Washington Could Learn How To Behave From The Beehive (State)

I’ve never been to Utah. Never much wanted to go either. It seemed to me to incorporate most of the bad traits of the American West and not so many of the good. Dry, shapeless arid desert land with the scorching summers of mid-Texas but snowy, cold winters of my homeland to the north. Arid miles broken only by one big lake …which is salty.A huge, mysterious military base conspiracy theorists say took over from “Area 51” when Nevada became too touristy. Besides a few scenic rock arches in the south of the state, not a lot to see and one mid-sized city notable for being the home of the Mormon Church. But maybe I owe the state an apology, because at least politically, it seems to be the shining light for the entire U.S.A.

I’m referring to newfound heroes Spencer Cox and Chris Peterson. Cox is the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Peterson a professor. Both are running for Governor this November. And both have done something revolutionary for the times – they have agreed to be civil, to respect one another and the public as well. They appeared in a couple of TV ads which quite unlike the typical political ad of the day, they smile and tell voters “we can disagree without hating each other.” It seems like it’s so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said, but alas, this is 2020. So they are revolutionary, and to them I say “amen” and “bravo.”

The pair appeared today on the Today Show and told Savannah Guthrie, controversial host of last week’s discussion with Donald Trump, that they for the most part like each other and respect one another. Both said they would listen to the other on significant issues if elected.

“We can debate each other without degrading the other’s character,” Peterson, the Democrat says. If only the big boys in Washington could take note and do the same. “Our common values transcend our political differences.”

Cox, the Republican, said people “are hungry for decency” and “as our national dialogue continues to decline, my opponent and I decided to try something different. Let’s make Utah an example to the nation.” Both agree that the “peaceful transfer of power (is) integral to what it means to be American.”

Amen to them both for stating the obvious. Or what should be the obvious but in this day and age is not, even to the sitting President.

I don’t know what big issues in Utah state politics are this year and don’t have specifics on what either candidate suggest to rectify the problems. But I know if I was in Utah, I’d be reasonably confidant good solutions to the problems could be achieved and not be too worried whichever candidate won. Either seem like they have the decency and intelligence to make a good governor. Hell, why stop there. With their “radical” way of thinking, I daresay many Americans might not mind having either one in the White House.

Sad to have to say that saying civility and courtesy still matter. But the fact that a Republican and a Democratic opponent are saying so gives me hope for the future of the land.

The Crown – Story Of Queen Royally Good Drama, Maybe Not Such A Joker Of An Idea?

My sweetie and I have been watching The Crown this past month. We got to the current end of the series and are now counting the days until the new, fourth season begins in November.

For the uninitiated (which would have included me until a few weeks ago), the Crown is a Netflix series based on the life of Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth II to be precise, there was a previous one some four centuries earlier. The first three seasons begin by seeing her childhood, with her father (George VI) being thrust into the role of king when her uncle David (who was King Edward… don’t ask me why “Edward”) abdicated – quit – to marry a woman the family, and Church of England, didn’t approve of. George VI is a decent-ish man but a chain smoker and he soon dies of lung cancer. In what the country would have considered the ideal situation, he would have had a son, but instead left two daughters, so the eldest, Elizabeth became queen while barely out of her teenage years. Ironically it was a role her younger sister, Margaret coveted and Elizabeth didn’t want, preferring “country life” riding and selling horses. To her, the crown’s something of a burden. Small wonder “crown” and “anchor” are linked together so often.

We see her develop into the role of Queen, come to understand its gravitas but also lose a bit of her own soul and self in doing so. We see her as a steadying presence in a country losing prestige in the world, but also a somewhat powerless one as a succession of prime ministers come and go and make decisions she often disagrees with but puts up with, because, well, that’s what The Crown does. From time to time we see small victories the Queen and her kin have; Margaret securing a huge “bailout” loan from the U.S. after a night of un-regal drinking and dancing with President Johnson in the ’60s, Elizabeth herself nudging a reluctant, frail and failing Winston Churchill into retirement when he was no longer up to the job’s demands. But for the most part, it’s a life and job of sitting politely and doing little. Where we’ve left off, the ’70s are rolling, her son Charles is stuck on Camilla Bowles but Diana hasn’t arrived on the scene and other son Andrew is just a lad, not the infamous “Randy Andy” who befriended Jeffrey Epstein. I’m more than a little curious to see her reaction (at least the show’s interpretation of it) to those events.

