Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bell Ringer Hit

This week, outside a Phoenix Arizona a woman became actively engaged in the “war on Christmas” and firming affirming her faith by confronting a bell ringer who wished her a “Happy Holidays.” The woman confronted the bell ringer by asking, “Do you believe in God,” and then stating, “You’re suppose to say Merry Christmas.” The irate woman may well have felt that “Happy Holidays” was a threat to her faith and Christmas itself, so much so that she stood up for her faith with both her words and actions for she then proceeded to stress her point home by hitting the bell ringer in the arm, and the walking away possibly comforted by the thought she had born witness for her faith, and the child of peace.

Opposition vs. Loyal Opposition

Years spend observing both the American and Canadian political systems I’ve noticed that there is a concept that is not as firmly embraced in the American system as it is in Canada…the concept of loyal opposition.

In Canada the parties who do not form the government are not just in opposition, but they are the loyal opposition.  In my civics courses in junior high and in high school we were taught that the loyal opposition is not to oppose legislation for the sake of opposing the government. Rather they hold the government accountable and via balanced critiquing advocate for strengthening legislation for overall sake of the nation. The loyal opposition may well strongly oppose one measure while at other times somewhat supporting another while advocating for amendments. The opposition is to serve the government through its opposition. The daily question and answer periods where members of the loyal opposition can arise to directly ask questions of the government ministers and Prime Minister (or Premier) is a critical component of being part of the loyal opposition.

Being in loyal opposition is not a game whereby an opposing party using techniques and maneuvers to win a victory or opposes an idea just because it is advocated by the other party. Nor should the party in power use maneuvers to dismiss ideas from the opposition or worse, to marginalize the opposition, is contrary to the loyal opposition concept.

In America Congress is held in low esteem. I would say that the major power brokers, the major lobbyists, should be held in the same low esteem. There is good reason to hold Congress and lobbyists in low regard when the nation sees time and time legislation and ideas rejected, opposed and dismissed as horrible when only months to a few years before, the criticizing party and individual first proposed the idea and they are now rejecting it because the idea is now supported by the other party. That is not governing. That is game playing. Trying to win a game for the sake of the party, versus trying to serve the people and bring about the best possible legislation possible for the nation as a whole.

What would Congress look like, and how would they act if the loyal concept was integral to the process? I wonder what damaged has been done by the concept not being part of the governing process.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Two Party Political System and Extremism

There are a host of structural differences between the American and Canadian political systems due to the difference structures, America being republican with the direct election of the chief executive official and Canada being parliamentary with the indirect election of the chief executive.  Beyond the structural and resulting differences thereby created by the different structures, one of the differences, not created by the founding structure but which has evolved and become well settled is that in the United States there is two party system. In the United States, while a third party is theoretically possible both regionally and nationally, due to the entrenchment of the two party system with rules designed to hinder the formation of a statewide or regional third party, the rise of a third party is functionally impossible short of a split taking place in one of the two current parties.

By contrast, in Canada, and in Great Britain and Australia, multiple parties with regional and national appeal are not only possible but are common. Three or four options is such a common occurrence in Canada that having candidates on the ballet from three major parties is taken for granted by Canadians. While it is theoretically possible for Canada to have dozens of parties with wide national or provincial appeal, having more than three or four nation-wide or provincial-wide parties having broad appeal is rare for when a party becomes too small its effective voice for impacting change is so minimal that the party thereby ceases to be viewed as a viable option.  

A common argument for two having only to parties is that it ensures the winning candidate and party has the support of the majority of the citizenry. Such reasoning is based upon math, but we it does not mean the victorious candidate or party has a mandate. We should not fool ourselves into thinking this way for as evidenced in the current political environment few winning candidates truly has the support of the majority. The 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia is an example of where many voters vote not for the candidate but against the other candidate and for lesser of two poor choices.

This dynamic of voting for the lesser of two evils or poor candidates is more than rarity in America politics due to the extremes having strong sway and/or those with deep money yielding a victor in the local primaries who the general public cannot support. Well motivated organized extremes can readily have significant impact in a primary given that only a limited number of centrist voters become engaged in the primary process. Hence, a small group, a hundred or so, which are well organized and solidly funded, can color the results far beyond what their numbers would at face value indicate.

