The Dirty Little Secret That Destroyed US Politics

PrintbookFinal8Most Americans are sick of hearing about “Polarization in Washington.” Voters are angry, and they demand change. However, neither party has been able to get much accomplished in the past ten years. Cable news channels have built an industry by exploiting the vast and growing gap between Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats as the defining feature of politics in Washington.

What has created this apparent hatred that causes elected officials to refuse cooperation with one another? Pundits, retired officials, and long-time journalists all decry the situation and opine different potential causes. Most agree that the complete failure to cooperate with each other is a relatively new phenomenon. Some blame it on specific events, like the impeachment of President Clinton, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Affordable Care Act, Racial tensions, lies or misleading statements by years of White House occupants.

Others blame ideologies, including more than the simple liberal versus conservative beliefs. There are also libertarian, progressive, evangelical and mainstream voters. Each of these has advocates in Congress.

Though any of the cited issues may have had some part in the destruction of our political system, few people realize that one single event was the major driver of government incompetence. Technically it wasn’t a single one-day event like an election. It was an ongoing process that went under the radar. Very few Americans knew it was happening or understood how it would affect us.

The event, occurring primarily in 2010, was Redistricting. At first view, it seems to be a boring, technical, and benign process, but it created the havoc we see in Washington.

What is redistricting and how does it work?

Redistricting is a process of changing district borders in each state, to compensate for demographic changes. Theoretically, every state examines the borders of each of its districts and may make some changes, every 10 years. Some districts may become larger, some may become smaller, some may maintain the same amount of geography but may change shape. Any of these changes may affect demographics in any district. New district outlines typically reflect changes in population size, area ethnic population, average income level, average age, and (most important) voting registration history.

The change of a district’s shape, therefore, may determine which parties and candidates are most likely to win. Either party may gain or lose, according to the newly included and excluded areas.

A key tactic in changing a district is called gerrymandering. It is a process of making changes, usually for political reasons, that are not logical extensions or reductions. To visualize the result of gerrymandering,  consider a district map that was previously nearly round in shape, and changing it by adding a larger oblong area to the east and subtracting half of its previous boundaries from the west.

Though the redistricting process is supposed to be nonpartisan, it’s different in each state. It is almost impossible to detect specific reasons for many changes, but each party seems to have an overall strategy for affecting changes in each district.

In 2010 redistricting, the Republicans apparently wanted to become dominant in the state legislatures by bringing new winning candidates into many small districts.

Democrat strategy was apparently a combination of two things. One piece was to strengthen the voting majority for existing elected seats in the House. The other was to take advantage of immigration and re-shape districts in which they could grow their base by appealing to minority voters.

Both parties got their wishes. Democrats got firm control of the states with the largest voting populations, like California and New York. They made inroads in Texas and Florida, largely by creating immigrant blocs, though not enough to win electoral majorities.

The Republicans won the majority of the governorships, state legislatures, and congressional seats. To the dismay of their mainstream leaders, however, most of their additions on the congressional  level were aligned with the so-called “Tea Party.” This group now dominates a separate group known as the House Freedom Caucus. Though this group publically defines itself as conservative Republicans, it operates much like a “fifth column,” covertly operating against programs supported by moderate Republicans.

How did those results affect Washington? 

Democrat leaders in the House found themselves in conflict with the so-called “progressives,” composed of disaffected young voters, millennial female voters who don’t subscribe to the traditional Democrat talking points of women’s issues, and followers of Senator Bernie Sanders.

House Republican leaders found themselves between two groups that are virtually irreconcilable: far-right conservatives and moderate mainstream members. Every proposed bill is either too conservative or too expensive for one group or the other.

The overall result is that few bills can move through the House since a majority vote depends on support from progressives, mainstream Democrats, far right Freedom Caucus members, and mainstream Republicans.

In the Senate, these splits haven’t had as much of an effect as in the House, because senators are elected for six-year terms, while House members serve only two-year terms before a turnover can take place. If advocates of term limits succeed, however, the Senate will soon face conflicts with newly elected members. 

