Future of Texas

We seek to foster legitimate, honest discussion of the structural alternatives open to Texans who are concerned about the direction of the political process in the United States. Politically incorrect opinions are welcome if responsibly stated. Join in!

07 September 2006


A web site entitled "American Secessionist Project" (http://www.secessionist.us/), a project of the Middlebury Institute, attempts to establish some historical background as a basis for discussing modern secessionist movements. Many current movements are listed and, in addition, a nation convention has been scheduled for those involved or interested in the subject and the movements (Nov 3-4, 2006 in Vermont). Information about the convention can be found at


The institute explicitly rejects individual separatists but embraces peaceful organizations attempting to bring the option secession into the mainstream political thought in their area. Comments and participation is encouranged for all interested in the subject.

02 June 2006

More discussion of third party solutions

In her June 1, 2006 article "Third Time", Peggy Noonan addresses the broadening desperation in America for a party other than the Republicans and Democrats. But there is already no shortage of "third" parties (see below) and the simple formation of yet another party will not be the solution to America's increasing inability to govern itself effectively.

In theory, the two-party system is supposed to, through natural political competition, form two reasonable peaks (one on each side of center) within the political spectrum, with neither ever being very far from center - thus keeping political power precariously balanced in the middle of the political spectrum. Ms. Noonan correctly notes that "The problem is not that the two parties are polarized. In many ways they're closer than ever. " So, while the system would seem to be working, the masses of Americans are left unsatisfied because this model presumes that the American political spectrum is two dimensional. It is in fact at least three dimensional and, accordingly, a viable third party is necessary to force the kind of negotiations that can strike a true balance in the center of a three dimensional political spectrum. Any new third party that seeks to gain critical mass will have to prove attractive to major segments in both major parties.

Ms. Noonan makes mention of the 1992 presidential campaign of Ross Perot, which initially seemed to do just this by espousing business-like financial responsibility and social libertarianism. At one point, Perot had more than 40% in the polls and lead the major party candidates (Clinton and GHW Bush) by more than 10% each. In the end though, his personal quirks and lack of unequivocal commitment to the campaign destroyed the opportunity and left a lot of Americans disillusioned about the prospects of breaking the two-party system.

Ms. Noonan feels that the energy underlying that 1992 phenomenon is resurfacing But, she says, "I don't see any potential party, or potential candidate, on the scene right now who can harness the disaffection of growing portions of the electorate. But a new group or entity that could define the problem correctly--that sees the big divide not as something between the parties but between America's ruling elite and its people--would be making long strides in putting third party ideas in play in America again."

Certainly, if we only had to solve this problem in Texas among Texans, it would be much easier to do.

America First Party
American Party
American Heritage Party
American Independent Party
American Nazi Party
American Reform Party
Christian Falangist Party of America
Communist Party USA
Constitution Party
Constitutional Action Party
Family Values Party
Freedom Socialist Party / Radical Women
Grassroots Party.
Green Party of the United States (Green Party)
The Greens/Green Party USA (G/GPUSA)
Independence Party
Independent American Party
Labor Party
Libertarian Party
Light Party
Natural Law Party
New Party
New Union Party
Peace & Freedom Party
Prohibition Party
Reform Party
The Revolution
Socialist Party USA
Socialist Action
Socialist Equality Party
Socialist Labor Party
Socialist Workers Party
Southern Independence Party
U.S. Pacifist Party
Veterans Party of America
We The People Party
Workers World Party
American Falangist Party
American Patriot Party
American Socialist Party
Constitutionalist Party
Democratic Socialists of America
Knights Party
Libertarian National Socialist Green Party
Multicapitalist Party
Pansexual Peace Party
Pot Party
Progressive Labor Party
Revolutionary Communist Party USA
Social Democrats USA
The Third Party
U.S. Marijuana Party
Workers Party, USA
World Socialist Party of the USA

Noonan on the status of the two-party system http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110008453
American parties http://www.politics1.com/parties.htm
Posner on the 1996 campaign http://www.posner.com/articles/stealth.htm

14 May 2006

Government Leadership Can Solve Problems

I am reading the new Douglas Brinkley book "The Great Deluge" which chronicles the days leading up to Katrina's landfall on the Louisiana / Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the problems we all know occurred in the aftermath of the disaster.

