The interests of the federal government and that of communities, cities and states should not be at odds. They don't have to be. But they certainly are and will remain so until we discover that what truly brings us together is not Washington or who occupies the White House but the infinite small republics - as Thomas Jefferson called them - across the land of common hopes, values and frustrations, and which can learn to share these with each other in such a way that even those at he top will have to listen. And then, maybe, we can even change the nature of the oligarchy, but at worst we will have helped keep our own small republics free even in the midst of a collapsing republic. Sam Smith







A 2012 study commissioned by the Institute for Local Self Reliance found that 48 percent of the revenue spent in businesses is recirculated through the economy, compared with 14 percent of the money spent at chain retailers


Why insisting on federal control of government is masochistic

Bringing back the devolutionary left
Bringing politics home
Building little republics in a failing empire






















Sam Smith

What works so well in the manufacture of a Ford Taurus -- efficiency of scale and mass production -- fails to work in social policy because, unlike a Taurus, humans think, cry, love, get distracted, criticize, worry or don't give a shit. Yet we keep acting as though such traits don't exist or don't matter. We have come to accept the notion that the enormous institutions of government, media, industry and academia are natural to the human condition and then wonder why they don't work better than they do. In fact, as ecological planner Ernest Callenbach pointed out, "we are medium-sized animals who naturally live in small groups -- perhaps 20 or so -- as opposed to bees or antelopes who live in very large groups. When managers or generals or architects force us into large groups, we speedily try to break them down into sub-units of comfortable size."

All of our systems appear to be on steroids. And like the drugged athlete, nature eventually pulls the plug. The institutions that have imposed a tyranny of size upon us not only fail to accomplish what they set out to do but are themselves disintegrating.





Progressive Review


Local democracy


Memo to a new mayor

Department of Good Stuff: Local Progress


Building self-sustaining communities

States and cities attempting to bring back democracy

Buy pays off

Albuquerque Journal - Independent businesses in communities that have “buy ” campaigns saw revenues grow by 7 percent in 2013, triple the growth rate of businesses in areas without such efforts, a new study says.The revenue growth rate for businesses in areas without “buy ” efforts was 2.3 percent, said the study by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance.The study also found that 75 percent of businesses in areas with “buy ” efforts reported increased customer traffic because of those initiatives.“Independent businesses are making huge strides when it comes to communicating their value and building community support and help,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The money battle has to go

Take back Chicago campaign

The world's most liberal city

Urban agriculture spreading

In Seattle you can invest, as well as buy,

Subsidiarity: A word for now

Buy drive helping independent businesses

The : where the action is

The town meeting comes back to New York City

Right and left join to fight developer seizure of property

Study finds businesses better for economy

The virtues of government decentralization

Federal abuse of National Guard leaves Vermont without rescue helicopters

Good things one town did and others can do

125 communities take on corporate personhood

Local business spurs growth

Vermont considering its own healthcare plan

Democrats trying to create two states out of Arizona










Sam Smith

Rasmussen Reports has come out with a fascinating poll that goes a long way to explaining why not only liberals are doing so badly, but the left in general, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Here's what the poll found:

- Forty-three percent of U.S. voters rate the performance of their government as tops compared to its counterparts on the state and federal level.

- Nineteen percent say state government is better than the other two.

- Just 14% think the federal government does a better job.

- And 25% aren't sure.

- Fifty-six percent of all voters believe the federal government has too much influence over state government. Only 12% percent say the federal government doesn't have enough influence over states, and another 26% say the balance is about right.

This is a huge matter that Democrats don't even discuss and which helps to create the sort of popular anger that has developed over the past year. Nearly two thirds of the voters think state and governments are better than the federal version.

There are two ironies in this:

- The Democrats could do everything they should be doing - only far better - if they paid more attention to the level and manner in which it is done.

- Those expressing outrage at what the Democrats are doing think the level and manner determines its underlying virtue and thus end up opposing programs that would serve them well. They are being easily manipulated into illusions such as that national healthcare is a bad idea. And so they serve the interests of the very centralized authority they think they are opposing.

Neither side seems able to separate the question of what needs to be done from who should, and how to, do it. The liberals think it can only be done at the federal level and because they don't like that idea, conservatives think it shouldn't be done at all.

As a devolutionary progressive, this is something I have been dealing with for decades. If you don't think the devolution of power is alien to liberal thinking, just try advocating it. It's been pretty much a dead end.

And it's not just traditional liberals. My fellow Green Party members - heavily decentralist in many ways - fail to see the possibility for new alliances with others if the devolutionary principle was raised in a more visible and universal fashion. Similarly, ism is quite popular among environmentalists, but it only seems to apply to growing food and not to saving democracy.

And now we have a Democratic president who has, in one short year, managed to mangle two of the issues his party used to be good at - heath care and reviving the economy - in no small part because of an assumption that he and his grad school retinue are far better equipped to decide how to do it all than, say, the mayor of Cleveland or the governor and state legislature of Montana.

The end result is that his programs fail and the policies behind get a bad name.

How much saner it would be to recognize the desire of people to share not only in the benefits, but the exercise, of power and adjust one's policies to reflect this.

The point here is not to argue any particular solution, but to say that the ever increasing centralization of decisions at the federal level - thanks to both major parties - is a fundamental cause of both our problems and the anger about them.

As I wrote some time back, "What works so well in the manufacture of a Ford Taurus -- efficiency of scale and mass production -- fails to work in social policy because, unlike a Taurus, humans think, cry, love, get distracted, criticize, worry or don't give a shit. Yet we keep acting as though such traits don't exist or don't matter. We have come to accept the notion that the enormous institutions of government, media, industry and academia are natural to the human condition and then wonder why they don't work better than they do. In fact, as ecological planner Ernest Callenbach pointed out, 'we are medium-sized animals who naturally live in small groups -- perhaps 20 or so -- as opposed to bees or antelopes who live in very large groups. When managers or generals or architects force us into large groups, we speedily try to break them down into sub-units of comfortable size.'"

It's time for liberals and progressives to bring their politics down to the 'hood. They'd be surprised at the friends they would make.







Social Issues Research Center - In the late 1930s Tom Harrisson and his colleagues at the Mass-Observation Unit conducted what is probably the earliest, and certainly the most extensive, study of pub-going. The team of social anthropologists did little else for nearly two years but sit in pubs and observe the complex rituals of behaviour that subtly underlie everyday life in the . . .

Harrisson and his colleagues showed [clearly that] the pub as a British institution towered over its rivals for attention, commitment and, indeed, 'donations': "Of the social institutions that mould men's lives between home and work in an industrial town, such as Worktown, the pub has more buildings, holds more people, takes more of their money, than church, cinema, dance hall, and political organizations put together."

Today, little in reality has changed. There may now be rather fewer pubs in relation to the population and many certainly look rather different from the vaults and taprooms of old. But . . . the pub retains its unique position in British society, and for much the same reasons as in Harrisson's day. As he noted then, it is "the only kind of public building used by large numbers of ordinary people where their thoughts and actions are not being in some way arranged for them; in the other kinds of public building they are the audiences, watchers of political, religious, dramatic, cinematic, instructional or athletic spectacles. But within the four walls of the pub, once a man has bought or been bought his glass of beer, he has entered an environment in which he is a participator rather than a spectator.". . .

The special features of the - the layout, the decor, the music in some cases, the games, the etiquette and ritual practices and, of course, the drinking - are all designed to promote positive social interaction, reciprocity and sharing. In this sense the British pub has much in common with dedicated drinking places in other parts of the world. In Austrian lokals, for example, the anthropologist Thomas Thornton observed that "intimate social groups. . . come into being there, even if only to last the night. Benches surround the tables, forcing physical intimacy between customers. Small groups of twos or threes who find themselves at the same or adjoining tables often make friends with their neighbours and share wine, schnapps, jokes and game-playing the rest of the evening."

In almost all drinking-places, in almost all cultures, the unwritten laws and customs involve some form of reciprocal drink-buying or sharing of drinks. This practice has been documented in drinking-places from modern, urban Japan and America and rural Spain and France to remote traditional societies in Africa and South America and has long been recognized by anthropologists, sociologists and even zoologists - so fundamental is this practice to the survival of any social species. . .

The British pub, like its 'foreign' counterparts, meets timeless and global human needs - that is why it survives and will continue to do so despite the many other opportunities we have for 'joining' and for networking. We may sign up to an online community to communicate with like-minded people who share our interests across the globe, or we may reveal selected aspects of ourselves on Facebook. These are, however, 'non-' by definition. They are what the late urban planner Melvin Webber, predicting over thirty years ago the internet trends that we witness today, called 'community without propinquity'. They are, in a very significant sense, different. They may extend our social and professional lives and allow much wider patterns of interaction, but they do not replace the more traditional and timeless face-to-face activities that take place in the special social institutions created to facilitate them - central among them, the pub.


Bldg Blog - Baarle-Hertog borders the Netherlands - but, because of its unique history of political division, the town is sort of marbled with competing national loyalties. In other words, pockets of the town are Dutch; most of the town is Belgian. You can thus wander from country to country on an afternoon stroll. . .

Wikipedia Apart from the main piece (called Zondereigen) located north of the Belgian town of Merksplas, there are twenty Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands and three other pieces on the Dutch-Belgian border. There are also seven Dutch exclaves within the Belgian exclaves.

The border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. There was a time when according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side.

Sarah Laitner, at the Financial Times, adds that "women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth." Another website, apparently drawing from the Michelin Guide to the Netherlands, explains the origins of Baarle-Hertog's bizarre geography: it can all be traced back to the 12th century, it seems, when the town was first divided. The northern half of the town became part of the Barony of Breda (later home to the Nassau family), and the southern half went to the Duke of Brabant (Hertog means Duke in Dutch). But that same website also mentions this:

"The municipality limits are very complicated. Nowadays, each municipality has its city hall, church, police, school and post office. The houses of the two nationalities are totally mixed. They are identified by the shield bearing their number: the national flag is included on it.". . .

While we're on the subject of micro-sovereignties, though, be sure to check out Neutral Moresnet, a tiny, politically independent non-state formed around a zinc mining operation in eastern Belgium. There's also Cospaia, "a small former republic in Italy" which "unexpectedly gained independence in 1440" after Pope Eugene IV sold the land it stood on. "By error," we read, "a small strip of land went unmentioned in the sale treaty, and its inhabitants promptly declared themselves independent." The Free State Bottleneck, Åland Islands, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are all also worth checking out.


MARK K. MATTHEWS, STATELINE - Maine may not have a seat at the United Nations, but its state lawmakers are dealing with Caracas, Havana and Khartoum as if those foreign capitals were nearby Boston. In the past few months, Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) has engineered a controversial oil deal with Venezuela, met with maligned Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and supported an effort to divest state funds from Sudan to protest human rights violations there. . . The diplomacy isn't limited to Maine. States increasingly are becoming more assertive on the international stage.

