My Blog List

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Commissions - Institutionalized Democratic participation versus Robin Hood

We've developed a cludgy legal system, where lawyers and judges have been trying for years to "control juries". This pits them at odds with the concept of an empowered, informed jury. The justification for every increasing jury control is that "wild juries" have been known to free locals, over-ride the legislature, and "nullify" decisions -- when given half a chance. This works to protect "Robin Hood" type high status criminals in a neighborhood against frustrated prosecutors and Sheriffs, but it also, traditionally has been a protection for ordinary citizens against corrupt prosecutors and police who treat their neighborhoods as occupied territory to loot and steal from with impunity. In my review of Racketeering, Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) and their history, one thing that popped out at me was that legal concepts such as "Racketeering" shift in meaning in US Legal politics. Racketeering law (and it's predecessors) was initially applied selectively; aggressively against Unions and tradesmen, and not at all among higher status business felons (Lawyers, Wall Street, Big Business). As a result, mostly minority communities such as those where Italians, Irish or Jews lived, often resisted these laws. From the point of view of reformers and elites these people were all racketeers; tradesmen, union organizers, union members. From the point of view of folks trying to survive in cities and rural areas, these people were often heroes. From the point of view of folks living in cities and rural areas, the officials going after them were corrupt oppressors. This is where you get Robin Hood style legends applied to local real gangsters:

Classic Robin Hood stories

I've heard the same Robin Hood story told about Jessie James, and Al Capone (Heard story, no evidence). Al Capone is credited with starting a soup kitchen. The point is that when the government is corrupt and people are excluded from participating in their government; two things happen. One is that the people form their own informal governments, including elevating gangs to power (Robin Hood effect). And the other is that when the authorities have no social pressures to limit their looting and corruption and become oppressors some of the criminals become heroes. Example Story:

"A Missouri widow claimed that Jesse James and his gang boarded with her one evening. While she served them dinner, not knowing who he and his gang were, she lamented the fact that the government was going to foreclose on her house, due to unpaid taxes. James generously gave her the money she needed to pay her taxes. What a kindly soul he was."
"However, legend goes on to say that James and his gang waited for the tax collector to leave the woman’s house and then, robbed him- thereby obtaining their money again!"[From]

Similar Stories are found all over the world where government is often corrupt and mistreats people.

Policing the Police: Citizen Commissions

The principle here is that no one person should ever be prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, in the same person and we need to change the manifold locations where we have that currently.

The issue is that the people either participate in government or government acts like a looting army. Juries were created to put a check on corrupt judges. "Commissions" have a more problematical history due to their tradition of being agents of established authority.

Rather than join with the outlaws activists have found that participating in government works better than forming "Robin Hood Bands" or trying to outwit corrupt taxmen and other executives. Commissions traditionally are created with high status lawyers forming their members, and the only way the government seems to think it can establish balance is to appoint partisans from both dominant party and it's nearest competitor. This often leaves out reformers, citizens, labor, etc.... A commission is often formed of "experts" who never-the-less deliver less than expert results. Commissions often are accused of (and many guilty of) being official white-wash on institutional malfeasance, and the old boy network created by appointing insiders, relatives and country club members from the same club as the prosecutors, judges and executives belong to, is so obvious that people often lose their trust in their legitimacy. They simply don't do their jobs a good portion of the job, or when they do, they do it for the "wrong" stakeholders.

The way to reform this is through citizens commissions drafted by lot from among the jury pool, and staffed with the folks who usually run commissions plus people hired by the commissioners themselves. The commission chair can be a judge or expert, but the commissioners should explicitly have explicit power within the scope of their commission. And when their commission expires a new one will be convened. This certainly would work better than the current arrangement.

Citizen commissions are vital for policing any institution where "old boy" habits develop; police, fire, legal professionals, judges, executive agencies. And they can have the further benefit of serving as juries when there are disputes within executive organizations that otherwise would be handled by the hierarchy. To get at genuine justice, the "judge" and Jury must both be impartial. And to get at that doesn't mean that people can't know the subject, they simply can't have a vested interest in the outcome one way or another or corrupt associations.