Brinkley's dedication singles out two groups who he believes deserves credit for softening the blow: the United States Coast Guard, and the people of Houston, Texas. According to Brinkley, the Coast Guard's response was immediate, complete, and virtually without error. He believes that thousands of lives were saved by the decisive action of USCG leadership and the heroism of members of the Coast Guard. Many of the USCG personnel who participated in the weeks of search and rescue operations were, like the New Orleans Police Department, New Orleans area residents. In fact, more USCG personnel lost their homes to Katrina than did New Orleans Police officer, however Brinkley reports that zero USCG personnel failed to report for duty as a result. In short, as opposed to NOPD, USCG responded in a heroic manner because of its superb leadership.

Brinkley also praises the City of Houston, Harris County, and the citizens who responded by opening their homes, churches, schools, businesses, and wallets to the hundreds of thousands of evacuees who made their way west in search of shelter. He gives Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Houston Mayor Bill White credit for exercizing decisive leadership to make things happen, overcoming bureaucratic obstacles where New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, and FEMA Director Michael Brown could not rise to the occasion.

Many lessons for Texans in this catastrophe. First, a CAT 5 hurricane striking Houston directly could be every bit the human disaster as was Katrina on New Orleans. Second, Texans are by nature generous and willing to help their neighbors, and still have the "can-do" attitude for which we have historically been known. Third, we can't expect to be taken care of by Washington DC and should organize ourselves on the assumption that it is our obligation to prepare ourselves for future calamities (natural and man-made). Fourth, leadership and personal courage really do matter.

So far, it's a great book. Hope many of you will read it.

11 May 2006

A "Message" That Wins in Texas

I was reading the Peggy Noonan column in today's Wall Street Journal when it dawned on me that even though zero progress is being made in Washington, there is at least hope for reform when a respected Republican like Ms. Noonan goes public with this kind of criticism of her own kind. Of course, she is hoping that her words will steer the GOP back in the direction of fiscal and moral sanity -- she is not advocating for a third party solution.

Republicans, as Ms. Noonan articulates, gained control over Congress in the 1990s because they had a clear and understandable message that well over half of the American people supported. A decade of power on the hill, coupled with six years of control of the White House, has certainly dulled what was once a powerful intellectual argument for change. Like him or not, Newt Gingrich was (and is) a man of big ideas. I believe the same cannot be said for Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, et al. At this point the Republican-controlled Congress is all about maintaining that control. Of course, such a faulty focus will hasten their loss of control, throwing us into the hands of what is certainly an even more irresponsible party.

Texans aren't forever and irreversably Republican in their beliefs. Democrats, Libertarians, or Independents of whatever stripe could make significant inroads into the Texas delegation with the following set of principles:

1. No matter what we think about the way things are going around the world, we can't be a world power for very long without a strong economic foundation. Such a foundation can be restored through the reduction of (or preferably the elimination of) unsustainable entitlements, and through balanced fiscal budgets, a reasonable trade balance, and a reduction of our dependence on imported energy. Before moving on to other elements of a winning message, Texans will value the common sense solutions of:

(a) Enacting, at the very least, changes to Social Security and Medicare qualifications to put those programs on a survivable footing. Since all subterfuge of these programs being anything other than transfer payments from young to old and from rich to poor has been long since removed, the financial health of these programs should not be bailed out through tax increases of any kind. The programs themselves are unsustainable, and benefits must be reduced in order to avert their total collapse. Our society just can't afford what the politicians have promised, and we have to own up to it.

(b) Limiting federal spending to something like 101% of the prior year's actual federal receipts, and to something like 18% of the prior year's actual GDP. We'll have to cut something, unless Congress drums up the political will to raise taxes. I hate taxes, but if I KNEW that it was going for, say, extraordinary raises for our troops, I would support it. I can hardly think of another decent reason to raise taxes, though. We need to create a hard ceiling on federal spending because the gravy train up there is getting ridiculous. By the way, it's time for the president to start ignoring congressional earmarks -- a gutsy president would do this and would gain tremendous respect from rank and file Americans.

