Larry Bradley’s Ezine #404 Did We Just Have a Canary in the Mine Shaft Moment?

Weekly Ezine Number 404

What Is Happening with Election Reform?

Did We Just Have a Canary in the Mine Shaft Moment?

What Is Happening with Election Reform?

Trying to avoid hearing the outrage over the results of last weekend’s two Conference Championship games for the National Football League’s (NFL) has been really hard. The controversy has created a true metaphor for the need for Election Reform. Here’s why.

Officiating mistakes have resulted in the two teams that likely would have lost being the winners. In one game, there was an especially obvious error of omission. A foul that occurred was not flagged as such. In the other game, there were at least two errors of commission. Here there were fouls called where there were no fouls and there were at least two other dubious rulings. (For details Google “NFL Playoffs” or go here. )

So now the NFL has a problem. The legitimacy of the two teams in the Super Bowl is in serious question. This is an NFL problem because seeing the teams involved as illegitimate keeps viewers away and that detracts from the fees the media can charge advertisers. (See “I Won’t Watch”, )

So, here’s what all this means to you who read this e-zine for its perspectives on politics and elections and what you may want to share with those who bring up the NFL controversy to you.

First of all, the reason there is a controversy is that those who watch the games with high interest are totally familiar with the rules and how the game is played. The watchers, regardless of their team affiliation, have an expectation that (especially) a Championship game will be played at a high level and that the officials will maintain a level playing field for all competitors.

With our elections and politics, we see that too many of us are so involved in our partisan affiliation that we fail to appreciate the inadequacy of the rules being used and how the game (meaning elections, particularly) is played. As a result, many of us are dissatisfied with the results, but fail to recognize the source of the dissatisfaction. More and more voters are beginning to see election results as illegitimate. Just as football fans may not want to watch the Super Bowl, a sense of illegitimacy can lead to more and more of our citizens withdrawing from the electoral process. Because we don’t appreciate the flaws in the rules being used and undesirable impact of the structure of the game/elections, we withdraw when we should engage.

Our purpose with these writings is to show you how the rules and the process should be changed in order to solidify the sense of legitimacy with the results, enable voters to trust the process and better accept the resulting policy that comes from elections. Just as the NFL needs to update its rules and approach to things like how overtime periods are played in order to solidify the legitimacy of its outcomes, so, too, does the United States need to update its election procedures in order to solidify the legitimacy of its own outcomes.

The changes we advocate are shown here. Please show them to those who bring up the NFL’s controversy to you.

Did We Just Have a Canary in the Mine Shaft Moment?

On Wednesday, Feb 5, 2003 then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a speech at the United Nations. The purpose of his speech was to justify military action against Iraq. He did indeed make that speech and we did indeed engage in military action against Iraq. Like many other people, I had significant reservations about engaging with Iraq. I did not trust the judgement of then President George W. Bush or his Vice President, Dick Cheney. History shows that to be a prudent conclusion. As validation, read Frank Rich’s “The Greatest Story Ever Sold”.

But at the time, Americans trusted Powell. Because of that trust, the feeling was that if Powell thought military action was necessary, then military action was justified.

Accordingly, consider this. What if the history of that time was different? What if on Wednesday, Feb 5, 2003 Colin Powell, rather than giving the speech he gave to the U.N., resigned his position as Secretary of State? What if the reason for resignation he gave was his non-concurrence with the justification for military action against Iraq? Wouldn’t that have been an ultimate canary in the mine shaft moment?

(Quickly, for those not familiar with the term, canaries were at one time used as a safety device in mine shafts. A singing canary meant the air was ok to breath and work could continue. When the canaries stopped singing and started dying, it was time to get out of the mine shaft as fast as your legs would carry you.)

We speculate about Colin Powell and an alternative history based on our experience as a country with our involvement in the Vietnam War. Why, we ask in hindsight, didn’t our Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, or top Generals alert us to their concerns about continuing that war by resigning? Surely their resignations would have caused our elected officials to have gotten away from business as usual and to reconsider whether the courses of action being pursued were the proper ones. But those officials did not take that action and so we had the results we had.

The above points are made in order to make this point. We have been distracted now by a government shutdown that has gone on far too long. But just before the shutdown began, Secretary of Defense James K. Mattis, a consummate military professional, resigned his position over disagreements with the current President’s policies in Syria and the conflict with ISIS. Read his letter here. Ask yourself, was Mattis’ resignation a canary in the mineshaft moment? But have we failed to appreciate it as such because have we allowed ourselves to be so distracted by our government shutdown? Worse yet, is the shutdown a deliberate distraction from the canaries? And if your answer is yes, then what should be done about it? We owe our troops consideration of the question, so they will not die in a mineshaft of our creation when death could be avoided.

 See you next time.



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  1. […] about injustice earlier this year regarding the blown calls in the NFL’s Conference Championship games. The question is this. Why do we get mad about injustice in sports, but not our politics? At least […]

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