The aimless musings of a guys whose bright ideas evaporate when commited to paper. Things that rattle around in my head include, life, politics, things Korean and of course variety meats.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Constitutional Fantasy League

Despite all the possibilities, practical politics has settled on essentially just two ways to structure democratic government, presidential and parliamentary and I wondered how close a presidential system could get to parliamentary without crossing the line. Not a French dual executive, not the South African executive president (chosen by and responsible to the legislature, this is a really a prime minister). I took inspiration from that cradle of strong democracy, South America. In Bolivia, after the restoration of democracy in the 80s rhe president was elected together with the legislature, the presidential vote was also the party vote in a mixed-member proportional legislature. The runoff however was held among the top three candidates and was voted on, not by the people but by the legislature. In at least one case this saw the third place finisher chosen. Thus a president must have majority support from the legislature. The other South America innovation is the delightfully named muerte cruzada meaning 'crossed death' or more prosaically 'mutually assured destruction'. In situations where there is a deadlock between the president and the legislature, the president may dissolve the legislature and call for new elections. This is not a particularly novel power, however unusually it also requires the president to face a special election at the same time (as an aside, a similar provision exists in Namibia but I've seen no commentary on it). The legislature also has a similar power, when a president is impeached and removed, the legislature too runs in the special election. When combined, these two concepts from the Andes would produce a presidential system with key elements of parliamentarism, albeit attenuated. The president requires a legislative majority in order to be installed and may be removed due to a loss of legislative support. Imagine for a moment an alternate United States, one where constitutional revision is commonplace and and this system has been implemented. The House of Representatives now has four year terms to match the president. Citizens vote President and their preferred party with one vote and for their local rep with the other. If no presidential candidate wins a majority there is a contingent election in the House but unlike the system that. elected John Quincy Adams, members vote individually, not by state. In order to aid in coalition building, the cabinet is presented as a unit for confirmation and legislature members can serve in the cabinet with the help of election substitutes. There is also a Senate, but it is a very different body. It is not elected but appointed by state governments. It's membership varies somewhat with population but it still doesn't claim proportionality. Its main power is that of legislative inquiry and on most legislation it has only a suspensive veto. With regard to the budget it lacks even that power. However, with regard to legislation affecting the relationship between the states and the federal government, it can defeat legislation, though even here its powers are constrained. A bill defeated in the Senate can be revived by a vote in a joint session of Congress where, given the disparity in size, only a united Senate can defeat a divided House. In keeping with the parliamentary influence, the budget is central. It is introduced by the President and may be approved, modified or defeated in the House (the Senate can propose amendments but on budgetary matters, the House isn't obliged to consider them). It is considered on a strict time-limited calendar, first in committees and then on the floor. If the budget is amended, the President may sign or veto it and the House can override with just an absolute majority of all it's members (abstentions and absences count as no votes). If either the president's supporters or opponents are united a budget will become law. If not, a second defeat or upheld veto is one of the triggers for new elections.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Reprehensible Democracy

I don't care for direct democracy. Whew, there, I've gotten it off my chest, the truth is out. Good policy is often unpopular (and "free ice cream for everyone!" is no way to run a government at any level). My personal preference is for structural changes that lower fiscal and electoral barriers to citizen involvement, thereby allowing the development of legislative bodies that accurately reflect the range of views of the polity they represent (more on all this some other time).
While initiatives and referenda (note the plural) have their place (e.g. constitutional amendment ratification), I have very little positive to say about the recall. Now it's possible for this to be read as a comment on recent or less recent history but I believe I can defend my opinion. Much like Gaul, the misbehavior of politicians can be divided into three parts; legal, ethical and political. Legal violations should be dealt with in the courts, ethical breaches should be addressed by ethics panels (legislative committees or independent agencies) and perceived political shortcomings should be remedied by voting the official out of office (confusing, isn't it?).
Recall elections are not likely to go away anytime soon, but it would not be difficult to improve them. Michigan law (PDF) is pretty reasonable as these things go. The number of signatures required is 25% of the votes cast in the previous election and recalls are banned in the first and last six months of an official's term. Its one shortcoming is a lack of criteria for recalls. While the language of each recall petition must be submitted to an elections board, the board only reviews the clarity of the petition (whether it says what it means), not its accuracy (whether what it says is true) or its appropriateness (whether the complaint warrants this remedy). Establishing a standard of review (e.g. crime, incompetence, failure to perform the duties of the office, violation of the oath of office) and empowering the elections board to enforce it could significantly reduce the frequency of recall elections in this state.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Call the RIAA, or the MPAA or the BSA! My intellectual property has been stolen.

In an earlier post (you may have to search through my vast archives to locate it), I had some suggestions for streamlining county government in Michigan. While my ideas have gotten very little interest here in Michigan, only two months after my proposals, the Governor of Indiana established a commission to study the structure of local government in that state. On Dec. 11, the commission released its report. Among its recommendations are the elimination of township government and appointment of county row offices, both my ideas!

If I am forced to be honest, I must admit that those proposals are not new ideas. In fact, many observers of government at the county level have wondered why individuals responsible for carrying out policy rather than making it are elected. The reason why these ideas have gotten more of a hearing in Indiana is because of the degree of confusion in the way counties are governed there. In Michigan counties which lack a county exec, the Board of Commissioners holds both executive and legislative authority. In Indiana, there are two bodies, the Board of Commissioners (mostly executive but not entirely) and the County Council (mostly legislative). Furthermore, while in Michigan people are residents of cities or townships but not both, in Indiana township government is universal. Therefore, the Local Gov Reform Commission's proposals include transferring the duties of townships to the county, replacing the three-member Board of Commissioners with a single County Executive with the authority to appoint officers such as county treasurers, sheriffs etc. (prosecutors would be excluded) and strengthening the County Council by granting it the residual legislative powers of the Commissioners. Of course, not all the proposals are good ideas but instead of going over them one by one I'll just suggest that you read the report, or at least read this summary.