More than 30 states now export goods to Cuba despite tight U.S. trade restrictions. Organizations in eight states brokered deals to import heating oil for the poor this winter from Venezuela, despite strained relations between the White House and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Three states -- Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon -- passed laws to divest state funds from companies with interests in war-scarred Sudan. In the Southwest, states are engaging in bilateral talks with Mexico to stop crime along the border.



What works so well in the manufacture of a Ford Taurus -- efficiency of scale and mass production -- fails to work in social policy because, unlike a Taurus, humans think, cry, love, get distracted, criticize, worry or don't give a shit. Yet we keep acting as though such traits don't exist or don't matter. We have come to accept the notion that the enormous institutions of government, media, industry and academia are natural to the human condition and then wonder why they don't work better than they do. In fact, as ecological planner Ernest Callenbach pointed out, "we are medium-sized animals who naturally live in small groups -- perhaps 20 or so -- as opposed to bees or antelopes who live in very large groups. When managers or generals or architects force us into large groups, we speedily try to break them down into sub-units of comfortable size." - Sam Smith


SCHUMACHER SOCIETY - A Community Land Trust is a form of common land ownership with a charter based on the principles of sustainable and ecologically-sound stewardship and use. The land in a CLT is held in trust by a democratically-governed non-profit corporation. Through an inheritable and renewable long-term lease, the trust removes land from the speculative market and [encourages] multiple uses such as affordable housing, village improvement, commercial space, agriculture, recreation, and open space preservation. Individual leaseholders own the buildings and other improvements on the land created by their labor and investment, but do not own the land itself. Resale agreements on the buildings ensure that the land value of a site is not included in future sales, but rather held in perpetuity on behalf of the regional community.

The first community land trust was formed in 1967 in Albany, Georgia by Robert Swann and Slater King, seeking a way to achieve secure access to land for African American farmers. The movement has grown to include over 200 community land trusts throughout the US and is widely understood as the best model for developing permamently affordable homeownership opportunities in regions of escalating land prices.


DIETRICH FISCHER, PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1991: [A] conflict developed in the 1950s in the canton Bern in Switzerland, where a French speaking Catholic minority in the Jura region felt constantly overruled by the German speaking Protestant majority. The cantonal government in Bern sought to persuade the French speaking minority that it was in their own best interest to remain with the canton, since they received economic subsidies.

But only the people of the Jura themselves could decide what they valued more, economic subsidies or self-government. As the process dragged on, demonstrations became more frequent, and some cases of politically motivated arson occurred. No one was killed, but there is little doubt that if the conflict had remained unsolved, it could ultimately have developed into a civil war like that in Northern Ireland.

After a long delay, the Bernese government finally agreed to hold a referendum to let the people in the Jura decide whether they preferred to form their own canton or to remain within the canton Bern. The first vote was about evenly split. So a second vote was held separately in each of six districts. Three districts, bordering on the German speaking part of the canton, had majorities preferring the old arrangement, while the three districts that were farther removed from the center preferred separation.

After that vote, each community along the borderline was allowed to choose whether it preferred to stay where it was or switch sides. Some switched. In 1978 the new canton Jura was founded and welcomed by the voters of Switzerland as a member of the confederation. Since then, the violence has subsided, since most people got what they wanted, or respected the verdict of the voters.

Self-determination is an effective means of conflict resolution. It does not guarantee that the optimal decision will be taken in all cases. But if people make a mistake and suffer the consequences, they have nobody but themselves to blame, and they simply have to try to do better at the next opportunity. If, however, some far removed central government makes a decision for the people and they suffer, they have good reason to project their anger at those responsible. . .

The secret of Switzerland's long-lasting unity and stability may lie in its diversity. It does not impose uniformity from a center, but allows a great deal of self-determination. Cooperation is the result of negotiations between all of the parties involved and is entirely voluntary, not forced upon them.


DIETRICH FISCHER, PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1991 - A number of factors involved in the Swiss case have been absent in the Middle East:

- Opportunity for self-determination

- Flexibility in drawing borders based on small scale preferences that reflect community desires rather than those of nation states.

- The substantial devolution of power so that subcultures call their own shots wherever possible.

- Change by negotiation and cooperation.


Widely used in the United States in the early 1900s, currencies are a legal, but underutilized tool for citizens to support economies. Local currencies function on a regional scale the same way that national currencies have functioned on a national scale - building the regional economy by creating a protective membrane that is defined by the currency itself. Local businesses that accept the currency are distinguished from chain stores that do not, building greater affinity between citizens of the region and their merchants. Individuals choosing to use the currency make a conscious commitment to buy ly first, taking personal responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their community, laying the foundation of a truly vibrant, thriving economy.
Deli Dollars, a single store scrip issued in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1989 with help of E. F. Schumacher Society staff, drew national media to the Berkshire region, helped renew public interest in currencies as a tool for community economic revitalization, and led to the current issue of Berkshares, a currency for the Southern Berkshires. Berkshares are exchanged for federal dollars at participating Berkshire banks and circulate at a wide variety of businesses.







WIKIPEDIA - In the United States region of New England, cities and towns practice limited home rule and, for the most part, govern themselves in a directly-democratic fashion known as the New England town meeting.

In Texas, counties do not have home rule. Cities are not allowed home rule until population reaches 5,000, whereupon the city may vote to adopt home rule via a city charter.

The Wisconsin Constitution gives cities and villages the right to determine their own affairs and government; counties, however, are given their powers by legislative acts. The state legislature, in addition to powers specifically granted to it by the constitution, can only pass laws of state-wide interest which uniformly affect all cities and villages.

In the United States only the federal government and the state governments are recognized by the United States Constitution. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution implies that governments are regulated by the state or the people.

Local governments such as municipalities, counties, parishes, boroughs, school districts, and other types of government entities are devolved. They are established, regulated, and subject to governance by the laws of the state in which they reside. U.S. state legislatures, in most cases, have the power to change laws that affect government structures. In some states, the governor may also have power over government affairs.

Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and other territories are subject to their governments being directly regulated by congressional acts. Unlike state governments which have reserved powers according to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. territorial governments can constitutionally be directly regulated by Congress.

WIKIPEDIA - In the United States region of New England, cities and towns practice limited home rule and, for the most part, govern themselves in a directly-democratic fashion known as the New England town meeting.

In Texas, counties do not have home rule. Cities are not allowed home rule until population reaches 5,000, whereupon the city may vote to adopt home rule via a city charter.

The Wisconsin Constitution gives cities and villages the right to determine their own affairs and government; counties, however, are given their powers by legislative acts. The state legislature, in addition to powers specifically granted to it by the constitution, can only pass laws of state-wide interest which uniformly affect all cities and villages.

In the United States only the federal government and the state governments are recognized by the United States Constitution. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution implies that governments are regulated by the state or the people.

Local governments such as municipalities, counties, parishes, boroughs, school districts, and other types of government entities are devolved. They are established, regulated, and subject to governance by the laws of the state in which they reside. U.S. state legislatures, in most cases, have the power to change laws that affect government structures. In some states, the governor may also have power over government affairs.

Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and other territories are subject to their governments being directly regulated by congressional acts. Unlike state governments which have reserved powers according to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. territorial governments can constitutionally be directly regulated by Congress.


SAM SMITH, PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1993 - A couple of summers ago at the annual convention of the longtime liberal group, Americans for Democratic Action, I proposed a resolution on the decentralization of power. Permit me to recycle a portion:

|||| There is growing evidence that old ideological conflicts such as between left and right, and between capitalism and communism, are becoming far less important as the world confronts the social and economic results of a century marked by increasing concentration of power in countries of widely varying political persuasion. A new ideology is rising, the ideology of devolution -- the decentralization of power. Already it has swept through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Its voice is heard in Spain, in Quebec and in Northern Ireland. It is the voice of people attempting to regain control over societies that have become increasingly authoritarian, unresponsive, and insensitive, a revolt of ordinary humans against the excesses of the state. . .

All around us is evidence of the disintegration of effective government and a growing alienation of the people from that government as a result. Our systems of governance have become too big, too corrupt, too inflexible and too remote from democratic concerns to respond equitably and rationally to the changing needs of the people. Government has many beneficial functions it can perform, but these can only be achieved when the government itself is structured so as to reflect -- and not thwart -- the will of the people.

Therefore we embrace the devolutionary spirit of the times and, recognizing that the ideology of scale must now be considered as carefully as the ideology of liberal and conservative, we urge that this nation begin devolving power back to the people -- that we correct a decades-long course which has too often led to increasingly centralized power with increasingly ineffective and undemocratic results. To this end, we propose the following critical issues to fellow liberals and progressives to consider, debate and act upon while there is still time to reverse the authoritarian course of the American government:

- How do we end the growing concentration of power in the presidency and return to the tripartite system of government intended by the Constitution? How can Congress reassert its constitutional role in the federal government?

- How do we prevent federal government green-mail of the states -- the granting or withholding of federal funds to force state legislation -- from being used as a way around the powers constitutionally granted the states?

- How can we decentralize federal agencies to the state and level?

- How do we create a new respect for state and rights? The bitter struggle to establish the federal government's primacy in the protection of civil rights of all its citizens has been used far too long as an excuse to concentrate all forms of power in Washington. That legal battle has been won. We must now recognize the importance of state and government in creative, responsive governance and not continue to assume that good government can only come from within the Beltway.

- How do we reduce restrictions on federal funds granted states and ities in order to foster imaginative application of those funds and to prevent the sort of federal abuse apparent, for example, in restrictions on family planning advice?

- How do we encourage -- including funding -- neighborhood government in our cities so that the people most affected by the American urban disaster can try their own hand at rebuilding their communities?

The principle that all government should be devolved to the lowest practical level should be raised to its proper primacy in the progressive agenda. We cannot overstate the peril involved in continuing to concentrate governmental power in the federal executive.|||||

The resolution proved too much for the traditional liberals of ADA and the resolution was roundly defeated in committee. Many voters, however, have divined the problem of excessive scale while remaining, unsurprisingly, confused as to what to do about it. False prophets on the right tout a phony "empowerment," The media muddles the matter with its usual in-depth cliches. What is lacking is not devolutionary theory, nor grand schemes, nor useful experiments, but rather a practical progressive politics of devolution. We need to apply our theories and our experience to the every day politics of ordinary citizens. If we do, I think we will surprise ourselves and others in a discovery of where the American mainstream really flows.

Here, for starters, are a few suggestions of devolutionary issues progressives could press:

- Public schools: In the sixties there was a strong movement for community control of the schools. Because it came largely from minority communities and because the majority was not adequately distressed about public education it faltered.

- Neighborhood government: Real neighborhood government would not be merely advisory as is the case with Washington DC's neighborhood commissions. It would include the power to sue the city government, to incorporate, to run its own programs, to contract to provide those of city hall, and to have some measure of budgetary authority over city expenditures within its boundaries. Not the least among its powers should be a role in the justice system, since it is impossible to recreate order in our communities while denying communities any place in maintaining order.

