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Archive for August 21st, 2009

[Prolog: The following essay looks at the principles behind the American and French Revolutions that may help us understand the current governance crisis in California. These observations are derived from a pair of explorations that examined each of these eighteenth century changes in the governance in the American colonies and in France. We can learn valuable lessons from these upheavals in governance that help us interpret the present California crisis.]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Over the past month and a half I have immersed myself in two major revolutions that changed the western world. The first was the American Revolution which was fought to gain independence from British rule – it was a revolution for self-determination and self-rule. The second was the French Revolution for a change in the form of governance from an Absolute Monarchy to a Republic – it was a civil war fought to overthrow a monarchy and rid the poor of an oppressive feudal system. Both conflicts were an attempt to form a new, radically-different system of governance.

Both of these revolutions grew out of the philosophical writing of the ‘Enlightenment’ Philosophers: Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. These thinkers lived in the sixteenth through the early eighteenth centuries and attempted to conceptualize the nature of a civil society. They spoke and wrote at a time when monarchies were the rule throughout Europe; democratic governments were unknown. These thinkers, therefore, conceived of how the rulers of a civil society and the members of that society should interact. The key feature of their system was that all men [used in the generic sense of mankind] were born with certain rights, including the right of Life, Liberty and Property. Prior to the establishment of any civil form of governance, man was free to live their lives as they wished. The problem came when two men wanted mutually-incompatible goals.

john-locke Out of this problem arose the need for some sort of civil governance to establish rules (or laws) which would create a civil society in which all men could live and exercise their rights. This process of giving up some of one’s personal rights to a shared governance unit for greater social stability was referred to as a ‘Social Contract.’ This contract became the central feature of most of these ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers. Rather than suffer the unpredictable fate of an anarchical existence where everyone followed only their own rights, the ‘Social Contract’ created a civil society that protected the members from the abuses of a few who wished to exercise their rights outside that society. The consequences of such violations of the rules of the society were removal from the society, either by ostracism or death.

When a government was formed to monitor and enforce these rules in a fair and equitable manner, that government was considered legitimate. But when the government exceeded the limits set for the civil society, it became abusive and needed change. According to Locke, the people of a given society had the right, and even the obligation, to replace that society when it violated its ‘charter’ by rebellion. The people then could determine how to reform the civil governance in accordance with the accepted limits of the society.

Rousseau and Montesquieu continued their definition of the form of this governance. Rousseau believed that man was inherently born good and a legitimate government formed by a democratic consensus of those governed. Thus, the essence of government is the equality of all of its members. Natural man is uncorrupted and is not the inferior of his/her neighbors; he is initially free and will continue to be free under a legitimate republican government. Such a society would preserve the freedom of the individual.

Montesquieu, being an ‘avocat’ (lawyer), believed in the social contract, but focused more of his attention on the structure of a civil government. To him, the ideal form of a republican government would be one in which there was a balance in the powers of the law-making (legislative), managing (executive), and judging (judicial) branches. Furthermore, he believed that the law-making branch should have two separate bodies that must agree before a law can become effective. These latter concepts were found in the final form of each of the revolutions that we have considered.

The real problem comes about because virtually all European countries of the time were monarchies. The British were the only country that deviated from the Absolute Monarchy model by the Constitution forced upon the Monarchy following the English Civil War. This Constitutional Monarchy allowed the people (at least those who owned property) to elect members of Parliament where the laws were defined. The Monarchy served the executive functions of the government. Democracies and Republics were basically a form of governance found in ancient Greece and Rome; they were not an experience of the eighteenth century European.

The American colonists had been given more freedom than most others at the time, but that probably was politically expedient to lure settlers into immigrating to the new world. They were allowed, under the charter issued to each of the colonies by the British Monarch, to create their own legislative bodies to control the passage of laws, the collection of taxes, and the maintenance of civil order. Thus, there was a history of experience of self-governance in the American colonies, unlike the various countries of Europe. This is the world in which the two Revolutions of the latter eighteenth century emerged.