(c and d) A real energy policy that takes the restraints off of domestic oil and gas exploration and encourages the construction of refining capacity and nuclear power generating capacity would, within ten years, move us fairly close to energy independence. Mexico would need to open up its oil and gas industry to foreign investment, which would create jobs in Mexico, result in growing productivity and wealth in Mexico, and go a long way to solving our immigration problems. We should make that a diplomatic objective and be prepared to play hardball with the Mexicans to get them to do it.

2. We're stuck with Iraq and we have to admit it. As Colin Powell warned, "you break it, you own it", and that's exactly where we are. So we can't pull out and expect anything decent to come of it. But we can go back to the Powell doctrine of "if we're going in, we use overwhelming force", which was ignored in this war. I kinda like Rumsfeld myself, and the last guy I'd want as Secretary of Defense is a guy who is intimidated by the generals at the Pentagon -- however, I think it's getting close to the time when we can say Rummy and his neocon pals have screwed the pooch on Iraq. Time for a new Secretary of Defense who arrives with a new strategy for winning the war.

Now, with Iran on the verge of truly gaining nuclear warhead capability, we can see that we might have jumped the gun on the Axis of Evil, picking the wrong opponent, but now that's water under the bridge. Going forward, we operate as follows: America works with the UN to attempt a diplomatic solution, but if we fail to get one, our military force kicks ass, then gives way to the UN bluehats to police the mess that follows. It won't be pretty, but our occupation with inadequate troops has come at too high a price in terms of the wear and tear on American public support for the guys who are risking (and giving) their lives for us over there.

3. Immigration is not about phony issues like which language the Star Spangled Banner is sung in. Who gives a damn about that? Only the demogogues. Can we solve the problem by building a wall? Nope. Too many bricks and border guards required. But we can decide that laws on the books must be enforced. Do we deport more illegals? Sure. Do we say thanks to the Minutemen who volunteer to augment our border guard? Absolutely. But the best way to solve the problem is to start prosecuting the employers. They are breaking the law every bit as much as the illegal aliens, and their reasons for doing so, unlike the aliens themselves, is indefensible. Start sending a few CEOs to jail and watch how fast the problem melts away.

I could go on and on (and eventually, I will), but this is enough for now. Your comments?

02 May 2006

Shelby Steele essay on American paralysis shows why Texas may have to go its own way.

Timidity in tackling serious problems insures that they will not be solved. In this article, Shelby Steele offers a perspective on what make Americans too timid to even debate problems honestly, much less solve them. More evidence that Texans may be better of on our own.

25 April 2006

Congress Responds to Populist Ignorance Over Economic Fact

This morning's Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial that exposes Congress' hypocrisy in legislating a gasoline shortage to benefit Archer Daniels Midland and other ethanol manufacturers, and then trying to divert the blame for it to the industry which is struggling to comply with the massive changes resulting from this mandated switch to ethanol.

Clearly, the major underlying factor behind high prices at the pump is $75 crude oil. The "seven sisters" used to control the global price of oil, but today crude is a geopolitically priced commodity that has shot up in value because worldwide demand for it has eaten completely into the excess productive capacity that Saudi Arabia formerly maintained. When the Saudis had millions of barrels per day of spare capacity, offline and ready to go back online on short notice, oil prices were held artificially low. Today world demand growth (not just US demand) has caught up with total productive capacity, and if you took Economics 101 in college, the result is not a surprise to you.

The ExxonMobils and the Shells and the Chevrons have no control over the price of crude oil, but since they produce it themselves, they will profit from today's higher prices. And they should, because they invest billions of dollars of extremely high risk capital to find and produce the stuff so that we can buy it from someone other than Iranian mullahs and Venezuelan dictators.

Crude oil is not the only factor in the price of gasoline, however. We have an acute shortage of refining capacity in this country. We are not only importing crude oil to run the refineries that we do have, but we are also importing gasoline and other refined products in increasing amounts because a new refinery has not been built in America since the early 1980s. Our domestic refineries are running very close to 100% of capacity, the only curtailments being periodic in nature and driven by maintenance schedules and safety concerns. And what happens, class, when a commodity is being produced at very near the full capacity of an industry to do so? Anyone? Anyone? That's right, the price goes up.

We have made it impossible to permit the construction of a new plant in the US because of the outcry of environmentalists who drive their SUVs to Sierra Club meetings where they propose more and more limits on industrial development, and then have the gall to complain about the costs of filling their tanks. Our politicians have fallen prey to this because NIMBY trumps macroeconomics in terms of votes in their congressional districts.

Most recently, as the WSJ editorial points out, we have legislated the shuttering of MTBE plants, the current source of the oxygenate that gives our gasoline octane (remember, way back when it used to be lead). MTBE substantially reduced auto emissions, eliminating the lead that contributed to acid rain, so Congress pushed the industry to invest billions of dollars in the production of MTBE. Now, we've found that MTBE "might" pollute our groundwater if it is not stored correctly -- although it has never been shown to be a carcinogen nor has not been proven to have hurt anyone -- so Congress has, cheered on by the ethanol lobby (e.g. ADM, other major corn producers), mandated another multi-billion re-tooling of the refining infrastructure. These major changes do not occur without supply disruptions, and we will experience those this summer. And class, what happens to the price of a commodity when it's supply is disrupted?

Another major element in the price of your gasoline is the federal and state tax burden. Here's a link to an interesting article from the Tax Foundation that shows how excise taxes on the sale of gasoline far exceed the profits of the entire oil and gas industry.

So the problem is with our Congress. These guys (and women, we can't forget Cynthia McKinney) do not care about fixing our energy dependence problems. They are merely doing their political calculations, and they know that lining up against "Big Oil" is an easy winner with a poorly educated populace. So Congress has succumbed to the pressure of left wing interest groups to prevent the industry from investing in new refining capacity in the US, or in large exploratory projects in Alaska and offshore. They are the ones who have driven up the price of our fuel, and the government is the biggest beneficiary of this increase even as they sanctimoniously excoriate oil industry profit margins.

Americans do have an addiction to their cars, and it will take economic forces to break us of that bad habit. Higher oil prices will lead to smaller cars, not because the government demands it but because consumers demand it. Smaller cars and smarter driving habits will eventually bring those prices back down, but it will take awhile. Eventually, we will find another way to fuel our cars besides petroleum. But that won't happen until the "other way" is economic, which it isn't today even at $3.00 gasoline.

It took awhile for us to get into this mess, it will take awhile for us to get out of it.

The absurdity of US energy policy should be a major consideration for Texans, which would be a net exporter of energy on a stand-alone basis. Texans understand that the industry produces jobs and produces the fuel for the entire economy, entails a great deal of risk, and requires a healthy profit incentive. The other 49 states ignore supply and demand and the other inexorable laws of economics at their own long term peril.

20 April 2006

China and America's Future

Chinese President Hu's visit to Washington today (April 20) reminds us that the US is well on its way to becoming the tail on the China dog. Just as with oil rich Arab nations, the US is, at a record pace, sending its wealth (and the future prosperity of its children) to China. Record trade deficits continue to accumulate as China becomes the manufacturing site for US consumer items but continues to allow the theft of the US's only possible short term defense, it's intellectual property. US businesses must continue to invest massive amounts of economic energy in accounting and lawyering to deal with federal taxes, federal employment regulations, and runaway tort awards. These "investments" do not generate national wealth and help insure that the US will be uncompetitive in world markets for generations to come. China produces scientists and engineers while the US produces accountants and lawyers, but at the same time China has millions of people leaving the countryside for life in the cities and no amount of illegal immigrants from Mexico could offset this seemingly endless source of ready, able, and willing (to work cheap) labor. And as if that were not enough, similar challenges are coming from India and Southeast Asia. It seems increasingly clear that political power brokers in Washington are interested only in short term political advantage rather than the future of America's children. Perhaps free of Washington, Texas could move to create economic development zones and regulations designed to maintain competitiveness and to mitigate as much as possible the diminution in standard of living (relative to the rest of the world) which is inevitable in the US as global economic changes play out concurrently with the unraveling of US entitlement programs. While US politics continues to be dominated by an imagined struggle for social justice (e.g. rich versus poor), these world changes are consuming us and will make such debates moot.


Radio Free Europe's comments on Hu's visit: http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/04/91CC6541-2EFA-4CAD-B668-9AAF6226A96A.html

Fortune magazine on American competitiveness, "Is America the World's 97-lb. Weakling?": http://www.mutualofamerica.com/articles/Fortune/July2005/Fortune.asp

More perspective by Eamonn Fingleton: http://japanfocus.org/article.asp?id=403

Inside look at Eamonn Fingleton's book, "Unsustainable. How Economic Dogma is Destroying American Prosperity": http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1560255145/ref=sib_dp_pt/103-5606343-3750225#reader-link

01 April 2006

Lobbying "Reform" Approved by Senate Merely a Charade

For those who believed the Abramoff scandal would result in serious reform of the cozy lobbyist / congressman relationship, the Senate's 90-8 vote on Wednesday for an anemic reform bill was just another exercise in self-congratulatory PR.

Only a few true reformers, John McCain and Russ Feingold among them, refused to join in the bi-partisan charade that merely provided 90 senators with a political fig leaf on the issue of lobbying reform. Yes, it's true that now our representatives cannot accept a meal from a lobbyist or a citizen. But among the abuses that were preserved were extensive (and expensive) junkets, basically lavish vacations disguised as "research projects" that are funded by the same lobbyists, but run through qualifying public policy institutes for appearances sake. To make matters worse, the offending congressmen can still use corporate aircraft for personal or political travel, provided that they pay a deeply discounted price for the seat that doesn't come close to paying the costs of the flight, and of course at a price that you and I could never access. Funny how the only things that survived were things that only deep-pocketed special interests groups could afford. A simple constituent might be able to afford to take his congressman out for lunch, but of course would never have access to a G-5 or the ability to sponsor a "study" of cultural unrest in, say, Paris.

One other thing that boggles my mind. The Senate debated whether to eliminate budget earmarks, the preferred method for inserting pork into spending bills in the dead of night immediately prior to the bill's final approval. Such earmarks are so stealthily included that even the Las Vegas CSI team would never be able to find the fingerprints of the offending Senator. The Senate voted down the elimination of their favorite pork tool, and that is not what baffles me. What I don't get is why President Bush, who wants to argue for a line-item veto which has already been ruled unconstitutional, doesn't just ignore those earmarks and send the excess money back to the treasury. He would be within his right to do it, but apparently he would rather not anger the status quo in Congress.

To make matters worse, neither the pro Democrat media (CNN, the major networks) nor the pro Republican media (talk radio, Fox News) seems to be all that upset by the failure of the Senate to take meaningful action. This issue is apparently too subtle to attract any interest even in the wake of the Abramoff scandal.

Just another anecdote that makes me wonder whether we are capable of EVER reforming our broken system of governance.

29 March 2006

Is there a political solution via third parties?

Check the Neil Cavuto segment on third party viability:

Then check the Larry Sabato article on incumbent power: http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/article.php?id=LJS2006031601

What do you think?

08 March 2006

Welcome to Future of Texas

During the latter half of the eighteenth century, Americans came to the reluctant conclusion that America and its future generations would be better served governing themselves rather than continuing to exist as a subservient component of the larger British empire, which had become increasingly insensitive and unresponsive to the needs and desires of the American colonies. This sentiment was so strong that Americans were prepared to use violence, confront the mightiest army of the time, and face certain hardship and probable death in order to pursue just a chance that they might secure self governance for the generations of Americans that followed. The political philosophy and sentiments underlying this difficult decision were expressed and immortalized in the preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence. The American struggle for independence was noble, but not elegant - it was arduous, bloody, never certain as to its outcome, and almost a decade in duration. But, having succeeded, this action by the founding fathers and their generation of Americans has since come to be revered as transformative for this continent and for the world - a triumph for the concepts of local rule and self determination.

Today however, the United States, having since grown some 100 fold in population, seems increasingly unable to govern itself. As an example, the US social security system, designed originally to benefit from the wonders of compound interest and, in doing so, be self supporting, has been raided and plundered by the same baby boom generation that now seeks to benefit from it. As this financial Titanic heads inexorably toward it's actuarial iceberg, even a party that controls all branches of federal government and professes to be the party of financial responsibility, has been unable or unwilling to address the matter at all and continues to kick the problem down the political road, leaving to the next generations only limited, and mostly draconian, solutions. There are of course other examples or ineffective governance and as historic US economic power begins to give way to globalization and the emergence of new economic powers and evolving economic conditions, the ability of the United States to buy its way out of domestic mismanagement will increasingly be undermined - leaving truly responsible and responsive governance as the only path to effective government.

