John Dingell's plan for America? Let's abolish the U.S. Senate


WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who served in Congress longer than anybody ever, has a plan for improving politics immediately: abolish the U.S. Senate.

Writing in a new biography, "The Dean: The Best Seat in the House," Dingell, 92, makes a case for changing the Constitution to get rid of the upper chamber, criticizing the 18th Century idea that the smallest states have the same number of senators as California.

While it may have made sense in the late 1700s that "Rhode Island needed two U.S. senators to protect itself from being bullied by Massachusetts" at a time when there were only 13 states and 4 million Americans, Dingell says, "today in a nation of more than 325 million and 37 additional states, not only is that structure antiquated, it's downright dangerous."

In the book's epilogue, Dingell argues that such a system turns representational democracy on its head, as does the Electoral College, and that both should be gotten rid of, despite the constitutional hurdles of doing so. "But it has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? 'Abolish the Senate.' I'm having blue caps printed up with that slogan right now." [more]

I want a blue cap too.

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Big Al's picture

or AOC? Or Chomsky? Or Hedges? Or practically anybody else? That said, this isn't enough, but if we can't even have this conversation/debate, what does that say about We the People?

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Big Al's picture

@Big Al No need to answer, just ranting.

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dkmich's picture

@Big Al

When everyone wants change really bad and all they get is more of the same, they'll consider anything. Trump is proof of that. Dingell hits on money isn't speech, this isn't the 1700s, people deserve a direct democracy or a proportional one at the very least.

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"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

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edg's picture

The House of Representatives is like Animal House. Nearly any bad idea can gain traction and get passed by the House (impeachment, anyone?). But the Senate, despite it's flaws, acts as a brake on the baser instincts of it's House brethren, and even does good once in a while. So no thanks, Mr. Dingell, we'll muddle along as we have been for the past 200+ years.

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@edg
but reforming it somewhat would not -- perhaps allocating 1 to 3 Senators per state, for example, but still to elected by popular statewide vote.

It's well and good to say "muddle along as we have", but in fact we are no longer muddling along as we have. The minority party has made it clear that it no longer accepts the foundational assumptions of the national political settlement, and that it will always and everywhere endeavor to prevent the majority party from governing.

This is only possible at the Federal level because of the ludicrous imbalance that awards 40% of the Senators to 10% of the population -- which population happens also to be generally much more conservative than the American population in aggregate. Most of these states elect at best extremely conservative Democrats, and at worst right wing lunatic Republicans. My count, if I got it right, is that in the upcoming congress they will be 24 GOP, 14 Dem, 2 Independents. Bump the list to add one more state -- Iowa -- and it's 26 GOP, 14 Dem, 2 Independents. Bump it to include the smallest 30 states -- 25% of the population electing 60% of the Senate -- and I think you get 37 GOP, 21 Dem, 2 Ind. This is an insuperable advantage for the evillest people -- even without their active and very successful efforts to suppress the opposing vote everywhere possible.

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Sigh

edg's picture

@UntimelyRippd

However, both House and Senate need reform. Currently, whichever party holds the majority in the House passes a bunch of nonsensical feel-good legislation to appease their base and stick a thumb in the eye of the other party. Examples include "Repeal Obamacare!" and "Impeach Trump!".

The only thing both parties agree on is funneling more and more money into the gaping maw of the war machine.

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arendt's picture

before the US passed the political event horizon, where it became impossible for politics to escape from the pull of oligarchic money.

In general, any viable proposal must be complicated, and therefore not capable of shorthand like "abolish the Senate". Having said that, my proposal does abolish the Senate - and replaces Congress with 200 or so legislatures of 100 legislators each. (And spreads those legislatures out geographical, e.g. four per state.) Yes, 20,000 legislators and zero damned Congresional staffers who actually are performing for their future corporate masters.

The last time I worked on this was over 10 years ago. You can find pieces of it on the Wayback Machine. The home page is here. The details begin here, and the bit about staffers is Elected Bureaucracy: Specialized Voters Elect Specialized(staff-less) Legislators.