We should create the "small republics," that Jefferson dreamed of, autonomous communities where every citizen became "an acting member of the common government, transacting in person a great portion of its rights and duties, subordinate indeed, yet important, and entirely within his own competence."

- States' rights: While maintaining federal preeminence in fields such as civil rights, progressives should be strong advocates of states' rights on issues not properly the federal government's business such as raising the drinking age or the 55 mph speed limit. Such advocacy would help to form new coalitions and stir up the ideological pot. In particular, progressives should oppose the use of federal green-mail -- forcing states and ities to take measures at the risk of losing federal funding -- as a clear end run around the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights. As the Supreme Court noted in Kansas v. Colorado, this amendment "discloses the widespread fear that the national government might, under the pressure of supposed general welfare, attempt to exercise powers which had not been granted."

- Federal spending: In an important and necessary break with liberal thinking, progressives should become advocates of a much smaller federal government by pressing for the direct distribution of funds to the state and level. Whatever problems of malfeasance or nonfeasance may result, they are almost guaranteed to be less than the misuse of these funds at the federal level. As Congress' own auditor, Comptroller General Charles Bowsher, recently told a hearing that "there are hardly any [federal] agencies that are well managed." The flaw in liberal thinking is that federal housing funds are used for housing, agriculture funds for farmers and so forth. In fact, an extraordinary percentage of these moneys are used to maintain a superstructure to carry out poor housing policy or bad farm policy. The basic principle should be to get the money to the streets or the farms as quickly -- and with as few intermediaries -- as possible.

Further, progressives should challenge the presumption that the feds know best. At the present time, much of the best government is at the state and level. It could do even better without the paperwork and the restrictions dreamed up in Washington to fill the working day. And even when that doesn't prove true, you don't have to drive as far to make your political anger known.

- Small business: Many progressives act as though an economy isn't necessary. It would pay great dividends if the progressive agenda included support for small businesses. Small businesses generate an extraordinary number of new jobs. Further, small business is where many of the values of the progressive movement can be best expressed in an economic context. While ideally many of these businesses should be cooperatives, even within the strictures of conventional capitalism they offer significant advantages over the mega-corporation. Writing in the New York Times, brokerage firm president Muriel Siebert said recently: Unlike monolithic Fortune 500 companies, small businesses behave like families. [A study] indicated that one reason for the durability of businesses owned by women is the value they place on their workers. It showed that small businesses hold on to workers through periods when revenues decline. Rather than eliminate workers, they tend to cut other expenses, including their own salaries... Nearly half of the workers laid off by large companies have to swallow pay reductions when they find new full-time work; two out of three work for at least 20 percent less money than before."

As Jon Rowe says of Korean family-run groceries, "a family operates on loyalty and trust, the market operates on contract and law."

- Decentralizing the federal government: There are a number of federal agencies that are already quite decentralized. Interestingly, these agencies are among those most often praised. The National Park Service, the Peace Corps, the Coast Guard, and US Attorneys all have dispersed units with a relatively high degree of autonomy and a strong sense of turf responsibility by their employees. A further example can be found within the postal service. While many complain about mail service, you rarely hear them gripe about their own mail carrier, who is given a finite task in a finite geographical area. I stumbled across this phenomenon while serving in the Coast Guard. At the time, the Guard had about 1800 units worldwide but only 3000 officers, with many of the officers concentrated on larger ships and in headquarters units. Thus there were scores of units run by enlisted personnel who rarely saw an officer. The system worked extremely well. It worked because, once training and adequate equipment had been provided, there was relatively little a bureaucratic superstructure could do to improve the operations of a lifeboat or loran station. As with education, a bureaucracy in such circumstances can do itself far more good than it can do anyone in the field.

Similarly, a former Peace Corps regional director told me that in his agency's far-flung and decentralized system, there was no way he could control activities in the two dozen countries under his purview, yet the Peace Corps became one of the most popular federal programs in recent times. Can the success of these decentralized agencies be replicated, say, in housing or urban development? Why not give it a try? If federal housing moneys were distributed by 50 state directors who were given considerable leeway in the mix of policies they could fund and approve, we would, for starters, begin to have a better idea of which programs work and which don't.

- Raising the issue: Every policy and piece of legislation should be subjected to evaluation not only according to the old rules of right and left but according to the ideology of scale. We must constantly be asking not only whether what is proposed is right, but whether it is being done at the right level of society's organization.

These are just a few examples of how a politics of devolution might begin to develop. It is needed if for no other reason than it is our best defense against the increasing authoritarianism of the federal government and the monopolization of economic activity. It is also needed because, without it, democracy becomes little more than a choice between alternative propaganda machines. In the 1960s, Robert McNamara declared, "Running any large organization is the same, whether it's the Ford Motor Company, the Catholic Church or the Department of Defense. Once you get the certain scale, they're all the same." And so, increasingly to our detriment, they are. We must learn and teach, and make a central part of our politics, that while small is not always beautiful, it has -- for our ecology, our liberties, and our souls -- become absolutely essential.


Subsidiarity was established in EU law by the Treaty of Maastricht, 1992. The present formulation:

"The Community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it therein. In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community. Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty."


In the early 1970s, your editor drafted a platform that formed the basis for one approved by DC's new third party, the DC Statehood Party, which would city council and/or school board seasts for 25 years. The platform was perhaps the most eclectic, radical and prescient collection of policies one could have found anywhere at the time and a number of the planks dealt with devolution to the level. Among them:

- Neighborhood authorities and neighborhood housing banks

- Elected neighborhood legislative councils and neighborhood executives with power over selection of neighborhood police officials, selection of neighborhood school superintendent, school site selection and proposed roads.

- Low-rent facilities in new commercial centers for small businesses

- Enclosed and open stalls for artisans, craftsmen and other small operators.

- The end of the forced displacement of small business.

- The construction of public markets

- The conversion of banks and public utilities to cooperatives.

- Ownership of liquor stores by neighborhood cooperatives

- Division of police into a uniformed crime-fighting force and a neighborhood constabulary

- Community control of the schools

- Creation of an equal service commission to ensure equal distribution of public services throughout the city

- Ward balance in capital improvements and government personnel

- Varied curriculum, services and teaching methods in the schools


IAN BALDWIN AND FRANK BRYAN, WASHINGTON POST - The winds of secession are blowing in the Green Mountain State. Vermont was once an independent republic, and it can be one again. We think the time to make that happen is now. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. government has grown too big, too corrupt and too aggressive toward the world, toward its own citizens and toward democratic institutions. It has abandoned the democratic vision of its founders and eroded Americans' fundamental freedoms.

Vermont did not join the Union to become part of an empire. Some of us therefore seek permission to leave.

A decade before the War of Independence, Vermont became New England's first frontier, settled by pioneers escaping colonial bondage who hewed settlements across a lush region whose spine is the Green Mountains. These independent folk brought with them what Henry David Thoreau called the "true American Congress" -- the New England town meeting, which is still the legislature for nearly all of Vermont's 237 towns. Here every citizen is a legislator who helps fashion the rules that govern the ity.

Today, however, Vermont no longer controls even its own National Guard, a domestic emergency force that is now employed in an imperial war 6,000 miles away. The 9/11 commission report says that "the American homeland is the planet." To defend this "homeland," the United States spends six times as much on its military as China, the next highest-spending nation, funding more than 730 military bases in more than 130 countries, abetted by more than 100 military space satellites and more than 100,000 seaborne battle-ready forces. This is the greatest military colossus ever forged. . .

The two of us are typical of the diversity of Vermont's secessionist movement: one descended from old Vermonter stock, the other a more recent arrival -- a "flatlander" from down country. Our Vermont homeland remains economically conservative and socially liberal. And the love of freedom runs deep in its psyche.

SECOND VERMONT REPUBLIC - The Second Vermont Republic is a peaceful, decentralist voluntary association and think tank opposed to the tyranny of multinational corporations and the U.S. government, and committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic, and more broadly, to the peaceful dissolution of the United States as an empireSupporters of the Second Vermont Republic subscribe to the following set of principles:

1. Political Independence. Our primary objectives are political independence for Vermont and the peaceful dissolution of the Union.

2. Human Scale. We believe life should be lived on a human scale. Small is still beautiful.

3. Sustainability. We celebrate and support Vermont's small, clean, green, sustainable, socially responsible towns, farms, businesses, schools, and churches. We encourage family-owned farms and businesses to produce innovative, premium-quality, healthy products. We also believe that energy independence is an essential goal towards which to strive.

4. Economic Solidarity. We encourage Vermonters to buy ly produced products from small merchants rather than purchase from giant, out-of-state megastores. We support trade with nearby states and provinces.

5. Power Sharing. Vermont's strong democratic tradition is grounded in its town meetings . We favor devolution of political power from the state back to communities, making the governing structure for towns, schools, hospitals, and social services much like that of Switzerland. Shared power also underlies our approach to international relations.

6. Equal Access. We support equal access for all Vermont citizens to quality education, health care, housing, and employment.

7. Tension Reduction. Consistent with Vermont's long tradition of "live and let live" and nonviolence, we do not condone state-sponsored violence inflicted either by the military or law enforcement officials. We support a voluntary citizens' brigade to reduce tension and restore order in the event of political unrest and to provide assistance when natural disasters occur. We are opposed to any form of military conscription. Tension reduction is the bedrock principle on which all international conflicts are to be resolved.

8. Mutuality. Both our citizens and our neighbors should be treated with mutual respect.


WIKIPEDIA - The constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are: The Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Aruba. Each of the three constituent parts has its own constitution. Each of the three constituent parts also has its own administration and parliament. Together, they form a federation under a monarch as a single head of state.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member of the European Union. However the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are not considered part of the EU, but rather have the status of overseas countries and territories. Since citizenship is handled by the kingdom, and not distinguished for the three constituent countries, citizens from all three constituent countries are also EU citizens.


Avoiding the systems we're trying to change

Sam Smith

Like other systems, our systems of political and social organizing have become greatly inflated and excessively complicated in recent years. Part of it has been due to television - which has moved us from actual to only virtual contact with one another; part of it has been a cost of population growth; and part has been a result of mental and verbal seepage from the reactionary capitalism of the past quarter century.

It is hard to talk about because so many have known little else and have bought into assumptions of which they may not even be aware, such as believing that social and political change is largely the product of marketing and advertising or of management practices promulgated by business schools.

Although people still talk about grass roots organizing, there is far less of it going on and it is hard to generate excitement on its behalf. There is ritualistic talk of movements but in too many cases, a movement is little more than a mailing list being asked constantly for money and an occasional letter to members of Congress. The leadership of these so-called movements often have more in common with Washington corporate lobbyists than with those they are supposed to be leading. And whatever their inner desires, their outer manner is heavily influenced by the centrist foundations that feed them.

