Both purport to strengthen democracy; both undermine it.
I. The Organization of American States Summit in Cartagena, Colombia. This meeting of our hemisphere´s presidents has been permanently soiled by 11 United States Secret Service and military personnel whooping it up in hotel rooms with prostitutes, booze and who knows what else.
For those who view security clearances as merits, I am sure the 11 had the highest clearances possible; look what they bought us. "Gidget Goes Bonkers" playing in a theater only too near you. The soundtrack is from 1978: "Sea, Sex and Sun" by Serge Gainsbourg. You don`t have to know French to get the idea. You do, however, have to have some knowledge of the ways of the world. In that regard, the Secret Service is obviously in need of instruction.
Along with presidents, 700 business chiefs were invited to the summit. As Banacek observed, when an owl shows up at a mouse picnic, it´s not there to enter the sack races.
In contradistinction to the 700, the United States vetoed an invitation to Cuba to attend the summit. The reason: Cuba is not a “democracy” and consequently is unacceptable. Indeed, in the preambule to the OAS Charter its signatories declare:
“Convinced that representative democracy is an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region;” …
President Rafael Correa of Ecuador boycotted the Summit because Cuba was not invited. Members of ALBA, the Andean nations, have announced they will not attend another Summit unless Cuba is invited.
Is the OAS cracking? Going the way of the League of Nations? Eastern Airlines? Lehman Brothers? Did President Correa do the right thing not to attend?
The dispute over Cuba brings to a light a fundamental issue discussed numerous times in this blog. (See in particular the post of October 24, 2011, “The Second American Revolution: Part 9. The Great American Illusion”):
The United States does not have a democracy. It never did; it never will. Its governmental system was a Политей – a polity, or hybrid of oligarchy and democracy moderated by a middle class and tending toward democracy. For political reasons, the Founding Fathers (notably James Madison) substituted the word "republic" for "polity."
In 2008-2009, the American polity went the way of all polities. Aristotle had warned that the major threat to a polity is posed not by outside enemies, not by the poor, not by the middle class, but by the wealthy:
“[Forgetting the claims of equity], they not only give more power to the well-to-do, but they also deceive the people [by fobbing them off with sham rights]. Illusory benefits must always produce real evils in the long run; and the encroachments made by the rich [under cover of such devices] are more destructive to a constitution than those of the people.”
(Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, translated and edited by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, New York, 1962, op.cit, p. 186. (Book IV, Chapter XII). Brackets made by translator.)
If, under the glare of TV lights and astonished eyes worldwide, billions of Bush-Obama dollars handed over to American oligarchs were not "encroachments made by the rich," what are?
Founded in 1789, the American polity, which changed world history and was the envy of the world, died in 2008-2009. As Aristotle predicted, the polity was replaced by an oligarchy with democratic accessories -- hats, gloves, wallet, shoes.
The OAS has a wonderful opportunity to lead the world. I have not examined all of its members´ governments; however, I venture to say that among them polities prevail, and that there isn´t a single democracy. (Democracy is a direction, not a place. A north doesn´t exist: you will never get there. You can, however, move more or less north). All the OAS has to do is openly acknowledge a self-evident truth – it will be the first time in world history – by changing its Charter, replacing the world "democracy" with "polity."
That admission would bring to light a basic truth. Cuba´s problem isn´t that it is not a “democracy” – again, there isn`t a single democracy among the OAS members. Rather, Cuba does not have a polity because it does not have an oligarchy, viz., a rich class. No oligarchy, then, is the real reason why Cuba is unacceptable to the United States -- a nation now ruled by an oligarchy.
The definition of "hoax" by Merriam Webster: "to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous."
"Convinced that representative democracy is an indispensable condition"..., the OAS Charter declares. Preposterous -- again, there isn´t a single "democracy" in the OAS. Will the OAS admit that obvious fact, proclaim that it is an organization of polities, and start to lead? Will it stop being a dead puppet show?
Ask the indispensable 700.
II. Reapportionment lawsuits.
I wrote in the post of 10-3-2011 (“The Second American Revolution. Part 7: Reapportionment: In Search of The Silver Bullet”):
“If you are very quiet, you will hear knives coming out.
The 2010 census is finished. Reapportionment wars and lawsuits are just around the corner. Expensive -- hideously expensive -- lawsuits. Throughout America, lawyers in hair suits are making frenetic phone calls, holding hectic Monday morning strategy sessions, rounding up plaintiffs, corralling expert witnesses.
Economic catastrophe is staring America in the face. No catastrophe has ever blinked. Is there a way your tax money can be saved for something other than reapportionment wars? Public education? Infrastructure? Social services? Law enforcement? Debt service? Environmental protection? Health care? Energy conservation?”
