A “Do Your Job” Constitutional Amendment to REQUIRE Congress to Agree on a Budget on Time.

This message will be blessedly short and sweet.

We—the people of the United States—should work to propose and create a Constitutional Amendment that would have FOUR simple provisions:

  1. If the Congress fails to pass a budget by the due date, plus a 30 day extension, then the last year’s budget automatically becomes the new budget for the next year.
  2. If Congress fails to pass the budget ALL the sitting members of the House of Representatives shall be deemed to have retired on that date with all their compensation to cease on that date with the loss of any and all retirement benefits they might then hold.
  3. If the House passes a budget they remain in office ONLY IF the Senate ALSO approves it. If the Senate fails to approve the budget after the normal reconciliation process, then all Senate members are similarly deemed to have resigned with a similar loss of all remuneration along with the House of Representatives.
  4. A Special Election will then be held within 90 days for 435 new members of the House and all 100 Senators. None of the retired members may ever run again in a Federal election.

When and if such an amendment becomes law, it is safe to say we will ALWAYS thereafter have a budget ON TIME!

If such amendment were to become law, failing to pass a budget would be a dark day for our country, but it would be particularly disastrous for all the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, where all budgets originate. Therefore the real risks of that happening are essentially moot.

God knows what compromises would have to be made to pass a budget, but that is the most basic JOB of the Federal legislature. Congress is paid to produce a budget and, if they cannot do their job, they had better be prepared to take up another line of work. It’s just simple common sense!

With the current state of mind in the country, there easily could be enough pressure to push through such an amendment in a year or less, as was the case with the 26th Amendment granting voting rights at age 18 in 1971.

In the meantime, it will be fun to see the cage rattle!

Advertisements

WHEN THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD

The government is moving once again towards shutdown. Republicans are threatening to tear up the deal that will prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Donald Trump has become a viable presidential candidate. Clearly, something is wrong. But what?

In this country, we have two coexisting systems that deal with the governance of our complex modern society. The first is the formal political structure: from small towns all the way to Washington, politicians and bureaucrats are part of the intricate machine that does what we normally think of as governing. However, that structure is part of a far more complex system. The interaction of business, nonprofit, and government, though informal, does much of the actual governance, the work of managing a modern society.

Unfortunately, the workings of the political machine have been gummed up by special interests and increasing partisanship to the point at which Donald Trump has become a viable Presidential candidate. And the informal system isn’t doing much better. Because the “members” of the three operating sectors do not know or trust each other, they cannot work together to solve problems before they become too large.

In the words of Cool Hand Luke, “What we got here is a failure to communicate”.

Fifteen years ago, a small city in upstate New York was looking for a way to rebuild its economy.  Business, nonprofit, and government leaders were gathered. Introductions were made. Hands were shaken. Coffee was drunk.  What they found was that everyone in the room knew there was a problem. They knew they wanted to solve it. But until that day, they didn’t know each other. And while the rebuilding process is not yet complete, the intersector collaboration enabled by that meeting started the city on the road to recovery.

For twenty years, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam conducted an informal study of Italian sub-national governments. He wanted to know why some of these nearly identical governments performed so much better than others. He found a surprising answer: choral societies. But how could singing possibly make a difference in quality of governance? The answer is obviously that it didn’t. What was important was that members of choral societies (and soccer clubs, the presence of which were also correlated with quality governance) do a lot of drinking and chatting. Through these societies, people from all parts of local society got to know one another and developed trust and understanding outside of work. And then, when one member of the choral society saw a problem in the community, she didn’t feel like she was getting in touch with a bureaucrat, but with a trusted friend.

With the advent of the internet, people became able to connect to more and more people through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While it’s counterintuitive, more digital interaction does not aid intersector communication. It actually makes it easier to stay within our comfort zone and interact primarily with the people we already know, rather than going out and forming new bonds of trust across sectors. Of course, that’s just for now. Perhaps some young genius might write an app to do for the digital age what the choral societies accomplished in Italy.

Many people in many different lines of work want to put our society on the road to a better tomorrow. But the rubber can’t hit the road until we’re all in the same car.

THE AGE OF NON POLITICIANS

In the run up to the 2016 Presidential election, the one thing that is getting clearer by the minute is that the country is tired of “professional” politicians like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. This fatigue is probably for a good reason: when politicians have been around too long, they frequently lose their freshness and ability to think differently.

In this context, a professional politician is a person who has made a living primarily by holding elected office, just as a professional tennis player mainly makes a living by playing tennis most of the year. This is as opposed to the non-professionals, who can occasionally get a win against the pros, but who don’t plan to make their living doing so.

Obviously, many politicians have had mixed careers. Some have worked in Washington, which gives them a good sense of how government does and does not work.  Others have worked as lawyers, often taking legislators as clients.  Some have worked as CEOs, who also collaborate with government to address broad economic issues. Others still have worked for non-profits to influence public policy.