Due to politics, most of these proposals will go nowhere in Indiana. Hopefully, discussing them will make change more likely in other times and places

PS Lest I be misunderstood, I oppose all three organizations mentioned in the opening sentence of this post.

PPS Since this is supposedly a blog about the Korean Peninsula, congrats to the new Prez (he wouldn't have been my pick, but the last guy was and look how well that turned out). Also a warm, fake, 새해복 많이 받으세요 to my myriads of readers. If you don't know why it's fake, you probably don't know what it means anyway.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Modest Proposals?

Over the past few months, as the political class of the state has been in an uproar over the budget deficit, I've had several ideas abut streamlining local government (three to be exact , though the third, or perhaps the second, has escaped me).

The most significant proposal, and the most impossible, would be to eliminate townships in the state. Under this plan unincorporated areas would be administered directly by counties. This plan would also establish population and population density criteria for creating villages (general-law and home-rule) and cities.

The other proposal that I can remember deals with county row offices (surveyor, treasurer. sheriff, clerk...). Counties in MI can now create the office of county executive (either by adopting a charter or using the optional unified county structure) but the majority of the executive functions of the county remain in the hands of separately elected individuals. My proposal would allow the county commission to propose a referendum on eliminating one or more row offices and transferring those powers to the executive. If the referendum passed, the county executive would be able to appoint those row officers with the advice and consent of the county commission.


Yeah, so I was planning to narrate my experiences day by day. Well, "if wishes were horses..." oh, sorry, wrong hackneyed cliche', what I meant was, "the road to hell ...". My internship was great (well, except for two weeks in March when my motivation went on Spring Break), I learned a great deal, I didn't really get to do legislative work as I had wished but I had some awesome experiences nonetheless. I drove the Boss to the Governor's Mansion (a relatively modest home, as it turns out), I went to various functions and fundraisers and rubbed elbows with important people and, perhaps the highlight of my time there, I sat in the balcony of the State House chambers for the Gov's State of the State address.

Friday, December 22, 2006

One semester down

I have come to the end of a semester. It's been really informative to see what politicians actually do. As I mentioned before, mostly not politics. Constituent relations, like a lot of what politicians do, has a double purpose: it really is about serving the people who put you in office but it would take a better prevaricating than I to suggest that it doesn't help pols keep their jobs.
Although I'm only required to take one semester of internship, I'll be staying for one more. The fact that our caucus has taken control (and there, I've revealed my party affiliation) certainly affected my decision. I'm actually a lot more interested in policy than in constituent work (heresy!) so I'm hoping that I'll get a tiny little chance (I am still just an intern, after all) to deal with legislation and the like.
In honor of Christmas:
My apartment is slightly more furnished, it now features a couch (which serves as a bed as well) and a table. The public library is between my workplace and my apartment. There's a and affordable Korean restaurant in East Lansing. I passed my classes this past semester and I'm taking a course in GIS next term. Life is good.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hole Sweet Hole

Making the more than two-hour (one way) trip between where I lived and where I intern got to be a strain so I decided to find an apartment in Lansing. I soon discovered that close, affordable and nice is a best-two-out-of-three competition. I decided that nice was dispensable, mostly because I believe it is a sin to pay for parking. Now I can walk to work. Unfortunatly, last Sunday when I decided to move my belongings, my parents were otherwise occupied so I was only able to transport that which would fit into a tiny hatchback. (Yes, I bought a car. In fact, in keeping with my interest, its a 대우. It's tiny and dented and the radio doesn't really work because it's a nice aftermarket model that an incompetent previous owner tried to install. I really like my car.) That means that I have food and clothing but no furniture. Right now I wish I have bought a Korean dinner table, it would be a lot better than trying to balance my plate on my lap as I sit cross-legged on the floor (BTW, that ability has diminished along with my linguistic skills).
On Monday when I woke up, I was happy to learn that for my first pedestrian commute Mother Nature had scheduled rain. Whee! Were it not for the fact that I am even more of a cheapskate than I am a slacker, I would surely have driven to work.
I have been slowly becoming acclimated to my new duties, the Chief now requires 50% less red ink to review my constituent letters. As I predicted, I don't really interact with the Boss. She came into the office two weeks ago and called me over for chat. After asking one question, and before I could answer, she was called away to some other duties and I basically haven't seen her since. She exists as a pleasant but disembodied voice on the phone. Campaign season is upon us so my superiors are getting a little stressed. The have to be out of the office quite often because the office is government property. It's one of those rules that makes perfect sense in theory but seems a bit daft. Politicians get their jobs via politics and retain their jobs the same way but are not permitted to engage in it at their jobs. The law's not wrong, it's just silly.

Meanwhile, in the topic that I meant to dedicate this blog to, hopefully 김정일 is about to get on the very last nerve of his Chinese 'friends' who have been a big part of the life support for that moribund regime. I'm inclined to believe that a nuclear test is of no great benefit to the North and that it might be the push a lot of Southern appeasers need to get off the fence. I continue to believe that it would be nice to have options besides apology for present tyranny and nostalgia for the tyranny of the past. Well, a guy can hope, can't he.