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One-Party Rule at the State Level: Federalism at Work

With Congressional Republicans appearing “flummoxed by the complexities of one-party rule, struggling with issues from repealing the Affordable Care Act . . . to paying for President Trump’s promised wall on the Mexican border, rising party leaders in the states seem far more at ease and assertive. Republicans have top-to-bottom control in 25 states now, holding both the governorship and the entire legislature, and Republican lawmakers are acting with lightning speed to enact longstanding conservative priorities.”[1]Not yet even a month after Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20, 2017, Republicans in Kentucky had “swiftly passed laws to roll back the powers of labor unions and restrict access to abortion,” and were planning “sweeping changes to the education and public pension systems.”[2]In states from New England to the Midwest and across the South, Republican lawmakers had “introduced or enacted legislation to erode union powers and abortion rights, loosen gun regulations, expand school-choice programs and slash taxes and spending.”[3]That the media spotlight at the time was so focused on the federalism says something about just how eclipsed federalism itself had become on the national stage.

The full essay is at “One-Party Rule.”


1. Alexander Burns and Mitch Smith, “State G.O.P. Leaders Move Swiftly as Party Bickers in Congress,” The New York Times, February 11, 2017.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

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Russia’s Putin beyond Constitutional Government: The Case of Aleksei Navalny

With a judge handing down a five-year suspended prison sentence, a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $8,400), and a ban on participating in the upcoming presidential election in 2017, Aleksei Navalny could feel just how power can be wielded by high government officials, including even presidents—power ultimately backed up by stern men with guns with the legal right to use lethal force. This, I submit, is what government comes down to—it’s bottom line.
The true look of a government’s power. (Sergei Brovko/Reuters)

The full essay is at “Russia’s Putin beyond Constitutional Government.”

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Behind Brexit: State Sovereignty, Not Markets

Lest it be thought that trade—indeed, economics—was the foremost consideration in the British decision to secede from the E.U., the state’s prime minister tasked with implementing the secession made it clear that the political union had been the prime antagonist from the British standpoint. In American terms, such a position has been labeled as anti-federalist and even “states’ rights.” Economic considerations are not primary; rather, federalism is front and center—in particular, where power should be lodged. This ought not to strike fear into British business practitioners.


The full essay is at “Behind Brexit.”

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Behind Brexit: State Sovereignty, Not Markets

Lest it be thought that trade—indeed, economics—was the foremost consideration in the British decision to secede from the E.U., the state’s prime minister tasked with implementing the secession made it clear that the political union had been the prime antagonist from the British standpoint. In American terms, such a position has been labeled as anti-federalist and even “states’ rights.” Economic considerations are not primary; rather, federalism is front and center—in particular, where power should be lodged. This ought not to strike fear into British business practitioners.


The full essay is at “Behind Brexit.”

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The Electoral College Hampered: The Case of Nixon’s 1968 Campaign Treason

While he was running for the U.S. presidency in 1968, Richard Nixon told H.R. Haldeman “that they should find a way to secretly ‘monkey wrench’ peace talks in Vietnam” by trying to get the South Vietnamese government to refuse to attend peace talks in Paris until after the U.S. election.[1]Specifically, Nixon gave instructions that Anna Chennault, a Republican fundraiser, should keep “working on” South Vietnamese officials so they would not agree to a peace agreement before the U.S. election.[2]“Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate,” said John Farrell, who discovered evidence of Nixon’s involvement from Haldeman’s notes on a conversation with the candidate. That Nixon committed a crime to win the election is itself an indication that the way Americans elect the federal president was flawed. That he went on to cover up the Watergate crime committed during the 1972 campaign only to win by a landslide should give pause to anyone having faith in an unchecked popular election.  I contend that the American Founders had designed the Electoral College in part to catch such a candidate from becoming president, even if the College had never operated as such. Yet it could.

The full essay is at “The Case of Nixon’s Treason.”


