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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We Need Government, But Not Necessarily Governing

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Fantasy fans may be expecting a quote from the Harry Potter series this morning, since today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday; while that was tempting, I decided to take this in a different direction.

In addition to being Ms. Rowling’s birthday, today is also the birthday of US economist Milton Friedman (31 July 1912 – 16 November 2006). Friedman received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, and is something of a hero to libertarians because he argued for smaller government and a freer economy. However, it’s important to note that Friedman understood the importance of government, as he said in 1973:

We need a government to maintain a system of courts that will uphold contracts and rule on compensation for damages. We need a government to ensure the safety of its citizens — to provide police protection. But government is failing at a lot of these things that it ought to be doing because it’s involved in so many things it shouldn’t be doing.

And in 1978 Friedman said:

We have to recognize that we must not hope for a Utopia that is unattainable. I would like to see a great deal less government activity than we have now, but I do not believe that we can have a situation in which we don’t need government at all.

The problem is that often government spends too much time and effort governing — that is, imposing requirements and restrictions on citizens as to what they must and must not do. If we as citizens need governing, it is only because we have failed to govern ourselves; and if we freely impose upon ourselves a government to rule us rather than to operate alongside us — if we accede to be governed in that way — then we will have admitted that liberty is too great a burden for us to bear.


(Image: “US Capitol at Dusk,” by Martin Falbisoner, on Wikimedia Commons.)

I prefer the idea of a government that governs itself well; that leaves the rest of us to govern ourselves as best we can; and that intervenes and interferes in our lives very little.

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And now, if you’ll permit me an aside on “This Day in History” … I was interested to read on the Internet (so of course that means it’s all true) that today marks three separate events in the US space program, each having to do with the Moon:
– In 1964, the Ranger 7 spacecraft sent back the first close-up photographs of the Moon;
– In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts David R. Scott and James B. Irwin became the first to ride across the Moon’s surface in the lunar rover; and
– In 1999, NASA crashed the Lunar Prospector spacecraft into Shoemaker Crater at the lunar south pole.

I was interested in all of those things, of course, because last week my lunar colonization novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds, was published. And not just that, but I mention the Lunar Prospector mission in the novel! It comes up as a group of colonists pass Shoemaker Crater on a journey to retrieve polar ice needed to keep the colony alive.

Walking On The Sea of Clouds is available as an e-book on Amazon or as a trade paperback on Amazon, or if you prefer it’s also available as an e-book from Kobo and Smashwords.

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Thanks, and have a great week!

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New Video: Of, By, and For the People

Have you thought much about the placement of the prepositions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Does their placement — “of the people, by the people, for the people” — matter much in understanding what they imply for our government?

In this video, I suggest that their placement is pertinent … and proper:

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Related:
– Video: The Verbs in the Preamble
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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The Author and Politics

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

This past Saturday, at the ConCarolinas science fiction and fantasy convention, I was part of a panel called “Author and Politics” which was both well-attended and well-run. We agreed on some points, we disagreed on some points, but we did so like grown-ups — respectfully and without rancor.

It was, in the end, quite refreshing.

So when it came to figuring out a good quote to start the week, I thought of this one from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which I copied out of The Gulag Archipelago many years ago.

Is it not true that professional politicians are boils on the neck of society that prevent it from turning its head and moving its arms? And why shouldn’t engineers have political views? After all, politics is not even a science, but is an empirical area not susceptible to description by any mathematical apparatus; furthermore, it is an area subject to human egotism and blind passion.

That quote has always resonated with me, mostly because of the imagery in the first sentence but also because I was trained as an engineer and still to a small degree think of myself as one. And it hasn’t lost any of its power: certainly we saw in our most recent election plenty of instances of “human egotism and blind passion.”

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - Icons
The parties don’t often see eye to eye, do they? (Image: “Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey – Icons,” by DonkeyHotey, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

But when I have experiences like the panel on Saturday, and I recall the adage that “all politics are local,” I am a bit more hopeful that if we conduct ourselves well we can avoid (at least in the small circles of our friends) the worst excesses of either side, and chart a course that’s mutually beneficial.

I admit that I may be hopelessly naïve about such things.

After all, I’m The Anti-Candidate, and I approved this message.

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Related Items:
– Listen to “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”, from the album Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Listen to “The Anti-Candidate Song”, from the album Distorted Vision

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Political vs. Personal Priorities

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

It’s been said that “politics makes strange bedfellows,” and over the last few years we’ve been treated to some evidence of that. It’s also been said that “power tends to corrupt,” or (if you prefer) that power “is magnetic to the corruptible,” and I daresay that’s been evident from time to time as well — on both ends of the political spectrum.

But no matter where we are on that spectrum — left, right, or center — it seems prudent to remind ourselves that politicians’ priorities rarely match ours. As Thomas Sowell said,

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

Can you think of very many politicians who pursue causes that are independent of their reelection prospects? How many would risk losing their positions in order to achieve something on behalf of someone else?

(Not The Anti-Candidate, that’s for sure.)

Political Guide
Instead of “new ideas,” I think “different ideas” would be more fitting, but in general this seems to hold true for many people, much of the time. (Image: “Political Guide,” by Jason Nelms, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If Mr. Sowell is correct, and the evidence suggests that he is, maybe we’re better off taking care of our own priorities ourselves, and helping our friends and neighbors with their priorities when we can, instead of entrusting them to and relying on politicians who clearly have priorities of their own.

Something to think about. Hope you have a great week!

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