Preventing Minority Rule

Created May 6th, 2021

Some prognosticators are saying that filibuster and gerrymandering cannot be stopped and the result will be Republicans taking over legislative majority next year and winning the White House in 2024.

(Right up front let me say that I am OK in principle with Republicans or Democrats or even Independents like myself – now 41% per Gallup – winning legislative majority and/or the White House in any year. My concern is the White House being taken by a small band of rogues, as I will explain below.)

I checked the numbers in such articles as best I could and saw their point. Without enough votes to end the filibuster, gerrymandering alone is estimated to be able to gain the Republican party four more seats in Congress in 2022, more than enough to tip the scales the other way in Congress. Plus there is the historical tendency for midterm elections to go against the party of a first term president.

The 60% majority required to get legislation passed caused by filibuster creates an all-or-nothing effect. Either one party dominates but can’t get legislation passed, or the other party dominates but can’t get legislation passed.

Then, if an election causes the party positions to switch, the winning party erases all of what the former command party did.

This endless vacillation without permanent decisive action does not paint a rosy future for America, and therefore is also not a harbinger of freedom, justice, and equality taking over in the world any time soon.

The latest 53-country poll finds that most of the people in the world (81%) want Democracy, yet also are most afraid of Democracy going away because of America. Their main issue is inequality in wealth. This is the tragic legacy that un-American actors have already given us.

Standing by helplessly watch a relatively small cabal of hypocrites slash and gore world democracy even further is not something I can live with, without doing my all to combat that scenario. Other wiser Republicans or Democrats very welcome. Not the coup d’etat gang.

I tried out a scenario in my mind of a constitutional amendment (and learned that Dave Dodson wrote about it two years ago, long before I thought of it). But those have to be ratified by three quarters of State legislatures. 61% of State legislatures are controlled by the same Trump Republicans who are busily instituting voter restrictions. How would we expect to get more than 59% of that group (that would be 75% of all States) to ratify amendments to end filibuster and gerrymandering?

The only way out that I can see is referendums (I prefer “referenda” but the sources all use “referendums”). All 50 States have laws enabling these, however in only 26 States is it permissible for voters to initiate the referendum, in the other 24 the State legislature has to initiate. Parsing the latter group, out of the 24 we can conceive that 9 of these States’ legislatures could be reasonably expected to initiate a referendum as they are blue States except for Minnesota which is split. If that all went down exactly as expected, 15 States and the federal government would be controlled by a few thousand very specific Republicans who do not represent the average Republican (see stats below), while 35 States (more with DC and any other American lands achieving Statehood) would be doing their best to make State laws supporting voting rights, preventing gerrymandering, and preserving a degree of majority rule.

In the 15 States the picture might not look much like majority rule. Let’s do a simulation. We’ll use some real statistics to do it. To keep it simple, as a rule of thumb, let’s consider loyalty to Trump to be the main indicator of people who may know that they are a minority yet are quite content to rule the country as if they were the majority.

Let’s also consider loyalty to Trump over loyalty to the USA as an indicator of willingness to distrust everyone other than Trump (like the courts who threw out the cases against the 2020 election).

Why do these few thousand party controlling Republicans favor Trump so much? Because they know they are not the majority party without him, and see him as the only chance they personally have to stay on top.

Now where we started this column was with the facts as regards filibuster and gerrymandering. The people who would be propelled into power by these tools in 2022 – just as we are hopefully in all other ways getting back to normal lives vis a vis the pandemic – are much more pro-Trump than are average Americans or even average Republicans.

  • A 2021 Pew poll shows that 68% of Americans do not want Trump to remain a major political figure
  • The same poll shows that, even among Republicans, almost half (43%) do not want Trump to remain a major political figure
  • Based on their impeachment voting, only 14% of Republican Senators and 5% of Republican Congresspeople do not want Trump to remain a major political figure

The glaring revelation is that the Republicans who will wind up controlling all of our lives – if the 2022 election goes as the experts expect – do not represent all of us, they don’t even represent all Republicans!

Based on 237 million people eligible to vote in the US 2020 elections, there are 59,750,000 Republicans in America but only 4251 Republican party controlling members. 3979 Republicans in State legislatures, 27 Republican Governors, 43 Republican Senators who voted against impeaching Trump, and 202 Republican Congresspeople who did the same.

Yet if these 4251 people do engineer the takeover via filibuster and gerrymandering, there will be minority rule in America.

We will be being ruled by 4251 Trump loyalists and probably in 2024 by Trump himself.

This number, strangely, is not far from the number of controlling party members in another country – China – where the National People’s Congress consists of about 2924 people (a 2017 statistic).

