Monday, January 18, 2016

A Proposed New Constitution Article 15, The Right to Privacy

Article 15- The Right to Privacy

1. The right to privacy, unless it can be shown to directly and obviously harm others or affect national security, shall not be abridged in any way. Private individuals shall not have their private lives divulged in any form without their consent unless they commit felonies, or failure to divulge such information can be shown to affect or harm others in a direct and obvious way.”

A mix of technology, commercial greed, and government intrusions threaten individual privacy in unprecedented ways. Information gathered online is routinely bought and sold without a person even knowing about it. Using the excuse of terrorism, the government monitors billions of emails and phone calls. The media is consumed with gossip far more than journalism, leading to a nation where most know celebrity affairs in detail but cannot name recent Supreme Court decisions that affect their lives far more.

A government cannot un-invent technology. But a government can prevent disclosure, and punish it by law, or allow lawsuits to make such revelations unprofitable. Government and big business both too often divulge private lives because there are no consequences for doing so. The standards under which private information could be revealed must be high, and failing to do so must somehow be shown to cause harm. An examples of allowing public disclosure could include sex offenders being on public registries, while a contrary example might be disclosing someone as a closeted gay might threaten their life if they live in a reactionary area, whether Saudi Arabia or South Carolina.

The Supreme Court ruled decades ago there is an implied right to privacy in the Constitution, leading to the legalizing of abortion. The courts have repeatedly upheld this, even while a minority has successfully passed hundreds of restrictions locally. This proposed article will make the right to privacy explicit, guaranteeing abortion rights. The anti-abortion lobby should learn the best way to limit abortion is to make it unneeded, by making access to and understanding of birth control universal. Even more, building privacy rights directly into the constitution can guard against the many other intrusions we increasingly see.

2. Libel, slander, or defamation of public figures is subject to the same punishments and standards as for private individuals.”

Currently it is almost impossible to defame a public figure. Thus it is perfectly legal to seriously claim Obama is a reptilian alien space overlord, a homosexual prostitute, secretly the son of a Black Panther, or of course the vicious open bigotry of the birth certificate/secret Muslim hysteria. On the other side of the aisle, an industry of deluded people using bad science claim GW Bush ordered or allowed the murder of 3,000 people on September 11, trying to change an enormously incompetent president into a traitorous mass killer.

The effect of allowing such defamation is toxic to a democracy. Enormous energy has to be devoted to refuting such idiocies, and perhaps a third of the members of both parties adhere to such craziness. (To be fair, few Democratic leaders pander to or promote such claims, while numerous Republican ones do.)

Entire political movements are diverted, distracted, and ruined. The energy spent trying to prove the loony conspiracy claiming GW Bush carried out or allowed 9-11 could have actually done something useful, like stop two ruinous wars. The effort spent on one theory on Obama after another, each more grotesque or hate filled than the one before, could have prevented the GOP from getting locked into a self-destructive cycle based on the futile bigoted anger of a dying demographic.

Much of such defamation is driven by partisan ideology or outright bigotry. But much is also driven by the profit motive catering to ideologues, ignorance, and lurid interest. Ending the profitability of defamation can dramatically reduce it, and produce a far less poisonous atmosphere for public debate.

3. Private information on public figures cannot be divulged without their consent unless it can be shown to serve the public interest, or if their private lives contradict their public opinions and actions.”

The Lewinsky so called scandal (pick your silly name, Zippergate, Forni-gate, etc.) was not unique. Bouts of outrage over sexual morality, much of them feigned, go very far back. In the election of 1800, supporters of both candidates invented stories of Jefferson and John Adams consorting with prostitutes. Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, with her bearing him eight children, later became an issue, one devastating to the future of America for the next half century.

Most Americans do not realize that Jefferson was the strongest American anti-slavery voice of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He worked steadily to abolish the slave trade for fully half his life. As a colonial legislator, he was able to pass a law limiting the slave trade in Virginia. In the earliest years of the new United States, he was the one most responsible for barring slavery in future northern states with the Northwest Ordinance. As president, he successfully barred the entire overseas slave trade to the US. Hundreds of thousands of Africans did not perish in the Atlantic slave trade to the US because of Jefferson.

But after Jefferson's relationship to Hemmings was exposed, he completely reversed himself on slavery. Jefferson never spoke out strongly against slavery again. He even sent military and financial aid to Haiti's slave owners and led efforts to isolate Haiti after slaves successfully revolted and overthrew their masters. Such was the destructive effects of spying into a public figure's private life. One can also point to a more recent example. Congressman Kevin McCarthy was forced to withdraw from being the next House Speaker because of outright blackmail, threats to reveal an alleged affair.

One of the few good things to come out of the Lewinsky noise was that it showed conclusively the public mostly does not care about politicians' sex lives. Clinton actually came out of the affair more popular than ever, and Republicans suffered great losses in the next election for pandering to the pretended puritanical morality of a hypocritical small group. Only a quarter of the nation favored the impeachment, which to the amazement of the rest of the world succeeded.

We as a nation don't care about the private lives of politicians, in the sense that it affects most of our votes or raises or lowers our opinion of said politicians. Some of us only care about what politicians do below the waist in the same sense we do about celebrities, on the level of gossipy interest and amusement. But none of us really need to know.

The only instance in which the private life of a public figure should matter is if it is shown to contradict their public stance. If an anti-gay rights politician is a closeted homosexual, that is relevant. If a politician has a straight affair with a consenting adult, that is irrelevant. Only if there is a crime involved, or a conflict of interest such as the person being a lobbyist, should their private life matter. Their privacy should not end simply because they are in public office. No one's privacy should be abridged unless doing so directly and obviously harms the nation and society.

The standard for public revelation for public figures must be high and strictly defined. One must be able to show both direct harm to the public, such as a private relationship being with a lobbyist on issues the politician must vote on. The harm must also be obvious, with no extended or vague claims, such as that breaking the marriage vows make a politician less trustworthy.

Other public figures such as celebrities, and especially those who simply have the misfortune to be related to the famous, should not have their privacy invaded. (I hasten to point out, obviously many celebrities put themselves on display for publicity's sake, and this proposal does not apply to them since they voluntarily disclose their once private lives.) When media invade the lives of young and even underage relations of celebrities and politicians, clearly it has gone too far.

All clauses of this proposed article argue that journalism should actually be journalism rather than gossip mongering, that government intrusions should end at the front doors of private homes, and that businesses and individuals who invade another's privacy will face lawsuits or even jail time. Courts have previously argued for “the right to be left alone.” This proposal seeks to make that a reality.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Proposed New Constitution Article 14, Limiting Idle Wealth

                                                    Article 14-Limiting Idle Wealth

1. Large concentrations of idle wealth are inherently dangerous and inhumane. All income from any and all sources greater than 100 times the median national income and all wealth of an individual greater than 100 times the median national wealth shall be seized, unless it is reinvested or donated to charity.”
Wealth is power and any accumulation of power is dangerous and undemocratic. But the strongest critique of inequality is one that US conservatives should heed because it speaks directly to the deepest beliefs of the great majority of them:

It is un-Christian.

Inequality and concentrations of wealth are against every Biblical principal, the expressed word of Christ, and for that matter, against the central precepts of most major world religions, and most minor ones too. Christ raged against money changers in the temple. He intoned that it was easier for a camel to be threaded through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. For two millenia, the church has maintained the idea of Holy Poverty, that the poor are especially close to God, that the church should be especially concerned with their fate, that we are all our brother's keeper, and that materialism and attachment to possessions are unhealthy spiritually. After all, Jesus lived an ascetic life, one concerned with the fate of “the least of my brothers,” not a life devoted in any way to financial profit or accumulating wealth.

Much of modern conservatism ignores these central messages of Christianity, instead being far more concerned with what people do with their genitals. To paraphrase George Orwell, they are only Christians from the waist down. Another portion of conservatism is devoted to putting personal profit over the public good. Bizarrely, some libertarians and conservatives admire Ayn Rand, whose philosophy inspired no less than the Satanic Church. America as a nation could gain much by returning to that original Christian message.

Wealth being power, it is also dangerous unless limited, far more inefficient than its admirers admit, and destructive to a nation and society to let it gather and remain idle. In Latin America, there were wars and revolutions fought for nearly two centuries over latifundias, huge estates larger than most US counties, kept idle while much of the public had no land at all, solely because the size of the estate brought prestige to its owner.

But US elites have long been even more conspicuous in their obscene displays. The public saw William Randolph Hearst buy entire castles in Europe to be reassembled in California. The Astors held a multimillion dollar party at the height of the Great Depression. Elvis would charter a jet just to get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Aaron Spelling lived in a mansion covering over 6 acres, with rooms devoted just to wrapping presents. Michael Jackson had his own private zoo and amusement park with roller coasters and carousels. Numerous CEOs insist on private jets that cost millions to buy and maintain, while downsizing their companies and keeping employee wages low. Nike CEO Phil Knight became an international symbol of inequality at its most odious, accumulating over $24 billion while paying his Indonesian workers 14 cents an hour in unsafe sweatshop conditions. (It took over a decade of protests and boycotts to bring partial reforms to Nike.)

Such examples are part of a larger pattern. American elites have far more wealth and pay compared to their workers, more than anywhere else in the world. There is far more inequality in the US than in almost all other developed nations. Only Russia and Slovakia are more unequal. A Japanese CEO makes slightly less than 70 times what one of their workers do. In the US, a CEO makes over 350 times an average worker's pay. Such inequality even horrifies noted conservatives like commentator George Will, who once said American CEOs are doing what Karl Marx was unable to do, discredit capitalism.

Such concentrations of power must be ended for the damage they do to society and democracy. It is hardly a secret that money buys elections, and elites purchase favorable laws written for them by a congress dependent on their support. Barring the use of elite funds in elections is not enough, for there is no practical way to end lobbying without limiting or ending the right to petition. Remove the excess wealth, any wealth that is not devoted to investment or charity. That way elites will not have funds not only for a lifestyle that holds the middle and working classes in contempt, but to influence public sentiment any more than any other person.

The standard used for this proposal is very generous. A full 100 times the median annual income of slightly under $27,000 is currently a little under $2.7 million. 100 times the current median wealth of slightly over $81,000 is slightly over $8.1 million. If any elites or their apologists complain this is too harsh, let them try to convince a waitress or bus driver that elites “need” more than $2.7 million a year to live on, or “need” a home worth over $8 million.

There is absolutely no way that a CEO is worth 350 times more than an average worker. It defies logic and basic morality. If anything, the pattern is the opposite: Having more wealth makes one less capable, not more. For the cushion of wealth makes one soft, out of touch with the world and the people within it. It is also morally numbing. As one study pointed out, the obscenely wealthy have far less empathy for the average worker, the greater the wealth they have.

The effect of penalizing idle wealth will not be to “punish success.” Most wealth is either inherited or created by a combination of luck and favorable government laws. Penalizing idle wealth spurs investment and charitable donations. In Europe, the ideal of noblesse oblige says that nobility must give one sixth of their income to charity. In Muslim tradition, alms for the poor is one of the central pillars of the faith, requiring the giving away of up to a tenth of not just your income, but all your wealth.

But American elites as a group are not very generous. As income in America goes up, the proportion given to charity generally goes down. Phil Knight, for example, had as his sole “charity” to have a sports stadium and business school built at his old university named after him. Let this proposal become the American version of noblesse oblige, an obligation for elites to do good instead of self-aggrandizement, more power, and ever increasing unequal wealth.

2. All attempts to conceal wealth to avoid taxes shall result in prosecution as grand larceny, full seizure of not just concealed wealth but all wealth, and long prison sentences which may not be suspended. Separate white collar prisons, or other prisons that are less arduous or harsh, are forbidden, and all white collar criminals must be punished and imprisoned with all other prisoners.”

More than $21 trillion in concealed wealth is hidden overseas, about one and a half the value of the entire US economy. And that's the low estimate. The highest is $31 trillion. American wealth is roughly one tenth of that, $2.1 trillion.

Over $2 trillion in untaxed wealth is a theft and crime that Pablo Escobar could only dream about. Most hidden wealth is not from criminals, but from “respectable” sources. Nearly three fourths of the Fortune 500 top corporations routinely hide huge amounts. Apple alone hides over $180 billion. American corporate criminals, were they to pay up, owe the nation up to $620 billion. That loss weakens the nation and society, treats with contempt the average honest person and the system we all live under. The wealthiest in America clearly show they have always been the least patriotic of people.

Such concealed wealth should be immediately declared by elites and taxed, so that they may avoid having it all seized and then having to serve a lengthy prison sentence. If they fail to, then the entire $2.1 trillion should be seized outright, and elites hunted down wherever on the globe they hide out, and then imprisoned. Al Capone was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison, serving much of that time in Alcatraz, for evading income tax on perhaps $100 million. There is no just reason similar elite criminals cannot serve similar sentences for concealing similar amounts, and do equally similar hard time. Elite thieves should be tracked down by the likes of the US Marshals, no different than other criminals.

Treating wealthy elites differently from other criminals once they are imprisoned also must be ended. Some current white collar prisons have wooded parks in them. Prisoners get routine net access and email. Most get generous visits from family, with prisoners getting to choose a prison close to their family. Some white collar “prisons” allow prisoners to spend their days outside the facility. One in Pensacola even allows prisoners to go to a local movie theater.

This is obviously unjust. Let the fear of hard conditions, including the fear of other prisoners, become one more deterrent designed to make wealthy elite criminals honest. Let us stop the practice of being soft on crime when it is being done by those in $20,000 suits. Wall Street criminals should face justice no differently than those on Main Street.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 13, No Special Treatment for Wealthy Elites

Article 13-No Special Treatment for Wealthy Elites

1. Government assistance only goes to those in need and corporate welfare is forbidden. No person or corporation, nor any trust or legal entity used by a person or corporation, shall receive government assistance or funding unless they make less than double the median national income and possess less than double the median national wealth.”

Quite a few wealthy elites, and quite a few with passionate hatred for the working class, argue that poor people receiving government assistance suffer from dependency, laziness, and a lack of a moral code. The most hateful depict those in poverty as leeches, bums, and bloated off of a few hundred dollars a month in aid to live. Yet seemingly none or at least few of the same people make the same argument about wealthy elites, especially corporations. If welfare supposedly is morally harmful to a single mother, what about CEOs? Bankers? What about entire corporations dependent on government? How is that not far more offensive, obscene, counterproductive, and useless?

Such an argument must be turned on its head: Those with the wealth to already support themselves get no government aid, ever. Only those in need do. The Green Party platform has long included a variation on this proposal: No corporate welfare, period. But their proposal does not prevent wealthy or well off individuals from receiving such welfare. It also prevents small business loans, which provide far more jobs than the giant corporations. Blocking all corporate welfare would also include loans or tax holidays to infant industries, where innovation most often begins.

Government should not be used to redistribute wealth upwards, from the middle and working classes to the already wealthiest elites and others who are at least well off. There should be means testing, and the simplest test is that aid only goes to those in need, best measured by wealth and income. It's best, though, to err on the side of caution. Thus the proposed standard, double the median (not average) income and median wealth as well. Since wealth and income in America are both distributed very unevenly, using the average would skew the numbers high.

Sports stadiums, built at public expense that benefit already wealthy team owners, would be barred in the future unless the team owners pay for them entirely. Current team owners would have to repay every penny of public money spent for stadiums on their behalf. Agribusiness subsidies to not grow food come to an immediate end, unless they were part of the shrinking number of small family farms. The auto industry loans, both the entire US industry in 2009 and of Chrysler in 1979, would also have been barred.

Incompetently run industries should be allowed to fail, or the government buys them out very cheaply at market rates and then either sells them off in pieces, or make them publicly owned and run for public purposes, not for profit. (For example, the US auto industry could have been put to researching and making cheaper autos run solely on alternatives to fossil fuels.) If the failure of an industry or large corporation will cause huge job losses, obviously the best option would be for the government to sell them off in pieces, but make a condition of their sale that as many of the employees as possible keep their jobs or receive pensions or generous severance. Any government assistance should go to helping workers hold onto their jobs, or finding other work or being retrained, not to rewarding wealthy elites for failure.

British history shows us many examples of the failures of “lemon socialism.” There the state took over failing industries, and it usually only benefited incompetent elites by bailing them out no differently than welfare for capitalists. Workers at industries like coal and railroads were not helped much. Huge cutbacks were still made, only with government now being blamed and public ownership discredited.

The failed bailout of the banks in the 2000s (failed in the sense that the public was not helped, only the banks), and the successful bailouts of the savings and loans in the 1980s (successful in the sense of greatly lowering the cost of the bailout), would both have been barred with this proposed article. The two options to save the banks and savings and loans, as in other cases, would be to either seize them and make them publicly owned, or seize them and break them up and sell them off. A third option also exists, one better for the average non-wealthy depositor, turn the banks into credit unions.

What happened instead was that banks received an obscene secret bailout of over $7 trillion (on top of the public bailout of $700 billion), equal to half the value of the whole US economy. Obama and his administration, made up of executives from the likes of Goldman Sachs, naively imagined banks would lend out their new government money. Instead, much of it was lent back to the federal government. These banks received an insanely low interest rate of 0.01%, then loaned the federal government's own money back to the government at 5% interest, making tens of billions. The economy recovered unevenly, no thanks to either federal or wealthy elite practices.

One more area of assistance needs to be changed, aid to the elderly. Social Security and Medicare must be means tested, much like Medicaid is now. Those with more than double the median income or wealth do not deserve it.

2. All government loans or tax deferrals or holidays or other benefits to corporations or business must be repaid, with interest at market rates. All facilities built even partly to benefit or profit private businesses or individuals must be paid for by those businesses or individuals equal to the benefits or profits received.”

Facilities includes not just stadiums and sports complexes, but anything that benefits in large part private businesses, from highways to the internet to airports to the maintenance and regulation of public airwaves to state subsidized education to train workers for private industries, e.g. the nuclear power industry receiving most of its trained workforce from the US military. Externalities, as pro capitalist economists are fond of calling them, come to an end. For the layman, an externality is anything whose cost can be passed along to the public or the government, and the business avoids paying for it. The practice comes down to “private profits, public losses.” It is reverse Robin Hood at its worst.

For a safer environment for us all, ending externalities will be a godsend. Mining and some chemical industries have as standard practice to pollute without consequence, declare bankruptcy, and expect the cleanup to be done by the government and paid for by the public. This is a government benefit by any reasonable standard. Now companies will be required to pay for their pollution, or better yet, avoid it in advance as cheaper than paying for cleanup later.

The huge giveaways to corporations come to an end. Amazon has benefited from no sales tax far beyond reason. Ideally it should have ended as soon as the company turned a profit, back in the 1990s, and began paying sales taxes either to the states where the items were bought, or the home of their shipping centers. Trucking and shipping companies should be paying all of their part for the upkeep of the public highways. Broadcast networks should pay for the market value of the public airwaves, on top of the cost of regulation, as cable companies should pay for the entire market value of the use of public bandwidth and cost of regulation.

Benefits also clearly include government research that private industries profit from. Companies would now have to pay back the government for the cost of research. Intellectual property laws should also be severely curtailed, though not ended entirely. A form of means testing would keep the laws in place for artists such as independent filmmakers, musicians, and authors, or those just starting out, but end such protection for individuals once they attain a certain level of wealth, and for all corporations. Thus while the struggling artist remains protected, Hollywood and the recording industry are not.

Drug companies would also lose their patents once they earn back the cost of research. Industries with de facto or legally enforced monopolies, such as cable networks and the football and baseball leagues, lose such protections. For the consumer, prices will drop sharply.

But the biggest benefit to the public will be longer lives, since medical treatment and prescription prices will be greatly reduced. For the entire US public, the next biggest benefit will be a far more thriving and representative democracy since elites will no longer be using government to enrich themselves at everyone else's expense.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 12, Ending Class Bias in the Law

Also at
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

A Proposed New Constitution Article 11, Ending Institutional Support for Hatred

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

A Proposed New Constitution Article 10, Nonprofits and Public Ownership for the Public Interest

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

A Proposed New Constitution Article 9, Referendums

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.