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Modest Proposal for 11-05 . . . A [Political] Science Experiment FOR the People

You’ve probably heard about a literally shocking experiment in the 1960s – when Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale concerned about excessive obedience to authority in Nazi Germany, tested how big a (supposed) electric shock people were willing to give other people when told to do it by an authority figure.

All study participants administered “shocks” at significant indicated voltage levels, though some started to have doubts as the voltage rose and the reactions they saw got worse. But experimenters had four escalating responses to “prod” them into going on . . . and in the end, 65% of people continued even though they were disturbed by the experience, and even when the shocks they thought they were giving could have been fatal.

But there were some variations on the experiments. One, highlighted by author Bruce Levine in a recent article, tested whether the results would be different if the subjects saw others refuse to obey instructions to deliver a shock. With that example for tacit support, only 10% of subjects continued on to the “fatal” shock. (In the opposite variation, when subjects saw others giving the shocks too, their obedience rose to almost 100%.)

Levine notes that Milgram saw in this the basis for drawing a sharp distinction between dissent (protesting the instructions) and disobedience (actively refusing to follow them). Certainly there could have been big differences for the victims, had the shocks been real. Faced with examples of courage from others who had apparently decided that the authority of the experimenters was invalidated by the extreme actions they were ordering, many more of the test subjects gained courage to live up to their own convictions – and stepped up from passive dissent to active disobedience.

My modest proposal is that we test this overlooked conclusion – tomorrow.

We know from years of polling (by Gallup roughly every month since 2004) that more of us voters consider ourselves independent of both Democrats and Republicans than identify ourselves with either. So there are plenty of us to make a difference . . . if we vote to make a difference. And in states like Michigan where voters don’t have to register by party, the independent share may well be even higher.

For that matter, we don’t know as much about how many of us who stay with Republicans or Democrats do so only for lesser-evil reasons, and would really rather vote for someone we can truly support – because the pollsters don’t ask that as often. (Gallup polls on that only every year.) They tend instead to ask independents which of the Titanic Two they “lean” toward. In effect, they’re pressuring those who dissent from the duopoly myth to obey it anyway.

But the most recent polls do show at least some persistent dissent. Even when “leaned” on, 12% of voters surveyed still rejected the only-two-choices fallacy. And there are other signs, too. For example, last October the AFL-CIO passed a resolution on “exploring new directions for labor in electoral politics”, including “stud[ying] the viability of independent and third-party politics”. (Though my personal outreach to area unions to walk the Labor History Walk in Marshall – three times this year – didn’t turn up many explorers.)

But as that resolution says, “continuing to follow the same model, expecting different results, is not an effective strategy”.

So I call on my fellow voters in the 63rd District, Michigan, and the nation. Let’s take inspiration from those who have refused to harm their fellow human beings – in Milgram’s experiments and in the all-too-real-life equivalents. Let’s summon up our own courage, and move beyond dissenting from the duopoly to active disobedience. Let’s stand up for our principles by standing up to be counted as voting for candidates because they share those values.

If enough of us do this, we can start “en-couraging” others to do the same in the future. Sooner or later, we can give a real shock to the powers that be – the ones who have Michigan dead last in state government accountability. Perhaps the shock will even be big enough to revive government BY the People FOR the People.

Milgram experiment:

Bruce Levine article on political implications of the Milgram experiment:

Gallup monthly party-affiliation polling history:

Gallup 2018 annual poll on the need for a third party:

AFL-CIO Resolution 48 (2017-10-24):

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Modest Proposal for 11-02 . . . Letter to the Auditors

This was started originally as a letter to the editors. But it’s too late for that anyway – and besides, I realized what I really needed to write instead was a letter to the auditors.

After all, an election is a kind of audit of how government has been doing. Mind you, there aren’t necessarily generally accepted standards for this kind of audit; we each have our own standards for that. Still, if we want our audit to be a good one, we need to do some of our own investigating.