Most of those people have learned something about private payrolls. But professional politicians mostly know the public payroll, so their personal aim is often to stay on the public payroll by getting reelected year after year.

But when elected office provides a person’s primary income, the professionalism can turn into a more serious problem for a lot of voters, as evidenced by the rise of nonprofessional candidates, especially in the Republican Party.

The Republicans have three nonprofessional politicians—Trump, Carson and Fiorina. The rest have been primarily reliant on public payrolls for most of their careers, despite their denials to the contrary.  But it is no coincidence that the public seems to favor the non-professionals.

On the other hand, the Democrats basically have four possible candidates at the moment, all of whom have been more or less professional politicians for most of their careers.

For someone who aspires to lead the country, there surely are benefits in having experience at all three levels of government AND in all three basic sectors in the country—business, not-for-profit, and government.

In addition, character, intelligence, solid values, and balanced temperament are surely also essential ingredients in a great candidate. Perhaps most important of all is the ability to speak understandably and powerfully on the substantive issues of the day.

For an example of a successful nonprofessional politician, let’s look at today’s sitting Democratic President.

Obama was never a professional politician. He worked at several law firms and wrote two popular books (private sector), spent three years as a community organizer (not-for-profit sector), and served one term in the US Senate (public sector).  With only one term in the Senate (and one unsuccessful run at the House) under his belt, Obama is hardly a professional politician.

In addition, one of the most common raps on Obama is that he is actually a lousy politician. Though he can act the part in public as needed, he apparently finds it difficult to rub noses, slap backs, and generally socialize with all but his most long-standing and familiar intimates. Despite that, he has accomplished a great deal and would likely have been able to do more if he had been more willing to play the political game.

He largely got us out of active wars, steered the economy away from the dangers of a depression, and was able to create a broad-based health care system. And in the next few weeks, he will likely have finalized a game-changing deal with Iran.

While many people did not and do not agree with a lot that he has done, Obama has used his brain, experience, eloquence, and character to leave behind after his Presidency a country, as historians will widely agree,  much better situated than when he took office.

Is that what people mean when they decry professional politicians? If they genuinely want independent, quality people who care about good public policy, then we are on the same page.

We part company, if they’re looking for people who simply want to upset apple carts as a fun, even exciting, substitute for running our complex country.

NARCISSISM

This relatively not well-known word is getting quite a work over in this pre 2016 election season. A few hardy and fearless folks are suggesting that perhaps the word should be changed to ‘trumpism’.

Not only is Trump himself a walking-around definition of extreme narcissism, but it turns out that there are also several well researched and written books in the last few years which illuminate the subject very well starting with the spectrum of the condition [nearly everyone to some extent], the problems associated with the condition [antisocial disruptive behavior] and what, if anything, can be done about it [little except ignore and avoid]. [See Amazon for titles that appeal to you if you want to dig deeper than this piece aims to go.]

First, like most psychological conditions, narcissism exists to some extent in most people. Some of it is good and necessary, such as healthy self-esteem. Some of it creates irritating and difficult problems in everyday human interaction and in marriages and families. And some extreme cases can become seriously sociopathic.

It is not clear how, where, when and why it develops [being fawned over and spoiled in youth is common]. It is even less clear how to deal with it in average situations [personal or institutional leverage sometimes helps].

The normal symptoms that are relatively easy to see in people who are afflicted are lack of empathy for other people’s sensibilities, thoughts and feelings in such a way that is very corrosive to normal comfortable relationships.

A second symptom is that a person afflicted has very little room to take on board other people’s ideas and positions. The enlarged ego of the afflicted person does not welcome challenges and thus bristles when engaged.

At the same time the afflicted person sees himself becoming a victim of his surrounding social environment and thus sees any form of push back as an effort to victimize him.

When a narcissist is challenged, a normal and immediate reaction is to fightor flee. They flee sometimes to avoid the pain they feel from the challenge. Or, they tend to fight when their hormones get aroused to try to squash the challenge which, of course, is counterproductive to normal social problem solving.

Granted that this very short summary of the essence of narcissism has not and cannot go very far in explaining and solving all the problems in society that result from narcissism.

But, hopefully this piece can help enable ordinary folks/voters to visualize what a super extreme narcissist like Trump would likely become in the office as President.

We need not prove that Trump has zero political experience. That is a given and perversely is his calling card.

The tragedy today is that politics –which has long been well known as the art of the possible—has not been very artful in recent years, perhaps in part because there may be too much narcissistic behavior throughout all of society and our political system as well.

Trump with his skyscraper ego, now presents himself as the anti-political solution to spark anger about our political process and elect his hip-shooting business style to solve our political problems.

