Fact-checked news reports and personal opinions about political events and electoral issues. All comments are welcome. Hosted by Rob Lafferty, former newspaper editor and National Affairs columnist now living deep in the woods of Oregon's Coast Range...
How to own your government
to own your government
liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth
of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the
democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism –
ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other
controlling private power."
– " Franklin
D. Roosevelt, in a message to Congress in 1938
American people own and operate the United States government. That's
the underlying truth of our democracy, even when the reality is
something quite different. Just about everyone agrees that the
current state of our government is ugly and dysfunctional, while
everyone blames someone else for the mess.
it's all our fault – yours, mine, and the folks next door, too. We
let special interest groups pay lobbyists to bribeentertain
members of Congress with lavish gifts, and we allow politicians to
almost without limit. Those elected representatives of the people
then vote on behalf of those special interests, and we re-elect those
same folks the next chance we get.
fault is that?
doesn't need to be that way, because it hasn't always been that way.
There have been moments in history where a Nation or a People
reasserted common ownership of government, changed the course of
history and made life a little better for just about everybody. We
can create one of those eras any time we choose, and 2015 is looking
like a very good year to start.
the next few weeks, this column will try to describe a path that
could help us reclaim ownership of government and control how it
functions. A certain kind of map exists for us to follow, even though
it's a rather rough map and a bit thin on details. Drawn over
centuries of time, it can be seen in the historical record as well as
the modern world, with guideposts marked by some of the finest
thinkers on the planet.
don't need to overthrow our government or invent a new one, we just
need to liberate the process of self-governance from the people
holding the keys. That won't be as difficult as it seems – after
all, we gave them those keys, and we can take them back whenever
most important key, however, is one that we've held on to all along
but don't use enough and seldom use well. We need to vote in greater
numbers, and we need to vote smarter. Neither of those things are as
hard to do as they sound.
full one-third of all eligible voters stay out of every national
election. In the 1960 presidential election, only 63 percent of the
eligible voters in America actually did. When it comes to exercising
our civic duty, that sorry number is also the best we’ve done over
the past fifty years.
typical national voting rate is between 50-55 percent, which is no
way to maintain a democracy. It’s also the primary reason
government doesn't respond to the will of the People – because it
doesn't have to.
smart is also easier than you might think. We need elected officials
who are committed to representing all of the people while, at the
same time, acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority.
Politicians who promote one specific philosophy are seldom able to
forge agreements with people who think differently. That's been the
downfall of our current system; political parties have become
fortresses full of politician/warriors who defend their beliefs
instead of seeking sensible solutions.
actual process of voting needs a lot of repairs, too, but it all can
be done with tools that already exist. Two things need immediate
attention: the process of drawing district boundaries according to
political demographics instead of population and geography needs to
stop right away, and we need to get rid of electronic or digital
voting machines that can be hacked. Paper ballots offer better vote
security, while mail-in ballots offer voters a better opportunity to
full rehabilitation of the American electoral system probably
equivalent to a 12-step process, with every citizen making a full
committment to vote as the first step. The next few steps involve
making better decisions about who we elect, how we elect them and
what we expect from the politicians we choose.
need to start talking about those aspects of our system and devising
the necessary repairs instead of accepting a choice between
candidates who are supported by – and beholden to – Democrat or
Republican party power brokers. In 21st Century America, that's
usually a vote to maintain the status quo. In a society where
democracy is dying from neglect, that kind of partisan approach
towards government no longer works.
Most of the time I don't really care who the American president
is, and neither should you. It's always been an important job, but its occupant
was never meant to be Captain America or Leader Of The Free World. Our president is not supposed to create new policies except in an
emergency; the task of setting the national agenda belongs to Congress. Presidential
power was originally restricted to running the government and serving as
Commander-in-Chief during times of war. Our first president, rest his soul, didn't enjoy his time in
office and is probably appalled at how the American people have turned the
presidency into a personality-driven media show. George Washington rejected the
hero worship shown to him during his days as a living legend, and he warned of
the danger that comes from giving too much power and having too much faith in
any one person. And that's what we've done. We've surrendered
power in a creeping process that started early and has grown steadi…
"Fake News" has become a popular phrase
these days. Our president certainly likes to use it, often paired with another
common phrase – "mainstream media". Both are convenient but
meaningless labels that misrepresent the business of publishing the news in
America. The general contempt that a lot of folks have
for news media is certainly nothing new. A century ago, newspapers often engaged in
what was called 'yellow journalism' and reporters were held in such low esteem
that they were referred to as 'ink-stained wretches'. Newspaper publisher William Hearst was the
poster boy of Fake News in those days. Hearst and his editors frequently
printed misleading or entirely dishonest stories that promoted Hearst's
personal views or demonized people he was at odds with. That's completely different from advocacy
journalism, which most news sources practice. Some even acknowledge that
reality. I was once the editor of the Haleakala Times, a bi-weekly newsp…
By the time you read this, the total debt of
the federal government may have reached 20 trillion dollars. Add in all of the
estimated state and local government debts and America owes somebody nearly $25
trillion. But that's not enough; Congress is coming back into session in
September and will probably raise its self-imposed debt limit in order to
borrow some more. They always have before. There's no question who gets the bill for the
interest on that debt every year: we all do. Who's paying down that debt?
Nobody at all. No president or Congress has lowered the national debt for more
than half a century... The cost of nearly 17 years of
American military operations in Afghanistan is hard to calculate, but it's more
than one trillion dollars. That amount will keep growing every day, because
there's no real change coming in our overseas commitments. There's plenty of room to argue over what
we're doing in a land long known as the Graveyard of Empires – maybe w…