, I bring it up because I know that the vast majority of those who identify themselves as Democrats (liberal, progressive, or otherwise) view Wal-Mart as a corporate evil empire.

Which is why I mentioned them. What I want to know from those who hold the two views that 1) Wal-Mart is bad for society and 2) government regulation affecting corporate retail chains must be put in place is this:

How will passing laws that serve to make Wal-Mart immune from further competition help?


I'll be sure to add any additional comments as they arise.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Modern politics dictates repeal of 17th not enough

Discussions centering on the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America have been growing in frequency over the past year. They have been taking place since it was proposed in the early years of the 20th century. But, events over the past 15 months have sparked a rapid rise in the regularity of this dialogue.

For those who are not fully familiar with the 17th Amendment, its ratification switched the manner by which each state’s U.S. senators are selected. Originally, the Constitution was written specifying that both senators from every state were to be elected by the state legislatures. Since the amendment was ratified in 1913, all senators are elected by a popular vote among their respective states’ registered voters.

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

The key argument against the 17th Amendment has centered on the principles of States’ Rights and State Sovereignty. Before its ratification, since U.S. senators were directly accountable to the legislatures of their home states, state governments enjoyed the authority to recall their senators back to the state capitals to answer for any and all legislative activity in which they engaged in Washington, D.C.

As a result, U.S. senators were expected to conduct all business on Capitol Hill entirely with the consent of state leaders because they were directly answerable to that legal governing body.

Over the ensuing century since this revision to our Constitution, we have found ourselves left contending with senators who only have to answer for their sins once every six years – and their accountability is largely contingent upon the accuracy of news media reporting of their track records to the public at large. This is most effectively evidenced by the passage of so-called health care reform despite that act’s enormous unpopularity among voters and the feedback demonstrating as much during the multitude of town hall meetings held over the past 12 months.

Thus, we are led to the debate once again over the value and benefit of the United States Senate having its body selected by popular vote. Reality, however, reveals that changing this back to the original design, by itself, will not be enough.

In our modern political world, a repealing of the 17th Amendment would have to be accompanied by either strong legislation reforming (by reforming, I mean virtually eliminating) the earmarks process or even an additional Constitutional Amendment to that end.

I say this because of the purpose earmarks serve for federal politicians: to curry favor with enough constituents to ensure reelection.

While returning selection of U.S. senators to the state legislatures would be an outstanding step toward restoring American law to its Constitutional origins, we must bear in mind the manner in which too many state governments (particularly, my home state of Ohio) have grown comfortable with leaning on the federal dole (especially from President Barack Obama’s beloved American Recover and Reinvestment Act legislation) to fund their budgets.

My biggest concern is that repealing the 17th Amendment as a lone course of action will not change the Senate's make-up too significantly. You would still see a collection of 100 politically well-connected elites working to rack-up as many earmarks for their home states as they can so that their friends in their respective states' capital buildings and governor's mansions will continue to send them back to Washington every six years.

But, dramatic reforms to earmarks would nullify a great deal of that form of legal corruption. It also would reduce the potential for wasteful disputes between states that would serve to muddle the political discussions across America even more so than they already are: governments in states that are more responsible with their spending would, by necessity, eventually become overly preoccupied with the rates of federal revenue consumption by others such as California, New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts – thus distracting them to an extreme from keeping their own affairs in order.

Granted, repealing the 16th Amendment (which allowed Congress to engage in taxation as we know it today) would achieve a great deal of the same effect. But, without a balanced budget amendment we likely would end-up trading one form of risk for another. While those currently in Washington (or we can expect to see there after this November's elections) would be forced to rethink their methods of federal collections (or confiscations, as most Libertarians prefer to call it), we actually have no guarantees that before they finally resolve the gap between expenditures and revenues they won't simply ramp-up their rate of borrowing to a pace that dwarfs present levels.

