Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 7, Ending Colonialism

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Article 7-Ending Colonialism

1. The United States recognizes the great wrongs done by genocide against American Indians, apologizes fully, and shall always strive to make amends. All federally recognized American Indian tribes are forever sovereign, defined by their treaty or other legal relationship to the United States, with rights to decide their own government and laws, and to enforce those laws on all residents and visitors within their territory.”

Most scholars know what happened to American Indians was genocide. The number of deniers in universities is as low as it has ever been. Many historians and especially anthropologists and archaeologists used to think of Natives as curiosities to be studied. Today many are Natives, and non-Natives often think of themselves as allies.

But you would likely not hear the same honest answer, genocide, by asking much of the general public, or looking at what is taught in public schools. I've taught over 2,000 college students in the past ten years. Public school students are mostly given the Thanksgiving story about Natives, and not much else. Not one in a hundred ever hears the word genocide. Many students are taught that Columbus was actually a friend to Natives. It is hard to be more appalling and dishonest.

In Germany, the nation admits the wrongs in their history. They teach extensively about the Holocaust in their public schools. Having an American admission of genocide, an apology, and a vow to work to always change these wrongs, needs to be written into the new US Constitution itself. Then no one can ever deny it again. Our schools will have to teach it, much like having MLK Day forces them to teach about civil rights. Teaching the truth makes a repeat of past wrongs much harder, and just as important, difficult to deny present wrongs.

Honesty and self-rule are the best form of reparations. Native tribal nations should be sovereign by right. By international law, sovereignty cannot be abrogated or taken away, and is permanent. Tribal nations are defined by their treaty or other legal relationship to the federal government. But the Supreme Court defined that relationship as domestic and dependent. One result is that non-tribal members often cannot be prosecuted under tribal law, leading to a number of abuses. Squatters occupy reservation lands. Even legal residents who are non-Native cannot be punished in tribal courts. Worst of all is the high number of crimes committed by outsiders, especially rapes that were until recently not punished because of lack of jurisdiction. Recognizing tribal sovereignty over all who come onto reservation lands is long overdue.

Most Americans do not know about how Native sovereignty was taken away with the start of reservations, and only partly returned with the New Deal for Indians and by the efforts of Native activists. Most do not know how Termination tried to end all reservations in the 1950s, that dozens of tribes were targeted, and that some still suffer from that awful time. There are also dozens of tribes awaiting recognition that deserve to be federally acknowledged, sometimes decades overdue. Often they are hampered by a lack of written records because scientific racists like Walter Plecker in Virginia systematically destroyed or altered every document he could. There are also dozens of dubious outfits posing as tribes clogging up the recognition process, often taking advantage of an unwary public financially.

Recognizing tribal sovereignty in a new constitution can change all of that. A repeat of Termination becomes impossible, and those still denied recognition from those days retrieve it. The recognition process would be decided by tribal nations, not Washington, with the greatest weight given to the opinion of those tribes most related to those applying. Some reservations might choose to split, since they are today made up of several tribes forced together by federal agents. Other tribes split by treaties into multiple reservations might choose to unite.

2. All American Indian tribes have permanent and absolute rights to their current reservation lands, forever. All federal lands, or lands reacquired by American Indian tribes, that are within their historically recognized boundaries or protected by treaty will be part of their reservations. All sacred sites of federally recognized American Indian tribes shall be returned immediately, or protected by federal partnership if requested by tribes.”

Tribal governments are today legally “domestic dependent nations” thanks to Supreme Court decisions. This needs to change. Having a tribe's right to their homeland needs to be written into the constitution itself, to make it inviolable, permanent, and not just protect it, but also make it easier to get homelands returned or bought. Some tribes are making efforts to buy back their homelands. But often these efforts are blocked by state governments. Where the federal government at times works with and protects on behalf of tribes, state governments are traditionally those most hostile to American Indian nations.

State efforts to limit a tribe's rights to land or anything else should be entirely and permanently blocked, since the constitution makes it clear Indian relations are purely a federal matter. All the Five Tribes remember that during the Trail of Tears states led the effort to drive them off their homelands. In recent times, both California and New York had bouts of anti-Indian sentiment led by their governors.

Federal lands within a tribe's recognized traditional homeland should be returned. The best known example is the Black Hills, Paha Sapa to the Lakota. Lakota have been pushing for their return for over a century, repeatedly turning down monetary offers. For sacred sites especially, there should be a strong effort to return them to the tribes' jurisdiction, and if the tribe does not have the means to protect them, then do so by partnership with the federal government.

There are also many reservations that are endlessly fractionated, divided up again and again, starting since the Dawes Allotment Act. This makes jurisdiction, law enforcement, and economic development far more difficult. Returning control of all lands within traditional recognized territories can end these problems.

3. Native Hawaiians are recognized as a tribe by the US government and shall have a reservation with a sovereign government with relations with the US government and rights equal to an American Indian tribe, and shall see their sacred sites returned. Nothing in this article shall be construed as denying or abridging Native Hawaiians' right to pursue the return to being an independent nation as they were before the illegal overthrow and seizure of their nation.”

Pacific Islanders are America’s other indigenous peoples, America’s other original tribes. Not enough people know the history of the Hawaiian kingdom's illegal overthrow.

Their story is somewhat similar to that of American Indians. Anglo-Americans came to the islands, bringing disease that wiped out much of the people. They took over most of the land for their own profit, starting plantations that brought in exploited workers, only mostly Asians rather than Africans. When Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani tried to halt them, the plantation owners overthrew her with the help of US Marines. The Hawaiian language and religion were both banned. Hawaii became a state in an illegitimate vote. No Asians and few Hawaiians could vote, and most who voted for statehood were white servicemen who were very recent residents.

The Hawaiian sovereignty movement is very strong today, overturning the language and religious bans and reviving the language with their own schools. Most Native Hawaiians would like to see the Hawaiian nation be independent again. One proposed measure is the Akaka Bill, in congress since the 1990s. This would give Hawaiians status like an Indian tribe. They would have a reservation, tribal government, and government to government relations with the US.

This proposed article goes farther. All sacred sites, taken away and sometimes used as bombing ranges, are given back.

4. US citizens and nationals of American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington DC have full local self-rule, and shall vote in federal elections and have federal congressional districts.”

Puerto Rico has a larger population than over twenty US states. Yet its people have never voted in federal fall elections. American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and even DC have been denied the vote or local self-rule because of an anomaly. They are legally designated as territories or a district rather than a state.

For this is a civil rights issue at heart. Not by coincidence, all of them are mostly made up of people who are not white. 49 of 50 US states have white majorities, all except Hawaii. Four territories and one district all have populations with nonwhite majorities. Puerto Rico’s peoples are mixed, but the majority of them have Black or Native ancestry. Samoa, the Marshall Islands, and Guam are made up largely of Pacific Islanders, though the military almost outnumber Chamorros in their own homeland. The Virgin Islands is Black majority, as was DC for much of its history.

All these territories and the federal district have often been treated like colonies. Money and resources flow out of them. Many of the people are poorer on average than most of the rest of America. They have often had little to no say in their own destiny. Puerto Rico saw several independence movements crushed, and citizenship was forced on them against their wishes. Chamorros had no self-rule at all for more than 60 years.

Even the nation’s capital had no local self-rule until the 1970s.

Both Puerto Rico and DC have seen statehood blocked because the major parties don’t want to add a state that will vote for the other party. The Kingdom of Hawaii was its own nation for over 70 years before being illegally overthrown, annexed, and then an illegitimate statehood vote held. Most Native Hawaiians and Asians could not vote, and most of the mostly white voters were very recent residents, US servicemen. The great majority of Native Hawaiians want to see the occupation end.

Puerto Rico was actually granted the start of self rule by Spain in March 1898. In April 1898, the US invaded and occupied it. The US imposed citizenship upon Puerto Ricans in 1917 despite unanimous opposition from Puerto Rican leaders. There were armed uprisings in the 1930s, assassination attempts against Truman and members of Congress in the 1950s, and a bombing campaign against US rule in the 1970s. Today independence has the support of 5-10% of Puerto Ricans. In the 1950s independence sentiment, which used to be almost universal, started to decline for two reasons: Puerto Ricans began to depend on the mainland economy, and the colonial government passed a gag order, throwing anyone in jail who spoke for independence.

The US Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark in 1916, out of fear that Germany would try to take them. USVI stayed under direct US control until 1968, with Virgin Islanders not allowed any say over their fate, including US citizenship imposed in 1927. About a third of the local elected legislature favors independence. A group of independence activists, the VI 5, were jailed on dubious charges of the murder of tourists in the 1970s.
Guam was taken over by the US during the Spanish American War. They had no local self rule at all until the 1960s. For several years there have been plans for a vote on independence, statehood, or keeping the status quo, continually delayed. Part of the problem is that servicemen threaten to dominate any vote. Most of the island is a military base, and servicemen almost outnumber Chamorros.

All the islands were all either independent nations or are distinct cultures in their own right. Their claims have legitimacy, whether or not you agree with them or if you argue they are impractical. Only DC can vote for presidents, but none of these territories or the district have a vote in Congress like the states. Over 5 million Americans are denied some voting rights and their own congressmen because of these hold overs from colonialism.

All of these peoples, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Chamorros, Samoans, Virgin Islanders, and the people of DC, deserve self-determination and a full voice. The fact that they do not have it shows continuing system wide racism. Most of the American public does not know these histories, and that must end.

Let American Indians be truly sovereign on reservations and have them expand to include as much traditional homelands as desired. Let Native Hawaiians have status as a sovereign tribe, and pursue independence. Let Guam, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands finally vote in federal elections, and let all of them plus Washington DC finally have voting congressmen to represent them. It should be a source of shame to the US that this has continued as long as it has.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 6, Limiting Corporate Power

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Article 6- Limiting Corporate Power

1. All rights in this and the previous constitution, as well as under all American laws, are limited to human beings only. A person under US law is defined as a living human being only. Corporation rights and powers may be severely limited by any and all governments, whether federal, state, city, country, special district, or American Indian tribe.”

The Fourteenth Amendment may be the most misused and abused of all amendments. Intended to guarantee rights for former slaves, it has mostly been used to give corporations almost unlimited power. Two decades after the amendment passed, the courts ruled in Santa Clara v Southern Pacific that corporations were persons under the law, that as collections of individuals it was a legal useful fiction to pretend they were a person.

Corporations have rights no living person has. Corporation can be immortal, meaning they never have to worry about estate taxes. They pay a far lower income tax than most people do. There are limits to how much and when they can be sued, and corporation management are largely protected from lawsuits for their actions. Of course the greatest and most controversial right given to them is from the Citizens United ruling. Corporations can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, as long as it is done through a third party.

This ruling showed the class and ideological bias of the court at its worst. Condemnations of it range across the political spectrum, from Ralph Nader to John McCain. This ruling has frequently been compared to the Dred Scott or Plessy v Ferguson decisions both for the devastation it causes American society and how infamously it will be remembered in history. In opinion polls, up to three quarters of Americans want to see it overturned, across all parties and political beliefs. Two dozen states have their campaign finance laws affected by the ruling. Sixteen states have called for constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling.

But this ruling is just the final end product of a court always designed and usually working for the most elite class interests. There is some documentation that the judges in the original Southern Pacific case did not intend their ruling to go that far and set as broad a precedent. Corporations are so powerful that many people don’t realize there was ever a time when their power was limited.

Even other elites worried about corporate power. Corporate charters in British colonial and early American times were limited. They had only so many years of existence, had to serve the public interest, and were often chartered with a narrow purpose. One of the proposed amendments for the Bill of Rights was limits on corporate power. Andrew Jackson, before the civil rights era when little attention was paid to the Trail of Tears, was often held up as a popular hero for his successfully breaking one of the most powerful corporate institutions, the Bank of the US.

2. A corporation must serve the public interest and its life span shall be limited. Any corporation shall be permanently dissolved if they break the law more than five times. No business, corporation, or individual can escape fines, punishments, or legal judgments by declaring bankruptcy, holding companies, shell companies, or any other diversion, evasion, or tactic.”

Corporate crime in America is far more serious than many realize. Corporate crime is the cause of more deaths than street crime, each year over 60,000 workplace deaths alone. Add to that one corporate scandal after another, each of them mostly or entirely unpunished, BCCI, Enron, Worldcom, subprime mortgages, underwater loans, etc., etc. The scandals are increasing in numbers, scale, and in how rarer punishment is becoming. Hundreds went to jail for the savings and loans bank scandals of the 1980s. Almost no one was jailed for the last banking scandal.

In the documentary The Corporation, the film makers followed the logic of declaring corporations to be persons. If a corporation were a person, what would its personality be? They concluded the characteristics of a corporation define it as a sociopath. It cannot have empathy for others and acts without concern for anyone else. It is deliberately amoral, and defined as such for the purpose of self- interest alone. In fact if a corporation were to act morally (for reasons other than self interest in its public image) it almost certainly would face lawsuits from shareholders for failing to pursue maximum profit.

The power of the public over any and all corporations should be absolute. If a company pollutes, force it to clean up. If a corporation makes a destructive or defective product, let it be punished the same as an individual. For a time there was a movement towards “three strikes” laws for crime. Why not five strikes laws for corporations? If corporations break the law five times, they can be dissolved.

Let there be no more legal loopholes used to escape punishment. Bankruptcy was intended to let companies and individuals fail at business but still be able to start over. It was not and should not be there to avoid punishment for crimes. Combine this Proposed Article 6 with Proposed Article 11, which requires all crimes be punished and all criminals cannot evade punishment. Corporations that kill through negligence, incompetence, or greed deserves the corporate death penalty, the end of their existence. The nation and the world will be far better off.

3. The right to collective bargaining by unions or other workers shall not be limited more than other civic or lobbying groups, nor subject to government recognition.”

Unions are the most democratic institutions in America. They are the most representative of their membership. That is part of why are often demonized by those opposed to them and why so much effort has been expended to crush the labor movement.

It is not widely taught in public schools, but America has one of the most violent histories of class warfare anywhere in the world. Not simply “class warfare” as used today, where even bringing up class issues gets one labeled a Marxist. (Full disclosure: I am a traditional Catholic. That means I believe in social justice, and that capitalism is a sin.) From colonial times until the Great Depression, unions and strikes were often crushed with great brutality. Companies often used private armies, or had the police or US Army break a strike with violence. Two of the most notorious examples include the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, broken by killing over 100 strikers. In the West Virginia Mine Wars in the 1920s, the largest armed uprising since the Civil War saw a company army of over 5,000 kill over 20 miners with not just guns but mortars, and their own air force.

The reason why today we do not often hear of violent strikes, or many strikes at all, is that after World War II the US government learned to be a better strike breaker. During the Great Depression the Wagner Act was passed. It recognized union rights to exist, to bargain collectively, and to strike. But it also required unions to submit to being government recognized to be seen as legitimate.

The Taft Hartley Act, passed during Cold War hysteria, went much further. Any perceived radicals in a union can get it stripped of recognition. Companies can dictate when unions hold their elections, and unions have to give 60 days’ notice before striking. Company spies by law cannot be kicked out of a union, and strikebreakers' jobs are protected. A National Labor Relations Board is stacked with anti-union officials. Even were it to rule in favor of unions, it has little power, and so many workers are fired for joining unions or speaking out against abuses. Over 400 union locals are stripped of recognition each year.

Imagine how difficult organizing would be on any other issue were these same practices happening to others. How powerful would the National Rifle Association be if it lost 400 chapters a year? How well would any organization on either side of the abortion issue do if the other side could decide when it holds elections, given 60 days to prepare for campaigns, and that organization could not remove spies in its midst or people hired to break their group up?

None of these union busting practices should be legal. Let unions be treated by the same standards as any other civic, lobbying, or interest group. Anyone who joins a union should be able to. Apparently over half of Americans wish they were part of a union. But under 10% of Americans actually are. These are mostly government workers such as cops, firefighters, and teachers. Only public pressure on governments keep them from being as abusive to their workers as private companies.

Unions were what turned the US into a middle class nation. For one generation after World War II, unions helped spread prosperity to those people most responsible for it. But since the 1970s inequality has grown sharply, to where it is now as bad as before the Great Depression. Unions can reverse that, and doing so would be good for the nation as a whole and business as a whole. An economy is much more vulnerable when it depends mostly on the spending of the well off.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 5, Voting Guarantees Benefits

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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 does not affect children. They should not be punished for their parents' or guardians' 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 successfully use 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.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 4, Ending the Buying of Elections

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Article 4-Ending the Buying of Elections

1. All elections shall be publicly funded only. Private contributions or donations to or on behalf of a candidate or party, except for unpaid volunteer work, are outlawed. Corporate donations of any kind are forbidden. Business and corporate owners and management are forbidden from intimidating, pressuring, or influencing in any way their employees, punishable by long prison sentences.”

Money is the true engine of American politics, and that should change. Few other democracies have as elitist and plutocratic a ruling political class as the US. There have only been two US presidents who were not wealthy men at the time they were elected, Lincoln and Truman. Congress is a millionaire's club.

This is not true in most of the rest of the world. Most other democracies elect people who are truly representative, rather than elites. Poland and Bolivia elected labor union leaders as presidents, Lech Walesa and Evo Morales. Hungary had a playwright president, Vlaclev Havel. Brazil and Uruguay have former guerilla leaders who fought against dictators, Dilma Rouseff and Jose Mujica, the latter donating most of his salary to charity.

But when the US wants to see “outsiders” run for office, the only ones able to are multi billionaires, Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, and Michael Bloomberg. The number of wealthy dynasties in US politics are legendary, the Adams, Roosevelts, Kennedys, Rockefellers, and Bushes.

Jesus righteously intoned that it was easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to get into heaven. It would almost be easier for a working class man to be the king of either Heaven or Hell than to get elected to office in America.

For the need for money to win office acts as a filtering process. Since one must win over the very wealthy to be able to run, candidates depend on them utterly for sponsorship and patronage. In turn, one must give donors what they want. The idea that money equals speech is defended by elites today, both in the media and in the courts. If money is speech, the average man is shouted down by the giant egos and wallets of plutocrats. The moneychangers have driven the priests out of the temple and demand high admission fees to receive blessings and salvation.

In 2012, the presidential campaign was the first multi billion dollar one, and 2016 will certainly be even worse. This must end. Let campaigns only be publicly funded outside of volunteer work. The billionaire should not have more of a voice than any one of his workers. Britain has had limits on campaign spending ever since 1883. The reason for it is obvious. They knew the corrupting influence of money even more than the US, with the outright buying and selling of offices turned into an art form.

In its place we should see the government provide an equal amount of air time, adjusted for its market value, to each party. This air time must be to each party that has candidates, not just major parties. The two party monopoly should end, and most of the public wishes it to end.

This should not be as expensive to the public as it might seem. For one thing, Congress can limit how much is to be spent, and few in the public will have an appetite for expensive campaigns. For another, all networks shall be required to provide this for free, since they make billions every years from the use of public airwaves and bandwidth. The only substantial expense will likely be from online advertising.

The government should also provide servers for the posting of online websites in equal measure for each of the candidates. If parties wish to set up sites to present their beliefs and proposals and recruit for their parties, that would be allowed by law. But party websites campaigning for their candidates, outside of a brief mention of who they are, would not be. Individuals wishing to set up websites, non-commercially, to promote or argue against candidates, parties, proposals, or platforms, would not be affected by this Proposed Article 4.

The billionaire or any other boss must also be prevented from intimidating in any way how his workers vote. Announcing or threatening layoffs or the targeting of workers who disagree with a boss over a candidate, party, or law should be seen as the civil rights violation it is.

2. Campaigning and advertising for all general elections are limited to the period of six weeks before election day. Campaigning and advertising for all primary elections are limited to the six weeks before the general election period.”

Few things discourage interest in politics more than ridiculously long campaigns. Primary campaigning begins a year and a half before the general election, and at times candidates declare their runs two or three years in advance. Yet the common wisdom is that only the most partisan voters pay attention. Most of the public does not follow the election before Labor Day. This clause will limit all advertising to begin no earlier than the start of August before a November election. Great Britain has even stricter time limits on campaigning with no loss of democracy.

3. No election, whether federal, state, county, city, special district, American Indian tribe, or of unions, civic groups, lobbying groups, or private clubs, is valid unless more than half of its citizens or members vote. If less than half of citizens or members vote, there must be immediate new elections with different candidates.”

If most of the public does not show up, an election is not a valid representation of the public's wishes. This clause works best with Proposed Article 2, where the elections would only be every four years when the president and congress are chosen. Much of the public has a de facto boycott on elections, especially local ones. Forcing parties to field new candidates gives the public a way to state their dissatisfaction with the candidates they have been given.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 3, Guaranteeing the Right to Vote

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Article 3-Guaranteeing the Right to Vote

1. The right to vote for all citizens of legal adult age is absolute and cannot be denied, limited, barred, blocked, or suppressed, whether by deliberate attempts or unintended outcomes. All current such attempts are ended. Any law with the outcome, even unintended, of denying the vote to members of a particular ethnic group, age group, economic background, or party, shall be immediately void.”

Many cynics will tell you that voting solves nothing. They are only half right. Believing voting is a magic bullet is false, for it is only one solution among many, one to be combined with others. Such a belief in voting alone as being the mark of a democracy almost turns voting into an empty ritual, part of what scholars call civic religion. But truly free and representative voting can and has solved much. For if voting were truly completely useless, American elites would not spend so much effort to stop it, centuries of trickery, exclusion, and often insane levels of violence.

At first voting was incredibly limited in the US, not only by gender and race but by a high property requirement. In some states, more than nine tenths of white males could not vote at the time of the constitution. It took two generations for the majority of poor white males to sometimes be able to vote. Even that was later limited by poll taxes aimed as much at stopping poor whites from voting as Blacks. The Fifteenth Amendment was supposed to protect Black voting rights. It took enormous violence, over 50,000 deaths after the Civil War and a corrupt and then indifferent Republican Party to intimidate the Black community into not voting, something that was not reversed until as late as the 1970s in some areas.

Besides the millions of Americans still living in the US colonial empire (see Article 7) over 6,000,000 Americans today are legally barred from voting, over 3% of the total. The excuse for taking away their vote is that they have criminal records. Since the “justice” system is incredibly unequal and racist, this falls almost entirely on minorities. Though almost two thirds of American criminals are white (since two thirds of Americans are white) two thirds of those locked up in prisons or on parole are Black or Latino. A Black or a Latino are far more likely to be charged and imprisoned, and for longer, than a white committing the exact same crime.

The laws deciding when ex convicts can vote are incredibly uneven. In some states, voting returns automatically after a set period. Other states require a formal pardon, and the process can be a quick formality or very drawn out and difficult. In six states, all in the south, felons are barred from voting for life. Stealing a car at 17 means one will never vote their entire life. In three states, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, one out of five Blacks cannot vote. In Florida, the majority of Black males cannot vote. Being blatantly racist, this is simply unjust. The right to vote should return automatically when one pays one's debt to society. For lesser nonviolent felonies, it should not be taken away at all. Having the vote available to some prisoners could aid their rehabilitation, were it to become one more thing a parole board could look at as a sign of a genuine attempt to reform. (Those imprisoned for drug possession should not be in prison at all. Proposed Article 15 will end the Drug War as a violation of the right to privacy.)

There are a wide range of attempts to limit voting, old fashioned voter suppression by other names. Voter ID laws could block up to 9% of all voters from voting, mostly minorities and the poor. In some states there are laws or attempts to make it more difficult for college students to vote. Others are putting in place shorter absentee voting times or harder requirements. Many states make it difficult for Americans overseas to vote. Some states like Texas require a ballot to be applied for within the state before leaving and then the ballot sent from overseas by mail. In some nations with poor postal systems that means one needs to vote many months in advance.

The right to vote as a part of Proposed Article 3, or a constitutional amendment, stops all these attempts. It is already widely proposed. 173 congressmen have already signed on as co-sponsors, including 11 Republicans. Two counties and a city, with a combined population of two million, have also passed resolutions in support.

2. Any official who deliberately or unintentionally makes voting more difficult shall be immediately removed, their decisions voided and actions reversed. Deliberately blocking others from voting or blocking voting recounts shall always be prosecuted and punished as a felony.”

Having very partisan officials in charge of elections, election commissioners or Secretaries of States, almost guarantees partisan outcomes. Besides requiring election committees to be entirely nonpartisan, as Proposed Article II does, one needs both to remove the incentive to cheat and provide punishment if someone does.

Removing the official will be the punishment. Automatically voiding and reversing their decisions removes any incentive. Blocking voting or recounts needs to be a felony punished harshly. While the civil rights acts do punish for killing someone to stop them from voting, there is no punishment for such crimes as a riot that partly blocked the Florida recount in 2000 or those who sent false voter registration information in Wisconsin in 2012.

3. Voting days shall be national holidays, with a paid day off for workers only with proof of voting.”

The average voter turnout is much lower than most people think. Most references to US voter turnout are to presidential elections and claim the typical turnout is 1/2 to 3/5 of all eligible voters. (Notice also that using “eligible voters” as a standard rather than “all voters” leaves out the many who never vote.) The actual average voter turnout is under 10% for all US elections. For local elections, especially special districts set up for water or community colleges, turnout is routinely under 1%. Compare this to other democracies. Almost all nations have turnouts of at least 2/3. Most have turnouts over 90%. The US is almost unique in its high voter apathy and disgust of an enormous part of the public.

Some members of the media elite such as George Will argue low turnout is a sign of contentment. Such a view could only come from the very sheltered or willfully blind. Turnout is lowest among those who have the least reason to be content. The poorest vote least of all, minorities much less than whites, the young less than the old, and the less educated much less than the most educated. If contentment were why voters did not vote as Will claims, the wealthy never would vote, and the poor always would. The reality is the exact opposite

The reason why poor and minorities vote much less is obvious. They are being smart, or at least realistic. They know they are not being represented, and see no reason to waste their time. To get them to vote, one must not only make a system which will represent them, as Article 2 does. One must also give them other incentives.

A waitress or construction worker has little incentive to vote if it means they lose money by taking off time when they could be working. An eight, ten, or twelve hour shift of physical labor makes it difficult to go and wait in line. Partisan election commissions don't make it any easier. There were many accounts in the last several elections of waiting up to ten hours to vote in inner cities while suburban voters were done in minutes.

One way to boost turnout is to make election days national holidays. Most other democracies have their elections on either Sundays or make them national holidays. But since many working class people work weekends, and many others see Sunday either as a day for church or for relaxing watching pro sports and having a barbecue, Sunday is not ideal. A paid holiday gives workers incentive, being paid for a day's work for showing up to vote that hopefully is done in a short time. Failing to vote would mean one is not paid for your holiday off.

4. The voting age is lowered to sixteen for any US citizen proving their maturity by holding a job, driver's license, or living on their own.”

Some nations allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. 5 nations in Latin America, 4 in Europe, and 2 in Asia allow voters under 18, sometimes conditioned on employment. Why not? If they are taking on the responsibilities of adults, why not reward them as adults, with adult powers such as voting? The intent here is not just to reward them for adult behavior, but also to establish the voting habit early. In the Philippines, there are mock elections in high schools. Thus their voter turnout is much higher.

Tying voting to driving is another way to give them incentive to vote. Proposed Article 5 has a voter losing licenses, including your driver's license, if one fails to vote. The threat of losing their driver's license would spur voting habits to change, to be adopted early in life. A 16 year old knowing that they could lose their license if they don't vote will develop the habit early.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 2, Insuring Greater Democracy

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Article 2- Insuring Greater Democracy

1. The Electoral College is abolished. The President shall be directly elected, with the winner being the candidate receiving the most votes.”

There probably is no part of the original constitution more disliked than the Electoral College, more regarded as archaic, useless, arbitrary, and pointless. Yet it persists, for it is politically useful to elites as a way to nullify and undermine broader populist democracy.

As described in the Introduction, the college was intended by the founders to be a veto against the public. If they elected the “wrong” man, the electors were to ignore the voters and choose the “right” man, one who would serve the wishes of elites. The other restrictions already in place to keep out populists made this unnecessary. Only rarely did electors vote contrary to what the voters of a state wanted. Even that was fixed in the 1970s by laws in some states requiring electors to vote the same as a state's popular vote.

So why does it continue? The college, like the US Senate, gives far more power to small population and mostly rural states. A lightly populated state like Wyoming gets three electoral votes, when based on its population it should get a fraction of one. Since rural voters tend to be more conservative, conservatives get an exaggerated sense of how conservative the nation is, and are overrepresented in the college. The big concentrations of electoral votes in a few states also makes it useful for political elites and the highly paid consultants they use to target those states.

The college has an anti democratic effect in other ways too. If you don't live in a swing state, you are mostly ignored by major parties' campaigns. That depresses voter turnout. If the other party will win in your state by over ten percentage points, why bother showing up at all? As much as 45% of the voters of a state are told their vote does not count. So the majorities in one state by one party are further exaggerated.

Congressmen and other officials running for office from the smaller party in the state are also far more likely to lose when they could have won. A Democrat running in largely Democratic Austin in the largely Republican state of Texas, or a Republican running in largely Republican Orange County in largely Democratic California, could lose where they might have won.

Another distortion is that small groups in big Electoral College states have far more influence than they should. How much have US relations with Cuba been dictated by a small group of Cuban-Americans in South Florida?

This college is an incredibly unpopular institution and its fall is guaranteed by any future constitutional convention. In its place is the simple solution wanted by nearly everyone and practiced by almost every democracy in the world. The president will be the candidate who receives the most votes.

2. The Supreme Court shall never, by any decision including indirectly, decide who shall be President.”

Elections like 1876 and 2000 must never be repeated again. In both cases, a corrupt party blatantly stole the election and suppressed minority votes during the election, and even more after. In both cases, the Electoral College negated the popular vote. In both cases, five justices of the court sanctioned and actively intervened to maintain the results of these corrupt elections.

This clause removes the courts from elections, leaving the matter entirely to the executive branch. Clause 5 of this article, further down, guarantees election boards shall always be nonpartisan, and shall never decide to favor one party or ideology, and shall never exclude minority votes as happened all across the south in 1876 and in five states in 2000.

3. The Vice President shall be nominated separately by each party and elected separately from the President, and also serves as the Secretary of State.”

The Vice Presidential candidacy is more a punchline than anything else. It has given us such awful and almost universally despised politicians as Aaron Burr, John Calhoun, Andrew Johnson, William Marshall (who actually refused to become president when Woodrow Wilson was in a coma), Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin.

Of 47 VPs, the only ones to be highly regarded by both historians and the public while VP were just two, Truman and Mondale. Truman headed a campaign to halt waste in wartime industries and Mondale was the first activist VP. A failure rate of over 95% for over 200 years is incredibly high even by the worst of government standards. As VP John Garner said, being VP is “not worth a warm bucket of piss.” He did not say spit, that was cleaned up by later writers.

The office needs to be changed. The VP is chosen by a single person when they should be chosen by the voters, first in the party primaries and then in the general election. The office needs to be more than an empty formality, a person who spends most of their time at funerals or on make-work commissions to look busy.

Make the VP also the Secretary of State. That is where one would acquire the skills most needed to step into the office of the presidency should something happen to the president. Require the parties nominate their VPs separately, and let the voters choose them separately. Then there would no more Andrew Johnsons, disasters who became president, originally chosen just to help the party ticket.

4. The Senate shall be 100 adult citizens chosen at random each year, representative of the adult American public by age, gender, race and ethnicity, religion or lack of, and income or social class.”

The Senate is a millionaire's club. This is no exaggeration. It has always been a vocation sought after by wealthy retired men almost as a hobby after a life in business or law. This must end. Let the Senate represent the American public directly, be chosen at random from the public itself to act as a check against any and all elite led efforts or laws.

Look at the makeup of the Senate today in 2015.

93 whites, 4 Latinos, 2 Blacks, 1 Asian.

Average age of 62. 80 men, 20 women. Average income of over $1 million.

52 Protestants, 27 Catholics, 11 Jews, 7 Mormons, 1 Buddhist.

Now look at the makeup of the Senate under this proposed plan:

62 whites, 17 Latinos, 13 Blacks, 5 Asians, 2 American Indians, 1 Arab.

51 women, 49 men. Average age of 54. Average income of $35,000.

51 Protestants, 22 Catholics, 16 atheists, agnostics, or unaffiliated, 2 Jews, 2 Orthodox Christians, 1 Mormon, 1 Buddhist, 1 Hindu, 1 Muslim, and 3 who won't say what their faith, or lack of it, is.

Clearly our current system leaves out the voices of most women and ethnic and religious minorities. Atheists and the unaffiliated especially are completely silenced, unable to be elected because of the hostility of those bigoted against them. But the most striking silencing of all is of working class people. Even the upper middle class rarely get elected.

A completely random process for choosing senators from the adult general public can easily be designed by statisticians. Having a senate chosen at random from the public guarantees the public shall always be represented. It turns the public into itself the fourth branch of government and a check on the power of the other three branches.

No doubt the more elitist and downright snobby will sneer at the thought of a waitress or truck driver in the halls of congress. No doubt many of those same people will pat themselves on the back, and never consider that to your typical member of the political or economic elite, the readers looking down on a waitress themselves would be sneered at by elites.

Those who sneer at the hard working and less educated are contemptible, unlike the ones they look down on. Not having a degree does not make one stupid, and equally important, it does not take away from wanting to do what is right, and having basic common sense. The recent documentary Schooling the World makes a very strong case for how education can often be used to make a person less ethical, more materialistic, and less tied to their community. The famed Lies My Teacher Told Me points out that, believe it or not, more education makes one more likely to support wars, not less. Education can be used to liberate, as Paolo Freire famously formulated. But it can also be used to pacify and make the public submissive. Education must teach critical thinking, or it produces unthinking robots.

Having wealth in many ways makes a person less capable. They are sheltered from day to day struggles. They don't know what it is to have to choose which bill to pay, to go without, or to see one's children go without. It is elitist to sneer at those on public assistance as “lazy” when truly the laziest people are those who let their wealth do their work for them. It is also ignorant of the facts to not know the wealthy receive far more public assistance than the poor, or willfully blind to refuse to admit so.

A nation should never try for change solely from above, imposed on those below. Those below must have a veto. A senate made up of 100 John and Jane Does rather than Rockefellers provides that.

5. Redistricting shall only be decided by nonpartisan committee, and gerrymandering to favor one party or dilute minority voting power is forbidden.”

Redistricting is today done by the most highly partisan people possible. State legislatures decide voting districts, and they generally do so openly to favor their own party as much as possible. For over a generation after the civil rights era, it was also quite common for districts to be set up to weaken or exclude minority voting power.

A good example of partisan redistricting is Austin. Politically, Austin's voters are quite similar in their outlook to San Francisco's. The Republican state legislature gerrymandered Austin out of its own congressman, dividing it up into parts of six more conservative districts. By one gerrymandering effort alone, nearly a million Americans are not represented in the House.

But perhaps the most notorious examples of partisan electioneering have happened in Florida and Ohio. Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris purged eligible voters, mostly Black, and halted a recount to help her own party. Ohio's Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, himself Black, disenfranchised a number of minority voters, and then refused to cooperate with investigations into his actions. Neither person, nor indeed any politician, has any business as an authority to decide who can vote.

Less known, but just as unjust, is how partisan election rules keep out third parties. When John Anderson ran as an independent candidate for president in 1980, eventually getitng 8% of the vote, his campaign spent much of their time and limited funds overcoming the many barriers to getting on the ballot in each state. Anderson at one point had over a quarter of voters supporting him. State barriers trying to exclude him were not the only reason he did not do nearly as well as he could have. But they had a crippling effect on his campaign.

Voting, and insuring that everyone eligible can vote as easily as possible, should not be up to partisans with a stake in keeping out voters of other parties. It should be as nonpartisan and uncontroversial as health or fire departments.

6. Congressional representatives' terms are changed to four years, elected in the same elections as the President.”

Most of the public does not show up to vote for midterm elections. These votes, and the people chosen by them, are illegitimate because most of the public is not represented. That must change.

Blaming the voters themselves is pointless. Voters often show up depending on how much they have been conditioned to show up, and the media does not do so for midterm elections. The media pays far more attention to the presidency than all other offices combined, but there is no law that will change that. Instead that attention must be harnessed so that a majority will always turn out to elect their congressmen.

The terms of the two houses are almost reversed by this proposed system. Today senators are wealthy elites with a longer term than a president, and they represent mostly small population states. Congressmen serve only two years, and while still well off, have slightly higher numbers of the upper middle class than senators. This new system makes the new House the upper house, with longer terms and still likely more well off economically than the Senate.

The new Senate will be mostly working class and mid and lower middle class. While there will still be some from the upper middle class, it is unlikely to have more than a single member of wealthy elites. There likely will even be several members of the Senate each year who were unemployed at the time of being chosen, and a fair number of retirees and housewives. With a new Senate every year, it will represent the mood, beliefs, and priorities of middle America better than any past congress ever has, or could. With nonpartisan redistricting, the House will look much more like America as well.

That is as it should be. This will be the most direct form of democracy seen since town, village, or tribal meetings, a populist one that can and will block elite actions that harm others or the nation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Proposed New Constitution Article 1, Continuing and Expanding the Original Constitution and its Amendments