It is not a conscious thing; it has just become part of the contemporary culture of activism. Even Green Party members, hardly part of the establishment, seem far easier to engage on the topic of which presidential candidate they favor to get all 2 percent of the vote next time than in how you elect Greens to school boards and state legislatures. We have been taught in so many ways that only the large matters.

Over the years, I have approached this topic from a number of angles. Here are a few excerpts:

WHY BOTHER, 2001 - One of the bad habits we have acquired from the bullies who now run the place is undue reliance on traditional political, legal and rhetorical tools. Politically active Americans have been taught that even at the risk of losing our planet and our democracy, we must go about it all in a rational manner, never raising our voice, never doing the unlikely or trying the improbable, let alone screaming for help.

We have lost much of what was gained in the 1960s and 1970s because we traded in our passion, our energy, our magic and our music for the rational, technocratic and media ways of our leaders. We will not overcome the current crisis solely with political logic. We need living rooms like those in which women once discovered they were not alone. The freedom schools of SNCC. The politics of the folk guitar. The plays of Vaclav Havel. The pain of James Baldwin. The laughter of Abbie Hoffman. The strategy of Gandhi and King. Unexpected gatherings and unpredicted coalitions. People coming together because they disagree on every subject save one: the need to preserve the human. Savage satire and gentle poetry. Boisterous revival and silent meditation. Grand assemblies and simple suppers.

WHY BOTHER - Sometimes democracy's guerrillas take just a small piece of our disabled and distorted culture to revive -- a school, a neighborhood, an untried idea, or a group the larger society has rejected. These people will tell you they are not politicians, but in their very choice of community over institutions they have become another cell of transformational politics. And they instinctively accept the notion that John L. McKnight put well in a 1987 issue of Social Policy:

"The structure of institutions is a design established to create control of people. On the other hand, the structure of associations is the result of people acting through consent. . . You will know that you are in a community if you often hear laughter and singing. You will know you are in an institution, corporation, or bureaucracy if you hear the silence of long halls and reasoned meetings."

Here are some of the characteristics McKnight found among associations in contrast to institutions:

- Interdependency. "If the newspaper closes, the garden club and the township meeting will each diminish as they lose a voice."

- Community is built around a recognition of fallibility rather than the ideal.

- Community groups are better at finding a place for everyone.

- Associations can respond quickly since they lack the bureaucracy of large institutions.

- Associations engage in non-hierarchical creativity

THE POLITICAL REPAIR MANUAL, 1997 - Liberals are afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of devolution -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. Even FDR managed to fight the depression with a staff smaller than Hillary Clinton's and World War II with one smaller than Al Gore's. And conservative columnist William Safire admits that "in a general sense, devolution is a synonym for 'power sharing,' a movement that grew popular in the sixties and seventies as charges of 'bureaucracy' were often leveled at centralized authority."

The modern liberals' embrace of centralized authority makes them vulnerable to the charge that their politics is one of intentions rather than results -- symbolized by huge agencies like the Department of Housing & Urban Development that fail miserably to produce policies worthy of their name. Conservatives, on the other hand, often confuse the devolution of government with its destruction. Thus while the liberals are underachieving, the conservatives are undermining.

In fact, a sensible and democratic devolution of power should be high on the American repair list. The question must be repeatedly asked of new and present policies: how can these programs be brought close to the supposed beneficiaries, the citizens? And how can government money go where it's supposed to go?

Because such questions are not asked often enough, we find huge disparities in the effectiveness of federal programs. For example, both social security and the earned income tax credit function well with little overhead. In such programs, the government serves primarily as a redistribution center for tax revenues.

On the other hand, an environmentalist who ran a weatherization program told me that she figured it cost $30,000 in federal and overhead for each $1600 in weather-proofing provided a low income home.

Similarly, a study of Milwaukee County in 1988 found government agencies spending more than $1 billion annually on fighting poverty. If this money had been given in cash to the poor, it would have meant more than $33,000 for each low income family -- well above the poverty level.

SHADOWS OF HOPE, 1994 - Not surprisingly, public advocacy groups have taken to responding to the establishment's legalisms with more of their own. Go back to the 60s and Ralph Nader was about the only public interest lawyer in town who wore a suit and his wasn't pressed. Today, many advocacy groups have drifted into the lawyerly style and pace of the establishment they are supposedly trying to change. They have, in their own way, become capital institutions, part of the ritualized, status-conscious, and very safe, trench warfare of the city. . .

GREEN HORIZON QUARTERLY - America's third parties have been immensely important to the country as catalysts of political and social progress. Their efforts lent weight to the anti-slavery movement, to the institution of an income tax, and to women's rights. While most of the power in 20th century politics was held by centrist or conservative white Protestants and Irish Catholics, the major reforms of that period stemmed from three third party movements: the Populists, the Progressives and the Socialists.

One reason journalists and historians tend to discount the impact of third parties is because of their obsession with apexes of power and those who inhabit them. In reality, however, change often comes not from the top or the center but from the edges. Ecologists and biologists appreciate the importance of edges as sources of life and change, whether they be the boundary of a forest, the shore of a bay or the earth's patina so essential to our being that we call the atmosphere. The political edge, at least metaphorically, has many of the same critical attributes. . .

If you want to affect national politics with a national third party presidential run, history suggests that getting over 5% - preferably closer to 10% - is a good way to start. Otherwise, you can probably expect a less direct impact for your efforts, perhaps decades in the future. And, in any case, you can expect your swing at presidential politics to be fairly short-lived.

That does not mean, however, that these parties - like certain insects - were merely born, had sex, and then died. In fact, some of the third parties had long, healthy lives, in large part because they were as concerned with as with national results. The Socialist Party is the most dramatic recent example, with a history dating back over 100 years. The party's own history suggest that eclecticism didn't hurt:

<<< From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of "reform vs. revolution," the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making "immediate demands" of a reformist nature. A perennially unresolved issue was whether revolutionary change could come about without violence; there were always pacifists and evolutionists in the Party as well as those opposed to both those views. The Socialist Party historically stressed cooperatives as much as labor unions, and included the concepts of revolution by education and of 'building the new society within the shell of the old.'" >>>

By World War I it had elected 70 mayors, two members of Congress, and numerous state and officials. Milwaukee alone had three Socialist mayors in the last century, including Frank Zeidler who held office for 12 years ending in 1960. And the party reports that Karen Kubby, Socialist councilwoman, won her re-election bid in 1992 with the highest vote total in Iowa City history.

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 2004 - At present the Green Party seems exceedingly concerned with whom it will run for president, if anyone. This is a time-consuming, agenda-skewing, image-monopolizing business. . . But what if the Green Party declared itself the party of the countryside, of free America, and set its sights on organizing not just the survival, resistance, and rebellion of the unoccupied homeland, but its revival, its discovery of self-reliance, and its energetic practice of democracy and decency? There is a wealth of electoral opportunity. For example, in 15 states more than half the state legislative seats are presently won without a contest. . .

SHADOWS OF HOPE - Come with me for a moment to a time of when politics was so much a part of New York City that Tammany Hall had to rent Madison Square Gardens for its meetings of committeemen - all 32,000 of them. In contrast, when the Democratic National Committee decided to send a mailing to its workers some years back, it found that no one had kept a list. The party had come to care only about its donors.

One 19th century Tammany politician, George Washington Plunkitt, claimed to know every person in his district, their likes and their dislikes:

"A young feller gains a reputation as a baseball player in a vacant lot. I bring him into our baseball club. That fixes him. You'll find him workin' for my ticket at the polls next election day. . . I rope them all in by givin' them opportunities to show themselves off. I don't trouble them with political arguments. I just study human nature and act accordin'."

In the world of Plunkitt, politics was not something handed down to the people through distant intermediaries. What defined politics was an unbroken chain of human experience, memory and gratitude.

So the first non-logical but necessary thing we must do to reclaim politics is to bring it back into our communities, into our hearts . . . to bring it back home.

We must not only make politics a part of our culture but make our culture a part of our politics. . .

TALK TO MONTGOMERY COUNTY GREENS, MD , 2005 - We must bear in mind that most politics today is largely based on acceptance of the tyranny of television and other forms of mass media. This is, among other things, extremely costly. It is also inevitably top down politics. You can't have a decentralized democratic movement run by TV. But viral politics - whether done through traditional organizing or through more modern tools such as the Internet - has not been eliminated by the media but merely obscured. It is widely used, for example, by the Christian right. And Howard Dean didn't do badly with it, either. . .

SECURING THE HOMELAND - Even in these dismal times, a few lights shine. More than a hundred communities and several states have voted resolutions deeply critical of the so-called Patriot Act. In California all the major candidates in the gubernatorial race supported a position on medical marijuana strongly opposed by the federal government. And the Washington Post reports that "in Seattle, the public library printed 3,000 bookmarks to alert patrons that the FBI could, in the name of national security, seek permission from a secret federal court to inspect their reading and computer records -- and prohibit librarians from revealing that a search had taken place. . . In Hillsboro, Ore., Police Chief Ron Louie has ordered his officers to refuse to assist any federal terrorism investigations that his department believes violate state law or constitutional right."

When one reviews such brave acts and words of Americans still loyal to the ideals of their land and its constitution, it is striking is how few of them emanate from the nation's capital. Officials and the media in Washington have generally accepted the assault on constitutional and democratic government with all the adaptability of the Vichy French of Paris getting used to the Germans. . .

Strange as it may seem, it is in this dismal dichotomy between countryside and the political and economic capitals that the hope for saving America's soul resides. The geographical and conceptual parochialism of those who have made this mess leaves vast acres of our land still free in which to nurture hopes, dreams, and perhaps even to foster the eventual eviction of those who have done us such wrong. . .

Almost all great changes in American politics and culture have had their roots either in the countryside or among minorities within the major cities. From religious 'great awakenings' to the abolitionist movement, to the labor movement, to populism, to the 1960s and civil rights, America has been repeatedly moved by viral politics rather than by the pyramidal processes outlined in great man theories of change promulgated by the elite and its media and academies.

Successfully confronting the present disaster will require far more than attempting to serially blockade its serial evils, necessary as this is. There must also be a guerilla democracy that defends, fosters, and celebrates our better selves - not only to provide an alternative but to create physical space for decent Americans to enjoy their lives while waiting for things to get better. It may, after all, take the rest of their lifetimes. We must not only condemn the worst, but offer witness for the better. And create places in which to live it. . .

I found myself reflecting on the Solidarity movement of Poland. We will get out of this mess, I thought, when we can do in our own way what the Poles did in theirs.

I had occasion to test these thoughts as I read John Rensenbrink's excellent contemporary account of the movement: Poland Challenges a Divided World. For all the differences - for one thing we confront right-wingers instead of communists - I was pleasantly surprised to find myself encouraged again.

At the heart of the Solidarity achievement was something with which the Internet has made us familiar - a form of politics that spread not by the precise decisions of a small number of rulers but by the aggregated tiny and vaguer decisions of a mass of citizens. In a sense, Solidarity was an early unwired flash mob. . .

