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Thomas Magstadt
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 14 February 2013
Fixing Washington is easy. If only we didn’t have to depend on Washington to do it.

How to Fix Washington in Five Easy Steps

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Step 1 – Abolish the filibuster

Enough said. Nothing can or will change until the Senate rediscovers the principle of majority rule.  Like it or not, it's the way a democratic republic is supposed to work.      

The fix: Get rid of the filibuster, put bills to a vote, and let the chips fall where they may.  If we, the voters, then decide to throw the rascals out, so be it.  

Step 2 – End life tenure for Supreme Court justices

The title of a recent New Yorker essay –  "Benedict XVI Resigns: A New Path for the Papacy?" – contains a clue to the faux mystery of what's wrong with the nation's high court. With charity befitting the subject, Alexander Stille  muses "[the papal resignation] may reflect…a sober acknowledgement that things have not always gone as they should have on his watch."  Pedophiles disguised as priests, for example.

As it happens, sundry other "things" have gone wrong, less mortifying, perhaps, but sufficiently appalling, if not incriminating, to demand recounting and cry out for atonement. And this:  "…close to eighty, Benedict…has been unable to hit the right note. Perhaps, with his resignation, he has finally done so."  Indeed.

Life tenure for justices is wholly inconsistent with impartial justice.  Thus, the idea of an apolitical high court becomes a categorical imperative. Arguably, the most important, enduring, and supremely political single thing most sitting presidents ever do is to appoint Supreme Court justices.  The justices, in turn, can decide when (if ever) to resign.  At present, that decision depends less on the age and health of a justice than on the ideological predisposition of the chief executive.  So much for impartial justice(s).

The fix:  Establish fixed terms for the justices, say, 15 years give or take a few; a mandatory retirement age of, say, 72 or 75; and some variant of the Missouri plan. In Missouri high court judges are nominated by a bipartisan panel.  The panel selects a small number of nominees and submits the list to the governor.  The governor chooses one nominee from the list.

Step 3 – Get serious about campaign finance reform

Money corrupts and absolute money (i.e., unlimited cash contributions) corrupts absolutely.  Right now we have the worst Congress money can buy.  Everyone – seriously, everyone – with any experience inside the beltway knows it.

The Supreme Court can fix it by overturning Citizens United.  Congress can fix it.  But only if a) the filibuster is abolished and b) the Supreme Court is drastically depoliticized.

The fix: First, limit political campaigns to six weeks before each election (primaries and general elections).  Second, require every radio and TV licensee to set aside a certain amount of time for free political ads to all candidates on the ballot in any given voting district as a condition of obtaining and retaining a license to use "public airwaves". Third, limit by law the total amount any candidate can spend.  And one more thing:  it's not a "free speech" issue. (Anyone who says otherwise spends way too much time watching Fox News.)               

Step 4 – Regulate lobbying (and prosecute violators)

No more revolving door.  There are currently over 12,300 registered lobbyists, many of them located along K Street in Washington, D.C.  Actually, that number is a bit bogus.  Many lobbyists use a loophole that magically turns a lobbyist into a "consultant".  Don't believe it?  Check out the Lobbying Disclosure Act.  

In all, lobbies spent $3.28 billion  "influencing" Congress (bribing, cajoling, promising, threatening, and servicing) in 2012 (compared to a "mere" $1.44 billion in 1998). Lobbies do the dirty work for TBTF banks, theNRA, and such like. Meanwhile, between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of House members more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars, excluding home ­equity. To say nothing about the scandalous "revolving door".  Check out former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle if you have any further questions.  Then check out his (second) wife, a former beauty queen who's all "business". 

Corruption is corruption even when Congress legalizes it for, well, Congress.  But it's gotta stop.

The fix: Ban any member of Congress, general officers, and federal senior executive service (SES) officials from engaging in any kind of lobbying activities for life. Make it a crime punishable by serious jail time and large fines. Enforce the law.  Require member of Congress to disclose all contacts with lobbyists.  Require Congressional staff members to log all contacts with lobbyists. Publish the logs on the internet.

Step 5 – Restore fiscal sanity with deep cuts in defense spending

De-mythologize war and demilitarize the American economy. Mothball at least 7 of the 11 carrier strike groups, scuttle the F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter and the F-35 Lightning, and do not build 3,000 more tanks.  The Pentagon has thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, and jeeps military vehicle junkyards and "throws an estimated trillion dollars a year onto the scrap heap".

The fix:  Under the Constitution, Congress has the power of the purse, so Congress can fix this problem at any time.  To put it mildly, our defense budget is defensible.  Cut it by 10-15% every year for the next four years.  Then continue cutting it until it is no greater as a share of GNP than the average for the other OECD countries.  