1. Peter Baker, “Nixon Sought ‘Monkey Wrench’ in Vietnam Talks,” The New York Times, January 3, 2017.
2. Ibid.

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How American Presidents Are Selected: Beyond Russian Interference

Most delegates in the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 recognized the value of constitutional safeguards against excess democracy, or mob rule. The U.S. House of Representatives was to be the only democratically elected federal institution—the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court, and even the U.S. Presidency were to be filled by the state legislatures, the U.S. President and U.S. Senate, and electors elected by citizens, respectively. The people were to be represented in the U.S. House and the State governments in the U.S. Senate. The Constitutional Amendment in the early twentieth century that made U.S. senators selected by the people rather than the governments of the States materially unbalanced the original design. In terms of the selection of the U.S. president by electors, the political parties captured them such that whichever party’s candidate wins a State, the electors there are those of the winning party. Even if the electors could vote contrary to the popular vote in a State, such voting could only be a rare exception given the party-control. Hence the electors have not been able to function as intended—as a check against excess democracy. The case of Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016 presents an additional use for the Electoral College, were it to function as designed and intended. Of course, this is a huge assumption to make, even just in taking into account the American mentality regarding self-governance.

The full essay is at “How American Presidents Are Selected.”

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The Electoral College: Beyond the Conventional Wisdom

The matter of how the U.S. President is to be selected was a tough nut for the delegates in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to crack. Mason observed the following in convention, “In every Stage of the Question relative to the Executive, the difficulty of the subject and the diversity of the opinions concerning it have appeared.”[1]The alternative proposals centered around the Congress, State legislatures, the governors, the people, and electors designated for the specific purpose as the possible determiners. Although the delegates were men of considerable experience, their best judgments about how the alternatives would play out were subject to error as well as the confines of their times. In re-assessing the Electoral College, we could do worse than adjust those judgments and rid them of circumstances pertaining to them that no longer apply. For example, the Southern States no longer have slaves, so the question of whether those States would be disadvantaged by going with a popular vote no longer applies; the alternative of going with the popular vote nationwide no longer suffers from that once-intractable pickle. Yet lest we rush headlong into a popular vote without respect to the States, we are well advised not to dismiss the points made by the convention delegates, for we too are constrained by our times, and we may thus not be fully able to take into account points that have been forgotten.

The full essay is at “The Electoral College.”


1. James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison (New York: W. W. Norton, 1966): 370.

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U.S. Government adds $587 Billion to Its Debt in 2016: Revealing a Fault-line in Democracy

The U.S. federal-budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended at the end of September, 2016, represented a reversal on the six-year run of declining deficits. The $587 billion deficit is equivalent to 3.2% of GNP; the previous year’s deficit had been $438 billion, which is 2.5 percent of the GNP.[1]The underlying reason for the altered trend has to do with democracy itself—something notoriously difficult to budge.

The full essay is at “U.S. Budget Deficit of $587 Billion.”


1. Jackie Calmes, “U.S. Deficit Increases to $587 Billion, Ending Downward Trend,” The New York Times, October 14, 2016.

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E.U. Defense Post-Britain: Beyond Multinational Military Cooperation

Just months after the British voted to secede from the Union, the E.U.’s Counsel of Ministers discussed “proposals for increased military cooperation” amid concerns from the British state government as well as those of some eastern States that “such collaboration could undermine” NATO.[1]The proposals being discussed were “part of a push by European officials and diplomats to strengthen European ties” after Britain’s vote to secede.[2]I submit that both the expression, “military cooperation,” and Britain’s involvement in the discussion are ill-fitting and inappropriate, respectively.

The full essay is at “E.U. Defense Post-Britain.”


1. Julian E. Barnes, “EU Pushes for Deeper Defense Cooperation,” The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2016.

2. Ibid.

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Russian Electoral Fraud: A Threat to Constitutional Governance

In spite of Ella Pamfilova’s appointment in March, 2016 to “clean house and oversee transparent, democratic elections,” . . . “a statistical analysis of the official preliminary results of the country’s September 18 [2016] State Duma elections points to a familiar story: massive fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia party.”[1] “The results of the current Duma elections were falsified on the same level as the Duma and presidential elections of 2011, 2008, and 2007, the most falsified elections in post-Soviet history, as far as we can tell,” physicist and data analyst Sergei Shpilkin said to The Atlantic.”  In 2008, Shpilkin estimated that United Russia actually won 277 seats in the Duma instead of the constitutional majority of 315 that it was awarded.[2] This means that Putin’s party could unilaterally amend the Russian constitution. From a constitutional standpoint, either the hurdles in the amendment process are too low or the election fraud has been so massive the entire form of government is impaired.


The full essay is at “Russian Electoral Fraud.”


1. Valentin Baryshnikov and Robert Coalson, “12 Million Extra Votes for Putin’s Party,” The Atlantic, September 21, 2016.

