Maybe We Need a Freedom Gauge

I had the idea, probably months ago now, and set it down in my long list of strange, passing thoughts, for something called the Freedom Gauge, or Freedom Meter. I think that might be helpful in making political decisions and informing political opinions.

Why? Because, at root, every government restricts citizens’ freedoms in some way(s) — after all, we accept certain limitations on complete, anarchic freedom as part of the social compact — and every law that is passed curtails some freedom(s). The question is, how much?

My first thought was that of being a watchdog over legislatures so that, in the process of new laws being proposed, debated, and enacted, the bills’ effects on personal freedom might be shown on the Freedom Gauge. Different legislative proposals could be compared in terms of their “Freedom Quotient” or something. The idea was to present in graphical form how much particular legislation would curtail freedoms. (And, in a flight of the wildest rose-colored-glasses fancy, I thought legislatures themselves might make use of the gauge to show how little impact their proposals would have on the average citizen.)

Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged
Yes, something like that … (Image: “Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged,” by Kaz Vorpal, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

My second thought was an international comparison of some sort: a monitor of the freedom(s) afforded — or denied — by different countries. Basic data might come from the CIA World Factbook or other trustworthy sources, and might include socioeconomic figures, crime statistics, human rights abuse reports, and whatnot. But I think the local version, the what-law-are-they-passing-today version, may be more useful.

If I had the wherewithal — the time, money, and know-how — I think I would register a website called “freedomgauge.com” or “freedom-meter.com” (both domains were available as of noon today) and build a site that would “measure” — somehow — and report infringements on freedoms: infringements in existence now, and ones that are being proposed. Alas, that seems like a monumental task. I suppose it would have to be crowd-sourced in some way, reliant on contributors the way online encyclopedias are. And that’s far beyond my level of expertise.

So, no, I don’t see myself making a “Freedom Gauge” happen, though I think it might be a good thing.

With that said: if you think the idea has merit, feel free to run with it and see what you can do!

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Blinded by the Dark

Considering a pseudo-random question that seems relevant to our current societal climate:

Why does being vehemently against something — hating it with a passionate rage — blind us to any merits of the thing?

careful now
Beware what lurks in the darkness of hatred and fear. (Image: “careful now,” by neeel, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Consider any number of candidate topics: abortion, guns, the President, nameacontroversialsubject. Why do so many of us end up so adamantly against whatever it is that we cannot bring ourselves to consider the least amount of good in it? Why does it seem that acknowledging even the tiniest merit is some kind of betrayal, rather than an admission that we don’t have all the answers and that most (if not all) issues are not clearly black and white?

Sometimes it seems as if we are afraid to recognize anything good in that thing we despise, because we might begin to question ourselves instead of the hated thing. But in general we’re careful not to question our own conclusions or premises, let alone how we got from one to another; and just as careful not to question our motives or our leaders — and so we build fortifications around our position and prepare not only to defend it, but to attack the other. We guard ourselves against an obvious risk: if we ever accept that the thing we hate has some good aspects, we may begin to recognize that its opposite, the thing we love, is not as pure and perfect as we thought.

As an artifact of my engineering training, I wonder: is there a scale, a curve, a function that describes the point at which opposition produces recalcitrance? And is there a way to draw one another back from the precipice it represents?

I may be the only person who wonders, or cares. But, then again, I’m quite comfortable in the “grey areas” of life — between the black and the white.

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Why I Want (to Start?) a New Political Party

I want a new political party.

To be clear: I want a new political party almost enough to stop playing my “Anti-Candidate” game — as fun as it’s been — and start playing the political game seriously. If I thought there were enough interest, I would pursue it.

I’ve never felt completely bound by party affiliation. I can’t remember ever voting a straight party ticket. I’ve been a Republican as long as I can remember, though, so it might have happened once or twice. But lately I’ve been displeased by my own party almost as much as by any other.

The parties today spend vast amounts of time, effort, and money trying to distance themselves from the others. “We’re not them” seems to be the rallying cry, even when their criticisms of the other side sound rather similar.

Consider, for instance, that both Democrats and Republicans like to claim that the other side is what I’d call the “party of taking.” Democrats warn that Republicans are the party of the rich, of banks and big business, who by the very fact of their wealth must be hoarders who take and take from the economy, enriching themselves and their friends at the expense of the poor and downtrodden. Republicans warn that Democrats stand ready to take what they can, from whoever they can, in order to redistribute it according to their socialistic visions.

Instead of saying what they are, they focus on what the other party is, or what they think it is, or what they want to make it seem to be.