The Ugliest Result of Redistricting

Finding themselves unable to pass meaningful legislation, both parties have fallen back to name-calling, negative hyperbole, anonymous leaks to the media, and other tactics to block success by either party. This is likely to go on, until the rise of a third party, or the virtual death of one of the existing two.

The press and pundit narrative of “parties that just don’t like each other” is false. Most honest lawmakers would like the situation to change. Some thought that election of a well-liked President might lead to compromise. But we haven’t had a universally liked President since the 1960s.

Are We At War With Ourselves?

Though this article reports numerous ugly statements and inappropriate actions by mass media, political parties, and social media posters, please note that the author of this article is a middle-road Independent with no affiliation or party preference. Negative remarks about President Trump, his opponents, and his critics, are results of public statements, for which this article has no partisan bias.

FullFinal-TVTW071016America has entered a new era that may be more dangerous than anything this country has experienced since the Civil War.

Following the election in 2016, we have had millions of people in bitter conflict with each other. Though most of the conflict thus far has been in social media, mass media, and political venues, we have seen a few ugly street clashes and destruction on college campuses. Unlike political fights of the past, however, the fight seems to intensify and is becoming more violent and hateful.

Of course, our country has had social conflicts before. The anti-war battles of the 1960s and 1970s are good examples, as are the African-American Civil Rights struggles of the mid-1950s and 1960s. Though there were millions of people on both sides of these movements, these fights were different from today’s conflict in one extremely significant way: insurgents in both of these battles were fighting for specific, concrete goals.

The anti-war movement fought to end the Vietnam War. When the war ended in 1973, the angry energy died down. Similarly, the Civil Rights activists fought for specific things: the end of segregation in schools and restaurants, voting rights for people of all races, the end of racial violence, and admission to all-white universities. Once they had achieved these objectives or at least had made significant progress, the violence subsided, and the movement moved to the courts and politics.

Many other protest movements had no clear goals and therefore only mustered luke warm energy. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement involved millions nationwide but had no leadership and no tangible objectives that middle-Americans could embrace. The movement, therefore, collapsed of its own weight.

The conflict we see today is a new kind of beast. Though political conflict typically has the Far-Left on one side opposing the Far-Right, the bitterness today is not only a political skirmish between Democrats and Republicans. There are splits in both parties. Conservatives fight with mainstream Republicans, and Progressive Democrats on the left remain furious with their party’s leadership and behind-the-scene operatives.

Nasty rhetoric began in the months before the November election, but when Donald Trump became President-Elect, opposition voices became more strident than at any time in recent history. Traditionally, new presidents have a so-called “honeymoon period,” in which mass media and opposition leaders permit the new Chief Executive to begin an administration free of bare-knuckle politics. Most new presidents have three to six months of this respectful courtesy. The honeymoon for President Obama was even longer. President Trump received no such courtesy period. In fact, the bombast against him began during the transition between administrations, long before his inauguration.

Many statements by leaders of the opposition party continuously use name-calling and false narratives with language and depth far worse than we have ever seen. Recently, a long-time Congressional Representative referred to the entire Trump cabinet as “a bunch of scumbags.” Other leaders have loudly called for the impeachment of the President. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of any offenses, other than Mr. Trump’s often annoying statements and tweets, his opponents continue to make nonsensical claims.

How did this fighting develop and continue to grow?

Though this unprecedented bitterness has several different causes, the growth of social media may be its strongest driver. Since President Obama’s victory in 2008, the number of social media users has nearly tripled. Moreover, President Trump’s highly publicized Tweets may have attracted more people to express themselves through this medium. Social media messaging has gained credibility with some people, especially people in the age range designated as ‘millennials.’ Though there is no way to measure this effect, social media users now seem to post or repost statements without any reliable source. In many cases, they admittedly “make stuff up” to fit a narrative, without concern for fact-checking of any kind.

More troubling is the new practice of media reporters—the internet, print, and cable news—to use social media, especially tweets, as support for a so-called news story. With so many different voices adding themselves to the fray, misinformation often takes on an aura of truth and becomes used as proof statements.

