(Hey, look at this! I’m blogging!)

So I finished Hillbilly Elegy today.

I figured I should read it, as my beloved wife is a native of Middletown, OH and a good hunk of her family still lives there. I have a few thoughts.

In many ways, this is an inspiring narrative, and one that resonates with me, though – and I want to make this absolutely clear – I am not from a broken home. Indeed, for whatever issues I have had with my family (and it would be intellectually and morally dishonest to say that we have not had issues), I am forever grateful that my home life was so stable. It really does make a difference. We may have been rural, but my parents would never let us be “rednecks.” This is one of the reasons I so often ask why it is necessary to conflate the two, and why so many people (both within and without the rural community) encourage such conflating.

But, as is said in Revelation, I have a few things against thee, JD Vance.

First of all, I don’t entirely agree with your characterization of several sections of Middletown. This is a minor point, but there is more going on than you state. Downtown, for example, has some neat things underway, even if it’s not there yet. I am willing to attribute this to two things. A) We have a tendency – and clearly I am guilty of this – to either overromanticize our hometowns or exaggerate the perceived awfulness, and; B) It sounds like you haven’t been back in a few years. Completely understandable, and I am willing to concede this particular point to these two ideas.

My second point consists of a sharper criticism, one that I believe is linked to Mr. Vance’s current situation. Mr. Vance rightfully points out several flaws with the culture that produced him, and indeed you must change the culture to change the situation for the greatest number of people. But apart from some perfunctory slaps on the wrist, Mr. Vance is almost completely unwilling to assign any of the blame to corporate and financial practices that contribute to the problems. There was a telling moment when he describes working for former Ohio state senator Bob Schuler, who was opposed to further payday lending regulations. Vance says that these predatory loan places were the only place people from his background could go to get financial assistance, and that if more people from his background were part of the system, governments would not be so quick to impose further regulations on these institutions.

As Joe Biden might say, that’s malarkey. There are other ways to get assistance without having to resort to near-usury.

Keep in mind that, no matter Vance’s beginnings (and it is an inspiring narrative), he cut his legislative teeth working for a state senator determined to protect predatory lenders, and he is currently the principal for a major financial firm in the Bay Area, one which is founded by Peter Thiel. I am not so blind as to not understand the importance of both capital and the ability to move capital in our current system (indeed, it is why I cannot endorse the idea of wholesale destruction of the financial sector), but Vance is not exactly a disinterested party. By shifting the blame away from financial policies that could have mitigated the situation, and from corporations and investors that intentionally drained money from communities, Vance is able to maximize his otherwise just criticism of his native culture while signaling that he is – to use a phrase that I have heard many times in different circumstances – “one of the good ones.”

This same idea permeates my third criticism, that he is too dismissive of the social contract. Throughout the work, there is almost no mention of the role of government and political structures in assistance, except to say that Child Protective Services is often viewed by Appalachian culture as “the enemy.” There are moments of criticism for the government programs that provided assistance, but – in keeping in line with someone published regularly in Bill Buckley’s National Review – the ideology of the book is rooted in encouraging bootstrap-pulling among those who are bootless.

I am not completely against the book. Vance has clearly overcome many obstacles, and he makes a compelling argument for transcending one’s limitations and beginnings. He does, to his credit, consider arguments from all over the political spectrum, and is as quick to blame conservative fake news as he is liberal snootiness. I just wish he wasn’t so determined to maintain the Horatio Alger narrative, as it doesn’t tell the full story and in some cases deliberately shifts blame. I would still recommend it, approving quotes from David Brooks and all, because unlike other conservative writers, Vance is at least trying to figure it out.

(This review, by Alex MacGillis in The Atlantic, hits on similar points.)

As you probably remember, in June I took part in the Morris Area Climate Dialogue. This was a fascinating experience in which I and 14 other Morris-area residents sat down and discussed the challenges and opportunities facing west-central Minnesota with regard to changing climates. We did not attempt to rehash the debate over whether it was happening; rather, we tried to address how to handle what is happening. We came from widely divergent backgrounds, statuses, and viewpoints, but in the end we produced what I think is a solid document and starting point. (That document can be viewed here.) You get to see a couple of pictures of me as well, including one right on the front, and there’s a quote from me in there. See if you can find it!)

