WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

GRANDMA’S BEST ADVICE

The other day, I had one of the increasingly rare moments alone with my granddaughter. She has been going through a prolonged siege of the teenage girl crazies, a ghastly combination of hormones, boys, high school and high drama.

Clearly, she was in need of the best advice I had to offer, so I gave it to her.

“If you are going to be crazy, be crazy,” I said. “I was a basket case at your age too. Many of us were. It’s a girl thing. But trust me. You really can trust me on this. Everything gets better. Not very long from now, you’ll look back on this time and be embarrassed by some of the stuff you are doing.”

High tension wire, golden maple leaves framed by an azure sky.

And then I gave her the best advice I had: “Be crazy if you must. Just — for God’s sake, don’t put it online. Your great-grandchildren will be finding your Facebook posts and laughing their asses off. Worse, your future possible employers will be finding them too, not to mention your potential life-partners, business associates, friends and co-workers. Be nuts if you must, but shut up about it. Don’t publish it.”

I know it’s the current thing to spill ones guts on the internet. I share too, but only if I can make it reasonably elegant and I don’t mind who knows. Moreover, I’m retired. I will never again have to hunt for a job. I have the only husband I will ever need or want. My friends already know I’m a whack job and they love me anyhow.

But my granddaughter is 17. She’s got a whole life to live, worlds to conquer and all that drama published on the internet can turn into the stuff of nightmares.

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Nothing ever vanishes once it’s “out there” in cyberspace. Everything you ever wrote, ever commented is going to show up on someone’s Google search. It gives friends something to laugh about and you something to blush over … but it’s also something for those who don’t like you to use against you. It provides easy ways for people to hurt you. If you are, as I am, past the age where you give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks or says about you, behave accordingly.

However, if you are still in the job market, still hoping for a career, especially if you are a teacher or any kind of public servant. Or looking for work in finance or something which requires a security clearance … Think carefully before you publish.

Nothing you put on the internet is private, no matter what anyone tells you. I can find posts I wrote that were supposedly private twenty years ago and newspaper articles in which I am mentioned that were published in The Jerusalem Post 30 years ago.

If it goes up on any form of social media or blog? It’s a land mine on which you will eventually step.

So be crazy. Be as crazy as you want. Just don’t publish it. If it’s unpublished, it’s a rumor. Plausible deniability applies. But if it’s published? You’re busted.

STUCK! THEN — HELP ARRIVES!!

The last time Garry could get free of the driveway was last Saturday. Today, as I write this, it’s Thursday. The kids picked up a few things, including dog food — which was getting perilously low — when they were out a few days ago. Otherwise, we are stuck. Our PT Cruiser has been dug out and is actually sitting on bare asphalt, but the driveway is so completely iced over, the car will not go more than a few feet. Then, it just spins its wheels.

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I tried to get a tow, but it’s a front wheel drive car without a tow hitch. Pulling it out from the front … which is the only way it could be done because of the way it’s parked … would tear off the whole front bumper. So the driveway has been plowed twice — for whatever good it did which isn’t much — and our car is still trapped.

Both the yellow car and the silver Cruiser are ours. Mostly, Kaity uses the yellow Sunbird. We use the Cruiser for pretty much everything. For a 2-wheel drive vehicle, it’s been good. Until this winter, which has defeated the snowblower and the car. And the best efforts of everyone in the house.

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Yesterday afternoon it rained. It was in the mid thirties, so I hoped it would at least take the level of ice down, but what it did was convert the last remaining hard-packed snow into solid ice about 3-inches thick. Our neighbor came by early this morning with his tractor … but he said the ice was too hard and too thick.

I called the town, but they had nothing but one (just one!) bucket of sand to offer us. And we’d have to come and get it. I pointed out we are two senior citizens trapped by ice. They suggested we call the police and evacuate to a shelter. Nice to know our tax dollars are so well spent.

AAA say their vehicles don’t have 4-wheel drive, sorry. Good all those years of dues are paying off.