Whether antagonistic remarks are from political leaders, media opinions or whimsical social media posts, Americans read them, or hear them from others and repeat them, often augmenting them or using them out of context. Since they typically come from one side attacking the other, the aggrieved side fires back with equally irrational statements.

Why this war from within threatens America

Leaders of every country in the world follow internet reports and form opinions and strategies based on their analyses of America’s strength. Watching our current turmoil, our friends and allies may view the US as being out of control, and view American leadership with great skepticism. Our enemies may see our exaggerated conflicts as an opportunity to ignore America and continue policies that hurt our economy and safety.

For example, opponents of the President have nurtured a storyline that the Trump campaign plotted with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump win the presidency. The so-called ‘proof’ of this story, is that candidate Trump stated in his election campaign that America might benefit from an improved relationship with Russia. Opponents add that Trump hired a campaign advisor for two or three months who once had consulted with the government of Ukraine.  Ukraine, of course, considers Russia to be an enemy of their country. A consultancy relationship with Ukraine has no bearing on a US relationship with Russia. Further, the former US  Director of National Intelligence has stated that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collaboration of any kind. Nevertheless, Congressional leaders have kept this allegation alive and begun investigations in multiple committees. Stories like this one shake the confidence that our allies have in American leadership.

Domestically, we will soon have an environment of lawmakers who are unable to vote for or against any issue unless it is supported by a majority of the combatants in their states and districts. This will result in leaders who are unable to lead, in a gridlock that leaves individual Americans suffering in anger.

How can we end this foolish quagmire?

All Americans have the right of free speech, guaranteed by the Constitution. Nevertheless, our leaders and mass media writers have the tools to tamp down rhetoric that makes America look foolish to the rest of the world.

Though social media enhances the viciousness, the White House, Congress, and the mass media are the original sources of it. Following are some recommendations on steps these leaders must take lower the public temperature and create a positive national direction.

Recommendation One: President Trump should limit his Twitter tweets to issues of policy, or significant announcements. Criticism of celebrities and argumentative dialog with critics add fuel to the ongoing fires.

Recommendation Two: The White House should create private dialog sessions with all leadership groups, especially opponents and media leaders. All discussions should be kept confidential. Leaders need to work together to create ground rules for public statements. Ground rules must have mutual agreement and benefit to all parties. This approach will not muzzle anyone from speaking out on their opinions on policy. But it can depressurize the nastiness that has overtaken the country.

Recommendation Three: Unless new bills are likely to become future election issues, leaders of both parties should meet together privately to identify common ground. If possible, they should agree to limit public disagreement to policy issues. Regardless of the gulf between the parties, they should ‘sell’ their viewpoints without personal attacks or implying wrongdoing by the opposition.

Recommendation Four: The White House needs to reach out to the press, to create ground rules to benefit all parties. The President needs to speak with media executives privately and negotiate. Both sides in this kind of dialog have items with which to negotiate. For example, The President can eliminate statements about “fake news” and charges of lying. The White House can offer greater access in exchange for confidentiality. Media leaders can offer advance notification of stories to advise the Whitehouse of major negative stories.

Memo to the White House and Congressional staffers: The foregoing recommendations are seen through the eyes of an outsider. You may have better approaches. If so, we look forward to your success in changing the status quo. You have a responsibility to fix the chaos that is tearing the country apart. It’s not important to select the perfect plan. What’s important is making the plan work.

Memo to Mass Media:  Words matter. Careless words often matter more. Please tell the truth.

“To borrow from the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.’” — Aldous Huxley

 

 

Here’s How the Press Can Regain Its Mojo

Most Americans believe that honest, trustworthy news media is important to keep watch on our government. Nevertheless, poll numbers show a starkly negative picture:FullFinal-TVTW071016

 Only 32% say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media

*  Only 14% of Republicans express trust in the media 

The mass media industry can change, however, and it must.

 

Here is an open letter to all members of “the Fourth Estate,” with some suggestions for transformation.