I have long since given up on such proposals going anywhere. Our politics is too corrupt, the citizenry has been dumbed down and think they are consumers who have a Facebook page instead of citizens who have rights to protect.

Until there is a revolution that throws out the bankers, the oligarchs, the MIC, and all the rest of our corporate masters, proposals like Dingell's don't even rise to the level of cocktail party conversation.

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Big Al's picture

@arendt

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

To get rid of the horrible income inequality.
To claw back the profits that have flowed almost exclusively to the 1% over the last 40 years.
To make the MIC small enough to drown the Pentagon in a bathtub.
To start the Green New Deal, if its not already too late.
To spend the people's money on the people.

Those are concrete actions. But, to implement actions, one needs a mechanism. We have seen how the US presidential style democracy has degenerated into an imperial executive. This behavior has been born out across dozens of third world countries, also. The form of government is flawed. Parliamentary form is better, but still obsolete under today's world of information overload.

But, as I said, what I am proposing requires citizens who understand the mechanism and an executive class that believes in democracy, rather than lining their own pockets. There are people who could implement what I'm proposing, but they're all techno-libertarian assholes from SV, or too-slick-by-half fake government reform liberals like Larry Lessig.

Why do you ask the question?

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Big Al's picture

@arendt @arendt @arendt had given up on such proposals, which indicates to me proposals to change our system of government. But your reply nicely clarifies your position although you indicate that in order to implement things like taming the MIC, climate change actions and addressing wealth inequality we need a "mechanism", which basically is a new or different form of government that actually is democratic.

I asked because when I think of revolution, I think of changing who has the power, i.e., from the oligarchy/rich to We the People, and to organize that type of advance we need not only the appropriate message but the right tactics and goal or goals. A change in the political system, whether it be abolishing or changing the Senate, proportional representation, a national referendum system, greatly expanded number of representatives, citizen councils, etc., has to be the key part of that goal in my opinion. So proposals like abolishing the Senate at least puts forth the debate about the problems with our political system and how we have to make changes to it in order to achieve any type of democracy and freedom of rule by the rich.

So I guess I think it's all good if it can get the damn conversation started and get people interested and focused. The revolution can be non violent, but we have to have a plan for replacing these fuckers.

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

not so futile, but actually a fundamental part of moving forward.

I am often one to criticize folks for not having a plan, because I have a plan. But, when I have abandoned my own plan as hopeless, I don't have a plan either.

So, I guess its time to dust off the plan and update it. There is something interesting called "knapsack voting" which claims to be able to take a group of stakeholders wish lists for spending and to combine those lists into a budget that gives each group a chunk of the budget that represents the number of votes that group has. That is, an equitable, mathematically based budget process instead of the usual backroom dealmaking.

I gotta say, though, that talking about this stuff makes me feel the equivalent of Lenin sitting in a cafe in Switzerland planning for a future that has a very low probability of happening.

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Big Al's picture

@arendt case that's just the way it is and will be, a small minority fighting for humanity itself. But that's all we have and it must be done.

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

If someone like you, with a good reason to be interested, finds it TLDR or thinks its unworkable, chances are so will anyone.

One of the reasons I haven't touched it in 10 years us that I got ZERO feedback from the website, despite running it for a year.

Any feedback you could give, about either the content or the formatting, would really help.

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Big Al's picture

@arendt The link above I assume?

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

Begin at the homepage. Each page has forward and backward links to the neighboring pages in the sequence. Of course you are free to skip around. And, not all pages were captured by the wayback machine.

Any comments you make are already more feedback than I ever got.

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Big Al's picture

@arendt I've not heard of that concept before, distributed government. Not sure I can buy off on the specialized voter concept. That would take some analysis and thought. Some of the other ideas like greatly increasing legislators, electing cabinet members, etc., are certainly good ideas.

I'd have to get into it more to say more. What I've long thought would be a good process would be to get a lot of people (democratically and diversely) into a large auditorium and brainstorm, refine and develop ideas like these and others to come to a major consensus proposal. There are many ideas out there on what we can do to change our system, but it seems no one or way to organize together to analyze, refine, consolidate, etc., into a consensus model.

