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How American Government Self-Correction Works, in Brief.

Our system of checks and balances and reacting to bad government.

This past week a large body of Republican legislators did a dookie during the counting of the electoral votes. Partly as a result, a large mob of Americans, who have been trained to adore feces by years of shit-filled media, stormed the Capitol to rub their own faces in it. For weeks there was talk about the plan, how stinky their poop was to be, who would join in the squeezing out, while a powerless majority said they should not do a bowel movement in Congress at all. Got me thinking, not about fecal matters, but about writing how our government is built to respond to these partisan poopers and to the likes of Donald John Trump.

There are norms and there are laws. Norms are things like don’t shit where you eat (which, in the case of these Republican shitheads, happens to be exactly where they shat). Laws are things like, if you pressure an election official to falsify election returns, you should be prosecuted and tried for that.

There’s been a lot of folks trying to figure out, over these past four years, if the diaper’s-full crowd does a stinky, what do we do about that shit?!

The basic structure is this:

  1. If a bad actor does bad actions, tell them to cut it out.
  2. If they don’t, impeach and convict them. (For executive officers and judicial officers; legislature can censure and even eject their members if they are bad.)
  3. If the people who should impeach, convict, or otherwise remove fail to do it, it’s up to the voters to also reject their candidacies at the next election.
  4. If the people fail to keep a clean house of government, the state of the nation will worsen until people either do vote responsibly, people revolt, or the government authority completely collapses or becomes authoritarian from how bad it got.

We do have laws and checks and balances, and when they are ignored because some idiot politicians have been ordered by an authoritarian to poop in public, it is on the people to vote those poopy-heads out.

The fact that over 100 Republicans are not properly potty-trained should give everyone who supports that party great pause. The fact that their shit was stinky enough to attract a mob is a whole other problem for our country.

But while Donald John Trump added copious bulk fiber to the weight of the turd that was dropped, it was those Republicans who opened their bowels, who know better, and it was the other Republicans who did not forcefully seek to stop that turd from dropping, who deserve most of the blame. Donald John Trump has been a turdmonger for a long time. Most Republican politicians, while they might indulge in the occasional shart, do not typically cross into the full scatological arts we have seen recently. They must either regain their bowel control or be evacuated from our government.

Joe Biden’s inauguration will occur a week from Wednesday.

The Need for More Formality in Government.

From Senate confirmation process to software, our government needs more formal processes.

Does Pete Buttigieg have the skills to head the Department of Transportation? What about a waiver for Austin for Secretary of Defense? What about others, to be nominated, with various industry ties? And so on.

As these questions will confront the Senate, barring any withdrawals or replacements, the question for me isn’t so much whether Austin gets a waiver, whether Buttigieg gets confirmed, as whether the Senate can formalize their processes more.

Part of the problem with recent confirmations, including those to the Supreme Court, was a worthless process. There is a hippie streak in Republicans when one of their own is in power: do whatever feels good, man. (That same attitude has been used in various Republican-led states on pandemic response, to their detriment.) While there are some statutory rules, including the need for a waiver for a Defense Secretary if the nominee hasn’t been retired long enough from the military, the body itself should have a more formal objection and advisory process.

Standards are needed (including for trials of impeachment). The body needs some amount of bedrock on which questions deserve answers, which do not. If the Senate Judiciary Committee decides that no past cases deserve mentioning in a SCOTUS nomination, that should be a formal rule, not merely a de facto one. While the Senate is a rules-body that can freely ignore its rules, the media reports that as the aberation it is. Therefore, establishing some formal expectations for nominees at least forces wishy-washy reporters to acknowledge the departure from the rules.

The main goal of more formality in the Senate should be to reduce the hypocrisy of those who only care about doing right for the country when it’s the other party’s nominees. Every time there’s a cake-walk, it’s the peoples’ cake that’s eaten. And every time it’s a coal-walk, some good nominees get burned. The amounts of cake and coals should be fixed and standard.

Agents employed by the Russian Federation have again hacked the US Government. In this case it was primarily a supply-chain attack. The government needs more formal software acquisition and distribution rules. The government should almost never receive binary (i.e., precompiled) updates for anything. The government should receive code, that code should be audited, and then compiled and distributed internally.

I’ve loosely followed Debian’s efforts to their make binaries reproducible (as part of a larger effort: Reproducible Builds). The government’s binaries should be similarly compiled. There should be a firm rule: when the government runs any software, it has access to the source and it maintains a compatible environment to compile it.

Obviously that’s a big change to ask for. It would not happen overnight. Neither does the hard work by the folks who work on reproducible builds in various free software projects. No large change in computing is simple. But if the alternative is a broad breach like this, the choice is between formal computing in government or insecurity in government.

The process of formalization is about refining discretion and choice. Most restaurants don’t say: “Here’s a list of ingredients, tell us what you want cooked.” You might be able to order off-menu, if you’re nice and your request is reasonable. By offering a set of choices, the restaurant isn’t depriving you. It’s setting expectations: we know how to make these things well, and we have the stock to make them.

Formalization reduces uncertainty by having a process that can be iterated on if new failures or deficiencies occur.

Government and Organizational Bandwidth

Overly limiting the size of an organization harms its ability to do meaningful work.

The idea of bandwidth in computing is how much data can move between two points in a given period of time. Usually we measure that in bits per second, but either of the measures can be any volume, depending on the application. For example, human knowledge might be measured in some large measure of bits per decade or century.

As our country has grown, part of our government has as well. The executive branch has ballooned in size, and not just official workers, but contractors. Meanwhile, the other two branches have not grown nearly as much. While there are somewhat more staff in Congress than in past decades, and while staffing can do a lot in helping legislative bandwidth, it can’t do as much as more members of congress and the senate can.

The same goes for the judiciary. While the Supreme Court can mostly limit its caseload artificially, doing so does not make the law better and only makes the caseload manageable for so few members of a court. The subordinate courts, meanwhile, have their own bandwidth issues.

For any organization, there is only so much that bandwidth expansion can do. But when there is an obvious bandwidth problem, adding more people is the solution. Expanding the Supreme Court and generally improving the organization of lower courts, without regard to the current political issues with Republican court-packing, makes sense. The court should be bigger, to allow for more cases to be heard.

But wait, if you add more justices won’t they all ask questions and all have to sit and vote and learn all the ins and outs of every case? Not necessarily. Each case could be assigned to a subset of justices. A full court would hear cases of original jurisdiction, of course, but those are rare. For appellate cases, some mixture of justices would hear arguments and vote on the outcome, and, when warranted, vote to pull in the full court on issues of particular weight or that were highly contentious.

Similar efforts already work in the legislature. The committee-to-body legislative and oversight efforts are well known and have worked well. The full chamber doesn’t have to drill down on an issue, but relies on a subset of its membership to do so and report back.

The Senate is a strange case, as expanding it would require amending the Constitution. But it could be done, keeping equal suffrage among the states, while increasing the number of senators per state to three, four, or even five. The larger number of members would be able to create more committee work with a better understanding. And more members means lobbying power is diminished, as they would have to lobby even more members.

In the House, expansion serves another purpose, which is to bring the members closer to their constituents. Each member serves an increasing number of citizens, who have less and less voice with their government as population grows. By expanding the House, more concerns can be heard by more representatives, which will help to make a more responsive government that serves the people.

The election is in about three weeks.