——————–

Dear ladies and gentlemen of the mass media,

This is a sincere message to you, to recommend a positive path forward. It’s not a letter of complaint. You can get that from thousands of other sources. However, the world needs you to return to your historical position of thought leadership and integrity, as a counterbalance to a political world that has lost its way.

Most of the necessary changes needed must begin with print media. Print media perform most of the heavy lifting, finding and reporting the real news. Cable news and Internet news pages copy most of their material from print publications and make a fortune in the process.This one-way relationship requires change.

Recommendation One: Your first step should be to unite the top ten print publications into an agreement to permanently separate straight news from opinion columns. Many readers resent so-called “news stories” that mix a writer’s personal opinions with actual news reporting. Each publication can print a robust opinion page or even an entire opinion section. Nevertheless, readers want to understand the news without integrated lecturing. If and when the top ten (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc.) adhere to this change, most lesser publications will follow. Those who do not will lose subscribers. Cable news channels—most of whom broadcast stories already reported by print media sources—will transform themselves out of necessity. If the top ten publications unite to announce this policy change, they will bolster the reputation of print media within a few months.

Recommendation Two: Media industry leaders should create a new organizational consortium to deliver high-integrity news, somewhat like AP but executed by temporary one-year assignments of senior reporters covering a full spectrum of worldwide information. Assigned reporters would be equally balanced by political ideology. Over time, readers would gravitate to stories from this group, because they would trust the stories as written.

 Recommendation Three: Media companies need to minimize the free use of their work-product by Internet news providers. The free use of material between mass media and Internet news providers like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook evolved from the early 1990s when “more eyeballs” seemed to grow circulation. But the internet turned out to be a competitor and caused massive circulation losses. Media organizations need to work together to treat internet news pages as friendly competitors. One way would be for all of the top news providers to copyright their posted material and charge a small usage fee for each story used. Sites that refused to pay for usage would be legally required to pay court-ordered damages. The content-creation companies could share materials without paying royalties if they operated together as a consortium. Readers could visit the actual sites for each content provider for free.

Mass media companies, as experienced members of your industry, might have better ideas than my recommendations. If so, please implement them ASAP. Operating in today’s status quo environment damages America, and continues to diminish your previously authoritative reporting.

Most Americans are on your side. Are you on our side?

What Did We Learn About the Media Before and After Trump’s Election

A humorous fictional tale passed around the Net claims that Donald Trump hosts Pope Francis on his yacht on a windy day. While the yacht is still docked, a strong wind gust blows the Pope’s zucchetto (skullcap) into the water. Though the Pope’s entourage stares in shock, Trump climbs down the waterside ladder, walks about 30 feet across the water, and retrieves the cap. He then walks back across the water, climbs the ladder and returns the cap to the Pontiff. Even the media reporters are awed at Trump’s feat.

 An hour later, a New York Times reporter tweets, “Trump Can’t Swim.”

(To be fair, a Conservative reporter might tweet, “Pope Praises Trump as his Savior.”)

FullFinal-TVTW071016Unfortunately, this joke’s punchline about the NYT proves the saying that “Many a true word is spoken in jest.” Once famous for the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” the NYT has chosen, “All the News that Fits Our Political Narrative.” The New York Post and the Washington Times, their conservative political opposites, are equally biased.

With a month of the Trump administration now behind us, journalists, pundits and politicians attempt to sound authoritative about “What Just Happened.” Whether their narratives are right or wrong, they all miss the most important point:

The entire media industry has lost its way. Whether they have a right or left ideology, TV news and print media are no longer information sources trusted by Americans.

  • Reporters, from both the left and right, view events or hear about them through the closed “echo chamber,” then distort them, sometimes unconsciously.
  • Within an hour of any politician’s remarks, millions of people believe and repeat egregious distortions and outright lies passed through social media.
  • To headline-only readers accustomed to stories of 140 characters or less, the headline becomes the defacto truth. However, headlines and broadcast teleprompter lead-ins often differ from the reported story.