We need to empower juries not control them. A jury trial or any other commissioned citizen exercise should be a discovery walk through a body of knowledge where the Jurors play the "ingenue" and can look at issues freshly to render a verdict. We need citizen commissions to balance the institutional prejudices and vested interests inherent in appointed or elected judges and other executives. We also need to clearly separate the judging role from the executive role for all decision making except the highest level of abstraction. This is a matter of good process, good government, and executing integral principles to establish or restore, and enforce integrity.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Annual Thanksgiving message 2013

I've had a personal tradition of an annual End of Year Message in the tradition of dickens. But this year is odd. This year I am thankful that I'm still alive, though I wish a few dear friends who aren't around to share this were still around. Some of them left too soon; Though, they are alive in my heart and this thanks is given thinking of them. My late wife, my wonderful late relatives, but I'm thankful others of my relatives and friends are still around. I'm incredibly thankful for these friends, especially; Herman Taube, the healing warrior who has been my friend along with his whole family; Nessie Godin, the lovely lady whose wisdom and experience I value even when I can't talk to her directly. My "Suegra" or mother in law, who I love in a different way from my wife, but who is so wonderful too. I could name them all, Mom, Dad, and sisters and brothers, cousins and distant relatives -- all of whom are precious in their own special unique ways. And most of them have their own families and have invited me in from time to time.

But I never give thanks without thinking of Dickens, who tried to shame people, or Swift, who tried to shock people into changing. Neither exactly succeeded. Too many folks are too self-obsessed, sociopathic or even malaevolent to get either a swiftian message or a Dickensian message. I used to try the Dickensian messages on my libertarian "frenemies" and they'd just get offended. They and the entire Republican Party agree with the pre-Three Ghost Scrooge, and thanks to them we have cuts in unemployment, food stamps and other charitable programs kicking in just in time for Christmas. I can thank the Dems that things aren't worse. If I suggest Swiftian remedies to my Republican friends, such as turning the unemployed and hungry into Soylent Green, some of them agree until I point out that was the sort of thing the Nazis did, then they get mad at me for embarrassing them -- or worse, say "so?" Never mind that they are still fine with the projects of getting rid of Obamacare, cutting food stamps, and giving all that money to their buddies at the country club. Some people are grateful for what they have, and some people are aggrieved that they don't have everything someone else has. Some of us are grateful for the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Some folks think they are Ozymandias and they "did it all themselves."

There is a lot to be thankful for. Fukushima could have been worse (maybe) Andy Gunderson gives his own thanks that things could have been a lot worse in this recent (depressing) Youtube video that explains why it could have been much better, and is a lot worse than they are telling us: It could be worse, though I'm not sure. It can always get worse because human depravity and delusional subjectivity are easily manipulated and can lead otherwise good people to do despicable things. My friends have first hand experience with that. I'd prefer to spare their and my descendents the same thing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Are Corporations people or governments?

Several challenges to the Affordable Care act are reaching the Supreme Court. If I didn't think the court were corrupt I'd be confident the court would decide them sagely. But the Supreme Court is hopelessly partisan and hopelessly corrupt so I have no confidence that the corrupt members of the gang of five will do the right thing. Even so the case, to me is about corporations as government not corporations as "persons" and if corporate government is tyrannical (for private, separate advantage of the governors [see "definitions" post]), then it is because corporations are not only businesses but they are local governments to their employees and property, and it is their governing power that is being argued at the Supreme Court, not their mere "artificial" personhood. If an employer can deny employees medical benefits based on their own religious beliefs, then they are doing so as "masters" or government, not as mere business-persons. Businesses serve the commons and operate in markets. They have no business imposing their beliefs on anyone, much less their employees. Or denying them medical benefits based on those beliefs. But that is my argument, and by my argument corporations should obey "separation of church and state" in administration of their business. Maybe a religious corporation can apply their religious beliefs as a religion.

And the idea that corporations should have complete impunity to impose tyranny on their employees ought to be repugnant to everyone. The CEO's want to be "King" and we let them get away with it.

To Keep it simple, stupid, that is it for this post.

