Problems of Feedback in U.S. Governance, the widespread political denial of principle

Examples of poor feedback:

This year, the government will spend at least $890,000 on service fees for bank accounts that have nothing in them. At last count, Uncle Sam has 13,712 such accounts, each containing zero dollars and zero cents. These are supposed to be closed. But nobody has done the paperwork.(1)

Clarence Prevost, the flight instructor assigned to Moussaoui, began to have suspicions about his student… Prevost was confused as to why Moussaoui would seek simulator time if he lacked basic plane knowledge. After some convincing, his supervisors contacted the FBI, who came to meet with him… Some agents worried that his flight training had violent intentions, so the Minnesota bureau tried to get permission (sending over 70 emails in a week) to search his laptop, but they were turned down. FBI agent Coleen Rowley made an explicit request for permission to search Moussaoui’s personal rooms. This request was first denied by her superior, Deputy General Counsel Marion “Spike” Bowman, and later rejected based upon FISA regulations (amended after 9/11 by the USA Patriot Act). Several further search attempts similarly failed.(2)

WASHINGTON (AP) — An interim report released Tuesday by House Republicans faults the State Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for security deficiencies at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, prior to last September’s deadly terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Senior State Department officials, including Clinton, approved reductions in security at the facilities in Benghazi, according to the report by GOP members of five House committees. The report cites an April 19, 2012, cable bearing Clinton’s signature acknowledging a March 28, 2012, request from then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz for more security, yet allowing further reductions.(3)

The above quotes are examples of a problem of feedback in U.S. government processes. They are examples of government processes that are unresponsive to the feedback provided by the real world. Such lack of responsiveness is symptomatic of authoritarian, brute force, systems of governance where power flows from the top down, denying known principles of sound governance. And, these types of systems tend to be standard operating procedure (SOP) for many government agencies, based on a lack of sophistication and refinement of US political processes. They cause financial waste, they prevent followup on terrorist suspects, and they generally produce agencies that fail to either perform their mission well or serve the citizens they were created to serve. Continue reading

Anti-Bully Legislation Hurts Child Development and Community Harmony

Since the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, where 12 students and a teacher were killed, there has been increased concern over school safety. But the original intention to improve security at schools has morphed into anti-bully campaigns and legislation that have become increasingly hysterical and politicized. Anti-bullying rules and legislation can be viewed as cover for school officials, a gold mine for political activists, and feel-good activity for legislators. But most of this legislation is harmful to children, costly, and counterproductive.

Anti-bully arguments for campaigns and legislation are full of the rhetoric protecting children, but it’s generally harmful to them and prevents children from working through the normal testing of limits that occurs in childhood development. Imagine two children in the sandbox at a daycare facility. One grabs a toy, the other grabs back, the first one pushes, the second one hits. The second one (who did not grab the toy) is labeled the “bully” and the first one (who grabbed the toy) is labeled the “victim.” The “victim’s” parents refuse to talk to the “bully’s” parents anymore and withdraw their child from any activities the “bully” attended. The “bully’s” parents get isolated from the community. The bully and victim language not only was inaccurate in describing the social dynamic of normal childhood aggression, it labeled one child as evil and the other one as innocent. But worse, it prevented adults from using the situation as a teaching moment to help the kids learn to live with one another and become friends.
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If Your Airport Wait is More than 1% Longer with the Sequester, Its Politics

Travelers queue up at the security checkpoint in Denver International

Travelers queue up at the security checkpoint in Denver International

The sequester is supposed to be about government self-control, but Washington has once again made it politics.The mandated reductions of $44 billion, about 1 percent of the budget (which is still larger than last year’s budget), are supposed to be spread out among all departments, each taking a haircut. Suddenly we hear stories of airports with two TSA lines being cut down to one line, a 50 percent reduction. This isn’t math, its politics.

Politicians use scare tactics, threats, and target public services that people need when they want money. If they cut the pork, nobody will care, so they talk about airport congestion and cuts in border security, and other things the government does that are important to people. They do not talk about spurious research grants, reduced building in Washington, congressional staff layoffs, a delayed ramp-up of Obamacare, or IRS layoffs.

American citizens had their taxes raised more than 1% last year, causing them to figure out how to live with less money, and most of them, poor or rich, highly educated or street educated, are able to figure out how to adjust. Taxpaying citizens have been learning how live with haircuts in the form of tax creep since income tax was passed in 1913. The current threats by government officials are a symptom of a government trying to hold its citizens hostage, not a government trying to live with a haircut. Continue reading

How to Depoliticize the Supreme Court

Supreme_Court_US_2010One way we can improve the U.S. system of government is to change the nature of U.S. Supreme Court appointments. Anyone watching the appointment process realizes that there is a bitter partisan rivalry in which the money funding Democratic and Republican interests is highly involved, resulting in judges more serving oligopolic and ideological interests than serving the general society and Constitutional principles, with legal skills as top Constitutional scholars.

Another problem with the Supreme Court, in retrospect, is that it generally serves the consolidation of federal power, having little desire to see the states as a check on federal power. This is, in part, because it is part of the federal government, appointed by federal elites, and the power and prestige of the federal government reflects on the Court. Continue reading

Giving Up on the Constitution?

The U.S. Constitution was to Restrain Government and Consolidation of Power

The U.S. Constitution was to Restrain Government and Consolidation of Power

In a December 30 editorial in the New York Times, Georgetown professor of constitutional law talks Louis Michael Seidman wrote about ideas in his book On Constitutional Disobedience, arguing that the failure of the U.S. government lies in archaic and evil provisions of the U.S. Constitution. I would argue that we should not treat the constitution as an inerrant eternal document that judges prooftext like theologians do sacred scripture, but much of our current dysfunction stems from ignoring the vision and principles behind it and the legal changes made in the two hundred years following its creation. In addition, I agree with him that the Founders could not anticipate many of the changes in technology and society. However, he is offering little hope that he would apply founding principles to these developments like large corporations and a global economy.

In his first example, Seidman argues that we should not care whether the tax plan originate in the Senate or the House. In some respects he is right because the 17th Amendment gutted the original Constitution of the very important reason to have two houses in the first place–the concept of checks and balances on power, with the States appointing Senators, and the populace electing their representatives. In that case it was important that the people paying the taxes–not elites–determine how their own money would get spent. Otherwise there is theft and dysfunction, which we know have in spades. With the passage of the 17th Amendment, the people elected representatives in both houses, so the concept of a Senator became gutted of its meaning except the “representatives” in the Senate serve longer terms. However, they represented the same group, so an important check and balance that helped to keep the system functional was made dysfunctional. In the present case, with no checks and balances, it would be more efficient to have a unicameral legislature. Continue reading