By Jerrol LeBaron
Our country is not the nation it once was. We can no longer guarantee the American Dream, and we are no longer a beacon of hope to the rest of the world. America's torch is dimming.
There are many things to blame. We could hold the political parties responsible. After all, their sole criteria in endorsing a candidate is whether that candidate has the resources to win and whether that candidate will vote party line and be a team player. Voting one's conscience, performing a due diligence and thinking for oneself are nowhere on the list of criteria when a political party endorses a candidate.
We can blame it on declining educational standards, too much TV, lack of moral and religious conviction or a lack of family values as a basis from which all other values are derived. Another factor is that technology is advancing so quickly that our cultures haven’t been able to keep pace. There is no shortage of factors.
As one looks across our nation, one can see worthy causes, people and organizations trying to resolve America's issues and bring us back to our true glory. However, it appears that these well-intended causes are being hampered.
If we look back in history as far back as the Roman Empire, Greece and even Babylon, a common denominator is evident: corruption at the highest levels of government has been at the root of the implosions of every great nation or empire. Self-serving, uncaring individuals gradually or quickly took more and more control, and began making decrees not for the good of all, but for the good of a few, thereby punishing and wrecking the lives of the many, destroying both personal liberty and initiative.
If we further examine history, we see a correlation between the rise of a nation or empire and the rise of individual freedoms and liberties. The Magna Charta and its many earlier and later versions are governmental and humanitarian milestones that have consistently resulted in the birth or growth of a nation. The US Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the ultimate example.
As we examine our political process and the laws being passed over the last several decades, it is clear that our Constitution and Bill of Rights have been minimized, invalidated and blatantly ignored. As a result, our nation is succumbing.
How does one turn this around? Or at the very least, how does one slow down this decay so that these great causes, organizations and people can turn our nation around and bring us back to a golden age?
The idea is simple. The task is ambitious. It is Congressional Reform.
To further clarify, our political process has been so corrupted that our politicians on both sides of the party aisle:
1. Knowingly and openly pass bills that are hundreds or even thousands of pages long which they haven't read, don't understand, haven’t done a due diligence on and have no idea what's in the fine print -- nor do they care.
2. Bundle bills the way some investment firms bundle securities.
3. Will change the content of a bill every hour on the hour up to the time of the vote. This is done to such a degree that objectionable clauses are taken out of a bill (or hidden somewhere else in it), in order to get conscientious politicians to vote for it, but then those objectionable clauses are quietly inserted back into the bill just before the vote.
4. Will declare a politician persona non grata if the politician doesn't back the president or routinely vote party line or for the agenda, thereby forcing the conscientious politician to compromise his or her principles -- if that politician is ever to have any hope of getting party support and accomplishing his or her goals. Once compromised, that politician is rarely of any further honorable use. Gone are voting one's conscience, thinking for oneself and representing the constituents. Gone is the ability to affect change, because as soon as a politician "plays ball," that politician has been compromised.
As long as Congress can add hundreds of pages to a bill in the middle of the night and pass it the next morning, our country will always be in trouble. So long as this is permitted, everything we hold dear -- and anything we want to protect -- about America is in danger each minute Congress is in session. Because lawmaking has degraded to a level such as this, self-serving special interests have had little difficulty in hijacking our government.
Simple fundamentals have been lost in the governmental process (and this is common to all great nations and empires that have imploded):
1. A primary reason to pass a law is to solve a problem. But in order to solve the problem, one must have a thorough understanding of it. One must actually look at and examine the problem. This simple fundamental applies to all aspects of life, including the settling of arguments, and the operation of government is no exception. This begs the question to our politicians: "How can you be sure the bill you haven’t read is going to solve the problem you haven’t looked at?"
2. Did you know that it is not uncommon for the House and Senate to pass a bill, and for the president to sign it into law, all in a single day? If politicians are going to pass laws for the good of all, shouldn’t the people be able to see the final version of the bill well in advance of the vote? "You do what we tell you to do. We don’t want your input." Isn't that what dictators do? Most bills passed by Congress are implemented months or even years later. There is no reason Congress can’t provide the people with the finished version of the bill 30 days before the final vote. They should be proud to do so.
To ensure that a bill is realistic, is as good as it can possibly be, and doesn't favor the few to the detriment of the many, the bill must be made available to the public, so that we can not only provide thoughtful input, but can also protect ourselves from poorly thought out bills and from self-serving special interests trying to hijack the political process.
3. Bundling bills is a perfect method by which vested interests are able to take control. A politician puts together a brilliant bill for the good of all, but then all sorts of other unrelated and often harmful clauses and/or bills are added to it. What is the politician to do? Vote "no" because this bundled bill is clearly subpar, or vote "yes" because this one decent aspect of the bill might not ever get a second chance?
4. History shows us that politicians primarily operate off of the honor system. As time passes, the honor system becomes less and less heeded. In our government the "honor system" is to some degree contained in the House and Senate rules. It is the honor system because these are merely rules and are often ignored, especially the rules concerning due diligences, personal profit, and integrity. This lack of concrete rules, under threat of job loss or jail time, is a fundamental cause of failed governments.
Imagine if we took all law enforcement in any state and told them that there were no concrete rules, laws or guidelines that they had to follow, that they could now operate solely off of the "honor system." Thugs, murderers and thieves would line up at the police academy. After all, what criminal wouldn't love the freedom to pimp out women and sell their drugs under the protection of the badge, in the comfort of their police cars all while getting a policeman's salary?
Crime would skyrocket in that state and nowhere would the crime per capita be higher than in law enforcement itself.
What would happen if we wiped out all of the regulations that our military had to follow? It would result in a chaotic and worthless military.
The "Honor System" is NEVER enough when it comes to politicians.
It is the structure provided to law enforcement and the military that makes it possible for decent people to want to join and selflessly serve for the good of all. It is this structure that reduces the number of thugs and self-serving people from joining.
Every aspect of life, in order for it be successful, needs structure -- concrete rules, guidelines and laws.
And, that brings us right back to Congress. Where are all of the laws, rules and regulations that they have to follow under threat of job loss or jail time?
If we want more honest people running for office, we need to create an environment where more honest, hard-working people will want to run for office -- an environment where thugs are less inclined to vie for the position.
With a single swipe of a pen, Congress can do massive and almost irreparable harm. Therefore, simple laws (not "house rules") need to be implemented which our members of Congress MUST follow.
In order for America to be the great nation it once was -- to be that beacon of hope for the rest of the world to aspire to, to continue to guarantee the American dream -- in order for worthy people, causes and organizations to be able to bring us back to our golden age and glory, we must put our government leaders in check.
A good step in that direction would be implementing simple laws which allow for the following:
A. No vote should count until the final, final version of that bill or allocation of funds has been made broadly available to the public for at least 30 days before the vote.
B. One subject per bill. To make sure legislators aren’t forced to vote in favor of poorly thought out bills, NO more bundling. A bill should stand on its merit alone.
C. To make sure the bill solves the problem, no vote shall count on a bill where a 100% accurate statement of the problem isn’t included in the bill.
D. No more deals behind closed doors.
E. Currently members of Congress can't be recalled, thus are free to do whatever they want. To increase accountability, we should be able to recall members of Congress who are clearly violating their oath and/or voting against the wishes of the majority of their constituents.
F. No Congresspersons' vote shall be valid on anything for which they, their friends or their associates stand to profit.
G. No member of Congress should be allowed to vote in favor of a bill which he/she hasn't personally read, understood to the best of his/her ability, and also performed a due diligence on.
H. Set up an effective ethics system (one with teeth), which also protects and rewards decent people when they report illegal and unethical activities in the Halls of Congress and government.
With a structure like this in place, American citizens would once again be listened to. With the environment created by these and other common sense reform laws, a much higher percentage of the people running for office would be the hard-working, honest, selfless type -- as is the case with law enforcement and the military. With simple reforms like these, we can see whose fingers are in the pie, and we can take action -- before the fact, not after the damage has already been done.
To recap, our constitution allows 535 people to make laws we have to live by, which in a representative government is acceptable. But these 535 people are currently passing laws they don’t understand which are supposed to solve problems they haven’t examined. To make matters worse, Congress does not solicit and often times ignores our input when making these decrees. We have to wait until after the laws are passed to find out what we are now subject to. Isn’t this more of a dictatorship than anything else?
Explain this procedure to a ten year old, and that child will look at you in disbelief.
It is time for Americans to once again stand side by side to defend America, but this time from an unchecked political procedure which is obviously idiotic.
Improvements come about through change of public opinion and attitudes which solidify into customs and social values -- and then into votes.
Women's right to vote and the Civil Rights Act are perfect examples. Politicians didn't pass these laws because they were the right thing to do. Otherwise, they would have fixed these injustices a long time earlier. Simply put, they did it because we as a people had enough of these inequities, and we made it clear that these were unacceptable.
Recently, the SOPA and PIPA bills were well on their way to being passed in both the House and the Senate. These bills would have made it possible for our government to shut down websites (personal and business) on suspicion alone and without a trial. Millions of us banded together and opposed these bills. As a result, Congress dropped them like hot potatoes.
Congress complies when we unite and DEMAND it.
Only with reform will America overcome its current crises and rise to even greater heights.
Let’s band together to demand Congressional reform.
If not for ourselves, let's do it for our children and grandchildren. Furthermore, it is time for us to sacrifice our time and effort for the millions of people we’ll never know, so that they have chances and opportunities we never had. This is what heroes do. There are too many countries where oppression still reigns supreme that are counting on us to set the example. After all, that is the American way.
Please go to: www.demandcongressionalreform.com and sign our petition. And, be sure to join us July 17th, as we converge on Capitol Hill to demand Congressional Reform.
– Jerrol LeBaron
Founder, Honor In Office
Executive Producer, Fools on the Hill