Monday, December 15, 2014

The ‘Gives’ and ‘Gets’ of Political Patronage at the 14 PASSHE Universities - Part 2

What Elected Officials Give

From the definition of “political patronage,” we know that Elected Officials give “appointments to government jobs or other favors” to their Political Supporters.  Elected Officials give something of value to their Political Supporters, with the clear understanding and expectation that each party will get something of value in return for what their agreed-upon transaction required each party to give.
 
What Elected Officials Get
 
Elected officials want power and control beyond that which comes automatically by virtue of their election to office.  By definition, they use political patronage to appoint individuals to government jobs having salary and benefits—and those individuals then owe their allegiance to the elected officials who appointed them.  Elected officials also provide other favors to their political supporters by using political patronage to appoint individuals to various public governing boards that may not provide salary and benefits but do cover all expenses associated with membership on that particular governance board.

In this way elected officials can “leverage” their influence over more and more government entities, through their influence over the people whom they appoint to the governance boards of those entities, e.g., the PASSHE Board of Governors (BOG) and the Councils of Trustees at the 14 PASSHE universities.

 
In return for what they give, Elected Officials get leverage—power and control—over entities such as PASSHE that officially lie outside their control.  It is nothing more than a naked power grab.
 
Note the transactional symmetry:  Some political appointees to the PASSHE Board of Governors “grab” PASSHE contracts for millions, while Elected Officials “grab” power that the law, Act 188, does not grant to them.

What Majority Stakeholders Give

PASSHE’s Majority Stakeholders include the students, parents and private donors, primarily alumni, who provide 75% of PASSHE’s annual revenue.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the person of its Elected Officials, provides 25%.  Of that 75%, students and parents provide 70% and private donors 5%.
 
In dollar terms, PASSHE’s Majority (75%) Stakeholders provide $1.125 billion of PASSHE’s approximately $1.5 billion annual budget while the State, PASSHE’s Minority (25%) Stakeholder, provides $375 million. 
 
What Majority Stakeholders Get

PASSHE’s Majority (75%) Stakeholders appoint zero % of the 20 members of the Board of Governors, and zero % of the 154 members spread across the Councils of Trustees at the 14 PASSHE campuses.
 
At the same time, PASSHE’s Minority (25%) Stakeholder—the State—in the person of its elected officials, appoints 100% of the 174 members of the BOG and the 14 COTs.

An Un-American Travesty of Justice

Recall that 75% of PASSHE’s annual revenue—the $1.125 billion that is provided by the Majority Stakeholders—is totally controlled by Pennsylvania’s Elected Officials, through the appointment and confirmation of their reliably subservient political supporters.  

No one would argue with the State retaining control of how its 25% share of PASSHE’s annual revenue ($375 million) gets spent, because those funds are clearly “public funds” that were lawfully appropriated to PASSHE by an act of the Legislature from taxpayer funds contributed by the citizens of Pennsylvania.
 
But by what authority can the State control the 75% share of PASSHE’s annual revenue ($1.125 billion) that comes from the private checkbooks of the Majority Stakeholders?   Aren’t those private funds?
 
Another “Don’t Tell the Children” Moment
 
The answer to the question “Aren’t those private funds?” has been answered in Pennsylvania as follows:

Private dollars from the personal checking accounts of students and parents paying tuition suddenly become State dollars the instant their checks are deposited into PASSHE university accounts.”
 
Believe it or not, that is the essence of the “Legal Opinion” under which PASSHE currently operates.  By law, legal advice to the Governor as well as to all State agencies and other State officials must come from the Office of General Counsel (OGC).  The attorney who leads that office, the General Counsel, is a political appointee reporting directly to the Governor from an adjoining office with a connecting door.
 
By the tortured logic of the above OGC “Legal Opinion,” might not a thief argue that his ill-gotten gains suddenly become legally his once deposited into his bank account?
 
Note that the “Legal Opinion” in question comes from a political appointee who reports directly to the Governor—the Elected Official who benefits most from this key legal opinion—in that it enables this particular elected official to leverage a minority (25%) funding share into 100% control of PASSHE.
 
Elected Officials and their Political Supporters are in League Against the Majority Stakeholders

According to the Free Dictionary, the idiom to be “in league” with another means to be “secretly cooperating, often to do something bad or illegal.”
 
By using that term last week, I was not asserting that what Pennsylvania’s Elected Officials and their Political Supporters are doing is illegal but rather, that what they are “secretly cooperating” to do is bad for the 14 PASSHE Universities and their Majority Stakeholders, especially students:  They are competing against the 14 PASSHE Universities they are ostensibly there to serve and, as a result, they are failing to serve the best interests of the more than 100,000 PASSHE students who rely upon those 14 universities. 
 
The Elected Officials in question are the Governor and Leadership of the State Senate, the individuals who have been granted the authority to nominate and confirm twenty (20) political appointees to the PASSHE Board of Governors and 154 political appointees to the 11-member Councils of Trustees at the 14 PASSHE Universities.  Based on my 20-years of experience as a PASSHE university president, too many of those 174 political appointees tended to represent the interests of the elected officials who appointed them, rather than the Majority Stakeholders who provide 75% of PASSHE’s annual revenue.
 
To be continued.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The ‘Gives’ and ‘Gets’ of Political Patronage at the 14 PASSHE Universities

An Unusual Example of Game Theory with Three Players

Last week we considered a very unusual example of game theory with three players.  The three players included Elected Officials (EO), their Political Supporters (PS), and the “Majority Stakeholders” (MS) at the 14 PASSHE universities, i.e., the Students, Parents, and Private Donors, primarily PASSHE Alumni, who provide a majority (75%) of PASSHE’s annual operating funds, while the State provides 25%.
 
This particular example of game theory with three players is unusual for several reasons.
 
First, if this were a normal game, each player would have the option of either cooperating with, or competing against, one or both of the other two players.  And it is this very “freedom to choose” that creates the expectation that there must be three different ways in which “Two-Against-One” could be played in this case, namely: MS + EO against PS; MS + PS against EO; and EO + PS against MS.
 
Recall that in all our previous examples of game theory with three players at both the national and state levels, it was always possible to document the existence of real examples of all three “Two-Against-One” scenarios.  But, as we will see, that is not the case here.  In only one of those scenarios has evidence emerged to confirm it actually happens.  The other two scenarios remain just theoretical possibilities.     
 
The only “Two-Against-One” scenario that has actually manifested itself in this particular game is the one in which Elected Officials (EO) and their Political Supporters (PS) work together at the expense of the Majority Stakeholders (MS).  The other two options, while theoretically possible, have apparently never occurred as yet.  At a later time, we will come back to look at these other two possibilities, but for now we will provide the evidence for the one “Two-Against-One” scenario that is clearly known to exist.
 
Evidence for the “EO + PS against MS” Scenario

By the very nature of the “Two-Against-One” scenario from game theory with three players, the two players that work together at the expense of the third invariably engage in transactions in which each party gives something of value to the other—and gets something of value from the other in return.  

For example, when State-level Democrats and Republicans work together to provide the votes needed for bipartisan passage of raises or pension increases for themselves, each political party gives something of value to the other party.  They give their votes to support something that both political parties want.  The value of what they are giving is seen in the potential cost to those who cast votes they know will be extremely unpopular with the electorate.  It sometimes happens that legislators get voted out of office the next time around when their election challenger from either political party makes a major campaign issue of their “voting record,” and especially any unpopular votes that they may have cast.  
 
But by accepting the risk of retaliation at the ballot box by the electorate at the next election, both parties, and the legislators from both parties, get what they wanted—raises and pension increases!  
 
Elected Officials and their Political Supporters are in League Against the Majority Stakeholders
 
Powerful evidence exists to document the EO + PS against MS scenario cited in the above heading.  To see how it all works, one must look at what each of three players gives and gets in return:

What Political Supporters Give

Political Supporters, as the name implies, give political support to those Elected Officials with whom they hope to form or maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.  In most cases, the giving occurs with the hope and understanding that they will get something of value in return for what they give.  The actual support can take the form of a personal financial contribution, and/or “bundling” (i.e., securing donations for the candidate from one’s friends and colleagues), and/or working at the polls or otherwise helping elected officials, or candidates for elective office, to get elected and reelected again and again.
What Political Supporters Get
 
We know from the definition of political patronage that elected officials have the power “to make appointments to government jobs or grant other favors to their supporters.”  Political Supporters therefore hope and expect to get either “government jobs” or “other favors” from Elected Officials.
 
In the case of EO + PS against MS, both types of transactions involving either “government jobs” or “other favors” are very common.  For example, Governors whose terms of office are winding down routinely employ great political pressure to “place” key departing staff members—the epitome of political supporters—in high-paying jobs in, for example, PASSHE’s Office of the Chancellor.  In my 20-year experience as a PASSHE university president, I saw a number of former staff members of both Democratic and Republican outgoing Governors suddenly appear on the Chancellor’s Office payroll.
 
More problematic for the Majority Stakeholders are the political supporters who secure seats on the PASSHE Board of Governors (BOG) or a Council of Trustees (COT) at one of the 14 PASSHE universities.  What political supporters get in this case ranges from public recognition on the one hand to political or financial gain on the other.  One extreme example of apparent financial gain was documented by a June 30, 2012 Tribune-Review article¹ with headline:  Pa. university board members grab $14M in contracts.”

But many other conflicts of interest—according to the Merriam-Webster definition—are routinely seen in the political appointments to the BOG and the 14 COT’s by Governors from both parties.  But thanks to the “Pennsylvania Ethics Act” of 1978, conflicts of interest are defined in that law by means of a “non-dictionary definition” of the term² which conveniently helps to make unacceptable behavior acceptable.
 
To be continued.

¹ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7425061/tribune-review-article-pa-university-board-members-grab-14m-in-contracts-july-1-2012-pdf-2.
² https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6939770/aa-op-ed-in-harrisburg-patriot-pennsylvanias-flawed-definition-of-conflict-of-interest-march-8.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What's the point of elections if everything is already decided? - Part 5

Political Patronage and the Fourteen PASSHE Universities
 
Before exploring the negatives of a political patronage system governing Pennsylvania’s “public” universities, recall the Webster’s College Dictionary definition of political patronage: “The power of public officials to make appointments to government jobs or grant other favors to their supporters.”
 
The Power of Public Officials to Make Appointments to Government Jobs

This first part of the definition of political patronage is very familiar and rarely questioned, primarily because it is so logically compelling even when questioned.  Most people can readily accept the idea that a new U.S. president, or new State governor, should be able to nominate cabinet members and other high officials to help the new chief executive implement the strategic vision and policy goals publicly promised to the voters during the election campaign by the ultimately elected candidate.       
 
The Power of Public Officials to Grant Other Favors to Their Supporters

This second part of the definition of political patronage is less familiar and even more rarely questioned because it operates almost totally below the radar, which is to say, in secret.  Unlike the process for the appointment of cabinet members and other high officials—which is a public process because the Senate confirmation process is a public process often accompanied by intense media coverage—the process of “granting other favors to their supporters” must ideally occur out of sight of the public and the media.

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours
 
Don’t tell the children, but there is considerable evidence that our elected officials at various levels of government are in the practice, if not the business, of granting favors to their supporters, and that’s only half the story.  According to The Free Dictionary, the familiar idiom “You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,” translates to “You do a favor for me and I'll do a favor for you,” and more particularly, “If you do something for me that I cannot do for myself, I will do something for you that you cannot do for yourself.”

Question 1: What is it that political supporters (PS) desire to do that they cannot do for themselves?

Answer 1: For one, they clearly can’t grant themselves desired favors that only elected officials (EO) have the capability to provide.
 
Question 2: And what is it that elected officials (EO) desire to do that they cannot do for themselves?

Answer 2: For one, they clearly can’t grant themselves desired favors that only political supporters (PS) have the capability to provide.
 
These two questions and answers suggest even more interesting questions and answers:

Question 3: What do political supporters (PS) want from their elected officials (EO)?  

Question 4: What to elected officials (EO) want from their political supporters (PS)?
 
Answer 3: Political supporters of elected officials, it is safe to say, want perquisites—the synonyms for which include privileges, gratuities, freebies, bonuses or advantages.  The nature of those perquisites can range from public recognition on the one hand to political or financial gain on the other.
 
Answer 4: Elected officials want power and control beyond that which comes automatically by virtue of election to office.  By definition, they use political patronage to appoint individuals to government jobs having salary and benefits—and those individuals then owe their allegiance to the elected officials who appointed them.  Elected officials also provide other favors to their political supporters by using political patronage to appoint individuals to various public governing boards that may not provide salary and benefits but do cover all expenses associated with membership on that particular governance board.
 
In this way elected officials can “leverage” their influence over more and more government entities, through their influence over the people whom they appoint to the governance boards of those entities.
 
Note the transactional nature of the interactions between elected officials (EO) and their political supporters (PS). 
 
These are classic transactions in which each party gives something to the other—and gets something from the other in return.  Next week we will consider some “Gives” and “Gets” for each of the willing parties to these transactions, as well as some consequences for the many victims of these transactions.
                                                              
Game Theory with Three Players - Redux

In earlier blog posts we discussed the issue of “Game Theory with Three Players” for the special case in which the three players included Democrats (D), Republicans (R) and the Electorate (E).  Also discussed was the fact that there are three different ways to play “Two-Against-One” in any game with three players namely, in this case: E + D against R, E + R against D, and D + R against E. 
 
The beautiful symmetry involving players EO and PS suggests a Two-Against-One game in which third parties—who will be disadvantaged by the collaboration of these first two—have yet to be identified. 
 
But anyone who has studied the governance of PASSHE by its Board of Governors (BOG) and 14 PASSHE Councils of Trustees will quickly identify the third party being disadvantaged by the “Two-Against-One game being played by Pennsylvania’s elected officials (EO) together with their political supporters (PS).
 
The disadvantaged third parties are “PASSHE’s Majority Stakeholders,” that is, the PASSHE students, parents and private donors, primarily alumni, who currently provide 75% of the annual revenue that supports both the BOG, the Office of the Chancellor in Harrisburg, and the 14 PASSHE universities.   
 
To be continued.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What's the point of elections if everything is already decided - Part 4

The Fiduciary Relationship between the Electorate and Elected Officials
 
Previous blog posts have offered examples of “Two-Against-One” behavior at both the national and state levels.  These examples confirm that Democratic and Republican lawmakers occasionally join forces to brazenly benefit themselves at the expense of the Electorate [D + R against E].
 
When this shameful behavior does occur, it happens as an unintended consequence of the fiduciary relationship that must exist between the Electorate and the Political Party(ies) who have been granted leadership powers for a fixed term of office resulting from the outcomes of the most recent elections.
 
A fiduciary relationship is one based on trust.  In effect, when the Electorate chooses officials for high office, it is trusting those officials to work for the best interests of the voters who elected them.  The officials seen by the Electorate as having lived up to that challenge can expect to be rewarded with another term of office. Those seen as not living up to that challenge can expect to be voted out of office. 
 
That is our system.
 
In effect, the Electorate decides which candidates or political parties will be granted the considerable power that comes with election to high public office.  For the sake of the country or the state, the powers granted must be substantial to be at least sufficient to deal with unforeseen challenges and crises that could very well arise during the term of office of candidates who have been elected to serve.
 
And because the powers granted by the Electorate to its high elected officials are so substantial, such powers inherently allow for a high degree of discretion and judgment on the part of the elected officials.  And it is in those areas of discretion and judgment that the level of trust may be tested or even violated.   
 
America’s Founders realized that the best decisions for the country or state might not always be popular in the short term and, for that reason, they provided terms of office ranging from 6-years for senators, to 4-years for chief executives, and 2-years for representatives.  The idea for this was that a senator or chief executive could make initially-unpopular decisions and still have time to recover before the next election.  Representatives, with just 2-year terms clearly can’t afford to get too far ahead of their voters.
 
For that reason, Democratic and Republican lawmakers who work together to benefit themselves at the expense of the Electorate normally do so immediately after an election, in the hope that the voters may “forget” about their transgressions by the time they must once again face the voters at the polls.
 
Political Patronage in America

America didn’t invent political patronage.  It flourished in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.¹ 

The Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary defines “political patronage” as: a) the power of public officials to make appointments to government jobs or grant other favors to their supporters; or b) the distribution of such jobs or favors; or c) the jobs or favors so distributed.  
 
The history of political patronage in America is a fascinating one that has been neatly captured in a brief essay published by The Free Dictionary.² That brief history includes the following points:

·         “When the candidate of a political party wins an election, the newly elected official has the right to appoint a certain number of persons to jobs in the government. This is the essence of the patronage system, also known as the spoils system ("To the victor go the spoils"): appointing persons to government positions on the basis of political support and work rather than on merit, as measured by objective criteria. Though the patronage system exists at all levels of U.S. government, the number of positions that are available through patronage has decreased dramatically since the 1880s.”
 