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We are down to our last hope, the neighbor with the tractor who says he’ll try again later. Maybe the ice will have softened a little. I’m not feeling optimistic at this point. But we do have to get out. The Cruiser needs to be inspected before the end of the month. I have a doctor appointment on Monday. I don’t think we’ll run out of food, but I’m running out of time. It’s 13 days until I go into the hospital and there’s much to be done. At this rate, I won’t be able to get to the hospital because I can’t get out of the driveway. Isn’t that a kick in the head.

In all the years we have both lived in New England, never have we been trapped like this. Garry’s lived here since 1970 and me since 1987. We’ve had bad winters, but never have we been marooned. I really don’t know what is going to happen. Or when.

- – – – -

And then … the tractor arrived! Good neighbor Burt and the green miracle machine and suddenly, we can see pavement! That’s right. Asphalt! It’s been more than a month since we’ve seen it and now … it’s back. Owen is helping, shuffling cars … and of course Bishop is helping by barking continuously, with occasional input from Bonnie. Nan barks too, but stays inside while lending moral support to the outside dogs. It’s amazing!! It’s … a neighbor. A member of our church’s congregation — an elder, actually.

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Because in the end, the reality of the valley and perhaps of rural life in general — you need your neighbors. They are the ones who have trucks and tractors, who will bring you a cooked meal when you are sick, do your shopping when you’re laid up. You meet your neighbors, not over the fence but in church. Believe what you like, but join a church regardless because the heart and soul of relationships in rural New England begin in churches.

WHEN A WINDOW OPENS

Every time I hear “God opens a window when he closes a door,” “God will take care of it,” ” Have faith, God will save you” I wonder if we are so helpless we can’t, in the face of difficulties, do anything more than pray for help. 

75-RoxburyWindow-NIK-1Why should helplessness be comforting?

What makes you think God closed that door? Maybe the wind blew it shut. Maybe some passerby gave it a push.

God may take care of you in a spiritual sense, but practically speaking, for every person I know who feels God saved them, there are many more who didn’t survive. I prefer “God helps them who help themselves.” Because it suggests we have the equipment to survive. that we are not entirely at the mercy of forces beyond our control.

So when that door closes, walk over, brace yourself, and open the window. You don’t need to ask God to do what you can do yourself.

I believe with free will comes responsibility. If scripture means anything, God gave us gifts — intelligence, reason, creativity. We know right from wrong, understand good and evil.

I don’t believe clouds have silver linings, but I believe storms are okay. We need rain and wind. It’s part of life, the normal ups and downs. Rain is not worse or less valuable than sunshine, only different. You may not like rain, but the earth loves it.

There are many things over which we have no control. The road we travel is unmapped and full of potholes. We can’t fix all the broken things and death is the only certainty. And those pesky taxes.

But while we have life, we have choices to make and responsibilities to meet. If we can’t make everything go as we want, we can do the best we can to take care of ourselves and each other, do the best we can with what we have. Pick good occupations and partners. Make friends who will support us through good times and bad. Look for solutions to problems and treatment for illness.

We don’t have to wait for a higher power to take care of us. We are grown ups. Expecting God to take care of every boo-boo is infantile.

Do I think prayers get answered? Uh huh. But sometimes the answer is “No.”  No one — mortal or deity — promised to make all the bad stuff go away or said life would be easy. So, I’ll continue do my best to take care of me and mine as long as I’m able. Because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do.

LIFE IN REAL TIME

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I suggest you blame in on the narrator. It’s all his fault.

“Narrator?” you ask. Before you decide I’m schizophrenic, a lot of writers have one or more narrators. I understand the narrator is my voice. He has just one story to tell. Mine. My job is to live. His is to tell the tale. His is the eye that sees all but isn’t involved. He witnesses — but causes nothing, changes nothing, makes no suggestions except to correct grammar. I wish he were a better proofreader.

stone church window

My narrator does not instruct, chastise or judge. He records, remembers and fills in the back story. I’m in charge except I can’t get him to shut up. He gives me a third person perspective on my life. I’m so used to hearing the running commentary, I don’t know how else I could see the world. I’ve grown fond of the old guy.

