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Can US citizens regain control of our government?

by turbo
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turbo
#1
May25-06, 02:22 PM
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Our government is supposed to be a representative body - that is, we citizens are not given the right to participate in a true democracy, but we are allowed to elect representatives who we expect to vote on our behalf. This system has been broken for a very long time. It seems like no matter who we send to Washington, they listen to special-interest groups, lobbyists, and party hacks instead of the voters. When I send letters to my representatives (and I do) any answer that I might receive will be a general form letter, meanwhile, "my" representatives speak to special interest groups at dinners and breakfasts and get squired around on junkets. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that businesses have the right to vote or the right to congressional representation, but businesses now pretty much control the operation of our government, while the rights of individuals (from whom government's authority and legitimacy flow) are being trampled. We have a corrupt Congress, and a corrupt and very secretive Administration, and a Supreme Court that is packed with conservative justices who don't seem to understand the irony in allowing corporations to function as if they were individual citizens with super-rights instead of money-making enterprises that have no guaranteed constitutional rights.

Note: this is not a statement about party politics. Apart from the choices of who they want to give my money to, the differences between the Democrats and Republicans don't amount to a bucket of warm spit. They all play party politics, please the special-interest groups that gave them money in the past, and with the constant flow of cash, they are re-elected time and time again, despite their poor performance. The 2-party system has been painfully effective in limiting our choice of candidates to "bad" and "maybe not as bad". The attempts to reduce the influence of special interest groups have been woefully inadequate and don't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing in Congress, where the people doing the voting are the ones who benefit from all the free money.

Does anybody see a way out of this situation?
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BobG
#2
May25-06, 06:31 PM
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Does anybody see a way out of this situation?

No.

In Colorado, the citizens have the right to initiate amendments to the state constitution. With enough signatures, the amendment gets voted on by the public and implemented, if approved by the voters. Passing an amendment has the advantage that state legislators can't bypass the will of the public by new legislation.

The result:
The taxpayers bill of rights amendment limits the amount state tax revenues can increase in a given year. If a recession causes tax revenues to actually fall (which recently happened), the lower revenues the state generated in the recession is the new baseline. This gives the taxpayers a periodic tax break, but means the state never recovers from a recession.

The education amendment sets a minimum increase in the amount of money that can be spent on education. Regardless of boom or recession tax revenues, education spending has to steadily increase.

Somewhere down the line, the two lines will intersect. Theoretically, the state reaches a point where every penny received in taxes has to be spent on education. After that point, I guess the state has to cease to exist.

Prior to the school spending amendment, we had another crisis in school budgeting. The school district requested a tax increase to build new schools for a growing population. The increase had to be spent on building new schools. The increase passed with no problems. A year or so later, the school requested a tax increase for operating the schools. The voters got angry about the school district requesting another tax increase so soon and disapproved the increase in the operating budget. As far as voters were concerned, the district should use part of the money from the last increase more effectively - well, at least if the wording of the first bill allowed the first increase to be spent on anything besides building new schools, but that was a little too subtle for most voters to understand.

Faced with having to cut operations, the school district polled residents on their priorities - what activities should be cut first and what should be cut last. Residents in the school district with the lowest pay in the area wanted to cut pay, but wanted training for teachers protected at any cost. Evidently, school district residents felt the district's mission should be to provide lots of teacher training so the teachers would be better qualified when they took jobs with the higher paying districts surrounding the district. Residents couldn't comprehend that you don't invest money in something unless you plan to keep it awhile - and you don't hang on to low paid teachers when they can drive about five miles further to a higher paying job.

On a national level, giving amateurs too much say in running government would probably work even worse. Voters find it hard to do the detailed analysis required to develop the budget, etc. Most likely, taxes would be at rock bottom lows while government services would probably extend to breakfast in bed for all citizens. Federal deficits would skyrocket. Foreign policy would be extremely exciting.

You really need to have professionals running government. At a local level, I think it works pretty well (in spite of a few bad examples). At a national level, it's a big challenge to assess what the people you're voting for are really doing. Can you really hope to pick the best candidate for president when most voters education consists of 30 second attack ads? To work well, you need voters that know more about their candidates than they know about American Idol contestants.

About the best you can say is that when things go really bad, the public finally pays attention and forces something to be done. You just careen along the road hoping not to run off the road completely.