·         “By the 1860s and the Civil War, patronage had led to widespread inefficiency and political corruption. Where patronage had once been confined to the cabinet, department heads, and foreign ambassadorships, by the 1860s low-level government positions were subject to patronage. The loss of a presidential election by a political party signaled wholesale turnover in the federal government. When President Benjamin Harrison took office in 1889, 31,000 federal postmaster positions changed hands.”
 
·         “State and local governments have employed large patronage systems. Big-city political machines in places such as New York, Boston, and Chicago thrived in the late nineteenth century. A patronage system not only rewards political supporters for past support, it also encourages future support, because persons who have a patronage job try to retain it by campaigning for the party at the next election.” 

Political Patronage and Public Higher Education
These quotes suggest that when political patronage is allowed to operate in state or local government: a) Individuals get appointed to their positions on the basis of political support rather than on merit;

b) Political patronage leads to widespread inefficiency and corruption; and

c) Patronage systems reward political supporters for past support, while demanding future support as the price of retaining their patronage appointment.

When a political patronage system is imposed upon public higher education—as is the current case in Pennsylvania—all of the negative consequences cited above come into play.
First, the Governor will continue to appoint, and the State Senate will continue to confirm, their respective political supporters, with little or no consideration of whether those appointees will put the best interests of the universities and the students above all other interests—as required of all fiduciary relationships.  Second, political patronage will lead to widespread inefficiency and corruption in the public universities themselves.  And third, the fact that political appointees, to keep their privileged seats, must demonstrate past, present and future support of the “patrons” who appointed them, means that those political appointees will operate under a divided loyalty (a.k.a., conflict of interest), in which they will always have to choose between the interests of the students and those of the elected officials.

To be continued.
¹ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7413376/aa-a-brief-history-of-patronage-november-22-2014-pdf-153k.
² https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7413377/aa-the-free-dictionary-political-patronage-november-22-2014-pdf-266k.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

What's the point of elections if everything is already decided - Part 3

Game Theory with Three Players - On the State Level

Recall from previous Blog posts that the political and electoral processes in America may be understood in terms of game theory with the following three players: 1) the Electorate (E); 2) the Democratic Party (D); and 3) the Republican Party (R).  It is understood that each player may choose to cooperate with, or compete against, one or both of the other two players. 
 
Also recall that in a game with three players, there are three different ways to play “Two against One.”  1) E + D against R; 2) E + R against D; and 3) D + R against E.
 
A Brief History of Pennsylvania Governors

For 89 years—from 1879 to 1968—the Pennsylvania Constitution limited the State’s elected governors to just one 4-year term of office.  The Constitution was changed in 1968 and enabled governors to be reelected to a second term.
 
The first election for Pennsylvania governor under this new provision took place on November 3, 1970. Milton Shapp was the first elected governor who was eligible to succeed himself, as the following list of Political Affiliations, Governors, Years in Office, and “Two against One” type shows:
 
(D) Milton Shapp: 1971-1979 [E+D against R]
(R) Richard Thornburgh: 1979-1987 [E+R against D]
(D) Robert P. Casey: 1987-1995 [E+D against R]
(R)Tom Ridge/Mark Schweiker: 1995-2003¹ [E+R against D]
(D) Ed Rendell: 2003-2011 [E+D against R]
(R) Tom Corbett: 2011-2015 [E+R against D]
(D) Tom Wolf: 2015 - ? [E+D against R]

The entries in the above list reveal several interesting historical patterns:
1)      Five of six governors who were eligible to succeed themselves since1968 have done so;
2)      The Electorate has regularly alternated between support for Democrats and Republicans;
3)      Democratic governor terms have always been followed by Republican governor terms; and
4)      Republican governor terms have always been followed by Democratic governor terms.
 
D + R against E - On the State Level

Example 1 - “Lawmakers in Pa. Take An 18% Raise.  They Also Approved Raises For Other State Officials Ranging up to 27%.  Judges Are To Benefit, Too.  Gov. Ridge Was Expected To Sign The Measure.”

The quoted statement above was the headline of a Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article² published on October 18, 1995 shortly after both the State Senate and State House of Representatives voted to give themselves and other state officials large one-time raises that would be adjusted upward each year thereafter by a percentage equal to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for that year.
 
According to that Inquirer article:

“The Senate put up the politically sensitive votes first in midafternoon, passing the pay-raise bill by a 26-22 vote, with 15 of 27 Republicans and 11 of 21 Democrats voting yes.”
 
“The House followed three hours later, voting 104-91, with 56 of 102 Republicans and 48 of 100 Democrats voting yes.”
 
“Also as happened the last time, a nonseverability provision was inserted, perhaps as an incentive to judges, requiring that if one portion of the bill is knocked down by the courts, the entire bill becomes void.”
 
This last “Special Provision” was apparently inserted into the bill to guarantee that if the courts were to rule against the raises for lawmakers, the judges wouldn’t get their raises either.
 
Two days later, on October 20, 1995, Gov. Ridge signed the bill into law as reported in another Philadelphia Inquirer article³ that carried the following headline: “Ridge Signs Legislative Pay-raise Bill.”
  
Note that the Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives passed the 1995 pay-raise bill with Democratic support, and that the bill was signed into law by a Republican Governor.
 
Example 2 - “50% increase; less for workers, teachers - Legislators raise own pensions

The above quoted statement was the headline in a May 9, 2001 Post-Gazette article⁴ describing a near-unanimous bipartisan rush to pass a bill containing the following provisions:
·         A 50% increase in the pensions for 250 lawmakers;
·         A 25% increase in the pensions for 109,000 state employees;
·         A 25% increase in the pensions for 234,000 public school teachers.

According to the article:
“The bill passed the House 176-23, without a word of opposition and no debate. It took five minutes to approve, then ship to the state Senate for consideration. An hour later, the Senate approved the bill, 41-8, without discussion, and sent it to the governor's desk for his signature.”
 
According to a PRNewswire article⁵ Gov. Ridge signed the bill into law on May 17, 2001.
 
Note that in the case of the 2001 pension increases for lawmakers & other state employees, Republican and Democratic lawmakers voted 87% to 13% to increase their own pensions by 50%, while increasing the pensions of 343,000 other state employees by 25%.  The bill was signed by a Republican governor.
 
If one wonders how lawmakers can get away with the obvious conflicts of interest involved in voting raises and pension increases for themselves—in the face of the Pennsylvania Ethics Act which ostensibly prohibits “conflicts of interest” by elected officials—it happens that the lawmakers took care of that little problem way back in 1978 by including in the Ethics Act not the Merriam-Webster definition of a conflict of interest, but a weak and narrow definition of the term that allows giving raises to themselves.  For the details of that story, see my March 8, 2013 Harrisburg-Patriot op-ed on that subject.⁶
 
To be continued.     
 
¹ Tom Ridge was elected to two terms as Pennsylvania governor but his second term was cut short 24 days after 9/11 when President George W. Bush appointed him to be the first Assistant to the President for Homeland Security (2001-2003), and later the first Secretary of Homeland Security (2003-2005). On October 5, 2001, Tom Ridge resigned to go to Washington and his Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker was sworn in as governor to serve out the balance of Tom Ridge’s second term.
² https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7407277/inquirer-october-18-1995-lawmakers-in-pa-take-an-18-raise-pdf-265k.
³ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7407278/inquirer-october-20-1995-ridge-signs-legislative-pay-raise-bill-pdf-243k.
https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7407279/post-gazette-may-9-2001-50-increase-less-for-workers-teachers-pdf-94k.
https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7407280/prnewswire-may-17-2001-pennsylvania-gov-ridge-signs-public-employee-retirement-package-pdf.
https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6732130/harrisburg-patriot-op-ed-angelo-armenti-jr-march-8-2013-pdf-157k.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What's the point of elections if everything is already decided? - Part 2

Game Theory with Three Players

Recall from last week that the political and electoral processes in America may be understood fairly well in terms of game theory with the following three players: 1) the Electorate (E); 2) the Democratic Party (D); and 3) the Republican Party (R).  In this case, each player can choose to either cooperate with, or compete against, one or both of the other two players. 
 
Recall also that in a game with three players, there are three different ways to play “Two against One.”  1) E + D against R; 2) E + R against D; and 3) D + R against E.
 
Finally, recall that “Two against One” can be played at the National Level, the State Level, or any level!

Examples of the first two types of “Two against One” behavior [E + D against R, and E + R against D] are familiar to everyone, especially at the National Level.  In recent history they have occurred spectacularly in mid-term elections in the sixth year of two-term American presidents. 
E + D against R - on the National Level

In the midterm elections on November 7, 2006, the sixth year of George W. Bush’s tenure as president, the Electorate sided powerfully with the Democrats at the expense of the Republicans.  On the day before the election, the Republicans held majorities in both the House and Senate.  By the day after the election, the Electorate had granted Democrats control of both the House and the Senate.

E + R against D - on the National Level

In the midterm elections of November 4, 2014, the sixth year of Barrack H. Obama’s tenure as president, the Electorate sided powerfully with the Republicans at the expense of the Democrats.  On the day before the election, the Democrats held a majority in the Senate while the Republicans held the House.  By the day after the election, the Electorate had granted Republicans control of both chambers.

D + R against E - on the National Level

Example 1- The Senate Makes Its Own Rules

Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitutions provides in part as follows: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”
 
This provision empowered the Senate to institute all of its rules, including its “supermajority” rule for overcoming filibusters.  Under that rule until recently, stopping debate and allowing a vote on nominations to proceed to an up or down vote required the agreement of 60—not 51—of 100 senators.  On November 21, 2013, the U.S. Senate exercised a limited “nuclear option” that did away with the 60-vote majority needed to cut off debate—but only for federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments.   The rule change does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or to legislation.
 
Question:  Which of the three players cited above benefit from the Senate “supermajority” rule?

Answer:  The primary beneficiaries of the Senate “supermajority” rule are the Senators themselves—from both parties.  The rule is a minor inconvenience to the Senators whose party controls the Senate, because it slows down their ability to do things as quickly as they might like; but at the same time, it is a welcome convenience to the Senators whose party is in the minority, because it allows them to retain some power and relevance despite being in the minority.  Since senators tend to remain in office for long periods and can expect to occasionally be in the minority, the “supermajority” rule seems to benefit members of both political parties while not providing much benefit to the voters who elected them.

Example 2 - How Congress Puts Itself Above the Law

The history of Congress exempting itself from the laws it imposes on everyone else¹ is a sordid one.  And the secrecy with which our elected officials conduct themselves before their self-exemptions become an embarrassing media matter is often revealed by that very same media attention.
 
But the devious behavior of Congress after its self-exemptions receive intense media attention reveals the degree of duplicity of which large groups of elected officials are capable when apparently “caught” and going through the motions of “taking action” to remedy the sins of their earlier self-exemptions.
 
It is a fact that Congress exempted itself from the provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which made employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin illegal.  As a result, Congressional employees could be discriminated against or sexually harassed with legal impunity!
 
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 set out to reform the original 1964 Civil Rights Act, but by the time of its final passage, the original 1964 exemption for Congress remained in place.  Instead, Congress enacted a self-policing system in which it would investigate its own transgressions!  That preposterous arrangement remained in place until the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995, which finally made Congress subject to all workplace laws and regulations.
 
Example 3: How Congress Quietly Overhauled Its Insider-Trading Law

Insider trading—buying or selling stocks based on insider information not available to the general public—has been illegal in America since the 1930s, but members of Congress were exempt from that law until President Obama signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act.  This law banned insider trading by lawmakers and their staffs.  However, prior to enactment of this law, insider trading by lawmakers and their staffs was perfectly legal, was engaged in for many years, and accounts perhaps for the large number of elected officials who have become millionaires² in Washington, D.C.

The Stock Act was signed into law with great public fanfare on April 4, 2012. But one year later on April 15, 2013, according to National Public Radio,³ “Congress moved to undo large parts” of the Stock Act.
And confirming the near-total secrecy surrounding this undoing of the Stock Act, “…when the president signed a bill reversing big pieces of the law, the emailed announcement was one sentence long.  There was no fanfare last week either, when the Senate and then the House passed the bill in largely empty chambers using a fast-track procedure known as unanimous consent.”

Note that the Democrat controlled Senate, Republican held House, and Democratic President all worked together to reverse large parts of the Stock Act, mostly in secret, and to the detriment of the Electorate.  
To be continued.     

¹
  
² http://ballotpedia.org/Changes_in_Net_Worth_of_U.S._Senators_and_Representatives_(Personal_Gain_Index)
³ http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/04/16/177496734/how-congress-quietly-overhauled-its-insider-trading-law.

Monday, November 3, 2014

What's the point of elections if everything is already decided?

Election Day - November 4, 2014 - is upon us.  It is another of those special days in our nation’s public life when we get our chance to help decide who our elected leaders will be for the next term of office.

It is said that through elections, we citizens get to choose our future.  But in fact that saying involves a huge leap of faith.  By voting and electing our leaders, we do choose our future to a degree—but it may not be what we thought it would be, based on campaign promises by the candidates prior to election.
But even when elected officials keep their campaign promises, that may still not be the full story as to what we get after their election to office.  I say that in view of the following question:  Is it possible that candidates for office don’t tell us about every issue important to the constituents who elected them?

Put differently, isn’t it possible—and in fact quite likely—that candidates for office, including those who manage to get elected, keep secrets from their constituents they would never want to be made public?
I’m not talking about the sordid personal indiscretions of public figures, replete with embarrassing color photos, that fill the pages of supermarket tabloids.

I’m talking about issues of public interest that belong in the public eye because they involve the official duties of elected officials carried out daily while on the public payroll between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM.  
These issues go to the heart of our democratic republic and its governmental processes and yet, in my 40+ year career, with 20 of those years as a president of a “public” university in Pennsylvania, I have never heard these issues discussed publicly, or mentioned in a book, magazine or newspaper article.

To explain what I’m getting at, consider the following provocative quote:


                                                                      Dmitry Medvedev
The above quote may sound like a punch line from a stand-up comic’s routine, but it was actually made by Dmitry Medvedev, the third elected President of the Russian Federation!  His statement probably reflects a growing concern both inside and outside of Russia, whose adoption of “democracy” is both recent and fragile, in which many people fear that the Russian Federation will relapse into still another dictatorship similar to the communist dictatorships it escaped with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Based on recent Russian history and the meteoric rise of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s second the fourth president—with a term as Prime Minister in between—thanks to being appointed by President Dmitry Medvedev, his former colleague and campaign manager, Medvedev’s quote is quite believable and may accurately describe “democracy” in Russia today where, even allowing for a little hyperbole, “everything is already decided” before the votes are counted.
But what could Medvedev’s quote actually have to do with elections in America?

I believe that Medvedev’s provocative quote does have real relevance to elections in America.  It’s just that while not everything in America has already been decided prior to the elections, there are some things—of critical importance to the constituents—that have in fact already been secretly decided.  

Game Theory With Two Players
Game theory is a branch of research in economics and mathematics that studies the relative risks and rewards of one player either cooperating with, or competing against, the other player in the game.  A familiar example of game theory involving two players is known as the “Prisoner's Dilemma.”  When two suspected criminals are captured for a crime and interrogated in separate rooms, each prisoner knows that if they both refuse to cooperate, there’s a good probability that they could both go free.  But they also know that the first prisoner who cooperates with police to help convict the second prisoner can also get lenient treatment in the process of “giving up” their partner in crime.  Hence the prisoners’ dilemma.     

Game Theory with Three Players
Virtually everyone who remembers their teenage years will recall the potential treachery that often reared its ugly head when it came to “three-way friendships.”  Well as it happens, the political and electoral processes in America may be understood fairly well in terms of game theory with these three players: 1) the Electorate (E) ; 2) the Democratic Party (D); and 3) the Republican Party (R).  In this case, each player can choose to either cooperate with, or compete against, one or both of the other two.  

The Politicians’ Dilemma
We are all familiar with the scenario between those three players in which the two political parties  compete fiercely against each other in seeking the favor of a majority of the voters in the electorate.  The two parties constantly attack each other publicly while trying to outdo the other party in securing the support of a majority of the electorate by straining to meet the needs of the majority of the voters.  

Don’t Tell the Children!
But as we recall from our teenage years, in a game with three players, there are actually three different ways to play “Two against One!”  They are: E + D against R; E + R against D; but don’t forget D + R against E!                   

Like I often say, “Don’t tell the children,” but it is possible and in fact quite common, for the two political parties to cooperate with each other to the disadvantage of the voters who elected them. 
Details later.