The American Revolution

Thomas Jefferson-3 There are additional characteristics of the American colonies that provide us with background on the American scene. As stated above, there was a history of self-governance in the colonies; a British Governor was appointed for each of these colonies to represent the Crown. Also, these colonies were established by Royal Charter not by Parliamentary legislation. Therefore, the colonists viewed themselves outside of the governance sphere of the Parliament; any such move by the Parliament would be considered as illegitimate! Each colony governed its people independently from the other colonies, including the levying of taxes and maintaining militias for their defense against the Native Americans within their territory. Finally, the British controlled the industrial growth within the colonies; the colonies were to be a source of raw materials for British factories and a captive market for the purchase of manufactured goods. This maintained the positive balance of trade ledger to allow the British to increase their wealth.

So why did the American colonies seek their independence from British rule? The answer is relatively straight-forward – WAR. No, not the American Revolutionary War, but the ‘Seven Years War’ fought between traditional European enemies: Britain and France. In the colonies, the extension of this European confrontation was called the ‘French and Indian War.’ While the British eventually prevailed over the French, it had negatively impacted the treasuries of both Britain and France. The British Parliament, in looking for ways of paying for this conflict, started imposing taxes upon its people. Well, in Britain, the citizens were not happy with the taxes, which bordered on excessive, but these taxes had been imposed by a Parliament that included their own elected representatives; they were ‘represented.’ When these taxes were imposed on the American colonies, their reception was met with extreme resistance. Not only were those taxes considered excessive, they were considered illegitimate because the British Parliament, that levied the taxes, had no legitimate right to tax the colonists since they were not represented in that Parliament. “No taxation without representation,” was the cry!

These new levies, from the Stamp Act to the Tea Act, were resisted by the colonists. They viewed Parliament as having no authority over the colonies. This led to the uniting of the colonies in resistance. The First Continental Congress (1774) met to determine how to accomplish their resistance, and ended up declaring their independence from the laws of Parliament and their attempts to regulate the American Colonies. When the British sent in their soldiers, the ‘Red Coats,’ to enforce these measures, armed confrontations occurred, such as the ‘Battle of Lexington and Concord’. Finally, the Second Continental Congress (1776) met in Philadelphia, to plan for the establishment resisting the authority of King George III; they ended up creating the Declaration of Independence which established an independent government in the thirteen American colonies. This Declaration was based extensively upon the ideas (and ideals) of John Locke’s ‘Social Contract.’

The Revolutionary War between the colonies and Britain was on. The colonies established a new federation under the Articles of Confederation. This conflict continued between 1775 and 1781, and the ‘Treaty of Paris’ of 1783 established the peace between the new America and the British. It recognized the new nation, gave it the territory from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, south of the Great Lakes and north of the Florida Territory (owned by Spain). This new nation was governed by elected legislatures in each state, and representatives from these states sent to a Confederation Congress, which nominally formed the executive functions; the real power remained with the states, however.

Over the next several years, the new nation was ruled under these Articles of Confederation. The states controlled the raising of monies via taxes and the recruiting of armies. This form of republican government worked acceptably well, but was soon found to be lacking due to the absence of any centralized power in vital areas. Therefore, a Constitutional Convention was called in order to ‘tweak’ the Articles. As these deliberations progressed, it became apparent that modifications to the Articles would not be adequate; an entirely new structure of government would be required. Thus, the group proceeded to define an entirely new form of government. This government would have three equal branches: the Legislative (law-making), the Executive (administrative), and the Judicial (courts). Furthermore, the Legislature would be composed of two houses, one elected directly by the voters and the other composed of elected officials in each state’s legislature that would represent the states’ interests. Once ratified, America would become a country governed by not only a democratically elected government, but one where no part could overpower the others; this was a fulfillment of the governmental concepts of Montesquieu. It was a governmental model unlike any other in existence at the time.

The French Revolution of 1789

bastille-day-pic-3 This American experiment in democracy sowed the seeds of revolution in France. The French had been the allies of the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette had been a general who fought alongside of George Washington. The Americans were fighting France’s traditional enemy, the British. And during the war and the period following the war, Franklin and Jefferson had been in Paris. The seeds of change were available to take root among the French populace. The philosophies of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu were well-known among the intellectuals of Paris. But the revolution brewing in France would be different from that of the American Revolution – it would be a civil war rather than a war against a foreign power.

As we have seen in our series on the French Revolution, we saw that several factors came together to trigger the change in governance in France. At the time of the adoption of the American Constitution, France, like most other European countries were under the control of Absolute Monarchs. This form of government put all power in the hands of the Monarch; the people were at his mercy and had few rights. In France, this concentration of power was further aggravated by the very structured class system then in effect. There were three classes (‘estates’): the 1st Estate (the Clergy), the 2nd Estate (the Nobility), and the 3rd Estate (the rest of the populace). Approximately 95% of the population was in the 3rd Estate, but they were the group that paid virtually all of the taxes. The Clergy and Nobility were exempt from taxation. The Clergy also levied a ‘tithe’ on the populace, which increased their burden.