It usually works, but it'll never work great unless more people actually pay attention.
Rach3
#3
May25-06, 07:31 PM
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There's nothing to fix - the system is working fine, it's very responsive to the voting citizens' interests. The voters want charismatic, unintimidating representatives, preferrably actors. They don't want to worry about issues they don't understand; so they don't. Competence isn't important to them; what is important is projecting a confident, charismatic image. Preferrably a non-threatening white male in his fifties, with camera-friendly children (cuteness matters), all wholesome Protestants of some American denomination. As for actual job performance - these voters are no longer in grade school; they don't expect to do any reading or critical thinking - let alone actual research in ugly subjects like economics or foreign policy! To heck with issues, they say. And finally, they don't care about scandalously criminal, or corrupt, activity, just factor in 2-3 weeks for ADD to kick in.

Talking about politics in the current decade, also add in demands for hotheaded militarism, strong rhetoric appealing to national sense of identity, and a reactionary impulse towards superstition. The current administration represents these impulsive sentiments of its citizens very well; thus it is a success.

SOS2008
#4
May25-06, 08:26 PM
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Can US citizens regain control of our government?

There are a few solutions:

1) Direct voting. This is now possible, assuming the Internet can retain secured processing. There would still need to be career staffers to do the committee work, etc. But as Rach3 points out (and I have as well in the past) the problem is most Americans either don't want to be bothered with voting, or vote without proper understanding of issues. This is why, for example, we have the Electoral College. To prevent election of a bad candidate by a lot of stupid people.
2) Have average American citizens take turns at a term in office via a jury duty-type selection. This is even more frightening.
3) Cap the amount candidates can spend on elections to a low amount, and require the media to provide free public announcement time for debates, etc. equally to all candidates.

Number 3 seems the best. We used to have a Senator here in Arizona (DeConcini) who tried to get something like this passed, but to no avail. If Congress can vote themselves a raise in the middle of the night, they sure as heck won't pass something like this. So we return to the question of how U.S. citizens can regain control of the country -- revolution?
scott1
#5
May25-06, 08:46 PM
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The Number 3 I have to agree with but I have another soultion:
Have polticans use a more secientfic and logical view.
selfAdjoint
#6
May25-06, 10:03 PM
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Quote Quote by scott1
The Number I have to agree with but I have another soultion:
Have polticans use a more secientfic and logical view.
Good idea, but the only way to achieve it as far as I can see is the evolutionary one; make sure illogical and unscientific thinkers lose the next election. Since politicians are accustomed to wooing the voters with irrational appeals to predjudice and so on, that should mean a close to 100% turnover in Congress.
Rach3
#7
May25-06, 10:13 PM
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Quote Quote by selfAdjoint
Good idea, but the only way to achieve it as far as I can see is the evolutionary one; make sure illogical and unscientific thinkers lose the next election. Since politicians are accustomed to wooing the voters with irrational appeals to predjudice and so on, that should mean a close to 100% turnover in Congress.
Impossible, considering most of them aren't up for reelection this time.
scott1
#8
May25-06, 11:15 PM
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Quote Quote by selfAdjoint
Good idea, but the only way to achieve it as far as I can see is the evolutionary one; make sure illogical and unscientific thinkers lose the next election. Since politicians are accustomed to wooing the voters with irrational appeals to predjudice and so on, that should mean a close to 100% turnover in Congress.
Well lets spread the word:
Atteion voters you are voting for complete and total illogical idoits please vote for anyone who didn't woo you please for the good for the united states and for congress own safety.
edward
#9
May26-06, 12:43 AM
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We need a method of keeping track of the progress made by polticians. It would work like the no child left behind act, except polticians not students, would be tested and assessed on the progress they have made toward returning this nation to the people.

If they score low and don't improve within the next six months, they lose their pay and their privilege to dine with lobbyists. A year without improvement and they leave Washington on the next flight home.

We can demand that our representitives in DC pass and conform to such an act. Failure to do so would go on their freaking permanent record.

Now how about the criteria for their evaluation.

I would start with making them report how much time they spend with lobbyists.



Feel free to add your suggestions.


Yipes I typoed polomatician
SOS2008
#10
May26-06, 03:20 PM
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Quote Quote by edward
We need a method of keeping track of the progress made by polticians. It would work like the no child left behind act, except polticians not students, would be tested and assessed on the progress they have made toward returning this nation to the people.