Some examples:

In a real world story, millions of people watched and heard Trump reference Mexicans, seeming to say “they are rapists.” It was a horrible, careless, statement, and many opined that it should end his campaign. Though the statement was thoughtless and inartful, his meaning wasn’t as reported. Apparently, reporters couldn’t or wouldn’t differentiate between the words “their” and “they’re.”

The quote was taken out of context. Trump was speaking about the Mexican government, stating that “they’re sending us (their) illegal immigrants, (their) drugs, (their) crime, and (their) rapists. Admittedly, the parenthetical words were unsaid. It was a cringe-worthy moment. Speaking in his unscripted style, he seemed to realize how bad that sounded. So Trump tried to recover by saying, “And some, I assume, are good people.” That non-sequitur wasn’t helpful.

One terrible error like that would be more or less forgotten. But social media magically transformed that scrap of nonsense into, “Trump is a racist.” The word racist is extremely powerful in our country, as we continually struggle with problems of racism. Obviously, calling a politician a racist is as damning to the voting public as calling him a “child predator.” Despite many distasteful remarks by Trump, there is no evidence of his being a racist.

In the most atrocious moment of his campaign, Trump had to confront a lewd hot-mic moment from eleven years ago, “yukking it up” with Billy Bush in comments about women. He apologized publically, calling his remarks about groping women’s private parts while embracing them, “locker-room talk.” Most men laughed at that because locker-rooms are public places filled with strangers, and sometimes, media people. It was more like barroom bragging, though Trump doesn’t drink. Every male over fifteen has heard that kind of talk, usually from men with ego problems who need to tell someone about their conquests. Most men dismiss boasts like these as being untrue. Moreover, they believe that it’s foolish to “kiss-and-tell.”

Nevertheless, reporters pushed it across social media, then printed and broadcasted salacious versions. Within hours, people were calling Trump “sexual predator,” and “rapist.”  This is the result of a culture that often cannot tell the difference between manipulative sensationalism and the simple truth. Media people competing for readers and viewers instead of carefully reporting facts enhance the stories as a way of creating interest.

Hillary Clinton also suffered from distortions and egregious lies on occasion. The public heard that she had a terminal disease, which was totally untrue. Many people wrote or stated that she was under indictment and would be jailed, also untrue. And they heard a flood of untrue statements claiming that her two closest aides, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills were under investigation for criminal activities.

Clinton, however, was not as exposed to outrageous stories as Trump, because her campaign included virtually no unscripted speaking opportunities and far fewer prime-time debate appearances than Trump.

What is the role of individual media people in perpetuating misinformation like this? Despite Trump’s angry remarks charging the media with “fake news,” reporters commit errors and distortions in more subtle ways. One of these is by word choice. When a politician criticizes someone, some reports will choose “eviscerates,” “blasts,” or “destroys.” When someone charges that a statement made by an opponent is incorrect, reporters may call the challenge “exposing a lie.”

Print journalists make themselves the sole judges of a story’s importance by choosing the page for placement; positioning the story high or low on the page; choosing the number of columns the story gets; and the size of the headline type. If a headline like “Hillary Clinton is Under Indictment,” appeared in Section Two, Page 23, of the New York Times, with a single column, and 24-point headline, few readers would care about it. But the identical story with a front-page banner headline would be earth-shattering.

Similarly, cable news can take a headline story like “Trump has Russian ties,” and lead with it while playing “B-Roll” videos in the background. They can tease viewers with the story at station breaks, and repeat it on every news show throughout the day. Twenty-five-year-old backroom producers can make these decisions, even if they have no background information or training to prove or disprove the basic story.

How did all of this misinformation happen? The simple answer is that all professional media companies face crushing competition with social media and internet news pages that offer their information free to all. The result of this is a need for all news organizations to slash costs and field far fewer professional reporters. These smaller staffs can’t cover all of the stories on any given day. So they copy from each other, change their leads, revise some of the wording, and claim the story as original reporting.  Reporters can be so desperate to meet deadlines that they will make a few random tweets into a story that is entirely baseless.