This becomes even more important because, as we have seen, France was in a severe fiscal crisis. The wars fought by Louis XV against the British in the Seven Years War and the support France gave the American colonies during the Revolutionary War had depleted the royal treasury. The Royal Family still maintained their lavish lifestyle, none the less. The Clergy and Nobility also continued to live lavish lives. In the mean time, the populace was suffering through a severe famine resulting in malnutrition and death. This set the stage for a major rebellion, in accordance with the ‘Social Contract’ ideas of John Locke.

The American Revolution was basically completed more directly since it involved in the conflict between two forms of governance. The democratic colonists opposed the Constitutional Monarchy of the British. Once their independence was won, the American’s task was to refine their system, which they did with the ratification of the Constitution. The French would have a harder struggle. The French did not have a tradition of democracy; in fact, most of the populace were essentially feudal serfs. Except for a few intellectuals that would emerge during the early stages of the Revolution, there was not a democratic or republican tradition to build upon.

Consequently, the King was forced to call into session the Estates-General to try to arrive at a solution to the fiscal crisis. When this group could not agree on a way to vote (by Estate or by Head Count), the members of the 3rd Estate formed a derivative group, the National Assembly which the King locked out of their Versailles meeting hall. They withdrew to Paris and that triggered the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution. The early phases were spent trying to establish a Constitutional Monarchy after the model of the British system. The intellectuals, the Girondists, were the leaders of this phase, but when the economy did not improve, the people rebelled against the King and put him into ‘house arrest’ in the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Any hope of a Constitutional Monarchy was shattered when the King and his family attempted to flee from France; when they were caught, they were returned to Paris to eventually be executed on the Guillotine. The people of Paris arose against the current government and Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety sought to implement Rousseau’s concepts. This was the start of the Reign of Terror that saw widespread anarchy. Eventually the moderates in the Constitutional Convention regained control and removed the radicals and developed a Constitution the created the 1st Republic. Some of the concepts of Montesquieu were included and the Republic was in operation through 1799. Then along came Napoleon and the Empire.

The French system of governance was based on periods of democratic republics interspersed between periods of the return of the monarchy or an emperor. There would be more French Revolutions – one in 1848 and another in 1870. Why didn’t democracy seem to work in France while it did in the Americas? I suppose it has to do with a strong democratic tradition, a well thought out Constitutional government, and the ability of the Constitution to adapt to changes in society (within reason). The French lacked this tradition of democratic society and seemed to need to revert to a form of governance based upon a strong, central executive (King, Emperor, President, etc.). The 1st Republic emerged from the ashes (or ‘bloodbath’) of the Reign of Terror. This may have resulted in a ‘flawed’ Constitution that could not adapt to changing circumstances. The French faced further complications of their fledgling republic trying to survive in a Europe dominated by Monarchies and fearful of the spread of such democratic traditions to their countries.

Applying these Principles to California

Californiastatecapitol What do these two revolutions have to say about our state government? Plenty, I think. In California we have a bicameral (two house) Legislature directly elected by the people. We also have a Governor who is elected by the people. We require our top judges receive periodic confirmation for their continuation in office. And we have a Constitution that sets forth a separation of powers among the Legislative (law-making), the Executive (administration), and the Judicial (courts). Like the Federal Constitution, the California State Constitution allows for amendments to adapt to changing times. But herein lays one of our chief problems…

Our state has fallen into the current fiscal abyss as a result of the dramatic change in the economy, the breakdown in the separation of powers among the three branches of state government, AND the abuse of a part of the Constitutional amendment that isn’t present in the Federal Constitution: the Initiative. The bottom dropping out of the economy is an event that has hit everyone and every state. But why has it caused the severe crisis in California?

The Initiative Process has been overused, even abused, over the past twenty-five plus years. Changes in the State Constitution through the Initiative Process has occurred so frequently been made that the Constitution is more convoluted than the many gerrymandered electoral districts throughout the state. How the State Assembly and Senate can created a balanced budget when recent initiatives have defined special ‘set asides’ for special interest targets even before the budgeting process starts? Consequently, when the state’s income is reduced, as in the current economic environment, these ‘set asides’ will take up a larger and larger portion of the budget. Yes, there is ‘fat’ in the state bureaucracy. But the main problem is in these predefined ‘entitlements’ added to the constitution.