2. Robert Coalson, “Russia: How the Kremlin Manages to Get the Right Results,” Radio Free Europe, March 7, 2008.

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Picking a U.S. President: Excessive and Insufficient Democracy

Even as the Electoral College has never performed as intended, that the delegates at the U.S. federal constitutional convention devised it can help us to flesh out some of the hidden, or overlooked, deficiencies in how a U.S. president is selected in t… . . . → Read More: Picking a U.S. President: Excessive and Insufficient Democracy

Gay Marriage: God’s Law, Legal Reasoning, and Ideology

Mixing religion, jurisprudence, and ideology together is one potent drink. Ingestion can cause palpable heart-burn as well as migraine headaches. In the case of gay marriage in the U.S., sorting out and evaluating the three elements can be rife with controversy and thus confusion. In this essay, I discuss the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples because doing so would violate God’s law and thus betray Jesus. Her religious rationale makes for interesting legal reasoning. I then look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision. I contend that a natural-right (and thus human right) basis clashes with ideological anger. Human nature itself is on display throughout, particularly as it wades into religion, legal reasoning, and ideology.



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Dish Network and the U.S. Government Dominating Colorado: A Court Ruling on Marijuana

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on June 15, 2015 that Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado who had been fired by Dish Network in 2010 for using the drug while at home and off-duty, was not protected under the state’s “lawful activities statute.” According to the Court, “Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to 14 those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees 15 who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law 16 but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”[1]This reasoning seems pretty solid, though if we unpack use and consult with the company’s own rationale, the case is considerably messier. In fact, the problem may reside with the American federal system itself, in which case an erroneous judicial decision could be expected.

The complete essay is at “Dish Network and the U.S. Government.”


[i] No. 13SC394, Coats v. Dish Network, June 15, 2015.

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Ethical Theory in Business Ethics Courses

It may seem like an oxymoron, but faculty administrators at even research universities can be hopelessly narrow-minded regarding knowledge and how it is to be conveyed. For example, how often are faculty members encouraged to give a lecture or two re-teaching material largely missed on exams (followed by another, shorter examination on that material)? Do faculty administrators work with faculty members in professional schools to see to it that the applied courses are not severed from their basic (i.e., more theoretical substratum) discipline? One of the secrets in the “sauce” at Yale’s professional schools (e.g., Law, Divinity, etc.) is this salience of the respective basic disciplines (e.g., political theory and theology, respectively). Synergy comes gushing through once the false dichotomy is recognized. Before I went to Yale, I was a masters and doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, where the dichotomy was alive and well in the university’s social reality; I had to “walk back” the dichotomy myself as I discovered philosophy (and religious studies) while I was still studying business.


The full essay is at “Ethical Theory in Business Ethics” 

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On the History of Thanksgiving: Challenging Assumptions

We humans are so used to living in our subjectivity that we hardly notice it or the effect it has on us. In particular, we are hardly able to detect or observe the delimiting consequences of the assumptions we hold on an ongoing basis. That is to say, we have no idea (keine Anung) of the extent to which we take as unalterable matters that are actually quite subject to our whims individually or as a society (i.e., shared assumptions). In this essay, I use the American holiday of Thanksgiving, specifically its set date on the last Thursday of November, to illustrate the following points.

 

First, our habitual failure to question our own or society’s assumptions (i.e., not thinking critically enough) leaves us vulnerable to assuming that the status quo is binding when in fact it is not. All too often, we adopt a herd-animal mentality that unthinkingly “stays the course” even when doing so is, well, dumb. In being too cognitively lazy to question internally or in discourse basic, operative assumptions that we hold individually and/or collectively, we unnecessarily endure hardships that we could easily undo. Yet we rarely do. This is quite strange.

 
Second, we tend to take for granted that today’s familial and societal traditions must have been so “from the beginning.” This assumption dutifully serves as the grounding rationale behind our tacit judgment that things are as they are for a reason and, moreover, lie beyond our rightful authority to alter. We are surprised when we hear that some practice we had taken as foundational actually came about by accident or just decades ago.

 
For example, modern-day Christians might be surprised to learn that one of the Roman emperor Constantine’s scribes (i.e., lawyers) came up with the “fully divine and fully human,” or one ousia, two hypostates, Christological compromise at the Nicene Council in 325 CE. Constantine’s motive was political: cease the divisions between the bishops with the objective being to further imperial unity rather than enhance theological understanding.[1] Although a Christian theologian would point out that the Holy Spirit works through rather than around human nature, lay Christians might find themselves wondering aloud whether the Christological doctrine is really so fixed and thus incapable of being altered or joined by equally legitimate alternative interpretations (e.g., the Ebionist and Gnostic views).