Earlier this week, I got the chance to spend a few minutes talking with Kyle Bozentko, the executive director of the Jefferson Center, an organization out of St. Paul which seeks to expand citizen involvement. The Jefferson Center sponsored the Morris Area Climate Dialogue, in conjunction with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. We had a nice conversation, and it got me to thinking about what I can do, what you can do, what we all can do to fix our broken system.

Then I started wondering just why the system is broken. The simplest explanation is the presence of nearly-unlimited cash in the electoral process. While the phrase “you cannot solve a problem throwing more money at it” is often used to excuse not only inaction but also harmful cuts, in this case it is absolutely applicable. But that’s not all. Money has to be used toward a purpose, and I think I’ve discovered the purpose for all this campaign cash.

We assume that the tons of cash thrown into the electoral process is designed to get you to vote for someone or something. I believe that to be a false assumption. However, I also believe it is wrong to assume that the cash is there to get you to vote against someone or something. Rather, I believe the current political system is designed to get you to stop caring. The media, which is mostly corporate-owned, helps perpetuate this cynicism with the nonstop search for “balance,” which is narrowly interpreted to mean “we must find something bad for Team Red if we show something bad for Team Blue and vice versa.” The recent decisions increasing the rights of corporations over actual human persons as well as declaring money to be equal to speech tie into this as well. From all sides, the message is clear: You don’t matter. So have a Coke and a smile, and don’t try to change anything.

My experience taking part in the MACD with the Jefferson Center showed me that, even if you have differences that appear to be unbridgeable, you can still work together to change things – but only if everyone is acting in good faith and admits that things need to be changed. This is clearly not the case right now in Washington, and that attitude is affecting our state capitals, county courthouses, and city halls as well. These attitudes are hardened by gerrymandering and by the promise of easy campaign cash (or a post-election or post-term sinecure on K Street) for any candidate willing to, say, parrot the Koch Brothers. You have a group of people who are so cynical, they don’t believe government can work at all, and then they get elected and try to prove it. They dress this up with lines like “we believe in Constitutional government.” They then ride roughshod over the needs, desires, and hopes of actual human persons in their slavish devotion to corporate cash. Seems I Timothy 6:10 is still relevant here.

So what can we do?

Three words: Stop being cynical. The process will be frustrating. Take part anyway. On many issues there may not be that much difference between candidates. Vote anyway.

You will lose more often than you win. Get involved anyway. Our Constitution was written for idealists with a realistic streak (or possibly realists with an idealistic streak). It was not written for the cynical, and we should not let it be hijacked by the cynical.

It won’t be easy. It wasn’t meant to be easy. I’m not going to lie – it is hard to be an informed, engaged citizen in a time when so many people are doing so many things precisely to keep you from being that. But our Founders knew that the only way this works is if we believe in it. I’ve joked about modern finance being the scene in Peter Pan when Tinkerbell tells the audience to clap harder, but – and this is a little scary when you think about it – clapping harder is exactly what we need to do to keep our representative democracy alive. We must invest ourselves fully and without question or pause in the belief that this thing called America is worth supporting and fighting for. You will lose more than you win. Get involved anyway. And always follow the advice of Molly Ivins:

“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”

If you want to learn more about the Jefferson Center, please visit their website at www.jefferson-center.org.

WF

“I haven’t seen him. But I suppose he will be a pain. A birth-pain, perhaps, but a pain.”
“Birth-pain? You really believe we’re going to have a new Renaissance, as some say?”
“Hmmm-hnnn.”

– Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

INTRODUCTION

Tomorrow marks the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; today is the 151st anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg. I have always been a Civil War buff – you may recall my meditation upon the Burnside Bridge at Antietam – so I like to filter American history through that conflict.

So much has happened this past week that I am only now able to process it. Part of this is due to some personal things (which remain nobody’s business but ours, though I will say that I think we’re on the far side of it now), and part of it is because it, on the surface, seems so antithetical to everything I hold dear. We’ve seen the Supreme Court of the United States decide that corporations are not only people, they have more rights than actual people. This same SCOTUS has created the possibility that any non-tax law can be ignored or broken if the person – well, in actuality, the corporation – has “sincerely-held” beliefs on a topic. As if to rub it in, the same decision attempted to vacate that possibility by claiming only one belief was subject to this ruling.

Essentially, the majority of Justices have proclaimed that religious freedom only truly applies to one issue, and even then only if you take the most conservative stance on that issue. At the same time, they have left the door open to allow corporations the right to (a) refuse fair compensation if the corporation feels the money is supporting a cause in which the corporation does not believe, and (b) ignore or disobey laws that do not take the most conservative viewpoint on a religious issue. This is not “freedom of religion.” This is a clear favoring – perhaps the term “establishment” might be more appropriate – of one particular religion over others. I am neither a lawyer nor a Constitutional scholar, but I tend to recall one of the early Amendments to the Constitution frowned on that sort of thing. And as we’ve seen, it’s already gone way past just Hobby Lobby.

Here’s the thing: this actually has nothing to do with religion, much as everyone – including the victors – is trying to make it about religion. It’s about the expansion of corporate power and money at the expense of regular citizens. It started with Citizens United…no, it started with Buckley v. Valeo…no, it started with the Santa Clara cases and the misbegotten and ill-applied doctrine of corporate personhood. Others have written more informatively about the effects of corporate personhood, both intentional and otherwise, and I will defer to their words. Rather, I choose to focus on what can and should be done.

WE CANNOT HALLOW THIS GROUND

The line of American history can be read as one of expansion. We can easily visualize this in terms of territory, as we’ve all seen the sixth-grade maps showing how first we were just at the crest of the Appalachians, then to the Mississippi, then the Pacific, then our noncontiguous lands. We called this Manifest Destiny, and to be sure, it didn’t end well for a lot of people who deserved way better. The expansion of which I speak, however, is an expansion of the rights contained in the Constitution to all of us. This expansion began almost immediately, and continues to this day. Sometimes, it’s a fairly smooth process. Other times, blood is spilled – as mentioned above, this is the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

There are always those who fight the expansion. I am reminded of Sen. Richard Russell (D-Georgia), who, when told he was fighting nothing more than a delaying action against civil rights, replied “I know, but I am trying to delay it – ten years if I’m not lucky, two hundred years if I am.” We have seen this fight before – in the marches of Susan B. Anthony and over the Equal Rights Amendment (a still-incomplete battle). We saw it in the factories of Pullman and Detroit, in the front of the bus in Montgomery, in the farms of the Central Valley of California, in the streets of Greenwich Village, and anywhere one person has stood up to say, “I count.” Now we have seen the beginning of a new fight. The pushback against the expansion is coming from a different sector this time – corporate personhood. In an attempt to limit the rights of actual human beings, those who have always opposed the expansion have found a new path. They can claim the mantle of expansion for themselves (for are they not giving rights to a new class of “people?”), and wrap themselves in the Bill of Rights and in the flag, while in truth they are doing their level best – as they always have – to limit the rights of the rest of us. In this cause, they have been ably assisted by a network of organizations devoted single-mindedly to the limitation of our rights as citizens in the name of acquiring ever more of our shared inheritance. And, like Sen. Russell, they know that delay can turn into denial; we, however, know that delay can turn into victory, when the outcry is strong enough. My job – our job – is to raise that battle cry: “I count.”

I honor the memory of those who gave blood, toil, tears, and sweat to rally around that battle cry. Our words alone can never do proper justice to their memory. Our actions will show how we honor them, by taking up their fights as our own. And even though we may not win every battle – this week was proof of that – I maintain faith that Dr. King’s arc still bends toward justice. So we must keep fighting, even though the odds are overwhelming, even though we are tired, and saddened, and angry, and hurt.

OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE

I fight because the story does not end. Each generation remakes the United States according to its interpretation of the ephemeral idea of “America.” The Founders were brilliant men, though it should be stated for the record that their idea of the “common man” was a white male landowner. In this, as noble as their intentions and as good as their plans were, they fell short. The rest of the story is how succeeding generations took the promise of the Constitution – government of, by, and for the people, forming a more perfect union – and expanded that to include more and more of their fellow-citizens. “We cannot escape history,” said Lincoln, and that is as true today as it ever was. Through war and reconstruction, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and now the fight for full equality, the story goes on. I know not when it will end, but I hope – even in the darkest moments – that infinite chapters, developing all that is best in our collective plot, will continue to pour from the pens and keyboards of We, The People. For after all, we are the true authors of our liberty and of our history. We should never want to escape history; it is our story, and we owe it to ourselves and our posterity to write the best possible story we can.

WF

Back at the old place, I’d written about the dangers of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

People are starting to finally realize just how big a threat this group is to our representative democracy.

Fortunately, we have our own group – ALICE (American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange). It’s not nearly as well-funded, but it serves to advance the cause of progressive legislation wherever it can.

WF

(Literate people will understand why I used that title.)

I have not yet decided if I agree with President Obama’s plan for limited military intervention in the Syrian civil war. I wish to examine what evidence I can further. I can, however, comprehend some of the domestic politics around an international issue, and I’m going to explore those. Of course, the mere fact that there are domestic politics of this type around an international issue is a different subject, but that can be tackled at some future point.

(1) A common question is “Why are we getting involved now? Why is a chemical weapon attack worse than a normal attack?” This is a fair question. Historically speaking, the use of chemical weapons was so mortifying when the German Army used them in World War I* that an entire international treaty was written to ban them. We (mostly) abhor warmaking, and obviously any violence should be avoided, but the use of certain weapons has long been considered to be beyond the pale even under the rather nebulous rules of engagement common in most wars. The position of the President and his administration is that this clear flouting of international treaty and custom sets a dangerous precedent.

(2) On the political side, I believe that it is absolutely vital (more on this in a moment) that the President seek an authorization for the use of military force. I further believe that each Representative and Senator should weigh the evidence and vote his/her conscience. The party whips should stay out of this. Finally, I believe that any member of Congress who decides to oppose this simply because they don’t believe in handing the President a “victory” on any subject – that is to say, anyone obstructing just for the sake of obstructing – should be summarily censured and/or expelled from whichever chamber. Ultimately, though, we the people are responsible for such hideous representatives, as there is a sizable chunk of the population (let’s be honest here – red states, rural areas, racist exurbs) that has elected a cadre of Tea Party buffoons whose sole purpose is to prevent any governance at all. I have often said that the misnamed Tea Party is a cancer upon our body politic, and nothing I have seen has convinced me otherwise.

(3) About the AUMF – I said it was vital, and I mean that from a political perspective, but legally it’s unnecessary under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, so long as the President then goes to Congress within 48 hours. It has been violated once or twice, but never has a violation led to a Constitutional showdown. If that were to happen here, I suspect that ending would be different, as the aforementioned Tea Party buffoons are looking for any reason to impeach.**

It’s messy. I don’t know where it all ends. But let’s have the debate, and let’s have it be an honest debate that puts what’s great about America forward. After all, the fact that we’re having the debate at all is a testament to our system of governance.

*Seriously. World War I is understudied, but it is at the core of pretty much every chunk of world history that follows.

**They have their unspoken reason, of course.

WF

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

===

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

===

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

===

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

===

We’re getting there.

WF

Watching the Inaugural parade on C-SPAN, I am struck by the sounds of bands, bagpipers, drums and other musical acts all blending together. It’s very Ivesian, and that is absolutely appropriate for this day.

Once every four years, we show the world – and ourselves – that no matter what happens in the lead up to the election, when one term ends and another begins, we do it peacefully. Though it has happened because of death, that is statistically rare. Instead, the will of the people, as expressed through the ballot box and the Electoral College, is carried out.

I know that this language makes some people uncomfortable (especially coming from me, an unashamed liberal/progressive), but we live in the greatest country on the planet because of this.

WF

How come Sen. John McCain (R-Always Good News) now thinks Chuck Hagel would be a bad Defense Secretary when, just a few years ago, he said “I’d be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity”? Hagel hasn’t changed much that I can see.