Further reading:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Snowy Mountains and the deserts

It's always snowed in the mountains.
I remember as a kid watching the clouds pass overhead in the desert.
The storms would kick up dust, but no rain.
I remember that dust, one time,
like a tornado chasing my father's car home.
Oh, yes no rain reaches the desert floors,
but in the mountain it rains, and it snows!
Up in the mountains it would rain, (or snow)
and when that rain fell
or the snow melted in spring,
long silent rivers would grow.
They call those rivers Arroyos,
in the language of Spain
and when there is no rain,
they seem curvy roads leading down to a plain.
But those plains, those salt flats
are long dead seas,
and when it rains they fill to the knees.
And long sleeping frogs, fish and bugs,
wake up to feast,
their sleepy thirst finally slaked.
The water doesn't last long,
and much of it is salty,
but while there is water,
the desert is healthy.
What had been dry and brown, alive with sounds,
bursting with colors and green all around.
The blue sky above, and life everywhere,
where shortly before all had seemed so bare.
I remember desert storms as a good thing.
Christopher H. Holte

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lincoln the Marxist!!!

Lincoln the Marxist

I'm still reading about the circumstances around Lincoln's 1861 State of the Union Speech. But the text itself shows that:

    a; "class" distinctions were mostly an invention of the wealthy, and
    b; Lincoln didn't truck with permanent class distinctions.
    c; The issue of capital and labor is directly tied to that of slavery.

In December of 1861 near the beginning of the Civil War Lincoln gave a State of Union speech which included this often excerpted portion. I imagine real Marxists (I'm not one) like it even more than me:

From Infoplease: ist/state-of-the-union/73.html
"It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government."

People like to think that class warfare started with the Marxists and reached it's culmination with the Bolshevik Revolution. But the reality is that property, including capital, and labor have been at odds with each other for most of human history. The reason why slavery was an important issue was because it represented the ownership of people and their labor as property. Ending slavery was important, not only to slaves, but to working people in general. And fighting the efforts of capital to not only exert economic power but to rule policy through politics and law are directly connected. And Lincoln in this speech explains why.

"It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
(Read more: State of the Union Address: Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861) |

This is how our masters would prefer us to be. If we are slaves they don't have to pay us. If they can find willing slaves (like Robots) they can fix us in the position of slaves, or even worse, freeze us out of the parts of the economy they control. And we have to reject that premise in order to fight the policies.

"Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer...."

Unless their freedom is taken away from them. More importantly people have a natural right to own the means to pursue happiness, to have a property in the commons necessary for commoners such as us to survive. Thus the arguments of those who would make capital king are bankrupt and groundless.

"Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless."

If we are enslaved it is tyranny and usurpation, not a natural or humane logic. Lincoln is here stating a fundamental, a natural, an inalienable right.

"Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

But of course capital has fought back with the argument that capital is the "job creators" and that people will not work unless capital pays them.

"Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them.

Thus one can see that the slave owners were fundamentally, capitalists.

The Vision of America

But the vision of America is of a vast middle class of people who are both capitalists and laborers, who own their own capital goods (tools, buildings, offices, etc...) and are not either slaves nor mere hired hands:

A large majority belong to neither class--neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families--wives, sons, and daughters--work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

And that class is nurtured by government that doesn't favor capital over labor and that doesn't penalize labor with evil policies, mandated minimum wages, and by giving capital ownership over the commons.

"Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

And so Abraham Lincoln shows the basis of the Progressive movement. We aren't Marxists. We don't see a laboring class that will suddenly "rise up" and seize the "means of production" as some abstract concept. We see ourselves as both capitalists and laborers, working class and capable of doing better. We see the American Dream as the right to not be fixed in place by oppression of any sort.

(Read more: State of the Union Address: Abraham Lincoln (December 3, 1861) |

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Is Beauty for the World?

Is Beauty for the world to see?
Or is it a secret only for me?

I enter my secret garden and tred lightly
but I still leave broken things behind.
How can I let in armies, if I'm unkind?

Would that secret garden, not be a secret;
and folks take off their jackboots at the door,
and put on winged sandals to walk the floor.

When I open up my secret garden to the world,
I risk barbarian invasion.
Incoming blind, destructive,
turning my garden to a dusty swirls.
All the beauty in my secret garden,
trampled by unthinking boots.

But is that garden really mine?
I claim it with my effort and mind,
But keeping it a secret breeds barbarian children,
who clamor at the door.
"Let me in! Let me in!"
I want to see this beauty once more.

Let's teach our children to grow up,
and take off their shoes, put on slippers,
and leave them at the door.

Christopher H. Holte