 
Let’s apply the same reasoning to Thanksgiving Day in the United States. On September 28, 1789, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President set a day of thanksgiving. After an improbable win against a mighty empire, the new union had reason to give thanks. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.”[2] As subsequent presidents issued their own Thanksgiving proclamations, the dates and even months of Thanksgiving varied until President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was to be commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November. Here, the attentive reader would be inclined to jettison the “it’s always been this way” assumption and mentality as though opening windows on the first warm day of spring. The fresh air of thawing ground restores smell to the outdoors from the long winter hibernation and ushers in a burst of freedom among nature, including man. Realizing that Thanksgiving does not hinge on its current date unfetters the mind even if just to consider the possibility of alternative dates. Adaptability can obviate hardships discovered to be dogmatic in the sense of being arbitrary.[3]

 
The arbitrariness in Lincoln’s proclaimed date was not lost on Franklin Roosevelt (FDR). Concerned that the last Thursday in November 1939, which fell on the last day of the month, would weaken the economic recovery on account of the shortened Christmas shopping season, he moved Thanksgiving to the penultimate (second to last) Thursday of November. He defended the change by emphasizing “that the day of Thanksgiving was not a national holiday and that there was nothing sacred about the date, as it was only since the Civil War that the last Thursday of November was chosen for observance.”[4]Transcending the common assumption that the then-current “last Thursday of November” attribute of Thanksgiving was a salient—even sacred, as though solemnly passed down from the Founders by some ceremonial laying on of hands—in the very non-holiday’s very nature, FDR had freed his mind to reason that an economic downside need not be necessary; he could fix a better date without depriving Thanksgiving of being Thanksgiving.

 
To be sure, coaches and football fans worried that even a week’s difference could interrupt the game’s season. In a column in The Wall Street Journal in 2009, Melanie Kirkpatrick points out that “by 1939 Thanksgiving football had become a national tradition. . . . In Democratic Arkansas, the football coach of Little Ouachita College threatened: ‘We’ll vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football.’[5] Should Christmas have been moved to April so not to interfere with college basketball? Sadly, the sheer weight being attached to the “it’s always been this way” assumption could give virtually any particular inconvenience an effective veto-power even over a change for the better, generally (i.e., in the public interest).

 
Unfortunately, most Americans had fallen into the stupor wherein Thanksgiving just had to be on the last Thursday of November. “The American Institute of Public Opinion, led by Dr. George Gallup, released a survey in August showing 62 percent of voters opposed Roosevelt’s plan. Political ideology was a determining factor, with 52 percent of Democrats approving of Roosevelt’s move and 79 percent of Republicans disapproving.”[6]Even though the significance of the overall percentage dwarfs the partisan numbers in demonstrating how pervasive the false-assumption was at the time among the general population, the political dimension was strong enough to reverberate in unforeseen ways.

 
With some governors refusing to recognize the earlier date, only 32 states went along with Roosevelt.[7] As a result, for two years Thanksgiving was celebrated on two different days within the United States. In his book, Roger Chapman observes that pundits began dubbing “the competing dates ‘Democratic Thanksgiving’ and ‘Republican Thanksgiving.’[8]Sen. Styles Bridges (R-N.H) wondered whether Roosevelt would extend his powers to reconfigure the entire calendar, rather than just Thanksgiving. “I wish Mr. Roosevelt would abolish Winter,” Bridges lamented.[9]Edward Stout, editor of The Warm Springs Mirror in Georgia — where the president traveled frequently, including for Thanksgiving — said that while he was at it, Roosevelt should move his birthday “up a few months until June, maybe” so that he could celebrate it in a warmer month. “I don’t believe it would be any more trouble than the Thanksgiving shift.”[10]Although both Bridges and Stout were rolling as though drunk in the mud of foolish category mistakes for rhetorical effect, moving up a holiday that has at least some of its roots in the old harvest festivals to actually coincide with harvests rather than winter in many states could itself be harvested once the “it’s always been this way” assumption is discredited. Just as a week’s difference would not dislodge college football from its monetary perch, so too would the third week in November make a dent in easing the hardship even just in travelling and bringing the holiday anywhere close to harvest time in many of the American republics. As one of my theology professor at Yale once said, “Sin boldly!” If you’re going to do it, for God’s sake don’t be a wimp about it. Nietzsche would undoubtedly second that motion.