What can we do about it?

Constitutional amendment will not work under the circumstances, although down the road it would be a good idea in order to make such “tricks’ unconstitutional and illegal and order the courts to take responsibility for making judgments in such cases. The tricks would include not only filibuster and gerrymandering but also voting restrictions of any kind.

In the immediate future, though, the strongest course of action to preserve majority rule in America would be to mount a major grassroots movement to create referendums in as many States as possible. And Pew, Gallup, Dynata, and other respected objective pollsters can use polling in the States without referendums to estimate what the referendum results would have been.

This may not change the outcome of the next couple of major election cycles but it can change the way citizens get involved in preserving American democracy, and democracy in the world. And maybe it could even make the elections fairer, despite chicanery. It would definitely bring it to our own attention that the will of the American population is no longer correlating well with the laws being made. And in time, that, in itself, would lead to eventual redress. The loopholes wormed into the US system that were not mentioned in the Constitution will eventually be shut.

I believe the Founders created a system for the Ages and only our own tampering (parties created in 1796, gerrymandering created in 1812, filibuster created in 1841) – typically for the good of only a few thousand politicians – is the source of all this mess we find ourselves in today.

Re-Evaluating Our Foundational Beliefs

Created April 30th, 2021

Philosophy is the practice of re-evaluating our foundational beliefs.

The practice of philosophy has diminished from ancient days to now.

The one place where philosophy has not gone away – in fact, where it dominates all human life on the planet today – is economics.

Economic “theory” makes it sound like economics is a science now. It is not nor has it ever been a science. It is a collection of clashing philosophies. (My recommendation as to how to make it a science.)

Why do I say that economics dominates all human life today? What is the subject matter causing the schism in America today? It is all about money. And, of course it is all about power. Is the money important because it gets you to power? Or is the power important because it gets you to money?

It is the latter.

Money is the one thing in the world that provides an individual with freedom (assuming that individual lives in a democracy).

Power is not the thing most people wish for, because it would bring with it responsibility. Most people will be happy if they have enough money and can spend their time doing things they love doing – usually involving churning out some passion work outputs that delight other people too.

This is not to obscure individual differences. Thankfully each of us is unique. My work has established that there are fifteen motivations and that each person is driven by a specific set of these, whose relative importance to the individual shifts over time.

The world’s oldest and longest manuscript, the Mahabharata, establishes four things that are worth obtaining from life: pleasure, wealth, virtue, and enlightenment.

The fact that economics dominates the world today shows that we have as a race lost sight of things we knew long ago. There is an amazing imbalance away from the other three “Highest Goods”. It’s all just about wealth now.

And yet, behind the propaganda used by believers in one economic philosophy over another, the people who originally made up these economic philosophies were not as depicted in the propaganda.

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” – Adam Smith

Adam Smith believed that the free hand of the market – the sum of actions of ordinary people and commercial enterprises and everyone else except governments – would lead eventually (he did not specify how long it might take) to an equilibrium satisfactory to all, and to growth and the elimination of poverty.

He lived at a time (1723-1790) when governments imposed protectionistic laws in a system called “Mercantilism” which maximized the wealth within a country by keeping out foreign competition. The same line of thinking linking the fortunes of countries and governments with those of companies and businesspeople was the context that spawned the British East India Company in 1600. Thus, Mercantilism was one of the spirals in the double helix with Colonialism/Imperialism. Go out and trade but exploit the others you trade with outside our country, bring their wealth back here, do not create win/win deals.

If you read Adam Smith – his own writings – you will see that his view of Laissez Faire and the Free Invisible Hand of the Market was intended to supplant Mercantilism as the dominant world economic system.

He did not offer any vision of the complicated world economic system we have today, nor any solutions for the kinds of challenges we are now facing.

He never once used the word “Capitalism”.

He was a genius and also owned considerable common sense. He wrote from his own moral compass and view of the world, he was a philosopher not an economist, he did not deal in data science, nor attempt to compile statistics to reach and prove his conclusions.

He was constantly making one foundational assumption, based on his accurate assessment that humans are social creatures: that all of us feel empathy for others, and therefore we would operate (eventually, as a result of growing up, education, experience) from enlightened self-interest. Meaning the realization that one will tend to be unhappy no matter how rich one gets, if one observes others suffering. He assumed that eventually everyone would be that way naturally – naturally altruistic, not egoistic– transcending 100% selfishness. Therefore, the rich would give to and train the poor, and we would all live happily ever after. In this optimistic view he may even have been influenced by his mentor and great friend David Hume.