Oh, right. He was appointed by the Kenyocommuislamist Usurper, and we give John McCain an inordinate of press for no good reason. (Seriously, find me another losing candidate who appears so often on the Sunday chat shows.)

Related topic: Is it just me, or do southern Republicans have a particularly nasty opinion of President Obama? Wonder why that is…

WF

Like you, I’ve been watching the fiscal cliff curb slight indentation and thinking, “My goodness, the House really is broken!” So how do we fix it? Here are three suggestions:

(1) End gerrymandering.
(2) Get stupid amounts of money out of campaigns (Super PACs, etc.).
(3) Increase the size of the House.

Yes, you read that last one correctly. According to the Constitution (you know, that document the Tea Party loves until it is used to help non-white non-males), each Representative should only represent 30,000 people. In the early 20th century, it was decided to cap the size of the House (at least in voting members) at 435. Using 1920 Census numbers, that means each Representative had approximately 244,000 constituents. Today, each Rep has over 700,000 constituents on average.

A few years back, when I was avoiding working on the dissertation, I created a spreadsheet postulating different House sizes and how many Representatives each state would get. I am attaching this spreadsheet now (you will need Excel). I believe I did the math correctly, but will welcome corrections. Check out all the different tabs.

apportionment

What do you think – time to increase the size of the House? How would it be done? What systematic changes would need to be made to the institution? I have some ideas, which I will discuss in a later post.

WF

After the County Commissioner Candidate forum on Thursday, I’ve been thinking about the role of county government and elected officials. (This isn’t a new thing for me, as my older brother is a county commissioner back in Indiana. Every state is different, though.) Fortunately, the Minnesota Association of Counties has lots of good publications that can answer questions.

Why do I care so much about city council, school board, county commission and state legislature races? Here are a few reasons.

(1) These are the races where you can make the most contact with candidates and officials. It’s representative democracy in a nutshell. Each Stevens County commissioner represents about 2000 people. It is quite easy to meet your city councilmember or county commissioner and express your concerns.

(2) While what happens in Washington, DC clearly has a tremendous impact on what we do in our day-to-day lives, local and state government have equal if not greater impacts. It is important to know your local elected officials and where they stand on the local issues.

(3) In rural areas, counties have to provide many services that are taken for granted in urban areas. It is fascinating to watch the interplay between county and township vis-a-vis snow plowing, road management and economic development. And of course, access to mental health services, Meals on Wheels and other senior services, and local libraries/schools would usually devolve onto small towns and county government.

(4) Local elective office is the farm team for state and federal office. Many members of Congress got their start as local elected officials. Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois before beginning his meteoric rise. Even as Congress becomes less responsive to local needs (a topic for another time, though I will say that a country of 300,000,000 deserves more than 435 representatives in what is allegedly the People’s House), we still like to see our Federal representatives with some legislative body experience.

WF

What I feared would happen happened. The “tricornered hat and empty head” brigade got another scalp. Also, a majority of people who voted yesterday in North Carolina put themselves on the wrong side of history. Again.

People, stop enabling these anti-government (check that: anti-government for anything other than rich white straight Christian males) idiots! They hide behind fear – fear of non-whites, fear of an angry God, fear of their own desires. They listen to the nice man on the TeeVee, the megachurch pastor with the fancy cars who peddles theological snake oil, the radio talk show host who knows how to exploit the stupid. They don’t think. They simply react, and they cannot stand that the country wasn’t like it was in the ’50s* (in the case of down here, that’s the 1850s).

*Actually, I’d take the tax rates of the 1950s in a heartbeat.

WF

Following the suggestion of my friend Neil Laferty, I purchased Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.

WOW.

The book is a collection of speeches, interviews, essays, etc. on various aspects of space exploration: why we did it, why we should keep doing it, what problems we have doing it, and the like. It reads well – Tyson never uses science jargon as a way of keeping the hoi polloi at the gates, and even a non-scientist like me could understand the concepts. He looks at all the arguments with a sympathetic eye, while simultaneously maintaining a healthy scientific skepticism. This is no mean feat, and he nails it.

Make sure you read the appendices, which include the legislation creating NASA and other bits of space-related legislation as well as budget comparisons and data for space exploration.

WF