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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Ten Reforms That Would Improve American Government Immediately 
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 09:57 am [commentary, politics, writing]
Steve
I’m not a politician or a constitutional scholar. As a statesman I am manifestly unqualified. But so is Sean Hannity, and he didn’t let that stop him from presenting his Top Ten Items for Victory on his website and talking about it incessantly on the radio for the last week. I figure I’ve gotta be smarter than fucking Sean Hannity, right?
 
. . .
 
Anyway, I couldn’t care less about aiding one political party to victory over another. I’d rather talk about changes we could make in our federal government that might force it to function more honestly and efficiently, and enable it to actually, you know, serve the American people. So here are
 




Ten Reforms That Would Improve American Government Immediately
 






Term Limits
The more draconian, the better. I’m proposing a strict one-term limit for every federal elected office — congressman, senator, vice president, president. One term and you’re out. Yes, the traditional, seniority-based power structure of the legislature would be obliterated, and members of Congress would have to find reasons to elect their colleagues to committee chairmanships and minority/majority leaderships other than who’s been there the longest, but boo-fucking-hoo. The days of the career politician would be over forever in Washington, D.C.
 


Pay federal elected officials the minimum wage
As of this year, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives makes an annual salary of $165,200. Senators make $169,300. The Vice President makes $212,100. The President makes $400,000 a year, not counting expense and travel allowances. Median household income in the United States for 2006 was $48,201; 20% of households earned less than $20,032. When the third and final currently scheduled increase takes effect in July 2009, the federally stipulated minimum wage will be $7.25/hour — a hair over $15,000 a year before taxes, assuming a 40-hour work week. I don’t think being a member of Congress should be anyone’s career. I also think the minimum wage should be much, much higher. Let’s kill two birds with one stone, and pay all elected federal officials the minimum wage. Not only will the minimum wage suddenly skyrocket once our leaders realize firsthand how paltry it currently is, but the modest compensation will serve notice that the federal government is no longer a place for the elite to go live the high life at the expense of the taxpayers; it’s a place for men and women who want to serve their country.
 
Mandate a five-day, forty-hour work week for the House of Representatives and the Senate
Remember the shit storm Nancy Pelosi kicked up when she announced she and her buddies in the Democratic majority were extending the congressional work week to five days? Remember when Jack Kingston, Republican Congressman from Georgia, complained that Pelosi and the Democrats wanted to destroy the families of their fellow members of Congress? Something tells me that once he and all the rest of his buddies on Capitol Hill start cashing their minimum wage checks, he’ll appreciate the extra hours (until the term limits send him packing back to Savannah). Scheduling the House to work five days was a good start, but I say we make them go all the way and have to put in a forty-hour week like most of their constituents. If they need to stay late or call an emergency session, they get time-and-a-half. It’s only fair.
 
Eliminate the Federal Reserve and return direct responsibility for monetary policy to Congress
With that longer work week, we can’t have our representatives and senators wasting time on the clock. Returning to them the constitutionally enumerated power (and responsibility) to “coin money and regulate the value thereof” which they abdicated to the Federal Reserve in 1913 should ensure they have plenty of work. I know that the Federal Reserve is a favorite boogie man of whack-job conspiracy theorists, but that’s not where I’m coming from here. I just see the Fed as an unnecessary institution that has helped over the last century or so to increase the worth of quite a few bankers and decease the worth of the U.S. dollar. Decisions about monetary policy that can potentially affect the lives of everyone in the country shouldn’t be made behind closed doors by appointed members of a board; they should be made by our elected representatives, fully exposed to the scrutiny of the public.
 
Discontinue pensions for federal elected officials
Elected federal offices should not be careers — they should be positions held by citizens, elected to serve their fellow citizens. Representatives, senators, vice presidents and presidents should not receive lifetime pensions as a result of their elected service. I’m all for pensions — I think it’s the least any company can do for its long-serving employees, and I think the federal government should continue to pay pensions to retired employees. But men and women elected to serve in Congress or the executive branch should not earn pensions for that service. Besides, once my first reform is in place they’re only gonna be there for one term per office anyway. That’s two years for a representative, six for a senator, four for a vice president and four for a president — if someone gets elected to terms in each of those offices, that’s a maximum total of sixteen years as an elected federal official. You wanna pay ‘em a pension for that?
 
