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It's the first Monday in March and I'm in my office, trying to find 500 words before 8:00 a.m. Tuesday. 

I'm sitting in a beat up old wooden chair, working on a desk made of scrap iron and a chunk of marble countertop my brother-in-law gave me when he cleaned out his basement. There are buds on the trees, but nothing green out my window, just unseasonably open water, brown grass and black mud. 

I'm a little morose. People I cherish are struggling with things I can't fix and that always gets me down. 

My country's also struggling, or at least the governmental portion. I skim two or three newspapers every morning along with several magazines and I can remember a time when I was eager to see what happened in the world overnight. 

Those days are a little behind me. Most mornings now I dread to see what stupid things have been done, many of them done by my elected representatives. 

It all makes me want to write about Polish history. 

In the mid 1600s, Poland was a rich and powerful country, with a parliament and an elected king. Nothing resembling a democracy, though – the only people who got a say were the rich and powerful. Much like today, the rich people stacked the deck in their favor, including something called The Golden Freedom. When parliament met, at any point in time ANY member could stand up and say, “I OBJECT!” And when those words were spoken, every law and rule passed during that session was null and void, and parliament was adjourned. 

A lot of people consider it the worst governing idea ever.  


Because here's the thing. You can never get everybody to agree on everything. That's just the way of the world. And even an idea that does have nearly universal support will get opposition from people with their hands out, eager for money or power. 

You may be shaking your head at the stupidity of those Poles four hundred years ago, but how different are we now? Not that long ago, one member of Congress held up promotions for hundreds of military officers, because he was mad about...I actually can't remember what was bothering him, but it had nothing to do with the merits of the promotions. There's a custom in the Senate that you can't appoint a federal judge, no matter how qualified, if one of the senators from his/her state objects. And as I write this, a bill to provide aid to Ukraine, supported by vast majorities in both the House and Senate, is not being voted on because one man, the Speaker of the House, has decided he doesn't want to have a vote, knowing he would lose. 

Even outside of Washington we have such an incredible density of rules and regulations that it is almost impossible to do big things, and if something is accomplished, it costs two or three times as much as it should. 

Keep in mind, none of these obstacles are part of our Constitution, they're just rules or customs that have grown up over the years, largely in part because the powerful or the passionate don't like to listen to the majority. 

What happened to Poland, with its strange rules making progress impossible? Oh, it struggled along for another hundred years, slowly sliding downhill until it was finally partitioned off by its neighboring countries and it disappeared off the map for a couple of hundred years. 

Just what I'm thinking about, on a grey March day, with a wind out of the north and an unsettled soul. 

Copyright 2024 Brent Olson 



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