But that’s not always easy, because of the abuse of another meaning of that key word. We the voters are auditors – listeners, or at least hearers (sometimes unwilling) – of all the guff, fluff, puff, and the subject of Harry G. Frankfurt’s seminal work that candidates and parties and PACs and SuperPACs try to force into our ears. With similar doses of sand in our eyes, and maybe next time down our throats. But hearing is an appropriate sense to focus on for another reason – as long as money is treated as if it were speech, those with a lot of money can “speak” with so much volume that it drowns out other voices . . . including the voice of reason in your own head.

And the corporate media aren’t helping us find candidates who actually want to talk with us – and listen to us. Too many of them want to make our choices for us, too. (One local newspaper in my area decided to edit its 2018 pre-election recap “for the sake of conciseness” by listing only the Republican and Democratic candidates for each race on the ballot. A few years ago, its sister publication in my hometown left out the entire race I was in . . . for state Attorney General.)

But even after months of a high-volume campaign to make it sound like we only have two choices, more of us still say we’re independent of both of those two than allied with either one. Gallup’s been polling nationwide on this for years, and the latest figures have 28% calling themselves Republicans, 30% Democrats, and 39% independent. And here in Michigan we don’t require voters to declare party preference when we register, so that last figure may be even higher here.

* [=======] * [=======] * [=======] *

Michigan’s state Constitution says, “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal benefit, security and protection.” And yet the Center for Government Integrity ranks Michigan dead last in state government accountability.

When I hear that, it seems to me that it’s time to vote for candidates who believe government OF the People must be done (and overseen) BY the People in order to work FOR the People – and we have the right to hear the best information possible about *all* of our choices.

Michigan has seven parties on the ballot, plus other individual candidates officially labeled as having No Party Affiliation (which means we don’t get to hear officially about the fact that some of them represent still more parties). All of those are on sample ballots visible online, and lists you can hear about from county and local clerks. The state Bureau of Elections has a candidate list which even includes links to candidates’ Websites and campaign-finance records.

But those links aren’t available to us when we go to vote.

We will of course see the names on the ballot – on our actual ballots, and on sample ballots posted at the polling place. And each precinct will also have a list of the write-ins; they have to, because they’re only allowed to count write-in votes for people who have filed a form declaring their intent to run as write-in candidates.

But that list won’t be available to us when we go to vote, either.

The Secretary of State feels we don’t need that information to exercise our political power. One of the ways she’s been empowered to govern for our “equal benefit, security and protection” is to say that information not spelled out in the text of state law is necessary anyway, and must be posted at each polling place. But in several straight elections, she has refused to act on that authority and have the write-in lists posted, or the campaign-finance records (also matters of public record) . . . or the analysis required (from the local board of election commissioners) of how many registered voters and voting stations each precinct has – which in turn can tell us how long each voter would have on average to vote.

If those who have borrowed our political power aren’t using it FOR the People, we need to work together and take it back. At least, that’s what my auditing standards tell me. How about you?

That’s why I’ve assembled lists of write-in candidates for fellow voters in my home county of Calhoun and next-door Kalamazoo County. And I’ll gladly help anyone who has more information to share it, too.

Thanks for auditing.

Michigan Voter Information Center, information including sample ballots:

Bureau of Elections list of candidates on the ballot for Federal- and state-level offices, with links to state-level campaign finance records and to some campaign Websites:

Michigan Constitution, Article I, Section 1:

relevant sections of the Michigan Election Code (MCL Chapter 168):
Secretary of State’s authority to declare information necessary for voters:
requirement that there be enough voting stations at a precinct to “ensure the orderly conduct of the election”:

Michigan ranked last in state government accountability:

Gallup voter affiliation poll:

jalp’s list of write-in candidates:
OR via previous Facebook post:
OR via previous modest proposal:

“Opinion for the People” from jalp’s 2014 campaign for Attorney General:

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Modest Proposal for 11-01 . . . An Informed Electorate

(My apologies for the interruption in service . . . but I’m back now.)

The Secretary of State apparently still doesn’t think we the voters need to know who’s running as declared write-in candidates. So her staff isn’t directing local clerks to have lists posted at polling places – even though every precinct has to have a list of the declared write-ins, so poll-workers know whose votes to count and whose to ignore. (Which also means giving us this information could save those poll-workers some time at the end of the night.)
Anyway, I’ve managed to wheedle information out of the Bureau of Elections and the clerks of Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties . . . enough to offer this list of who has filed a Declaration of Intent to be an official write-in candidate for any office whose constituency covers any part of those two counties. Unfortunately for voters who are dissatisfied with the choices (at least the ones they’ve heard about in the media), there’s not much contact information for them. But if you have or find out some contact info, please share it with me and I’ll do my best to update my list and share it with everybody else.


Or if you prefer a shorter (though less direct) link:


But getting back to that first link (to Section 668a of the Election Code) . . . what is necessary information?  Many precincts, if not all by now, have voter lists computerized.  Perhaps we could give each polling place another computer with links to public voter information on it:  lists of write-ins would qualify, but so would campaign-finance reports from all candidates, on or off the ballotand maybe some personal-finance reports too, if our Legislature ever gets around to requiring them.

What other information would you consider necessary if you were the Secretary of State?

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Modest Proposal for 10-23 . . . Stuck? In the Middle. . . .

My new favorite educational curmudgeon has a report on Michigan’s sudden substitute-teacher crisis brought on by the sudden collapse of private sub-search service corporation PESG.  His view of the situation is that it’s not entirely surprising:

This, of course, is what you get when you let a business have a piece of the education pie. Does this kind of sudden shut down make sense? Was the company down to its last $150 last week but they figured it would all work out anyway, or is this “immediate” shutdown necessary to protect the business’s remaining assets. Who knows. All I know is that a school district would do – well, exactly what the districts are doing, which is to put their heads together, rig something up, and generally move heaven and earth to make sure the needs of students are met.

Public schools put students first. Businesses put business concerns first. That doesn’t make them evil – just bad partners for schools.

(Or for a lot of other public concerns, I might add . . . unless their claims of being able to provide the same services while saving more in public funds than they take out can survive more scrutiny – not less – than faces the public agencies whose leaders are, directly or indirectly, subject to elections by the people whose children they’re supposed to serve.)

Well, if private corporations aren’t the way to get public schools stable supplies of good, effective substitute teachers, then what is?  One idea is quick and simple, but perhaps not the most popular with those funding schools – as it wasn’t popular with most trucking companies:

There is a shortage of states and districts willing to make it worth someone’s while to take a teaching job. There’s a shortage of states and districts willing to improve the conditions of the job enough to make that job attractive to people. There’s a shortage of pay, a shortage of respect, a shortage of support. But there is no teacher shortage, just as there was no actual truck driver shortage. The employers didn’t have to wait for an entire generation of fresh drivers to be born and to grow up; they just had to make the job attractive enough to recruit the people that were already there.

It’s not rocket science, and people like the Broad-trained ed leaders, who have been brought up on the idea of business solutions to education problems – it ought to be obvious to them.

If I can’t get someone to sell me a Porsche for $1.98, that does not mean there is an automobile shortage. I am not somehow entitled to a cheap car, and employers are not entitled to cheap labor.

Yeah, but isn’t there something else we can do to make the supply of substitutes more stable and efficient?  Maybe economies of scale, for instance?  A bigger pool of schools and students might have a more predictable need for substitutes.  Curmudgication seems to think so:

All districts know at least one solution, and some larger districts actually embrace it. You hire full time subs. You put Mrs. McSubteach on full salary, have her report to work every day, and plug her in wherever, and you never have to worry about her being poached for the day by some other district. But that costs money, and districts want a cheap solution.