See, fixing Washington is easy.  If only we didn't have to depend on Washington to do it…

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ABOUT Thomas Magstadt

Tom Magstadt earned his Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University School of International Studies. He is the author of "An Empire If You Can Keep It: Power and Principle in American Foreign Policy," "Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues," and "Nations and Governments: Comparative Politics in Regional Perspective." He was a regular contributor to the Prague Post in 1998-99 and has published widely in newspapers, magazines and journals in the United States. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the Czech Republic in the mid-1990s and a visiting professor at the Air War College in 1990-92. He has taught at several universities, chaired two political science departments, and also did a stint as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. He is a member of the board of the International Relations Council of Kansas City. Now working mainly as a free-lance writer, he lives in Westwood Hills, Kansas.

Most of the comments above,

Most of the comments above, are right on the money, question is will Congress get the message? It's doubtfull!

Magstadt means well but -

Magstadt means well but - like many other 'reformist' writers - has not thought through thoroughly enough the implications of his sound-good proposals.

For one thing, he thinks that a simple law could limit the duration of 'campaigns'. No, you can't draw a clear line between 'campaigning' for a limited period and political speech - which is supposed to be free all the time. If you try, either you will violate free speech rights, or you will find that your line is ineffective because clever campaigners will avoid overt campaigning for office in favor of making all sorts of policy statements.

And anyhow, limiting campaigning really is unnecessary because the real problem is not campaigning but our system of a relatively few highly powerful long-term public offices (elective or otherwise) - of which the lifetime-term Supreme Court is only the most ridiculous and dangerous example.

Magstadt tries to adapt Lord Acton's famous and correct dictum: 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. He replaces 'power' by 'money'.

But MONEY is simply the INSTRUMENT of corruption: it is NOT the REASON for corruption. The REASON Congressfolk and cabinet members and even justices can arrange to get agreeably corrupted with lots of money - or the equivalent in other stuff that they might like - is that they have - by the US Constitution - been given lots of POWER. They are given lots of power to make key public decisions - and therefore can sell off all or parts of this power for lots of money (to folks who will benefit from the decisions going their way).

The same few get gobs of power for years over all sorts of big (and big-money) budgetary and other public decisions. If they are even halfway clever they will arrange to keep the fruits of their corruption even if eventually they are impeached or not re-elected.

Allegedly necessary (but in fact needless) campaign costs are NOT the reason for corrupting money flowing into contributions. These costs are just one pathway and excuse: choke it off, and others will be found.

What's necessary is to end giving a few politicians all that decision power. In fact, it means abolishing 'politician' as a viable special career. That means replacing long terms for a few poohbah legislators and justices and high officials - and mass elections to select some such officials - by instead many many different short-term decision juries, each comprised of randomly selected ordinary citizens.

Good article. And not too

Good article. And not too simplistic. In fact, start with campaign finance reform and that will help fix the rest of it. Publicly funded elections over a six-week period would end a lot of the nonsense and corporate bribery through lobbyists. You would indeed have more of the people's voice involved, and elected officials wouldn't be beholden to their deep pocket special interests. It would be a great first step and has been needed for decades.



You left out: 6.

You left out:
6. Investigate and prosecute predatory bankers.
7. Investigate and prosecute fraud leading to wars.
8. Investigate and prosecute arms dealers.
9. Abolish the "Federal" Reserve and the I.R.S.
10. Pull out of WTO, IMF, World Bank.
11. Term limits for senators.
12. Return Corporate Partnerships to Temporary/Emergency Status.

And now back to reality; this

And now back to reality; this is the current government that holds with the official 9/11 commision's version of events....good points though.

Sorry, Fullblad, 9/11 was

Sorry, Fullblad, 9/11 was only the event that allowed the full fruiting of the power corruption of our government, but the mycellium of corruption had already spread to every corner of the government over the course of the previous century - that is how the visible fungus of corruption was suddenly able to burst forth fully formed after 9/11.

Agree. That is the

Agree. That is the fountainhead of all of this.

Let the people write the laws

Let the people write the laws by voter initiatives and referendums instead of giving that job to the best politicians money can buy.

Thomas. The Filibuster is

The Filibuster is being ABUSED. The idea that the minority party can stop "stupid" partisan legislation from getting a mere majority vote on ridiculous legislation, is exactly why it needs to stay. Hyper-partisanship has created an "all in , all the time" myopic that is passed off as political "strategy".
Bullshit. Our Congressmen, need to grow up, put their big boy and big girl panties on and get with the business of Legislating for America. Not dragging the entire populous down a greasy shoot of lies and innuendo.
thanks for listening

Too simplistic!

Too simplistic!

What about the idea of

What about the idea of elected representatives voting for us. That is truly a joke. The founding fathers didn't fathom the enormity of the population growth and how the individual's voice would be lost in the mix. In this day of mass communication through IT we should replace the house with the Peoples House where bills are created and voted on by the masses though internet and the elected representative are there just to advise and council.

A governmental system has to

A governmental system has to be run somehow, and ours worked pretty well until corporate money and fear (post 9/11) took over. The people have allowed the abuses on our freedoms without standing up to it.

A democracy for the people by

A democracy for the people by the people should represent as many of the people as possible and not just a mere majority. There is almost always a way to compromise so way more than a majority alone should have their way.

Obama would no have been

Obama would no have been elected twice without grassroots support online, and that indeed represents a voice of the people.

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