 

Why not join with Canada in having Thanksgiving on October 12th? Besides having access to fresh vegetables and even the outdoors for the feast, the problematic weather-related travel would be obviated and Americans would not come to New Year’s Day with holiday fatigue. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to complain about the retailors pushing Christmas over Thanksgiving in line with the almighty dollar, but amid the better feasts and perhaps colorful leaves we might actually allow ourselves to relish (or maybe even give thanks!) amid natures splendors rather than continue striving and complaining.

 
To be sure, resetting Thanksgiving to autumn in several of the states would translate into summer rather than harvest time in several others. Still other states are warm even in the last week of November, and harvest time might be December or March. Perhaps instead of carving the bird along partisan lines, Thanksgiving might be in October (or even the more temperate September!) in the “Northern” states and later in the “Southern” states, given the huge difference in climates. Remaining impotent in an antiquated assumption that lives only to forestall positive change while retailors continue to enable Christmas to encroach on Thanksgiving reeks of utter weakness.

 
Giving serious consideration to the notion different states celebrating Thanksgiving at different times might strengthen rather than weaken the American union. Put another way, invigorating the holiday as a day of thanksgiving amid nature’s non-canned bounty might recharge the jaded American spirit enough to mitigate partisan divides because more diversity has been given room to breathe. For the “one size fits all” assumption does not bode well at all in a large empire of diverse climes. Indeed, the American framers crafted an updated version of federalism that could accommodate a national federal government as well as the diverse conditions of the republics constituting the Union. Are the states to be completely deboned as though dead fish on the way to the market at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial? Is it so vitally important that everyone does Thanksgiving on the same day when “by state” enjoys a precedent?

 
Engulfed in the mythic assumption that the “last Thursday in November” is a necessary and proper fit for everyone and everywhere, Americans silently endure as if out of necessity all the compromises we have been making with respect to the holiday? Perhaps changing the date or returning the decision back to the states would free up enough space for the crowded-in and thus nearly relegated holiday that people might once again feel comfortable enough to say “Happy Thanksgiving” in public, rather than continuing to mouth the utterly vacuous “Happy Holidays” that is so often foisted on a beguiled public. 
 

Like Christmas and New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving is indeed now an official U.S. holiday. This would also be true were the states to establish the holiday as their respective residents see fit. As push-back against FDR’s misguided attempt to help out the retailors and the economy, Congress finally stepped in almost two months to a day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (whose harvest time escapes me). The U.S. House passed a resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be a legal holiday known as Thanksgiving Day. The U.S. Senate modified the resolution to the fourth Thursday so the holiday would not fall on a fifth Thursday in November lest the Christmas shopping season be unduly hampered as it rides roughshod over Thanksgiving. Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, the day after Christmas, finally making Thanksgiving a legal holiday alongside Christmas and New Year’s Day.[11]Interestingly, the U.S. Commerce department had found that moving Thanksgiving back a week had had no impact on Christmas sales.[12]In fact, small retailors actually lamented the change because they had flourished under the “last Thursday” Thanksgiving rubric; customers fed up with the big-named department stores like Macy’s being so overcrowded during a truncated “Christmas season” would frequent the lesser-known stores in relative peace and quiet. Charles Arnold, proprietor of a menswear shop, expressed his disappointment in an August letter to the president. “The small storekeeper would prefer leaving Thanksgiving Day where it belongs,” Arnold wrote. “If the large department stores are over-crowded during the shorter shopping period before Christmas, the overflow will come, naturally, to the neighborhood store.”[13]This raise the question of whether a major legal holiday is best treated as whatever results from the tussle of business forces oriented to comparative strategic advantage as well as overall sales revenue.

 
Lest the vast, silent majority of Americans continue to stand idly by, beguiled by the tyranny of the status quo as if it were based in the permafrost of “first things,” things are not always as they appear or have been assumed to be. We are not so frozen as we tend to suppose with respect to being able to obviate problems or downsides that are in truth dispensable rather than ingrained in the social reality.


1. Jarslav Pelikan, Imperial Unity and Christian Division, Seminar, Yale University.

 

2.  The Center for Legislative Archives, “Congress Establishes Thanksgiving,” The National Archives, USA. (accessed 11.26.13).