Perhaps the best thing to find in what Trump now offers is the prospect that an aftermath of a Trump Presidency, which in all events would be extremely turbulent, or worse— catastrophic—might finally wake us up from a terribly bad dream and finally inform our political process how to work productively for the greater good of all the people, all the time.

That could be a salutary ultimate outcome.

But, what happens, if the whole world, as we know it, effectively blows up in the process?

We simply cannot stand by and be entertained by the show and not worry about outcomes. Forest fires do grow exponentially as they grow. And elections fueled by emotion and anger have be known in the last 100 years to get out of hand and lead to dire problems for the world.

INFRASTRUCTURE CONUNDRUM

In all but the newest communities in America today, people are stumbling on sidewalks, bouncing on potholes, holding their breath on bridges and in tunnels, crossing the street away from tall brick buildings and generally gritting their teeth all the time with the courage normally reserved for scary movies.

The cause of all this stress and anxiety is pretty well summed up as a broad and deep infrastructure problem. Some of these roads, railroads, sidewalks, bridges and tunnels date as far back as the early 1900’s, when a great expansion of public transportation was underway as America moved from rural to urban homes. In the main, they were well-conceived and built with quality materials with a lot of well-directed labor and they justly carried the good intention of lasting a long time.

But then the rapid increase in the number of cars, the intense use of trains for both passengers and freight and a rapidly growing population put a strain on all those essential means of getting around.

By the 1930s, when the depression hit hard, there was far less money available for repairs and maintenance. Yet, FDR hit the accelerator for construction of new dams, electrification and other construction of necessary infrastructures to create jobs. This created even more new things that, naturally, needed regular maintenance.

The onset of WWII diverted labor and resources to war materials, so there was even less maintenance.

After WWII, President Eisenhower took an idea he had seen in the Germany he had defeated—an efficient network of super highways—and created the Interstate Highway System. Still more need for maintenance, but again no parallel provision for regular, consistent maintenance and updating.

It is amazing that this accumulated infrastructure of the last 100 years is still as capable as it is. In an age of disposable everything, products lasting a century are difficult to fathom. But decades of distractions from serious maintenance are taking an increasing toll in both minor inconveniences (water main breaks, road and rail delays) and preventable tragedies (bridge collapse, derailments, floods).

Many thoughtful leaders over the last 50 years have pushed for the need to address this infrastructure challenge. It has had occasional spurts and starts but nothing anywhere near sufficient. Why?

First, it is not sexy politically. When the George Washington Bridge was built people oohed and exclaimed with pride and pleasure. But when the second level was added, it was taken for granted. Even widening the streets doesn’t attract many votes for ambitious politicians.  Alfonse D’Amato, “Senator Pothole” to New Yorkers for almost two decades, retired more than 15 years ago, and no one has emerged in all those years to claim the title.

Second, there are always other, competing budget priorities for what everyone acknowledges is a massively expensive undertaking ($3.6 trillion by 2020 – www.infrastructurereportcard.org. Keeping up with health care and the many other very important societal needs crowds out new infrastructure funding, and the Highway Trust Fund – supported by taxes on gasoline that haven’t been raised since 1993 – teeters on the edge of insolvency, requiring semi-regular infusions of money from other parts of the federal budget.

Third, many, perhaps most, of the national politicians whose votes are essential to passing infrastructure rehabilitation expenditures do not live day to day with their noses in the problems. As elected officials, their lives are somewhat cosseted to protect them from everyday problems. In Washington DC they primarily see new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and underground trains. Perhaps they carry images in their heads of the new infrastructure in DC that surrounds them all the time. And, even at home they often have their local staff pick them up and drive them around so that they do not see many of the everyday obstacles their constituents encounter.

Perhaps a broad national movement urging the House of Representatives and Senate to put their 535 noses into the broad base of decaying infrastructure would help instruct that important gang on the imminence and gravity of the problem. For example, every congressional district and state could schedule several infrastructure site visits for every member of the House and Senate every month to call everyone’s attention to the problems everywhere.

Where infrastructure progress has been made in recent years it has most often been the result of collaborations among the three sectors: government, business and not for profit. Those collaborations are hard to achieve among the sectors because the sectors do not generally work well together as they speak different languages and have little trust and regard for each other. That is another issue that needs to be addressed. See: www.intersector.com.

In addition it would be a good idea going forward if some appropriate portion of the cost of all new infrastructure investments [ like the well-intended but sorrowfully insufficient Highway Fund] were set aside to create a fund in advance of inevitable maintenance and repair.

Something like that is done with Social Security and has strong public support to ensure that  funds will be there to pay retirement benefits when the time comes, which it inevitably does. Retirement is no more or less inevitable than the “sell by date” of infrastructure. When people retire they want to be just as safe as when they worked.

Cries for infrastructure maintenance have been like yelling into the wind.  Experience suggests no cause for optimism, so we settle for being realistic.

But, that does not mean we should stop yelling!!