How can the media resolve these issues? We’ll discuss that in our next article.

The Democratic Party Isn’t Dead But Desperately Needs New Medicine

(Author’s note:  America needs a two-party system, with equal power and participation for both parties. Though this non-partisan article portrays a negative view of the Democrat Party’s current state, it presents the factual disarray with a roadmap for positive change to regain the party’s historical national leadership.)

The last few political years have not been good for Democrats, and Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election is only the latest symptom of a rudderless ship making little or no progress.

FullFinalRepublicans now control the Senate and the House of Representatives. Only 17 states have Democrat governors. Only 13 state legislatures have Democrat majorities.

Although Democratic President Barrack Obama held the presidency for eight years, his personal popularity and a highly favorable media treatment couldn’t stop a slow-but-steady Democrat descent that began long before Obama’s wins. The president had strong support from minorities and young voters. But that support was his alone, and could not transfer to the remainder of the party. Though the hapless leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schultz was part of the Democrat problems, electing a new DNC chair will provide only a tiny uptick.

THE GOOD NEWS FOR DEMOCRATS: THE PARTY CAN STILL CHANGE AND REGAIN MOMENTUM.

The keyword is “change.” The party needs different strategies and different leadership voices.

Democrat leaders need to reposition two or three of their loudest and most embarrassing voices to the ‘back row’ of the caucus. Though people like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Maxine Waters may be effective lawmakers, they are unappealing to the electorate at large. Ms. Pelosi is 76 years old. Mr. Schumer is 66. Ms. Waters is 78. Pelosi has a net worth of more than $70-million. Waters’ net worth is around $5-million, and Schumer is also wealthy, at a bit under $1-million. How can such wealthy senior citizens relate to a Democratic constituency of youth and mainstream workers struggling to pay bills every month?

Strategically, the Democrats have limited their leadership to bashing Donald Trump, just as they bashed Bush 43 and every other Republican they could vilify through identity politics. Though these tactics may energize marginal social media hate-mongers, this strategy turns off moderates and mainstream voters in both parties.

THE PRESCRIPTION

A much stronger way to strengthen Democrat positioning is to get out in front of Donald Trump’s agenda.

  • Stop screaming about Trump’s wall, and come up with a better plan to enforce our borders. You can include e-verify, state-of-the-art electronic detection, drones, increased manpower, and programs to punish employers who hire immigrants without specific licensing. (This can be far more effective than Trump’s wall since it can also be designed to track the estimated 40 percent of illegal immigrants who overstay their visas.
  • Instead of trying to block the inevitable repeal of Obamacare, promote a Democrat program for “Obamacare II.” Write a plan that keeps the framework and theoretically fixes all of the problems. Include a single payer option that will have lower drug prices, that the party negotiates with the pharmaceutical companies. (Remember, Democrats. You don’t have to implement anything. You only have to promote it. Even if it never comes to pass, this program will raise the party’s positive visibility.)
  • Enhance Medicare, and eliminate Republican plans for a voucher system by the following strategies:
    • Fund and implement an FBI task force to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse, thereby lowering Medicare costs.
    • Sponsor and enforce “tort reform” to lower costs for malpractice insurance for hospitals and individual doctors.
    • Implement means testing so that high-income people only qualify for Medicare for catastrophic illness or injury. Negotiate lower drug prices, and lower costs for high-priced diagnostic equipment.

By promoting effective programs that are more attractive than Trump’s, the party can reclaim middle-class voters and begin winning local races all over the country.

And one more thing. Plan strategies to be promoted on a micro-target basis. Don’t fool yourselves into believing that nationwide poll numbers indicate uniform support. The overwhelming population numbers in California, and New York, along with Washington DC influence can make bad ideas seem supportable. Microtargeting can optimize support in Omaha, Madison, and Jacksonville while maintaining the support of the large Democratic masses on the coasts.

 

How Do Congressional Reps and Senators Become Rich?