The emergence of America as the world’s greatest power occurred largely because of the heroic efforts of our grandparents’ generation. They persevered through a depression and a world war, either of which could have destroyed the nation’s economic or political fabric. This “greatest generation” not only prevailed over Nazism, Japanese Imperialism, and severe economic hardship; they handed to their children an America that was the clear leader of the world, morally and economically, as well as militarily.

However, the baby boom generation, which inherited this wealth, freedom and the ability to live a leisurely lifestyle, has not invested its share of blood and toil; instead, this over-privileged generation is in the process of consuming all of this wealth and capacity for investment in the future. Certainly, the fiscal behavior of individual boomers who spend 101% of their income (including a newfound addiction to $4 cups of latte) is shocking to parents and grandparents, who saved and reused tinfoil to assist the war effort.

But equally as troubling is the unwillingness and/or inability of our leaders in government to discipline the budget process. With Democrats seeking an expansion of the welfare state, Republicans seeking ever-lower tax rates, both parties feeding at the pork-spending trough, and nobody in authority willing to tackle the explosion of immense entitlement liabilities, one suspects we may be nearing a “tipping point” beyond which it will be too late to administer fiscal discipline without triggering a massive depression.

Despite periodic talk of structural changes (balanced budget amendment, line-item veto, campaign finance reform), or the long-awaited emergence of a centrist, fiscally responsible third party, there is no real evidence that any of this will happen in our lifetimes. As the two major parties appeal increasingly to their ideological extremes, the only things they can agree upon are the preservation of their special interest gravy trains, and the imperative to keep competing ideas from third parties out of the process. In the process, the great majority of Texans are becoming, effectively, disenfranchised.

Given the apparently inability of the United States government and political system to effectively manage many of the critical issues now casting shadows on the future of Americans, and the seeming unwillingness of those in power to make structural changes to a system which appears to be broken, many Texas have begun to wonder if participation in the US Federal system of government is really working to meet the needs and desires of Texas, Texans, and future generations of Texans. Recently, a similar question has faced other populations around the world:

---> Beginning in 1991, members of the Soviet Union and, previously, the Russian empire chose independence and/or confederation as their alternative.

---> In the 1990's, Yugoslavia, following the death of Tito, chose essentially to revert to its component states, some of which have reformed their alliances.

---> In 1992 Czechs and Slovaks chose to dissolve their prior alliance.

---> In 1995, Quebec came within about a half percentage point of voting themselves into secession from Canada

Like many of these populations, Texas was an independent nation prior to its integration with a larger entity, but this fact, while interesting and certainly relevant, is not a prerequisite to the consideration of an independent future for Texas. Tellingly, the concept of secession in the United States is not unique to Texas. Independence movements exist in other states as well, including California, Alaska and Hawaii.

Some secession movements have been characterized by and caricatured as the individual, militia, or cult who hordes weapons, declares their home to be an independent nation, and (finally to the point) refuses to pay taxes. Groups or individuals advocating such actions will not be interested in this web log. The purpose of this web log is not to promote independence for Texas but, instead, to provide a forum in which the future of Texas and Texans can be responsibly reviewed, analyzed, and debated, with political independence being treated as a legitimate potential solution worthy of serious consideration. We hope to provide an environment that allows an academic and non-seditionary look at if and how an independent Texas fits into the overall analysis of what is best for future generations of Texans.

The editors of this web log pose three basic questions:

1) Is the US federal government functioning effectively and is it delivering the brightest possible future for the coming generations of Texans?

2) If not, is reform of the US government and/or political systems possible, and if so, would it lead to a resolution of our major problems?

3) If not, should Texans (and perhaps other portions of the country), consider independence as a solution and would this be the best hope for maximizing the security and prosperity of subsequent generations of Texans?

To this end, we will establish several departments in which subscribers can link, post, and comment on the political, legal, economic, cultural, and practical aspects of each question.
This web site is intended to serve as an environment where reasonable and comprehensive academic analysis of these issues can be engaged in, all with the same end in mind - the potential opportunities and standard of living for future generations of Texans.

We thank you in advance for your interest and participation in the discussion.