There are narrators and then, there are narrators. You can get into serious trouble if you forget the narrator is you, not an “other” entity. Should you find yourself listening to a narrator who is telling you to blow things up or kill anyone, you might want to drop by someone’s office for a little chat. Just saying. Of course if you know it’s God talking to you, who am I to interfere?

Through the years, the narrator has filled the holes in my life story, adding “He said, she said,” describing action and scenery, “novelizing” reality. I have grown fond of my narrator and wish he could type. It would save me so much work. A couple of years ago, the narrator left for a while. It was a particularly turbulent period, so maybe the noise in my head was too loud and I couldn’t hear him. Eventually, he came back. There a correlation between when I’m writing and the narrator. If he’s gone, so is my creativity.

The narrator is distracting and I have had to learn to not let him derail me. He does not respect the moment. A running commentary in one’s head during sex makes it difficult to focus. Men take this personally and trying to explain always makes it worse. They then think you are not merely disinterested, but also nuts.

A narrator can take the fun out of parties. You have to make an effort to participate, not just observe. With the narrator describing the surroundings and each person, occasionally arguing with other narrators (sometimes I have more than one), it’s tricky to connect with people. When narrators argue, I have to step in, settle the dispute, tell all but one to shut up. Problem is, there’s more than one way to see stuff and when a lot of points of view clamor for attention, it gets noisy in the brain-space. It can keep you up at night. It can keep your partner awake too

I’ve learned a lot from my narrator. I’ve learned to see life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, weird incidental characters, tragedy, romance, hope and despair. My job is to live it and not forget to write it down. And fix the typos.

AND THEN I SAID BAH HUMBUG!

What is your least favorite personal quality in others? Extra points for sharing your least favorite personal quality in yourself.

I really hate ignorance, bigotry and stupidity. Even more? Self-righteousness and people who judge others — while oddly enough, never judging their own behavior.

Me? I wish I were less impatient with ignorance, bigotry and stupidity and less likely to try to tear out the throats of those self-righteous twerps. Probably I’m guilty of the same behavior from a different perspective, (Begin irony.) but that’s different. Because I’m right. How do I know? I just do. Trust me. (End irony.)

TapeI don’t really want to do violence. I just want to tape some collective jaws shut. With gaffer’s tape. Or whatever it is they use in packing departments that I can’t open without a machete. That would make me smile. Thinking about it makes me feel good. Happy. Downright seasonally joyful.

Can I tape up all the commentators on Fox News? Puleeze?

DON’T PRINT THE LEGEND

Dusty Streets of Tombstone

I love westerns. I hate westerns. I grew up wanting to be a western hero, maybe the Lone Ranger. Never mind the gender issue. I knew by the time I was 5 that boys get to do a lot more stuff than girls, so I wanted to be one.

When I was a kid I didn’t know much. I didn’t count bullets and wonder how come they didn’t reload. I had no idea how many bullets there ought to be. I didn’t notice prejudice, bigotry and the near-genocide of Native Americans … hey, I was a kid. But I’m not a kid now. I know what it means when someone says “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

I understand westerns are not historical documents and I don’t need them to be. I’m used to historical manipulation, ignoring facts to make a story work. But I can’t seem to ignore cruelty, mass murder and the adulation of psychopaths. The claims of heroism for what are really acts of malice, stupidity and greed. It doesn’t roll off me.

Big things bother me a lot while small things bother me proportionately less — like an itch I can’t scratch. “Print the legend” does not work for me. I can’t wrap my head around the myth. There are exceptions of course … but mostly … westerns have become painful to watch. New-style and cynical — or old-fashioned and racist — it’s the same. The only difference is style. For me, it’s no longer entertainment.

It just hurts.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone