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Posts published in December 2016

The sortition solution

harris

One of our readers, Michael Pitts-Campbell has a interesting suggestion. And while some may think it’s a new and different idea, the idea is actually old and has an elite pedigree. Thanks for reminding us Michael.

Here’s what he sent me when I asked for reform suggestions

“Here’s one that probably stands as much chance of passing as the others suggested, but would accomplish term limits, removal of campaign money, and probably other goals: for Oregon, make the position of State Representative a civic duty. Just like the Selective Service draft of the bad old days, this would read “Greetings from the Governor. You have been randomly selected to serve as Oregon State Representative for District ?? for the next two (2) years.” The list used for random selection would probably be the list of those holding drivers’ licenses. No partisanship, no political debts owed, no sleazing your way into office as was done in Klamath and Curry Counties, just “You’re drafted.”

We certainly wouldn’t have any campaign contribution limit or spending caps to worry about, or be concerned about special interest candidates buying their way into office.

The method of position by drawing lots is called Sortition. The following is a brief history of sortition’s implementation, (from wikipedia – yeah, I’m lazy, but I did edit it a bit for brevity).

Ancient Athens: Athenian democracy developed in the 6th century BC out of what was then called isonomia (equality of law and political rights). Sortition was then the principal way of achieving this fairness. It was utilized to pick most of the magistrates for their governing committees, and for their juries (typically of 501 men). Aristotle relates equality and democracy:

Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are alike free, therefore they claim that all are free absolutely… The next is when the democrats, on the grounds that they are all equal, claim equal participation in everything.

It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.(emphasis added)

In Athens, “democracy” (literally meaning rule by the people) was in opposition to those supporting a system of oligarchy (rule by a few). Athenian democracy was characterized by being run by the “many” (the ordinary people) who were allotted to the committees which ran government. Thucydides has Pericles make this point in his Funeral Oration: “It is administered by the many instead of the few; that is why it is called a democracy.”

Northern Italy and Venice – 12th to 18th century: The brevia was used in the city states of Northern Italy during the 12th and 13th centuries and in Venice until the late 18th century. Men, who were chosen randomly, swore an oath that they were not acting under bribes, and then they elected members of the council. Voter and candidate eligibility probably included property owners, councilors, guild members, and perhaps, at times, artisans. The Doge of Venice was determined through a complex process of nomination, voting and sortition.

Lot was used in the Venetian system only in order to select members of the committees that served to nominate candidates for the Great Council. A combination of election and lot was used in this multi-stage process. Lot was not used alone to select magistrates, unlike in Florence and Athens. The use of lot to select nominators made it more difficult for political sects to exert power, and discouraged campaigning.

Florence – 14th and 15th century: The scrutiny was employed in Florence for over a century starting in 1328. Nominations and voting together created a pool of candidates from different sectors of the city. These men then had their names deposited into a sack, and a lottery draw determined who would get magistracy positions. The scrutiny was gradually opened up to minor guilds, reaching the greatest level of renaissance citizen participation in 1378–82.

Switzerland: Because financial gain could be achieved through the position of mayor, some parts of Switzerland used random selection during the years between 1640 and 1837 in order to prevent corruption.

India: Local government in parts of Tamil Nadu such as the village of Uttiramerur traditionally used a system known as kuda-olai where the names of candidates for the village committee were written on palm leaves and put into a pot and pulled out by a child.

Today: In the political realm, sortition occurs most commonly in order to form policy juries, such as deliberative opinion polls, citizens’ juries, Planungszelle (planning cells), consensus conferences, and citizens’ assemblies. As an example, Vancouver council has initiated a citizens’ assembly that will meet in 2014–15 in order to assist in city planning.

We’d have to update the Sortition process by including all eligible voters, though we could impose an age limit or other minimum requirements. But our dear reader is absolutely correct, a Sortition, just for the State House of Representatives perhaps, would eliminate campaign contributions that cause undue influence and the fear of perpetual oligarchy class of politicians, political operatives, and consultants.

Interesting idea. And one that the founders of western democracy and some of the most famous democratic societies in history embraced as a way to defeat corruption. If that’s one of the goals of a Democracy.

After the defiance

trahant

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has defied history.

Nearly two years ago the Dakota Access Pipeline and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the tribe about an inevitable pipeline that would cross near their reservation and within treaty lands. The tribe objected. But it was inevitable. A done deal.

And in April the Camp of the Sacred Stones was set up as a center by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard as a center for spiritual resistance. Crazy, right? A few people standing together cannot do anything against the absolute power of the state of North Dakota and the oil company billionaires who want this done. Inevitable. A done deal.

Then in August Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II defied state authorities and was arrested in the pipeline's path. He told Indian Country Today Media Network: "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is doing everything it can legally, through advocacy and by speaking directly to the powers that be who could have helped us before construction began." So what? The $3.8 billion pipeline was inevitable. A done deal.

Then in September the tribe and its allies won a battle when the Obama administration said it would review the matter. "Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time," said the joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army. "We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe."

But the Dakota Access Pipeline's owners ignored that request. Why should they stop? This entire pipeline route was designed to avoid federal interference. So what if the federal government was reviewing the record. This project was inevitable. A done deal.

In fact a few days later, in an extraordinary exchange before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the company admitted that the process was incomplete. Judge Thomas B. Griffith asked: "Why not wait until you see whether you're going to get the easement?" asked Judge Thomas B. Griffith. "To a neutral outside observer, it looks like you're forcing their hand ... So it's a gamble. You're gambling you're going to win."

And why not gamble? The easement was inevitable. A done deal.

But inevitable blew up Sunday night. On the same weekend when thousands of veterans showed up to support Standing Rock, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will not grant the easement under Lake Oahe. And the corps will now require an Environmental Impact Statement.

So what now? That invincible force known as the oil industry is still out there, saying the project is inevitable.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said: "Today’s unfortunate decision sends a very chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country. Roads, bridges, transmission lines, pipelines, wind farms and water lines will be very difficult, if not impossible, to build when criminal behavior is rewarded this way."

(Remember the company was proceeding without an easement.)

And from Washington, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons said the decision "defies logic, science and sound policy-decision making, and the consequences can be measured in lost work for manufacturers and those in the manufacturing supply chain. If a project that has involved all relevant stakeholders and followed both the letter and spirit of the law at every step of this approval process can be derailed, what signal does that send to others considering building new energy infrastructure in this country? We can only hope that President-elect Trump will stand by his promises to invest aggressively in new infrastructure in America and start by overturning this misguided decision and allow the completion of the pipeline."

There we go again. Inevitable. A done deal. If only the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Tribe, hundreds of other tribes, and people from across the planet would not have got in the way.

But there are three critical things to think about in that chronology and the idea of the inevitable.

First, no energy company can roll over a community that's united. And that's all of the communities involved, not just the people of Standing Rock. As Chairman Archambault said today in a news release, "throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner."

Second, President-elect Donald J. Trump can revisit this issue. He probably will. But it will not be easily undone. I have been writing for months that President Obama would likely take this action but it had to be done in concert with the federal agencies involved. A president's power is not absolute. (I am really interested in the structure of the Army Corps' decision to see just how complex it will be for a Trump administration to unwind.)

Third, and most important, this is a moment when North Dakota can tell the world what it really wants to be. The timing is ideal for a new beginning.

Is this a state where the sheer power of police, looking like military, will roll over the legitimate interests of a community? Is this how you tell the world, come to North Dakota, invest, we're open? Or, does the state now take advantage of this unique opportunity to show what can be done in a spirit of reconciliation. This is the time for the state to get serious about an environmental impact statement, a smarter route, to work with the tribes, end prosecutions, and pardon those who are in the criminal justice system now. Even better: Take one more step and build bridges by investing in the Standing Rock neighborhood.

This whole pipeline encounter was a fiasco that was a better story for the 19th century instead of the 21st. It represented the total breakdown in communications between the tribes and the State of North Dakota. However there's now a path toward the healing that needs to occur. And that is what should be inevitable. A done deal. #HealNorthDakota

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

The lying ‘news’

rainey

Here we are. About four weeks after our national election. In that time, I’ve not written about the “winner” nor the tragic outcome. I won’t start now.

But, there’s an important issue related to the event that does need to be widely talked about, thoroughly examined and brought to the attention of every American: fake “news.”

The immense danger of phony news has been building in this country for a long, long time. It’s not really new. Much of hate radio is filled with it daily. Absolutely baseless, absurd, totally fabricated “stories” and commentaries meant to defame, humiliate and destroy public figures - sometimes of both political parties - or institutions like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU or the PTA.

One of the best warnings of just how ingrained this destructive B.S. has become, and how dangerous it is, comes from - of all people - Glenn Beck. Beck - one of the chief purveyors of false “facts.” A guy who’s become immensely rich from a broadcast and publishing empire built on his often lunatic participation in media lying. Now, he’s apologizing.

His point? For more than 30 years, the right wing has bashed all forms of news media coverage. Over and over and over and over. Limbaugh, Coulter, Ingraham, Jones, Medved and hundreds of local “wannabees” have excoriated legitimate media of all types. They’ve sown distrust, hate and fear for any media not favorable to their questionable - or outright fact-less - pronouncements.