If they score low and don't improve within the next six months, they lose their pay and their privilege to dine with lobbyists. A year without improvement and they leave Washington on the next flight home.

We can demand that our representitives in DC pass and conform to such an act. Failure to do so would go on their freaking permanent record.

Now how about the criteria for their evaluation.

I would start with making them report how much time they spend with lobbyists.



Feel free to add your suggestions.


Yipes I typoed polomatician
There is a tracking system. Unfortunately, the recent bill passed about ethics, particularly in regard to lobbyists, was so watered down by the Republicans (with probably little or no resistance from the Democrats) that it is worthless. During elections, such records are often brought to the public's attention by the opponent. But usually it is only "hot" issues and/or issues the opponent chooses to run on, so how do we know who to vote in or out of office? Limiting the money is the best and easiest thing to do.

So...to change anything the people must become law makers themselves, presenting legislation that can then be put to a vote by the people. But if we the people start doing the work, what are we paying our representatives for? I like the suggestion that they be paid according to improvements they actually make, but as I point out above, who and how will this be determined?
0TheSwerve0
#11
May28-06, 02:20 AM
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I've got a simplistic view of our governmental situation - the potential for much power leads to corruption and negative outcomes. It's almost Darwinan, like an allele that provides the potential for much gain, even at the cost of others (for example, infanticide). Being truly altruistic isn't advantageous in physical or social settings (for the most part). Thus, only social rules and teachings can be used to force a change in behavior.

There is a problem in the way things are run, which might be improved by more efficient and sensible organization, but I think the main problem is with the politicians acting in their own interests too often. Is there any way to make being a politician less profitable or appealing (for all possible political positions)? Seems like a miserable life to me, but some politicians gain much power and profit from their position. I think the only way to eliminate such possibilities is to eliminate the large gains that positions can offer. One example of this can be seen in the Juwaasi band in Africa, where hunters are ritually mocked and the game they brought back ritually derided as scrawny. This insures that the society remains (mostly) egalitarian by keeping the hunter's status at the same level as everyone else. Then, everyone shares in the meat equally, which is important for the survival of the group. Of course, there are no hard feelings; like I said, it's a ritualized practice that is probably closer to teasing, but still shapes the group's mindset. We live in a stratified society, however, with potential for individuals to gain much more power than others. At this point, the people in positions of power are not going to be willing (or probably even able) to give it up for a fairer system.
0TheSwerve0
#12
May28-06, 02:35 AM
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Quote Quote by SOS2008
There is a tracking system. Unfortunately, the recent bill passed about ethics, particularly in regard to lobbyists, was so watered down by the Republicans (with probably little or no resistance from the Democrats) that it is worthless. During elections, such records are often brought to the public's attention by the opponent. But usually it is only "hot" issues and/or issues the opponent chooses to run on, so how do we know who to vote in or out of office? Limiting the money is the best and easiest thing to do.
this touches on what I was talking about. Here we try to enforce a change in behavior by laws, but the better way may be social conditioning, as horrendous as that has the potential to be.

Quote Quote by SOS2008
So...to change anything the people must become law makers themselves, presenting legislation that can then be put to a vote by the people. But if we the people start doing the work, what are we paying our representatives for? I like the suggestion that they be paid according to improvements they actually make, but as I point out above, who and how will this be determined?
And of course, some people might put in more effort than others and act in their own interests. I agree that the latter point is a good idea and the problems with it. The people have to have some sort of power. At this point, we can't don't have physical force as power - the government controls the army and police, so we'd be outmatched anyhow. We could refuse to spend money on unnecessaries, bringing businesses and governments low (another simplistic view I have is that government and industry are inextricably linked, thus what is good for one is good for the other...I could be wrong) - what would be the repurcussions for us? How would we adjust our lives around this?
StarkRavingMad
#13
May28-06, 02:49 AM
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Well... If the general election results are any kind of acid test, a "true" Democracy where everyone gets a say would not work either.

47% would go one way, 47% would go the other way, leaving 6% to royally tick them both off.

The more people you have trying to run the top level decisions, the more things get screwed up. Involving everyone in everything would slow progress down even further than is already is.