 

3. The other meaning of dogmatic is “partial” in the sense of partisan or ideological more generally. Given the extent to which a person can shift ideologically through decades of living, might it be that partisan positions are not only partial, but also arbitrary?

 

4. Sam Stein and Arthur Delaney, “When FDR Tried To Mess With Thanksgiving, It Backfired Big Time,” The Huffington Post, November 25, 2013.

 

5. Melanie Kirkpatrick, “Happy Franksgiving: How FDR tried, and failed, to change a national holiday,” The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2009.

 

6. Sam Stein and Arthur Delaney, “When FDR Tried To Mess With Thanksgiving, It Backfired Big Time,” The Huffington Post, November 25, 2013.

 

7. Ibid.
8. Roger Chapman, Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2010).
9. Sam Stein and Arthur Delaney, “When FDR Tried To Mess With Thanksgiving, It Backfired Big Time,” The Huffington Post, November 25, 2013.

 
10. Ibid.

 

11. The solely religious holidays in November and December are private rather than legal holidays. As Congress cannot establish a religion on constitutional grounds, Christmas is a legal holiday in its secular sense only. Therefore, treating Christmas as a legal holiday as akin to the private religious holidays (including Christmas as celebrated in churches!) is a logical and legal error, or category mistake. Ironically, Thanksgiving, in having been proclaimed by Lincoln as a day to give thanks (implying “to God”), is the most explicitly religious of all the legal holidays in the United States.
 

12. Ibld.

 

13. Ibid.

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Governmental Paralysis in Illinois: Behind the Underfunded Pension Crisis

Sometimes when a government’s fiscal matters get bad enough, dysfunction in the real power-relations at the highest level can suddenly become painfully obvious, or transparent, as when Toto pulls the curtain away to reveal the man behind the “all and powerful” Wizard of Oz. As the public pension “under-contributions” were once again threatening Illinois’s credit-rating, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and long-time Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan, was the man with the power to push a solution through the legislature and get the governor to go along. With the House, Senate and Governor’s Mansion controlled by Madigan’s party in 2013, the growing shortfall in the government’s contributions to its pension fund had to have been nothing short of a huge embarrassment for the Democratic Party. The U.S. Government had been designed to impede legislation so most of the legislative activity would be in the state capitols. The state governments are not able to explain away obstructionism so neatly. So the Illinois Government, with its legislative and executive branches being controlled by the same party, had no excuse for not having already dealt expeditiously with the crisis of its own making. Beyond the power dynamics and rather boring personalities, a problem in the federal design adopted at the state level can account at least in part for Illinois’s apparent paralysis.
 
Facing a $96.8 billion public pension shortfall in 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn, placed a call to Speaker Madigan, the most powerful politician in Illinois at the time. Without legislative action, the Illinois Government stood to be down-rated to the triple-B category. Facing an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, that government could ill-afford higher borrowing costs to stimulate its economy. In a nutshell, something had to give.
 
Madigan got his chamber to pass his plan, only to see it fail in the Senate. Sen. John Cullerton, President of the Senate and a close friend of Madigan (and godfather to Madison’s daughter), had his own plan to sell. Organized labor had opposed Madigan’s plan, but Cullerton’s alternative would make only a dent in solving the underfunding problem. Madigan appealed to Quinn to break the impasse, only to have the governor reply publicly regarding the tiff between Madigan and Cullerton. “They’re close friends,” Quinn said. “When they want to put a bill on my desk, they know how to do it.”[1]Rather than join in as if he were yet another legislative leader, the governor was quite properly presiding over the polity. In other words, the problem was not inactivity from Gov. Quinn.
 
Instead, the problem is structural in the sense that a federal system has a design. In particular, the obstructionist design at the federal level has been replicated at the state level without the federal-level rationale of pushing legislative activity “downward.” The obstructionism in the design of the state government serves no useful purpose, and is in fact rather problematic.
 
                                                                  Diagram of the U.S. (Federal) Government
       With two legislative chambers and a separate president, plus the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, lawmaking can easily be impeded by one of the major parties. While this hindrance has the effect of “pushing” legislative activity to the state level, such a hindrance there would be counterproductive from this standpoint.    Image source: www.usconsulate.us.hk.com.   
 
Both the bicameral legislature and the separation of the legislature from the executive branch of the Illinois Government are copied, or “lifted,” from the blueprint of the U.S. Government. Whereas the U.S. House represents U.S. citizens while the U.S. Senate represents the states, both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate represent Illinois citizens. It is not as though the Illinois Senate differed significantly from the House in representing the counties. The Illinois Senate is redundant, whereas the U.S. Senate serves a purpose distinct from the U.S. House.
 
Regarding the replication of the separation of powers, whereas divided government at the federal level has the benefit of giving state governments an opening to fill the void in public policy, no such benefit exists at the state level unless the regions or counties are to be made “states” within the states in line with Althusius’ 1604 theory of federalism, which pertains to every level of political association. Put another way, Illinois could have a parliamentary form of government to streamline legislative solutions to crises such as the pension under-funding without having to worry about too much legislative activity being at the state rather than the county level. Were such a “streamlined” form adopted by the U.S. Government, the downward structural bias protecting the viability of the states.
 
Spanning more than one level in a federal system, isomorphism, which means having the same form, ignores any qualitative differences between those levels. The federal level requires features that are not beneficial at the state level. In fact, applying aspects of the design of the federal government to the state level can unnecessarily hamper state government. In the case of Illinois, the bicameral legislature is not only redundant, but also an unnecessary obstacle to a solution to the pension-funding crisis. In fact, were states such as Illinois to streamline rather than encumber their legislative processes, the “downward push” bias in the federal-level design would find a complementary design at the state level; federal encroachment might even be reversed.
 
In conclusion, more may be involved beneath a fiscal governmental crisis than competing ideologies and even personalities. As American states struggled with the fiscal aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, a basic design flaw impeded legislative remedies. Specifically, the unthinking replication of the design of the U.S. Government onto the state governments has unnecessarily handicapped them. The difficulties of the top political leaders in Illinois in coming to grips with the government’s underfunding of the state’s pension system  can thus be accounted for more completely.   
 
 


[1]Mark Peters and Douglas Belkin, “Behind Illinois’s Pension Saga,” The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2013.

. . . → Read More: Governmental Paralysis in Illinois: Behind the Underfunded Pension Crisis . . . → Read More: Governmental Paralysis in Illinois: Behind the Underfunded Pension Crisis

The Worden Report 2013-06-20 15:26:00

E.U. and U.S. Counterparts Meet
     
President Barak Obama of the U.S. and Presidents Herman Van Rompuy and José Barroso of the E.U. at a news conference following the EU-US Summit at Lisbon in 2010. Even though the E.U. and U.S. are both empire-scale federal unions of states, and thus are equivalent in terms of political type or genre, they differ in terms of how their respective federal offices are arranged and constituted. Interestingly, the alternative of having more than one president (e.g., a presidential council) was debated in the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Image source:  European Pressphoto Agency. 2010.                  

 

Rhetorical Analysis:

The personal belief stresses E.U. and U.S. equivalence politically (i.e., empire-level federal unions) and in terms of scale (i.e., empire-scale). It follows that the two E.U. presidents—of the European Council and the Commission—are together the counterpart of the U.S. president. We see this visually in the picture, even down to the podiums and manner of dress. The respective flags are also visually equivalent, being the same size and contiguous (an early American flag would be more equivalent visually and in terms of federal development). Lastly, “EU-US” illustrates equivalence, and in a font that indicates that the equivalence is modern, rather than traditional. Accordingly, I chose the Arial font, which is modern yet official-looking, for my title. The title itself highlights the theme of equivalence by “EU and US” and “counterparts.”
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The following picture also shows the full presidential equivalence (while showing how the EU is not a replica of the US):
image

The three men look more “governmental” here. Also, the flags show a symmetry that supports to motif of equivalence. 


Image source:
AFP. 2013.


Here is a very symbolic/abstract way of depicting the equivalence:


image
Image source: Atlantic Council. 2012


Slightly less symbolic, but showing that the equivalence is symbolically represented at least somewhere in practice, this picture implies that the U.S. flag should not be flied with the flag of Germany, Britain, or France. The Brits would have a field day with this, and yet the source is Mail Online!
image
EU and US Flags in front of an E.U. building in Brussels

Image source: AFP/Getty Images. 2012.



 

Which of these pictures do you think best depicts the motif of equivalence?

. . . → Read More: The Worden Report 2013-06-20 15:26:00 . . . → Read More: The Worden Report 2013-06-20 15:26:00