I’m weary in my soul from all of that.

The parties rarely hold themselves up to scrutiny, rarely articulate clear visions, and rarely offer compelling arguments for their positions. What are they all about? What do they represent? With the number of issues in play, and the vast array of opinions on even the simplest subjects, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the totality of their platforms; but, in the interest of time and attention, let’s keep the focus on economic matters.

Democrats appear to want to be the “party of providing,” or the “party of giving” — emphasizing the “have-nots” of society and determined to transform them directly into “haves.” They seem to downplay the source of the largesse they would distribute, except to say that much of it would come from the hated rich. Republicans like to present themselves as the “party of protecting” when it comes to securing the blessings of liberty, and are very much the “party of earning” — especially in the way they deemphasize society’s economic safety nets. And Libertarians — while in some respects I appreciate their positions on many issues, though I shudder at how far some of them tend away from Heinleinian “rational anarchy” all the way to full anarchy — appear to be the “party of keeping,” from the standpoint of everyone keeping what they have and doing with it what they please.

I want a new party: one that is not about “giving” or “earning” or “keeping” but is about “producing.”

North Carolina Potter
Where is the political party for the creative class, and the people who produce? (Image: “North Carolina Potter,” by Robert Nunnally, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I want a party for the makers, for the creators, for the ordinary as well as the remarkable people who design, who build, who produce and maintain everything that makes modern life possible, comfortable, and enjoyable. And I mean everything, from houses to housewares, from food to furniture, from semiconductors to symphonies. Not a party of “labor” by itself, but a party of industry — remembering that those who drive trucks are just as industrious as those who direct movies, and those who make repairs are just as industrious as those who make … well, anything.

I want a party that not only recognizes but celebrates the creative productivity — or, if you prefer, the productive creativity — that leads to inspiration, innovation, and invention. Productivity that is uncreative winds down into obsolescence, and creativity that is unproductive remains underappreciated if it is not lost forever, but creative productivity leads to great gains in every field of endeavor. I believe creative productivity is essential to establishing, growing, and sustaining any civilization, and those who are creative and productive have earned the right to be represented by a party (and a government) that values their contributions to society.

That’s the new party I want.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe. And I wonder whether anyone else might think it worthwhile.

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In Search of a New Political Slogan

President Trump has had so much success with “Make America Great Again” — which I never fully understood, since I was convinced that the USA was pretty great already, but which I have to admit is continually effective in how it drives some people beyond crazy — that I started thinking I might need a new slogan for my ongoing “Anti-Campaign.”

(For those unfamiliar with the Anti-Candidate’s Anti-Campaign, we offer two musical introductions: “I Think I’ll Run for Congress” and “The Anti-Candidate Song”.)

My first thought was to copy the “MAGA” formula exactly, and one early contender in that vein was “Make America Gray’s Again” — but that seemed too “arrogant and megalomaniacal” even for me 😃. (If you’re not sure about the “arrogant and megalomaniacal” references, you definitely need to listen to the musical introductions above.) Plus, it would need to be somewhat different so as not to confuse people too much.

Anyway, following the “Make America [Something]” structure, we could have things like:

  • MABA — Make America Barbaric Again (for fans of Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” and the rough-and-tumble days of the frontier), though in some respects we’ve crossed that bridge and burned it behind us; alternately, Make America Brave Again might be more appropriate
  • MACA — Make America Confederate Again (since some progressives seem ready to ditch the current Constitution, maybe we should revert to the Articles of Confederation — or did you think I meant a different confederacy?), though it would probably be better to Make America Constitutional Again
  • MADA — Make America Disciples Again (for those of a missionary or Dominionist bent)
  • MAHA — Make America Harmonious Again (for the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” crowd)
  • MAMA — Make America Magnificent Again (maybe too close, thematically, to MAGA … wouldn’t want any copyright infringement issues), but could also be Make America Megalomaniacal & Arrogant 😁
  • MANA — Make America Neutral Again (admit it: you thought it might say “nice” or “native” again, didn’t you?)
  • MAPA — Make America Proud Again (since, as we learned a few years ago, some people don’t have a lot of pride in the USA)
  • MARA — Make America Righteous Again (another one for the evangelicals, and particularly the fundamentalists)
  • MASA — Make America Serious Again (on second thought … naaah)
  • MATA — Make America Trustworthy Again (i.e., a country with integrity: the best friend and worst enemy another country could ever have)

None of those really fit the bill, though, do they? Maybe this is one reason why I wouldn’t be very well-suited to politics.

