Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Finally Time for the Fix!

For a long time, I’ve struggled with the question of term limits and reelection questions.  For years I’ve heard conservatives (and even some liberals) saying some variation of “we need term limits – Senators and congressmen should serve no more than 2 (or 3 or 4) terms!  This will solve the problem!”  The belief seems to be that if we can limit these guys to two or three terms that we will fix the problems since, of course, that means someone else will have to take the seat of power that they have and that crony-ism will disappear.  And, to a certain extent, this is true.  However, I have come to believe that this is actually playing into the problem and doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

 As I see it, there are several problems endemic to our current structure:

-       Politicians can get in office, do favors for big donors, shower their district with money, and ultimately use name-recognition to stay in power for decades, if they’re good at playing the game

-       Long-time office-holders have huge power based on committee membership, tenure in the office, personal favors and the like.  If you are a young, idealistic member and cross a powerful Senator or Congressman, your ability to do anything other than warm your seat is nearly zero

-       Re-election campaigns take huge amounts of time and money.  Politicians who are in office, immediately start figuring out how to stay in office.  I mean, it’s a sweet gig, if you can get it!  Decent salary, money from lobbyists, deals that can make you very wealthy and powerful, health-care, and a retirement program that is next to none.  Are our politicians really being productive if their number one objective is keeping all that stuff and their position?

-       When an office-holder leaves office, frequently there are a cadre of unelected ‘handlers’ that stay behind for the next person coming into the office to make their transition into the job easier and to make sure they know their place

Let’s see if I can find a way to express the problem in one sentence.  Let’s try this:  Running for re-election is at the core of most of the problems in politics.  Yep.  It may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  Name just about anything that you dislike about someone in elected office, and it almost certainly is at least to some extent, impacted by the need for re-election.

My solution is very simple.  I’m advocating the complete elimination of more than one consecutive term for ANY federal elected politician.  Imagine it…  A president comes into office, works from the day he is inaugurated until the day he leaves, and doesn’t spend a single minute working on re-election since he can’t be re-elected.  Members of Congress – same thing. They have nothing to do but their jobs! 

Simplicity is the key to success, so here are the key elements I’d like to see in this reform:

1.    One and only one term in office for all federal elected offices including the Presidency

2.    A maximum of two Non-consecutive terms are allowed

3.    If you are elected to an office, you can’t be elected to any OTHER office until a minimum of two years after your last term ended

4.    Elimination of any payment or benefit (health insurance, retirement, etc) to elected officials after their term of office ends (with the possible exception of the Presidency – we’d have to talk about this one)

5.    Sitting elected officials would not be allowed to campaign for or publicly support ANYONE running for any office

6.    Anyone who has held public office cannot participate in any campaign or be a part of any government office (including as a staffer for another elected official) for the equivalent of one term of office after they leave office.

7.    Terms of office should overlap by 30 days.  This gives the outgoing official time to transition everything to the incoming official.  Generally, power would be shared during that time, but only the incoming official has the power to vote, sign legislation, submit bills, etc.  The outgoing official is in an advisement capacity only.

8.    Staffs are equally not allowed to serve beyond the term of their boss and will assist in the transition, but cannot be part of the next term.

In addition, I’d like to see these changes implemented around this concept:

1.    Reverting election of the Senate to the original intent in the constitution:  Senators would be selected by the legislatures of the many states and would serve up to a six year term.  Keep in mind that they would serve at the pleasure of their legislature and could be recalled and replaced at any time, if the state so desired.

2.    The House would serve a two year term and be elected as they are now

3.    The President would serve a four year term and be elected as happens now, via the electoral college

These changes would, of course, involve amending the constitution.  However, these changes would, in my opinion, change American politics forever for the better.  Throughout history, the professional politician has mangled and destroyed more nations, people, wealth, and prosperity than anything else.  Remember:  No war begins without a politician.  No trade or embargo happens without a politician.  No foreign policy happens without a politician. These things are crucial to a nation, and politics, especially fearing re-election repercussions, cause people to make decisions that are not always in the best interest of the nation as a whole.

I can see lots of up sides to doing this.  For example…

-       Offers of support (i.e. – money) for their next campaign would be non-existent once they are in office since they can’t run again

-       Actual representation of the states that sent them starts to actually happen

-       I bet we’d see third-party candidates start to have more influence

-       No real need for redistricting – that’s just a tool for re-elections

-       Since a sitting politician can’t support anyone running for office, there’s no need for fund-raising trips, stump speeches, rallies and other things to get in the way of their work

-       The politician can be 100% focused on their work

-       Since we are eliminating all of that time spent stumping and pumping for re-election, perhaps the Congress can once again be a part-time entity – hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

-       Since everyone would be new every few years, the ‘good-old-boys-club’ becomes almost impossible to maintain.

There are probably LOTS of other positives.  I'm sure there are some negatives as well, like maybe the loss of all of that experience would be bad.  Or that we'd wind up with a bunch of amateurs that don't know how to legislate running things.  Hmmm - I don't know why, but neither of those scare me as much as a bunch of deep insider, crony jack-asses playing with my future and the future of my children.

I like to dream, and although the chances of this ever happening seem absolutely invisible, it is fun to imagine a presidential campaign where all of the candidates were private citizens.  Imagine not having to pay for the re-election campaign of the president, who has to fly around on Air Force One or drive around on Greyhound Bus One while he or she should be dealing with a faltering economy or unemployment or wars in multiple countries.

All of this dreaming got me to thinking about other things I’d like…

In my ideal world, I’d kind of like to see these changes as well:

-       First and foremost:  Case law and foreign law should NEVER be used to evaluate the constitutionality of anything. The constitution IS our country.  It is the document that establishes the form of our Federal government, the restrictions on it, the makeup of our republic and the limits on its power as relates to the states and the people.  Any law or court case that hinges on a constitutional matter MUST be evaluated against the constitution itself and not some other person’s opinion about it.  The problem with using case law is that it assumes that the last guy or last court got it right.  That may be fine with laws that are challenged outside of constitutional grounds, but when it comes to the foundational documents that say who we are as a country, each and every challenge MUST be evaluated on its own merits against the standard.  Using case law as the comparison for constitutionality is like the old VHS video-tape problem of a copy of a copy of a copy.  The original still looks good, but the copy stinks.  It is crucial that the evaluation of anything as being constitutional or not must be in comparison to the standard itself, and not to a copy in the form of someone’s opinion.

-       Lawyers would NOT be allowed to run for any political office in the legislative branch of the government.  Let’s face it:  it’s a conflict for those writing the laws to also be in the position of using those laws in the private sector.  I refer you to wolves guarding the henhouse.  It seems to me that the possibility of writing law to benefit other lawyers is just too great.  Not to mention, if we get rid of lawyer/lawmakers, maybe we, the people who have to live under those laws, will understand the laws that are written.

-       For a period of 10 years from the time this law was passed, extendible in 5 year increments, for every law that is written, 5 laws must be eliminated.  This is SO needed.  There are so many laws on the books – so much duplication and contradiction.  To make things worse, there is a huge mass of case law surrounding this mountain of laws, and on top of all that, there is another mountain of rules made by each of the Federal departments that the law pertains to (Ever seen the Obama-care legislation?  Any idea how many times “…as deemed appropriate by the secretary” or words to that effect appear?).  This makes it impossible for the citizen to pretty much do anything in life without breaking some law, somewhere.  Turning us all into unwitting lawbreakers is NOT a good thing and not what we would expect from a free society.

What do you think?  Any of that make sense?  Hey, while we’re dreaming, I’d like to see these as well…

-       Go to a single standard of proof for civil and criminal cases.  This would prevent the silliness caused by someone being found innocent of a criminal complaint, then being sued by the victim for the crime they were found innocent of, and being found guilty.  It should not be possible to be innocent of something and then be found guilty under a different standard.  Whether you agree or disagree with the ruling on O.J. Simpson, once he was found innocent, he should NOT have been able to be sued into poverty for the crime he was found innocent of committing.  That is not justice.

-       Loser pays.  Period.  If you are accused of a crime by the state or sued by someone else, and you win, the loser, no matter who it is, pays.  This MUST apply to even criminal cases.  I would go so far as to say that if you are found guilty and later determined to be innocent, that the state or feds must repay all costs to the innocent party and recompense them for all lost wages, loss of status and for any suffering they had because of that bad ruling.  There MUST be consequences for bad decisions.  The state must be held accountable if the rest of us are going to be.  A person can be utterly ruined by a lawsuit that they win.  Example?  When I was going through concealed carry class in Missouri, at that time there was no castle doctrine.  The instructor made it clear that if you defended yourself against someone trying to kill you, even if you weren’t charged with a crime, the average person would have to pay between $80,000 and $200,000 in legal fees to fight the lawsuits that would certainly be brought by the family of the criminal.  Can you afford that?  Sure, it beats being dead, but not by much.

So, that’s my vision for America.  What do you think?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Just drop me a line...

I’m worried.  I’m very, very worried.  I’m worried for two huge reasons.  First, I’m going to have to agree with Democrat Dennis Kucinich about something.  Second, and almost as troubling, I believe the U.S. Postal Service has been set up to take a fall.  Someone wants it dead.  This is a huge problem.  First, though, I have to give some props here:  I wouldn’t know about this issue if it were not for John C. Dvorak and Adam Curry on the No Agenda podcast.  John nailed this and he deserves the credit for scaring the patootie out of me.

Before I tell you why I’m so scared, let’s take a short trip down history’s lane.