Rensenbrink tells me that some of Solidarity's early organizing took place on the trains that many of the workers rode to the shipyards. In our own history, there are innumerable examples of change owing a debt to the simple serendipity of people of like values and sensibilities coming together. For example, the rise of the Irish politician in this country was aided considerably by the Irish bar's role as an ethnic DMZ and a center for the exchange of information. Here is another example from the Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute:

<<< Mother Jones often organized the women in mining towns to become an active and vital part of the struggle for worker's rights. One tactic she used was the "dishpan brigade." When coal miners were on strike in Arnot, Pennsylvania, in 1900, Mother Jones organized the women to prevent replacement, or scab, workers from taking the striking workers' jobs. The women gathered at the mine, banging together their pots, pans, brooms and mops, while screaming and shouting at the scab workers. "From that day on the women kept continual watch of the mines to see that the company did not bring in scabs. Every day women with brooms or mops in one hand and babies in the other arm, wrapped in little blankets, went to the mines and watched that no one went in. And all night long they kept watch," wrote Mother Jones. >>>

We tend to discount the importance of unplanned moments because of our fealty to the business school paradigm in which change properly occurs because of a careful strategic plan, an organized vision, procedures, and process. During the past quarter century when such ideas have been in ascendancy, however, America has demonstratively deteriorated as a political, economic, and moral force. In reality, many of the best things happen by accident and indirection. While it may be true, as the Roman said, that "fortune smiles on the well prepared" part of that preparation is to be in the right place at the right time. In other words, it is necessary to create an ecology of change rather than a precise and often illusory process. . .

We can not at this moment imagine the manner in which America's recovery could occur. To attempt to do so, in fact, invites an apathetic fatalism for there seems no solution. What exists, however, are the means by which to cultivate an environment in which solutions may sprout. This may not seem as glamorous but it is absolutely necessary. And it is work that by its nature devolves to the smallest places of our land where change is still possible, where ideals are still preserved, and where imagination still exists. Where the soil of freedom and democracy are still fertile and unpolluted and where spring can show its wonders once again.

SHADOWS OF HOPE Writer John Gall has said that "systems tend to oppose their proper functions." The ideal proper function of the American system is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet as it gropes its way through its third century, the system in reality increasingly endangers human life, denies personal liberty and represses individual happiness. . .

Unfortunately, complex failing systems have little capacity to save themselves. In part this is because the solutions come from the same source as the problem. The public rarely questions the common provenance; official Washington and the media honor it. Even a failure as miserable as that of Vietnam had little effect on the careers of its major protagonists, those men who not only were wrong but were wrong at the cost of 50,000 American lives. . .

Complex systems usually try to save themselves by doing the same they have been doing badly all along -- only harder. This is because the salvation of the system is implicitly considered far more important than the solution of any problems causing the system to fail. . .

Ironically, we have come to our present unhappy state in no small part because of our willingness to turn over individual and communal functions to the very systems we now ask to save us. . .

Bart Giamatti, long before he became baseball commissioner, wrote:

"Baseball is about going home and how hard it is to get there and how driven is our need. It tells us how good home is. Its wisdom says you can go home again but that you cannot stay. The journey must always start once more, the bat and oar over the shoulder, until there is an end to all journeying."

True politics, in imitation of baseball, the great American metaphor, is also about going home. Members of Congress consider it the sine qua non of their routine. Presidential candidates engage in an elaborate if disingenuous ceremony of finding the American home during primary season. And in between, everyone in politics pays extraordinary attention to political shamans like Gallup and Roper whose magical powers center upon their understanding of what's happening "at home."

Yet like so much in our national life, we are only going through the motions, paying ritualistic obeisance to a faith we no longer follow. In fact, we have lost our way home.


WIKIPEDIA - The constituent countries of the United Kingdom are England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales. These four constituent countries of the United Kingdom are sometimes also referred to as Home Nations. The word country does not necessarily connote political independence (thus Basque country), so that it may, according to context, be used to refer either to the UK or one of its constituents. Thus, for example, the website of the British Prime Minister refers to "countries within a country", stating "The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. . .
All four have always had and continue to have distinctive variations in legislative and administrative status and England and Scotland were originally independent states. All four are still generally regarded as possessing distinct nationalities, although they have no distinct citizenships. . . .

Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to have a devolved government, under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, until the Parliament of Northern Ireland was suspended in 1972. Subsequent attempts at reinstating a form of devolved government in Northern Ireland have stalled, and the area is currently governed directly by the UK government. . .

Scotland and Wales adopted devolved governments in the 1990s, but have long been described as countries in their own right. Although England lacks a devolved government of its own, and no real legal existence, except as part of "England and Wales", it is almost universally thought of as a country and a nation.

All four constituent countries of the United Kingdom have political parties campaigning for further self-government or independence. In the case of Northern Ireland, both the desire for union with the Republic of Ireland and a small movement for independence from both the Republic and the UK have existed. There is a movement for self-government in Cornwall which has campaigned for Cornwall to be recognized as a constituent country of the UK, rather than its current status as an English county.


WIKIPEDIA - Spain's fifty provinces are grouped into seventeen autonomous communities, in addition to two African autonomous cities. Centralism, nationalism and separatism played an important role in the Spanish transition. For fear that separatism would lead to instability and a dictatorial backlash, a compromise was struck among the moderate political parties taking part in the drafting of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. The aim was to appease separatist forces and so disarm the extreme right. A highly decentralized state was established, compared both with the previous Francoist regime and with most modern territorial arrangements in Western European nations.

The autonomous communities have wide legislative and executive autonomy, with their own parliaments and regional governments. The distribution of powers is different for every community, as laid out in the "autonomy statute". There is a de facto distinction between "historic" communities and the rest. The historic ones initially received more functions, including the ability of the regional presidents to choose the timing of the regional elections. As another example, the Basque Country and Catalonia have full-range police forces of their own. . .


Sam Smith

What does New York City have more of than Rhode Island, Montana, South Dakota, Delaware, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming, all put together?


What do New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, South Dakota, Delaware, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming have that New York City doesn't have?

Sixteen US Senators.

New York City gets to share two senators with the residue of New York state, which is also larger than all these other states put together. In fact, there are 18 states with a combined population less than New York in its entirety.

This discrimination is, of course, not unique to New York. The larger states of California and Texas have it worse. And the capital colony of Washington DC lacks even partial representation in the Senate.

The results of this constitutional but crazy apportionment of America's upper house means, among other things, that ethnic minorities are underrepresented in a manner officially permitted hardly anywhere else in American culture. If the Senate had been a school district it would have been under court-ordered bussing for the past few decades. If it were a private club, you'd want to resign from it before running for public office.

In fact, the malapportionment of the Senate is perhaps the most important, undiscussed issue in the country today for there is hardly a matter of political importance that would not be affected if that body were to reflect 21st century rather than 19th century demographics.

Curiously, however, leaders of constituencies that would clearly benefit - with cities at the top of the list - show little interest.

One reason for this is misunderstanding. It is widely believed that admitting new states requires a constitutional amendment and that a state, once created, can't be split. In truth, it is easier to spawn a new state than it was to give women the right to vote or to pass an income tax. A simple majority in Congress and the president's signature - plus approval of an affected state's legislature - and the job is permanently done.

Then there is the argument that creating new states is a political impossibility. But it has happened 37 times since the creation of the republic and in a number of cases - Kentucky, Vermont, West Virginia, and Maine - new states were formed out of existing ones.

If you don't care about history, think of the future. In not too many years, white Americans will cease to be in the majority. Even leaving moral questions aside, how much longer will it be politically practical to tell blacks and latinos that the rules can't be changed to let them into the Senate in some reasonable number?

Despite Washington's small size, ethnic prejudice and all the other problems faced by weak and debilitated colonies, a statehood movement got far enough to win editorial encouragement from the New York Times and Washington Post, hold a constitutional convention, attract the transitory enthusiasm of presidential candidate Bill Clinton, win a respectable number of votes in its one House test, and even elect Jesse Jackson to the only electoral office he ever held, albeit briefly -- the position of surrogate or "statehood senator," a popularly elected lobbyist for prospective states. The DC Statehood Party, which later merged with the DC Greens, held a city council seat for over 25 years.

If citizens of such weak clout as those in DC can get this far, imagine what the powerful folk of New York City could do if they rose up in righteous anger against their lack of equitable representation in the US Senate. Imagine a Million Mensch March - led perhaps by Abe Bloomberg and Al Sharpton -- descending on Washington to press the cause, a cause which is not just that of New York but of every American city and every group frustrated by the undemocratic hereditary power of the landed states that got there first. Urban states are the sina qua non of a better America. Let a dozen of them bloom.

[The original version of this article appeared in the NY Press]


Sam Smith

[Remarks at a conference on neighborhood commissions in 2006]

WASHINGTON'S advisory neighborhood commissions came out of a time that seems distant today, a time before 9/11, George Bush, the closing of DC's public hospital and the socio-ethnic cleansing of DC.

Sure, we were still recovering from the riots, but the very word 'recover' - one you don't hear much today - implied that there was a least a chance you would. The writer Dorothy Allison described the spirit of the times: "I had the idea that if you took America and shook it really hard it would do the right thing."

And so you proposed all sorts of new ideas and just talking about them made you feel hopeful. Central to a lot the talk was devolution - the idea that people could control things better if they were brought down to the level. We tend to forget this now, but back then, decentralization and community power were important progressive ideas.

I wrote about them a lot the 1960s and suggested that Washington needed neighborhood councils with members representing small districts that would get to approve the police commander, help direct the schools, set up a neighborhood development corporation and so forth.

In the early 1970s, those of us in the new DC Statehood Party added the idea to our platform. We wanted:

- Neighborhood authorities and neighborhood housing banks

- Elected neighborhood legislative councils and neighborhood executives with power over selection of neighborhood police officials, selection of neighborhood school superintendent, school site selection and proposed roads.

- Community control of the schools

We even suggested that liquor stors be turned into neighborhood cooperatives.

Then, as sometimes happens with ideas, something happened. Don Frasier, a progressive member of Congress from Minneapolis - where they already had advisory neighborhood commissions - added the plan to the DC home rule bill then under consideration.

It wasn't well received by the powers that wannatobe, the ones who were in line to personally benefit from the pending congressional approval of an elected mayor and council for the District colony. For all their talk of democracy, they weren't happy to see some of their pending power being distributed to others. . .

The home rule bill passed and the ANC referendum was easily approved but the legislation had not fully defined the nature and power of the commissions. That was to be left to the new city government.

A group of us formed a citizens lobby to proposed rules under which the ANCs would function. At one meeting, someone suggested that the commissions' views be given "great weight" by the city government.

"What does that term mean," asked a lawyer.

"Damned if I know," I replied, "but let's put it in and find out."

