My representative in Congress sent me a letter. I respond in this post, a response I never sent to him since I don’t think he would read it or would it make a wit of difference.
Dear Honorable Congressman Gerry Connolly,
Thank you for your letter. I was somewhat surprised to see it. To be honest, I harbor serious doubt about your intention to reach out and address my concerns. Once upon a time I was somewhat active in communicating my thoughts to my representatives but that has more or less ended. My queries have not been answered, my concerns have not been addressed, and those in power appear to answer to no one. I took a great deal of time to write this response if for only therapeutic reasons; but if you are seriously concerned, you will read it.
Congressman, it is much, much worse than just a lack of cooperation, civility, common ground, or common sense at the highest levels of leadership and governance that you wrote about in your letter. And it is more tragic still that many of our problems have simple and elegant solutions. But that does not matter to a people that just want what they want—truth, law, rights, civility and all celestial beings be damned. And what the people want—you give them—not in a spirit of cooperation and progress toward an objective truth—but in a spirit of expediency and self-interest. Like Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth, our uncontrolled passions will lead us to our tragic demise. And rather than lead, our leaders simply follow.
I can go on how disappointed I am with the policies and edicts emitted by all three branches of our government—the three branches that are to check and balance each other as our forefathers designed and not the three ring circus it has become. But instead I will give you a prescription and how you can unilaterally begin to remedy these Divided States of America—if you care. Here they are:
The Speed of Trust is a book by Stephen M. R. Covey that reveals how companies that create and maintain a high trust environment accomplish their business goals and mission with speed and efficiency. Low trust environments suffer a “tax” and are wrought with problems—little gets done and not without copious time, money, argument, back-biting, and lawyers. In the extreme case, growth stagnates and the company dwindles out of the market.
Obviously, the intended audience of the book is business executives but the same principles can apply to you, Congress and the United States. The political environment of trust is so low that the whole institution has come to a grinding halt—nothing gets done and we are destined to go out of business both bankrupt and destitute.
And you, Congressman, are as much a part of the problem as anyone. The last time you were up for re-election I read your entry in our local voter’s guide. Amazingly, you actually started out blaming the opposition party. Seriously? You actually wrote, reviewed, edited, and published those words—in the voter’s guide? Do you think we’ve had enough of this puerility? In so doing you violated the first and foremost duty of building trust belonging to you and all your associates on Capitol Hill. I will argue that this is more injurious to the country than an act of terror because it creates the spirit of division whereas the tragic events of 9/11 at least brought us together. And if this offends you—I apologize but I want you to see it vividly.
To remedy this problem, you must begin to build trust with those you work with to get things done; this is the number one task of all members of our leadership. Set a policy for yourself that you will never bad-mouth your political opponents or their policies in public, private or in the solitude of your heart. Condemn the lampooning that routinely happens on late night comedy shticks and any politician, candidate or president who appears on them for political ends. Vow never to suggest the hint of a negative reply on a news interview or pundit hour when it comes to ideas contrary to your own. Instead, find and reveal the merits in opposing ideas (do it!) but then suggest why you think your ideas are even better. Be absolutely resolute in your unilateral adherence to this policy so much so that those around you take notice and begin to guard their own faculties. Be evangelical about this policy and insist that those who work for you adopt it—and fire them when they violate it. I know that over time the yeast of this policy will propagate through congress and things will begin to miraculously change. Trust will begin to accelerate, bloom, and things will get done efficiently, perhaps with nothing more than a handshake.
Provide High Entropy Output
When most people talk of entropy, they think of thermodynamics and the amount of disassociation in matter: the entropy of water vapor is higher than that of ice at the triple point. But I am not talking about thermodynamics; I am talking about entropy as used in information science.
If you lived in the desert and I were to give you a daily weather report, you would expect to hear that the forecast would be hot, dry, and sunny. Sure enough, day after day I report to you that the weather will be hot, dry, and sunny. And after a hundred such reports, you’d stop listening because the entropy of the reporting is effectively zero—the reports don’t tell you anything that you don’t already know or cannot readily predict.
But imagine your reaction when I report one day that the temperature will drop precipitously, clouds will roll in and rain will soak the parched earth for the next three weeks. The desert will bloom with flowers; wildlife will return to create a new eco-system, and the lion will lie down with the lamb. This is extremely high entropy information. It tells you something altogether new and unpredictable.
In today’s world with today’s government, all the news is low-entropy. I already know, Congressman, how you feel about an issue, what stance you will take on a topic, how you feel about your colleagues, and what you will say in public. You and all your colleagues are so predictable that in the future all of Congress may be replaced with a simple, low memory LUT (look up table).
Is it possible for you to publicly agree with statements of a political enemy or denounce the actions of a member of your own party on some issue—and provide high entropy output? Start finding ways to do that and don’t be so predictable along party lines. This will start to build trust and constituents may think there is a point to voicing concerns to independent-minded representatives. Clouds will roll in, rain will fall, the desert will bloom and the public may start believing in you.
Uphold the Rule of Law
Of all the issues haunting the headlines—terror attacks, police brutality, civil rights, foreign policy, cyber intrusion—the one the I am most concerned with is the disregard for the rule of law. Why? The rule of law is the substrate of this country—not a royal dynasty, not authoritarian power, not perceived rights. Start chipping away at this foundation and we won’t have a country very long:
- You would be screaming like a banshee at the caliber of executive orders emitted by the current president if performed by a president of the opposing party. I am really trying to understand how one man in an oval office can change the fabric of MY life with the stroke of a pen without debate or due process in a country called The Greatest Democracy in the World. This is authoritarian rule by any other name and you say and do nothing? Now is the time to act with high entropy and not when the opposing party takes power and does the same thing—and they will. And you will scream like a banshee but no one will listen to your low-entropy, wolf-crying output.