Article I, section 8, clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress “To establish post offices and post roads”.  Congress did this by passing the Postal Service Act of 1792, which created the Post Office Department.  To protect the mail, the Postal Inspection Service was established.  It is made up of sworn federal law enforcement officers who carry firearms, make arrests and serve federal search warrants and subpoenas.  It is a federal crime to use the U.S. Postal Service mail to facilitate fraud against consumers, businesses and government.  This includes mail fraud, bank fraud, identity theft, credit card fraud, wire fraud and internet/computer fraud.

This past week, the Postal Service was set up to default on a $5.5 billion payment to the treasury to pre-pay their retirement benefits fund.  I can hear you yelling at your monitor, “Hey, what do you mean ‘set-up’?  They should pay for that, right?  I mean, we’re talking about retirement benefits, right?”  Um… well… here’s the beef:  Congress mandated in law back in 2006 that the Postal Service pre-pay their benefits 75 YEARS in advance.  That’s not a typo.  No other company, department, group or organization in the United States has this mandate.  As bad as that is, Congress has gone even further.  To keep them from being able to stay afloat, they made it illegal for the Postal Service to set up retail outlets (where they might be able to be a bit profitable), and they also barred it from charging the full cost of providing the service it is required by Congress to deliver.  To complete the jump to ludicrous speed, Congress requires that the Postal Service break even, but they can’t break even since Congress won’t let them.  And remember:  that’s before you even get to this idiotic pre-funding mandate!

So what happens if the inevitable happens and Congress decides that “To establish post offices…”, they will do away with the Postal Service give that work to a private company like FedEx or UPS?  Normally, I’m a big fan of privatization – it falls clearly within my libertarian-esq thinking.  In this case, though, once again I have to bow to the founder’s wisdom.  For one thing, I would bet money that we would get a lot less mail.  Have you sent anything via UPS or FedEx lately?  Notice how much it costs?  If you hate paying 45 cents for a letter, you’re gonna go absolutely ape-hanging crazy over the Fedex Express Saver rate of $37.52 for a 1.6 ounce letter (which was the cheapest rate I found on for a package from Detroit to my mom’s house outside Atlanta)!

But believe it or not, there is a much bigger problem.  Mail privacy and fraud.  The US Postal Service is pretty much the last bastion of privacy we have.  Cell phones, computers, email, Twitter, Facebook – all of these are ultimately compromised and are not protected anywhere in our Constitution.  Private mail carriers do not have to abide by mail fraud laws and Postal Inspection laws.  Let me set it up for you this way:  If I send you a letter via the postal system I can anticipate that unless the Postal Service has cause to believe that my mail is violating law or hazardous in some way, they cannot open it.  They cannot read it.  They must, by law, make every possible attempt to deliver that letter intact, unread and in a reasonable timeframe.  In addition to the laws that the Postal Service must follow, there are laws that you and I must follow.  If my bank sends me a letter and intentionally lies in the letter in an attempt to defraud me, whether they are breaking any other laws, they are absolutely committing mail fraud.  If someone sends you an invoice and overcharges you on that invoice with the intent to defraud you, that is mail fraud.  This is one of the things that makes the mail a ‘trusted’ source.  Most businesses do not want to be shut down for mail fraud.

Now what happens if all of those protections go away?  If the U.S. Postal Service was shut down and the work was outsourced to a private company, as it stands today those laws would no longer apply.  For the black-helicopter lovers amongst us, that means that not only can the government read your email, but now every letter and package can be opened.  Sure, we all have a right under the 4th amendment to protection from unreasonable search and seizure, but lately that’s been pretty much wiped off the face of the map by the National Defense Authorization Act, the Patriot Act and other so-called protections.  Don’t believe me?  Been through an airport lately?  Were you ever stopped by a VIPR team?  Do a Google search for Stop-and-Frisk.

What about your bank or your employer or anyone else you would receive correspondence from, including advertisements and sales pitches?  The protections of the U.S. Mail do not exist if the mail arrived via a non-U.S. Postal Service carrier. As an aside, you should keep this in mind the next time you get a FedEx, UPS or other non-USPS package or letter:  The contents do not fall under postal regulations.  If your bank normally sends you letters for something, then one day you get a FedEx envelope with a letter in it, you may want to ask yourself why.  Is it possible it could be to avoid mail-fraud issues?  Probably not, but it bears considering.

Am I exaggerating the issue?  No.  Here’s where the other frightening bit comes in:  Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) made it clear on the floor of the House of Representatives what is at stake. He believes that Congress is actually de-establishing the Post Office.  Check out this article on Democracy Now.

The bottom line here is that not only is a private mail service a bad idea financially for all of us, but it erodes even more of our constitutional protections.  What makes this even more abhorrent is that it is being manufactured and directed by our elected leaders in contravention of the U.S. Constitution.  We the people need to stop this now.  Congress needs to change the law to allow the USPS to fund its retirement and benefits funds as everyone else does and it needs to change the laws so that the USPS can at least break even.  Drop these idiotic and destructive requirements.  If we don’t get this fixed soon, we will lose the last pseudo-secure option we have for communication.