In the 231 years since his demise, we have not achieved universal altruism. I like to think that the percentage of altruists in the population has increased as a percentage of total population in that time. However, I have no data to support that. And the evidence of the last four years would seem to make the notion ludicrous.

Today, Americans have become so enmeshed in fantasy beliefs that we have formed warring camps along current party lines.

Adam Smith and David Hume and Tom Paine and the Founding Fathers of America were right. We do all want the same things, and we all feel conscience and empathy for others – but to differing degrees.

That sympathy is clouded by the dominant concern over money. One group is vociferous about bringing about reasonable sharing, citing the lack of evident utility of having excess wealth. The other group shoots them down with slogans based on twisted versions of Adam Smith. But underneath all the well-stated arguments of spokespeople for the two viewpoints, it all comes down to money. Haves and Havenots. It is no different at the foundation than it has been since the rise of Capitalism and Socialism. Like pirates scrambling for a gold coin on the deck of a pitching ship.

My sympathy for the poor is pretty obvious in my writing, however I am also sympathetic to hard working people irked by the idea of paying high taxes, sometimes almost a third of which goes to supporting people who do not work. In the short term this welfare state approach is the least bad solution, but in the long run we need to shift to training (see pages 6-7 at the link) those people to be able to support themselves, and not just because it would lower our taxes. Someone who lives off the dole will not tend to have high self-esteem, will not have found their calling, will miss out on having passion work to do each day, will rarely if ever experience the Flow state.

Joe Biden and his colleagues would be wise to use the media to educate the public to the roots of present events, so individuals can choose more wisely, separated from merely loquacious rhetoric.

Rancor is a sign of irrationality.

Blessings upon us all,

Bill

A Trace of Hot Tub Diplomacy in The Air

Created April 23, 2021

My wife Lalita emailed me “What happened to the hot tub?” when the latest U.S. sanctions were announced. That’s her way of referring to my recent columns envisioning a scene of détente among the leaders of the three superpowers.

I, too, felt disappointed when reading the headlines. I had hoped that the necessary wrist slaps would be presented differently than in the past, whether due to my ideas trickling up to the Oval Office or not. None of the headlines gave me any inkling that we were not still locked in the same mindsets as during the Cold War.

But things became more nuanced when I read the full reportage. President Biden’s televised remarks on April 15 sound a lot to me like the reasonable, moderate voice I gave my fictional Joe:

“We cannot allow a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process with impunity,” President Biden said in remarks announcing the sanctions on Thursday. He said he “was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further,” and that wanted a “stable, predictable relationship” with Russia.

“Now is the time to de-escalate,” Mr. Biden said. “Where there’s an interest for the United States to work with Russia, we should and we will.”

(The above as reported by CBS News)

The sanctions had been carefully measured to serve as a signal, to be more than merely symbolic, yet to limit the degree of pain caused to the Russian people. To make it clear that we will not be pushed around, nor will we over react, but we will be true to our word and not back off if transgressed against.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan summarized the President’s remarks to Mr. Putin in their April 13 telephone call this way:

“He said, ‘I told you that I was going to look into this, I made a determination that Russia has, in fact, conducted these actions. And I’m a man of my word, I am going to respond. But I’m not looking to escalate, I’m looking to provide proportionate responses. And I believe that it is in our interest to find a stable and predictable way forward in this relationship.'”

(The above as reported by The Guardian)

The measured nature of the sanctions is obvious to economists in that the move prevents U.S. financial institutions from participating in the primary market for ruble and non-ruble denominated debt after June 14, but does not affect the secondary market. Yet these U.S. actions also communicate that the line in the sand can be moved further depending upon how Russia responds.

Did my recent posts reach President Biden, or have he and his advisors followed a parallel path and reached similar conclusions to my own?

Perhaps God is talking to him, and I am somehow permitted to eavesdrop.

To me the most hopeful sign is that the President, while taking necessary action under the circumstances, simultaneously proposed a face to face meeting between himself and President Putin.

“President Biden reaffirmed his goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia consistent with U.S. interests, and proposed a summit meeting in a third country in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia,” the White House readout of the call said.

The readout went on to say that the two leaders “discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.”

(The above as reported by CBS News)

Perhaps the fictional scenario I outlined is going to take place in stages.

They also have hot tubs in Cannes.

Keep a positive thought.

Best to all,

Bill

Can We Up the Level of Discourse?

Created April 16, 2021

My obvious point in the fictional last three posts 1 2 3 is that a lot could be accomplished by the world’s top leaders at least speaking nicely to one another.

Yet despite my treasured audience, I guess so far, my thoughts have not entered the right offices in Washington DC. The angry threats rattle back and forth globally, and seem out of sync with the fantastic job our government has been doing in all other areas.

