A Brief Foray into Politics

I was speaking the other day before a group of people that I hadn’t known for very long about the need for a new constitutional convention. I advanced the opinion that the flaws that have become obvious in our governmental structure – the disproportionate representation for rural areas, the electoral college, the ludicrous notion that corporations are people, the disproportionate share of influence that goes to the wealthy, just to name a few – are as serious now as the flaws in the Articles of Confederation were in the 1780’s.

The reaction I received surprised me – “Why,” I was asked, “Isn’t anybody talking about this?” My audience hadn’t thought about the issue, because no one was raising the question.

Somewhat reluctantly, I have begun to put my mind around it.  It’s a good question, and the answer has a lot to do with the corrosive effects of the chemical reaction between modern technology, money, and the gullibility of the average citizen. In the coming weeks, I will have more to say about this issue, and we shall see where it leads me.

My Introduction to Politics – Part One

I don’t remember not being able to read.   I do have a clear memory ( I was two or three) of being lifted up and placed in the center of a big bed — covered in one of those old-fashioned bedspreads with raised embroidery.   My father surrounded me with what seemed like a sea of comic books and told me to learn to read them.

And learn I did. I’m not sure how I did it — I have no memory of anyone sounding out letters for me.  I could tell you that I seem to remember words being spelled out for me, but I can’t be sure it isn’t an invented memory, created as I try to puzzle out this question…in any event , it doesn’t have the same clarity in my mind as the being placed on the bed memory.   My best guess is that, with help from my parents, I matched the pictures to the words.

Flash forward a few years.  It’s 1950, and I’m in New Orleans on a  trolley with my father.  he’s taking me to a drugstore near the Tulane University campus, where he’s a graduate student in mathematics.  I’ve received a few dollars for my sixth birthday, and I’m to be allowed to spend it on comic books — Donald Duck and Little Lulu are my favorites.  We get off the trolley after a short ride, and I’m left by myself for a while to look through the comic books — I call them “funny books”, like everyone else in that part of the world at the time.   My eye is caught by something anomalous sitting in the nearby magazine racks, along with Time and Life, and The Saturday Evening Post.

It’s a strange little book, shaped like one of today’s paperbacks, entitled “POGO” with a drawing of a winsome possum on the cover.  When I opened it up, it was filled with comic strips organized into stories that seemed to have more of a point than I was used to in the Sunday comics, home to Prince Valiant (boring) and Li’l Abner (often funny, but also often boorish – not that i knew what boorish meant in those days).  Howland Owl, Albert the Alligator and Pogo the Possum seemed much more, well , human, than Scrooge Mc Duck.    Then there was Wile E. Coyote.  Even at the age of six, I could tell that there was something wrong with the way he wanted to run the swamp.  It would be a few years before i realized that he looked just like  Senator Joe McCarthy…

(To be continued)

Redistricting the U. S. Senate

I read an interesting article in the 3/16/15 issue of the New Yorker today.   It said that of the eight democratic governments around the world that have both an upper and a lower legislative body, the United States has the most malapportioned and least representative upper house.

The U. S. Senate is a historical anachronism.  No sensible person, who was sitting down to devise a governmental structure in the modern world, would create one in which the population represented by each member varied from 600,000 to 37 million.  In fact, the way the Senate is apportioned would appear to grossly violate the Supreme Court’s “one-man; one-vote” decision from the early 1960’s.

One could talk a long time  about how we got this way, but , as someone with an engineering cast of mind, I started thinking about how to solve the problem.   Two questions arise:

  • What does it mean to say that Senate seats are fairly apportioned?
  • How would you go about such an apportionment?

The first question is fairly easily answered; the population represented by each of the 100 Senators should be equal to 1% of the total population of the country plus or minus a fudge factor to allow for accommodation of state boundaries.   If that fudge factor were 5%  ( at the outer limit of what various Supreme Court decisions have allowed), the population of each Senate District would range from roughly 2, 900,000 to 3,200,000  (using 2010 census figures).

The second question is also easy to address.   Modern software tools can create districts that fit populations of this size to existing state boundaries.  California would have 11+ Senators; small states like Wyoming would be thrown  into a sprawling district with contiguous states.

Is such a solution possible in the current political climate?  Of course not.   A Constitution Convention would be required to address this and many other issues.   Unfortunately, I am beginning to think that a Constitutional Convention is the only way out of our current disastrous governmental situation.