I’m sure if I were at all serious about running for office, I would bring some smart people into a room and come up with something. But at the moment, if I were serious, I might just turn things around and have my campaign be about GAMA: Giving America Meaning Again.

What do I mean by that? Reminding us that the USA was “brought forth on this continent” for freedom, and that the steps we’ve been taking toward statist control are anathema to freedom. Reminding us what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” mean — and what they don’t mean. Reminding us what government is supposed to do — and what it’s not supposed to do. If, that is, anyone would ever want to listen to another voice crying in the wilderness.

So, if you were an adviser to the Anti-Candidate, or on the Anti-Campaign team, what would you suggest as a good slogan?

___

Don’t forget: As noted here, I’ve been running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, and the last drawings will be held this Monday, the 15th of April. Sign up at this link!

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Why Isn’t D.C. the Testbed for All Federal Laws?

Several years ago, I pitched an idea in an essay addressed to the Secretary of Education — called, appropriately enough, An Unsolicited Proposal for the Secretary of Education — that they might do well to open and operate a charter school in the District of Columbia, with the aim of making it the best school in the nation. After all, if the US Department of Education really is the nation’s repository of educational excellence, it should be able to run a school, should it not? And not just any school, but a model school that other schools would want to emulate.

We could take that a few steps further, though, if Congress insisted that all Federal laws be tested in the District of Columbia for a period of time — five years, maybe — before they go into effect nationwide. Depending on point of view, D.C. residents would either be the pioneers of new legislation or the guinea pigs for it, but the object would be to actually try out the lawmakers’ (and, let’s be honest, the lobbyists’) ideas on a small scale before they get rolled out to the rest of us. Pilot programs: make sure the laws do what they’re supposed to and don’t have unexpected adverse effects before we make everyone subject to them.


This map shows the original boundary of D.C., before Congress gave Virginia back (in 1846) the portion it had originally donated. (Image: “Map of the District of Columbia, 1835,” public domain from Wikimedia Commons.)

Alas, it’s just another harebrained Anti-Candidate idea. (But, hey: if enough people wanted to put me into elective office, I’d be willing to give it a try!)

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The Dark Energy of Insults

I find it interesting that the tendency to want others to like what we like, to think how we think, and possibly even to do what we do, all too often results in insulting those who like, think, and do different things than we do. It seems rather difficult to acknowledge our differences and admit that other people prefer something else; instead, all too often we attack.

I get that you prefer some things over others, and that you have sound reasons for doing so. I get that you would like for other people to prefer the thing(s) you do. I don’t get that you think it’s a good idea — that it’s to your benefit or anyone else’s — to insult people who prefer things other than those you prefer.

And I especially don’t get that you employ more insults regarding things of great import than you do for trivial things. I don’t encounter many people insulting me because I prefer tea to coffee, for instance; it might be amusing (I do get chided about it from time to time), but people generally don’t think to use insults or coercion in such cases. But the higher the stakes, the more frequent and more scathing the insults; e.g., in the realm of politics and policy decisions. It’s as if being insulted would somehow induce me to change my preferences where other, more reasoned arguments failed to do so.


(Image: “Disagreement Llama,” by Valdrec, on DeviantArt under Creative Commons.)

But that’s not the main purpose of those insults, is it? They’re not meant to convince the other side, but to signal which side we’re on, and to make us feel powerful in our righteous — or self-righteous — indignation. Their dark energy can be addictive, but it’s not all that productive.

Consider: Someone on the conservative side calls a progressive a “libtard.” Someone on the progressive side calls a conservative a Nazi (or a racist, or homophobic, or a misogynist, or whatever). And each one turns away, smug and content — not that they have convinced the other person to reconsider their erroneous views of the world, but that they have put the other person in their place.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. As we find in James 3:10, “Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. Brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”

I wish I had an answer, an alternative, a workaround. But all I can do is work on myself, and try to hold myself to a higher standard.

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A Single Standard

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Presidential adviser Ivanka Trump’s e-mails.

My e-mails.*

If any of us violated the terms of our security clearances, nondisclosure agreements, or training, in the course of sending US Government information by e-mail, we should face the same penalty.

If any of us mishandled classified US Government information by sending it over an unclassified e-mail system, whether a government-owned system or a system in the private sector, and whether by intent or through negligence, we should face the same penalty.

If any of us deleted US Government information that was meant (or especially required) to be archived, we should face the same penalty.

We have enough double standards in the world.