US Senators and Congressional Representatives commonly refer to their positions as “Public Service.” Perhaps the annual salaries of $174,000 for Senators and Representatives may seem to be self-sacrificing to them, but a deeper dig tells a different story.

Congress is a club composed of millionaires. The average net worth of our 535 lawmakers is $1,000,000. To be fair, that is a statistical average. A few Senators and Representatives arrive in Washington as wealthy people who have earned or inherited their fortunes before assuming office. And a few, at the other end of the income spectrum, are still paying college loans. But most stay in Congress for multiple terms and become millionaires.

A more interesting statistic, however, is the average annual growth rate of a lawmaker’s net worth. Regardless of their starting level, how much does his or her net worth grow per year? Does it grow at the same rate as the rest of the country?

The average American citizen saw his or her household net worth decrease from 2004 to 2012 at about one percent a year. Meanwhile, members of Congress experienced an annual net worth increase every year. While the net worth of most Americans shrank the net worth of Congressional members increased by more than 25 percent for the same period.

FullFinal-TVTW071016For the top 20 members of the “Congressional Millionaires Club,” the increases were much sharper. They ranged from a net worth increase of 93 percent a year to 1,707 percent a year. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) had a much higher percentage of net worth growth, at more than 73,000 percent. Congressional statistics exclude her annual net worth increase because it resulted from a multi-year marital settlement. Also excluded are increases in the value of homes and other non-investment real estate.

No matter how we position the statistics, nearly all members of congress significantly increase their net worth during every year that they serve. The increases are usually much more than they could save or have invested for them at an annual salary of $174,000. For example, a congressional member with a net worth of $1,000,000 will have an average increase of nearly $16,000 a year after taxes. So an average senator who serves two terms will increase his or her net worth by $192,000 while serving. Some, however, accumulate an increase of $1,000,000 or more during their multiple terms.

What is the source of that additional wealth? Required public disclosure forms don’t answer the question. Until recently, a legal loophole provided Congressional members immunity from “insider trading” laws. For example, they might be privy to information unknown outside of government circles that would impact the stock markets. Examples might include an impending decision that would crush a company’s stock values or accelerate them based on a huge defense contract funded or canceled.

Sixty Minutes investigated this practice and showed how Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had profited by $100,000 on one stock transaction. This was based on her advanced knowledge of a change in banking laws. Ms. Pelosi and her husband also profited from eight IPOs that year, based on inside information. The Minority Leader is among the richest members of Congress. Her estimated net worth of approximately $58 million makes her the twelfth wealthiest member of the “millionaires club.

Generally speaking, members of Congress use devices like “blind trusts” to eliminate conflicts of interest. However, laws in this area appear to be open to interpretation. The wide range of Congressional member contacts with outsiders—especially lobbyists and their staffs—makes it impossible for potential investigators to follow thousands of communications threads.

Moreover, there are many ways for a Congressional member to help people who are willing to pay handsomely. And there are many ways to pay for favors, without money directly changing hands. For example, the sensitive information mentioned casually to a friend or relative may be repeated to a “blind trust” administrator. If the information isn’t classified by a government agency, those conversations may not break any laws.

Few Americans know or care about these practices. They don’t respect Congress, because of many other things, such as failure to improve economic conditions or broken promises. The “Congressional Millionaires Club” depends on voter apathy to hold onto its seats.

When we vote for a new member of Congress, we seldom if ever elect the mythical, hard-working champion of the people we expect. In fact, Congressional members don’t work full-time. They are usually in session less than four days a week. Moreover, they take numerous long breaks, bringing the average number of days in session per year to 139. Stated another way, Congress is idle for 226 days a year. If we don’t count the usual 104 weekend days, and 11 national holidays, Congressional members still have an additional 111 days off or about 20 weeks of free time. Every sixth year, Senators use some of that time running for re-election. Representatives must run every second year of their term. Most members miss additional weeks of in-session work to attend to this electioneering.

In addition, many junior Senators and Representatives spend more than half of their time, “dialing for dollars.” Administrators from both parties escort these members to non-government locations, from which they must perform telemarketing to lists of potential donors they don’t know. House and Senate leaders support the parties in ensuring that members meet their time, call volume, and donation quotas. If members rebel, they risk the loss of their committee positions and party funding and support for their next campaigns.