Faced, as we are, with a real political threat to our national survival, Beck asks, “Is it any wonder millions of Americans don’t believe the facts of the dangerous conditions we’re experiencing?” Admitting his own guilt as a longtime participant in falsifying information and condemning legitimate national media, Beck expresses doubt millions of us will ever again really trust “The Fourth Estate.” He’s right, of course, though awfully late coming to the table.

Now, another of our technological marvels is adding endlessly to the problem. Daily. Hourly. The Internet. Specifically, “social” media. I hate that term because often its anything but “social.” Pages I scan too often contain lies each day. Call it “false information,” if you insist. But lies are lies no matter the verbiage.

Some nutcase, living in a garage in Cleveland, can pass himself and his demented thinking off on “social” media looking like The New York Times, Washington Post, Time or Newsweek. With no editor - no fact checker - no filter to catch and destroy his lies - his trash flows right into the “information river” and to our computer screens. It’s been proven repeatedly too many Americans have little to no understanding of how our system of government works and have little interest in learning. They read, watch and, too often, believe.

The spread of fake “news” is worse since the presidential election. Much worse. Coming even from the apparent winner. Outright lying tweets about “three million voting fraud cases,” or “illegal immigrants voting” and other complete B.S. without fact. No elections official has confirmed any major wrongdoing. Just more lies. But some major media pick it up and repeat it.

To anyone who doesn’t know how elections are run, what safeguards there are, how the ballots are screened or voters qualified, those lies are “truth.” And that’s just one instance.

Sometimes, it’s subtle. Here’s a headline. “Trump charges three million illegal immigrants voted.” Wrong! Here’s how it should read. “Trump falsely charges.....” See the difference? Or, “Breitbart Reports Massive voter fraud.” No. The correct headline would be “Breitbart makes unsubstantiated charge of voter fraud.”

We’ve become a divided nation largely because many, many people believe “facts” supporting previously held beliefs rather than searching for truth. If truth differs, it’s rejected. Unfortunately, the Internet has become a two-edged sword. Its ability to inform is as great as the ability to misinform. Without fact checking, confirming sources, finding and weeding out the junk, lies can look very real.

There doesn’t seem to be any solid solution to this media cancer to change the pattern. But, if you want to deal in reality, there are some Internet sites that can be trusted. “Snopes.com,” of course. But also “TruthorFiction.com,” “FactCheck.org” or “WhoWhatWhen.com.” And there are others you’ll find to cross-check articles or postings just to be safe.

The unchecked, unedited Internet too often makes us victims of our own technology. National media fall prey to the lies at times. So do the locals. Me, too. Facebook and Twitter are full of baseless charges and fact-less “stories.”

Fake “news” is likely with us to stay. It’s up to each of us to “check it out” before passing it on. Or, simply believing something that just doesn’t add up. It’s crazy out there. It’s only going to get worse.

3 concerns in a time capsule

stapiluslogo1

Sydney Duncombe, a professor at the University of Idaho, spent an extremely influential quarter-century teaching young Idahoans about government and politics, not just the theory but also the practice. That mattered to Idaho because so many of his students, like former Governor and Senator Dirk Kempthorne and former Senator Larry Craig, went on to leadership positions in Idaho.

Over the years he wrote a few newspaper columns and a kind of practical guide to Idaho government, but his larger-scale view of Idaho – where it was going, what concerns he had – were a little obscure. What did he take away from so many decades of intensive study about the state?

Some of his ideas now are on display in three little-seen and little-known novels he wrote near the end of his life, between 1999 and 2002, which now are being republished. (Disclosure: I’m the publisher.)

These are fictional stories, cast as thrillers – you could safely call them entertaining page-turners – but they are set in Idaho and clearly draw on Duncombe’s understanding of the state.

In the first, The Unlikely Candidate, the hero is a retired state budget director. (Duncombe himself held that position in 1971.) It’s a murder mystery and a thriller about a massive scandal in Idaho government, but it moves through a wide range of people and interests around the state. As a professor, Duncombe’s trademark tactic was to impersonate (while wearing any of a number of hats) people from a range of interest groups, and point up how they interact, cooperate or conflict with each other. Much of this forms the narrative bed of The Unlikely Candidate. Idaho, in other words, is complex, and more complex than it seems on the surface. A more subtle point is a reminder that bureaucrats too can be heroes; he would not have disagreed with such a sentiment.

The second, Blizzard in August, is the story is about several groups of people hiking in the White Clouds (a place Duncombe also frequented); all stranded by a sudden and early snowstorm. Duncombe knew the area and the circumstances well enough to describe them carefully; he was once caught by a freak early blizzard in that region himself. But the story centers more on questions of personal responsibility, and the responsibilities we have to other people, including to people we do not know. It lightly touched on politics, but the greater implications were directed more toward all of us; not just governmental officials.