Double Standard
(Image: “Double Standard,” by Andy Mangold, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Must we continue to excuse wrong behavior, or apply a different standard, based on who is involved?

Can there ever be a single standard?

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*In whatever official positions I held: Speechwriter to the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Technology Security Policy Program Manager, Detachment Commander, etc.

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The Bullies on Our Side

I think odd thoughts sometimes, and this may be one of the oddest: I come not to bury the bullies, but to praise them. At least, the bullies on our side.

(Full disclosure: I have only been bullied a little in my life, and I’m ashamed to say I was something of a bully for a while. It was part of my being young-and-stupid, and one of many parts that I would change if I could. What I’m talking about in this post, though, goes far beyond the schoolyard though it can be just as discouraging.)

Because when we think we’re right and other people are wrong, and we decide we need to enforce our rightness by making others conform to standards we set, we often end up relying on bullies to help us get our way. Not so much on the individual, interpersonal level (as adults), but enlarge the scope to the level of civic interaction and pretty soon the bully we know, the bully we like, the bully on our side becomes a most valued ally.

Why? Because much of society is unbalanced, power-wise.

Two equals who have different viewpoints and preferences are more likely to “live and let live” than two unequal parties, and even two closely matched entities may find it better to negotiate settlements. But in many cases where the power differentials are substantial, the less powerful party’s behavior is coerced in some way. Sometimes it’s overt and natural, as when parents teach their children how to behave in civil society. Sometimes it’s expected and voluntary, as when military members submit to higher authority. Sometimes, however, it’s subtle, insidious, and dictatorial.

Uninvited coercion on larger scales can be peaceful, as in the nonviolent movements of Ghandi and King that used moral suasion to great effect. It can also be martial, as in every revolution and riot that resorts to violence and the threat of violence to achieve its ends. Either way, the end result is accomplished by applying pressure — and remember, in physics terms pressure is force applied over an area. Force does not have to be shocking: the force you feel from atmospheric pressure is different from the force you feel if hit with a hammer, but it is a force nonetheless. And force, or the threat of force, is often what gets results in the wider world.

You may not think of such group action as bullying. But whenever we force someone who is not in our charge to do something they would rather not do, we effectively bully them — whether directly, or by proxy. And the biggest proxy bully around, that we have empowered to do the bullying on our behalf, is the government.


Yeah, don’t tread on me … but if you wouldn’t mind, those other people over there need to be trod upon…. (Image: “The Gadsden flag,” on Wikimedia Commons.)

The government offers us choices of who we might select as our favorite bully. It might be the legislature, since they pass laws that make other people do things that we want them to (or stop them from doing what we don’t like). Or it could be the judiciary, since their decisions can amount to much the same thing. We might choose the executive, since they enforce laws and may do so in our favor. Or it may be the police, because they keep all those lawbreakers and ne’er-do-wells in line.

Or perhaps our favorite bully is closer to hand, like our supervisor or plant manager or CEO — if we’re one of their favored employees. Maybe we ally ourselves with someone at work or church or the gym who has some degree of “informal” power, and they become the bully on our side. Or maybe we choose the mob: not the capital-m Mob of organized crime, but the gang around us — the school clique, the workplace cronies, the neighborhood crowd, the thinks/acts/looks like us mob that comes together at opportune times to make our wishes and even our demands known and strives to make them come to pass.

It could be that our favorite bully isn’t a person at all. It might, for instance, be the Bible, if we use it to tell other people — whether or not they share our faith — how they should act. (For the record: From what I can tell, if we try to make the Bible’s guidelines apply to nonbelievers, we’re wrong.)

How refreshing it would be if we would admit liking when government officials enforce the laws we approve, especially when those laws apply to other people, or when the government fails to enforce laws we despise (that usually apply to us).

We may be reluctant to admit that because we know it’s no fun being bullied. Maybe we don’t have a favorite bully, and don’t cheer when authorities and powers-that-be start bullying others — even if we approve of the result. Maybe we’re rather more libertarian than we usually think; it does seem that in many respects the lowercase-L libertarians have the right handle on the overall “live and let live” approach. And even if we’re not very libertarian-minded, we may sympathize a little with those on the opposite side since we know what it’s like to be coerced.

We may prefer not to consider all this to be bullying, although our ends — especially if we think of them as pure and noble — can justify all manner of different means. And in pursuit of those ends, even if we don’t call them by name or like them very much we still turn our bullies loose on those we think should do things to our liking. And if those other people complain or disagree, that’s fine — as long as they still comply.

We despise the other side’s bullies, of course, who stand ready to force us to do what we would rather not. But when we believe our way is the only right way, and we’re so dead set on getting our way that we will countenance force (or, pressure) to achieve it, we need our bullies. We may not love them, but we’re willing to rely on them.

As long as we’re convinced they’re really on our side.

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That Pesky Constitution

That idea I floated yesterday? The one about making Legislative pay and benefits dependent on how well Congress, you know, actually does its job? Turns out it wouldn’t take immediate effect because of the 27th Amendment.

Herein lies a lesson in how age dims the faculties … especially when one’s references are also old.

The copy of the U.S. Constitution that I have near to hand, and that I used before publishing yesterday’s post, was printed in 1984. Thus it predates the 1992 ratification of the 27th Amendment — and, frankly, I had forgotten that amendment even existed. Given that it was ratified during my second USAF assignment, and didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, perhaps I can be forgiven that error.

Anyway, the 27th Amendment says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Thus, Congress can’t vote itself an immediate pay raise (which I knew, and joked about in “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”), but they also can’t have their pay immediately docked. The first thing makes sense, but I’m not so sure about the second.

Pay to the order of...
(Image: “Pay to the order of…,” by dslrninja, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

So, a law like the one I laid out yesterday could be passed, but it wouldn’t go into effect until the next congressional session. That might be okay — in fact, it might be good, because it would give a little bit of time for lawmakers to start buckling down to their fiscal responsibilities.

I suppose another way to go, though it would take more time, would be to put forward a new amendment. Maybe something like this, to change one word in the 27th Amendment to allow for pay reductions to take immediate effect:

Amendment

Section 1. The twenty-seventh article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. No law, increasing the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

In the current climate, I imagine something like that would be ratified fairly quickly by the states. But, like yesterday’s proposal, I doubt I’d find many people willing to co-sponsor it.

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Another Wacky Idea: Legislative Pay Based on Fiscal Performance

In honor (ha!) of the latest government shutdown, I present another of my wild ideas about the government from the perspective of the “Anti-Candidate.” This idea would fit in well with a series of blog posts I wrote several years ago called “If I Were My Own Representative” — I’ll link to them at the bottom of this post, for anyone who’s interested — or with the myriad other tax ideas I’ve floated through the years.

The Anti-Candidate, of course, running the perpetual “Anti-Campaign,” has no chance of ever implementing any of these oddball notions. But if anyone wanted to fund and run a campaign to get me elected to the U.S. legislature — I don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting elected, but despite my joking around about politics I’d actually be honored to serve — I’d take great pleasure in submitting a bill something like this:

Whereas, it is the solemn responsibility of the U.S. Government to act as a trustworthy steward of the citizens’ treasure; and

Whereas, the endless accumulation of debt is not indicative of good stewardship; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution charges the Congress with the power to lay and collect taxes, and the power to spend the revenues therefrom; and

Whereas, the mechanism for spending the collected revenues is the annual budget for the operation of the U.S. Government; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution forbids the withdrawal of monies from the Treasury except under duly-legislated appropriations;

Be it hereby enacted that salaries and benefits for Legislative Branch personnel, including Senators, Representatives, and the top-paid half of their respective staffs, shall in perpetuity be limited as follows:

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to be revenue-neutral or produce a surplus, 100 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to produce a deficit, 80 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under an incomplete budget, leaving any U.S. Government function to operate under a continuing resolution, 60 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating entirely under continuing resolutions, 40 percent; or

– For the first 7 calendar days of any period in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, 20 percent;

– For any period beyond the first 7 calendar days in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, zero.

The above adjustments shall be made automatically by the Treasury except in cases where the President has returned duly passed appropriation legislation to the Congress, in which case the adjustment shall be as if the President had signed the legislation.

Or something like that. Obviously I’m no master of legal lingo, and I’ve probably left out some important details, but hopefully that gets the idea across.


(Image: U.S. Capitol, Western Front, from Wikimedia Commons.)

It would be amusing to listen to legislators explain why they should receive their full pay when they haven’t performed one of the most basic functions of their job. But for that to happen, the bill would have to get to the floor, which means getting through committee(s), which means it first must be brought up — and something tells me it would be fairly difficult to find a co-sponsor.

Still, it’s fun to think about.

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P.S. For anyone who might care, the five parts of the “If I Were My Own Representative” series were:
If I Were My Own Representative, Part I
Part II: Knowing What I’m Voting For
Part III: Hearings and Caucuses
Part IV: My Touchstone for Voting
Part V: A Positive Message

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