While in any system a drive to an extreme can occur, a two party system is particularly prone so such a drift. The extremes on the both left and right push their parties to away from being more centrist, and thereby leaving voters voting against a candidate than for a candidate, the lesser of two evils rather than embracing a candidate who reflects for the most part the views of the major of their constituents.  I like other’s too often find myself voting for a candidate that is not close to where I stand. And there are times when I’ve voted against someone who is closer to my economic and social views but cannot support that candidate because the party at large has become too far removed from my position. Hence, in a two party system, the choice sometimes comes down to going o the devil you least dislike.  

Unfortunately, when elected the individual and party come into power they think they have a mandate to do some more extreme things when no such a mandate exists except within the fringe that gave them the primary victory.

An ongoing via third party tends be a brake against extremes heavily influencing the other two parties for if the left of one party takes their party too far to the left while the right of the second party takes the second in the opposite direction, it is highly likely they will discover that they have ceded power to the more centrist party. For a party to remain on the extreme too long invites ongoing marginalization or even extinction as the majority of the voters will look to the party or party that is towards the center. For a party’s survival, the pragmatic center will ultimately pull their party away from the extreme.  Voters will more frequently be voting for a candidate they can affirm rather than choosing between the lesser of three evils.   

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Public Housing Rules

I recently read an interesting letter to the editor commenting upon those in public housing obeying the rules. The letter reflects a general strongly held viewpoint that is having a strong sway in American politics, a sway that has greater influence than their raw numbers would indicate.

The letter entitled, “Public Housing Must Have Rules That Are Obeyed” reads, “Of course, ‘these people will smoke, drink, and do whatever they want in subsisted housing,’ if they don’t have a manager to enforce rules and regulations.

 “It seems that people in public housing think, ‘Well, I pay rent, I can party, smoke, drink and do what I want to.’ What happened to the rules and regulations? Yes, stop smoking in public housing, really everywhere. Think of the lives that could be saved – lung disease and other things that smoking causes.

 “They should get better managers to enforce all rules and regulations. You go into public housing knowing they must be obeyed.

 “I would think anyone who pays $55 a carton would want to quit for themselves as well as everybody else’s health.”

Many comments and observations could be drawn from this short letter regarding the author’s views regarding law and human rights. Following are a few comments upon the letter.

The letter’s author views those in public housing as being unemployed, lazy and generally unproductive citizens. Unfortunately such dangerous stereotyping is held by a significant portion of our communities. Yes, there are people in public housing who reflect the picture, but they are not the norm as I’ve discovered in working with and assisting people who live in public housing. While there are exceptions while there are those who are unemployed, including the disabled, in public housing there are far more productive citizens who are employed, but employed in low waged jobs. They are those who are drive our children to school on school buses, our receptionists, clean our offices, cook and serve our lunches, who look after our children in day care, are sales staff at discount stores, etc.  

I wish that we could all agree that the cost of housing in many areas is out of reach for those earning a low hourly wage, and that because we are not willing to pay 10 to 15% higher costs for a TV bought at a discount box store or 15% to 20 more for our fast food meal, public housing is a necessary burden we carry.  What we save on fast food and in discount stores becomes a larger burden on our taxes for public housing to help support these low wage workers that serve us every day. We pay one way or the other, and as a society we want low cost products from retailers who keep their overhead low by paying a very low wage.   

The letter clearly states that the lays the problem of smoking, drinking and holding parties in public housing to the lack of rules enforcement. The thought that such rules as being unjust or improper escapes the letter's writer. Evidently he is comfortable with the government limiting and denying American citizens rights held by other citizens, and that those rights should be denied to them solely because they live in public housing. In other words, if you enter public housing, you become a second class citizen. What should we then deny these citizens next? The right to travel? The right to watch television or own a car? The right to vote?  I would disagree with any rule in public housing which limits or denies legal behavior in the privacy of one’s home the rights allowed other citizens to the same behavior. This is supposed to be a nation where all citizens are treated equally. Since America is a nation that prides itself on personal liberty, we must be slow to limit those liberties.

The author of the letter reflects the all too common tendency of holding that as one has experienced life or religion in a particular manner, or reasons in a particular fashion, that too should others think in the and experience the world, event or religious experience in the same way. And if you don’t have the same experience, then you are deficient at some point and you need to correct yourself. It is a version of my view is better and more righteous than yours. Since humanity and life is not so simple, measuring/judging others primarily upon one’s own experience is a most dangerous enterprise.