Press-Republican

October 20, 2013

System of government clearly broken

By STEVE OUELLETTE, You Had To Ask
Press-Republican

---- — A little history lesson:

When Sam Adams, Betsy Ross, Nathan Lane and the rest of the Sons of Liberty stormed a British ship in 1773 and tossed East India Tea into Boston Harbor, they weren’t doing it because they thought it would be cool to dress up like Mohawks or because they’d invested heavily in Paul Revere’s new Starbucks franchise.

These original patriots were protesting no taxation without representation, which led to the American Revolution, which led to a democratic form of government featuring, well, taxation WITH representation.

In the 240 years since, we’ve devised a complex, inefficient and somehow successful system based on elected officials representing the best interests of the people. After all, it would be extremely unwieldy to ask 300 million people to vote individually on every proposed bill.

That system is now clearly broken.

For three weeks, our government has been shut down. Nearly a million people were put out of work. National Parks were closed. NASA was shackled, with astronauts still in space. Meat, airplanes and nuclear power plants were no longer being inspected.

Our country was threatened with default, unable to pay its loans and smearing its once pristine credit rating, potentially leading to an economic meltdown.

What would happen if the entire nation went into default? No one is completely sure, though it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be good for your retirement savings.

If I were to default on my mortgage, a greedy land baron would buy my property at auction, call in a SWAT team to evict me and knock down the house to make way for a Golden Corral.

Stands to reason that the Chinese and Saudis would do the same to the rest of the country. We as Americans don’t want this to happen.

This was written before this week’s deadline for our great nation to fall into default, so it’s possible that a compromise has been reached before publication, ending the government shutdown. Even if that’s so, it’s likely that we’ll be facing the same questions, deadlines and threats once again in three months or a year. What can be done to avoid it?

I am not calling for anarchy. I am not asking people to overturn cars and set Detroit on fire. I’m not even asking for people to throw Earl Grey into Lake Champlain, though that has been shown to effectively control zebra mussels.

When a few extremists, however, can stomp their feet — over a law that was already passed by Congress — and bring the country to potentially economic ruin for no apparent reason, changes need to be made.

Is it any wonder that only 10 percent of Americans in a recent CNN poll approved of the job Congress is doing? The House of Representatives has gone from accomplishing nothing — its standard setting over the past several years — to actively harming citizens. Al Qaeda has a higher approval rating; Alex Rodriguez is only slightly lower.

Now it should be pointed out that it’s not actually our North Country representatives who are specifically to blame. These were House members outside our state who don’t care one lick about phone calls, emails and death threats from outside of their own insulated districts. Until re-election day comes, they’re untouchable.

Perhaps the Senate and the president can help pass some laws that will make them less so.

The first one is simple: If the federal government is ever shut down, the first workers sent home without pay or benefits are the members of the House. If they want to vote their salaries back, they have to come in on their own time.

Other offenses can actually be prosecuted under existing laws. If I extort protection money from the convenience store owner down the street, I could go to jail for 15 years. If I blackmail Justin Bieber because I have pictures of him feasting on human flesh and unicorn eyes, baby, it’s more prison time.

If I’m a doctor who chooses to treat poison ivy while my patient is bleeding from a gaping chest wound, I’ll be sued for malpractice, lose my license and face reckless endangerment charges.

If I take a bank teller hostage, I’m looking at 20 years in the stir, if I’m not shot. If I steal a month’s wages and a 2011 Toyota Camry from a government employee, I’m taking a one-way trip to Dannemora.

Should the punishments for extorting, blackmailing, endangering, robbing and taking hostage an entire nation be any less? Arresting a couple of pontificating congressmen during a closed session could send a helpful message. Maybe a couple of dozen.

It’s supposed to be a system of checks and balances, but the Founding Fathers always assumed the balances would maintain a certain level of sanity and goodwill.

The Sons of Liberty would demand more representation in their representation.

Email Steve Ouellette: ouellette1918@gmail.com