If I can ask, how did you get started on this distributed government idea and draft process?

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

If I can ask, how did you get started on this distributed government idea and draft process?

I'm a right-brained techie, always looking to transfer tech from one field to another. The polite name for it is "repurposing", the impolite name is "plagarism".

In the mid-1990s, complexity theory (complex adaptive systems, self-organization) was all the rage, and the Santa Fe Institute was ground zero. I had read the windy writings of Stuart Kaufmann, who did make a major contribution with his theory of NK fitness landscapes. (This theory is mentioned on the website. In fact, I used to call this idea "NK government"; but decided that sounded like North Korea.) One of the most interesting results of NK theory is that as the number of connections between target parameters goes up, the fitness landscape collapses to a flat plane. That is, if you try to optimize a system that has too many interrelated variables, the optimum value gets smaller and smaller, until it is just in the noise and all you have is local maxima. The way out of the trap is to break up the data, disconnect some of the variables.

Looking in my old files, I was not the only one enamored of Kaufmann. Here's something I found in Science magazine:

"This boxing in of the executive office is reminiscent of the complexity catastrophe described by Kauffman in his NK model of rugged fitness landscapes used to simulate evolutionary patterns in biological systems.

Despite their best efforts to distinguish themselves, perhaps Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore appear similar because large-scale communication, transportation, and economic networks have resulted in a globally integrated political economy, with many conflicting interactions. Globalization is equivalent to increasing the "K parameter" of economic networks, resulting in an uncorrelated landscape of mediocre compromises among political, environmental, and cultural systems."

Presidential Politics: Constrained By Complexity?,
Erik A. Schultes, Science 2000 November 3; 290(5493): P.933b

So I took some of Kaufmann's ideas and wrote up the first version of this around 2000. I did a second version at DU, around 2003, which is where the "elected bureaucracy" meme was given to me by the one guy at DU who took this seriously.

Once I had the basic concept of NK, I did some research that turned up the whole "30,000 voters per district is optimal" fact. That led me to generate many legislatures. I knew NK could process the data.

The fossilized state boundaries of the US were also obviously a problem (and not just because of the EC and the Senate). I started collecting websites that drew up 50 state maps based on major metropolitan areas. Enough of this Kansas City, MO - Kansas City KS stuff. Its one metropolitan area.

Further research into how Congress works educated me as to the importance of parliamentarians, whom I had barely heard of. Since I was designing microprocessors at the time, the analogy to instruction dispatchers just jumped out at me.

Around 2005, Mark Newman became famous with his cartograms. But he also generated interesting data about things like "what are the 'cliques' in Congress?". So his algorithms are suggested for deciding how the hundreds of legislatures are connected (non-hierarchically, non-bicamerally).

But, briefly, it all started with complex adaptive systems - i.e., living machinery versus the old dead mechanistic mindset that gave us Enlightenment constitutionalism.

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

Not sure I can buy off on the specialized voter concept. That would take some analysis and thought

.

I admit its a bit of a mental challenge. But pretending to be omnicient is a "monkey trap". Let me include part of the proposal:

The corporations are reducing the dimensionality of their problem. Collectively, they solve the multi-dimensional optimization problem of getting the Congress to maximize the sum of corporate satisfaction by "patching" their lobbying efforts according to industry issues, and, by focussing those efforts on the relevant Congressional staffers.

Currently, it is impossible for individual voters to play this game. But, single-issue voters have created corporate-like lobbying efforts in the form of "interest groups", such as the Environmental Defense Fund, or the Christian Coalition, or Americans for Tax Justice. That is, voters who are really committed to a cause and paying attention to how to get things done in politics are already "patching".

But, if corporations and interest groups (i.e., the bulk of political movers and shakers) are already circumventing the high-dimensionality caused by candidate bundling and gerrymandering, why don't we just be honest and get rid of these two impediments to fair representation? Why? Because the status quo does not want fair representation. Its clear to any thinking person that corporations are getting what they want from the system. (They are literally writing the laws these days.)