Another source of our present state crisis is the breakdown in the balance of power in Sacramento. The Executive branch, namely the Governor, has the responsibility to define the goals for the budgeting process and the desired levels of funding. In fact, the State of California allows the Governor to exercise a ‘line item’ veto which our President doesn’t even have. However, in recent years, we have seen our Governor setting the budgeting goals, the desired level of funding, and the elimination or reduction of funding once the budget is passed. But he has gone beyond that to the point where he has defined exactly what he will accept in the budget and meets with legislative leaders to forge compromises. This is a direct violation of the separation of powers. We have lost the balance of power!

So, why have we experienced this governance breakdown? Any vocal group can start the Initiative Process with the use of paid (professional?) signature gatherers to gather sufficient signatures to qualify an initiative for the ballot. This has led to an excessive use of this process to change the Constitution and change the functioning in our State Government. While the Federal Constitution has had less than two dozen amendments beyond the original ten, the Bill of Rights, there are often that many initiative proposition on each of our election ballots. This leads to voter overload and often allows the decision on important issues to be decided by a minority of registered voters. On the other hand, laws and Constitutional Amendments can only be approved in the legislature when a ‘quorum’ is present.

This Initiative Process has passed many elements that have affected our current crisis. In the California Legislature, we require a two-thirds vote on many budget measures. It has, as mentioned previously, passed ‘set asides’ that come off the state’s budget. In total, this has hampered the effective production of a budget. But, perhaps more importantly, the requirements for a two-thirds vote to pass many measures means that, in California, we are not longer governed by a majority vote, but by a one-third minority plus one vote! This is tantamount to the anarchy of the Reign of Terror that swept France during the French Revolution.

We have moved away from a representative government that reflects the wishes of the majority to a rule by a minority plus one. Furthermore, the breakdown of the balance of the branches of government has removed the process from a democratic system. In fact, if our elected representatives voted contrary to the wishes of their constituency, they can be voted out of office. However, we have no control over the trashing of the boundaries between the Executive and Legislative branches, so our rights are being violated in much the same way a tyrant would do, as described by Montesquieu. What can we do? Well, according to John Locke’s ‘Social Contract’, when this happens the citizens of a civil society has the right and obligation to REBEL.

What Should Be Done?

The most obvious change would be to go back to a Constitutional system where our elected representatives do the job for which they were elected. This includes both our State Assembly and Senate representatives as well as the Governor. Furthermore, I would suggest that we take the state constitution back to a convention where it would be written to maintain the best features of the initiative process. But one would hope that the new constitution restricts any future amendments to those initiated through the legislature. And, please, let’s be sure that the separation of powers between the different branches of state government is maintained. Perhaps if the voting process was simplified by the removal of the overwhelming number of propositions and initiatives, more voters may actively participate in this key event in a democratic society.

We must always keep the ideals of the ‘Social Contract’ in mind, especially the right of the people to rebel. Let’s see the state leaders have the courage to call the constitutional convention to redo our state government. And let us, as voters, exercise our democratic rights and take an active part in the process. We must return to a democratic rule by the majority, not by allowing a minority of representatives to block legislation. There is hope for a California that will respond positively to this crisis, and maybe we will be stronger by facing these challenges to our democratic, civil society.

[Epilog: I have tried to describe these recommended changes to our California Constitution in general terms. Interestingly enough, the issue of The New Yorker magazine that will come out next Monday, in its commentary section, makes similar suggestions. I arrived at the above conclusions from my study of the two eighteenth century revolutions, not on the article. I do not necessarily endorse the specific proposals indicated in The New Yorker article.]