I feel your pain. I feel it every 2 years when I try to vote for someone who will (more than likely, in theory) represent my interests... but then get trumped by the a majority of people in my state... who IMHO aren't qualified to vote because they don't really know what they are voting for. Of coruse, who am I to make that judgement? Freedom can sure be a circular argument sometimes.

I wrote my first letter to my senator a couple weeks ago actually over an issue that directly effects the company I work for. But the reply letter was exactly what I expected... in so many words: cope.

I can still hold out hope that people will come to their senses in the next election. I'll take that over having no choice in anything.
0TheSwerve0
#14
May28-06, 03:15 AM
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Again, I see social change like physical evolution - punctuated equilibrium. Once in a while there are major changes and mostly there are little, but constant changes, trends even. However, I see this change as beyond my control: I participate in voting, I discuss politics sometimes (there are more suitable discussants here than in philosophy these days), but I don't think I can really change anything, nor can I rally a group that can rival the power of society (not that I see "society" as other people that don't vote the way I think they should, I just mean the phenomenon of society/culture in general). Things change as time goes on, that's the way I see it. I've never expected anything else, never had any illusions about the way things are (unless I'm delusional), so I'm more frustrated at times than disappointed or disheartened. All I can do is throw up my arms and say (like an expletive) "humans!" That's life, not so bad, might even say good. Hence the reason why I am an anthropology student Physical anthro though, I don't want to deal with living humans
edward
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May28-06, 05:47 PM
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The first thing that has to happen before anything can change is to eliminate the veil of secrecy that is obvious in the current administration.

With all actions, except those which they wish to announce being secret, the administration is in total control of any possible change that could be made. Whether that change be political or social.

Social change historically starts with small grass roots group or organization. That grass roots effort will be clubbed to death by a secret muster of Karl Rovian tactics before their aspirations can grow to maturity.
SOS2008
#16
May30-06, 02:17 AM
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Quote Quote by StarkRavingMad
I wrote my first letter to my senator a couple weeks ago actually over an issue that directly effects the company I work for. But the reply letter was exactly what I expected... in so many words: cope.

I can still hold out hope that people will come to their senses in the next election. I'll take that over having no choice in anything.
I've written several letters to my representatives over recent years. I always receive a form letter back, which never represents my views. The use of form letters suggests to me that a policy has been set regardless of constituents think. Here in Arizona, McCain was booed about his position on illegal immigration. He ignores what the people in his state want him to do, which is NOT representation.

In regard to people who don't understand the issues, or even what candidates are all about, this is easy to know when you start a political discussion with them. Very quickly they become frustrated, embarrassed, and change the topic. I have no problem saying they have no business voting--I don't think it's passing unfair judgment.

Quote Quote by edward
The first thing that has to happen before anything can change is to eliminate the veil of secrecy that is obvious in the current administration.

With all actions, except those which they wish to announce being secret, the administration is in total control of any possible change that could be made. Whether that change be political or social.

Social change historically starts with small grass roots group or organization. That grass roots effort will be clubbed to death by a secret muster of Karl Rovian tactics before their aspirations can grow to maturity.
Reporting classification activity, such as procedures is not divulging classified information itself. That Cheney refuses to do even this should cause people to protest, but they don't.

The grass roots effort does not have to be clubbed--just ignored. I can't tell you how many petitions I have signed, etc. Look at how unpopular the Iraq war is, yet Bush is committed to stay the course. Look at how many people want the deficit brought under control, yet pork continues to be attached even to emergency spending bills. Look at how many people want the borders secured, yet in all the years and funding of Homeland Security nothing has been done. It's just ignored. Bush/Cheney don't care--they aren't running for another term. Senators like McCain don't have anyone running against them--what do they care?

Instead of protesting in the streets at the expense of taxpayers, groups like the Minutemen go to the border and build fences. For this Bush calls them vigilantes. They keep the issue in the headlines with their efforts. Nonetheless, what kind of legislation do you think we will be stuck with?
Schrodinger's Cat
#17
Jun1-06, 05:21 PM
P: 38
Yes, they can but it requires direct action and involvement on their part. They can't simply sit around and hope that their next "representative" will be a little bit better. They should be the masters of their own destiny rather than allow "leaders" to decide for them.
silkworm
#18
Jun1-06, 05:29 PM
P: 18
Yes, We simply take control.


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