Privatizing is not that solution. 500 subs cost less than 500 subs plus a corporate payroll for the company that took the work over.

Hmm . . . gee, if only there were some sort of regional organization to help local districts co-ordinate more efficiently on problems like these.  To help them provide services whose demand varies by district and by year and so on, without the inherent inefficiencies (and loss of local control) of having to consult the state or even Federal government.  Something in between the local and state levels.  Something – intermediate, perhaps. . . .

What do you think?  Do you have a better idea, or some suggestions to help this modest proposal along?

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Modest Proposal for 10-18 . . . Civil[ian] Action

One of the points on the front of my campaign flyer, under the heading “Oversight of Goverrnment BY the People“, calls for “Citizen review boards for government enforcement actions.”  That covers police and other types of law enforcement, of course.  We need to know that bad actors will be held accountable for bad actions:  violence, violations of civil and human rights, unjust seizure of assets, and so on.  And as police forces have become more militarized in equipment and tactics – and attitude – we need to be more sure that they, like King George III’s military, are not independent of and superior to the civilian power.  They need to be clearly controlled by the civilian authority . . . by the citizens . . . BY the People.

But there are other types of government enforcement.  Inspectors, for example – of buildings, commercial and industrial facilities, and more.  Agents of state departments and offices.  (Please feel free to suggest your own favorites.)  We can strengthen the independence of the government’s own internal auditors, and add ombudspersons to work with citizens who run into abuses of authority by state or local government.

But we can also work to build in opportunities for better indirect, unofficial oversight too.  We can give citizens standing to sue for actions that government agencies should be taking but aren’t.  (The petition to ban fracking in Michigan includes this power FOR the People.)  We can encourage and protect whistleblowers, and expand the scope of the legal concept of qui tam to reward them with a share of the benefits they help win FOR the People in court – plus some protection from retaliation.

Right now, the Michigan False Claims Act only applies this kind of kind of false claim subject to qui tam-like impacts under Michigan law is Medicaid fraud.  How many more kinds of fraudulent taking of public money can you think of that should be covered?  How about misuse of public appropriations by elected or appointed government officials for their personal benefit?  Should civilians be able to take some kind of action in such a case if the relevant prosecutor exercises discretion not to prosecute the claim?

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas.

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Modest Proposal for 10-17 . . . Do You Have the Write-In Stuff?

[Tonight, I’m going to dig a bit deeper into a point I mentioned in an earlier post.]

I hope reading these proposals has encouraged you to think I’m someone you’d like to have as the State Representative for the 63rd District, someone you want to vote for.  My three rivals on the ballot have been trying to make their own cases, of course.

But what if you don’t like any of the choices you’re handed on the ballot?  Can you cast a protest vote by writing in somebody else?

Yes, you can – but not just anybody else.  Michigan has made what some called “Mickey Mouse voting” harder.  Subsection (1) of Section 737a of Michigan’s Election Code says your vote won’t count unless the person you write in has filed the paperwork to become an official declared write-in candidate by 4pm two Fridays before election day.

As I wrote a few days ago, posting the list of official write-ins at each polling place that list would save both voters and pollworkers time and trouble, by cutting down on spelling errors and variations on names.  But the Secretary of State’s office has argued in past years that posting the write-in list would be illegal campaigning for write-ins within 100 feet of the polls.  (It wouldn’t be, any more than posting a sample ballot is.)

To the contrary, the Secretary of State has the power to say that list is necessary information for voters to cast informed ballots, and require that it be posted.  I would certainly say it’s necessary.  Of course, I’d also say voters at August primary elections need to know they can see lists of the candidates who have already qualified for the November general elections, and don’t go through the publicly funded and heavily promoted primary process.  And another bit of necessary information is an analysis of how many voting stations each precinct has for how many registered voters, to show that the precinct meets the requirements of subsection (2) of another part of the Election Code.

