Tuesday, October 31, 2006


While reading “Two Cents” in the Sunday (10/22) S.F. Chronicle I was struck by one response to the question, “Tired of politics & politicians?” I think the sentiment, “Of course I am, but consider the alternatives”, is close to universal. What I do not believe is that any attempt is ever made to find reasonable alternatives. I would assume that tyranny is the only conceivable alternative to most people.

Let me suggest a simple, albeit radical, alternative to politics & politicians which would totally eliminate “lobbying” & “fund-raising”, words that we all know really mean manipulation, bribery & corruption. This alternative goes back to the inventors of democracy, the classical Athenians. We still call the present corrupted form by the same name, Jury Duty.

Why not consider a pure form of Jury Duty as an alternative to politics & politicians. This means that people would be chosen at random as our representatives. What could be less representative than our present system of selecting between “candidates” who only represent the powerful, wealthy & “influential”. Even “populist” candidates are beholden to their financiers & their particular political agendas, rather than the people they are supposed to represent.

How might this be implemented? Let me suggest a lottery based on Social Security Numbers, which are unique to every citizen. It would be a simple matter to create a simple, transparent & non-corruptible method to pick representatives. For example; you could have three separate & unconnected “drawings” to randomly choose three series of numbers which would be combined to create a SSN.

A list of such numbers would be generated. Starting at the top of the list; you would eliminate minors, convicted felons, and senile or otherwise mentally incompetent individuals. Only the elderly or severely physically handicapped could opt out of selection. No other excuses to avoid service would be allowed. This is of course different from current standards of Jury Duty where “challenges” & “excuses” are often used to eliminate the most competent & qualified persons.

To again refer to the original Athenian model; a chart or model of necessary legislative “slots” would be filled with the first qualified citizen whose SSN comes up. Designing this model to assure representation from all areas would be simple & based on census data.

I would envision a system of loose & overlapping districts rather than our present system of gerrymandering. This would mean that representatives would be picked from the first available selected citizens in a general area, filling the available slots until all slots are filled and all areas are represented.

It would be possible to maintain the present bicameral legislative format of Senate & House, despite the essentially anti-representative nature of the Senate: whereby States with small populations have more power than States with larger populations. However, if our legislators are truly representative of the population this would be neither necessary nor desirable. One truly representative deliberative body should work just fine.

You might ask how would this eliminate “lobbying” or corruption. First: all legislative business would have to be conducted & deliberated in public & broadcast to all citizens who are interested. Second: a open forum for any citizen to present ideas to the legislative body would be provided; not by whispering in the ears of legislators in the lobby. Third: any other attempt to influence the votes of legislators would be criminalized. Fourth: any legislator (or other citizen) who is so approached would be required to immediately & publicly report such attempts. Fifth: such attempts would be regularly made by undercover law enforcement agents in the same way that “stings” are performed at present. Failure to report these attempts would be criminal and likely to seriously discourage attempts to manipulate legislative issues. “Reverse” stings by authorized legislators towards businesses & “interest groups” could provide checks to the solicitation of bribes by corrupt legislators.

Citizens who are selected to be representatives should be paid well (but not extravagantly) for their services; with housing provided for them & their families. The concept of “financial hardship” as an excuse for not serving would be rejected.

Our tripartite system of our Government would be retained. Legislative reform would be taken care of by the previous suggestions. My suggestions for the Judicial branch would be limited to having all Judgeships, including the Supreme Court, be of fixed & limited duration. I would suggest a long term, perhaps ten years, without any further approval by legislators or the public (except in cases of criminal malfeasance) after their initial appointments by the legislature. This is so judges will be independent & focused on the Law rather than politics. Higher courts, such as the Supreme Court, would have overlapping terms for its members to provide for continuity.

But what about the Executive Branch? I would suggest that the polarizing popularity contest by which we now select a chief executive does not provide us with competent leadership. I see two similar processes with the potential to pick decent leaders. My preference would be for the sitting legislators to elect one of their own members at the end of their appointments. This would allow a group of people who have worked together for several years to (hopefully) choose the person who best demonstrates leadership ability. No favors could be bestowed by the new chief executive upon those who selected him/her for that position as they will no longer be in office. An alternative would be for direct elections by the citizenry of a representative who has been observed doing his work for the last 4/6 year term of the legislature. No campaigning would be allowed outside of an equal access format for debate & consideration of public records. This would allow citizens to feel they are part of the selection process, but do little to prevent a popularity contest as opposed to the selection of a competent leader.

When I say no outside campaigning, I mean absolutely none. No PACs or other interest groups would be allowed to buy any airtime or advertisements for any purpose that attempts to influence legislation. I do not consider this in any way an infringement of Freedom of Speech, which is rightfully & fully protected by our Constitution. It is a legitimate “Regulation of Commerce”. No one but a bald faced liar can describe political contributions as anything other than an attempt to manipulate the political process through money. Sadly we have many of those liars in positions of power & trust.

These suggestions would work not just on the National level but also on the State & local level. I do not think we can do much worse in selecting leaders & lawmakers than our present money driven & ideologically polarized system. Instead of hearing only a few loudly screaming voices this process would provide for all voices to be heard equally.

Of course these ideas will never even be considered as it would strip the power from the many “self-interest groups” which dominate our political process. The billions of dollars spent in each election cycle would also not stuff the pockets of the media giants & small fry who print & broadcast the slimey & pornographic “discourse” which is modern political speech.


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