As luck would have it, the court case deciding what it meant would come out of my neighborhood commission district and I, as the commissioner, would be one of the plaintiffs. It was a tough one for me for not only did it force me to betray my roots - it involved an Irish bar - but one of the owners, the bar's lawyer and all of the complaining petitioners lived in my district. I had tried to get them all together but it didn't work. In the end, the court handed down a decision on "great weight" that favored the commissions.

Our new commission worked remarkably well considering that all of us were playing it by ear. We made some simple rules that helped. For example, we would only deal with issues. That way our national and citywide conflicts wouldn't ruin our meetings.

And we also developed some good habits, such as retiring to the Zebra Room to debrief over drinks after each meeting. We accepted our differences and played by the rules, remained friends, and it all worked pretty well.

I was named chair of the education, recreation, and agriculture committee. I added that last term because we had the largest community garden in DC. Soon I wished I hadn't because a big dispute developed over how long people should retain their garden rights on public land. I proposed what I thought was a modest compromise - seven years - but the gardeners saw that proposal as the moral equivalent of eminent domain.

I had more luck with the Great Hearst Playground Dispute. A hundred and fifty tennis players came to me with a petition to have a backboard constructed at Hearst playground. Knee jerk politician that I was, I successfully pressed for the backboard. The Recreation Department, however, constructed the backboard without consulting anyone and made a huge cinderblock wall that blocked some of the neighbors' view of the playground. Next thing I knew, there was a petition from 150 neighbors wanting the backboard removed.

The matter was ultimately resolved during a five hour meeting with the Rec Department and disputing parties. I proposed that a new backboard be placed at a 90 degree angle so it didn't block anyone's view. Geometry worked where politics had failed.

I was overwhelmed with problems, some solvable, many not. I had far less clout that many residents thought but I worked overtime to conceal the fact. This didn't help. Their expectations just seemed to mount.

As I looked around the city, things weren't going as well as I had hoped. For one thing, the rules the city council had passed deliberately restricted the councils' power: no incorporation, no spending of public funds in joint projects with other commissions and so forth.

From the beginning, and to this day, the city government considered the ANCs to be an annoyance to be controlled more than to be included. I had argued from the start that our prime goal should be to take the "A" out of ANC. . . to make these bodies functioning units of government rather than merely advisory. Instead they were dismissed by the media and co-opted by politicians and bureaucrats until only the bravest and most self-reliant commissions dared act as the law had envisioned.

From the start in 1974, city officials began to set up bureaucratic and fiscal hurdles for the fledgling commissions to jump over and they adopted the view that the ANCs were just another part of the city bureacracy. At workshops and in regulations, they treated the ANCs as subservient and ancillary. Many commissioners, unschooled in either ANC history, law, or politics accepted this more menial role without question. They also accepted the gross and widespread falsehood that ANCs were banned from meeting with one another. In fact, the law only prohibited them from spending city money to do so.

Instead of seeing themselves as a sleeping giant -- a grassroots political system that could actually be run from the grassroots -- the ANCs tolerated a lesser role.

This subservience continues to today.

The situation has not been helped by gentrification. There are unhappy reports of ethnic and cultural conflicts being played out in commissions just as elsewhere.

We seem to have forgotten how to share space with others. For example in one part of town we have churchgoers mad at a gay bar and gentrifiers mad at churchgoers' double-parked cars. As a heterosexual agnostic I have no money on this race, but I know the answer is most likely to come when both sides accept the notion of reciprocal liberty - that we can't be free to do what we want unless we grant others a similar right. Out of such an attitude can come, for example, valet parking on Sundays and a hefty contribution to a rec center by the gay bar.

ANCs can be important mediators at such times or they can add to the conflict. It's one of the many choices their members have to make.

ANCs are still a sleeping giant. Don't believe what city hall tells you about what they can and can't do. They can do almost anything if they do it the right way.

For example, the chairs in a ward could get together each month at someone's house and share what their commissions agree about. If they have differences, forget them for the time being. Look for the unity and then let your councilmember, school board member, mayor, and media know about it.

Practice this awhile and then try it citywide. Three dozen commission chairs working together could become a de facto lower house of the city government. . .

And it's not just a matter. In increasingly corrupt and anti-democratic America, solidarity and action are oases of freedom and decency from which a new future can grow. As we find ourselves in a post-constitutional society where our leaders in politics and business consider themselves immune from either morality or legislation, we must constantly tend these community gardens of hope.

Just as during Washington's century of segregation with no home rule, neighborhood organizations in DC were the voice and organizing strength of this city, so today our communities are where we must begin to make things work again with decency, democracy and fairness.

Our neighborhood commissions can be central to this if they remember the words of Jane Jacobs: "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."


WIKIPEDIA - The Regions of Italy were granted a degree of regional autonomy in the 1948 constitution, which states that the constitution's role is: to recognize, protect and promote autonomy, to ensure that services at the state level are as decentralized as possible, and to adapt the principles and laws establishing autonomy and decentralization.

However, five regions have been granted a special status of autonomy to establish their own regional legislation on some specific matters; based on cultural grounds, geographical location and on the presence of important ethnic minorities. The other 15 ordinary regions were effectively established only in the early 1970s. . .

The regions primarily served to decentralize the state government machinery. A constitutional reform in 2001 remarkably widened the competences of the regions, in particular concerning legislative powers and most of state controls were abolished.


GAR ALPEROVITZ, NEW YORK TIMES - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have grasped the essential truth that no nation - not even the United States - can be managed successfully from the center once it reaches a certain scale. Moreover, the bold proposals that Mr. Schwarzenegger is now making for everything from universal health care to global warming point to the kind of decentralization of power which, once started, could easily shake up America's fundamental political structure.

Governor Schwarzenegger is quite clear that California is not simply another state. "We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta," he recently declared. "We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state." In his inaugural address, Mr. Schwarzenegger proclaimed, "We are a good and global commonwealth."

Political rhetoric? Maybe. But California's governor has also put his finger on a little discussed flaw in America's constitutional formula. The United States is almost certainly too big to be a meaningful democracy. What does "participatory democracy" mean in a continent? Sooner or later, a profound, probably regional, decentralization of the federal system may be all but inevitable.

A recent study by the economists Alberto Alesina of Harvard and Enrico Spolaore of Tufts demonstrates that the bigger the nation, the harder it becomes for the government to meet the needs of its dispersed population. Regions that don't feel well served by the government's distribution of goods and services then have an incentive to take independent action, the economists note. . .

Few Americans realize just how huge this nation is. Germany could fit within the borders of Montana. France is smaller than Texas. Leaving aside three nations with large, unpopulated land masses (Russia, Canada and Australia), the United States is geographically larger than all the other advanced industrial countries taken together. . .

If the scale of a country renders it unmanageable, there are two possible responses. One is a breakup of the nation; the other is a radical decentralization of power. More than half of the world's 200 nations formed as breakaways after 1946. These days, many nations - including Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Italy and Spain, just to name a few - are devolving power to regions in various ways. . .


Sam Smith

In an age of conglomeration and domination, the cross-political nature of devolution - or the ideology of scale - attracts little attention. One can go through a whole political campaign and never consider it. But that doesn't mean the issue is not there.

Consider two current examples: the assault on control of public schools and the smart growth movement. Both are driven by a curious alliance of liberal, conservative and corporate interests. And both attempt to replace the decentralization of decision-making with centralized, bureaucratic choices.

For example, only Vilsack among the Democratic candidate for president has challenged the No Child law despite it being based on absurdly inadequate justifications, proposed by the least qualified president ever to hold office and pushed by a bunch of child profiteers who will probably be the only clear winners under the legislation.

Similarly, the smart growth movement is being increasingly driven by a dubious alliance between "we know what's good for you" liberal planners and developers who initially resisted the idea until they realized how many new high-rises might result.

Liberals and conservatives who favor America's two centuries of school control, or wish to resist the transformation of successful communities into high-rise factory farms for globalized serfs, find themselves ignored, ridiculed as NIMBYs or considered behind the times.

One developer's Power Point even declared that "fear and loathing of density is. . .ironic, dangerous, counter-productive." In other words, preferring the lifestyle predominant in 99.9% of human history is now dangerous and counter-productive. Further, in the tradition of the new managerial mullahs, anyone who doesn't like what they're up to is suffering from fear and loathing of positive change.

No Child Left Unregimented

The assault on community controlled public education is not only a result of Bush's No Child law. Bill Kauffman once noted in Chronicles that it was liberal Harvard president President James Conant who produced a series of postwar reports calling for the "elimination of the small high school" in order to compete with the Soviets and deal with the nuclear era. Says Kauffman, "Conant the barbarian triumphed: the number of school districts plummeted from 83,718 in 1950 to 17,995 in 1970."

Writing in Principal Magazine, Kathleen Cushman pointed out that the small school movement was driven by "the steady rise in school size that has seen the average school population increase five-fold since the end of World War II. A push to consolidate schools has reduced the number of districts by 70 percent in the same period. Ironically, this trend toward big schools coincides with research that repeatedly has found small schools - commonly defined as no more than 400 students for elementary schools - to be demonstrably better for students of all ability levels, in all kinds of settings. Academic achievement rises, as indicated by grades, test scores, honor roll membership, subject-area achievement, and assessment of higher-order thinking skills. For both elementary and secondary students, researchers also find small schools equal or superior to large ones on most student behavior measures. Rates of truancy, classroom disruption, vandalism, theft, substance abuse, and gang participation all are reduced in small schools, according to a synthesis of 103 studies."

Education is one of those human activities clearly centered on two people (teacher and student). As the system surrounding this experience becomes larger, more complex and more bureaucratic, the key players become pawns in a new and unrelated bureaucratic game. The role of the principal also dramatically shifts - from being an educational administrator to being a cross between a corporate executive and a warden. It is such a transformation that helps to bring us things like what happened at Columbine.

Consider, for a moment, that not a single private school has merged with five or ten other academies in the name of efficiency and improved learning. No one has suggested a Andover-Exeter-Groton-Milton-Choate-Kent School Administrative District.

If conglomeration of schools really helped, why would such places not give it a try? I once asked the head of one of the top private girl's schools in the country what he considered the maximum size of a school he'd like to run. His reply: 500 students. . ."Remember, that means 1,000 parents."

Yet not only do we find George Bush, with lots of Democratic support, actively destroying control over public schools, mayors and governors rushing to join the attack.

For example, inspired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has yet to produce convincing results for his corporatization of public education, DC's 36-year old new mayor Adrian Fenty is following suit. He wants to abolish the elected school and put the system under his control despite his impressive inexperience in education. But Fenty, like many in politics and business, is absolutely convinced that certainty is an adequate substitute for competence.