Eliminate earmarks and riders
I think instituting strict term limits will solve many of the problems with the federal government, such as corruption and entrenchment, but just in case a few of the new guys arrive with holes in their pockets, I propose officially banning earmarks and riders from all legislation. No more millions of taxpayer dollars directed back to someone’s home district to build that bridge to nowhere or Robert C. Byrd School of Modern Dance; no more Christmas tree bills, with utterly irrelevant provisions that ban flag burning or permit warrantless wiretaps or authorize minting a Ronald Reagan commemorative gold coin attached to, say, a proclamation honoring the stage and television career of Philip Bosco; no more “poison pill” amendments to kill unwanted bills in a more politically protected way. Bills have to be coherent and consistent, and all provisions must be germane to the purpose of the legislation.
 
Mandate equal ballot access for minor parties in all federal elections
Another reason the federal government is failing so miserably to serve the people who empower it is the dominance of the two-party system. Under the Republicans and the Democrats, America is not so much a democracy as an oscillating oligarchy. To fix this, we need fair and equal ballot access for minor parties like the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Green Party, the Reform Party — and hopefully a few others will spring up that won’t be full of weirdoes. In many states, the number of signatures required for a minor party candidate to get on the ballot is far more than the number required for a Republican or Democrat. That’s not democratic. It has to change. The Constitution leaves the conducting of elections up to the states, but I see nothing anti-federalist about the federal government setting a few rules for elections to fill a federal office. Why, the preceding sentence is full of “federals.”
 
Give minor party candidates access to federal election campaign funds equal to those received by Republican and Democratic candidates
With term limits, the problem of federal elected officials spending more time running for re-election rather than doing the job they were elected to do will be solved. That still leaves the problem of getting good people to fill those offices. Mandating equal ballot access for minor parties will help, and so will campaign finance reform that allows candidates from minor parties to claim campaign funds equal to those available to Republicans and Democrats. The two major parties enjoy a huge advantage over the smaller parties; that’s terrific for the Republican and Democratic parties, but it ain’t so hot for democracy and America.
 
Require that all candidates for federal offices first pass an independently administered and evaluated test to verify their qualifications before getting their name on the ballot
To certain people this proposal will sound like a measure meant to discourage average people from running for office. That’s not the idea. It’s my most fervent hope that these reforms would reshape the federal government into something like Lincoln described in the Gettysburg Address — “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I’d just like those people to have a basic knowledge of history and American government, and be able to write well in English, that’s all. I’m not advocating we establish an American version of the Iranian Guardian Council. I’m suggesting we solicit college-level essay questions from people in relevant fields, maintain a database of those questions, and whenever someone applies to be a candidate in a federal election, we select random questions from three categories (I was thinking history, civics, and English) which the prospective candidate has to answer in 500-1,000-word essays. The answers are evaluated by experts in the respective subjects, and only candidates who write A papers get on the ballot. The entire process would be double-blind, with the candidates not knowing who will evaluate their work, and the evaluators not knowing which candidate they’re grading. The test and evaluation process could be completed any time up to the deadline to register for a particular election; it would be just another part of the necessary paperwork when filing for candidacy. It would be an independent and apolitical mechanism to help ensure we get only the best and brightest representing us in Washington, D.C.
 
Eliminate the native-born requirement for the presidency
In the late 18th century, when the United States was still a hundred-fifty years or so away from being a global superpower, when we were still just thirteen little colonies trying to work the kinks out of the whole constitutional government thing, when the world’s most awesome empire was still pissed-off at us for whipping its ass in the Revolutionary War and kicking it off the continent, it made a lot of sense to require that the President of the United States be a native-born American citizen. The better to exclude the filthy, traitorous monarchists. Nowadays, this requirement is not only unnecessary but un-American. It’s a central ingredient of the American dream that immigrants can come here from all over the world and become Americans, with the same rights and privileges enjoyed by us natives. I say we get rid of the native requirement for the presidency. If you’ve lived in this country long enough to become a citizen, that’s good enough for me. There must be many American citizens who were not born here, who were naturalized, who would make a splendid president (not fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger . . .). I say we give them the opportunity.
 