Last of the three was Freedom County, also a thriller but one that approaches dystopian fiction. In it, a central Idaho county (presumably Custer from the description, though no real name is given) is taken over by extremist and racist militia, and then its leaders launch a plot to reshape Idaho government along their preferred lines. A cautionary tale, then, and while Duncombe’s telling rolls right along as a good thriller should, his meaning and message is clear: This is bad news, there are worrisome signs pointing in this direction, and don’t let it happen here.

I felt a slight chill when reading it.

Duncombe died in 2004, and maybe if he’d lived longer he would have written more novels on Idaho. These three, in any event, are the three messages he most basically leaves behind.

All three could not be more pertinent a decade and a half later.

All I want for Christmas …

carlson

Unless one attended the University of Idaho during the late 60’s or the 70’s and 80’s, chances are good they have never heard of Syd Duncombe.

Not one to toot his own horn, he was nonetheless one of the most beloved instructors on the campus. Several generations of future Idaho political leadership started to learn the craft in Duncombe’s political science courses.

A case can be made for putting him on the 100 Most Politically Influential Idahoans list. The list of Duncombe’s accolytes and fans is a virtual Who’s Who of Idaho political leadership: Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor, senator and Interior secretary; Larry Craig, former senator; Steve Symms, former member of Congress and senator; David Leroy, former attorney general and lieutenant governor; Robie Russell, former Region 10 EPA Director; Jim Risch, a former governor and current senator; and, Phil Reberger, a former Kempthorne chief of staff, to name just a few.

Duncombe was noted for keeping his students engaged by a facility to costume dress coupled with role playing. His lectures were often SRO. His enthusiasm for politics was infectious.

One of the paradoxes for Duncombe was almost all his students, especially those who later ran for office, became or were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. Duncombe was a life-long Democrat and as recently as 2012, a daughter, Mary Ellen Haley, was defeated in a race for a legislative seat in Idaho Falls while running as a Democrat.

Duncombe, however, was not a hard partisan and worked in a very non-partisan way with governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Duncombe was introduced to the then young State Senator Cecil D. Andrus from Clearwater County by Gordon Law, an instructor in the television/radio bureau (the forerunner of KAID-Television and the IPTV) at a reception on campus in the fall of 1965. Both Duncombe and his wife, Mary, became life-long Andrus supporters suffering through the double loss in the 1966 gubernatorial race and the comeback victory in 1970.

Shortly after his victory Andrus asked Duncombe, who had been a budget analyst for the state of Ohio before entering academia, to help him put together his first budget, a task which Duncombe took to with relish.

He did such a good job that Andrus offered him the post of State Budget director, but Duncombe, who had worked on a volunteer basis, declined not wanting to give up his tenured position at the University of Idaho. He remained a close friend and advisor to Andrus even after he retired from teaching in 1987 shortly after Andrus began his second stint as Idaho governor.

When not teaching Duncombe loved to backpack various wilderness parts of Idaho often leading family members into remote mountain lakes in the Sawtooths or the Big Horn Crags.

In his retirement, unbeknown to any but a few family members and close friends, Duncombe took up writing fiction with political machinations and mystery woven into fascinating plots. Using an old typewriter he pounded out several books that drew on his knowledge of politics as well as the role budget directors play in government.

The result was two fine reads, The Unlikely Candidate, the story of a retired budget director who runs for the Idaho State Senate as a way to expose budget shenanigans by a governor, and Freedom County, a murder mystery that is set in a county that is a cross between Lemhi and Custer counties that is taken over by the posse comitatus.

Duncombe’s third novel, Blizzard in August, is based on a true incident, a freakish late August blizzard that beset the Sawtooths in 1969 and caught many backpackers unprepared for such weather in late summer.

Anyone who has hiked the Sawtooths will recognize the settings and it also has a romance element including a sex scene that surely embarrassed Duncombe’s family.

All three of these books were self-published and never marketed, so only a few folks were aware of their existence. The books were rediscovered last year and the family was approached on republishing them with some marketing support. The family agreed with their share of sales proceeds being contributed to the Syd Duncombe scholarship in political science fund at the University of Idaho.

Randy Stapilus, a former Idaho newsman who has specialized in books on Idaho politics well as other things, his firm, through Ridenbaugh Press, agreed to republish the books with new forwards written by former students of Duncombe’s. The Communications Department at the university is assisting with some target marketing to Idaho alums.

Look for the books at a bookstore near you or go to RidenbaughPress.com for more information. The set of three makes a terrific Christmas gift for any one who loves politics and Idaho.