It might seem a weird one for me to get hooked on watching. I grew up in Canada, which is part of the “British Commonwealth” but has little real association with the UK these days. Nevertheless, growing up I saw the Queen’s face on every coin I used, most of the paper money and many of the stamps I put on letters… some of which were probably railing about how much I despise seeing a foreign leader on our money! No fan of the monarchy am I. It’s not so much that I ever really had it in for Elizabeth (watching the series only confirms she is an ordinary woman asked to do extraordinary things) but merely the two facts that she was from another country, not mine, and she wasn’t even picked by the people over there! Democracy people! Let the people pick the leaders.

That was how I felt. Now, in this insane year, I might be re-evaluating the idea. Hey, I still have a problem with someone being leader just because of the family they were born into. But I might be coming to see that Britain might have something going there with its two-part balance of power. Like the rest of us, Canada, the U.S., most other “civilized” lands, it still has its elected leader (a prime minister in their case) and the hundreds of elected politicians in Parliament, their equivalent to American Congress. That’s where the real power lies, where laws are made and changed, national budgets set and policies created. But then, quietly sitting there, taking it all in, is the other part, the monarchy. Sitting, politely waving once in awhile, not saying much in public beyond “Happy Christmas” every December 25th.

But, behind the scenes a force which can potentially influence a wayward government and could theoretically, change it. Laws there still give the Queen the “power to appoint and dismiss ministers (as in heads of branches of the government), regulate the Civil Service, issue passports, declare war or make peace, direct the military and negotiate and ratify treaties and alliances.” All that and be the official owner of all the swans in the country! That’s a lot of unused power. And maybe not such a bad system of checks and balances.

It all comes to mind because more and more, it’s becoming apparent that democracy as we know it, although better than the alternatives, isn’t working all that well. Lindsay Graham sits in Washington piously declaring in 2016 that it would be wrong to appoint a Supreme Court judge only nine months before an election and that if it happened in 2020 we should use his words against him. Now he’s blithely declaring they can do so, only six weeks before an election, so they will. And of course, the Democrats don’t shine by warning that if the Republicans follow through on that, they’ll simply expand the court to their advantage as soon as they can. Get your kids to take a high school law class parents, because if it keeps up, by 2028 Supreme Court judge might be one of the big growth jobs. (“Oh yeah, appoint four more judges will you!? Well when we win the next election, we’re going to put in 200 of our friends and make it a court of 213! Bazinga”). My Canada has long had a similar problem with elected government stacking the inexplicably unelected Senate with partisan patsies often quite unqualified for the role.

Add to that a sitting president urging his followers to vote twice – a criminal offense – to scuttle an election and make it null and void and an increasing number of voters getting their info from entirely unreliable sources (mainly social media posts) and one has to wonder where it’s all heading. Suddenly the concept of having an overseeing body watching it all, mainly observing passively, maybe yellling at a few dunces behind the scenes but ready to if necessary pull the carpet out from underneath any government that gets to be too delinquent or self-indulgent might not be a bad idea after all.

Of course,it’s still an unrealistic idea outside of Jolly Ol. They’ve had the concept and the practise of a ruling royal family for centuries and that’s the way it is. Having them requires nothing more than a bit of inertia and the occasional rolling of one’s eyes. Over here, we have no such tradition and needless to say, trying to install one would do little more than perhaps manage to miraculously unite the two polarized parties in Washington in outright frothing anger at the suggestion. Although the Kennedy’s have long been nicknamed “America’s Royal Family”, they aren’t and if we can’t agree on whether it’s OK not to stand during the national anthem or not, we sure as H-E-double- hockey sticks won’t be agreeing to a change of that magnitude. Who would get to be “the crown.”

Unrealistic? Yep. But a starting point in the discussion on how to “fix” democracy perhaps. By the way, I can sit and watch from the sidelines…just sayin’! I wouldn’t mind owning some swans…

One Person, One Vote – Is That Rocket Science?

My old homeland recently had an election, and to little surprise, Justin Trudeau won re-election and will continue to be the Prime Minister of Canada. Although perhaps there was a little surprise at that. Trudeau’s governing had been marred by political scandals as well as personal ones related to his fondness for dressing in Halloween costumes using “blackface” makeup. Debatable as to a costume choice, but certainly not a good look for a politician leading a party which bases most of its policy on social inclusiveness and tolerant multiculturalism.

Perhaps a little surprising as well, the fact that although he and his Liberal party won the election, Andrew Scheer and the Conservative party got more votes than the Liberals. The Liberals scored 5 916 000 votes, or 33.1% of the total. Scheer’s Conservatives, 6 155 000, or 34.4%. And no, your math skills haven’t taken a hit since you left school – the two don’t add up to 100% since Canada has a couple of other popular parties plus a regional one of some account in Quebec.

Of course, the pattern is familiar to Americans. Let’s remember that in 2016, Donald Trump actually was voted for by 62 980 000 or so folk; Hillary Clinton by 65 845 000. Yet we know who got to go to the White House.

It seems weird at first that if the popular vote was what counted, “liberal” Canada would have a right-wing, Conservative leader and to the south, the “conservative, Christian” USA would be being led by a liberal woman. That’s a bit of a simplification though, as in Canada, the left-wing part of the populace has three parties to choose from, the Clinton-esque Liberals, the Bernie Sanders-inspiring NDP and the AOC-style Green Party. Together, they represented nearly 60% of the Canucks. Still though, it somehow seems wrong, doesn’t it?

The difference is caused by the route to leadership in both countries. In the U.S., the Electoral College is the way the prez gets chosen, and that’s no exact representation of voter preference for two reasons. First, states are disproportionately represented. Even the most sparsely populated states have 3 of the 538. Wyoming, for example, gets 3 Electoral College votes, with its population of 570 000 (about the same number as the city of Memphis). that’s one vote for every 190 000 residents. Fiery California, meanwhile hosts 39.75 million people, but has just 55 votes, or one per 723 000 residents. Hardly fair that, if we believe in “one person, one vote.”

Secondly, the states by and large give their votes in an all-or-nothing fashion to the winner. It makes no difference if the candidate scores 50.1% of the ballots or 99%… they’re going to get all the Electoral votes. Candidates who lose some of the very closely-contested “Swing states” by a narrow margin, but win their states by a landslide get discriminated against. Result – twice this century already, a President not chosen by the majority of American voters.

Canada’s system is not that different. There are some 338 “ridings” and each one “votes” for the Prime Minister based on whoever won the local vote. Again, some politicans (in this year’s case the Conservatives) win some seats by a landslide and lose others by the narrowest margins, but like the American system, a win is a win is a win. Even when it means the candidate with fewer votes gets elected.

I’m not a political science student but it seems to me that a system which results in the candidate with fewer people voting for him or her winning rather regularly is not a good, working system! So I offer a simple solution. America, let the candidate with the most votes be President. It doesn’t matter if he wins Florida by 100 votes and there are hanging chads, or if 88% of Wyomingians pick him, if the grand total doesn’t favor him, he’s not president.

Canada, similar suggestion. First off, have a separate box to fill in for “Prime Minister”. Right now, it’s done by a rather convoluted system where you vote for your local candidate and if they win their riding, they in turn vote for their party leader to be the boss. Vote for your local parliamentarian, yes, but also vote separately for PM. And have the one with most votes win. Simple.

And while we’re at it, another common sense suggestion. Isn’t a politician’s loyalty supposed to be to first, their country, then the local constituents and only after that the party? Seems like much of the time, those priorities are reversed these days, with leaders (and here we’re not only referring to Mr. Trump although it certainly is applicable to him) seemingly bullying their underlings in Congress/Parliament to vote according to the Head Honcho’s wishes, not their own beliefs or constituent choices. Could this not be fixed by having votes on important issues – raising taxes, imposing tariffs, changing laws, impeaching presidents and so on – be done by hidden ballot? Give the politicians a ballot with a Yes/No box to fill in at their seats and have them folded up and put into boxes. Or for the millennials out there, have them swipe their phones left for “yay”, right for “nay.”

This isn’t about Donald Trump, nor Justin Trudeau, specifically. It’s about a system which is supposed to be democracy hardly recognizing the will of the people anymore.