The United States Congress is presently composed entirely of Democrats and Republicans, nearly all of whom are exactly the sort of people these ten reforms are designed to expel, so none of what I have proposed will ever actually happen. With so many politicians and pundits trying to figure out winning strategies for their political parties, I just thought someone should speak out — however faintly — in favor of some changes that would benefit the people more than the parties and compel the government to work for the people instead of itself.
Comments 
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 04:51 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
If the federal government followed the Constitution, none of these would even be required. I don't think they should be paid anything at all and they damn sure should not get stolen wealth to run their campaigns.
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 05:29 pm (UTC)
You don't want to pay 'em anything? I can't complain about that, I guess. I think it'd be awesome if Congress and the executive branch was made up entirely of civic-minded volunteers. The main goal to me is just to get rid of the long-serving career politicians that are corrupting the government right now. I agree, the Constitution is fine. It's not the government that's the problem — it's the people running it.

The only reason I support public financing of campaigns is to ensure that a candidate who is independently wealthy or backed by a major party with a large organization won't have an insurmountable advantage over an independent candidate.
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 05:46 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
So theft is OK as long as it is for a good cause?
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 05:55 pm (UTC)
You apparently consider all forms of taxation to be theft. I don't. I think publicly funding campaigns to level the playing field and making it easier for independent candidates to compete against the two major parties is a legitimate use of taxpayer dollars.
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 06:04 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
If it is not theft then we voluntarily pay them right? I mean, if a mugger robbed you on the street but said the money was going to a good cause that would be ok too, right?
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 06:26 pm (UTC)
The fact that taxation is involuntary doesn't make it theft. Even a government much smaller and more efficient than the one we have would require funding to function. We are a representative democracy. Our representatives implemented an income tax to raise money to operate the government.

I wish taxes were lower on people who struggle to afford them, and higher on people who could easily pay a lot more without it affecting their lifestyle. I wish the government spent less money and spent it more wisely. And most of all, I wish our representatives actually gave a shit about what their constituents need; that would make the taxes go down a lot easier.

But that doesn't make taxation theft. Even a bare-bones government would have to raise its operating budget from somewhere — if not income taxes, then sales taxes or corporate taxes or tariffs — somebody would have to pay for it. We can't expect a government to run itself for free.

If you can show me a plan how to run the federal government cheaply enough that we can eliminate the income tax, I'd be all for it. Otherwise, my biggest gripe isn't with the existence of the tax, but with how unfairly it's imposed.
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 06:37 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
If the services were really supported by the people then those services would get revenue from voluntary donations. There are many fine volunteer fire departments throughout the country. If someone is forced to pay something, then it is theft. The mob does the same thing, pay up or die. People go to jail and die for not paying taxes.

I’m kind of confused how support a small government yet support Obama, a man who wants to steal even more.
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 07:15 pm (UTC)
Obama wants to decrease taxes on the poor and increase them on the rich (that's a simplification, I know . . .). I don't object to that.

I know you've seen this before, but here are the enumerated powers of Congress, from Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and
Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general
Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be
uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and
with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject
of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the
Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin
of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited
Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings
and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and
Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning
Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be
for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union,
suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for
governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United
States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers,
and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline
prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District
(not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and
the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United
States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent
of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of
Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into
Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this
Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or
Officer thereof.


Do you really think a government can operate at a level capable of discharging all those powers — in 2008, in a nation of over 300 million people, on a planet with a population of nearly 7 billion people spread out across approximately 200 countries — without raising revenue through the taxation of its citizens?

If you have a way, I would seriously love to hear it. I think the notion of the government being forced to operate 100% on voluntary donations is really, really appealing. I just don't think it's realistic.
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 07:16 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
And a piece of parchment that I never signed and agreed to means what?
Thursday, May 29th, 2008 | 07:43 pm (UTC)
What it means is, it's the charter of our federal government. The fact that you did not personally ratify it is irrelevant. Democracy operates on the principle of "majority rules," not "unanimity rules."

Does that mean that paying taxes and obeying the law should be voluntary? I'm assuming you didn't personally sign off on the United States Code, not to mention your state and local codes of law, either.
Friday, May 30th, 2008 | 10:15 am (UTC)
Anonymous
You don’t even understand what type of government we have. We have a republic of 50 different republics not some damn mob rule democracy.

I follow the non-aggression principle.
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