People who think they can be informed on all topics, or that they can parse out how to vote for a candidate by doing a weighted sum of his policy positions (foreign policy - OK, environment - NG, freedom of speech - NG - etc.) are mathematically illiterate. The whole point of NK theory is that to quote the Nobel physicist, Philip Anderson:

More is different.

Anderson has also made conceptual contributions to the philosophy of science through his explication of emergent phenomena. In 1972 he wrote an article called "More is Different" in which he emphasized the limitations of reductionism and the existence of hierarchical levels of science, each of which requires its own fundamental principles for advancement.[16]

A 2006 statistical analysis of scientific research papers by José Soler, comparing number of references in a paper to the number of citations, declared Anderson to be the "most creative" amongst ten most cited physicists in the world.[17]

- Wikipedia, Philip Andeson

One of the reasons I think this idea goes nowhere is that its too technical for most people, and they tune it out. Clearly you didn't tune it out. So, may I ask if you have a technical background? In general, did you find it hard to comprehend; or just hard to swallow?

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Big Al's picture

@arendt specializing in compensation and organization management. I had to research and analyze technical processes for professional, technical, scientific and administrative positions in organizations I serviced in order to make compensation decisions for a wide variety of positions and organizational recommendations for a wide variety of organizations. So actually, this kind of stuff is right up my alley.

I'll digest this specialized voting thing a little more and get back. You make some good points. I've also got something I've been working on for a few years on and off regarding a national referendum system. I'm actually still in the research and analysis phase mostly via work done by Mike Gravel, former senator from Alaska. I've wanted to share it but haven't reached the point of condensing it to a more easily understandable and transferable product. As with yours, it's hard to get people to focus on something like this if you just give them a link to pages and pages of stuff.
I know we need solutions, but at this point just getting people to think about it is challenge enough.

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

Have you read Mike Lofgren's books about the Deep State grip on the government? How does one go about prying the Deep State's fingers off the government's throat?

I haven't heard about a national referendum system. Can you point me at any references?

My first reaction is that referendums (aka plebiscites) are the royal road to authoritarian takeover. When you start putting inflammatory and contradictory laws on the books, the integrity of the legal system goes down the drain. It has been shown, in states with strong referendum laws, that corporations load the ballot up with confusing and corporate-friendly proposals. These heavily funded corporate initiatives crowd out genuine citizen initiatives, not to mention that big money is spent to get people to vote "no" on the genuine initiatives.

The only way I could see a referendum system working is if it had specialized voters.

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Big Al's picture

@arendt ya, it's a bit of a handful. Same thing with the referendum project. How to get it down to something that most people can handle is the hard part.

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

One of the ways to get people interested in distributed government is to let them play with it.

So, one needs to set up the politics equivalent of "fantasy baseball". That is, fill in the boxes in the 200 legislatures and present the legislatures and legislators to the public. Since the starting point would be the current committee structure, one could place every current office holder and unelected bureaucrat into the DG structure. Then start an automated feed that reads Thomas (and any other website that delivers legislative data like bills) and partitions it by legislature (the parliamentarian algorithm - need lots of work there!). Such a feed would alert citizens to something going on in their chosen areas of voting.

With a working legislative structure, people could see how much work they would be responsible for to actually be a voter in DG. It would get real interesting if random citizens started calling the staffers (who largely only care about not pissing off potential corporate employers) and lobbying them to vote for something anti-corporate. Every corporate lobbyist knows which staffers to call for a specific bill; but dog forbid that a citizen have access to that information.

Of course, my idea is naive. Someone like you, who understands how the system works, will probably tell me I have forgotten lots of things that make the current system work.

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arendt's picture

@Big Al

Its a scam that lets people trade their votes like commodities. Its popular with some of the corporate-friendly government reformers privatizers.

There's a guy I haven't done enough research on, named Richard Lang. Who is proposing something called National Town Squares. I bring him up because he trashed "liquid democracy" in a way that I enjoyed. Unfortunately, he seems to be funded by a guy names John Moores, through something called the "Independent Voter Network". Moores is some kind of scam artist who has been the subject of investigations and Bloomberg News stories. Too slick to catch, but he leaves a bad odor.

Bottom line: any proposals to fix government are already swimming in waters full of crypto-corporate libertarians like Larry Lessig and outright scam artists. Fighting off such ideas while selling your/my complicated proposals is going to make folks' eyes glaze over. I don't know how to deal with well-funded, decetiful alternative proposals.

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Big Al's picture

@arendt how difficult that could turn out in the end. Like careful what you wish for. Ya, sometimes you have to think that we're just doomed to this type of existence until it ends.

Nothing is going to be perfect, nothing is going to be human proof. But I'll be damned if I'll accept being ruled.

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shaharazade's picture

@Big Al purpose of any revolution is to overthrow the power/entity that your revolting against. Is this only possible by violence? I don't think so and yet the vice grip that today's powers that be seem to have it covered anyway you look at it. Violence, they own and have no compunction about using it to the point where people would be wiped out in their attempt to get rid of these global psychopaths. But isn't it possible for humans to have revolutions that use other means to achieve their end? Withdrawing support to be governed is a universal historical way to revolt. I think the problem is that most people are afraid to not consent to this insane global screw. They have too much to lose since most American's are not in line of fire. If they are it's indirect and nobodies bombing them or rounding them up yet. Shahyar wrote a song called 'I Think I Prefer to Live in a Dream' which most people who are managing to survive seem to prefer. Don't know Big Al but think that things are getting so bad that maybe like the Paris riots they are getting ready to revolt en mass.

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Big Al's picture

@shaharazade as I said above. And we better figure out how to do that because with violence, they win.
Nice to see you shaharazade.
Personally I think it's easy and obvious relative to the process. How to get people organized to do it is the problem. As for the process, we just need a billion people all telling the rich that we aren't taking this anymore and things are going to change forthwith.

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mimi's picture

electoral college, why each state has the same number of Senators, and why there is no proportional representation.

But then I don't understand much anyhow and just throwing out the Senate, on first glance, isn't a solution in my mind. Changing the Senate seems to be needed. So, I can follow Dingell a bit, but not really and of course I wish him a happy retirement. I think he should consider it at age 92. Smile

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shaharazade's picture

is like the House of Lords and should be taken down. So corrupt, so ingrained with powerful politico's that seem to have no other function other then keeping the power where it is and legalizing whatever the powers that run and own this country decide to implement. The constitution no longer offers any relief. As Nancy Pelosi said "It's just a antique unenforceable piece of paper". A mockery of democracy. Does anyone think that this august body gives a rats ass about the rule of law, checks and balances, or separation of powers? Nah. The House may be a zoo but at least we the people can replace them occasionally. The Senate forget about it. I did like Dinglell's other suggestions which seem more attainable then getting rid of the Senate.

"Dingell makes several other suggestions for restoring integrity and respect for government, including:

Automatically registering American citizens to vote at age 18, without any "impediments of any kind" to increase participation in elections.

Publicly funding all campaigns and eliminating private donations. And as for the Supreme Court declaring "money is speech," he dismisses it roundly, saying, "The day my wallet starts talking to me, I might reconsider that view."

Protecting the independent press. "We cannot restore respect to our institutions ... until we put an end to the systematic attacks on journalism that have become increasingly prevalent."

Color me a pessimist but how given that the villains of this piece own and run the whole circus, how would any reform like those proposed be possible. Chuck Schumer is appalling and yet there he is, brazenly working to undermine any reform. Same with my city's government all Demorat's yet all working it to the detriment of people and the planet. At this point I can't see any way out as 'The pump don't work 'Cause the vandals took the handles.'

Maybe the whole anti-democratic system needs to go. How would that work? Hummmm....hard to contemplate what that would involve. It would be anarchy. Yeah! Sounds good but getting there would be hell on earth for humans and the planet due to the weaponry and the goon squads these fuckers own and deploy at the drop of a hat.

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The Liberal Moonbat's picture

...what we need is a European-style PARLIAMENTARY system - and RANKED-CHOICE VOTING, for the love of Frühstück!

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“The enemy wasn't men, or women, or the old, or even the dead. It was just bleedin' stupid people, who came in all varieties. And no one had the right to be stupid.”

― Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment