Thursday, November 5, 2015
Also at http://www.dailykos.com/user/Al%20Carroll.
Article 12-Ending Class Bias in the Law
“1. All crimes must be punished. No president may pardon or give clemency to any in their own administration, or the administration of other presidents of their party, and all such previous pardons are overturned. The guilty shall never be allowed to profit from their crimes. The guilty must pay back all wealth from their crimes and pay for all damage done to others.”
Class bias, as much as racial bias, does great harm to American society and persons. But unlike racism, class bias is rarely addressed in America. It is far too often invisible or unspoken, an enormous pretense made that classism does not exist or can easily be overcome.
There is an enormous class bias in the legal system. A criminal (even an unarmed one) who steals five hundred dollars from a convenience store is far more harshly punished than a bank president embezzling millions. White collar crime is far less punished than “street crime.” Not only far shorter sentences, but white collar prisons have a notorious reputation for soft treatment, just country clubs with high fences where the well off do their time by working on their tennis game.
Such bias goes all the way to the top. Corrupt presidents have only rarely been punished, and far more often, false charges of corruption are only used as a smear by the opposition. Nixon and Reagan were never punished for their crimes, while dozens of faux scandals were invented to smear Clinton and Obama. One Clinton administration member was actually forced to resign over a single pair of low value football game tickets. Notably, the worst thing each president did, Clinton choosing to not halt genocide in Rwanda and Obama's drone assassination program, were not objected to by most members of either party.
Presidents have also misused their pardon power to prevent officials of their own party and even own administration from being punished. Ford pardoned Nixon, the man who appointed him, in what was widely regarded by most as a corrupt deal that cost Ford the next election. George Bush Sr. pardoned those convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal for lawbreaking that later evidence showed he himself took part in. Clinton pardoned wealthy campaign donors, de facto bribery in every way but name. GW Bush gave leniency to “Scooter” Libby for his part in leaking the name of a CIA agent, when some evidence points to Bush himself leaking the agent’s name. This abuse must be ended. Presidents should always be barred from pardoning their own party and administration members, since it's a clear conflict of interest and a way to protect their own criminal actions and associates.
Wealthy criminals are rarely punished equal to the crimes they commit. Bank presidents and CEOs who embezzle or defraud routinely negotiate deals allowing them to walk away with most of what they have stolen. The list of scandals of the last 30 years is disturbingly long: The Savings and Loan Scandals, BCCI, Worldcom, subprime loans, underwater mortages, Enron, Bernie Madoff's Ponzi schemes, Lehman Brothers, Cendant, MF Global, Fannie Mae, HealthSouth, Tyco, Allen Stanford, Qwest, Arthur Andersen, Bear Stearns, IMClone, and Adelphia.
All the scandals named involved billions of dollars, sometimes tens of billions. Punishment has been limited and rare. Only Madoff received any substantial prison time, and that is because his victims were all wealthy elites like Steven Spielberg. A good illustration of the double standard was Martha Stewart, who got only a few months in a cushy “prison” for insider trading that gained her about $45,000. Her business also did not suffer, nor did most of her customers or the public condemn her the way they would a petty thief, much less one stealing $45,000. By contrast, most ex-convicts guilty of minor “street” crimes have a hard time even finding minimum wage work. Many are barred from some workplaces.
The principle this nation and society should follow is simple: No one should benefit from crime. Any punishment should at least be equal to what was stolen or gained, plus the harm done to victims. Full restitution should be standard practice. That is even more important than prison sentences. The prospect of instant poverty will deter millionaire and billionaire serial criminals. It will also end much of the worship of wealth, the Mammon so common in mainstream America, a sickness that in its most extreme form is no different from admiring gangsters just because they are wealthy.
“2. All fees, fines, and taxes must be progressive, based on ability to pay. Regressive taxes, where the wealthy pay a proportionately smaller amount, are expressly forbidden and must be immediately made progressive.”
Social Security is one of the great accomplishments of American society and government. It changed seniors from the poorest age group to the wealthiest. But the way it was enacted and maintained is striking. To keep the wealthy from opposing it, the Social Security tax is among the most regressive in America. Only the first $110,000 is taxed. Someone making $110,000 and Bill Gates, worth over $60 billion, pay the same amount.
Sales tax, compared to taxes on sales of stocks, is regressive as well. The single mother buying groceries to feed her family pays higher taxes on most of her food, up to 10%, than the speculator who pays only 0.0034% when buying stocks. Until transaction taxes and sales tax match, this is a formula for class warfare, wealth redistributed upwards from workers to elites. Ideally, the transaction tax would be between 0.5 and 1%, and so would sales tax. A great intended side benefit would be its reducing speculation in the stock market, one of the biggest reasons for instability in the economy since the start of the century.
Fines for lawbreaking should also be tailored to income and wealth. A fine of $500 devastates someone on minimum wage, and the unemployed have no choice but to serve jail time. But to the wealthy, such a fine is not even pocket change. In essence, many of the poorest go to jail for lack of money, while the wealthy are not deterred from lawbreaking. Were fines made progressive, on a sliding scale as income tax is, the average cost of fines would decline for most.
Far better to make all fines a percentage of combined income and wealth, say 0.5% of one’s annual income from all sources and value of all property and other wealth for a traffic fine, or one year's income and wealth for a fine handed down for a felony conviction. Thus (in addition to prison time) someone making the minimum wage with no other real assets would pay a $10,000 fine for a felony, while someone making $1 million a year with $2 million in property would pay $3 million in fines.
Both suffer the same just and equal fate, being reduced to zero financially for their crime. An added bonus would be that the law now has far more incentive to go after wealthy lawbreakers, when now the reverse is true. Thus all the extremely wealthy lawbreakers in the scandals listed before would have paid billions or tens of billions in fines, exactly what they deserved, not a single penny of profit from their crimes.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Article 11- Ending Institutional Support for Hatred
“1. No government body, law, or regulation will sanction or reward racism or ethnic hatred, religious bigotry, sexism, or other hatreds based on linguicism (hatred or discrimination based on language) or national or regional origin, whether intended or claimed to be unintended.”
The start of doctors' Hippocratic Oath is “First, do no harm.” For most of American history, government deliberately did actively harm nonwhites, and the US system was openly white supremacist. Besides the obvious African slavery and genocide against American Indians, the earliest immigration laws in the US restricted citizenship to whites only. A racist immigration quota system was kept in place until the late 1960s. Interracial marriage was banned and an elaborate system of segregation put in place. Asians, starting with Chinese, faced a series of Exclusion Acts. Native Hawaiians saw their language banned as late as 1986, American Indians were punished for speaking Native languages, and indigenous ceremonies were banned. Social Security in the beginning did not cover farm workers or other professions with a high number of Blacks, Latinos, and Natives. There were special taxes aimed at Black businesses in the south, and against Chinese and Mexicans in California (the Foreign Miner's Tax.) Sometimes discrimination was simply petty, such as a ban on Manchu hairstyles. Even most elementary schoolchildren know that nearly all minorities faced bans or limitations on voting.
Some of that discrimination continues today, with old fashioned gerrymandering and voter ID laws squarely aimed at discouraging minorities. Voting stations in inner cities are often old and underserved, leading to long lines, or far away in rural areas with mostly Blacks, Latinos, or Natives. At the same time, largely white suburban polling stations are lavish and easy to access quickly.
Other government sanctioned prejudices are far more recent than most Americans realize. The US Department of Agriculture systematically discriminated against Blacks and Natives, denied them credit and disaster relief, had almost no minority employees, and delayed civil rights claims as late as 2004. The number of Black and Native owned farms dropped dramatically, forcing many into low paying labor. The state of Georgia currently sells a special license plate that directly funds a white supremacist group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans. There are numerous de facto whites-only college practices, such as legacy scholarships and admissions, that continue today.
Government must no longer and never again be an institution for inequality or be used by the bigoted to enforce their prejudices. This must be safeguarded not only because of a long odious past, but because of an equally ugly present, and a potentially ugly future. A number of current presidential candidates call for a wall on the border with Mexico, and some states have passed laws against the mythical threat of Sharia law. A tide of intolerance could return, as it did after September 11 when 80,000 males from 24 Muslim nations were forced to register with the government. (Supposedly done to prevent terrorism, not a single suspect was caught from this profiling.) This article will act as a safeguard.
“2. Nor shall any government fail to provide redress for longstanding discrimination based on the previous.”
Those who would try to use the previous clause to undermine government or public efforts to end hatred and the harm it brings must be blocked. One could easily see the ignorant, willfully blind, or maliciously racist or sexist trying to use this article to claim Affirmative Action or Title IX (aimed at preventing discrimination against women in education) must end. Such an argument is not just false, it is bigoted. Anti Title IX or Affirmative Action arguments assume that all better jobs or benefits naturally “belong” to white males and that women and minorities have inferior abilities.
This clause goes beyond the previous one. The government is committed to not only never causing or worsening bigotry, but to actively ending such bigotries.
“3. Any person or institution taking part in or promoting discrimination based on the previous will result in that person or institution's permanent inability to receive government jobs or benefits, including licenses, grants, subsidies, retirement including pensions and Social Security, tax deductions or credits, eligibility for public assistance, student or business loans or credit.”
Much like proposed Article 10, a bigot's First Amendment rights are not being infringed upon by this proposal. All that is changing is that such prejudices will no longer be supported by the state and public money. A Klansman should not be a cop. A neo Nazi should not be allowed to be a soldier. A Nation of Islam member should not be teaching history at a public high school. For obvious reasons it is dangerous and destructive to allow them to do so. Those dedicated to the destruction of a large part of the people of this nation should not benefit from its institutions, or be allowed to use those institutions to harm others.
By extension, the state and the public have the right to deny benefits to members of the public based on their harmful actions. The obvious precedent is drug laws. Federal law does not allow those with drug convictions to receive federal student loans. One way this proposal could be immediately used is to end public money going to groups trying to “cure” gays of being homosexual.
Simply having a private bigoted opinion will not result in being cut off. But being a member of a hate group, media or other corporation promoting and making money off hatred, or actively promoting discrimination and hatred either as an individual, or part of a hate group or corporation promoting hatreds, should lead to sanctions from society and government against you.
The biggest benefit to society will not be from preventing a militia terrorist from getting military training, or even from keeping racists off police forces. The biggest gain will be from blocking corporations from profiting at public expense when they spread stereotypes. Hollywood and news media will be punished by this article far more than the far right, for they do far more harm and spread far more hate. Politicians also will face sanctions, for they will lose public funding for a pattern of preaching bigotry.
Contrary to some claims, changing behavior can and often does successfully change even the deepest of bigoted opinions. Ending many forms of legal segregation showed that. Whites who previously feared or hated minorities discovered the world does not end when one shares the same lunch counter. The percentage of Americans holding bigoted opinions has dropped sharply. Where nearly nine-tenths of the public opposed interracial dating and marriage in the 1960s, today less than a fifth do. Racism can go the way of feudalism, as a system and mindset we have to explain to students used to exist.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Article 10- Nonprofits and Public Ownership for the Public Interest
“1. National defense industries, healthcare, prisons, education, and news media must be nonprofit or publicly owned. No business, corporation, or individual can profit unfairly from federal, state, or local governments or public resources and must pay fair market value for all previous resources, subsidies, and research.”
So much of the worst in American (and all of human) society and history has been driven by the profit motive. So much of US (and state, and local) government practice is corporate welfare, reverse Robin Hood at its worst. From billions for stadiums built for sports teams at the local level to trillions for the Defense Department internationally, government in America often funnels money upward, from the working and middle classes to wealthy elites, and from public lands to private elite hands.
This is naked class warfare, both the cause of and maintenance of deep inequality. Wealth redistribution upward shows that those who maintain government should be run like a business could not be more wrong. (Businessmen also generally have terrible records as presidents.) Some matters are far better left to public management rather than private, done by the state with no private intent or to make a profit because doing so harms us all and is morally repugnant and unjust.
But since partisans of capitalism are generally unmoved by moral arguments, here is another consideration: businesses are far less competent at public enterprises. They tend to think in terms of individual profit for the next quarter, rather than the long term public good. Public parks are one obvious example. No one would reasonably want national parks opened up to strip mining, or the crassest commercial theme parks. Both would lose the parks' great value, aesthetic, public, environmental, and even long term economically, for purely short term profit.
Fire departments are an example we have learned from hard experience should not be private. Early American fire departments were, and they were notorious for incompetence and thievery. When your home caught fire, private fire departments demanded payment before they would put out the fire, negotiating with you while your place burned. Often they stole everything they could in burning homes, even looting neighbor's homes. Competing private fire departments even got into brawls over who would fight the fires, so lucrative was the theft.
Intelligence gathering is another area where privatizing has long been a disaster. But unlike the previous examples, America has yet to learn that lesson. The CIA looms so large in American consciousness, it will surprise many that the US had no national intelligence agency until the Cold War. Lincoln relied on the Pinkerton Detective Agency for intelligence during the Civil War. (They also became notorious for violent union busting.) Pinkerton routinely over estimated Confederate troop strength by 200-300%. US generals like McClellan then often refused to engage the enemy, prolonging the war.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, some of the torturers in prisons like Abu Ghraib likely were private contractors who were unaccountable to US or other law. Some CIA agents volunteered for Iraq for six months, resigned, and then worked for private intelligence companies for several times their previous pay. Besides being overpriced, a high turnover and lack of experienced agents and analysts almost certainly made mistakes that cost American, Iraqi, and Afghan lives, prolonging and worsening both wars.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars gave us still more examples of the folly of privatizing war, relying on mercenaries, the most infamous being Blackwater, later rebranded XE. Blackwater mercenaries opened fire on an Iraqi crowd, massacring dozens. A drunken Blackwater guard also killed no less than the bodyguard of the Iraqi Vice President.
Certainly conventional troops do commit atrocities. But they at least face military law, whose inadequacies are because of the protection of an old boys network. (Often, enlisted and junior officers get punished with prison, while senior officers get their careers ended, but no prison time.) Private mercenaries have far fewer laws to govern them, sometimes none. They are often not bound by military codes nor local laws, and rarely prosecuted, even for atrocities.
Equally disturbing, and most importantly for American society, mercenaries and “contractors” (actually support troops) came to outnumber US troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Without mercenaries, Presidents Bush and Obama would have had to withdraw far sooner, or bring back an incredibly unpopular draft. The public turned against both wars after five years, and so few Americans were enlisting that both the army and marines missed their recruiting goals for years at a time. Relying on mercenaries allowed both presidents to ignore public opinion and keep the wars going over half a decade more. This proposed article by banning mercenaries will end future unpopular wars sooner.
Nations and empires who relied on mercenaries were always undone by them. The Praetorian Guard often chose who would become the next Roman Emperor. Mercenaries in the Thirty and Hundred Years Wars prolonged and worsened both wars. Looting became one of the main ways to pay them, attracting the worst criminal elements into these armies. The French Foreign Legion had an appalling histories of atrocities in Algeria, Vietnam, and within France itself during the Paris Commune uprising. The Spanish Foreign Legion was equally notorious for rapes and other atrocities during the Spanish Civil War and helped put Falangist fascism into power, a dictatorship that killed half a million Spaniards over 40 years.
The US defense industry, in Eisenhower's famous phrase the military-industrial complex, itself was one of the main drivers of the Cold War, then the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and now the current undeclared wars on terrorism in lands from Colombia to central Africa to Yemen to the Philippines. It is also socially and environmentally destructive to the US itself, far out of proportion to its size. The need for war or the threat of war to maintain an American empire distorts our democracy and society, giving us such movements as neoconservatism and government such as Homeland Security with its massive spying. Removing the profit motive will dramatically shrink all of that.
Even if one is unmoved by the moral arguments, one should acknowledge another matter: for profit defense industries are enormously inefficient and wasteful. Weapons routinely cost double or triple original estimates. Some combat planes cost more than if they were literally made of gold. Some military planes, like Howard Hughes' Hercules or “Spruce Goose,” were never in combat at all and barely able to fly. Hercules was the most costly and worthless plane in history.
By contrast, state owned defense industries produced one of the most reliable and low cost of modern weapons, the AK-47, compared to the far worse US commercially made M-16. (The M-16 jammed so often, US soldiers in Vietnam often used them to hold up tents.) Israel's defense industries, easily among the world's very best, have a large part entirely state-owned and much of the rest produced in partnership with the state. In the beginning Israeli weapons were almost entirely produced by collective enterprises.
Prisons are one more area that must remain ruled by and for the public interest. Private for profit prisons give the owners incentives to lock up as many as possible. The need for profit also cannot help but endanger not only the prisoner and the prison guard, but the general public in the long run. Abusive prisons where costs are cut to increase profit will worsen the rate of repeat offenders.
Private for profit healthcare has given the US terrible a far lower life expectancy compared to other industrial nations, especially for its cost. The worst of these US health industries are drug companies, charging up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single prescription. Typically drugs cost a tenth in other nations compared to the US. The next costliest nation is Canada, about half that of the US. Two horrifying side effects are that many Americans are over medicated because of the desire for profit, and many more Americans stop or never seek treatment because they cannot afford drug prices.
Public school education is funded unequally in America, with school districts based on income. For profit education private schools reproduce from young ages the inequality and elitism that undermines democracies. Contrary to public perception, US public schools have been getting steadily better for a third of a century. For example, the US dropout rate is now less than one in fourteen, where in the 1970s it was over half. Most of the problems in public schools are problems of economic inequality brought in from outside the schools.
The generally acknowledged best type of schools in the US, Catholic, notably don't have profit as their prime motive, only education. Parochial schools would not be affected by this proposal, only elite institutions. This includes elite private universities, mostly attended by wealthy elites, who receive far more public money per student than public colleges. This corporate welfare add to elite institution graduates dominating most of the upper levels of government. Taking away public giveaways and making them nonprofits will end their old money bias, and at least weaken their hold on the federal government.
“2. No journalist, commentator, or others presenting themselves as experts in politics, history, law, society, health, medicine, or science can make more than five times the median national income, and any excess income must be donated to charity or it will be seized by the federal government.”
Much of the worst actions of the media is driven by profit. This includes not just deliberate falsehoods, but fearmongering, deception, propagandizing, and hostility to empirical thinking and evidence. It was not always so. Believe it or not, as recently as the 1970s, news divisions at major networks were expected to be public services.
The problem is not ideological, for the most part, since some of the worst offenders don't even believe what they preach. To take the most obvious example, Rupert Murdoch does not agree with much of what his network and papers argue. It simply suits his business model to sell an ideology of fear and anger to a declining demographic.
The simplest cure, again, is to remove the profit motive. Media should be nonprofit. A salary cap will help drive out those who harvest fear for the sake of lucre.
Media is enormously class biased in America. When watching a “news” channel one is typically watching multi millionaires who work for multi billionaires. Thus the inevitable class hostility and hatred directed against the poorest. Think how often there are calls to drug test those on welfare. Now try to think of any instance of a call to drug test CEOs and bankers on corporate welfare. Media figures have little idea of what it is to be homeless or work for minimum wage. The best media today is that which is nonprofit, PBS, NPR, and BBC. The worst news media is the most profitable, Fox.
There is an equal need for an end to vast industries of outright hustlers trading in not just fear mongering but pseudo science, from global warming deniers to anti vaccine conspiracists, conspiracy theorists of every kind, and an entire industry of faux medicine, today's equivalent of snake oil that sells by the tens of billions. Faux medicine kills, by the thousands, preying on the desperate who turn to it instead of tested treatments.
Pseudo science kills not just people but democracies. An industry of deliberately false science has convinced two fifths of Americans that global warming is not real. A separate industry of conspiracy theorists long ago ceased to operate with vanity presses and xeroxed pamphlets and today has entire networks peddling conspiracy thinking. Much of 1960s counter culture protest was dissipated chasing phantom Kennedy conspiracies. Much of the outrage against the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was wasted over claims of phantom missiles on September 11, made by those who seem to have never passed high school science classes.
All of the above are still perfectly free to state their opinions. They will simply be unable to profit from them. There is a precedent, in laws that prevent those who commit crimes from benefiting from them. In New York, it was nicknamed the Son of Sam law. The same principle used against mass murderers can and should apply those who make their living by serial lying, that they cannot profit by doing so. Let them show empirical evidence, and if not, no profit. The number of websites claiming JFK was killed by UFOs will shrink rapidly if there is no ad revenue to be made from it. So will faux medicine if there is no profit in it.
“3. All journalists, commentators, and others presenting themselves as experts for mass news media will be fined every time they lie in their articles, broadcasts, or public statements. No person or media outlet can profit from lies or falsehoods and shall be fined at least equal to all profit, money, or benefits made from lies or falsehoods.”
The nation's constitution should not be a defense for falsehoods. Media and media figures should be accountable for what they say and write. Those who argue for free speech of any and all kinds often ignore the fact that the First Amendment does not sanction defamation, libel, or slander. It does not protect incitement to murder nor callous recklessness that leads to mass panic (commonly known as “no right to shout fire in a crowded theater.”) That fact makes the US more free, not less. Neither should the Constitution or American society sanction and allow profit from the deliberate and knowing spread of falsehoods.
For an opinion is different from a fact, despite the mushy solipcist's claim that everything is an opinion. The simplest way to toss solipcism to the side is to ask the believer to point a loaded gun at his toe and fire. Let him then tell us that his bloody foot and limp is just an opinion.
Facts are black letter realities, and their truths are often simple Cartesian logic. Most often, either something is or is not true. An opinion brings in interpretation, hopefully backed by solid evidence. For example, an opinion is that capitalism or socialism is superior to the other, or a third system superior to both. It is not an opinion that capitalism is less than 500 years old, it is fact. It is a blatant falsehood that “free markets” have always been around. The fallacy is a mere ideological propaganda claim, known to non-dogmatic scholars in the social sciences as the naturalizing tendency of capitalism.
Falsehoods in journalism undermine the central purpose of journalism, and should not be allowed anymore than one should teach in math classes that two plus two equals five. What is just punishment for one posing as an expert spreading deliberate falsehoods, or lazily passing them along without checking or because it suits their ideology? Fines should equal any and all profit made from lies, including salary, royalties, and advertising revenue, plus the market value of all free publicity gained by falsehoods.
Again, no one is proposing interfering with anyone's mythical “right” to be a serial liar, only their profiting from destructive lies. To give it an old fashioned analogy, one could still hand out books with falsehoods for free. You just can't sell the book to make a profit.
“4. The agency in charge of judging lies and falsehoods by journalists, commentators, or experts for the mass media must be entirely of respected historians for matters of history and politics, respected legal scholars for matters of law, and respected scientists or doctors for matters of science, medicine, and health, and shall be nonpartisan, with no member affiliated with any party.”
A completely nonpartisan and expert agency is needed to judge and enforce these new laws. Otherwise the agency would inevitably become censorship by one party or ideology upon all others. Thus the need to be very specific, written within the new Constitution and not within ordinary or easily repealed law, in who would make up such an agency, and in what they judge. It must be made up of experts in the particular fields, the most highly regarded in those fields, not partisan hacks nor self deluded amateurs.
If defamation, libel, and slander can be punished without harming freedom of the press, then why not this? If a judge or jury can assess such matters, why not an agency with members far more trained than the general public? In fact, we do have a model for such an agency in the current existence of fact checking sites online. The great majority of these sites have laudable records as badly needed resources. What this article simply proposes is that such assessments add financial penalties so that none profit from willful or ideologically driven lying.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Article 9- Referendums and Recalls
“1. Members of the public may propose referendums to pass new laws, recalls to remove for illegal or corrupt actions the President, Vice President, member of Congress, Supreme Court Justice, or any appointed official, or bring an end to wars or operations involving US troops.”
A referendum, done right, can be direct democracy at its finest. The public directly proposes and passes laws, completely bypassing both the Congress and the President. Referendums at their best show a public more far sighted than elected officials that may depend on elites for their office and fear angering them.
There have been over 500 national referendums in recent history in 56 nations. The region with the most national referendums by far is also the most democratic, Europe. Two nations account for over 300 of national referendums worldwide, Australia and Switzerland. Outside of those two nations, the most common reason for a referendum was to approve a new constitution or other change of government, especially after an overthrow, independence, or to prevent or end a period of turbulence. In a few cases, nations do have purely nonbinding referendums that simply force a legislature or president to consider an issue.
There are not any federal referendums in the US. But 24 states allow referendums within them. Most of these states are in the west, the best known being those in California. Puerto Rico has also held four referendums on their status, and they are perfect examples of doing them wrong. Each time, a pro status quo government worded the referendums to be confusing, hoping to defuse sentiment for statehood. Interestingly, sentiment for the status quo still keeps dropping, and for both statehood and independence it keeps rising, along with voter turnout on the issue.
California also provides some very good lessons in these problems. The most destructive of their referendums was Proposition 13, which not only rolled back taxes, it required a supermajority to raise taxes. It took several decades to undo the damage done by Proposition 13. Clearly, using a referendum for routine matters such as tax rates is a misuse, as is something as fitful and undemocratic as requiring a supermajority for a minor matter.
California also faced one of the more despicable examples of a witch hunt posing as populism, where Lyndon Larouche's organization of conspiracy theorists and bigots managed to stealthily force a proposition which would have quarantined AIDS patients. It's worth pointing out the measure was defeated by almost 3 to 1, and many of the signatures were gathered by a consultant later convicted of fraud.
The final example of abuse of referendums or plebescites is in fascist, communist, and other dictatorships. Dictators use them to claim to represent the will of the people. But very few people are fooled by such claims. Everyone can see that a dictatorship's elite proposal from above, with no debate or dissent allowed, is the opposite of actual direct democracy.
Recalls certainly have a better history. Most recalls in recent US history have been successful, mostly at the local level, mayors or town councils. Most efforts to recall governors have failed. Meacham of Arizona was recalled for an ugly history of racism, and Blagojevich of Illinois for corruption. The worst example of a successful recall was Gray Davis of California, orchestrated by officials in Enron, who were later convicted on other criminal counts. Enron officials ordered rolling blackouts across California, leading to Davis being blamed for a nonexistent power crisis. The recall overturned an election less than a year before. The simplest way to avoid such a debacle on a national level is to allow recalls only for lawbreaking or corruption.
A recall can and should be used to remove corrupt officials. Recalls could have removed Nixon far sooner and kept Reagan from avoiding responsibility for the Iran Contra Scandal. Recalls could have been used against partisan Republican leaders misusing the impeachment process against Clinton for the ludicrous matter of lying about oral sex. Recalls could have been used to remove the five partisan Supreme Court judges who halted a valid recount of the 2000 election. Had recalls been around in the 1850s, they could have been used to remove the judges in the Dred Scott decision, possibly making the Civil War less likely.
Referendums, had they been around at the federal level, could have ended the Vietnam War far sooner. The public opposed it by 1968, yet Nixon kept it going five years longer. A similar referendum could have ended the Iraq War as early as 2006, when the public first opposed it. There would have been tens of thousands of American soldiers still alive, many more not amputated or otherwise wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Iraqis surviving had the public been able to directly order these wars stopped.
“2. A referendum or recall vote happens 30 days after the certified collection of valid signatures of ten percent of all voters.”
A 30 day period is long enough to allow for informed debate and avoid a rush to judgement, but short enough to avoid a buildup of cynicism and disgust for the process. Ten percent is a high enough threshold to prevent most fringe groups of conspiracists or bigots from getting a measure on the ballot. Recall that Larouche's people had to use fraud.
Of course there are some groups large enough to succeed in still doing so. Birther conspiracy theorists were and are over 10% of the public. In that case, all a ballot initiative would do is rouse the anger of the public against them, as Larouche's people did in California. Referendums that sanction prejudices are explicitly barred by the clause below.
“3. No referendum may overturn, contradict, or limit anything in either constitution, and such efforts must be done instead by constitutional amendment. Nor shall referendums or recalls be funded by corporations, nor any private contributions except for individual unpaid volunteer work. Referendum advertising must be equally funded both pro and con, must be publicly funded only, and subject to reasonable limits.”
One of the arguments against referendums, and populism of any kind, is “What if segregation had been up for a vote?” It always was, and segregationists had to use force to impose it. For over a century racists used massive violence and intimidation to maintain separate and unequal divisions. Referendums are barred from being used for any form of government sanctioned prejudices by other proposed articles to this proposed new constitution.
What would be best for elections would also be best for referendums and recalls. Publicly funded elections only, so that corporations and wealthy elites cannot hijack them and do not have a greater voice than the average person. Neither side should be given an advantage financially. The time frame for recalls and referendums must be limited for the same reason as for elections, to prevent the overload, the burnout and cynicism and unnecessary waste that long election campaigns currently produce.
The founders, Madison especially, hated the idea of direct democracy. That is one of the strongest arguments for it, for we have been living with the destructive results of their limits on democracy for over two centuries.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Article 8-Renouncing War
“1. The United States shall not go to war except in self-defense, and permanently renounces wars or acts of military aggression.”
War is not healthy for living things, not just people, but democracies.
The historical record is clear: Most Americans have long opposed most wars most of the time. Yet Americans keep getting maneuvered, pushed, pulled, prodded, lied to, deceived, conned, forced into, or propagandized into one destructive and often useless war after another.
The Constitution was supposed to require wars be preceded by a declaration of war from Congress. The military was put under civilian command, and the US military for most of its history was very limited in size. Even as late as the 1930s, the US Army was only 140,000 men. Many of the founders argued strongly against a standing army of any kind as leading to tyranny.
So how did we wind up with a very large powerful permanent military, and the dangerous industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about? How do US troops keep getting sent to nations many Americans have never even heard of, much less believe it important to invade them?
It was not always this way. Up until the 1890s, the main wars the US fought were against American Indian tribes. The big exceptions were wars against Britain (1812), Mexico (1845), and the Civil War, the last one begun by Confederate aggression.
But there were a series of invasions, called filibusters, that most Americans don't know about today. These were private armies, mercenaries, led by American warmongers willing to invade other nations on their own to gain profit, territories, or power. Often they hoped to drag the US into wars, get nations or pieces of a nation taken away and made into part of the US. Filibusters invaded Canada and their allies provoked the War of 1812. They also invaded California and Texas many times. They gained an ally in slave owners who wanted to make Texas a slave state, and so they provoked the war with Mexico.
This was not what most Americans wanted. Congress passed half a dozen neutrality laws over 30 years making it illegal for private citizens to invade another nation. The laws proved difficult to enforce because of the size of the US and slow communications over great distances at the time.
Public anger and horror over the huge loss of life in the Civil War ended these private invasions, and US wars with other nations. Even “Indian wars” declined. US Grant had a Peace Policy that reduced battles with Native tribes by three fourths. But by the 1890s, the Civil War generation had died off and war enthusiasts like Teddy Roosevelt led a new push for empire and territory.
The US took Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Samoa by force. Self righteous scientific racists like T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson insisted they knew how other nations of mostly nonwhite people should be run more than the people there themselves did. Between 1890 and World War II, US troops invaded ten Latin Americans countries over 30 times, sometimes taking over a nation for up to 20 years at a time, other times installing a dictatorship to run the nation on US orders.
The Cold War saw American invasions in Latin America and Southeast Asia, dozens of US sponsored overthrows of governments, assassinations of national leaders, and outright genocide and democide in Cambodia and Indonesia, respectively. This has been done by US presidents on both ideological sides, Lyndon Johnson as well as Reagan, Obama as well as both Bushes. The only two US presidents in the last 125 years to not overthrow a non-aggressive nation's government were FDR and Carter.
Since World War II, there has not been a single declaration of war by Congress. Though there have been dozen of nations attacked by US invasions or bombings, there have been only three authorizations to use force; the notorious Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Bush Sr. receiving authorization (which he said publicly he did not need) for the Gulf War, and GW Bush's for the Iraq and Afghan Wars. The last has since been stretched by Obama to claim it covers him in warring against ISIS. Congress, including both parties, agreed to Obama's claim and declined to even meet to discuss any kind of an authorization, much less a declaration of war. (For the Korean War, Congress only authorized funding. Truman relied on a UN resolution as his military authorization.) Congress's failure is the strongest argument for making war more difficult, and demanding the public hold veto power over the start of wars or bombing other nations.
Political and media elites have the contemptuous habit of leaving the public out of war decisions. Both parties are guilty of it. There is the saying that “partisanship stops at the water's edge.” What this means in practice is that congressmen from both parties are expected to support a president's wars without reservation or criticism. For the only criticism accepted of wars by most of Congress or much of the media is that the president is not warlike enough, not willing to go to war on a hair trigger or bomb just to show dissatisfaction or crush other nations' leaders should they show independence.
For quick invasions and interventions, bombing campaigns or missile strikes, the public will briefly rally around a president by instinct and then move on, as long as there are no heavy American losses. For longer wars, the same stampede effect is used, often preceded by heavy propaganda to promote fear of the latest “greatest threat ever.” Then once the war starts, public opinion is ignored. Nixon and GW Bush both publicly said they ignored antiwar demonstrations, the biggest in America's history. Media elites also often ignored public opinion, or caricatured demonstrators as atypical when they came from across the spectrum of American opinions and backgrounds.
We should seek a model in Japan. After World War II, the nation looked at its shameful history, renounced warfare as an instrument of policy, and forbade armed forces used except for self defense. The US should do the same. On this issue even many Republicans and conservatives agree. For all the calls for wars by right wing media, they are out of touch with their own base. Most Americans of all ideologies and backgrounds want fewer wars, and never without just cause. Build such a stance directly into a new constitution.
“2. The United States, its government, agencies, or agents shall never try to overthrow another nation's government again unless directly attacked by said government.”
It must also be made far harder for the president to send troops, bomb other nations, or by any other ways try overthrow other governments, including in secret. Many Americans are aware that the US has invaded other nations or overthrown other governments. But most do not know just how often.
In Latin America alone, over a dozen nations were invaded by the US. Nearly three dozen nations had their governments overthrown by the CIA, or attempted overthrows, bought, stolen, or disrupted elections, and hundreds of assassinations of government leaders. Castro alone survived hundreds of attempts on his life. This pattern includes overthrows or attacks on nations that might surprise many people, like the CIA orchestrating the firing of Australia's Prime Minister in 1975, or stealing Italian elections for over 30 years.
This has continued in recent years, under both parties, with assassination orders, drone attacks from Colombia to Pakistan, interference in elections in Venezuela, recognizing a coup in Paraguay, and a potential next president, Hillary Clinton, whose election advisers played a role in the coup in Honduras. This must end. Any nation the US is not at war with, the US should never try to overthrow, with presidents explicitly forbidden to try.
“3. Unless under direct and immediate attack, the United States shall not go to war or deploy troops without an official declaration of war by Congress. Unless under direct and immediate attack, the declaration of war by Congress must then be approved by a vote of the American public within 30 days. Failure to get approval by the American public makes the declaration of war overturned.”
It must be made far harder to go to war. The only effort Congress ever made to control presidents' warmaking was the War Powers Act. In theory a president has two days to tell Congress about an invasion or attack, and 60 days to withdraw. It has never worked. Presidents ignored it, even argued it to be unconstitutional, and Congress never used the act.
Wars need to be made very difficult to start and far easier to stop, when right now the reverse is true. Unless the American nation, armed forces, embassies, bases, or other installations are being directly attacked, or citizens are needing rescue, the President shall be absolutely forbidden to deploy troops. Congress must declare war first. Period. Always. End of discussion.
Without exception also, a declaration of war must be followed by approval by the public. A 30 day period is best since the rush to judgement and sometimes public hysteria is often very brief. A 30 day period is deliberately intended to give enough time for opposition to wars or bombing campaigns to build.
“4. The US President can deploy troops to rescue US or other citizens and must prevent genocide or other large scale atrocities. But the president must report to Congress on such action within 7 days and Congress must approve the deployment of troops within 30 days.”
The one exception to the proposed article is to prevent genocide, other atrocities, or mass humanitarian catastrophes. As a nation which itself committed genocide against American Indians, by the Trail of Tears, by outright systematic genocide in California during the Gold Rush, by deliberate starvation tactics when slaughtering the buffalo, and by the slave trade of both American Indians and Africans, the US should have a special commitment to ending, limiting, or preventing genocide elsewhere, if possible. One cannot stop genocides entirely. But genocide or other mass atrocities can often be limited, and many people can be rescued. It is inhumane and morally callous to not try.
And often American presidents have not even tried. Three US presidents deliberately avoided trying to end or limit genocide at least three times, during the Holocaust, in Bangladesh in the 1970s, and Rwanda in the 1990s. Most Americans have not been taught about these moral failures. Scholars do know, and we need to teach and reach the public on this issue far more. In Rwanda's case, Clinton himself has admitted his wrongdoing, that he could have easily saved 300,000 Rwandans by sending in as few as 5,000 troops. For both the Holocaust and Bangladesh, one tenth of the lives lost could have been saved, but were not. In both those cases, the far more effective way of halting genocide than militarily would have been to publicly denounce it, offer refuge, and declare the guilty would face war crimes trials.
One may understandably ask, why the US? Why not other nations too? The obvious answer is we don’t control other nations, only our own. But we can and should ask other nations to work with us to halt atrocities when possible. In practical terms, less than half a dozen nations have the military power to end atrocities in other parts of the world, though perhaps a dozen other nations have the power to stop or help stop regional wars.
This already happens with peacekeeping forces around the world. It is not too widely known, and some may scoff because they don’t know this. But the United Nations does stop or shorten most wars most of the time. The obvious recent failure was the Iraq War. It was an exception, one caused by deliberate obstruction and falsehoods by GW Bush's administration. The UN currently keeps the peace in 15 nations, and has caused a 40% drop in wars in the past 20 years. Limiting wars, and certainly halting or limiting genocide, are vitally important humane, ethical, and (take note, conservatives) Christian goals. These also agree with most Americans' sentiment. Many Americans sincerely believed in some of the wars fought because they genuinely wanted to help others and opposed dictatorships and atrocities. The new constitution should reflect that, and limit US troop actions to only that and self defense.
“5. The US government is forbidden to go to war or use war as an opportunity to enrich in any way any American businesses, corporations, or individuals. Family members of government officials shall not be exempt from military draft, nor sheltered in special units, or in any other way.”
“The flag follows the dollar” in Smedley Butler's words, is one of the main reasons for war. Wars are often fought to enrich the already wealthy. Few things unite people on all sides of the ideological aisle in disgust as much as undeserved advantage and profit in wartime. The profit motive must be removed from warfare, and businesses and persons forbidden from getting wealthy often literally over the dead bodies of servicemen.
It is also true that there are few congressmen's children in wars, less than a single percent during the Iraq and Afghan Wars. The class bias in who was drafted during Vietnam was especially notorious. So were special “champagne units” set up to shelter children of privilege from the draft. This must not be repeated or allowed.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Also at http://alcarroll.com and http://www.dailykos.com/user/Al%20Carroll.
Article 7-Ending Colonialism
“1. The United States recognizes the great wrongs done by genocide against American Indians, apologizes fully, and shall always strive to make amends. All federally recognized American Indian tribes are forever sovereign, defined by their treaty or other legal relationship to the United States, with rights to decide their own government and laws, and to enforce those laws on all residents and visitors within their territory.”
Most scholars know what happened to American Indians was genocide. The number of deniers in universities is as low as it has ever been. Many historians and especially anthropologists and archaeologists used to think of Natives as curiosities to be studied. Today many are Natives, and non-Natives often think of themselves as allies.
But you would likely not hear the same honest answer, genocide, by asking much of the general public, or looking at what is taught in public schools. I've taught over 2,000 college students in the past ten years. Public school students are mostly given the Thanksgiving story about Natives, and not much else. Not one in a hundred ever hears the word genocide. Many students are taught that Columbus was actually a friend to Natives. It is hard to be more appalling and dishonest.
In Germany, the nation admits the wrongs in their history. They teach extensively about the Holocaust in their public schools. Having an American admission of genocide, an apology, and a vow to work to always change these wrongs, needs to be written into the new US Constitution itself. Then no one can ever deny it again. Our schools will have to teach it, much like having MLK Day forces them to teach about civil rights. Teaching the truth makes a repeat of past wrongs much harder, and just as important, difficult to deny present wrongs.
Honesty and self-rule are the best form of reparations. Native tribal nations should be sovereign by right. By international law, sovereignty cannot be abrogated or taken away, and is permanent. Tribal nations are defined by their treaty or other legal relationship to the federal government. But the Supreme Court defined that relationship as domestic and dependent. One result is that non-tribal members often cannot be prosecuted under tribal law, leading to a number of abuses. Squatters occupy reservation lands. Even legal residents who are non-Native cannot be punished in tribal courts. Worst of all is the high number of crimes committed by outsiders, especially rapes that were until recently not punished because of lack of jurisdiction. Recognizing tribal sovereignty over all who come onto reservation lands is long overdue.
Most Americans do not know about how Native sovereignty was taken away with the start of reservations, and only partly returned with the New Deal for Indians and by the efforts of Native activists. Most do not know how Termination tried to end all reservations in the 1950s, that dozens of tribes were targeted, and that some still suffer from that awful time. There are also dozens of tribes awaiting recognition that deserve to be federally acknowledged, sometimes decades overdue. Often they are hampered by a lack of written records because scientific racists like Walter Plecker in Virginia systematically destroyed or altered every document he could. There are also dozens of dubious outfits posing as tribes clogging up the recognition process, often taking advantage of an unwary public financially.
Recognizing tribal sovereignty in a new constitution can change all of that. A repeat of Termination becomes impossible, and those still denied recognition from those days retrieve it. The recognition process would be decided by tribal nations, not Washington, with the greatest weight given to the opinion of those tribes most related to those applying. Some reservations might choose to split, since they are today made up of several tribes forced together by federal agents. Other tribes split by treaties into multiple reservations might choose to unite.
“2. All American Indian tribes have permanent and absolute rights to their current reservation lands, forever. All federal lands, or lands reacquired by American Indian tribes, that are within their historically recognized boundaries or protected by treaty will be part of their reservations. All sacred sites of federally recognized American Indian tribes shall be returned immediately, or protected by federal partnership if requested by tribes.”
Tribal governments are today legally “domestic dependent nations” thanks to Supreme Court decisions. This needs to change. Having a tribe's right to their homeland needs to be written into the constitution itself, to make it inviolable, permanent, and not just protect it, but also make it easier to get homelands returned or bought. Some tribes are making efforts to buy back their homelands. But often these efforts are blocked by state governments. Where the federal government at times works with and protects on behalf of tribes, state governments are traditionally those most hostile to American Indian nations.
State efforts to limit a tribe's rights to land or anything else should be entirely and permanently blocked, since the constitution makes it clear Indian relations are purely a federal matter. All the Five Tribes remember that during the Trail of Tears states led the effort to drive them off their homelands. In recent times, both California and New York had bouts of anti-Indian sentiment led by their governors.
Federal lands within a tribe's recognized traditional homeland should be returned. The best known example is the Black Hills, Paha Sapa to the Lakota. Lakota have been pushing for their return for over a century, repeatedly turning down monetary offers. For sacred sites especially, there should be a strong effort to return them to the tribes' jurisdiction, and if the tribe does not have the means to protect them, then do so by partnership with the federal government.
There are also many reservations that are endlessly fractionated, divided up again and again, starting since the Dawes Allotment Act. This makes jurisdiction, law enforcement, and economic development far more difficult. Returning control of all lands within traditional recognized territories can end these problems.
“3. Native Hawaiians are recognized as a tribe by the US government and shall have a reservation with a sovereign government with relations with the US government and rights equal to an American Indian tribe, and shall see their sacred sites returned. Nothing in this article shall be construed as denying or abridging Native Hawaiians' right to pursue the return to being an independent nation as they were before the illegal overthrow and seizure of their nation.”
Pacific Islanders are America’s other indigenous peoples, America’s other original tribes. Not enough people know the history of the Hawaiian kingdom's illegal overthrow.
Their story is somewhat similar to that of American Indians. Anglo-Americans came to the islands, bringing disease that wiped out much of the people. They took over most of the land for their own profit, starting plantations that brought in exploited workers, only mostly Asians rather than Africans. When Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani tried to halt them, the plantation owners overthrew her with the help of US Marines. The Hawaiian language and religion were both banned. Hawaii became a state in an illegitimate vote. No Asians and few Hawaiians could vote, and most who voted for statehood were white servicemen who were very recent residents.
The Hawaiian sovereignty movement is very strong today, overturning the language and religious bans and reviving the language with their own schools. Most Native Hawaiians would like to see the Hawaiian nation be independent again. One proposed measure is the Akaka Bill, in congress since the 1990s. This would give Hawaiians status like an Indian tribe. They would have a reservation, tribal government, and government to government relations with the US.
This proposed article goes farther. All sacred sites, taken away and sometimes used as bombing ranges, are given back.
“4. US citizens and nationals of American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington DC have full local self-rule, and shall vote in federal elections and have federal congressional districts.”
Puerto Rico has a larger population than over twenty US states. Yet its people have never voted in federal fall elections. American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and even DC have been denied the vote or local self-rule because of an anomaly. They are legally designated as territories or a district rather than a state.
For this is a civil rights issue at heart. Not by coincidence, all of them are mostly made up of people who are not white. 49 of 50 US states have white majorities, all except Hawaii. Four territories and one district all have populations with nonwhite majorities. Puerto Rico’s peoples are mixed, but the majority of them have Black or Native ancestry. Samoa, the Marshall Islands, and Guam are made up largely of Pacific Islanders, though the military almost outnumber Chamorros in their own homeland. The Virgin Islands is Black majority, as was DC for much of its history.
All these territories and the federal district have often been treated like colonies. Money and resources flow out of them. Many of the people are poorer on average than most of the rest of America. They have often had little to no say in their own destiny. Puerto Rico saw several independence movements crushed, and citizenship was forced on them against their wishes. Chamorros had no self-rule at all for more than 60 years.
Even the nation’s capital had no local self-rule until the 1970s.
Both Puerto Rico and DC have seen statehood blocked because the major parties don’t want to add a state that will vote for the other party. The Kingdom of Hawaii was its own nation for over 70 years before being illegally overthrown, annexed, and then an illegitimate statehood vote held. Most Native Hawaiians and Asians could not vote, and most of the mostly white voters were very recent residents, US servicemen. The great majority of Native Hawaiians want to see the occupation end.
Puerto Rico was actually granted the start of self rule by Spain in March 1898. In April 1898, the US invaded and occupied it. The US imposed citizenship upon Puerto Ricans in 1917 despite unanimous opposition from Puerto Rican leaders. There were armed uprisings in the 1930s, assassination attempts against Truman and members of Congress in the 1950s, and a bombing campaign against US rule in the 1970s. Today independence has the support of 5-10% of Puerto Ricans. In the 1950s independence sentiment, which used to be almost universal, started to decline for two reasons: Puerto Ricans began to depend on the mainland economy, and the colonial government passed a gag order, throwing anyone in jail who spoke for independence.
The US Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark in 1916, out of fear that Germany would try to take them. USVI stayed under direct US control until 1968, with Virgin Islanders not allowed any say over their fate, including US citizenship imposed in 1927. About a third of the local elected legislature favors independence. A group of independence activists, the VI 5, were jailed on dubious charges of the murder of tourists in the 1970s.
Guam was taken over by the US during the Spanish American War. They had no local self rule at all until the 1960s. For several years there have been plans for a vote on independence, statehood, or keeping the status quo, continually delayed. Part of the problem is that servicemen threaten to dominate any vote. Most of the island is a military base, and servicemen almost outnumber Chamorros.
Guam was taken over by the US during the Spanish American War. They had no local self rule at all until the 1960s. For several years there have been plans for a vote on independence, statehood, or keeping the status quo, continually delayed. Part of the problem is that servicemen threaten to dominate any vote. Most of the island is a military base, and servicemen almost outnumber Chamorros.
All the islands were all either independent nations or are distinct cultures in their own right. Their claims have legitimacy, whether or not you agree with them or if you argue they are impractical. Only DC can vote for presidents, but none of these territories or the district have a vote in Congress like the states. Over 5 million Americans are denied some voting rights and their own congressmen because of these hold overs from colonialism.
All of these peoples, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Chamorros, Samoans, Virgin Islanders, and the people of DC, deserve self-determination and a full voice. The fact that they do not have it shows continuing system wide racism. Most of the American public does not know these histories, and that must end.
Let American Indians be truly sovereign on reservations and have them expand to include as much traditional homelands as desired. Let Native Hawaiians have status as a sovereign tribe, and pursue independence. Let Guam, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands finally vote in federal elections, and let all of them plus Washington DC finally have voting congressmen to represent them. It should be a source of shame to the US that this has continued as long as it has.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Also at http://alcarroll.com and http://www.dailykos.com/user/Al%20Carroll.
Article 6- Limiting Corporate Power
“1. All rights in this and the previous constitution, as well as under all American laws, are limited to human beings only. A person under US law is defined as a living human being only. Corporation rights and powers may be severely limited by any and all governments, whether federal, state, city, country, special district, or American Indian tribe.”
The Fourteenth Amendment may be the most misused and abused of all amendments. Intended to guarantee rights for former slaves, it has mostly been used to give corporations almost unlimited power. Two decades after the amendment passed, the courts ruled in Santa Clara v Southern Pacific that corporations were persons under the law, that as collections of individuals it was a legal useful fiction to pretend they were a person.
Corporations have rights no living person has. Corporation can be immortal, meaning they never have to worry about estate taxes. They pay a far lower income tax than most people do. There are limits to how much and when they can be sued, and corporation management are largely protected from lawsuits for their actions. Of course the greatest and most controversial right given to them is from the Citizens United ruling. Corporations can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, as long as it is done through a third party.
This ruling showed the class and ideological bias of the court at its worst. Condemnations of it range across the political spectrum, from Ralph Nader to John McCain. This ruling has frequently been compared to the Dred Scott or Plessy v Ferguson decisions both for the devastation it causes American society and how infamously it will be remembered in history. In opinion polls, up to three quarters of Americans want to see it overturned, across all parties and political beliefs. Two dozen states have their campaign finance laws affected by the ruling. Sixteen states have called for constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling.
But this ruling is just the final end product of a court always designed and usually working for the most elite class interests. There is some documentation that the judges in the original Southern Pacific case did not intend their ruling to go that far and set as broad a precedent. Corporations are so powerful that many people don’t realize there was ever a time when their power was limited.
Even other elites worried about corporate power. Corporate charters in British colonial and early American times were limited. They had only so many years of existence, had to serve the public interest, and were often chartered with a narrow purpose. One of the proposed amendments for the Bill of Rights was limits on corporate power. Andrew Jackson, before the civil rights era when little attention was paid to the Trail of Tears, was often held up as a popular hero for his successfully breaking one of the most powerful corporate institutions, the Bank of the US.
“2. A corporation must serve the public interest and its life span shall be limited. Any corporation shall be permanently dissolved if they break the law more than five times. No business, corporation, or individual can escape fines, punishments, or legal judgments by declaring bankruptcy, holding companies, shell companies, or any other diversion, evasion, or tactic.”
Corporate crime in America is far more serious than many realize. Corporate crime is the cause of more deaths than street crime, each year over 60,000 workplace deaths alone. Add to that one corporate scandal after another, each of them mostly or entirely unpunished, BCCI, Enron, Worldcom, subprime mortgages, underwater loans, etc., etc. The scandals are increasing in numbers, scale, and in how rarer punishment is becoming. Hundreds went to jail for the savings and loans bank scandals of the 1980s. Almost no one was jailed for the last banking scandal.
In the documentary The Corporation, the film makers followed the logic of declaring corporations to be persons. If a corporation were a person, what would its personality be? They concluded the characteristics of a corporation define it as a sociopath. It cannot have empathy for others and acts without concern for anyone else. It is deliberately amoral, and defined as such for the purpose of self- interest alone. In fact if a corporation were to act morally (for reasons other than self interest in its public image) it almost certainly would face lawsuits from shareholders for failing to pursue maximum profit.
The power of the public over any and all corporations should be absolute. If a company pollutes, force it to clean up. If a corporation makes a destructive or defective product, let it be punished the same as an individual. For a time there was a movement towards “three strikes” laws for crime. Why not five strikes laws for corporations? If corporations break the law five times, they can be dissolved.
Let there be no more legal loopholes used to escape punishment. Bankruptcy was intended to let companies and individuals fail at business but still be able to start over. It was not and should not be there to avoid punishment for crimes. Combine this Proposed Article 6 with Proposed Article 11, which requires all crimes be punished and all criminals cannot evade punishment. Corporations that kill through negligence, incompetence, or greed deserves the corporate death penalty, the end of their existence. The nation and the world will be far better off.
“3. The right to collective bargaining by unions or other workers shall not be limited more than other civic or lobbying groups, nor subject to government recognition.”
Unions are the most democratic institutions in America. They are the most representative of their membership. That is part of why are often demonized by those opposed to them and why so much effort has been expended to crush the labor movement.
It is not widely taught in public schools, but America has one of the most violent histories of class warfare anywhere in the world. Not simply “class warfare” as used today, where even bringing up class issues gets one labeled a Marxist. (Full disclosure: I am a traditional Catholic. That means I believe in social justice, and that capitalism is a sin.) From colonial times until the Great Depression, unions and strikes were often crushed with great brutality. Companies often used private armies, or had the police or US Army break a strike with violence. Two of the most notorious examples include the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, broken by killing over 100 strikers. In the West Virginia Mine Wars in the 1920s, the largest armed uprising since the Civil War saw a company army of over 5,000 kill over 20 miners with not just guns but mortars, and their own air force.
The reason why today we do not often hear of violent strikes, or many strikes at all, is that after World War II the US government learned to be a better strike breaker. During the Great Depression the Wagner Act was passed. It recognized union rights to exist, to bargain collectively, and to strike. But it also required unions to submit to being government recognized to be seen as legitimate.
The Taft Hartley Act, passed during Cold War hysteria, went much further. Any perceived radicals in a union can get it stripped of recognition. Companies can dictate when unions hold their elections, and unions have to give 60 days’ notice before striking. Company spies by law cannot be kicked out of a union, and strikebreakers' jobs are protected. A National Labor Relations Board is stacked with anti-union officials. Even were it to rule in favor of unions, it has little power, and so many workers are fired for joining unions or speaking out against abuses. Over 400 union locals are stripped of recognition each year.
Imagine how difficult organizing would be on any other issue were these same practices happening to others. How powerful would the National Rifle Association be if it lost 400 chapters a year? How well would any organization on either side of the abortion issue do if the other side could decide when it holds elections, given 60 days to prepare for campaigns, and that organization could not remove spies in its midst or people hired to break their group up?
None of these union busting practices should be legal. Let unions be treated by the same standards as any other civic, lobbying, or interest group. Anyone who joins a union should be able to. Apparently over half of Americans wish they were part of a union. But under 10% of Americans actually are. These are mostly government workers such as cops, firefighters, and teachers. Only public pressure on governments keep them from being as abusive to their workers as private companies.
Unions were what turned the US into a middle class nation. For one generation after World War II, unions helped spread prosperity to those people most responsible for it. But since the 1970s inequality has grown sharply, to where it is now as bad as before the Great Depression. Unions can reverse that, and doing so would be good for the nation as a whole and business as a whole. An economy is much more vulnerable when it depends mostly on the spending of the well off.