Copyright©2009 — Gerald L. Boerner — Commercial Rights Reserved

Murdoch moves forward on his assault on free news on the Internet… Will a consortium of newspaper agencies actually come together to start charging for their content on the Internet? Will that be good for the Internet? Can we allow this cutoff of info? Why can’t the publishers find a different model for profiting from their content, like preventing the printing of their content or some other such approach? This is a complex problem; what do you think? Leave a comment…

Paid Content: The Days of the Internet Free Lunch Are Numbered – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International

Media billionaire Rupert Murdoch wants to start charging online readers of his newspapers a fee. His decision has launched a fierce debate over the future of the culture of free content on the Internet. It has also posed a difficult question for publishers: How much are we worth to readers?
Source: www.spiegel.de

Can this photo be saved? We all capture that perfect photo, but have one or more settings on our camera’s incorrectly set. I’ve done that with ISO more than once and got a ‘washed out’ image. This article suggests several ways that might retrieve the image; this is NOT, however, a step-by-step article, but one that suggests alternatives. Read it and try it with one of your own photos and let us know how it works…

How To Save A Washed Out Photo: Blissfully Domestic

-decrease the exposure…
-increase the black point…
-decrease the brightness…
-increase the contrast…
-bump up the saturation (in this instance I bumped it all the way up)…
-use a sepia toned filter-sharpen A LOT…
-for a final added touch I added a gamma vignette…
Source: blissfullydomestic.com

Amazing how a minor event can affect history… Way back when, an Austrian art student’s work was judged harshly by a critical teacher. Later he became the dreaded enemy of the civilized world and had a mania for art work. By virtue of his position, he just took it from their rightful owners! What would have happened if Hitler had become a starving artist? That’s the issue dealt with in this interview. What do you think?

The Führer’s Obsession with Art: ‘Hitler Considered Himself an Artistic Genius’ – SPIEGEL ONLINE – N

Art historian Birgit Schwarz talks to SPIEGEL about why Adolf Hitler saw himself as a genius and how his obsession with art affected his political views…
Source: www.spiegel.de

The eBook debate continues… Sony has come out on the side of using an open format for eBooks that would allow the books to be read on any eBook reader (from any manufacturer). This sounds good, but one needs to look behind the proposal: it keeps DRM and requires the use, at this point, the Adobe Content Server. This becomes another ‘single point of failure’ in the system. What do you think? Let me know with a comment…

Could Sony Open eBook Decision Pressure Amazon?

Tech support, programming, web development, and internet marketing community. Forums to get free computer help and support…
Source: www.daniweb.com

Good news for parents… Well, despite the dire warnings about avoiding this or that, it may be much more difficult to screw up your kids! On the other hand, they may screw themselves up on their own… What do you think? Let us know…

Screwing Up Your Kids May Not Be So Easy After All – Parenting on Shine

Some good news: You have to work pretty darn hard to screw up your kids, a leading expert now says. By Nell Casey The pandemic of parenting terror has become so deeply entrenched in our lives, it is almost taken for granted. It takes the form of…
Source: shine.yahoo.com

by Gerald Boerner

"Never take a picture of anything you are not passionately interested in."
— Lisette Model, Photographer

Bonus Photographer’s Thought for the Day… “This photographic thing has changed the entire vision of the world. It will go through every activity of humanity – science, medicine, space, ESP, for peace, against peace, entertainment, television, movies, all of them – you will not find one without photography.” 
Lisette Model

Lisset Model_san fransisco Lisette Model was an Austrian-born American photographer. She was primarily educated by a series of private tutors, achieving fluency in three languages. At age 19, she began studying music with composer Arnold Schönberg, and was familiar to members of his circle. "If ever in my life I had one teacher and one great influence, it was Schönberg," she said. In 1951, Model was invited to teach at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where her longtime friend Berenice Abbott was also teaching photography. Model’s best known pupil was Diane Arbus, who studied under her in 1957, and Arbus owed much of her early technique to Model’s example. Model continued to teach until her death in New York City in 1983.

Public collections of her work are held at the following institutions:

[Biographical information is from the Wikipedia article on Lisette Model that can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisette_Model ]

by Gerald Boerner

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Bonus Thought for the Day… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were alby l going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

 

Charles_Dickens A Tale of Two Cities: It depicts the plight of the French peasantry under the oppression of the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and a number of unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period (hence the work’s title). It follows the lives of several protagonists through these events.

Much of his work first appeared in periodicals and magazines in serialised form, a favoured way of publishing fiction at the time. Dickens, unlike others who would complete entire novels before serial publication commenced, often wrote his in parts, in the order in which they were meant to appear. The practice lent his stories a particular rhythm, punctuated by one cliffhanger after another to keep the public eager for the next installment. A concern with what he saw as the pressing need for social reforms runs throughout his work.

[Biographical information is from the Wikipedia article on Charles Dickens that can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens ]