Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Resuming the articles from A Proposed New Constitution. I begin by reposting the Introduction.

From http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/
This and all articles at it may be reposted in full or in part freely under Creative Commons.
Introduction to A Proposed New Constitution

America’s constitution is a sacred cow. Some cows should not be worshipped. For nothing should be so revered that one cannot question it, and blind worship is always to be avoided.

 There is, among those on both the political left and right, what can only be called widespread constitution worship. Most on both sides hold up the constitution the way a vampire hunter in the movies holds up a cross to ward off vampires. Everyone from the most stoned pot smokers to gun toting militia groups calls on the constitution as support for causes, beliefs, and attitudes they hold dear.

 This constitution worship is every bit as blindly enthusiastic as it is unknowing of the actual history of the constitution, and how and why it was adopted. For this, most people are blameless. People cannot be faulted for what they were not taught, or more often, falsely taught. I made the same argument in Presidents' Body Counts, and others, notably James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me, argue likewise.

 For the founders themselves did not think much of the constitution. Jefferson wanted a new constitution every twenty years. Other founders disagreed, largely because they were not sure the constitution would last twenty years. For the founders, it was a pragmatic even temporary measure, not holy or intended to be permanent. Constitution worship did not become a regular feature of American society until near the start of the twentieth century, in part as a way to assimilate immigrants.

 I often tell my students that America is great not because of the constitution, but in spite of it, and especially in spite of the founders. The constitution itself is clearly at the root of many of our worst problems in American society today. If it were up to the American public, the following solutions would have become law many decades, even half a century or more, before today:

1. Abolishing the Electoral College.
 2. Ending the buying of elections.
 3. Limiting the time campaigning for office, as they do in Great Britain.
 4. Ending wars quickly in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Each war continued over half a decade after the American public wanted to get out.
5. Reforming the office of vice president, widely regarded with contempt by most, and
producing candidates that even most voters of the same party as the presidential candidate did not want.
 6. Ending corporate welfare and other wasteful spending.
 7. Ending most foreign military aid, and support for tyrants and dictators around the world.
 8. Limiting the power of the Supreme Court.
 9. Ending the political monopoly of wealthy elites.
 10. Guaranteeing privacy from government intrusion.

 Each of these proposals have widespread bipartisan support and are hugely popular across the political spectrum by great majorities. But none of these proposals, not too surprisingly, have majority support among elected political elites, economic elites, or the leadership of either party.

 The constitution itself is the biggest barrier to solving these problems. Not one of these problems have been, or ever could have been, quickly solved, precisely because the constitution makes it difficult. Most of these problems require a constitutional amendment, something made deliberately long and difficult by the founders. A few of these could be solved temporarily by ordinary laws, which could then be easily overturned next election.

 So why not go to the root of these problems? Why not a new constitution?

 Constitution worship is the reason. Most Americans have been so heavily propagandized to think of the US Constitution as undeniably great and downright sacred, something you just don’t question without being seen as un-American.

 What is pretty comical is to see the most idealistic of leftists, who are deeply cynical of everything else that is elitist and coming from powerful and wealthy institutions, become like a fundamentalist when the constitution is brought up. What is equally comical is to see populist conservatives or libertarians become enamored of government power when it is enshrined in a document written by, after all, Deists and Enlightenment thinkers who did not trust organized religion or nobility. Both are smitten by constitution worship.

 There are two obvious ways to deal with that. One is to challenge the holy stature of the constitution. Write the true history, which most historians and political scientists already know is not a noble one, but one of elitists hijacking a popular revolution.

 The other solution is to keep what is best about the old constitution while adding to it. Propose a new constitution and a new constitutional convention, but make one of the first proposals to keep the best of the old document.

 For the best of the constitution is not the original document at all. The best part is the amendments. The original document is not about rights and all about power, who has it and how they can wield it, and that it will always remain in the hands of elites. The amendments are what most rightly revere. Keep the amendments, and amend the original document of power to spread the power to the mass of people, and add more amendments to limit the power of elites, for good.

 That is what this proposed constitution tries to do. It adds to the best of the document, keeping all the original constitutional amendments with Article 1. The rest of the articles serve the same purpose as amendments.

 What of the first solution to ending constitution worship? Tell the true history of the constitution, uncensored, without the heavy doses of patriotic propaganda that leave out its elitist nature. That story has already been told many times in the fields of history, political science, etc. But to help the curious and open minded, and for the less patient, let me summarize the history of the adoption of the constitution. To do that, one has to go back to the American Revolution.

The American Revolution was not a real revolution at all. It was just an independence movement. In actual revolutions, elites are overturned, killed off, imprisoned, or forced to flee the country. America's elites, plantation owners like Washington and Jefferson, were actually strengthened. They no longer had to listen to British authorities. Many scholars, the best known being the eminent Charles Beard, argued the real motive for the founders' rebellion was economic. The British Empire was run by mercantilism, which required colonies to trade only with the mother country. The founders wanted primarily more profit from free trade, not political freedom.

 But there were many in the middle and working classes who wanted a true class revolution. There had been class warfare in the earlier English Revolution, Roundheads who were middle class and anti nobility, and the Levelers, primitive versions of communists who wanted to level off the wealth anyone could have. In the American Revolution, there were anti elite groups like the Sons of Liberty, and populist rabble rousers like Samuel Adams, George Mason, and most of all Thomas Paine.

 There was a populist wave of the American Revolution before it was hijacked by the largely elitist founders. The Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 happened a year before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The public took control of Massachusetts courts, forcing judges and the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to resign. They overthrew every county government in Massachusetts. That is why the British were occupying Boston in the first place at the time of Lexington and Concord.

 This was just the start of a populist revolution. There were over 90 Declarations of Independence before Jefferson's, from counties, cities, and states. Most were based on George Mason's in Virginia. Jefferson's was simply an elite attempt to seize control of a popular uprising. There were popular uprisings, attempted class revolutions within the elite-led revolution. There were mutinies within the US Army, in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Congress was forced to use a draft, bounties, even the promise of slaves to gain recruits.

 After the war, there were early experiments in anarchism, socialism, and other revolutionary notions for that time. For a year, Pennsylvania tried shutting down the government entirely. Pennsylvania also tried outlawing the collection of debt, a form of wealth redistribution. Slavery ended in seven northern states. One out of eight slaves in the US were freed. New Jersey even gave women the right to vote. First done in 1776, it stayed on the books until 1807.

Aristocracy and feudalism were ended in the US. Noble titles, primogeniture, and entailment (the wealthy being able to seize public property) all ended. There was enormous confiscation and redistribution of wealth during and after the revolution. (Try telling that to a Tea Party member.) Most British loyalists and many aristocrats, whether they sided with the colonists or with Britain, lost their property. Established state churches in nine of the thirteen colonies were abolished. These were all fairly radical changes, and many Americans wanted to go even further.

American elites’ fear of class warfare created the US Constitution. The most pivotal event was Shay’s Rebellion. Farmers in western Massachusetts tried to stop foreclosures on their farms, so they shut down state courts. Jefferson called this, “liberty run mad.” Washington called it, “anarchy and confusion.” What horrified the founders was not the size of the rebellion. It was minor, with few deaths. The fact that it took so long to break the rebellion worried them. And at the same time, the French Revolution was going on. They feared this minor rebellion might grow into a similar class revolution. All the radical experiments in wealth redistribution added to that fear. The founders called the convention in direct response to Shay's Rebellion.

 The constitutional delegates had a low opinion of the public. They believe people without wealth were just one hungry belly short of becoming a howling mob, that working class people were selfish, unreliable, and easily misled. They wanted the nation to be run by “men of quality,” the very wealthy, and argued the wealthy must be protected from the general public above all else. “Those who own the country ought to govern it,” as John Jay argued.

The Constitutional Convention was secretive. There were no notes taken, except Madison's, done at the end of the day in his room, against the wishes of the convention. The public was barred. So were the press. The delegates, just like Colonial Congresses before them, took oaths of secrecy to keep debates from the public. There was almost no debate on expanding the power of the government. The elite delegates already agreed in advance on most questions.

 The US Constitution was and is deliberately anti democratic, designed to look like a democracy without actually being one. Great power was given to the president. The assumption was Washington would be the first, and the clumsy Electoral College put in. Electing a president was deliberately made cumbersome to stop anyone not as admired as Washington from being elected. The founders did not want competitive elections, but presidents chosen almost by acclamation.

Ratifying deliberately excluded opponents of the constitution. Special state conventions, not legislatures or the public, ratified the constitution. Even so, as word leaked out, the public turned against this document that most were not allowed to vote on. Elites at the special state conventions began to get nervous. Votes against the constitution were highest in Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. The Massachusetts convention only ratified after Governor John Hancock was promised (falsely) he would be the first president or vice president.

 In Virginia, George Mason and Patrick Henry successfully pushed for the Bill of Rights as a condition for ratifying. The first presidential election was planned without New York, North Carolina, or Rhode Island. New York actually prepared to secede and become their own country. Federalists in New York City then threatened to secede from New York. The New York convention backed down and narrowly ratified.

 North Carolina's convention defeated the constitution and held out a year before a new convention ratified. Rhode Island was the only state to hold a “popular” vote. (Not only minorities and women, except in New Jersey, were barred. There were property requirements to vote in every state.) The constitution was defeated in the state by a 10-1 margin, a good indication of what most of the public thought. Washington was actually elected without Rhode Island voting in the presidential election.

Ratification took three years of enormous elite effort against the general public. Ben Franklin owned most newspapers in the US. An economic boycott was used by wealthy elites to shut down many of the other papers opposing the constitution.

The original US Constitution, minus the amendments, has a deliberate anti democratic structure.
 1. The Electoral College means there has never been a direct election of presidents. Originally it was intended to be a veto by elites vs the general public. If they elected the “wrong” person, the electors were there to overrule the public.
 2. The US Senate is the most undemocratic part of the system. Wyoming has 75 times greater representation than California. Until the 20th Century, senators were chosen by state legislatures, not voters. (Some Tea Party leaders want to return to that.)
 3. The Supreme Court almost always defends wealthy elites.
 4. The winner take all/majority rule system is less democratic than parliament systems in most other nations. It leaves small groups unrepresented, cripples newer or smaller parties.
 5. There is no mention of rights in in the original constitution whatsoever, except a stricter definition of treason.

 And the US Constitution was illegally adopted. The Articles of Confederation's Article 13 states “…Articles of this Confederation…shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time be made in any of them; unless such alteration agreed to in Congress of the US & confirmed by legislatures of every State.” On both counts, the constitution is illegal. Neither Congress nor state legislatures ever confirmed it, only special state conventions.

 Obviously I am not suggesting resistance to the current constitution, or ignoring it. That argument leads to chaos, and only militias and sovereign citizens on the fringe embrace that. There is a legal concept which says even if a law was adopted by faulty means, it remains the law if it has been in force for a good length of time. My point was simply, when one hears that this is a nation of laws, remember that the founders ignored the highest law in the land, the Articles of Confederation. Being elites, and very elitist, they just went ahead and did it.

 Imagine a modern parallel to what the founders did. Imagine the wealthiest elites writing a document only they had any say in, and only allowing themselves to vote on it, and then declaring it the highest law in the land. That is what the founders did, and this is precisely why the original constitution deserves no reverence.

 Instead, let us resolve to craft a new constitution that preserves the best of the old, the amendments, and adds to it with a far better system of government and drastic limits on elite power.

 Unlike the original convention, any new constitution deserves, needs, and requires as much popular input as possible. While the proposals that follow were written by me, many of these proposals have been made in other forms before. Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, proposed some parts of several of these articles, as have others. It is depressing, and proof that reform is needed more than ever, that none of his proposals were adopted in spite of public support. The call for a new constitutional convention is ongoing.

 These proposals, and any proposals, need to come from you, the general public. Send in your suggestions, criticisms, counter proposals, arguments and debates. Spread the word anywhere and everywhere you can. This cannot be done without you.

 The only real arguments for continuing the current constitution are stability, and a view of the American system based more on romanticism than actual history.

These are the proposed new articles' titles. In the coming weeks, I will post one article a week in full, with explanations and arguments for them.

Article 1- Continuing and Expanding the Original Constitution and its Amendments
Article 2- Insuring Greater Democracy
Article 3-Guaranteeing the Right to Vote
Article 4-Ending the Buying of Elections
Article 5-Voting Guarantees Benefits
Article 6- Limiting Corporate Power
Article 7-Ending Colonialism
Article 8-Renouncing War
Article 9- Referendums and Recalls
Article 10- Nonprofits for the Public Interest
Article 11- Ending Institutional Support for Hatred and Discrimination
Article 12-Ending Class Bias in the Law
Article 13-Ending Special Treatment for Wealthy Elites
Article 14-Limiting Idle Wealth
Article 15- The Right to Privacy
Al Carroll
Assistant Professor of History
Northern Virginia Community College
http://alcarroll.com

Monday, August 10, 2015

Survivors: Family Histories of Surviving War, Colonialism, and Genocide

http://alcarroll.com/survivors-family-histories-of-surviving-war-colonialism-and-genocide/

Introduction to a collection of essays from my students.

History is all around us. I constantly tell my students and readers that all of us, quite literally, make history every day. Our actions, those of “ordinary people,” create the history that will be taught tomorrow. I am a passionate believer in family history, oral history, and genealogy. All three are central to what I teach and the methods I use to teach. For those of us who teach at the college level and especially in humanities and social sciences, there are incredible resources, namely our own students.

Like many history professors and historians, I believe strongly in history from below, the practice of teaching, researching and writing from a bottom up view rather the history of elites. Getting students to know their family history and oral history is an important part of my practices. Oral history, and history broadly speaking, tie the individual to their family and community. That community includes both the local area and the nation, both the nation they live in and the nation(s) their family is from. I include nation to mean what Benedict Anderson famously defined it as, a community of like minds united by common language and culture. Nations can be political units, ethnic groups, or some mix of the two. One can speak of nations within nations, such as American Indian tribes.

Family histories also remove any sense of history being remote. Hearing stories of family members right in the center of major events, often literally struggling to stay alive, makes issues like war and peace, colonialism, and power struggles between nations or between elites and those struggling to get out from under their domination…suddenly such issues seem very immediate, and so real.

Northern Virginia Community College serves four of the most northernmost counties of Virginia, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, essentially the suburbs of Washington, DC. In one study after another, Loudoun County, the one I teach in, is ranked the wealthiest county per capita in America, followed by Fairfax. Average income per family in the county tops $100,000.

One might not think of these communities as home to refugees from dangerous and traumatized nations. Such a thought would be wrong. These counties are home to survivors of the most heinous kinds of atrocities.

The volume you hold in your hands was largely written by the children and grandchildren of these survivors, often telling the stories of their elders and loved ones describing why they fled brutality of the kind no one should ever have to bear. In most cases, the students did not know of these hardships and atrocities first hand, as they only experienced them from hearing about them from their immediate family member. In other cases, the stories have been passed down, carefully preserved for several generations. In still other cases, these students heard of their family member’s experience for the first time because of writing these student papers. While all of these stories are important to preserve, it is the last type I am most proud of having a role in, helping to build ties between generations.

There are few places in the US that can compete for diversity with Northern Virginia. That fact surprised me when I first moved here, not expecting to live in a small Virginia town and yet be able to go to Afghan, Burmese, Indian, Peruvian, Salvadoran, and Thai restaurants within a population of fewer than 20,000. I quickly found myself teaching with this incredible resource, students from such a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds.

One might not think of Virginia suburbs as a center of multiculturalism, but one would be wrong. Less than two decades ago, the counties of Northern Virginia were overwhelmingly white, with also a longstanding Black presence going back to the earliest colonial times. It was in Virginia that some of the most restrictive racial purity and control laws were passed after Bacon’s Rebellion. Most of the Native presence had also been erased or removed over a century before American independence. In a treaty in 1646, the English took most Virginia land, forcing Indians to pay tribute. The Native population dropped over 90% from war and disease and all Indians legally became subjects of the Crown.

Virginia’s colonial laws enforced white supremacy. All white males had to be armed, but no nonwhites could be. No white servants or workers could be hired by nonwhites. Natives and Blacks were both classified as “Negroes and Other Slaves.” All white women bearing mixed children were heavily fined, and the children sold into slavery. Most women found guilty could not pay the fine, and so faced a prison sentence instead. All nonwhites were barred from office, testifying in court, and voting, and each racial group could only marry in the same racial category. Some of these restrictions lasted until the 1960s.

Other minorities largely were not in Virginia until recently. But today over 160 ethnic groups call Northern Virginia home. One in ten Virginians are foreign born, and one in nine Virginians speak a primary language that is not English. These numbers are likely several times higher in Northern Virginia than in the rest of the state.

Having Washington DC nearby has made Northern Virginia a magnet for well-educated immigrants. The medical centers also draw a high number of highly skilled immigrant doctors and other medical professionals. Research centers also bring in many highly educated scientists and other scholars. And contrary to the image many immigrant haters have of immigrants as poor, these skilled immigrants are precisely why Loudoun and Fairfax Counties have such high standards of living.

There are stories of survivors all around us, and their stories are of the utmost importance to tell. The genesis of this book came from a US History I class I taught. I became determined to gather these stories after a young Sudanese student’s essay told the story of her grandmother escaping from slavery. Not slavery as in exploitation, or the silly hyperbole of a conservative complaining about high taxes, but literal slavery, an African woman being bought and sold in the late twentieth century, abused and without rights, and finally having to escape in as dramatic a fashion as any Black American slave over 160 years ago.

That student, though, declined to have her story included, and ethically we must respect her wishes. About half of the students I approached are not included in this book. Many had moved on in their academic careers after the semester and their college email addresses were no longer in use. Others, for personal reasons, fear, shame, or worry about affecting relatives, did not want the stories they told to become public.

Among the stories students told to me in family histories for class, but not included in this collection:

A Peruvian student told the story of his uncle taking part in anti-insurgent campaigns, and his uncle’s memories of guilt following his part in the execution in the field of a rebel commander.
A student told of his ancestor’s life on death row before being executed for murder, and the family’s shame at being related to him. Some family members still refuse to speak of it decades later,
A survivor of the civil war in Burundi turned in a family history describing a relative who had to flee for their life to the United States.
A Salvadoran student described her father fleeing El Salvador following the civil war of the 1980s. It was after the military dictatorship, so he did not fear reprisals from death squads, but from others in his village for being in the military.
A Guinean/Togoan student describing her grandfather’s life as the village leader, married to multiple wives.
A Ghanan student described her grandfather being arrested by the British for being part of the independence movement.
A Japanese-American student listened to the story of her aunt’s experience in the US internment camps in World War II.
A student with one Choctaw parent and one Mexican-American described the family traditions on both sides and the prejudice he’s faced.
A student from southwestern Virginia describes a small community’s accounts of themselves as Cherokee descendants who had to hide their ancestry from outsiders for many generations. This student is pursuing an anthropology degree, and I strongly urged her to study her own community.

Here in this collection we have other stories of surviving civil war, of seeing families torn apart and then reunited, loved ones lost, atrocities witnessed, relatives that had to flee, and the survivors that brought their children and grandchildren to the US. We have stories of living through long periods of colonialism and still uncertainly not knowing if your people will ever be independent. We have stories of outright genocide, entire peoples in Cambodia, Greece, Poland, and Rwanda facing whole or partial extinction.

And finally we have the stories of American Indians here in northern Virginia, who have faced both colonialism and genocide, and whose descendants are still in this land in spite of everything done to the contrary. After almost entirely being driven out of Virginia in colonial times, today one meets similar, if not exactly the same, Native people if one knows where to look.

The immigrant stories confound the stereotypes that bigots have of them. Most immigrants to the United States, both the families in this collection or elsewhere, are not from the poorest of the poor. Most are middle class in their home countries. Northern Virginia especially tends to draw quite a few highly educated immigrants, both in the faculty and in the student body and the students’ family members. One frequently meets the offspring of immigrant doctors, business people, and high level bureaucrats.

The American Indian stories also confound many people’s expectations of the area. Most of Virginia’s American Indian population began to be ethnically cleansed as far back as the earliest colonial times. Most every Virginian and other Americans knows the (largely false) legend of Pocahontas and her dealings with Jamestown. What far fewer know is that, upon her death and that of her father Powhattan, the English colonists began an ugly war that, along with disease, killed nine tenths of the Powhattan Confederacy in one generation. The Anglo-Cherokee War and the French and Indian War wiped out or drove away nearly all remaining Native people in the state. As mentioned before, Virginia passed a strict series of racial purity laws, the first in what would become the US, barring interracial marriage or even contact, and classified all Indians in a rigid racial hierarchy.

There are today eight very small state recognized tribes in Virginia, collectively less than 8,000 people on less than 2,000 acres. The ranches near where I grew up in Texas each had more land individually than those eight communities do altogether.

Yet Natives in Northern Virginia persist and thrive. Most Natives in northern Virginia came to the DC metro area for work, the same as many others. One Lakota I knew in graduate school works in the Department of the Interior, as does a Choctaw student who attended my class. The latter gave me the gift of a White House proclamation for Native American Heritage Month.

But the Native population of Virginia is shifting. As in much of the rest of America, the Native population of Virginia is increasingly from Latin America. It seems likely that the largest numbers of Natives in the area are not Mattaponi, Renape, or Cherokee, but Ayamara and Quechua from Bolivia and Peru, Pupile from El Salvador, and Maya from Guatemala and Mexico.

If one wants to go to Native powwows, the closest are at Washington DC universities. Virginia state-recognized tribes are mostly further south and east in the tidewaters region or close to Richmond. But the largest Native dances to be seen in northern Virginia are diabladas (devil dances, as the first Spaniards called them) and morenadas (dark skinned dances), both performed by Bolivian and Peruvian heritage groups in the area at festivals in the summer. These celebrations have both mestizo (mixed ancestry) and Indian people, but the latter are by far the majority. Both dances are indigenous to the Andes, though some theories claim the morenada has an Afro-Bolivian origin.

The structure of this collection is to group these accounts based on the experience of their family member, war, colonialism, or genocide, plus a separate category for American Indian accounts. Each account also has introductory historical background material on the nation of origin. The appendices include the release form each student signed, as well as the guidelines give to all students in my classes writing a family history paper. Each student’s bibliography is at the end of the essay. In some cases, the essay has no bibliography, reflecting when I had not yet required them for student family histories.

There are a number of recurring themes in these essays. One of the most prominent is gratitude that America is a haven for refugees. Another is how many of these students appreciate the struggles and discrimination that their mothers and grandmothers went through as women. Finally a number of these students describe their family member literally facing down evil. In a few cases, the family member largely avoided the great struggles going on in their nation, and that also is worthy of note.

More than a few works on oral history point to the limitations of the genre. Someone wanting exact data, of the kind put out by government and other institutions, should not rely on oral history. For analysis at a macro level, an average untrained person does about as well as one would expect. Some interviewee accounts are astonishingly insightful, while others may not know very much. These persons herein reflect very much the societies that produced them, and sometimes an oral history account may even show that person lazily reproducing falsehoods. One example that particularly stands out in this collection is a student’s family member’s story of “sex slaves” held by a rebel group during the Salvadoran Civil War, likely a government-spread rumor.

But for a micro view of personal and societal attitudes, worldview, and detailed daily life, oral history is outstanding. Oral history is often a study of memory, how these events are transmitted and remembered by members of a population, rather than exact reproduction. The mind does not record events like a camera or tape recorder. For studying what participants feel about what they went through, their perceptions and how they pass them along to family and other loved ones, oral history is ideal.

There certainly is room for many more studies like this one. At just one community college, teaching perhaps 2000 students over the course of five years, I found eleven families of wartime survivors, five of modern day colonialism, and five families with members who survived genocide, plus an almost equal number of survivors who chose not to be published. Had I chosen a different focus, there were any number of other collections that could have been gathered. Indeed, I argue and hope that other professors and even secondary high school teachers reading this should seek to gather family histories. Not just of the families of survivors such as these, but also military veterans, activists, immigration histories, studies focused on a particular ethnic group, and women’s history are all possible collections that could be gathered by teachers at schools.

Ideally, I would like to see the writing of family histories become standard practice in all US history survey courses, as well as other history classes. I could easily see a professor gathering veterans’ accounts either for an antiwar collection or for remembrance of service, or a combination of the two. Ethnic studies certainly could benefit from gathering students’ accounts. Most of the Latin American student essays were gathered in my Latin American classes, as most American Indian essays were in my American Indian classes. Some students chose to share their family experiences with their classmates, making events like the Salvadoran Civil War and Iranian Revolution seem every bit as real as any newsreel. I could also easily see women’s studies courses requiring every student to interview their grandmothers about their lives when younger to see the dramatic differences in women’s lives. Imagine students hearing about the days when abortion was illegal but sexual harassment was not.

Remembrance is important. Teaching about it is even more so

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Proposed New Constitution, Article 9, Referendums and Recalls

From the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/


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 Prop 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 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 other corruption.

    A recall can and should be used to remove corrupt officials. A recall 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 most of 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 judgment, 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. Birthers 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 win. For over a century they used massive violence and intimidation. 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.

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Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books, among them Presidents' Body Counts and the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/
http://alcarroll.com

Friday, November 28, 2014

Proposed New Constitution Article 8, Renouncing War

From the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/


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.

     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, bombing campaign, or overthrow of another government, one after another.

       The constitution requires wars have a declaration of war from Congress first. The military was put under civilian command, and 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 as leading inevitably 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 two dozen 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 four times, and their allies provoked the War of 1812. They also invaded California, and Texas five times. They gained an ally in slave owners who wanted to make Texas a slave state, and so provoked the war with Mexico.

    This was not what most Americans wanted. Congress passed seven neutrality laws over a period of 45 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 for a time. Even “Indian wars” declined. President Grant began a Peace Policy that reduced battles with Native tribes by over 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, Samoa (and for half a century, the Philippines) 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 nations themselves did. Between 1890 and World War II, US troops invaded ten Latin Americans countries over 30 times, sometimes taking over some nations for up to 20 years, at other times installing a dictatorship to run these nations 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 US president in the last 125 years to not invade, bomb, or try to overthrow another nation's government was Carter.

     Since World War II, there has not been a single declaration of war by Congress. There have only been 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 is now being stretched by Obama to claim it covers him in a war against ISIS. Almost all congressmen in both parties agreed to Obama's claim and declined to even meet to discuss any kind of authorization, much less a declaration of war. Congress's failures are the strongest argument for making going to war more difficult, and demanding the public hold veto power over the start of wars.

    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 both parties support a president's wars without much 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 or bomb just to show dissatisfaction or crush other nations’ leaders.

    For quick invasions, 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. Both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars continued half a decade after public opinion turned against them. Media elites also often ignore public opinion, or caricature demonstrators as atypical when they came from across the spectrum of American opinions and backgrounds.

    After World War II, Japan 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, and originally were opposed to the US bombing Syria. 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. 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. Dozens of nations faced coups or coup attempts against their governments by the CIA, or bought, stolen, or disrupted elections, and numerous assassination attempts of government leaders. Castro alone survived hundreds of attempts on his life. This pattern includes some that might surprise many, like the CIA orchestrating the firing of Australia's Prime Minister in 1975, or disrupting Italian elections for almost 30 years.

    This same pattern continued in recent years, under both parties, with drone attacks from Colombia to Pakistan, interference in Venezuelan elections, recognizing a coup in Paraguay, and a likely next president, Hillary Clinton, whose election advisers played a role in Honduras’s coup. This must end. Any government the US is not officially at war with, the US government should never try to overthrow.

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 held 30 days later. 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 made to control presidents' war making was the War Powers Act. In theory a president has two days to tell Congress about an attack, and 60 days to show cause or withdraw. It never worked. Presidents ignored it, even argued it to be unconstitutional, and Congress never used the act effectively.

    Wars need to be made very difficult to start and far easier to stop, when now the reverse is true. Unless the American nation, armed forces, or installations are being directly attacked, or citizens need rescue, the President should be forbidden to deploy troops. Congress must declare war first. Period. End of discussion.

    Without exception also, a declaration of war must be followed by approval in a referendum. A 30 day period is best since the rush to judgment and sometimes hysteria is often very brief. A 30 day period is deliberately intended to give enough time for opposition to wars or bombing to build. This clause would not come into effect if under direct attack, and so does not endanger Americans, only arbitrary use of military power.

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 two exceptions to proposed clauses above are to rescue citizens under immediate danger, and to prevent genocide, other atrocities, or humanitarian catastrophes. As a nation which committed genocide against American Indians by the Trail of Tears, by systematic genocide in California during the Gold Rush, by deliberate starvation tactics of slaughtering the buffalo, and by the slave trade of both American Indians and Africans, the US should have a special commitment to ending genocide elsewhere, if possible. One cannot stop genocides entirely. But genocide or other atrocities can often be limited, and many people rescued. It is inhumane and morally callous to not try.

    Often American presidents have not even tried. The US government deliberately avoided trying to end or limit genocide at least four times, during the Holocaust, Bangladesh in 1971, East Timor in 1975, and Rwanda in 1994. Most Americans are not taught about these moral failures. Scholars know, and we need to teach and reach the public far more. In Rwanda's case, Clinton admitted his wrongdoing, that he could easily save 300,000 Rwandans. For the Holocaust, East Timor, and Bangladesh, one tenth of the lives lost could have been saved, but were not. A military response is not always needed. In all three cases, the more effective way of limiting genocide would have been to publicly denounce and isolate those carrying it out, offer refuge to the victims, and declare the guilty will face war crimes trials. In the case of the Holocaust, US bombings could have cut off or at least slowed the number of trains delivering victims to death camps.

    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, only five nations, the US, UK, Russia, France, and China have the military power to end atrocities in other parts of the world. In practice China has never acted to halt humanitarian catastrophes. Sometimes nations like India have the power to stop regional atrocities, as India did when it halted genocide in Bangladesh.

     Halting or preventing wars is already done with peacekeeping forces around the world. It is not too widely known to many Americans, and some may scoff because they don’t know. 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. The UN currently keeps peace in 15 nations, and caused a 40% drop in wars in the past 20 years. Limiting wars, and certainly halting or limiting genocide, is a vitally important humane, ethical, and (I argue to conservatives) a Christian goal. It is one which also agrees with most Americans' sentiment. Many Americans sincerely believed in some wars the US fought because they genuinely wanted to help others and opposed dictatorships and atrocities. The new constitution should reflect that, and limit US actions to only that.

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 often enrich the already wealthy. Few things unite people on both side of the ideological aisle in disgust as much as undeserved advantage and profit in wartime. From shoddy guns and shoes in the Civil War to formaldehyde beef in the Spanish American War to no bid contracts in Iraq and cost overruns in defense contracting at times over 300% ever since the start of the Cold War, the list of abuses is long. 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 offspring 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 units set up to shelter sons of privilege from the draft. This must not be repeated.

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Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books, among them Presidents' Body Counts and the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/.
http://alcarroll.com

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Proposed New Constitution Article 7, Ending Colonialism

This is an excerpt from A Proposed New Constitution, a call for fifteen articles to be adopted in a new constitutional convention. Currently, dozens of states have called for a new constitutional convention for a variety of causes, as well as proposals from scholars such as Larry Sabato, Andrew Burstein, Nancy Isenberg, and myself.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/

Proposed 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 full rights to decide their own government and laws, and to enforce those laws on all residents and visitors within their territory.


    Scholars know that what happened to American Indians was genocide. The evidence is overwhelming and hard to deny. The number of deniers teaching in universities is as low as it has ever been. Today many scholars are themselves Natives, and non-Native scholars often think of themselves as allies aiding Native causes.

    But you would likely not hear the same answer 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.

    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 sovereign 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, Hawaiians, Chamorros, and Samoans, are America’s other indigenous peoples, America’s other original tribes. Not enough people know the history of the Hawaiian kingdom's illegal overthrow or US takeover of these islands.

    The Hawaiian story is similar to 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 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. Few Asians or Native Hawaiians could vote, and most who voted for statehood were white servicemen who were very recent residents.

        The Hawaiian sovereignty movement today is very strong. It overturned the language and religion bans and started Hawaiian schools. Most Native Hawaiians want to see the Hawaiian nation be independent again. This part of the proposed article might be a first step, giving Hawaiians a sovereignty recognized by law, and constitutionally backed. Just as for American Indians, all Hawaiian sacred sites taken away (some actually used as bombing ranges) are given back.

4. US citizens and nationals of American Samoa, Guam, 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's people are a mix of Taino Indian, African, and European, both by blood and culture. The island has a larger population than over twenty US states. Yet its people have never voted in federal fall elections. Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and even DC have been denied the vote or local self-rule because of a leftover status from colonial conquest. They are legally territories or a district rather than a state.

        All of them are also made up mostly of people who are not white. 49 of 50 US states have white majorities, all except Hawaii. These four territories and one district all have populations with nonwhite majorities. Puerto Ricans are mostly mixed. The people of Samoa and Guam are 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. Today DC has no racial majority, with many Asians and Latinos.

        All these territories and the federal district are often treated like colonies. Most of the people are poorer on average than most of the rest of America. Resources often flow out of them. 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 and Virgin Islanders had no self-rule at all for about 60 years. Even Washington DC 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. All the islands were all either independent nations or are distinct cultures in their own right. 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.

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Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books, among them Medicine Bags and Dog Tags, Presidents' Body Counts, and the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution and Ira Hayes: The Meaning of His Life.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/.
http://alcarroll.com

Monday, November 24, 2014

Proposed New Constitution Article 6, Limiting Corporate Power

From the forthcomingA Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/


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 estate taxes. They pay far lower income tax rates 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 a limit 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, 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 scandal of the 1980s. Almost no one was jailed for the mortgage scandals.

    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 they 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. A corporations that kills through negligence, incompetence, or greed, deserves a corporate death penalty, the end of its existence.

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 issue were these same practices forced on 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. 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.

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  Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books including the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/
http://alcarroll.com

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Proposed New Constitution Article 5, Voting Guarantees Benefits

From the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/
http://alcarroll.com


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Article 5-Voting Guarantees Benefits
1.All eligible voters must vote. Failure to vote results in inability to receive all government benefits until the next election, including licenses, grants, subsidies, tax refunds, eligibility for public assistance, student or business loans or credit.

    One must seek ways for the most disaffected to join the political process. The flip side of the last clause of Proposed Article 5 is making them see it is in their self interest to vote, once a more representative democracy is in place. Obviously eligibility for public assistance for children is not affected. They should not be punished for their parents' actions. Instead those most affected are those least likely to vote; college students; the young, by tying driver's licenses to voting, as Proposed Article 3 also does; and the lower income who are more likely to receive tax refunds. A number of nations like Australia have used small fines to increase voter turnout. But in the US this likely would simply lead to the unemployed serving a few days in jail since they could not pay the fine.

2.Those with strong and longstanding religious, philosophical, or political beliefs against voting are not required to vote if they state their longstanding beliefs.

    There are some faiths who avoid deep political involvement, the Jehovah's Witnesses in particular. Anarchists also often refuse to vote based on their convictions. The Six Nations of the Iroquois do not consider themselves citizens of the US. But where most American Indians consider themselves dual citizens, of both the US and their tribal nation, the Iroquois insist they are Iroquois citizens alone, bound by treaty to the US. Thus they join the military as foreign nationals, and Iroquois who vote in US elections are stripped of Iroquois citizenship.

    All these deeply held beliefs against voting should be respected and not penalized. The law should also not place much of a burden upon proof of their belief, just a simple statement. But those who lazily proclaim they don't want to vote deserve no such consideration.

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 Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books including the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.
http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/
http://alcarroll.com