This raises the question of whether my scenario is realistic, that is, what chance does it have to be carried out authentically on the world stage? Or must we conclude that we no longer have the stuff FDR and Eisenhower and Kissinger and many others used to have?

It’s been done before. Every world triumph started that way, people lowering the noise level and getting down to trading and collaborating, plain old negotiation.

Nowadays, with all the talk about rapid adoption of new ways of thinking, what better place to use these “new” sane strategies of making win/win happen.

Same thing down here among us.

Wind down confrontation to trade and collaboration to achieve win/win.

A goal worthy of unification of efforts.

I’m envisioning that is where the machinations of history are eventually going to wind up after we’ve tried everything else first – assuming we survive thermonuclear biological chemical mindbend war that is the gravity otherwise pulling us.

Why go through all that?

Why not save ourselves the time and scars?

We can do it now, it’s simple, let’s talk about it if you agree with me or not, just talking without threats etc. is all I’m proposing.

In our common interest, much appreciate if you’d kindly pass this on. Thanks!

President Biden has proposed a summit with President Putin and it is expected to happen but not in the next few weeks. That still gives us time to plant the seeds for an innovative rather than predictable approach. If you like that idea, please help me disseminate these memes. Thanks again!

All my best,

Bill

Turning a New Page in History

Created April 9, 2021

taken by Robert Brett

When they finally turned in, Joe, Vlad and Jinping had slept well, dreaming of better days ahead.

A limo brought them down to Pfeiffer Beach just before sunrise. Although the air was brisk and the water cold, the three went for morning swims. By the time they were in beach chairs swaddled in terrycloth robes, Secret Service men and women brought them Ramos Gin Fizzes helicoptered down from the Buena Vista bar in San Francisco, Joe’s without the alcohol.

To the sandpiper looking at them from the water’s edge, they somehow looked like FDR, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, Joe sitting in the middle as FDR had done at Yalta. But the sandpiper knew nothing of such things.

Joe made sure his hands were dry before picking up his tablet.

“I want to read you something,” he said with a mischievous smile, “See if you can tell who said these things.” They looked back with amusement.

“We should foster a new type of international relations featuring ‘win-win cooperation’,” Joe read, “and we should forge a partnership of dialogue with no confrontation, and a partnership of friendship rather than alliance. All countries should respect each other’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity; respect each other’s development path and its social systems, and respect each other’s core interests and major concerns… What we hope to create is a big family of harmonious coexistence.”

Joe looked at them expectantly. Vlad just shook his head. “Obama?” he guessed.

“I said that,” Jinping recalled clearly, “in 2017 at the Belt and Road Forum.”

“Very much the spirit of what we discussed yesterday,” Joe observed, and both men cautiously nodded.

The sun appeared over the mountains. They watched it rise.

“Hexagram 35,” Joe said, referring to the I Ching. Hexagram 35 is Progress, the rapid easy progress of the sun rising in the sky, symbolizing ever widening expansion and clarity.

Jinping nodded. “A lot of wisdom in it. The culmination of Chinese learning over millennia.”

“What did you mean by ‘a partnership of friendship rather than alliance’?” Vlad asked Jinping.

“Alliance is generally a defensive maneuver,” Jinping posited. “NATO formed in fear of Russia, for example. Alliance means we will stand by you if you are attacked. If we create the right world, alliances will be unnecessary.”

“That will require trust,” Joe pointed out. “We three are self-disciplined and can therefore adapt faster than the average person. Most people will be cynical when they read about this meeting, and will take a lot of convincing over time. They will judge by our actions. Events will conspire to make it as hard as possible for us to stick to what we have been discussing.”

“That sounds very realistic,” Vlad murmured.

“When you said ‘All countries should respect each other’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity’, how would you relate that to Taiwan?” Joe asked politely.

“We are one people,” Jinping said. “The island you call Taiwan is occupied by the losers of the Chinese Civil War. Imagine if the Confederacy fled to an island close to the American mainland. What would you do?”

“But those people do not want to be reunited, they like being sovereign, as all people do,” Joe pointed out. “Your own words seem to confirm that you agree with this principle.”

“The real world is very messy,” Vlad commented. “Principles are fine in abstract philosophizing, but every situation in life is unique, and cannot be solved by a simple set of pre-established rules.”

“If your Most Favored Nation offer requires us to not secure our territorial integrity, it’s not going to last very long, and then we’re back where we were before yesterday’s unusual meeting,” Jinping said darkly.

“The way to feel secure is to have ‘friendship rather than alliance partnerships’ with all your neighbors, isn’t that your point?” Joe suggested.