Many concerned Americans believe that the answer to improving the performance of Congress is to impose term limits. Perhaps term limits would force some Congressional members to be more productive. Nevertheless, these institutions require a major overhaul. Conscientious media people should expose the process. And frustrated voters should demand reforms.

Do Leaders in Washington Understand Cyberwar Technology?

How important is technical knowledge to leaders running our country? In a world in which future threats will probably include cyber warfare, America’s civilian government must understand the fast-developing weapons of technology. As the President-Elect fills his cabinet and advisory posts, technology depth is mandatory in most areas.

Along with Department of Defense, senior staffs of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, Transportation, FEMA, FBI, and CIA must be people who intimately understand the language and concepts of technology. These are the people who can effectively recommend and execute options available to the President in defending us against a huge array of cyber attack methods.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Most Americans know little about cyber warfare, and the news media seems to understand very little of the imminent dangers it portends. Most news stories conflate loosely related stories of computer hacking by Russia or China with cyber warfare.

Though malicious hacking may result in stolen information, it doesn’t destroy aircraft, kill or disrupt the lives of millions of civilians, or permanently cripple whole economies. Cyber warfare can do such things without warning. That means that our top decision makers must immediately understand the recommendations of technical people to respond to any specific disaster.

It also reveals that many of the most prominent political people in government are unqualified to serve in cabinet-level positions.

In the past 50 years, technology development has changed every aspect of American life. And as America changes, much of the rest of the world changes with us. Moreover, the rate of change continues to accelerate. If anyone hasn’t grown up understanding basic technology terminology, he or she is unlikely to ever catch up without undergoing a year or more of intensive training.

This breathtaking rate of development means that most people who are 45 or older do not have a background that would enable them to understand cyberwar, robotics, or other technology areas that require decisions from the highest government levels that affect our entire population. Of course, older people who have worked in IT and technology companies or have had engineering backgrounds can be effective at any age. But for the 90 percent who haven’t had those backgrounds, it’s very difficult to participate if they weren’t students in 1990 or later.

Democrats and Republicans together had 22 candidates in the 2016 Presidential primaries. The youngest, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are both 46. Both are lawyers with no apparent technical background. All other candidates were at least 50, with most in their 60s or older. The only candidate with a technology background was Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Looking at the Congress, the average age of House members is 57. The average age of Senators is 61. Of 100 Senators, 51 are lawyers, and 25 are from academia. Of 435 House members, 151 are lawyers and 80 are from academia. Others are primarily doctors, school teachers, business owners, former mayors, and pastors.

Senate and House members with technology backgrounds consist of one physicist, one microbiologist, one chemist, and seven engineers in the House. In the Senate, one member is an engineer.

Obviously, our most visible and vocal candidates for the President-Elect’s cabinet and advisory posts lack the technical background to serve in many of the key positions. A Secretary of Defense, for example, must understand the technical complexities of Cyber Warfare. Remarks made in debates and media interviews indicated that most of our senior lawmakers and governors do not know anything whatsoever about Cyber Warfare. They use a few keywords, but embarrass themselves by using them inappropriately. Though they have probably had access to confidential briefings explaining some of the vast complexities of Cyber Warfare lawmakers and senior government managers typically send staff members to such presentations.

The President-Elect’s nomination of three retired generals—General Flynn, General Mattis, and General Kelly—seems to be appropriate and smart. Many of today’s senior officers are graduates of one of the three military academies, which are engineering schools along with their military curricula. Throughout their careers, senior officers receive assignments to military universities like the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Naval War College, and the US Army War College. These institutions combine technology with group assignments to apply weaponry with strategic planning. Generals from allied countries often attend to provide additional insights.

We will undoubtedly see other military people nominated, along with technically competent business people. Future administrations should not consider the usual candidates—political allies, campaign donors, and lobbyists—unless they have the requisite tech knowledge.