Friday, November 18, 2016

"My New President Says ...!" (Is the Shouting Match Over Yet?)

Family arguments this morning. No, the discussion wasn't American politics or the president-elect. It was just a normal argument about chores and who gets to tell whom what to do. And about listening instead of just throwing words into the air.

But I have work to do, and e-mail to read. (Bitter taste of irony in my mouth.)

I don't know how Twitter got me lined up with LGBTQ-whatever tweets, but they come in regularly, and I don't have the time to log in and go mousing around to see if I can change the settings. (But I do have time to write this blog post. Go figure.) Besides, I'm letting Googlemail filter twitter's junk into a "Social Media" folder (or whatever that is) with LinkedIn, etc.

This morning there's a re-tweet (essentially) of some media reporting (I'm guessing.) on somebody in Florida who attacked a man, claiming (with crude language) that his new president was excusing him in doing so.

(One of these days, I need to explain to the whole world just exactly what homosexuality means, and why the whole thing should be a non-argument. Not that anyone would ever listen to me if I did. Or, if the post got attention, I'd be targeted by both all sides of the argument for not taking sides with them. Yet another reason I'll never be elected president.)

And I find myself thinking that the last presidential campaign is an archetypical example of people talking (and shouting) at each other without listening.

Which is why we ended up with Hillary vs. The Donald. Ultraman's mother vs. The Incredible Hulk (or maybe it was Glenn Talbot) or something like that.

So, the problem is that we still aren't listening to each other.

Maybe I should start twitting pithy things now, like, "The shouting match is over, can we start listening to each other yet?" (But would that fit in a tweet?)

I really don't like the current implementation of social media. Anybody want to front me the bread to get it right? No? Well, LinkedIn is as close as we'll get at this point, in no small part because they are trying to design it to promote real conversation.

The shouting match is over. Can we start listening to each other again, yet?

Monday, November 7, 2016

An Awkward Proposal for an Amendment to Correct Election Processes

Amendments are extreme means. The travesty of the current presidential election rather calls for at least suggesting extreme means.

The president is not supposed to be king/queen for the day or for four years. He or she is supposed to be there to keep Congress in check and be the head of a limited executive branch. He or she is supposed to just be another ordinary citizen with what is supposed to be just a relatively ordinary job.

But now we have Congress holding court with their retainers, whom we call lobbiests and vested interest groups and political parties. When government was small, there was no reason for the retinue.

And we have the courts holding court with their retinue of lawyers, etc. When government was small, ...

And we have the presidential contenders holding court with their retainers -- the political parties and campaign committees, etc.

My wife is listening to the radio in the morning as usual.

The talk show host is commenting on the US elections, comparing the presidential race to AKB-48's popularity contests. My wife says the comparison is insulting to AKB-48. (My family is none of us fans of the idol manufacturing entertainment corporations, and AKB-48 often gets particularly critical evaluations.) I know the comparison is not unique, and it isn't even the first time Dojo has said it. And American pundits and commentators have compared this election unfavorably to American Idol, too.

But it's really bad this year.

I explained to my daughter that things are not supposed to get this bad.

Now, I personally think that neither Clinton nor Trump would be the worst president elected in the US.

Mr. Trump, if the ironic happens and the decoy gets elected, would have to pick a cabinet, the cabinet would have to be approved, and such a cabinet would help him figure out what a president really is allowed to do. Unfortunately, he would thereby be easily turned into a puppet of the power mongers who think they are the hidden aristocracy.

Ms. Clinton's approach to politics has improved a bit since eight years ago. But she definitely let's her mother's instinct for protectionism interfere with her comprehension of the general duties of citizenship. The e-mails thing and other such blunders I chalk up to the people she has gathered around her. And she definitely has shown herself to be manipulable by those power mongers.

Either way, there is likely to be some more unfortunate erosion in the Constitutional checks-and-balances.

And it is not the personalities that are the problem here.

It's the reinterpretations, the changes in traditions such that a particular Constitutional restriction really doesn't mean what it says any more, so that they can "accomplish" the "things" that their backers want.

We need to untangle partisan politics from all of the political processes, and one place to start is the presidential campaign.

We are told (by whom?) that the electoral college was intended to provide a buffer between popular opinion and the office of president.

I don't believe it. Maybe that was what some people thought.

My impression is that the electoral college was really intended to provide an organized way to get the results of the state balloting safely to the capital for this one office that has to be elected by all the states.

In the late 1700s, we had unreliable postal roads. (erk!) No TV, no telephone, definitely no Internet.

And the Constitution was not designed to bring all the states together into one homogenized nation. Each state has its own Constitution and its own laws. That includes election law.

So we had the problem of different election processes in each state, meaning that a citizen's vote in Virginia was not the quite same as a citizen's vote in New Hampshire.

The electoral college was intended as a way to let each state handle elections its own way, and then the states themselves pass their results up to the national level. It was intended as a protection against vote tampering.

As a convenience, it also provided for difficult cases such as statistical ties.

Florida's "hanging chads"?

Florida was a failure of the system. It wasn't the first time we'd seen that particular failure. Florida was a statistical tie. No way is less than one percent difference meaningful.

In plain words, neither Bush nor Kerry won Florida, hanging chads notwithstanding.

Elections are statistical processes. At the time the Electoral College was established, the methods and means for transmitting the results of the processes were not well established. Some of the statistical mathematics were also not generally understand.

And, what is more important, what might have worked well in one state probably would not have worked well in another.

Once again, as I understand it, the Electoral College was not to protect the office from popular opinion so much as it was to protect the transmission of the results.

What has happened now is that the two predominant political parties have essentially hijacked the election processes, establishing their own machinery (the primary elections being the most prominently visible parts) for state operated methods of choosing electors.

The most effective way to protect abused power is to hide it.

Can we get that through our heads?

Putin is a figurehead -- a strong figurehead, but he can not go against the real power holders if he wants to stay alive.

Kim Jung Un is so hard to decrypt precisely because he is trying to work the real powers in Korea against each other, and it's not really working the way he expects.

Obama wanted to do a lot of good things, but the limits he ran up against were not just Constitutional limits.

So, we need to break the political parties' hold on the election. That means that we need to change something. (And we'll have to revisit this question again in a few decades, I'm sure. Social engineers are always so blind to the results of their manipulations.)

So, I'm proposing:

An Amendment to Correct the Elections Processes.

[Except this is way too much detail to be made part of the Constitution. I really need to refine the ideas here a bit more.]

Section 1: Ballots used for national elections, including state processes for national elections, and the processes for casting ballots, shall conform to the following requirements:

The ballots shall be rendered in physical and durable form.

The ballots shall be directly readable by all who use them, including the person legally casting the ballot and the persons who, by law or judicial direction, count the ballots.

The ballot shall not change form in casting, submission, transmission, or storage except the minimum necessary changes to provide for the anonymity of the person casting the ballot.

The person casting the ballot may request help from a qualified voter of his or her own choice.

The form of the ballot shall provide anonymity in all elections except where there is unusual, overriding, pressing, and temporary need to identify the person casting the ballot with the ballot cast. In any case, elections for the President, House of Representatives, Senate, and any elected judicial office of the United States shall always be conducted in a manner which protects anonymity.

The form of the ballot shall also provide means of confirming that the number of ballots counted matches the number of ballots cast.

The content of the ballot shall be protected from discovery until after it has been separated from whatever means has been provided to confirm the ballot count, and until after it has been submitted and stored for counting.

Counting shall not proceed until after the polling area is closed for further ballots.

A person requesting a new ballot to replace a spoiled one shall physically and visibly destroy the spoiled ballot and return it. Destroyed ballots shall be kept separately from cast ballots at all times, and shall not be counted except to determine that the total count of ballots used matches the total count provided for the election.

All ballots shall be kept for the purpose of confirming both the process and the result until such time as determined by state or national law.

The methods and means for counting the ballots and transmitting the results to the respective government officers who by law receive them shall be open to review.

Casting multiple ballots in any national election shall be tried as a misdemeanor crime. Aiding and abetting the casting of multiple ballots in any national election shall be tried as a capital crime. Repeated offenses may be punished by temporarily or permanently revoking the privilege of voting, as determined by the courts for a particular case. [And I really need to work more on the language of this one, too.]

Section 2: The President and Vice President of the United States shall be chosen by direct vote of qualified citizens of the United States in their states of primary residence.

Each candidate standing for the office of either President or Vice President shall stand as a candidate for both offices.

The ballots shall provide for the choice of any of the candidates for President and Vice President, once as choice for President, and once as choice for Vice President. The ballots shall also provide for a write-in candidate, and for an explicit vote against all of the candidates in each office.

[Yes, I think that it should be possible to vote for one from one party and one from another, and I think it should be possible to vote for the same candidate for both offices, should one desire to do so.]

When counting the vote of a write-in candidate, it should be recorded and counted as it is written. 

A runoff election shall be held when there is no clear winner for either office, or when the combined count of votes against and votes for write-in candidates are the highest votes for either office. Also, a runoff election shall be held when one candidate receives the highest count of votes for both offices.

There is no clear winner when the highest count and the second highest count are within one percent of each other, one percent meaning one percent of total votes cast for that office.

When a runoff election is held, all candidates whose count of votes for a particular office in the original election is within five percent of the highest count for that office shall be invited to stand again, five percent meaning five percent of the total votes cast. Also, when a runoff election is required, anyone who can reasonably demonstrate their claim to be a write-in candidate receiving more than one percent of the total vote shall be invited to stand.

Further, when a runoff election is required and votes against all the candidates exceeds ten percent of the total votes cast, new candidates shall be allowed to stand in the runoff election. Again, if there are less than two candidates to stand, new candidates shall be allowed to stand in the runoff.

The runoff election shall be held six weeks after the original election. All candidates standing in the runoff election shall register their candidacy in each state at least a week before the runoff election.

The runoff election shall allow for neither write-in candidates nor a vote against all candidates, unless no new candidates stand. If no new candidates stand, write-in candidates shall be allowed.

If a write-in candidate appears to receive the most votes for either office in the runoff election, a confirmation election shall be held to choose from among those who can demonstrate reasonable claim to being the winning write-in candidate. The states shall make no effort to prevent such demonstration of reasonable claim. This election shall be held three weeks after the runoff election. Those who stand in the confirmation election shall register in each state during the two weeks following the runoff election. The states shall not make unreasonable requirements for their registration. The ballot shall provide for explicitly voting against all candidates on the confirmation ballot.

If there is no clear winner for either office after a runoff election and any confirmation election, the House of Representatives shall as soon as possible choose by vote from among the candidates in the runoff and confirmation elections receiving more than ten percent of the respective total votes. If no two candidates have received more than ten percent of the vote, they shall choose from among the candidates receiving more than five percent. If no two candidates receive more than five percent, they shall choose from among all the candidates. A quorum of three fourths of the House shall be required, and they shall vote first for the President, and then for the Vice President.

Section 3: If this amendment is ratified within one month of a presidential election, it will take not take effect until that election has been completed.

If this amendment is ratified, it will be reviewed and either repealed or updated after twenty years.

Why Do I Suggest So Many Constitutional Amendments?

I have suggested two, already. And I have at least three more that I am going to suggest,
None of these should be necessary.

Surely, playing with the text of the Constitution is not wise?

Surely, it would be more appropriate to deal with the current problems with the law with ordinary legislation, having Congress clean up its own mess?

If only Congress would clean up the mess they call the US (national/federal) code.

But we have a deeper problem. Several of the amendments and a long string of reinterpretations that we once thought were expedient are denaturing the Constitutional balance of power.

For far too long time, we have ignored the fourth branch. We have forgotten that a people who will not govern themselves shall not be be governed to any good purpose at all. We have let the executive, legislative, and judicial branches take the ascendant position of power.

Worse, we have allowed the political parties to try to substitute themselves as the fourth branch.

And we have allowed the media to try to substitute themselves as the fourth branch.

And we have allowed corporations to try to substitute themselves as the fourth

Who else is trying to jump into the presumed vacuum left when the Constitution banned the nobility and laid the foundation of sovereignty on the people instead?

Religious groups are not the only dangerous partisans whose influence in government must be strongly counteracted.

If we can restore the Constitutional protections and balances of power by ordinary means, that would be wiser.

But we have to start talking about the problems before we can start fixing them. Talking about the problems is one of the ordinary means, really.

Raising the possibility of amendment is one way to try to kick the conversation out into the general forum of discussion.

Dangerous times call for pushing rhetoric a little towards the extreme.