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Three Mistakes Worth NOT Repeating

Posted by Bob · April 29th, 2004 · No Comments

As America entered this new century, three events happened in quick succession that may have defined America’s priorities, and perhaps the world’s priorities, for the next twenty years. They are listed here in no particular order:

  • The contested election between Bush and Gore.
  • The Dot Com stock market crash.
  • The September 11th attacks.

Each one of these events shares one common trait: they are all national failures.

America, Example of Democracy to the World:

The last presidential election was an embarrassment to our nation. Hanging chads, pregnant chads, entire elections decided by a retirement community in one state. These are issues usually associated more often with Banana Republics than the United States of America.

Is this really the democracy we want to exhibit to the world? Is this really the most appropriate way to elect leaders in the twenty first century?

I mean, come on, what purpose does an Electoral College serve anymore? What happened to one citizen, one vote? In a democracy such as ours, how can anyone rationalize another election superseding the POPULAR vote?

From Yale Daily News, October 23, 2000

But do the voters win? After all, the Gallup polls include the undecided states. Gore would win the election despite the fact that a lot more people want Bush to be president. In a democracy, that’s the ultimate in “fuzzy math.”

And what exactly is the purpose of the electoral college, anyway? Well, for one thing, it was designed to help entrench the slave power in the South. Recall that Article I of the Constitution euphemistically divided Americans into two categories: “free Persons” and “all other Persons.” Representation in the House of Representatives was based on adding the number of “free Persons” and three-fifths of the number of slaves. A state’s number of electoral college votes is simply equal to its number of Senators plus Representatives. The electoral college ensured that the South maintained disproportionate clout in presidential elections, which may help to explain why nine of the first 12 presidents were sons of the South. Is it any wonder that the proposal to make electoral votes dependent on congressional representation was introduced at the Philadelphia Convention by a Southerner, Hugh Williamson of North Carolina?

The other primary reason for the electoral college was to soothe the fears of strong states’ rights advocates — most of whom tended, again, to be Southerners — at the Founding. According to Madison’s notes from the Philadelphia Convention, James Wilson of Pennsylvania proposed to elect the president “without the intervention of the States” — that is, through a direct popular vote. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts liked Wilson’s proposal, but feared that “it would alarm & give a handle to the State partisans, as tending to supersede altogether the State authorities.” Following Gerry, many of the Northern delegates acquiesced in the electoral college for political, rather than ideological, reasons.

The electoral college, simply put, is a constitutional anomaly. The Preamble speaks of “We the People of the United States” as the fundamental unit of sovereignty, and the Framers rejected an earlier draft that referred to “We The People of the States.” The Founders’ Constitution failed fully to live up to the ideals of popular sovereignty that it set — slavery is the most prominent example, but there are others, like the indirect election of senators and the disfranchisement of women. These, however, have been rectified by the 13th, 17th and 19th amendments. It is well past time for us to rectify the skewed system of presidential elections as well.

Traditions are important, the Electoral College is not. It’s time we retool our democracy to reflect the new century.

Another issue about the contested election was the void of leadership that prevailed while the courts were deciding the winners and losers. Perhaps for the first time since Nixon resigned, the country had no clear path from one elected leader to another. This shook the confidence of the country and the world. It has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some and lessened the respect of many more in our election process. This should never be allowed to happen again.

America, Home of the Free (Market):

I have a confession to make. I do not balance my checkbook every month. The statements I get go into a drawer never to see the light of day again.

But I do understand a basic level of money management. My understanding is that you have to generate revenues, pay debts and have some left over to call profit.

The Dot Com crash was inevitable. These companies were valued well beyond rational thought, many at their Initial Public Offering were being flooded by ‘Angel Money’, monies from Venture Capitalists who were telling their clients of riches in this new Internet economy.

How can this BS be tolerated? What happened to the old fashioned balance sheet?

When Wal-Mart comes into your neighborhood it arrives with a business plan. Go to the bank and ask for start up money for a new company without one and see what they say. Yet investors were being told that there was a business opportunity that promised to pay ridiculous returns without having turned a dollar’s profit.

Yes, I understand that there are those out there with expendable income that look for high-risk, high-gain opportunities. My point is that the market became so inflated by these poker players that tens of thousands of non-players got hurt when this market corrected.

And yes, I also realize that a Free Market implies that anyone is free to chase a dream, no matter how unlikely it is to come true. My point is that many of the non-players were investing through managed mutual funds. Too many of these managers and poker players walked out billionaires at the cost of the ordinary investor that trusted them.

I propose setting a law in place to protect mutual fund investors from this type of management and themselves. Any mutual fund that has more than a certain conservative percentage invested in these higher-risk investments should no longer be called a mutual fund but a risk fund. Then, when Joe Ordinary loses his shirt, he was far more informed of the speculation he/she invested in.

Also, it keeps the funds of those non-players away from managers who don’t feel that a balance sheet is worth the paper it’s written on.

And the damage was more than just innocent investors getting caught up in greed. Investment is as much about faith as it is anything else and the result is that the Dot Com crash cost us international faith in our markets.

We were playing with overvalued, invisible money.

Who would invest in such a market if it weren’t an American market?

America, Land of the Brave:

September 11th shook OUR confidence in ourselves.

The images of not one, but two airliners crashing into the Twin Towers are burned into all American’s souls. How could this happen? How could America be subject to such violence? We were America, we were above the fray of terrorism experienced by so many countries around the globe. We weren’t supposed to be this common; we were protected by some guiding hand from above; we were invincible; we were the ‘Good Guys’.

The terrorists struck us in a place where we were most powerful and most vulnerable, our economy. The budget was close to being balanced, something this country has not seen in decades. The public mood was that the future was bright and this election fiasco was so much smoke, something we could put behind us.

What this event did was to humble America into the world community. Now we had so much more in common with Europe and the Middle East. America, because of her policies, was now shedding blood in conflicts we considered to be ‘too far away to hurt us’.

Now this leader elected under so much controversy had to step up and show leadership to America and the world.

Today, we are at war with ‘terrorism’, wherever it resides and we’re told the war is going well. What I see is strained relations with our allies and a war we cannot justify on our hands. The human toll being paid by our military continues to grow and our national deficit is historically high. If this is winning I’d hate to see losing.

At this moment, our world is almost as destabilized as during World War II. This marginally-elected leader is telling the world that you are either for us or against us. Isn’t that bin Laden’s line?

How do you justify telling another sovereign government that they have to make a decision based on that criteria?

And how can a leader so closely aligned with conservative Christianity stand before the world and not appear ‘tainted’ to a world of ‘non-believers’ ? Even some countries that are historically considered ‘Christian’ are based on an element of Christianity considered nothing more than ‘cults’ to the conservative supporters of this President. Is this any way to bring consensus?

The word that comes to mind is confidence. How much confidence does the world have in OUR leadership? Obviously not enough for some historic European allies to follow us into Iraq. Obviously not enough for them to believe the intelligence we touted as the reason for the invasion and not enough for them to risk their sons and daughters.

How much confidence do we have in either candidate to lead us out of this swamp into peace and prosperity? In my opinion, little or none.

America, the ?…. :

The country and the world we hand our children will be unrecognizable to our aging eyes. These three events have started the world spinning in a new direction. This mess will take decades to clean up, maybe more.

We can only hope that after this time of resolution is over America will still stand for something. Hopefully we can stand for elections based on the popular vote, free and honest trade markets, and security enforced by common prosperity and tolerance.

Just like we’re supposed to be delivering to Iraq.

Categories: Politics-In-General


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