Stringent, detailed limits on how the federal government may spend have to be put in place one way or the other (via bold legislation or a Constitutional Amendment).

Among those details I would like to see include guidelines specifying that once the federal budget has been passed no single discretionary spending legislation may exceed 1% of the original budget during its fiscal year and total additional spending over the course of the fiscal year may not exceed 5% of its original budget. Obviously, such spending measures may be passed only if there is enough tax revenue collected to cover those expenditures.

Of course, since no one can anticipate when a crisis will arise (natural disasters, acts of terrorism, etc.) an allowance for such contingencies ought to be included. Emergency spending measures which entail exceeding either limit detailed above should require more than two-thirds (or, preferably, three-fourths) of both houses of Congress to vote “Yea” in order to reach the President’s desk for signing.

Also, I suggest these specific spending limitations as a supplement to repealing the 17 Amendment as I honestly believe the prospect for putting them in place would be more realistic than garnering enough public support nationwide for simultaneously taking the 16th Amendment with it.

Eventually, the 17th Amendment needs to be recognized for what it was: an interesting experiment in the expanded democratization of our Republic; a useful tool for the benefit of the Progressive movement; and a means to diminish the core principle of states’ sovereignty so as to allow greater power and authority to be retained by the federal government.

And then, it must be relegated to being little more than a footnote in our nation’s history.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The 'Party' is just getting started...

I was at my preferred fitness center this morning, trying to mind my own business for a change, when I noticed this article splashed across the local newspaper with the following headline and subheadline: Party’s over for unused ballots – Ohio secretary of state’s orders leave 24,000 forms extra.

I feel compelled to question why The Lima News would run – above the fold on its front page – this article on unused ballots.

What it fails to mention was that Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner ordered the ballots for the minor parties – in addition to the “R” and “D” primary ballots – after losing multiple federal court battles on the issue.

Another important detail that was overlooked is there were so many extra ballots due to Brunner dragging her feet and waiting until the eleventh hour before tackling the guidelines for the four minor parties after her most recent litigation loss.

Mind you, secretaries of state from both major parties had been playing the ballot access game for years with the minor parties (the Libertarian Party in particular). So, earlier this decade they banded together and sued for their constitutional right to be able to run for office with their preferred party’s affiliation.

Another point of contention for me is the fact no effort was made to contact at least one representative from the Libertarian Party of Ohio for comments. Based on the absence of commentary from the other three minor parties in Ohio, I’m guessing they weren’t contacted either.

(For your own opportunity to get in touch with LPO leadership, please go to for contact information)

I sent press releases to all three top news media outlets in Allen County before the primary urging them to remind their readers, viewers, and listeners that they would have six parties from which to choose this year. Not a peep went out from them.

This leaves me wondering how many minor party ballots went unrequested for the simple fact voters didn’t know there were other options.

With The Lima News, I wasn’t pushing for a front page or even a Section A printing. I specified in that release that a couple of paragraphs in the Region & Ohio section was all that would be needed.

The operative point that some folks may raise is how excessive ballot printing can be avoided in future primaries.

One idea that has been proposed by LPO leadership is a postcard registration system the Secretary of State’s office can mail out to Ohio residents. By allowing Ohioans to register their party affiliation in this manner, the SoS office can then advise the counties’ respective boards of election how best to proceed in terms of numbers of primary ballots.

Since all registered voters’ party affiliations (as well as the lack thereof) already are a matter of public record in Ohio, this will not constitute an invasion of privacy beyond what already is in place.

Finally, what bothers me no matter how many times I reread the article – to be certain I am not missing its context – is the tone it carries that just about suggests the Libertarian and other parties did little more than to waste people’s time and money by simply exercising a constitutional right.

On that matter, I would refer everyone back to paragraphs 3 and 4 above as well as paragraph 5 of Heather Rutz’ article. As Rutz unknowingly verifies in that passage, Brunner is just one more example of what is inherently wrong with the two-party system and the two parties running it.