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Article 1-
Continuing and Expanding the Original Constitution and its Amendments
“1. All articles and amendments from the previous Constitution of 1787 remain the final law of the land, except as changed by the following articles or later amendments.”
        As just described in the Introduction, the original constitution does not deserve reverence. It was elitist, conceived in secrecy, passed by undemocratic means, and deliberately designed to insure economic elites will also hold political control. This proposed constitution does not seek to take away what was good and right in the original amendments to the original Constitution. The Bill of Rights, and amendments such as the Reconstruction Amendments and the Right to Vote for Women remain incredibly important.
    The original constitution is another matter. It is purely a document of power, who has it and can wield it. It is not about rights or democracy, but designed to limit rights and democracy. The amendments stay protected. The First Amendment is the most cherished part of the entire constitution, protecting freedom of speech, assembly, petition, and religion. It also blocks established state churches, one of the main causes of religious repression and wars partly or wholly begun or justified using religion. The lack of an official state church is one of the main reasons the US is one of the most devout nations in the world, with an incredible diversity of faiths. There are dozens of Southern Baptist denominations alone.
    The Second Amendment is the most controversial of all the amendments. It is best left alone, for any attempt to alter it would at least occupy and perhaps split apart the entire convention. Not only that, crime has been dropping for several decades already, including gun crimes. Most gun deaths are suicides, and they along with some gun crimes can be reduced by restricting guns to the mentally ill, felons, or those under restraining orders, by ordinary law.
    The remaining amendments include rights against self incrimination, to a speedy trial, equal protection in the Fourteenth Amendment, an end to slavery, suffrage for women, presidential succession, and an end to poll taxes and literacy tests. It would be difficult to understate the importance of these rights to individuals and to expanding rights. All these amendments besides the Bill of Rights are ones most of the founders would have opposed. These amendments are almost all very real defeats of the original elitist intent of the founders.
"2. This and all future constitutional conventions must be representative of the US public, by gender, race and ethnicity, and religious faith or lack of. Its members must be respected intellectuals drawn from education, religious institutions, civil rights groups, non-governmental organizations, labor, business, military veteran groups, consumer groups, and scientists. No current or former elected officials or appointed cabinet members or presidential or congressional advisers or staff are allowed. This and all constitutional conventions must be in full view of the public, every word said by every delegate at the convention scrupulously recorded."
    The original constitution was by, for, and of elitists, entirely white males, mostly very wealthy slave owners, speculators, and professional politicians. Any and all future constitutions, including this proposed one, must not be. They must include everyone, every last social group, every last group of important representative institutions. To fail to do so means the document is not legitimate, and deserves not to be seen as such.
    Look at the background of the original 55 founders:
    41 had been members of the Continental Congress. 35 had legal training (not all practicing.) 18 were speculators in land or stocks. 14 were plantation owners, 26 owned slaves including 1 slave trader. There were only 2 small farmers. The only other good traits of the founders were 5 who were doctors or scientists.
    All 55 were white. All 55 were male. 49 were Protestant (28 of them Episcopal), and only two Catholics. Three of the most important, Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, were Deists, believers in God who did not belong to any church.
    Now look at a hypothetical convention of 100 delegates who represent a cross section of America under this proposal:
        62 whites, 17 Latinos, 13 Blacks, 5 Asians, 2 American Indians, and 1 Arab. 51 women and 49 men. 51 Protestants, 22 Catholics, 16 atheists, agnostics, or unaffiliated, 2 Jewish, 2 Orthodox Christians, 1 Mormon, 1 Buddhist, 1 Hindu, 1 Muslim, and 3 who won't say their faith.
       Obviously there were would be no plantation or slave owners, though likely a few speculators or lawyers. Most of the membership would be drawn from institutions devoted to public service, and no office holders. The only thing the two conventions would share might be roughly equal numbers of scientists and doctors.
      Such a convention would be far more devoted to the public good than the founders ever were. The chances of anti democratic and elitist institutions like an Electoral College being repeated are extremely remote. Ideally the delegates would seek consensus on as many issues as possible, and deliberate obstructionists would be few, as they are intellectuals more than ideologues.
      The most constructive way to run a convention would be to limit the time to several weeks to give the delegates impetus to finish decisively. Immediately hold an informal nonbinding straw poll to see which proposals have the most and least support. All proposals with less than a third support get tabled until the end, perhaps never voted on at all. Those with the highest support are voted on, in that order. This would create momentum to hopefully carry forward the proceedings, and help solve the more difficult and contentious issues.
      Such a convention must also have rules in place to bar filibusters entirely, strictly limiting the amount of time speaking by one person, establish quorums easily, and bring votes quickly. For the truly intractable issues, a model can be found in how historic treaties like the Camp David Accords were negotiated. When two sides disagree strongly on an issue, those who are not part of either group and with the least stake or emotion tied up in that issue act as go betweens, seeking out common ground and finding solutions neither side had tried or thought of before.
      This and any other possible future conventions must be out in the open for all to see, with no more secretive deliberations as the original convention had. The media must be there to observe but not interfere or agitate, and the public there to observe, much like the visitors' gallery in Congress today. Secrecy and elitism create and guarantee mistrust, rightfully so. Recent history shows us the public greatly distrusted NAFTA and GATT  for perfectly valid reasons, as gatherings of remote elites designed to undermine democratic institutions out of sight from the public. This convention must be accessible. Every word at it must be recorded for historic reasons as well. There is much we do not know about the original convention because of the walls of secrecy those elitists hid behind.
"3. Each of these following articles must be voted on and approved separately by two thirds or more of those voting to become the law of the land."
     The public should not be forced to vote an entire document either up or down, accepting those parts they disagree with in order to have those parts they do agree with. This is what the original founders did (except it was to other elites, the special state conventions and not the public) and it further shows how anti democratic their methods deliberately were.
    The vote should also be a supermajority, two thirds or more, to become the highest law in the land. Passing by narrow majorities would be rightly seen as contentious, undermine any consensus these new laws deserve to be our constitution, and probably foreshadow a great deal of conflict.
    One of the best examples is the abortion issue. There are few countries where abortion is a more divisive issue than the US, and that is precisely because of how it was done. The Supreme Court declared abortion bans to be unconstitutional based on an implied right to privacy. In most of the rest of the world, abortion bans were dropped by a vote. Thus the issue felt more resolved to most of the public. Had the court not acted, an abortion ban may well have dropped anyway, state by state. I hasten to point out, this proposed constitution includes the right to privacy in Article 15, protecting abortion rights among other things.
    This vote must be held by the public, and not by legislatures as the current constitution requires. Needing approval by the state legislatures gives far too much power to elected elites of small population and mostly rural states, far out of proportion to their population. It is deliberately anti democratic, as the founders yet again intended.
    If two thirds of the public nationwide vote for these articles, that gives them legitimacy. But would that not ignore the original constitution? Yes, and that is half the point. The founders did precisely the same, ignoring the original Articles of Confederation. The original Articles state they are “...perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time be made in any of them; unless such alteration agreed to in Congress of the US and confirmed by legislatures of every State.” As pointed out in the Introduction, on both counts, the constitution was illegally adopted, not agreed to either by Congress or state legislatures during the ratification process.
    If the founders could ignore the original Articles, we as a nation can and should ignore the founders and the constitutional requirement, based on the precedent the founders themselves set. A two thirds supermajority will create enormous pressure on the federal government: Accept these new constitutional articles we have just approved, overwhelmingly, as now the highest law of the land.