How little he really understands was well described by Colbert King in the Washington Post:

"If governance and lack of accountability are the main problems, why do students attending Lafayette and Murch elementary schools, which are west of Rock Creek Park, exceed proficiency targets in reading and math by wide margins while students at Ketchum and Stanton elementary schools, east of the Anacostia River, fall far short of the mark? The four schools are in the same governance structure. Their principals report to the same superintendent and are guided by the same school board policies. True, Lafayette and Murch, located in middle-income neighborhoods, have more white students. But before going off on a racial tangent, consider this: Black students attending Lafayette and Murch, in contrast to their counterparts in Southeast, also excel in reading and math." King asked Fenty why his takeover would help matters: "His bottom line: he has the energy, determination, and sense of urgency that he feels are missing among school leaders to make those things happen." In other words, he thinks what the schools really need most is himself.

Perhaps even more bizarre is what is happening in Maine. The plan itself is familiar: the pursuit of the false god of educational efficiency through the concentration of school districts as ordered by the governor. 290 school districts would be merged into 26 regional administrative units.

What makes it stranger is that Maine is one of a handful of New England states where one can still find the remnants of American democracy functioning at human scale thanks to such institutions as town meetings and lots of small villages that do what they want without excessive interference from above. This tradition has produced in recent years more independent governors (although not the present one) than just about any state and a culture of honest independence in politics and governance that would best be emulated rather than reorganized.

And who suggested the course that the governor is following? None other than representatives of that citadel of Washington anti-democratic elitism, that hospice of prematurely aging MBAs and political science majors: the Brookings Institution. This is like Arianna Huffington coaching the Chicago Bears.

To add to the oddity, it is all being done in the name of "smart growth."

To give a sense of how alien this is to traditional Maine culture, consider a town meeting I attended a few years back in Freeport. I got there a little late and the respectables had taken all the chairs, so I stood in the hall outside with the baseball cap and pencil in the ear set, all intensely interested and exchanging play by play among themselves. It was a heated discussion that eventually produced the resignation of a couple of council members but I tired of standing and so returned to my quarters to watch it on TV. At 11 pm, when I thought the citizen input was almost over, two people showed up to testify explaining they had become so perturbed, they had gotten out of bed, dressed and braved the ice and cold to join the fray at town hall.

Now that's the way democracy is meant to work, but it's damn seldom that you see it any more. And when you do, the sensible reaction should be: don't mess with it.

Although the Maine media has seemed to give implied blessing to the school reorganization scheme, there is life in the state yet as public comment illustrates.

One Brunswick school board member called Governor Balducci's plan "totalitarian." Said another, "To lose our control, I think it would be devastating." Asked one citizen: "Tell me folks, right here in Brewer, do you want somebody from Alton, Bradley or Bangor telling you how we should run our school system?"

A school superintendent, according to the Brunswick Times Record, "warned the plan could mean a higher per-student cost for Brunswick, possible budget cuts that would affect teaching staff, and a potential clash of educational philosophies between Brunswick, Freeport and the towns of School Administrative District 75 that would share one administrative office and one school board under the proposed plan. [The superintendent] also criticized the governor and Education Commissioner Susan Gendron for producing a plan that glossed over the loss of more than 600 teachers, hundreds of jobs for administrative office staff and the educational impact of superintendents.

Other comment, as reported by press:

Roger Shaw, superintendent of the Mars Hills schools: "All small schools are struggling for survival and all small schools are in danger. Whether by chance or design, we are in the crosshairs of state policy."

Harvey Shue, a junior at Hampden Academy called it an "extreme act" to merge his 2,200-student school district into a 16,000-student district based miles away.

Richard Farrell of Monhegan "said it would be unworkable to relocate the management of its seven-pupil elementary school to the mainland. He said parents would be hard-pressed to attend meetings and that the island's overall cost would be bound to increase."

Andrew Geranis of York "asked lawmakers to reject any proposal that would change the way schools are now governed. 'Local control is the heart of our life in Maine,' he said.

Angela Iancelli of Monhegan Island "said she feared that district consolidation would lead to the closing of the island's small school, which she said manages to operate efficiently while turning out students who perform well on state achievement tests."

This is not a left-right struggle but one that may far more important for our future: a struggle between communities and bureaucracies and between humans and systems. At present, the communities and humans are not winning.

Smart Growth

The tie-in with smart growth is quite revealing. The smart growth movement started as a largely well-intentioned movement led by planners and environmentalists. Many of their proposals made sense but it had some serious problems, beginning with the insulting manner it treated suburban communities in which many Americans lived, had improved their lives and educated their children. As is traditionally the case with planners, these citizens were expected to adapt to a purportedly ideal physical model - even at the cost of having to move or being evicted - instead of having the emphasis placed on improving - for them as well as the environment - the communities in which they currently lived.

This is not a new problem with planners. In 1910, G. K. Chesterton described two characters, Hudge and Gudge, whose thinking evolved in such a disparate manner that the one came to favor the building of large public tenements for the poor while the other believed that these public projects were so awful that the slums from whence they came were in fact preferable. Wrote Chesterton:

"Such is the lamentable history of Hudge and Gudge; which I merely introduced as a type of an endless and exasperating misunderstanding which is always occurring in modern England. To get men out of a rookery, men are put into a tenement; and at the beginning the healthy human soul loathes them both. A man's first desire is to get away as far as possible from the rookery, even should his mad course lead him to a model dwelling. His second desire is, naturally, to get away from the model dwelling, even if it should lead a man back to the rookery.

"Neither Hudge nor Gudge had ever thought for an instant what sort of house a man might probably like for himself. In short, they did not begin with the ideal; and, therefore, were not practical politicians."

Much of American politics and planning follows the Hudge-¬Gudge model, producing failure for both conservatives and liberals -- the former offering us an army of the homeless and the latter presenting us finally with drug-infested housing projects.

In the case of smart growth, the Hudge-Gudge conflict could have been avoided by considering not just a community's ecological liabilities but its assets, and then figuring out how to lessen the former without harming the latter. This might lead not to large scale redevelopment but towards ways of making it less necessary for people to move around so much in order to fulfill a day's tasks, permitting accessory apartments in single-family neighborhoods and easing zoning restrictions on community-serving small businesses. In many suburbs wastefully designed shopping strips can provide more than enough room for high-rise density without imposing them on communities that don't want them.

It is helpful also to bear in mind that next to economists, no profession has been so consistently wrong and harmful to the human spirit as urban planning.

There was, for example, zoning that destroyed the mixed use city in the name of cleanliness and health and that laid the groundwork for the sprawl of which planners now complain.

There were decades of racist federal housing lending policies that created ghettoes in cities as the money fed the expansion of the suburbs.

There was the destruction of magnificent streetcar systems on behalf of the automobile.

There was urban renewal that destroyed communities instead of rebuilding them.

There was anti-human public housing.

There were - and continues to be - grandiose "economic development" programs that overwhelmingly favored the upper class and a small coterie of developers but which left less wealthy urban residents increasingly victims of neglect and of gentrification.

Each of these schemes were based on physical solutions to human, social and economic problems - conceived by planners and politicians stunningly indifferent to their affect on actual people.

The human, the community, the small were repeatedly considered archaic, insignificant and regressive.

From the progressive movement of the early 20th century on, well-meaning but excessively self-assured members of the elite have controlled the debate, the money and the plans, with barely restrained contempt for the reservations, concerns and resistance of the less powerful. And so it is with smart growth.

Listen to Grow Smart Maine:

"Many of Maine's smaller cities and towns are experiencing unplanned growth but lack the resources and experience to manage that change in ways that protect the character of their community. . . The Model Town Community Project will work with a selected town during 2006 and 2007 to provide tools and advice that will help the town shape its future. The project will mobilize , state and regional resources, enable the town to explore new growth strategies and fully engage residents by combining the best elements of New England town meetings with ground breaking new technologies."

In other words, we'll come in and show you how to run a town meeting our way, just like we learned at business school.

But if smart growth is meant to be about environmentally sound planning, how come we have to consolidate our school districts and our town offices?

Because once you put your faith in the sort of expertise that a planning-managerial elite offers, once you turn to MBAs like others turn to Jesus, then you don't really need democracy, town meetings or small schools. What you need is efficiency and managerial skill and you have been promised that, so why worry?

Further, even over smart growth's short life, a disturbing alliance has developed between some liberals and developers thanks to the latter discovering that the environmentalists didn't really want to stop them from building, they just want them to build somewhere else and most likely in a place where they could get more per square foot.

Washington, DC offers a good example and, once again, the Brookings mafia is hard at work. In fact, it even wants to eliminate something that make Washington one of the most appealing cities in the world: its building height limit.

Reports the Washington Post: "Christopher B. Leinberger, a land-use expert at the Brookings Institution, last week brought up the prospect of raising the height limit on buildings in the District. He didn't specify a height but encouraged community leaders, planners and developers to at least entertain the idea. 'Things have changed,' he told a standing-room-only crowd . . . 'We have an office market that needs to go someplace,' he said. 'Density is critical. We're running out of land. We need to build up.'"

In some neighborhoods, citizens are even being called NIMBYs because they don't want high-rises shoved into their pleasant communities and the name-callers include not just the developers but enabling liberals who think they're saving the planet. Never mind that in their own city, in Greenwich Village or in Europe there are plenty of examples of density without high-rise factory farms.

Fortunately, not everyone is taken in.

One in attendance at the density meeting wrote online afterwards: "The biggest hole in the program, in my humble opinion, was the fact that none of the presenters acknowledged that DC is not Bethesda or Atlanta or Portland. It is our nation's capital, not a strip mall out in Fairfax waiting to be retooled."

It is this remarkable notion of our nation's capital and other cities - that they are just strip malls waiting to be retooled - that is driving much of urban planning and politics these days.

In both the school consolidation and the smart growth debates the issue of human scale - and not some liberal-conservative conflict - is at the core. But we have been taught - by intellectuals, by the media, by politicians, - to revere a promise of efficiency and technological advance over the empirical advantages of living the way humans have traditionally lived, including valuing the small places that host, nurture and define their lives. We have been trained not to even notice when our very humanity is being destroyed in the name of mere physical change.

We should notice, though, because in the end, if we lose the fight for staying human, whether we were liberal or conservative won't have mattered a bit.


ALAN CARON, president of Maine's Grow Smart, writes about our article on smart growth and school consolidation:

"Nice story on what's happening in Maine. You obviously spent quite a lot of time on it. Too bad you missed the single most important fact about the school administrative consolidation discussion going on up here, while you were so busy waxing poetic on Maine's town meeting tradition and control. Why do we need to get beyond having a superintendent on every block? Simple. 55% of the cost of schools is borne by the taxpayers of the state, not the community. Hardly in the tradition to which you referred. And taxpayers have every right to expect that their money isn't wasted. The town next door to mine has a superintendent for one elementary school. If that's what control means we're all ready for a little less and a lot more efficient. Does doesn't that mean we have to throw out democracy, but it does mean we've got to stop treating control like it's some shrine of infallibility and start asking some tough questions. Maybe in the future a little less ideology and a few more facts would help better inform your readers."