- When the supreme court decides an issue on a 4-4 or 4-5 split, it tells me that the rule of law as a boundary condition has already been erased. If those skilled in understanding the objective intent of the Constitution simply go ahead and vote their political leaning anyway, it is already a harbinger of doom.
- If I were to routinely mishandle classified information, fail to pay taxes, drive while intoxicated, solicit the services of a prostitute, marry multiple women, misuse public property, syphon public funds to enrich myself or cut in line at the airport—I’d be in big trouble. But when secretaries of states, presidential nominees, senators, congressmen and those in power do worse with impunity often to the detriment of our national security, you remain silent. So why should you expect anyone to comply with the laws you pass if you and your colleagues are above it all? And you wonder why people do not believe in government? We have many laws—not because we are a lawful people—but because we are a country of lawlessness. And adding more laws will not change the culture.
- The three branches of government have blown the balance of power. The judicial branch legislates, the executive branch adjudicates (by judiciously choosing which laws they wish to enforce), while the legislative branch masturbates. Time for a civics lesson refresh—for all members of Congress. Start by a daily reading from the U.S. Constitution.
The prescription is obvious—insist on the rule of law at all levels and every member of government. Every legislator, judge, president and cabinet member should be beyond reproach when it comes to the application of the law. And you and your colleagues must be stark fundamentalists on the issue.
Apt for this section is a quote from Peter Hitchens in his book Rage Against God. It talks about the character of Saint Thomas More, patron saint of our diocese, and the importance of the rule of law:
In their utter reverence for oaths, men of [Sir Thomas] More’s era were … as superior to us as the builder of Chartres Cathedral were to the builders of shopping malls. Our ancestors’ undisturbed faith gave them a far closer, healthier relation to the truth – and so to beauty – than we have. Without a belief in God and the soul, where is the oath? Without the oath, where is the obligation or the pressure to fulfill it? Where is the law that even kings must obey? Where is Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus or the Bill of Rights, all of which arose out of attempts to rule by lawless tyranny? Where is the lifelong fidelity of husband and wife? Where is the safety of the innocent child growing in the womb? Where, in the end, is the safety of any of us from those currently bigger and stronger than we are?
Don’t vote your conscience
Over and over again we hear of politicians that vote/follow their conscience as if that were the highest good. Once again this is low-entropy output for who doesn’t follow their conscience? Hitler, Stalin and Judas followed their conscience. Your political opponents follow their conscience and yet their conscience and your conscience or at odds. Do you see the problem?
Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, your conscience is not the gold standard? What has so shaped your conscience that it is superlative to those around you? Don’t vote your conscience but rather vote your Constitution because that what you vowed to do (the oath). Then vote your Constituency because that is who you vowed to represent (with an oath). Then maybe vote your conscience but only after a deep examination of it. Then go to Confession. Then in the end, with it so well formed and all other steps exhausted, vote your conscience.
Eat your own dog food
Those who work in the field of software engineering are familiar with the phrase “eating your own dog food” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eat_your_own_dog_food). For example, if a company creates word processing software, one would expect that the company would do all its own word processing using the software they created. Or, if a company created a search engine, would mandate that all employees use the search engine in their day to day activities. How would you feel about Microsoft Word if the employees at Microsoft used OpenOffice (created by Sun Oracle) or if Google used Bing (a Microsoft product) as their desktop search engine? What if all the desktop computers at Microsoft’s headquarters were running Linux —what would that say about their flagship operating system, Windows?
Maybe you see the logic: by subjecting the software engineers to be the end users, the quality of the software increases. Since they use the software frequently in various ways and must rely on it as would you and I, they know what works, what doesn’t, what should be added, and what should be removed, well before it hits the street. Result: higher quality software and steady revenue.
I bring this up to suggest that you adopt the same policy when it comes to lawmaking. In this instance, congressional members and their immediate families would be subject to the base implementation of the laws they pass for as long as they live or as long as the law exists. For example:
- Taxation – all members of congress must comply with income tax laws without use of a consultant or tax preparer or attorneys. Members must do their own taxes by hand or use commercially available consumer grade software. Tax returns will be subject to a mandatory audit. Members will be subject to fines, penalties and/or jail for incorrect tax returns.
- Security – all members and their families traveling by plane will be subject to both an X-radiation scan and a pat down by TSA officials every time they travel through U.S. airports.
- Crime – any politician found guilty of breaking the law will receive the maximum penalty for the infraction that is prescribed by the law. No more reprimands, get out of jail free cards, or passes on tax evasion. No presidential pardons.
- Federal budget –failure to pass a budget automatically puts every seat in government to be immediately up for re-election. I predict you will never fail to pass a budget.
The same motivation applies here as it does in software engineering: increased quality and with great speed. Such a policy would transform an “aware” Congress to an “affected” Congress. And you can expect a more rational approach to taxation, security, crime and budgeting when you and your colleagues must suffer under the same lash of the law.
Congressman, if you (and not a staffer) have read this lengthy response, I thank you. But like rainfall in the desert, I am not expecting it. In any event the people will succeed if our leadership succeeds and I wish you all the best.
Sincerely, your constituent