I’ve contacted the Calhoun and Kalamazoo County Clerks’ offices, and the Bureau of Elections, asking for information on the declared write-in candidates who may be on ballots here next month.  Will I see your name on one of those lists?  All you need to do is pick a race where you’re not satisfied with the candidates on the ballot, and file this form with the Bureau (if your chosen office is at the state or Federal level) or the County Clerk (if you’re seeking a county or local office).

And then . . . contact your friends, and let me know so I can expect to see your name on the lists I’ll be getting – and posting here and on my Facebook page – of those who think they may have the write-in stuff.

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Modest Proposal for 10-16 . . . Courting Irrationality?

I read the news today – oh, boy!  While I would reserve final judgment until I see a full opinion, the news reports I’ve seen make it appear that two out of three judges on a Michigan Court of Appeals panel want to allow public funding to help private schools pay for state mandates when they aren’t really mandates.

I admit I’m a fan of public education, and not of privateering efforts to take funding away from it.  So I’m not inclined to be happy with this decision.  But it’s not just my feelings speaking; it’s the law.  Our state Constitution pretty clearly says no public money shall fund non-public primary or secondary schools, directly or indirectly.  (It says it in a lot of words, but the authors were apparently trying hard to leave no loopholes.)  Also, this policy decision was voted in BY the People in 1970, and we voted against weakening it in 2000.

The dissenting judge agreed:  “The public money directly and indirectly assists nonpublic schools in keeping their doors open and meeting their payroll.  It is unconstitutional for that simple reason.”

The other two tried to get around the ban by setting up a three-part test of whether something the state requires private schools to do for purposes of health, safety, or welfare can be publicly funded.  Unfortunately for them, the second part of the test is that the mandate “does not constitute a primary function or element necessary for a nonpublic school to exist, operate, and survive”.

The problem with this second prong of the test is that a state mandate to schools – especially one aimed at health, safety, or welfare – is by its nature an element that has already been approved as necessary for a school to operate, if not exist and survive.  So no funding for such a mandate can pass that test.  Only mandates that aren’t necessary, in other words aren’t mandates, can be funded.  Our own educational Catch-22!

One lesson I’ve learned in my ten years as an attorney is that, no matter how crazy a law may seem, there’s almost always some kind of reason for it.  It may not be a reason you would think of, it may not be a reason you agree with, it may not be a good reason . . . but there usually is one.  That’s why most laws can pass what Constitutional law books call the “rational basis” test.

But there are exceptions – and when one is found, it is struck down.  When a court’s decision is recognized as irrational, it is overturned.  And, unless there’s a good reason to uphold it against clear law and precedent to the contrary, that’s what should happen to this apparently irrational decision.

Or at least that’s my opinion so far.  What do you think of the case?  And what do you think of the judges who decided it?  (The dissenting judge is up for re-election; the two in the majority aren’t up.  Is this important enough for you to remember it when they are?)

Update:  The opinions are up.  You can get to them through the docket page link below, but here’s a direct link to the dissenting opinion.  (Technically it’s a partial concurrence because Judge Gleicher agreed with the other two on the panel that the plaintiffs did have standing to bring the lawsuit.)

“Michigan court approves public funding for private school mandates”, Detroit News, 2018-10-16.  https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/10/16/michigan-public-funding-private-schools/1659103002/

“Michigan appeals court backs limited state aid for private schools”, MLive.com, 2018-10-16.  https://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2018/10/appeals_court_backs_michigan_g.html

“State Wins Private Money To Non-Public Schools’ Case”, WKAR, 2018-10-16.  http://www.wkar.org/post/state-wins-private-money-non-public-schools-case

Court of Appeals docket for the case (#343801), Council of Organizations and Others for Education About Parochiaid v State of Michigan.  https://courts.michigan.gov/opinions_orders/case_search/pages/default.aspx?SearchType=1&CaseNumber=343801&CourtType_CaseNumber=2