SAM SMITH - Of course, this is not a matter of a couple of school districts consolidating but a massive centralization of school districts being pushed by a governor with no known expertise in either education or efficiency. And neither can Grow Smart can offer guarantees of efficiency. For example, a study done for the Pennsylvania state legislature last September found that "Overall, the research did not find any evidence to support the notion that bigger districts are better districts, in terms of cost, administration or academic achievement, in rural Pennsylvania." Another study, in November, found that while Oklahoma law allows different administrative costs depending on the size of the district, "most districts were operating below that level regardless of their size."

There are other problems with consolidation. The Institute of Local Self-Reliance has noted, "For many small rural districts, state financing has been a lifesaver, providing desperately needed resources. But state control of the purse strings has also been problematic for small schools. In many states, funding formulas have given priority to maximizing efficiency (as measured by annual per pupil costs). These states have devised policies that favor big suburban districts and pressure rural schools to consolidate."

A case in point was Nebraska: "Beginning in 1996, the state adopted a series of policies aimed at forcing small schools to consolidate. The state increased its share of school funding from about one-quarter to one-half. But unlike the old funding formula, which had doled out funds based on each school district's costs, the new formula provides a flat rate per pupil. This rewards the state's largest school districts, which have low per pupil, per year costs, and penalizes the state's smallest school districts. Ninety small rural districts lost more than 10 percent of their state aid. Meanwhile, the largest school districts saw their funding increase by $78 million. . . According to the Nebraska Alliance for Rural Education, the state is losing some of its best schools. Those who attend high schools with fewer than 100 students are significantly more likely to graduate and go on to college."

Caron's argument that money should decide who has the power - sort of like our political campaigns, no? - suggests that the federal government is entitled to choose who is on the board of Halliburton or the Bath Iron Works or that the lives of all senior citizens should be directed by Washington in return for their Social Security. Caron's view, however, reflect corporate rather than democratic values.

What is happening in Maine and elsewhere is that the corporate ideology of bigger is better is being applied in a roughshod manner as parents, media and politicians are conned into believing that this will produce more efficiency. In fact what will happen is that the children and their schools will be treated as a disposable product line rather than as the raison d'etre for the school system.

Local control does not provide infallibility, but it does provide malleability, which means that when you have a problem you only have to go to town hall and not have to convince Governor Baldacci, the state legislature, the media, the Brookings institution and all the money behind them. It worked pretty well for two centuries until people began falling for the corporate myth that making the trains run on time was a more important goal than democracy. Or education. The problem with this myth is that not only do you lose democracy but you often find the trains still come late. And the kids still struggle.

ALAN CARON - This is precisely the debate that Grow Smart Maine was trying to spark with the Brookings report. We certainly don't want anyone to be silent in this discussion.

To us this isn't about the particulars of the Governor's proposal, which surely will undergo adjustment. Nor is it about consolidating schools. Grow Smart is in strong supporter of and neighborhood schools, which are often the heart and soul of communities. But we're not going to be able to keep those schools open, pay teachers decent salaries and prepare kids for tomorrow's jobs if we spend too much money on administration. Something is going to give. Is it schools, superintendents or kids?

We can argue that the status quo works fine, but it's worth remembering that Maine just barely survived a recent TABOR vote, that would have had disastrous effects on schools, despite over a million dollars spent by national education interests. Can we continue to ignore taxpayer resentment? We don't think so. We will pay a fearsome price if we do.

Let's remember, also, that our two hundred year tradition of control, which effectively established the size of towns and school administrative districts, reflected how far people could ride a horse to town and return safely by dark. Today we're riding the internet and living in commuter-sheds rather than towns. Does Maine still need a superintendent within riding distance of every parent? We don't think so. Can we find a way to adapt to today's realities while maintaining the best of control? That's the challenge.

SAM SMITH - As we have pointed out, when you add quality of education, and not just financial figures - to your judgment of efficiency, the massive centralization of school districts since the Conant report don't seem efficient at all. A major cause of America's trouble with public education has been its conversion from an academic enterprise to a bureaucracy modeled on the corporation. Beyond that is the problem that while small schools may not be an initial target they certainly become one in a big administrative unit obsessed with fiscal efficiency. Further, there is no guarantee that large units provide even fiscal efficiency. For example, in a period during when the DC public school system population declined by a half, the size of its central administration almost doubled.]



WIKIPEDIA - The principle of subsidiarity holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity," which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.

The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between the perceived excesses of laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of totalitarianism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. The principle was further developed in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, and Economic Justice for All by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.


AYESHA ZUHAIR, DAILY MAIL, 2007 - Although the current devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have only been in place or legislated for about nine years, the United Kingdom has over 120 years of experience with devolution and the complex political and institutional issues it presents. This long accumulated experience started when William Gladstone tried to deal with the political problems in Ireland by introducing a devolution measure referred to by Gladstone as a Home Rule Bill in 1886. . .

The United Kingdom's first experience of the working of a devolved legislature was in Northern Ireland over a fifty-year period. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 gave Ireland Home Rule, but partitioned Ireland. There were to be two parliaments one for the 26 counties of the Catholic south and another for the six Protestant counties in the north. The Ulster Protestants did not want home rule, but were forced to accept it as the price for being excluded from the Catholic nationalist south. . .

Devolution in Northern Ireland illustrated how difficult it is to make devolved institutions with full taxing and spending powers financially independent and accountable, when they have a limited tax base. In principle, the Northern Ireland parliament had tax raising powers and was expected to finance its own public services and make an 'Imperial Contribution' to the cost of things such as the armed services. . .

Legislation for a devolved assembly with an executive and legislative power was agreed as part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998. While the Protestant Unionists in 1921 had not wanted a parliament during the fifty years of the Stormont regime, they became accustomed to a high degree of autonomy, which they came to appreciate and enjoy. The people of Northern Ireland had no practical means of influencing the government at Westminster, because the political parties in mainland Britain had taken no effective part in Northern Irish affairs since 1921.

The condition for devolution that the United Kingdom Government insists on is a framework of power sharing that enables both community in Northern Ireland to participate in the devolved administration and that the aspiration of the nationalist communities, for an Irish dimension, is also taken into account. For large parts of the Unionist majority such arrangements are unacceptable. Reaching agreement on stable power sharing arrangements is therefore difficult.

Scotland has a full parliament. It has all powers devolved to it that were once exercised by the Westminster Parliament, apart from a list of specific powers scheduled as reserve powers. The principal reserved items relate to the Crown and constitution, foreign affairs and defense, immigration and economic, monetary and financial matters. Oddly enough, abortion is specifically identified as a reserved United Kingdom matter. . .

Wales has an elected assembly, not a parliament that appoints an executive headed by a First Minister. . .

The United Kingdom's experience of devolution has had two dimensions to it so far. The first has been the consequences of the processes that have led to devolved institutions; and the second is the working of the devolved arrangements themselves. The process of devolution has had a powerful impact on the United Kingdom party system breaking and rearranging party majorities. Both the process of making decisions about devolution and the institutions created by it have resulted in novel constitutional practices: referendums, special majorities, changes in parliamentary procedure, a new relationship between the Crown and a legislature and the creation of a Presiding Officer whose function is more politically engaged than that of the traditional role of the Speaker.


ALTHOUGH CRITICISM abounds concerning the rapid concentration of governmental power, world trade, domestic commerce and police authority - just to name a few - there is a stunning lack of alternatives proposed or even mentioned by media, politicians or intellectuals. Even among those who despise these trends there seems an almost tacit acceptance of their inevitability. A few examples:

- One of the greatest assaults on the Tenth Amendment's protection of state powers - No Child Left Behind - is broadly supported by both Republicans and Democrats. The Tenth Amendment, in fact, has almost become the Forgotten Law.

- America's right to determine the values and politics of the rest of the world, even to the point of invasion, has wide acceptance among Democrats and Republicans, limited only by the caveat that it may not be as big a disaster as is Iraq.

- The gross conglomeration of the American media - the broadcast media in particular - has raised few objections saved from those hardy groups that still believe in a free press.

- Many corporations use America mainly as a mailing address as they seek to do to the world what Starbucks has done to many urban neighborhoods.

- The cultural values of Americans is increasingly based on the idea that bigger is better. We have been taught to worship grandiosity and ridicule the modest.

Obviously, these are not universally held values although one might easily think so. In fact, underneath the surface of mainstream megalomania are numerous examples of groups and people still acting in, or striving for, human scale. They are, in fact, about some of the most important business of a human: reversing the gigantism that has not only hurt our lives but is threatening the whole planet.

Collectively these alternatives can be called examples of devolution or subsidiarity, the dispersal of authority to the lowest practical level, an increasing proximity of people to power, the return of commerce, politics and policing to human scale.

Nothing could be more important and no idea is more in need of a movement.

You didn't have to explain this in the 1960s and 70s when community power and control were well up on the left's agenda only to be wiped from memory by a generation of accumulators, self-aggrandizers and monopolizers preaching the human heresies of Thatcher, Friedman and Reagan like so many hustling evangelicals.

This journal has joined innumerable fights on this matter over the years. It argued for urban neighborhood government, it published a series of articles on devolution in other countries (including a prediction of the break-up of the Soviet Union) by Thomas Martin, and we have raised the flag for more urban states.

The best way to think about devolution is to remember that it refers to what Martin has called "the ideology of scale." This ideology functions in a three-dimensional fashion with traditional ideologies. For example, one can be a progressive decentralist or a conservative who believes in centralized authority. Thus conservatives and progressives may agree that much power needs to be returned to a level, but might disagree violently on how it should be handled once it gets there.

What works so well in the manufacture of a Ford Taurus -- efficiency of scale and mass production -- fails to work in social policy because, unlike a Taurus, humans think, cry, love, get distracted, criticize, worry or don't give a shit. Yet we keep acting as though such traits don't exist or don't matter. We have come to accept the notion that the enormous institutions of government, media, industry and academia are natural to the human condition and then wonder why they don't work better than they do. In fact, as ecological planner Ernest Callenbach pointed out, "we are medium-sized animals who naturally live in small groups -- perhaps 20 or so -- as opposed to bees or antelopes who live in very large groups. When managers or generals or architects force us into large groups, we speedily try to break them down into sub-units of comfortable size."

Today, if you want to tell it to the boss, you may have to travel a couple of thousand miles just to get to the receptionist. All of our systems appear to be on steroids. And like the drugged athlete, nature eventually pulls the plug. The institutions that have imposed a tyranny of size upon us not only fail to accomplish what they set out to do but are themselves disintegrating. The troubles of such huge institutions is a primary characteristic of our times. Consider the Soviet Union, Sears, General Motors and, yes, the United States itself.

We see it and yet we don't. Our loyalty to our assumptions and ideologies as well as our natural difficulty in accepting mortality even in non-human systems lead us to underrate such changes, to keep trying to do things the old way one more time.