“Although I can’t imagine you lose sleep worrying that anyone is going to invade China,” Vlad teased Jinping.

“My recommendation is that you just put on hold your recent initiatives in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and so on, and give us a chance to work together to solve the universal problems threatening our entire species,” Joe said. “You can resume them at any point you decide that they are more important than conquering mutating viruses, environmental collapse, world debt, suffering, fear, hate, and all of the crises we’ve brought on ourselves, and can most swiftly solve by our ‘partnership of friendship’.”

“I make no promises here and now,” Jinping said slowly, “but will consider carefully what you’ve said. I think we have made some real progress toward the ability to communicate clearly with each other.”

“Yesterday you enunciated four things your scenario planners say are the keys to working together,” Vlad began, addressing Joe. “Elbow room, offending the sensibilities of other nations, not making aggressive moves against each other, and how we the superpowers deal with everyone else.” Joe nodded, and Vlad went on. “What’s your definition of ‘aggressive moves’?”

“Fooling with each other’s media, stirring up troublemakers in each other’s country, having them enlist in the military in order to gain training and combat experience, reinforcing their authoritarian notions, outright attacks of course,” Joe paused, thinking if he had missed anything.

“Give all that up… I can’t work under those conditions,” Vlad said sternly and then smiled, admitting he was merely joking. “You know I don’t believe we have been doing any of those things, and in any case am happy to promise you that we will abide by these limitations going forward. But what about spying on each other? Is that going to be classified as an ‘aggressive move’?”

“No,” Joe said, “my advisors talked me out of that. Spying has been considered okay for the entire history of the human race. I would hope that once our actions have led to real trust in the world – God knows how long that will take us, but we must go there – our motivation to spy on one another will go way down.”

“What did you mean by ‘elbow room’?” Jinping asked.

“Expansionist moves usually come from the sense that one does not have enough land to contain one’s growing population,” Joe replied. Both men shook their heads. They both control enormous land masses, and see themselves as having population growth pretty much under control. “I see your point gentlemen, that one need not trouble us. I think we’ve discussed all of the points now except the one about everyone else in the world,” Joe said.

“What would you have us do about them?” Vlad asked.

“They of course deserve the same treatment we are promising each other,” Joe said, and the two men reluctantly nodded. “And they need help more than we do. We have to make sure they get the vaccines as soon as possible. That will prove that the three of us are serious and will begin the healing back of trust in the world.” They seemed to accept that notion but said nothing.

“Let’s go back to the elbow room thing,” Vlad said. “Most of the population growth is coming from everybody else, and eventually it’s going to get to be a very crowded world. For that reason, as well as a hedge against failure to cure the environment, and need for more natural resources, not to mention the positive effect on science and technology, we must continue our exploration of space.”

“I urge us to do that, together,” Joe agreed. “By combining forces, we can drive our science and technology much faster. We should not be in a space race against each other, nor should we picture colonizing planets in the name of one country who got there first. If the planet does not have a sentient race, we should feel free to live there without harming any species or the environment itself, as one humanity, not as countries.”

The other two men merely gaped at these ideas, taking them in, not prepared to argue against them, but reserving severe doubts.

“You know,” Joe said, “these apparent spacecraft that have been observing us, have far more advanced technology than we do.” Their eyes widened. Talking about UFOs had been tabu for years. “They may be concerned about us coming into space. We may appear to them to be warlike and immature. We don’t know if they represent a threat to us. One way or the other, we have to start thinking of ourselves as one humanity, for a long list of good reasons, real threats like mutating viruses and carbon dioxide, as well as possible threats that have not yet shown themselves.”

“Can’t rule anything out,” Jinping murmured. “But I for one am more concerned about corrupt people, terrorists foreign and domestic, and suggest we focus on the known problems.” Joe and Vlad nodded.

“You know the ‘bad guys’ among us are so very numerous,” Joe said, “Trying to violently exterminate them would make the world a far more horrible place than it is now. We have to uplift them out of their wrongheaded ideas.”

“That is very consistent with Chinese philosophy, as you have recently studied I believe,” Jinping observed, addressing Joe, who smiled agreement.

“Russian philosophy has always been multicolored,” Vlad said, “and leans toward integration with science and religion. We are very practical, we want to embody our philosophy directly into our daily lives. I was impressed yesterday with your ideas about training the most lost of our people. Turning that into real world experiments is an interesting challenge to tackle together, among the three of us, and with everyone else.”

There was a moment of soft silence and a feeling of momentary harmony. Joe stood up. “One last swim before we go back?” he proposed, and the two men stood up eagerly.

Our story does not end here. You can follow the story as it evolves in the real world.

Best to all,

Bill