We are barely into the new decade, and a forest of knives has sprouted. According to The New York Times, reapportionment lawsuits have been filed in over half of the states.
Among them is New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the nation. Five million dollars are being sought in legal fees. We looked at that state´s reapportionment problems of 1982 in the post cited above.
Apparently, in the intervening 30 years nothing has been learned. Zero. Rien. Nix, null, nada. In reapportionment work all over the country, the American taxpayer is not just being taken to the cleaners; he is now working for them...
I have reapportioned districts from congress on down. In my opinion:
(1) N.M. overpaid for its reapportionment plan. What would have been a reasonable price?
The two main variables in statewide reapportionment are (i) the number of house and senate districts to be redrawn and (ii) the number of precincts in the state. Let us assume a normal amount of complicating technical factors, e,g,, the creation of new precincts when an old one is split due to population growth, and making population counts gathered in census enumeration districts fit into precincts (precincts and enumeration districts often do not have the same boundaries). Let us assume further that, to reduce costs, the state will contribute computers, personnel, supplies and other necessities to the reapportionment project. Finally, let us assume the state has 1,000 precincts and 100 house and senate seats to reapportion. A reasonable cost would be $250,000 – about a third of what N.M. paid.
(2) The fact that Indians are suing suggests that the reapportionment project was not carried out properly. By properly I mean including – not excluding – the general public with open arms, from the very beginning, every step of the way. Not one of our plans was ever sued because public meetings were held in which everyone was invited to submit and criticize plans. The only limits were, first, the plans had to be legal – I worked with lawyers who made that determination -- and second, the plans had to be complete for the area in question (e.g., an entire city or county), viz., because the design of one district impacts on others, no participant was allowed to draw up one or two ideal districts for his buddies and go home. Finally, we provided "kits" to interested citizens who wanted to try their hand at redistricting.
The end product was a formidable community consensus that no lawyer in the nation was foolish enough to challenge.
Zero lawsuits, zero legal bills. And the best way to avoid lawsuits is to make the community part of the solution. (A personal note: I have been on reservations and in Navajoland. These are poor people – why the state would want to give them a hard time is beyond me.)
(3) The state should demand full disclosure of anyone seeking a reapportionment consulting contract or any lawyer who either sues or wants to represent the state. Do they have political candidates as clients? How about other contracts with the state, media outlets, political parties?
Any reapportionment designer should qualify as an expert witness in federal court. The reason: if he is not qualified, in the event of a lawsuit the state will have to bring in an outside expert to defend the plan. That outsider will have to start from ground zero; guess who will pay the tab to bring him up to par. A needless duplication of effort, if there every was one.
(4) Regarding the $5 million legal bill for New Mexico, let me ask you something:
Are you crazy?
According to the figures the Santa Fe New Mexican released, N.M. could have redrawn its entire plan five times for $5 million. I am unaware of any lawsuit ever in which all districts were contested.
So, to begin to formulate a ballpark guess of a reasonable legal fee, we will assume 10 districts are legally contested. In contrast to everything that lawyers, politicians and consultants will tell you, this stuff isn´t rocket science.* The number of legal alternatives in drawing districts is extremely limited. For 10 house and/or senate districts (especially if they border each other) we may be looking at the most at 30 optional plans, not 300 or 3,000. 30 plans is a month or two of work.
Governor Martinez and Legislative leaders: do not let your residents be the target of a ridiculous ripoff. The bottom line: a reasonable starting point for legal fees is $500,000 -- not $5,000,000. By starting point I mean N.M. state authorities should start with the former figure and work up, not from the latter figure and work down.
All states should consider legislation to pùt caps on the amount of money awarded in reapportionment lawsuits. Don´t tell me it cannot be done; we did it on medical malpractice lawsuits. It took six months of hearings and negotiations, but the results were satisfactory to all concerned, especially the consumer.
New Mexico has 2 million people. That is less than 1% of America´s population (316 million). If the $5 million legal fee which New Mexico could end up paying is any indication, we are looking at an outrageously obscene bill for the nation as a whole. One billion, anybody? Two?
Perhaps due to the growing catastrophe, my posts on reapportionment of 10-3-2011 and 10-11-2011 are receiving an extraordinary amount of hits. It is a pleasure to share information and observations with you; however, do not write or call for reapportionment work. I stand by my post of 10-11-2011 (“Part 8: A Formula to Achieve One Person One Vote”). Once that formula is accepted, it is difficult to regard any conventional practice or claim to One Person, One Vote -- a fundamental article of democracy -- as anything other than at best mistaken, at worse a hoax. In either event, a dead puppet show.
*To speed things up, reapportionment software is available. I used Lotus 1-2-3 for years; worked fine.